If you are traveling on the Coast of Maine, one must see is Camden, a quintessential Maine village “where the mountains meet the sea.” This acclaimed “Jewel” of the Coast, became a famous tourist destination in the 1950’s when the classic movie “Peyton Place” was shot there. It has never looked back from that time and is replete with wonderful shops and bed and breakfast inns, many converted from 18th and 19th Century Sea Captains houses. It is also one of the epicenters of Maine’s resurgent restaurant explosion. Some of the finest eating establishments in New England are located right in the village, just a short walk from one of Camden’s award-wining Bed and Breakfast Inns, the Camden Maine Stay. Of course, this is also one of our great Distinctive Inns of New England. For your culinary delight, here are our favorite eating establishments in this wonderful village, aptly put, “The Best Restaurants in Camden, Maine.” A visit to the Camden Maine Stay Inn gets you to your choice of any of these fine eateries.
- Francine’s Bistro. 55 Chestnut St., 207-230-0083. Here is a bit of Europe right here on the Maine Coast. Chef/Owner Brian Hill, after stints with Todd English at several of his best restaurants in Boston and at several of New Orleans’ finest places, Brian returned to his roots in Maine to open Francine’s Bistro. This is truly an eclectic place reminiscent of everything you would expect from a bistro, with local, fresh ingredients the absolute last word. In fact, Chef Hill is famous for combining seafood with unusual ingredients which bring amazing delight to the palate. Don’t miss this one on your visit to Maine.
- Paolina’s Way. 10 Bayview Landing, 230-0555. It is not often that we will include in a list of best restaurants what is essentially a pizza place, but this restaurant is so far above that image that it has quickly become one of our very favorites of all restaurants in Camden. Located in the “back lower level” of one of Bayview Street’s storefront shops, along an alley, this is one place to savor the freshest local ingredients, seafood, vegetables, and hand-made and dried cheeses. While any of its pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven are to die for, this is not all that is served at this quaint place. This is classically inspired, truly serious Italian food. Not to be missed.
- The Waterfront Restaurant. 40 Bayview St., 207-236-3747. This may be a controversial choice, since this restaurant is more famous for its location right on Camden Harbor than its culinary expertise. However, to be absolutely honest, it is a restaurant that we visit on every trip to Camden. The food is good, the service pleasant, and the view of the harbor is spectacular. Camden Harbor is a U-shaped place with local schooners and visiting yachts transiting the turns all day and night. Eating out on the deck of this restaurant, or just having drinks at sunset, is a very special occasion for every visitor to Camden. We love the clam chowder, burgers, and salads best of all, but most of the food is basically first-rate, served with care. Again, sometimes the experience is what really counts.
- Ephemere Café and Wine Bar. 51 Bayview St., 207-236-4451. Here we have to go with a provisional recommendation. We have visited this wonderful little wine bar/café several times for both lunch and dinner. We have had great meals, and not so great ones. It changed hands a while ago from its original chef/owner, so we need to go back and test it all out again. But we can say that the décor on the second floor bar and dining area is tres romantique, and the food has been overall very good.
- Atlantica. 1 Bayview Landing, 207-236-6011. This is an upscale seafood bistro located right on the harbor as well. Great views and some very fine local seafood from Owner/Chef Ken Paquin and his wife Del. A very unusual menu from fish and chips, Kobe beef burgers, beef bourguignonne, to lobster putanesca. This is a really fun place for a casual fine dining experience.
- Cappy’s Chowder House. Main Street, 207-236-2254. Of course, we need to have some more casual places to choose. While no view is present in this local favorite, it is located right on the corner of Main Street. Hard to miss. It is a basically great bar with some rib-sticking food as well. The “chowdah” is served in tin mugs and the soft drinks in glass mason jars, and the burgers, wings and other bar tantilizers are just the best. We recommend the clam chowder, which may be this restaurant’s number one order. For a fun time, try this one out.
- Camden Deli. 37 Main Street, 207-236-8343. Here is definitely the place for a great breakfast or lunch. There is a small room on the first floor of this order-it-yourself at the counter deli, but the real place to be in summer is the second floor deck with great views of the fast-running stream spilling into the harbor beyond. This food has no pretensions. It is just good, old fashioned breakfast delights and great deli sandwiches to go or to eat on the spot. You will come back time after time for these treats, and don’t forget the cookies and other baked goods.