New England

A Tale of Two Cities | New England Food Town Showdown

As the Boston-Portland rivalry comes to a full boil, Yankee food editor Amy Traverso surveys the scene, talks with top chefs, and checks off her culinary scorecard to discover the dining capital of New England. 

By Amy Traverso

Feb 19 2019


(left to right): Craigie on Main; BRGR Bar, Portland

Photo Credit : Sam Kaplan/Trunk Archive (Craigie); Mark Fleming (BRGR)
To drive up to Portland’s Munjoy Hill on a late summer evening is to enter an urban garden of earthly delights … a food scene that hits every of-the-moment note … a veritable theme park of boho-hipster foodie-ism. On Fox Street, IPA-toting beer lovers gather around a game of cornhole and a bright-red food truck in the parking lot of Rising Tide Brewing Company. Across the way, the glass garage doors of Baharat are flung up to reveal diners tucking into plates of peach and halloumi kebabs and za’atar deviled eggs. At the top of the hill, on Washington Avenue, a kombucha fermentory stands within spitting distance of a wood-fired bagel bakery and an oyster bar; one block away, diners queue up for a coveted table at Drifters Wife, which Bon Appétit writer Andrew Knowlton has called “the wine bar of my dreams.” Some of these hopefuls will give up on the wait and walk a few blocks to binge on fries on a light-strung patio at Duckfat, or dig into poke and Japanese fried chicken at Izakaya Minato. And if that doesn’t cap off the night, there’s always another brewery (Oxbow), a distillery (Hardshore), and Maine Mead Works on the same block. It’s almost too much of a good thing. Are you full yet? Save room for breakfast. There are potato doughnuts at the Holy Donut and positively unholy almond croissants at Belle­ville. Over on the west side, the coffee and pastries at Tandem have achieved cult status well beyond Maine’s borders. Portland is hip. Portland is sexy. And in that aforementioned Knowlton review, it was named the 2018 “Restaurant City of the Year.” Today it’s not unusual to hear locals reference “the Bon Appétit article” with equal parts vexation and pride: It’s harder to get a table anywhere now, but it’s nice when the world affirms your good taste.
Boston vs. Portland | New England Food Town Showdown
Boston vs. Portland | New England Food Town Showdown. Pictured: Brown Butter Lobster Roll from Eventide in Portland and Tagliatelle Bolognese from Boston’s Fox & the Knife.
Photo Credit : Dave Bradley • Food Styling by Monica Mariano/Ennis Inc. • Prop Styling by Courtney Goodrich/Ennis Inc.
Meanwhile, 100-odd miles to the south, Boston suddenly finds itself in the role of midsize middle sibling. For decades, it perceived its closest competition as New York (even though New York’s eyes are really turned toward Los Angeles). And now Portland is getting all the love? It’s as if Boston’s little sister has suddenly grown up and won prom queen. This has inspired no small amount of lamentation in the local media, beginning with an August 2018 Globe column by Devra First titled “Why Don’t Boston Restaurants Win National Awards?” in which she asks the most painful of middle-child questions: “What’s Portland got that Boston doesn’t?” Eater’s editor in chief, Amanda Kludt, poured on the salt, calling Boston “boring” in a headline, which put the city in a uniquely Bostonian bind: How to respond to a direct attack without boosting its reputation as a too-touchy town? Boston chefs have defended their city, penning blogs and columns. “For a chef, restaurant owner, and member of the Boston restaurant community, it is a particular kick in the stones when you read that our local and national food media think that Boston is one big snooze fest,” Will Gilson of Puritan & Company wrote on Eater. “When a question is asked, ‘Why don’t more Boston restaurants win national awards?’ it makes each chef in this town want to throw a sauté pan through a window.” Well, Will, I have a confession to make. I love eating in Portland. I love its compactness, its innovative spirit, the whole gestalt of it. I have called it “my favorite New England food town” several times on our TV show, Weekends with Yankee. I’ve lived in Boston for nearly 20 years, and, if I’m honest, this familiarity has bred a critical complacency. With Portland, there’s that new-city smell, the escape from everyday life. With Boston, I return from dinner to find a basket of unfolded laundry. And of course there are market realities. For Boston restaurateurs, money is both the city’s greatest asset (there’s more capital and a larger population of wealthy diners) and its biggest handicap (commercial rents are higher, as are construction, labor, and food costs, not to mention housing and transportation). Consider that a full liquor license can cost up to $500,000 in Boston. In Portland? Typically less than $3,000. Think of how that initial outlay affects how chefs do business. Are Portland chefs freer to experiment? Yeah, probably. But does the added pressure keep Boston chefs at the top of their game? Quite possibly. And at the most superficial level, all that investment money sure produces some great-looking dining rooms. Clearly, it’s time to sweep away some assumptions and compare Boston and Portland side by side, category by category, setting aside the buzz and that Vacationland glow. What is really the best food town in New England? And what does that title even mean? To get at the answers, we surveyed the two cities’ dining landscapes to identify which restaurants are doing the best food and drink in 25 categories: bakeries, seafood, Japanese, vegetarian, etc. And in the end, the city with the most “wins” got our title. (For now. Food scenes always evolve.) But first, let’s consider the obvious. Boston is much bigger and thus should be more likely to win the most categories. Boston is a grand smorgasbord to Portland’s lovely tea tray, if you will. We did our best to factor that in, so if Portland had fewer restaurants in a category but their quality was notably high, it got the nod. Who does it best? Read on and see….

