El Corazon Food Truck, Portland, Maine

I might just be the most unqualified person EVER to comment on Mexican food. Growing up in the Northwest of England in the 80s/90s I don’t recollect any Mexican food experiences. In fact, I think my first taco would have been eaten at the grand old age of 25 when I moved to the US.

Earlier this year when we went back to the UK to visit family, my parents took us to a new “Mexican” restaurant. Yup, those would be air quotes around the Mexican part of the restaurant. We started with a bowl of olives marinated in extra virgin olive oil with Italian herbs…but you know, there were complimentary sombreros to wear. A request for queso was met with baffled looks, you get the idea!

Therefore, I won’t be making any comments on the authenticity of this Mexican food truck but trust me when I say you NEED to find the El Corazon food truck and get one of everything the next time you’re in Portland, ME. If you’re planning a wedding in Maine or a party, note that El Corazon food truck will even come to you and cater your event – late night tacos? Yes please!

El Corazon Food Truck can usually be found Tuesday – Friday 11am – 2:30pm at the intersection of Spring St and Temple St in Portland, ME and then at one of the various local breweries on the weekend. They’re really great about updating their schedule and you can also find updates on their facebook page. Order at the truck, hang out on the sidewalk with a fresh agua fresca and you’ll leave with a happy belly and change from $10. What’s not to love about that?

I was joined by my friend Michele, who traveled extensively as a child and spent a number of years actually eating Mexican food IN Mexico. Michele has been urging me to visit El Corazon ever since I moved to Maine and yup, she was right. We started with a couple of Baja fish tacos ($3/each) with generous chunks of lightly fried fish, nestled in a mildly spicy chipotle aioli with crunchy cabbage and cilantro. Sidewalk eating is the best as you don’t have to worry about the juices dripping off the taco and running down your hands. I really wanted to order another fish taco but we had other items to try! Baja fish taco at El Corazon food truck in Portland, Maine

Taquitos are rolled and filled corn tacos, deep fried and served with guacamole, sour cream and cheese. You can choose from potato and cheese, chicken or shredded beef. At just $3.75 for three taquitos that’s a steal, and the best part? You can get one of each filing so try them all.

A small chalkboard lists the daily specials; the empanada was sold out so we ordered the tamale of the day. For the uninitiated, a tamale is a traditional dish made of masa (Spanish for dough), around a tasty filing, steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf. The husk or leaf wrapping is discarded before eating. The El Corazon tamale of the day ($3.50) was stuffed with housemade chorizo and Oaxaca cheese.

At this point we were pretty stuffed but we soldiered on. The house specialty is a Sonoran hot dog (pushing the boat out at $4.00). A bacon-wrapped hot dog, yes, bacon-wrapped hot dog is topped with beans, pico de gallo, shredded cheese, guacamole, mustard and mayo. Holy hot dog, this was good. Even the bun was a standout – not your average hot dog bun but a substantial grilled bread bun that supported the loaded hot dog perfectly. The bacon wrapping was thin and crispy and Michele declared this “Last meal worthy!”

See that bacon-wrapped hot dog just peeping though the generous toppings of pico de gallo, cheese and guacamole? Going forward, all hot dogs will seem kind of lame after this one.

Did you know that Portland, Maine has a pretty thriving food truck scene? Here’s a great round up from Kate at Blueberry Files. I think I might set myself a summer challenge of visiting ALL the Maine Food Trucks!

El Corazon offers “Mexican Food From The Heart” and they’ve certainly got a taco-sized place in my heart now. If you’re hungry for an affordable and incredibly tasty lunch in Portland, Maine make sure to visit El Corazon and get at least one fish taco!

El Corazon Food Truck
Spring St (at intersection with Temple St), Portland Maine
Usually Tue – Fri 11am – 2:30pm
El Corazon Menu
There’s limited street parking (paid) and El Corazon takes cash or credit cards. Popular items often sell out so get there early if you want the full selection.

Long Grain in Camden, Maine

Camden, a small town in Knox County, Maine is my happy place. For the last four years we’ve staycationed in Camden for our November wedding anniversary.Thai appetizers at Long Grain restaurant in Camden, Maine.

Camden in November is a very different place than Camden in say, July. As the temperatures drop and the tourists leave, the seasonal restaurants are shuttered for the winter. The year-round restaurants rely on the business of locals to make it through the cold winter. Last November we made the brisk walk from The Camden Harbor Inn (our favorite place to stay – and you MUST eat at Natalies while you’re there) arriving at Long Grain with red noses and stinging ears not once, but twice.

Although it was a random Tuesday morning at the end of November, the small restaurant was packed (you MUST make a reservation!) and we were happy to slide onto the bar stools and sit elbow to elbow with locals slurping their noodles. Our first Long Grain experience was one of those quiet meals without much conversation because you’re too into the food, stopping occasionally to exchange delighted “I know, right!??!?” glances with your dining partner. 

