10 Must-Visit Restaurants in Portsmouth, New Hampshire – Boston magazine

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The dazzling dining options of the Granite State seaport are just a stone’s throw away.
Photo by Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Cafe via Yelp.
Everyone knows that the dining scene in Portland, Maine is well worth the drive from Boston. If you want to save some time and gas money, though, take heed: Portsmouth, New Hampshire is a similarly quaint seaport that’s only an hour away—about half the ride, but with a restaurant scene that competes with cities many times its size. (No wonder Boston’s own Row 34 chose the historic downtown for its first out-of-state location.) Ready to hit the road? Let the best of Portsmouth whet your whistle.
Dim, cozy, and swathed in brick and wooden beams—there’s palpable “ye olde seaport history” inside the Black Trumpet, a waterfront building that once served as a ship-supply mercantile. Today, though, the place proffers rustic-refined New American cuisine (plus excellent wines) from acclaimed chef Evan Mallett. Think: confit chicken with farro and figs, crispy veal sweetbreads with agrodolce, and slow-cooked goat with balsamic kale and berbere carrots, all emphasizing ingredients sourced from New England farms.
29 Ceres St., Portsmouth, 603-431-0887, blacktrumpetbistro.com.
Occasion-worthy French cuisine and a boatload of gin? Yes, please. Inside a revitalized mill building blooms Botanica, where brick walls are painted lily white (when they’re not covered in floral print). On the menu you’ll find a garden of delights, from the fromage blanc-filled pasta squares to the brandy jus-sauced steak frites to the chocolate soufflé with vanilla crème anglaise. Flowery cocktails, meanwhile, make ample use of the restaurant’s namesake spirit, tapping top-shelf varieties: Maine-made Wiggly Bridge gin, for instance, is paired with herbaceous Salers Gentiane, a French liqueur, for a white Negroni.
110 Brewery Lane, #105, Portsmouth, 603-373-0979, botanicanh.com.
We’d like to buy a vowel—preferably a “u,” for the “yum” that comes dribbling out between bites of A-plus burgers of beef or bison sourced from Maine farms. (Other meats and veggie options are available, too.) Build ’em how you want ’em from the list of toppings, which covers everything from fried avocado to kimchi to blackberry-and-serrano jam. Or opt for one of 15 different preconceived patties, such as the Wise Quacker (a duck burger with crispy kale and goat cheese), the Up in Smoke (bison with gouda, bourbon barbecue sauce, and smoked shallot and tomato jam), and the Reuben (good old-fashioned cow heaped with sauerkraut). They’re all RLY GD.
34 Portwalk Pl., Portsmouth, 603-294-0902, brgr-bar.com.

The garden patio’s greenery-festooned living wall is a pretty, picturesque backdrop for warm-weather sipping on sparkling Spanish wines. And when wintry chills move in? Warm up inside with transportive tapas that pulls from Spanish territories and more Eastern Mediterranean-leaning influences. See: Brussels sprouts hopped with harissa as well as a Canary Island-rooted garlic sauce, seafood stew in a saffron clam broth, and piquillo pepper-amped paella.
10 Commercial Alley, Portsmouth, 603-319-1575, cavatapasandwinebar.com.
Chef Julia Cutting-Kelly. / Photo by Cure via Yelp
She didn’t go all the way, but Portsmouth chef Julie Cutting-Kelly earned high praise from tough judge Martha Stewart when the iconic queen of divine dinner parties hosted her own special series of Chopped episodes, filmed last year at nearby Hidden Pond Lodge in Kennebunkport, Maine. If you missed her on the small screen, snag a seat at her intimate street-corner spot, where she puts a special focus on meat and seafood. Pan-roasted duck with a white wine balsamic beurre blanc? Cider-molasses BBQ short ribs with roasted sweet potato and dijon sauce? As Stewart would say, “it’s a good thing.”
189 State St., Portsmouth, 603-427-8258, curerestaurantportsmouth.com.
Photo by Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Cafe via Yelp.
When dining in a seaport, best to test the local waters—and in Portsmouth, that means a meal at Jumpin’ Jay’s, a 20-year-old veteran of the restaurant scene. From the name, you might expect a hokey joint with a battery-operated Big Mouth Billy Bass flapping on the wall. Nah, not here. The vibe is casual but still keeps it classy to meet the modern, upscale-tilting cuisine: swordfish, served carbonara-style with pasta and peppadew in a creamy Alfredo sauce; a piccata take on haddock, with a ratatouille of squashes; and fresh catch of the day, accompanied by a choice of lobster velouté, red pepper hazelnut romesco, and other sauces. Oh, and raw bar offerings abound. Shuck yeah.
150 Congress St., Portsmouth, 603-766-3474, jumpinjays.com.
With its lion statues standing sentry by the front door, ornate walls and ceilings of intricately carved dark wood, and shelves lined with hardcover tomes, the Library looks like the set for a reboot of Clue. It’s not, and it was never actually a library, either. So, what is it? A former judge’s mansion and current quintessential New England steakhouse, that’s what, where the steaks are sizzled to perfectly pink, the sides like bourbon creamed corn and lobster mac ‘n’ cheese are served family style, and the award-winning wine list is replete with ruby-red bottles for the rich tastes that populate this old-school Portsmouth institution.
401 State St., Portsmouth, 603-431-5202, libraryrestaurant.com.
Photo by Moxy via Yelp.
Chef Matt Louis trains his eye on seafood at his other, also-excellent Portsmouth restaurant, the Franklin. Moxy, though, is where he built his bold-faced name and bolder rep—and it remains an essential part of the Seacoast Region’s culinary conversation. It’s all about eclectic share plates here, with lots of goodies made for grazing: crispy pork belly with sour cherry jam; mussels with leek in a Mezcal cream; marinated beets with sweet-and-sour charred onion, peanut dukkah, and tahini labneh. Add kicky cocktails, plus a particularly adroit way with crafting booze-free bevvies, and you’ve got a go-to people pleaser you won’t want to keep to yourself.
106 Penhallow St., Portsmouth, 603-319-8178, moxyrestaurant.com
Photo by Ore Nell’s BBQ via Yelp.
Okay, we’re cheating just a bit here: Plopped right on the other side of a borderline-spanning drawbridge, Ore Nell’s is technically in Kittery, Maine. Technicalities. The point is, if you’re hankering for ‘cue, it’s hard to imagine doing better than this standout from pitmaster Will Myska, a Texas native. He gives us Yankees all the good stuff: trays of brisket, pulled pork, and St. Louis-style ribs; starters and sides, including a loaded deep-fried baked potato, as well as chicken wings slathered in Alabama-style white BBQ sauce; and superb sweets like honey-drizzled “State Fair” funnel cake and signature banana pudding. The real state we’re in: Bliss.
2 Badgers Island West, Kittery, 207-703-2340, orenellsbbq.com.
Vida Cantina chef David Vargas. / Courtesy photo
Though most of these restaurants are in Portsmouth’s quaint downtown, it’s worth wandering just a bit afield to get to Vida Cantina. We’ve already dubbed it a dining destination, and for good reason: James Beard-nominated chef David Vargas’s Mexican eats are among the best in the northeast, and covers all the bases, from tortas to tacos to enchiladas. The crowning achievement, though, might be the confit pig head platter served with a salsa flight (there’s also 40-plus tequilas, if you want to try a few of those). Is the place housed in a former strip-mall Friendly’s? Sure, but the James Beard awards didn’t care when they named Vargas a semi-finalist, and neither do we.
2456 Lafayette Road, Portsmouth, 603-501-0648, vidacantinanh.com.
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