New England Food Town Showdown Boston vs. Portland

Boston and Portland go head-to-head in key culinary contests.

The following 25 categories best reflect what’s happening in New England food and drink right now: the most buzzed-about cuisines, the regional must-haves. In choosing the top performers in each category, we limited ourselves to establishments within five miles of the city center (though we bent our rule in one very worthy case—see “Diners”).

Bakeries | Standard Baking Co. in Portland
Photo Credit : Dave Bradley • Food Styling by Monica Mariano/Ennis Inc. • Prop Styling by Courtney Goodrich/Ennis Inc.


Boston: 3 Little Figs, Café Madeleine, Clear Flour, Flour, Forge, Hi-Rise, Iggy’s, Maria’s Pastry Shop, Sofra, Tatte

Portland: Belleville, Scratch, Standard, Tandem, Ten Ten Pié, Two Fat Cats

The Winner: Portland

Boston’s baking scene is nothing to shake a baguette at, but the power of the Standard-Scratch-Tandem trifecta can’t be denied. If it’s a carb crawl you’re craving, Portland more than delivers on from-scratch bona fides—not to mention a relatively short distance from one spot to the next.


Boston: Blackstrap, Blue Ribbon, Larry J’s, the Smoke Shop, Southern Proper, Sweet Cheeks Q

Portland: Elsmere, Salvage, Terlingua

The Winner: Boston

For a bunch of Yankees, New Englanders sure make some respectable barbecue. And of all the good options here, nothing makes us happier than a combo plate of Tiffani Faison’s heritage-breed pulled pork and biscuits at Sweet Cheeks Q—except maybe Andy Husbands’s brisket at the Smoke Shop. And since both spots are in Boston, we’ve got to hand it to (Pork and) Beantown.


Boston: (Bars) Deep Ellum, Lord Hobo, Meadhall, the Publick House, Row 34; (Breweries) Aeronaut, Backlash, Idle Hands, Lamplighter, Mystic, Night Shift, Trillium

Portland: (Bars) The Great Lost Bear, Liquid Riot, Mash Tun, Novare Res, the Thirsty Pig; (Breweries) Allagash, Austin Street, Bissel Brothers, Foundation, Oxbow, Rising Tide

The Winner: Tie

Boston may be home to Jim Koch’s Boston Beer Co. (which helped get the whole craft beer thing started 30-plus years ago) and beer-geek bars like Lord Hobo, not to mention Trillium and Night Shift breweries, but Portland has more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city. That’s tough to top, especially when they’re as good as Allagash and Rising Tide. Call this one a draw.


Boston: Allston Diner, the Breakfast Club, the Friendly Toast, Juliet, Little Dipper, Mamaleh’s, Mike & Patty’s, Mike’s City Diner, Sofra

Portland: Bayside American Café, Becky’s Diner, Dutch’s, the Front Room, Hot Suppa, LB Kitchen, Portland Pottery Café, Union

The Winner: Portland

A reliably great breakfast place, where the doors open daily at 7 or 8 a.m., is a beautiful thing. From the breakfast sandwiches at Boston’s Mike & Patty’s to the eggs Benedict at Portland’s Hot Suppa, you’ll start the day well in either city. But Portland has the edge here because Hot Suppa is that good and because the city rounds out its a.m. options with the best doughnuts in New England.