Since those memorable meals, I’ve been obsessively craving thinking about the bold flavors of Long Grain. Last week I convinced a bunch of friends that a four-hour-round-trip drive up to Camden to eat at Long Grain was a really smart idea.
Menu at Long Grain in Camden Maine

Once you’ve found the restaurant (there’s no signage), it’s time to make some tough decisions as you’ll likely want to order one of everything from the regular and daily special menu. The husband and wife owners Ravin Nakjareon (a two-time James Beard semifinalist) and Paula Palakawong hail from Bangkok and their Thai food occasionally hints at Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese influence with ramen, kimchi and Vietnamese noodles on the menu. Seasonal Maine ingredients also play a key role at this restaurant – local ramps, plump Maine mussels and more.

We ordered a bunch of appetizers starting with pan-fried garlic chive rice cakes. The green-hued slabs were perfumed with the spring flavors of chive and garlic. Sauteed beansprouts floating in the savory sauce added a welcome crunch.Food at Long Grain in Camden. Rice cakes with chive and garlic by MainelyEating.com

Thai spring rolls. Yup, you may have had them at your local take-out place but these are the real deal. It’s been a while since I visited Thailand but I was instantly transported back by the light, chilled rolls filled with rice noodles and crisp vegetables and fragrant with mint and basil. One of my friends declared, “These are ridonculously good, no, make that ridonky-donculously good which is even better!” Whilst that may not be a grammatically correct statement it’s a pretty solid endorsement 😉
Delicious Thai spring rolls at Long Grain in Camden, ME by MainelyEating.com

Street chicken wings with crisp fried garlic from the specials menu were succulent and crunchy. Cliché of course but they really were definitely finger lickin’ good. The wings were accompanied by a little bowl of potent sauce that was fiery with just enough acid to cut through the deep fried taste.
Street chicken wings at Long Grain, Camden ME by MainelyEating.com

Spicy Thai basil minced chicken topped a bowl of snowy white rice and the (optional) warm runny egg yolk brought everything together. The chicken was crazy tender and so full of flavor.Thai crispy chicken with fried egg on top of white rice at Long Grain by MainelyEating.com

I’m sure everyone has experienced takeout pad Thai, it’s often greasy with clumped-together noodles. That’s doing a disservice to pad Thai. Long Grain pad Thai is light years from your previous takeout experience. Slippery house-made noodles are toothsome, full of flavor and not at all greasy. In fact, you’d be wise to order extra to-go because you won’t have any leftovers.
Perfect Pad Thai at Long Grain in Camden Maine by MainelyEating.com

The standout dish for me was Maine crab fried rice. Gratifying chunks of sweet crab meat were generously dispersed throughout the decadent fried rice. You can choose to put an egg on top, and why wouldn’t you? After much deliberation and chewing, one of my dining companions announced, “This rice is somehow…gentle” which sounds strange but was weirdly accurate. Cooling cucumber and a sweet crunch of onion added an extra dimension.
Maine crab fried rice with fried egg at Long Grain by MainelyEating.com

Portions are generous and most appetizers can easily be shared. Don’t miss out on the thoughtful sauces that accompany each appetizer. The room is fairly sparsely decorated, it’s almost like you’ve been invited into someone’s living room and they’ve borrowed a bunch of chairs from relatives. It will be interesting to see if the decor changes with the imminent move to a new larger space with attached Asian market. There are maybe 6 or 7 bar stools at the bar and 7-8 tables for 2-4 people (tables can be pushed together for larger groups). It’s ALWAYS wise to make a reservation even in the winter.

It can be tough to get through on the phone to make a reservation (the answer machine messages instructs you not to leave any messages but just to call back) and you should also be prepared to be told that your table is reserved for another customer 90 minutes after you sit down (this is not a place to linger over a 3 hour dinner) but it’s worth it for the food.

The atmosphere was lively with conversation and music. Is it a place for a romantic first date? No, probably not. But that’s because you’d want to wait until maybe date #5 when you’ve dropped the whole “nibbling on a salad” polite act and can slurp your noodles and lick the garlic-y chicken wing sauce that’s dribbling down your wrist.Review of delicious Thai food at Long Grain Restaurant in Camden, Maine

On the drive home, content with full bellies, we contemplated our happy day in Camden, it was perfectly summed up with the statement, “It’s a really good job we don’t live closer to Long Grain or we’d be in trouble!”

Did I mention you should make a reservation? 🙂

Eat at: Long Grain 
No website, but the daily specials are usually posted on the facebook page
31 Elm St, Camden, ME, 04843
207 236 9001
Hours: Tue- Sat 11:30am-3pm for lunch, 4:30-9:00pm for dinner (closed Sun, Mon)
***Note, a move to 20 Washington St for a bigger space and the addition of an Asian market is planned for 2016/17

Stay at: The Camden Harbor Inn
83 Bayview St, Camden, ME, 04843
207 236 4266

Where to eat brunch on Monday in Portland, Maine

Brunch – not quite breakfast, not quite lunch, according to the Monday brunch menu at Central Provisions.  Eggs are inevitably involved. Pair said eggs with a mimosa or a bloody mary – what’s not to like? So how come most restaurants only offer brunch on Sunday? What if it’s Monday and you feel like brunching?

