10 Must-Visit Restaurants in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
The dazzling dining options of the Granite State seaport are just a stone's throw away.
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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.
This guide was updated in August 2023; stay tuned for periodic updates.
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: tea-smoked duck breast with beet noodle-seaweed salad and black garlic nigella emulsion; a goat and lamb burger with whipped feta, marinated cucumber, peach catsup, and berbere frites; and soy-brined Iberico pork loin with buckwheat noodles, bok choy, umeboshi plum purée, and tempura scallions. It’s a trip around the world—all the while emphasizing ingredients sourced from New England farms. Don’t forget to, uh, stock up on spices at Stock & Spice, Black Trumpet’s sibling shop, next door.
29 Ceres St., Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 603-431-0887, blacktrumpetbistro.com.
Botanica Restaurant and Gin Bar
Occasion-worthy French cuisine and a boatload of gin? Yes, please. Inside a revitalized West End 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 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 barrel-aged gin, for instance, is paired with herbaceous Salers Gentiane, a French liqueur, for a white Negroni.
110 Brewery Lane, Suite 105, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 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 crispy prosciutto to balsamic fig jam. Or opt for one of 18 different preconceived patties, such as the Up in Smoke (bison with gouda, bourbon barbecue sauce, and smoked shallot and tomato jam) or the Reuben (good old-fashioned cow heaped with sauerkraut, corned beef, gruyere, and secret sauce). They’re all RLY GD.
34 Portwalk Pl., Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 603-294-0902, brgr-bar.com.
Cava Tapas & Wine Bar
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 pull from Spanish territories and more Eastern Mediterranean-leaning influences. See: medjool dates with Manchego cheese, Serrano ham, and za’atar; piquillo pepper-amped paella; and churros with hot chocolate.
10 Commercial Alley, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 603-319-1575, cavatapasandwinebar.com.
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 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? Red wine-braised short ribs with black pepper cream? As Stewart would say, “It’s a good thing.”
189 State St., Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 603-427-8258, curerestaurantportsmouth.com.
Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Cafe
When dining in a seaport, best to test the local waters—and in Portsmouth, that means a meal at Jumpin’ Jay’s, a veteran of the restaurant scene open for over 20 years. 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: jerk-glazed swordfish with curry lime aioli; a piccata take on haddock with caper beurre blanc; 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, New Hampshire, 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 and 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, New Hampshire, 603-431-5202, libraryrestaurant.com.
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 since opening over a decade ago. It’s all about eclectic made-to-share plates here, with lots of goodies perfect for grazing: crispy pork belly with fennel relish; mussels with chile basil butter; marinated beets with lemon poppy 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, New Hampshire, 603-319-8178, moxyrestaurant.com.
Ore Nell’s BBQ
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 barbecue 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, Maine, 207-703-2340, orenellsbbq.com.
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, covering 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 are 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 Rd., Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 603-501-0648, vidacantinanh.com.