Brunch | The Honey Paw in Portland
Photo Credit : Zack Bowen


Boston: Alden & Harlow, Bistro du Midi, Boston Chops, Brewer’s Fork, Committee, Henrietta’s Table, Highland Kitchen, Kirkland Tap & Trotter, Lincoln Tavern, Little Donkey, Oak & Rowan, Puritan & Co.

Portland:Artemisia Café, Central Provisions, Eventide, the Honey Paw, Little Giant, Schulte & Herr, the Sinful Kitchen, Terlingua, Tipo, Woodford F&B

The Winner: Boston

Maybe it’s all those students sleeping in on Sundays, but Boston is a true brunch town. Options range from high-end (the $99 seafood Grand Plateau at Bistro du Midi) to high-low (the Fruity Pebbles pancakes at Lincoln Tavern). And while any day that begins with skillet cornbread at Portland’s Central Provisions is a very good day, the sheer number of exceptional offerings in Boston can’t be bested.

Burgers | Craigie on Main in Boston (left) and BRGR Bar in Portland (right)
Photo Credit : Sam Kaplan/Trunk Archive (Craigie); Mark Fleming (BRGR)


Boston: Alden & Harlow, Bar Mezzana, Bred Gourmet, the Bristol, Bronwyn, Craigie on Main, Daddy Jones, Drink, the Gallows, Hojoko, Neptune Oyster, Toro

Portland: Brgr Bar, Chaval, East Ender, Grace, Hot Suppa, LFK, Nosh, Terlingua, Woodford F&B

The Winner: Boston

Portland has some seriously great burgers, including the cold-smoked patties at East Ender crowned with jack cheese, and the double-stacked Chaval burger. But Boston has two burger kings who’ve perfected the art of the patty: Tony Maws at his restaurant Craigie on Main (and Kirkland Tap & Trotter), and Michael Scelfo at Alden & Harlow (and Waypoint). From the cuts of meat to the way they’re ground to the artfully chosen toppings, these are the burgers to beat.


Boston: 5 Spices House, BLR by Shojo, Dumpling Café, Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Café, Gourmet Dumpling House, Myers & Chang, Peach Farm, Sumiao, Taiwan Café, Winsor Dim Sum Café

Portland: BaoBao, Empire Chinese Kitchen, Hakka Me, the Honey Paw

The Winner: Boston

Given that Boston is the only city of the two with an actual Chinatown, there was some debate over whether it was fair to include this category. But Portland deserves a shout-out for Cara Stadler’s BaoBao dumplings and the Honey Paw’s mapo tofu. As for Boston, between the modern riffs on ginger scallion lobster at Myers & Chang, the hand-pulled noodles at Gene’s, and the superlative soup dumplings at Gourmet Dumpling House, the Chinese food scene just keeps getting better.

Cocktails | Artscience in Boston
Photo Credit : Pat Ford


Boston: ArtScience, Blossom Bar, Brick & Mortar, Deep Ellum, Drink, Eastern Standard, Fool’s Errand, the Hawthorne, Oak Long Bar & Kitchen, Silvertone, Waypoint, Yvonne’s

Portland:Bearded Lady’s Jewel Box, Blyth & Burrows, Bramhall, Central Provisions, Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, Vena’s Fizz House

The Winner: Boston

Portland Hunt & Alpine Club serves up Northern comfort in its Scandinavian-inspired digs, and Vena’s Fizz House makes some of the best gin cocktails we’ve ever had. But since the craft cocktail revival of the 1990s, Boston has been home to four game-changing bars: Drink, the Hawthorne, Blossom Bar, and the late B-Side Lounge. All have made their mark on the national cocktail scene, and their gravitational pull has, in turn, attracted more talent, making Boston a phenomenal drinking city.


Boston:3 Little Figs, 4A Coffee, Barismo, Diesel, George Howell, Gracenote, Loyal Nine, Render, Revival, Thinking Cup

Portland: Bard, Coffee by Design, Coffee ME Up, Higher Grounds, Speckled Ax, Tandem

The Winner: Boston

The craft coffee trend continues to up the ante on everything from roasting techniques to the art of the pour-over. And thanks to owner Patrick Barter’s mastery of such things, Gracenote is making the best coffee in the Northeast, followed closely by Render and the still-innovative godfather of New England craft coffee, George Howell. But when in Portland, don’t miss Tandem, both for the coffee and for the delectable pastries from Briana Holt.