Perhaps you’re visiting Portland, Maine for the weekend? Maybe you’re staying through Sunday evening and you’d like a delicious brunch on Monday morning before your drive/flight home. You’re thinking “Where can I get brunch on Monday in Portland, Maine?” Good news! Central Provisions (nominated for a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant!) serves brunch on Mondays!

If you haven’t had the pleasure of eating at Central Provisions then brunch is a good introduction to the wonders of this Portland, Maine favorite. Central Provisions “staples” like bread and butter and tuna crudo are consistent favorites on the menu along with seasonal and daily specials. There are no reservations so be prepared for a considerable wait if you want to visit during high-season (June – September) but over the last month we’ve always been able to snag a table or seat at the bar with no wait.

I’m all about the bread and muffins at brunch but I know that for gluten-free people, sadly that’s not the case. At one of my Monday brunches I was joined by a friend who lives with celiac disease. The Central Provisions staff kindly and thoroughly annotated the menu to show her the Gluten Free options (which were plenty!)

I’ve been on a bit of a Monday brunch mission recently, catching up with friends, family and colleagues and working my way through most of the brunch options at Central Provisions over my last four visits. Here are some highlights:

Bread and butter
I’ve loved this dish ever since my first visit to Central Provisions. There are seasonal changes – maybe the butter changes from hazelnut to seaweed but it’s just so good. That first bite of warm bread generously smeared with “egg” never fails to delight.

Egg McFoie
At first glance, your standard breakfast sandwich with crisp bacon, runny-yolk fried egg and melty cheese on a generously buttered then toasted English muffin. Take a closer look though. Hiding under all that breakfast goodness is a whopping great piece of seared foie gras. The Egg McFoie sandwich will RUIN you for all other breakfast sandwiches in the future, so order at your own peril….

You can see the foie on the image below on the left. My most recent Egg McFoie (on the right) was missing the cheese but I can’t say it affected my enjoyment in the slightest.

Beet salad
As the bowl of sweet roasted beets with a lemon and avocado cream is set down on the bar, my heart skips a beet. Sorry, not sorry. If you love beets, heck, even if you’re ambivalent about beets, get this salad. Your opinion of beets will forever be revised. My own love of beets is well documented and I’m totally going to attempt this lemon-y/avocado-y/peppercorn-y dressing at home next time I roast some beets.

Roasted cauliflower
The cauliflower is roasted to a deep, dark brown color, with Ras el hanout, crunchy deep-fried chickpeas, matchstick slices of apple, crumbled feta, fresh mint and parsley – it’s a big bold dish.

CP fries
Shoestring fries in a cute little paper cup with a tasty little aioli or ketchup. Great side to go with your breakfast sandwich or burger but I think I’d rather just get an extra order of the beet salad next time! 

Cornbread special with uni and kimchi
This was a special so there’s a good chance it won’t feature if you decide to visit Central Provisions for a Monday Brunch. A perfect little cornbread was filled with kimchi, a runny egg and generously topped with uni. On this particular Monday I’d taken my Mom for brunch and she somehow misheard this special and ordered it being unaware of the uni. Who knew? My Mom’s an uni fan!

Yellowfin Tuna crudo
How can such a little piece of tuna taste SO GOOD? I have no idea but it explains why this dish is a regular on the Central Provisions Monday Brunch menu! If there was some kind of Oscars for tuna dishes, this one would be getting the lifetime award. And other tuna dishes would be thanking it for the inspiration. It’s so simple – a perfect piece of tuna, carefully sliced, a little drizzle of mustard-y magic, crispy onions, crunchy radish – and so delectable.

Benton’s ham
16-month aged Benton’s ham with pimento cheese and two divinely flaky little biscuits. The salty ham pairs beautifully with the spicy cheese slathered onto the tiny biscuits. If I HAD to choose between this and an Egg McFoie sandwich it would be tough but I’d probably go Egg McFoie. And then covet the Benton’s ham of the person sitting next to me.

Brunch finishes promptly at 2pm with last orders at 2:15pm but if you’re having too good a time to leave you can make your way downstairs to the cozy little bar and enjoy more coffee, a cocktail or a couple of $5 bar snack rations – chicharrones, marinated olives, almonds, pickles or potato chips. My cocktail of choice is the Glass Slipper – Maine vodka, elderflower liquor, orange blossom water, topped up with prosecco. Icy shards of glass-like ice and a twist of orange peel makes it even better.

Central Provisions
414 Fore Street, Portland, Maine
Email: info@central-provisions.com
Phone: 207-805-1085
Open 11am-2pm for lunch each day (brunch on Sunday/Monday), 5-10pm for dinner, 10pm – 12am for rations.
No reservations, walk-in only.

Are you a brunch fan? Where’s your favorite brunch spot? Let me know!