50 Most Exciting Restaurants: Cong Tu Bot

Congratulations to Cong Tu Bot for their inclusion in the New York Times list of the 50 restaurants in America that the paper is most excited about.

We dispatched our critics, reporters and editors around the country to find the 50 most vibrant and delicious restaurants in 2021. They’re not ranked, but together they reflect the rich mosaic of American dining — from the melding of Thai curry and Texas brisket in the Pacific Northwest, to heritage crab rice on the South Carolina coast, to vegan soul food in the East Village.

Specifically regarding to Cong Tu Bot they shared,

Happiness is a bowl of Cong Tu Bot’s chao chay on a chilly Maine morning — warm, supple grains of rice that disappear into the bowl, slicks of chile oil, tart tangles of mustard greens, a chewy cake of daikon and kale and showers of herbs and scallions. The restaurant was originally a noodle shop; but a few months ago, the owners, Vien Dobui and Jessica Sheahan, transformed it into a daytime cafe, with a menu that includes pho ga, bun cha and outstanding pastries like a crumb-topped, neon-green pandan coffee cake. A meal here is an extremely compelling argument for the superiority of Vietnamese breakfast food.

Vogue Portland Travel Guide

Vogue has published a guide to Where to Stay, Eat and Play in Portland.

Portland is Maine’s most populous city, perched on a coastline of pure beauty. Whether you’re looking to enjoy the last moments of summer on the beach or simply eager to explore a new seaside scene, Portland provides the best of both worlds. Sandy coves on the rocky shorelines offer secret summer escapes without the crowds, while downtown, the streets are lined with alfresco dining and beer gardens.

The article highlights High Roller, Scales, The Honey Paw, Little Woodfords, Blyth & Burrows, Via Vecchia, Terlingua, Maine Beer Company, Oxbow, the Eastern Prom and the Thompson’s Point.

Best Bagels in America

Food & Wine has included Forage, Rover and Scratch Baking on their list of the Best Bagels in America.

A funny thing happened, while New York began settling for mediocrity: a new generation of American bakers figured out just how easy it was to get into the game. Best of all, most of them have their own ideas about what a modern American bagel should look like. My first glimpse of this exciting future came almost a decade ago, thousands of miles from New York, on a sunny winter morning in Northern California. Here, two East Coast transplants had started making meticulous, wood-fired, Montreal-style bagels, opening up the most charming little deli. After years of accepting second best from my neighborhood bagel slinger in Midtown Manhattan, I took this as a serious wake-up call.

Thrillist: Where to Eat in Portland

Thrillist has published an update to their guide on Where to Eat in Portland. The new version by author and Portland resident Mindy Fox includes: Helm, Sichuan Kitchen, Terlingua, Leeward, Ramona’s, Radici, Belleville, Rose Foods, Chaval, Minato, Mami, Mr. Tuna, Woodford, Solo Italiano, Scales, The Honey Paw, Judy Gibson.

It’s winter with a capital W in Portland, Maine—with cold temps and COVID challenges combined—but in true Portland style, our resilient restaurant community powers on, cooking up creative world-class fare along with inventive ways to serve us lucky diners. From curbside pick-up, takeout, and special pantry offerings to cook-at-home kits, to-go cocktails, and heated outdoor patios, there are many delicious ways to support the local food scene while following state guidelines and keeping safety top of mind. Here is our salute to Portland’s best new restaurants, including brave new stars, as well as faves from the past five-ish years.

2021 Good Food Award Winners from Maine

Congratulations to the seven Maine food producers that are  2021 Good Food Award winners:

This year’s award winners were selected from the nine finalists from Maine that were announced back in November which were culled from the 1,928 entries to the 11th annual Good Food Awards.

The 2020 Year in Review

It’s been an extremely difficult year for restaurants and the entire world. No report can fully or adequately capture all that has happened and that we’ve experienced in the past 12 months. That said, here’s an attempt to provide a high level overview of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the rays of hope and sunshine that was the 2020 year in food for Portland:

  • Covid-19 – The pandemic crashed into the restaurant industry in the week leading up to Friday the 13th of March. It’s been a tortuous year for employees and business owners ever since. Everyone experienced the uncertainty of those early days, the rapid growth of takeout options, the eventual loosening of restrictions in the early summer that paved the way for outdoor and on-street dining, and the contraction in business as cooler weather and darker days arrived. A number of restaurants have permanently closed—each and every one of the having a ripple effect through the lives of their staff and the communities they were part of. The vaccine(s) have provided a light that we can see at then end of a long tunnel. Here’s to hoping for a better year in 2021.
  • Community – In response to Covid, the racial justice protests and hardship heightened by the recession we’ve seen the restaurant industry and the broader community work together and respond in new ways. In the spring efforts like Feeding the Frontline and Frontline Foods channeled donations from the public into free meals to medical staff who were working to respond to the pandemic. Cooking for Community was founded in Maine as a way to deliver meals to people in need while simultaneously supporting local restaurants, farms and fisheries. Thousands of Mainers took part in the Black Lives Matter protests. The restaurant industry showed its support by taking part in Bakers Against Racism, the Black is Beautiful collaboration beer project and Food Industry Action, and Mainers became new customers Black-owned restaurants, bars and other businesses informed by the list created by BlackOwnedMaine.com. Fork Food Lab established an entrepreneurial empowerment scholarship program and Mainers supported a Go Fund Me campaign to enable Me Lon Togo to move their shuttered Waterville restaurant to Camden. This list just scratches the surface…numerous efforts by individual restaurants and people have raised funds, created programs from scratch and otherwise stepped forward to help people in need.
  • Most Notable Openings – Against all odds, new food business have launched both pre/post pandemic and managed to hold on throughout the year. The most notable opening for me have been Magnus on Water in January, Judy Gibson in February, Leeward in March, Via Vecchia and Zao Ze Cafe in June and Liu Bian Tan in September, and the fearless launch of Solo Cucina Market on March 22nd. See the monthly chronicle for details on all 2020 openings.
  • Latin American and Caribbean – Options for Latin American and the Caribbean are on the upswing. Magnus on Water, Dos Naciones, Sal de la Tierra, Tacos y Tequila, Mi Pueblo Tacos y Tequila, and Pacifico all launched in the past year. In addition, Yardie Ting is planning to open a second location, Flores is building out a bigger second restaurant at 431 Congress Street, a new eatery called Caribbean Taste in under construction in South Portland, and a Costa Rican/Honduran inspired restaurant called Cafe Louis is under construction in South Portland.
  • Upcoming in 2021 – There are a number of new businesses slated to open in 2021 and I expect additions to the list to accelerate as we head into spring. For the full list of new food businesses under development see PFM Under Construction list. Here are some of the current highlights:
    • Cafe Louis – a Costa Rican/Honduran inspired restaurant being opened by Eaux owner Evan Richardson and business partner Ben Ferri in South Portland.
    • Coveside Coffee – a new coffee shop in Woodfords Corner being launched by Andy Nesheim and Zara Bohan.
    • Dandy’s Handy Store – a market being opened in Yarmouth by Garrison chef/owner Christian Hayes.
    • Elda/Jack Rabbit – Bowman Brown will be re-opening Elda and launching a new bakery cafe in the mill building Biddeford.
    • Helm – a new oyster bar and restaurant located in the WEX building on Thames Street.
    • Papa – a new food truck being launched by Josh Amergian.
    • Pigeons – Peter and Orenda Hale are opening “fly casual” daytime neighborhood bar/eatery and with a daily happy hour in the space where they formerly operated Drifters Wife.
    • Sok Sabai – a new food truck being launched by Tina Nop that will serve  Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese food.
    • SoPo Seafood – a new oyster and wine bar and seafood shop in Knightville in South Portland.

Top 10 Articles

The most popular articles published on Portland Food Map in the past year.

  1. Big Takeout List (March 14th)
  2. Indoor/Outdoor Dining List (June 21st)
  3. Pandemic Casualty List (May 4th)
  4. Black-owned Restaurants List (June 1st)
  5. Rise of the Restaumart (April 21st)
  6. Maine Hospitality Workers Resource Guide (March 23rd)
  7. Vertical Harvest Coming to Maine (July 28th)
  8. Food Truck Tracking Apps (June 26th)
  9. Maine Heirloom Apple Guide (August 31st)
  10. Opening of NewYork Fried Chicken (June 7th)

Notable Events of 2020

Passings

  • Nancy Whipple Lord – a co-founder of the Seamen’s Club restaurant in 1973.
  • William M. “Bucky” Leighton, Jr., 70 –  a teacher at the Culinary Institute in Portland and a chef at Roberts Restaurant in Portland as well as a food service instructor at Portland Regional Vocational Technical Center in Portland.

For additional perspectives on the past year in food see Andrew Ross’s 2020 Best of list in the Maine Sunday Telegram.

Here are links to the Portland Food Map year in review reports for 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.

Best Fried Food

Maine Sunday Telegram restaurant critic Andrew Ross has put together his list of the best takeout fried food.

I realized a few months ago that I’ve eaten less deep-fried food than perhaps ever before. While my cardiologist is probably elated, I’m less pleased about the dearth of crunchy, golden batter in my life. With Hanukkah in full swing right now (it started Thursday evening and runs through this coming Friday), the timing seems perfect to bring back a little deep-fried delight.

Most Essential Bakeries: Night Moves

Food & Wine has named Night Moves one of the top ten of America’s Best Bakeries. Food & Wine published their list 100 bakeries back in early May, and from that list selected Night Moves as one of the “10 most essential bakeries” in the nation in the December issue of the magazine.

Can a loaf of sourdough have terroir, just like wine? If yes, Kerry Hanney’s would be Maine in bread form. One of the region’s most forward-thinking bakers, she leans heavily on local grains and mills them herself. And her loaves, packed with fruit and nuts or subtly flavored with maple syrup, are essential breakfast slices—just add some local butter.

During the pandemic Night Moves is taking weekly pre-order for pick-up on Saturdays. Order online this Wednesday (8 – 5) in order to pick-up you baked goods this Saturday (11 – 3) from their bakery window in Biddeford.