Delis | Mamaleh’s in Boston
Photo Credit : Dave Bradley • Food Styling by Monica Mariano/Ennis Inc. • Prop Styling by Courtney Goodrich/Ennis Inc.


Boston: Mamaleh’s, Our Fathers, Zaftigs

Portland: Rose Foods

The Winner: Boston

It seems the long-anticipated Jewish Deli Revival is still in its infancy in New England, but the delis that we do have give us good reason to kvell. Boston’s Mamaleh’s, in particular, is doing extraordinary work with its house-cured pastrami and lox and its kugel and knishes—not to mention its top-notch cocktail menu. And in Portland, Rose Foods is a go-to for deli delights (plus, some of the best bagels in the country are a mere 20-minute drive north, at the Purple House in North Yarmouth). As for a winner, once you add Our Fathers and Zaftigs to Boston’s roster, the answer is clear.


Boston: Allston Diner, the Breakfast Club, Buddy’s Diner, Busy Bee, Deluxe Town Diner, Kelly’s Diner, Mike’s City Diner, Rosebud, South Street Diner, Veggie Galaxy

Portland: Becky’s Diner, Miss Portland Diner, Palace Diner, Q Street

The Winner: Portland

While Boston has a greater volume of very-good-to-great diners, we couldn’t overlook the fact that Portland is just a short drive from the Palace Diner in Biddeford, which has become the nation’s most celebrated diner. So between that and the fact that Becky’s opens at 4 a.m. to serve the fishing crews, this one goes to the Forest City.


Boston: Blackbird, Kane’s, Union Square Donuts

Portland:HiFi, the Holy Donut, Tony’s

The Winner: Portland

We truly love the doughnuts at Kane’s, Blackbird, and Union Square, but the potato doughnuts at the Holy Donut are so fluffy, moist, and tender, we’d argue that all cake doughnuts should be made with mashed potatoes in the dough. And when you factor in Maine’s traditional mastery of the French cruller (by way of the Acadian community), it was an easy call.


Boston: Bondir, Brassica, Craigie on Main, Field & Vine, Forage, Henrietta’s Table, Juliet, Loyal Nine, Puritan & Co., the Table at Season to Taste, Woods Hill Table

Portland: Central Provisions, Drifters Wife, Fore Street, Hugo’s, Miyake, Street & Co., Sur Lie, Union, Vinland, the Well at Jordan’s Farm

The Winner: Portland

Farm-to-table-ness exists on a spectrum: At one end are the zealous practitioners, like Vinland, that source every ingredient locally. In the middle are the places that, like Puritan & Co. and Bondir, run their own farms but supplement that with, say, imported lemons. And last are the eateries that simply buy from nearby farms whenever they can. Across the spectrum, Portland’s farm-to-table ethos so permeates the restaurant scene (thanks in part to Sam Hayward’s long example at Fore Street) that it’s the best town for locavores.


Boston:Allium, American Provisions, Boston Cheese Cellar, Boston Public Market, Curds & Co., Eataly, Formaggio Kitchen, Savenor’s

Portland:Browne Trading Market, C Salt, the Cheese Shop, Micucci Grocery, Portland Public Market, Rosemont Markets

The Winner: Boston

Make this comparison on cheese alone, and Boston could beat nearly any city in the country, beginning with the 300-plus varieties for sale at Eataly and ending definitively with the cheese caves beneath Formaggio Kitchen, where wheels are aged to perfection. Add in the many smaller gourmet and cheese shops, the abundance of the Boston Public Market, and the exquisite meats and produce at Savenor’s, and you’ve got a winner.


Boston: Christina’s, Crescent Ridge, Forge, Gracie’s, Honeycomb, the Ice Creamsmith, Morano Gelato, New City Microcreamery, Picco, Rancatore’s, Toscanini’s

Portland:Beals, Gelato Fiasco, Gorgeous Gelato, Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream

The Winner: Boston

With all respect to the fine ice creams of Portland, this category was an easy pick. From the quality of the bases to the creativity of the flavors, Boston’s creamery scene is a cut above. One taste of Gracie’s salty whiskey or Toscanini’s signature Vienna finger cookie, and you’ll understand why.

Italian | Fox & The Knife in Boston
Photo Credit : Dave Bradley • Food Styling by Monica Mariano/Ennis Inc. • Prop Styling by Courtney Goodrich/Ennis Inc.


