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Spotlight on Kittery, Maine

Featured Restaurants by Amy Bevan / May, 2016

While hundreds of restaurants, parks, museums, and theaters have made Portsmouth the capital of Seacoast culture, Kittery, Maine, is fast becoming a local favorite for regional flavors and superior cuisine. Within just a few square miles, you can find scrumptious French crullers, gourmet Italian paninis, modern American seafood, award-winning Indian fare, locally sourced artisan dishes, and Asian noodles so authentic one might think they are dining in the Far East rather than the coast of Maine. Several small neighborhood eateries have earned national acclaim from the likes of Bon Appétit,Travel + Leisure, and the Washington Post. Here are a few of these gems.

Misto!
436 U.S. Route 1, 207-703-0606
mistocafebistro.com

Just north of the outlets on Route 1, Misto! is an Italian bistro serving lunch, dinner, and gourmet to-go meals. Their all-natural dishes are based on authentic, family recipes that date back 500 years to owner Suzanne Schepis-Gray’s Sicilian roots and include many local ingredients, including seasonal vegetables and herbs from the garden out back. The open kitchen offers visitors a glimpse of the staff busily creating soups, sauces, dressings, and croutons in house, and the intimate 32-seat restaurant features a full bar and Italian décor. Relax and indulge in their Maine Lobster over Linguine with a lobster cream sauce or Haddock Piccata, or enjoy a Caprese Panini, a Farmhouse Salad, or a Classic Mediterranean Wrap in the café.

Anju Noodle Bar
7 Wallingford Square, 207-703-4298
anjunoodlebar.com

Gary Kim and Julian Armstrong’s kitchen experience, cultural influences, and common passion for fermentation (the duo produces their own kimchi) led to Anju, a bright, modern noodle house in Wallingford Square. Guests gather in the small, energetic dining room or bar area to enjoy creative, authentic Asian cuisine inspired by traditional Korean cooking. The Steamed Pork Bunappetizer and the Shoyu Ramen Noodles are fan favorites, and the Okonomi-Pajeon, a Japanese-style pancake, is not to be missed. Sunday specials have included Pan-fried Rice Noodles with Braised Oxtail and Pickled Watercress. Cocktails like the Kimchi Bloody Mary or Scorpion Bowl provide the perfect libation to a late-night nosh.

Robert’s Maine Grill
326 Route 1, 207-439-0300
robertsmainegrill.com

For a true taste of Maine with both traditional and modern menu items, head to Robert’s Maine Grill. Located in the heart of Kittery’s outlet shopping district overlooking Spruce Creek, Robert’s mission is to source ingredients from local farms and fisheries to provide both old-fashioned New England seafood as well as creative, new world cuisine. Small bites like Fried Oyster Sliders and Steamers in Allaghash White Beer are excellent shared, but keep the Grilled Sea Scallops with Rainbow Chard, Chorizo, and Squash for yourself. Their Fish and Chips may be called “Maine’s Best,” but it was Robert’s Classic Lobster Roll that earned Editor’s Choice at New York City’s 2014 Lobster Rumble. For the landlubbers in your party, there are plenty of options, including Moxie & Bourbon BBQ Steak Tips and Buttermilk Fried Chicken. A prix fixe mid-week Community Supper menu offers three courses with a portion of the proceeds going to local nonprofits.

Lil’s Café
7 Wallingford Square, 207-703-2800
lilscafe.com

Named for owner Michael Landgarten’s late long-time counter employee at nearby Bob’s Clam Hut, Lillian Mangos, Lil’s is a vibrant cafe and gathering spot serving artisan breads and pastries; single origin coffees and espresso drinks; and black, green, and herbal teas. Everything is made in house, including breads for sandwiches and the Cruller, developed by Pastry Chef Jen Woods—a big hit as the cafe’s signature pastry (see “The Joy of Java,”). The menu includes breakfast items like a Southwestern Egg Wrap (with homemade salsa) and lunch choices like griddled or plain sandwiches on homemade bread. Try Roast Beef on a Kimmelwick Roll with red onion marmalade and horseradish spread. The exposed brick walls and outdoor patio provide the perfect ambience for a business breakfast meeting, a coffee date with a friend, lunch with your laptop, or an after-school snack.

Anneke Jans
60 Wallingford Square, 207-439-0001
annekejans.net

This Wallingford Square bistro has been a special occasion destination for nearly a decade, but a new chef and a recent expansion have turned Anneke Jans into a weeknight favorite as well. The relocation of the bar to a separate lounge area offers more casual fare and makes the main dining room quieter. Nightly lounge specials include taco night on Wednesdays, and burger night on Thursdays. Sunday brunch includes a Bloody Mary Bar with various vodkas, mixes, and hot sauces, and garnishes like bacon, shrimp, and pickled green beans. Chef Lee Frank’s menu changes weekly, based on local and seasonal availability like Crab Salad with Fried Tomato and Avocado, but still includes the bistro’s signature PEI Mussels and Fried Olives. And save room for Deb Chag’s desserts, with temptations like Butterscotch Creme Brulee.

Tulsi
20 Walker Street, 207-451-9511
tulsiindianrestaurant.com

Co-owner Rajesh Mandekar and his chefs are making some of the best Indian food in the nation, according to recent accolades from Travel + Leisure magazine. The authenticity is a result of Mandekar’s team approach to the menu, as each chef brings his own specialty and regional influence. With Tulsi’s seaside location and Mandekar’s Mumbai upbringing in a fisherman family, local seafood is a mainstay on the menu, usually sauteed or cooked in the tandoor oven with one of several house-made spice blends. Mussels Pooriyal includes garlic, coconut milk, and fresh curry leaves. You can also enjoy traditional Indian favorites like Chicken Tikka Masala and Palak Paneer, or try Bhindi Masala,a vegetarian dish of deep fried okra with tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers.