For the best sit-down breakfast in town, go to Daniel street. But don’t try the front door — the entrance is through the alley, where you can sit and sip your coffee until a table is free. Colby’s is an old-school Yankee restaurant that famously banned all presidential candidates during New Hampshire’s primary season in 2012. With new menu creations every day, Colby’s manages to keep prices low and creativity high in this local haven where you can order anything from buckwheat pancakes to lobster benedict. Just don’t try to do any campaigning.
This is where we go for our to-go croissants. Ceres is where you can listen to the regulars banter under the bakery’s unusual decorations — like the gigantic wooden hand waving a magic wand or the stained-glass windows that spell out the Ceres motto: ‘Eat something, you’ll feel better.’
3. Caffe Kilim
‘Dancing Goats’ is the bean that Turkish owner Yelsin orders specially for his coffee shop on the West end of town. Enter to the strong scent of curry and cinnamon accompanied by the ululations of Turkish music and appreciate the hodgepodge of art, postcards, and rugs that hang on the wall of this small — but packed — business. This is where the locals go for the best cup of coffee in town.
Flatbread is the only ‘chain restaurant’ that will show up on this list, which is a testament to how fantastic they are. Portsmouth is fortunately one of a handful of small New England towns (in addition to Whistler and Maui) to have one of these wood-fired pizza dens. With a communal atmosphere, long wooden tables, and the massive stone ovens, they are the best place in town to bring a big group for a Redhook Ale and a Jay’s Heart pizza.
What happens when two classically trained chefs open a restaurant that serves their favorite all-time food? You get the best burger place on the Seacoast. Hiding in a tiny hole-in-the-wall on the West End of town, Lexie’s serves 5-star food with casual packaging. For 10 bucks you can get a gourmet burger on a potato roll topped with braised short ribs and gruyere, black truffle fries cut as thin as lace with shredded parmesan on top, and the fancy milk shake of the day.
Located in (and partly responsible for) the up-and-coming West End of Portsmouth, Street is an eclectic place where you can get a banh mi or pozole that can challenge the street vendors of Vietnam and Mexico. Between their killer tap offers, great service night deals, and edgy decorations, it is well worth a trip to the West End for a mouth-watering Cemita.
Reliable, award-winning, and impossible to miss, the bright yellow façade on Market Street with the huge beer steins hanging above it is your location for a bowl of amazing chili made with their Old Brown Dog beer. Wash it down with a Dirty Blonde Ale or Black Cat Stout and look for the locals downstairs in the Jimmy Lapanza Lounge, playing shuffleboard and lounging on the couches.
Shio is a Japanese restaurant offering sushi and sashimi with a Portsmouth twist. Here you can order seacoast-inspired dishes such as the saltwater roll with spicy tuna, mango, and sea salt, or ‘Japanese oyster curry.’ There are several sushi restaurants in Portsmouth now, but Shio is still the stand-by for locals — when it comes to price and quality, it can’t be beat.
This list would be incomplete if it didn’t include the place locals go for their fish fix. Look for the big wooden fish hanging from the sign (in the winter, they’ll be wearing colorful scarves) and you’ll find Jumpin Jay’s Fish Cafe, where you can shuck-a-buck, gorge yourself on mussels, or try the catch of the day with one of their homemade sauces (such as mandarin sesame glaze with wasabi aoli). Or you could just go to their cocktail bar to sip the best ‘hot and dirty martini’ in town.
Tucked away by the harbor, the chef at the Black Trumpet uses the whole animal and mixes local flavor into classic dishes, adding scavenged fiddleheads and morels to the paella verde and sumac-ramp oil to the crostinis. Make a reservation; the limited seats in this restaurant will disappear quickly.
The outside of this little hideaway in Commercial Alley is a living wall. Covered with vines and moss, the patio has a ‘wild’ feeling that pairs nicely with the refinement of the tapas selections, which are updated daily on the chef’s blog and may contain things such as hummus made with pomegranate molasses or char-grilled baby octopus. The mixture of Spanish and Indian influences keep this food interesting.
