Restaurant kitchens were once exclusively closed-off to diners, private sanctums where chefs could work their culinary magic away from curious eyes. Not anymore. As people have become more food-savvy, the wall between diners and the chef has literally come down; open kitchens are now a key element in the design of many restaurants.
86 Commercial St., Portland | 774-5725 | boonesfishhouse.com | $$$
This bustling waterfront restaurant is the fourth “room” from Portland chef Harding Lee Smith. With two outside decks and a cavernous interior that manages to feel intimate despite its depth, it has become the place to go for seafood downtown. Since Boone’s is his newest venture, Smith is generally in residence in the open kitchen on the first floor, where he and a team of cooks turn out a large variety of Maine seafood standards as well as more inventive dishes. To be part of all the action, take a seat at the small bar facing the kitchen, but note that this is not the setting for a quiet meal.
414 Fore St., Portland | 805-1085 | central-provisions.com | $$$
The large, L-shaped kitchen bar is the centerpiece of the dining room at Portland’s hottest new restaurant, which does not take reservations. Those lucky enough to nab one of the rustic but comfortable bar stools get a front-row view of chef Chris Gould and his crew as they prepare beautifully arranged crudo (raw fish) and other small plates that helped land Central Provisions one of 10 coveted spots on Bon Appetit magazine’s list of “Best New Restaurants 2014.”
685 Congress St., Portland | 761-7909 | local188.com | $$$
Chef Jay Villani now has three Portland restaurants — he also owns Sonny’s and Salvage BBQ — but Local 188 is his original and where, lately, you will find him in the open kitchen. There are a number of seating options here: on cushy couches in the lounge, at more traditional tables, or at counters against the front windows, but for fans of Villani’s Spain and Mediterranean-inspired food, there is no better seat in the house than at the long kitchen bar.
88 Middle St., Portland | 774-8538 | hugos.net | $$$$
When new owners Arlin Smith, Mike Wiley and Andrew Taylor completely renovated the ground-breaking restaurant they took over from celebrated chef Rob Evans, a bar with a full view of the open kitchen was a key part of the design. From one of its seats, diners can watch as chefs Wiley and Taylor precisely plate the creative, locally-sourced dishes on Hugo’s much-heralded, contemporary American tasting menus, each dish as beautiful to look at as it is delicious.
188 State St., Portland | 541-9204 | miyakerestaurants.com/pai-men-miyake | $$
When the winter wind howls, one could argue that the best seat in town is at Pai Men Miyake’s kitchen bar, where a cloud of richly scented steam envelopes diners in cozy warmth. In any season, the nikumun pork buns are legendary, as are other tasty dishes founded on pork and its rich fat, spice and miso, especially noodle soups in big hot earthenware bowls worth bowing over. For lighter appetites, the menu also includes creative and beautifully made sushi rolls.
The approximate cost of two dinner entrees (not including appetizers, drinks, tax and gratuity).
$ – $15 and under
$$ – $16 to $25
$$$ – $26 to $45
$$$$ – $46 and up