Boston: Bar Mezzana, Benedetto, Coppa, Fox & the Knife, Giulia, Mida, Nebo, Pammy’s, Sorellina, Sportello, SRV, Sulmona, Terra

Portland: Enio’s, Lolita, Paciarino, Piccolo, Ribollita, Solo Italiano, Tipo, Vignola Cinque Terre

The Winner: Boston

Ever since Joseph Vercelli opened Boston’s first Italian restaurant on Boylston Street in 1868, Italian food has been the Hub’s go-to cuisine. And it’s never been better than it is today. Gone are the days of ethnic essentialism (“eggplant Parm and lasagna, check”). Chefs like Fox & the Knife’s Karen Akunowicz and Bar Mezzana’s Colin Lynch feel ever freer to push the boundaries of Italian cooking, making food that’s personal and inventive but still recognizable. Meanwhile, Sportello feels so of-the-moment-Italian, you hardly need to cross the Atlantic.

Japanese | Hojoko in Boston
Photo Credit : Brian Samuels


Boston: Café Sushi, Douzo, Hojoko, Izakaya Ittoku, Kamakura, Momi Nonmi, O Ya, Oishii, Pabu, Pagu, Uni, Whaling in Oklahoma

Portland:Izakaya Minato, Mami, Miyake, Mr. Tuna, Pai Men Miyake

The Winner: Tie

There was more agonizing over this matchup than any other. Boston is home to two true national standouts (O Ya and Uni) and several award-worthy peers, and with the recent openings of Kamakura, Pabu, and Whaling in Oklahoma, there’s real energy in this category. And yet chef Masa Miyake’s nigiri is consistently the best we’ve had in New England— and at a much more accessible price point. Add the izakaya-style delights at Minato, which manages to feel exceedingly Japanese and fully local at the same time, and the superlative street food at Mami, and, well—we had to split the difference.


Boston: Anoush’ella, Chickadee, Garlic ’n Lemons, Oleana, Our Fathers, Sarma, Sofra

Portland: Baharat, Evo, Lolita, Tiqa

The Winner: Boston

Long before Yotam Ottolenghi took the cookbook world by storm, Oleana’s Ana Sortun was bringing the flavors of the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean to a wider audience. Then came sister restaurants Sofra and Sarma, and Boston became a destination town for hot buttered hummus, beet tzatziki, and tahini shortbread. Sortun’s three restaurants, along with Watertown’s Armenian markets, the fast-casual shawarma stylings at Garlic ’n Lemons, and the flatbread wraps at Anoush’ella, make Boston the clear winner.


Boston:Area Four, Brewer’s Fork, Galleria Umberto, Hot Box, Otto, Pastoral, Picco, Posto, Rabbotini’s*, Scampo

Portland: Belleville, Lazzari, Micucci Grocery, Otto, Slab, Tipo

The Winner: Boston

The fluffy squares at Belleville, Micucci, and Slab are a Portland signature and well worth the drive from anywhere in New England. However, Boston pizzerias offer a greater diversity of styles, from sourdough Neapolitan at Area Four to old-school Sicilian at Galleria Umberto. (Noted: Detroit-style pies, with their crisp caramelized-cheese edges, are all the rage, and Portland-based Otto makes them in both cities.)

*As of press time, owner Dan Roberts was still searching for a new, permanent location for Rabbotini’s, a former pop-up.

Seafood | Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland
Photo Credit : Dave Bradley • Food Styling by Monica Mariano/Ennis Inc. • Prop Styling by Courtney Goodrich/Ennis Inc.


Boston:B&G Oysters, Island Creek Oyster Bar, Legal Harborside, Mooncusser, Neptune Oyster, North Square Oyster, Ostra, Row 34, Saltie Girl, Select Oyster Bar, Waypoint

Portland: Bite into Maine, Bob’s Clam Hut, Eventide, the Highroller Lobster Co., J’s Oyster, Maine Oyster Company, Scales, Street & Co.

The Winner: Tie

There’s a perception that Portland is the top seafood town, if only because tourists spend so much time in the Old Port, which bumps right up against the working waterfront. By contrast, Boston’s fishing fleet is hidden away. But a side-by-side survey of seafood restaurants proves that both cities are running strong. Scales, Eventide, and Street & Co. are fantastic; so are Mooncusser, Waypoint, Ostra, and Island Creek. With such an embarrassment of riches, it’s OK to simply celebrate that fact and call it a draw.