After a day of recouping, I can finally take the time to say thank you to everyone that came out to @moxynh! It's nice to cook where I grew up and see so many new and familiar faces! New journeys are ahead for me and I hope all of you join me in the near future! Special thanks to Matt Louis for letting play in his kitchen and kick it with his crew. Also shout out to @greensaboveground for your exquisite microgreens that really made my plates pop! #pastry #pastrylife #bostonchefs #boston #cheflife #chefsofnh #breadandsalthospitality #pushyourself #truecooks photo credit to: @pav10v
Located right around the corner from Cava is Portsmouth’s second tapas bar, Moxy. Although they offer the same style of food, Moxy’s influences are modern American, so this is where you can get some serious Johnny Cakes — cornmeal pancakes made with brown sugared pork shoulder.
Situated perfectly between the living history museum of Strawberry Banke and the public Prescott Park, Mombo at first glance appears to be an old red barn surrounded by gardens. But it spares no effort serving patrons its modern gourmet American food ‘with an international twist,’ serving up things like braised beets and avocado cheesecake.
Right on Congress Street, Radici has a great view of Portsmouth locals hurrying past. But inside, you can take your time and enjoy the predictably delicious gnocchi or stuffed ravioli at an institution that has witnessed dozens of rival restaurants come and go around it. Radici also offers the most affordable ‘fine dining’ in town.
Massimo Morgia grew up with a passion for good food in Italy which he has brought to the seacoast in full force. A restaurant that Portsmouth is fiercely proud of, Massimo offers valet parking, beautifully ornate decorations, highly trained waiters, and — of course — food that draws patrons from all over the world. Everything is prepared from scratch at Massimo — where they cut their own pasta and cure their own meat — and their menu reads like poetry, offering up dishes like butter poached lobster claws over truffle arugula salad.
Voted one of the top 50 lounges in America by Esquire magazine and guarded by stone lions, The Library Restaurant is actually a remodeled library in a gargoyle-sporting mansion from 1785. Between its oriental carpets, prolific decanters, and hand-carved Spanish Mahogany, The Library has a reputation for old-world class that goes unrivaled. Also, their steaks and wine list are the best in town. Bring your parents or boss here — this is the place locals go when someone else is picking up the check!
17. The Coat of Arms
Head down narrow Fleet Street next to the parking garage and you’ll find a sign hanging above a lonely door — the Coat of Arms. But walk upstairs and you’ll discover a lively atmosphere where locals drop by to play snooker, drink a cask beer with friends, and munch on the best fish and chips in town. The GM knows every local microbrew by heart and the bouncer will trade jokes with you, so it doesn’t really get any more townie than this.
18. The Red Door
Looking for the music scene? Just before the Memorial Bridge over to Maine, there’s yet another unmarked door (yes, we love these) which leaks music in the evening. Home to Hush Hush Sweet Harlot and Salty Speakers series, the Red Door is a small secret roost where you can catch tons of talented local and traveling performers as you sip your cocktail on velvet pillows. It might seem like you stumbled into an elegant house party, but don’t worry — the closest thing they have to a secret knock is the cover charge.
19. The District
Open late, the District is where comfort food meets class. This is the late-night place to grab a fancy cocktail with a plate of gourmet Poutine. For those who haven’t seen the light, Poutine is a pile of cheesy, gravy-covered fries that has migrated Southward from Canada. If you’re going to eat like a local, you should be thinking about how to beef up for the winter!
Of course, you could always get your late-night poutine from Gilley’s, the oldest establishment in Portsmouth. Originally towed by horses in 1940, Gilley’s has become a stationary diner that serves dogs and burgers when you really need them — after the bars close.
21. The Press Room
The long wooden bar and exposed beams of the Press Room have served as fixtures in the unofficial town meeting hall since 1976. With a staff that never changes, and nightly live music — both upstairs and downstairs — the Press Room is where locals go to grab a Smuttynose baltic porter and hear the local Irish group fiddle in the corner, or sip an old fashioned upstairs while watching a band that just headlined in Boston. Don’t go here unless you want to run into half the town.
Portsmouth has more ice cream shops than one-way streets (that will mean more to you when you have to drive here), but only one of them has earned its name as the local spot. Follow the crowd to Annabelle’s, hiding out by the decks, where you can get a cone of maple walnut made with New Hampshire maple syrup and watch the cargo ships roll in.