Small but mighty, Portsmouth has quite the culinary reputation. Despite being a small city (slightly more than 20,000 people), the quaint New Hampshire seaport is home to some of the region's best dining. Since it's barely an hour away by car (closer than many other places in Massachusetts), there's no reason Bostonians shouldn't gas up, get on the road and plan a trip to its best restaurants. Here are some of our top picks.
The historic, harborside brick building belies the contemporary cuisine inside. Chef Evan Mallett, a James Beard award semifinalist for Best Chef: Northeast, culls international flavors for a menu of "small," "medium" and "main" dishes that change often but are always interesting and refined. Even simple plates like the BT burger (pictured) feature flourishes, like smoked fatback and arugula-almond pesto.
The success of the Fort Point flagship inspired the Row 34 team to open this two-year-old Portsmouth sequel, which serves much of the same playful seafood as chef Jeremy Sewall's original (and, of course, plenty of the eponymous oysters, a more umami-laden counterpoint to their buttery Island Creek cousins). So — why visit a secondary location to something you can find in Boston's Seaport? This Row 34, unlike its progenitor, has a full cocktail list, including tinctures like the Copper Rose: Irish whiskey with tea-infused honey and egg white.
Think of it as an oenophile oasis, tucked away down a cozy alley where guests can dine outdoors by a lush green vertical garden. Sip in the first-level wine bar or cloistered subterranean "wine cave," and nosh on Mediterranean small plates like foie gras and truffle meatballs, duck breast with pickled strawberry and white asparagus escabèche with fig jam.
A 40-variety tequila list, salsa flights and a local pig head platter are among the star attractions at this cheery modern Mexican restaurant. The colorful dining room also turns out overstuffed, double-wrapped tacos that go well with beer cocktails like El Luchador, which tops off Aperol and Chartreuse with some Pacifico.
For 20 years, cozy Cafe Mirabelle was a local gem. But a few years ago, chef-owner Stephan Mayeux decided to close, renovate and reopen as Bridge Street. It's now becoming an institution in its own right, with a French-focused menu that includes a standout coq au vin and escargot with sundried tomatoes. Also: an oft-changing wine list sure to satisfy.
We've often sung the praises of Moxy, where chef Matt Louis taps seasonal New England ingredients to inform a menu of American takes on tapas. But don't sleep on his newer two-year-old venture, Franklin, where the horseshoe-shaped raw bar serves up bivalves freshly shucked for slurping — or in a variety of hot presentations, including stuffed with breadcrumbs and chorizo or fried with Cajun spices and a Creole tartar. Louis is a several-time semifinalist for James Beard awards, including in 2017, so it's a timely moment to check out his second, seafood-focused restaurant.
Housed in a 1940 lunch cart, the last of five produced by Worcester Diner Co. back in the heyday of such simple things, Gilley's is named for a former employee who served hot dogs, burgers and fries for five decades. But you only need one visit to this legendary little gem to understand why its wallet-friendly fare (a simple burger is $3.25) has been famous for so long.
Like many New England cities, Portsmouth has a great craft-beer scene going on right now. (Suds lovers are really lucky to call this region home.) We'd highly recommend a visit to Portsmouth Brewery, which bills itself as New Hampshire's "original brewpub." But definitely make time to visit one of the newer entries in the Granite State, Great Rhythm, which was working out of other facilities until opening its own Portsmouth brewery and taproom last August. Check out the signature sip, Resonation Pale Ale, or new styles like the tropical citrus-inflected Hi-Fi. Bonus: The Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce recently compiled a map of all the craft breweries in the area, which you can download here.
You'll want to read up on the history of The Library before visiting. Housed in an early American mansion that eventually served as a hotel, it reportedly hosted everyone from George Washington to John F. Kennedy at one point or another. Today you can pull up a seat in the library-themed steakhouse, where a stellar wine list and adjoining lounge add to the gentlemanly Yankee atmosphere.
This local brand of rustic-elegant Italian eateries is bringing its dual-purpose — half restaurant, half Italian market — to Boston's Seaport in the fall. But until then, you'll have to hit one of the three existing locations outside the Hub: Burlington, MA; Salem, NH; or the newest Portsmouth outpost, which opened in March. The Portsmouth's restaurant half is already open, so you can pull up one of the nearly 300 seats (which includes a spacious 70-plus seat patio) and dive into antipasti, wood-oven-fired pizzas and its just-launched happy hour of discounted eats (3–6 PM, Monday through Friday). The meat-, cheese- and foodstuff-stocked market side, meanwhile, should be open by the end of July.
This cool martini lounge draws hip young things in with its cocktail list, which includes standouts like the Marie Antoinette (tea-infused brandy with Lillet) and Japanese Sunflower (sake with pineapple vodka and ginger ale). But they stay for the nightlife: live music from genre-spanning local bands and DJs spinning everything from synth-pop to deep house.
Fresh local catch and exotic fish share space on the menu at this seafood standby. Our favorite part: The rotating daily selections can be ordered with a sampler of sauces, from pineapple salsa to a lobster velouté. There's also a well-stocked raw bar of fresh oysters, clams and stone-crab claws.
Credit: Written By: Scott Kearnan https://www.zagat.com/b/10-reasons-to-drive-to-portsmouth