Boston:Alden & Harlow, Barcelona, Bisq, Committee, Little Donkey, Pagu, Sarma, Taberna de Haro, Toro, Waypoint, Yvonne’s

Portland:Central Provisions, Chaval, Isa Bistro, Lio, Lolita, Portland Hunt & Alpine Club,Tipo

The Winner: Boston

Forgive us, Spanish purists, for sticking the centuries-old tapas tradition in the same category as the Millennial small-plates trend. The former inspired the latter, and it’s the most popular mode of dining today, as entrées are being supplanted by sharable apps. While both Boston and Portland have restaurants that ace this format, the Hub wins for both quantity and quality—as anyone who has sampled the crispy confit pork belly at Bisq or the fried chicken sandwich at Little Donkey can attest.


Boston: Anh Hong, Dakzen, Mae Asian Eatery, Pho Viet’s, S&I To Go, Tiger Mama

Portland:Boda, Cheevitdee, Cong Tu Bot, the Honey Paw, Mi Sen

The Winner: Portland

Here’s a case where having more restaurants in a category doesn’t guarantee a win. Boston has the greater number of Southeast Asian restaurants, but Portland boasts a higher proportion of excellent ones. Of special note: the chicken pho at Cong Tu Bot, the lobster toast at the Honey Paw, and the curries at Cheevitdee.


Boston: Clover, Cuong’s Vegan, Health Club, Life Alive, Red Lentil, Sassafras, Saus Bow Market, Taco Party, True Bistro, Veggie Galaxy, VO2, Whole Heart Provisions

Portland: Green Elephant, LB Kitchen, Local Sprouts Cooperative, Simply Vegan by Silly’s

The Winner: Boston

Looking at strictly vegetarian or vegan spots, not simply veggie-friendly ones, it’s obvious that Boston—the city that birthed Clover (now with 12 locations), a vegetarian diner (Veggie Galaxy), and a vegetarian Belgian frites shop (Saus Bow Market)—is the hands-down winner.

Waterfront Dining | Scales in Portland
Photo Credit : Peter Frank Edwards/Redux


Boston: James Hook & Co., Legal Harborside, No Name Restaurant, Outlook Kitchen, Restaurant Dante, Rowes Wharf Sea Grille

Portland:Boone’s, DiMillo’s, Flatbread Company, J’s Oyster, Saltwater Grille, Scales

The Winner: Portland

There was a moment when it seemed Boston might finally embrace its waterfront properly, with the Institute of Contemporary Art cantilevered over the harbor and a handful of restaurants with water views … and then it slapped up a bunch of bland high-rises. Talk about paving paradise. With more worthy restaurants within sight of Casco Bay, Portland gets the call.

Wine Bars | Drifters Wife in Portland
Photo Credit : Greta Rybus


Boston: Bin 26, the Butcher Shop, Haley.Henry, Lion’s Tail, Nathalie, Rebel Rebel, Spoke, Wine Bar at Tasting Counter

Portland: Drifters Wife, Lolita, MJ’s, Sur Lie

The Winner: Boston

Portland’s Drifters Wife deserves every bit of praise it’s received since its 2016 debut. But we’d argue that the one upside of Boston’s ridiculously overpriced liquor licensing system is that restaurateurs who acquire the comparatively affordable beer-and-wine-only licenses have to work harder to produce expertly curated, distinctive wine lists to draw diners. This is doubly true for wine bars, many of which are now focused on natural wines made without sulfites or other additives. If you haven’t done a Boston wine-around, you owe yourself a visit.

And the Winner Is…

With a final score of 15–7 (not counting three ties), Boston wins the showdown. And for its scope, its diversity, and the talent of its chefs, it does, in fact, deserve the mantle of New England’s best food town. Portland chefs may be freer to experiment, and the average bill may be smaller, but by virtue of the intense competition of surviving in a big city, Boston chefs are pressed in the way that produces more diamonds (and plenty of burnouts).

And yet … in this case, maybe the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Maybe what matters most is not who wins, but where you can find your favorite food. Do you love bakeries? Go to Portland. Love Italian food? Boston’s your town. If you want a compact city where chefs can afford to do more offbeat, personal food and the doughnuts reign supreme, Portland is paradise. If you want to dive deep into Chinatown’s hand-pulled-noodle scene, try some game-changing ice cream, and end the night at a Peruvian restaurant that’s earning national raves, Boston will give you that, and more. Always more. 

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