Its twin out in Oregon may get all of the ink when it comes to indie rock and locavore cuisine, but this coastal Maine town is happy to fly under the radar with its killer seafood, artisanal cheese, and rootsy Americana.
The Venues: Soulful singer-songwriter brought Portland some musical cachetthank you, Ray LaMontagne and Patty Griffin. You can catch up-and-coming crooners at the charming One Longfellow Square. Or tap into the raw energy of the punk scene at 131 Washington, which doubles as an artists' studio and all-ages music venue in a former screen-printer's warehouse.
The Menus: Portland is so food-crazy that it has an entire bookstore dedicated to food: Rabelais. Any dining tour of Portland should start with the cuisine of Beard Award–winner Sam Hayward. You'll likely see fishermen and farmers delivering their products to the back door of his Old Port restaurant, Fore Street, which focuses on clean and simple preparations on a wood-fired stove and grill. Visitors on a budget can afford to get a taste of Portland's top chefs thanks to casual outposts like Duckfat, a superlative sandwich shop (try the duck confit panini) from Rob Evans, well known for his higher-end Hugo's. And be sure to sample the city's legendary cheeses such as the homemade Camembert at Silvery Moon Creamery and the Kennebunkport Dry Jack at the Cheese Iron.
What do you get when you cross arty institutions such as Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design with culinary arts training ground Johnson & Wales? A food and music crowd that's young, eager, and more than a little quirky.
The Venues: The rowdy art rock of Les Savy Fav and jazz-tinged indie-folk of the Low Anthem made music critics take a second look at Providence in the 2000s. And the vibe is equally eccentric today with hometown heroes like Lightning Bolt, with its raw Philip Glass–inspired compositions, and the Body's metal-noise-rock-meets-church-choir jams. And the city's proximity to the famed Newport Folk Festival means rootsy acts like Brown Bird get serious national attention. Check them out at venues like the Spot and Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel.
The Menus: Still in his 20s, Johnson & Wales grad Benjamin Sukle has already earned a James Beard rising star nomination for his locavore offerings at the Dorrance: Think crispy Rhode Island pork with local egg, Brussels sprouts, and pickled green tomato as an evening small plate to pair with artful cocktails. Thirtysomething Matt Jennings has received similar honors (in the form of a Beard nomination for Best Chef: Northeast) for his hearty bistro-style fare at La Laiterie. Try the seared Vermont chicken livers with beer-battered onion rings and the house-cured bacon.