Mallside is no longer a secret amongst the Gastronauts
For years, the Maine Mall area in South Portland has been where a majority of the locals go to get their gastronomic fix. Its recent explosion in popularity has triggered what many in the nation refer to as a “Heroic Age of Dining.” It is the only type of age that actually improves on the age it follows. Historically, East Mallside is the kind of place you would expect to hear about from your older sister’s sketchy boyfriend – the guy who buys clothing at Spencer Gifts.
With Mallside essentially playing Medford to Portland’s Somerville, its restaurateurs are facing stiff competition from one another as they square off to be crowned king of the food court. It is already no secret to NYC’s dining elite, to the extent that the Sultan’s Suite at the Wyndham Twin Trash Cans is booked through 2025.
The area residents aren’t surprised – they’ve seen so much culture come and go already. A rich and varied past including East Side Mario’s, Newick’s, and The Ground Round, to name a few…
Here is a very special, highly-curated roadmap to ensure the visit of a lifetime. I have tried to incorporate many establishments in both the Old Mall Quarter (sometimes referred to as West Mallside) and the Panera District (East Mallside).
I swear I could eat Taj’s Gobi 65 – vividly seasoned, deep-fried cauliflower – every single day of the week. They expand on the Punjabi favorites found on most Indian menus with offerings like Cholle Batura, fluffy, doughy fried bread served with spiced chickpeas, while incorporating classic dishes from the south like dosa and Hyderabadi Biryani. Also, the lunch buffet is an insane value, staying hot and well-stocked throughout the day.
I am proud to admit that I have never hated myself enough to try the Cinnamon Toast Crunch Milkshake® at Elevation Burger. However, I’m usually down to thrash a Mushroom Swiss Burger and a side of fries. Have you ever wondered about the place that went into the space where that Tilted Kilt thing was? The crab place? Yeah, I haven’t either. Moving on…
There are very few places where I have tried most of the menu AND have a practically standing order that I get 81.23% of the time. That’s how much I eat at Big Fin Poke. Every time, the spicy tuna, the Kailani chicken, the Gyudon beef, and torched salmon bowls are spot-on. Also, their crab salad. The fucking crab salad. It’s made with crab stick. I add it to everything. Sometimes, I just get a side of it. Plus, an ice-cold pounder can of Thai Iced Tea elevates the whole goddamn affair to an Elysian state.
After hitting Spencer Gifts in the Mall, you’ll need the right place to rock that vintage Rascal Flats tee you just dropped big-time coin on. Mosey on over to West Mallside and Texas Roadhouse, which, inexplicably, is still one of the more consistent options for a steak in Maine. Also, they serve dessert before appetizers in the form of dinner rolls, plus the most ranchy-ranch dressing you’ll find north of the Hidden Valley.
Across town back in Eastie, El Rodeo is misleading because it used to be an Outback Steakhouse. It’s been a really long time now, but people take a really long time to know things. Maybe an order of tableside guacamole and a plate of birria tacos will finally exercise those Aussie demons for you. The menu is sprawling, but I can certainly vouch for the carnitas plate with jalapeño and onions – perfect with a liberal amount of El Yucateco green. The chicken soup is a meal unto itself – and pairs up nicely with a bottle of Tamarind Jarritos.
Area restaurant-goers have expressed disappointment at the lack of a Chick-Fil-A. Those in the know will make a pitstop in the Target District to pick up a squeeze bottle of Chick-Fil-A sauce before heading over to Popeye’s drive-thru for a chicken sandwich. This move effectively turns the situation into a choose your own adventure.
I always have trouble recommending Chinese American restaurants when people ask me since I always order the same thing every time. At Imperial China, I’ve got cashew chicken since I was 10 years old. I have no idea what anything else on their menu tastes like. But I can recommend cashew chicken all day.
On Wednesday nights, we meet for our Hospitaliano club. Afterward, the gang and I roll over to Olive Garden for Chicken & Gnocchi Soup®, Breadsticks®, and Eggplant Parmigiana®. We do not speak during these occasions. There is silence and acknowledgment that we all know exactly what each other is thinking.
If you’ve managed to hire a driver and are up for a bit of exploring, Indy’s Sandwich is in a nearby area that I would refer to as Candyland to Mallside’s Storyland. A dream team collaboration between two of my favorite Portland eateries, they are open for breakfast and lunch. Sandwiches range from the traditional to the fusion, such as the Tam and Cam – a pressed Banh Mi sandwich with Vietnamese sausage. They are also kind enough to cater to psychopaths like myself who like to order hot soup year-round.
I will leave you with this – the pancakes at Cracker Barrel make it worth going to Cracker Barrel. Don’t buy any Mogwai in the gift shop.
Watch for more White Hot Heat Flash Reports coming soon!