There’s something magical in finding a delicious dish in a most unexpected place. Happening upon really great sushi out on a quiet country road. Finding exotic spices inside a small town pharmacy. Discovering Thai food on a menu that’s otherwise not Thai at all. It’s like you’re in on a fun little secret that you get to tell your friends and family about.
In Maine, hidden food treasures are everywhere, often in completely unexpected places. We’ve compiled a list of six places we happened to stumble across in our travels across the state, that we think you might like as well — whether you’re looking for tasty takeout, a nice sit-down dinner, or a chance to spice up your pantry with some uncommon items.
16 Mill St., Orono
Orono residents are likely aware of it, but folks that don’t make it into the town’s bustling downtown might not know that Orono Pharmacy also is home to a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean market packed with food, beverages, spices and other treats from Turkey, Lebanon, Greece, Jordan, India and elsewhere across the region. With shelves stocked with Middle Eastern spice blends, imported from their countries of origin, as well as other imports such as Turkish coffee, candy and soda, there’s much to be discovered here. And, most uniquely, where else in eastern Maine is there a freezer full of halal meat, for Muslims following the religious dietary code? Layla’s Bazaar just might be the only place north of Lewiston offering all of those things. Furthermore, for home cooks looking to try cooking some new cuisines, it offers a treasure trove of new flavors and textures to try — from different kinds of lentils, rice and beans, to an enormous array of rare-for-Maine spices such as sumac and fenugreek.
151 Main St., Old Town
Delicious Bangkok, located at the corner of Main and Stillwater in downtown Old Town, is a Thai restaurant. But the more than 2-year-old business offers much more than just Thai curries and coconut soup. Delicious Bangkok also has a menu of Korean food including Bibimbap (a mix of rice, both raw and cooked vegetables, and grilled meat, topped with an array of sauces and a fried egg) and Bulgogi (grilled, marinated beef with vegetables on the side). Korean food, while highly popular in major urban areas, has yet to make inroads into the Bangor area, so Delicious Bangkok is among the first in the region to offer some classic Korean dishes. The lunch and dinner menu is available for both eat-in and takeout.
56 Main St., Bangor
Though downtown Bangor beer bar Nocturnem has many of the menu items you might expect a beer-centric place to offer (burgers, pretzels, wings), there’s an unexpected little gem on the menu that’s as simple as it is satisfying. Topinky is a snack found in bars all across Prague and the rest of the Czech Republic. It’s essentially hearty, dark brown bread either toasted and buttered or fried in oil, and then rubbed with a whole clove of raw garlic and smeared with ripe, runny Camembert or other very soft cheese. Owner Gene Beck discovered topinky on a trip to Prague and brought the recipe back to his bar, knowing how well the snack pairs with whatever beer you’re drinking. We have to agree.
1230 Kennebec Road, Hampden
The folks at Nealley’s Corner Store — a longtime gas station and convenience store out in Hampden — have been quietly making some really good Chinese and Japanese food out in rural Newburgh for a few years now, since new owners purchased the business in 2014. You can grab groceries and a 12-pack of Bud Light but you can also order from a full menu featuring dishes such as Chicken Katsu, California rolls, General Tso’s Chicken and Singapore-style Mei Fun noodles. Plus, they deliver in Newburgh, Hampden, Winterport and Carmel. They’ve even hosted sushi rolling classes.
38 Main St., Milbridge
This isn’t the first time the BDN has written about Vazquez Mexican Food, the takeout stand in Milbridge, just off Route 1 not far past the Hancock and Washington county line. But it’s worth noting that some of the best and most authentic Mexican food in the state can be found in the heart of Down East Maine — an unexpected food find, to be sure. Open from early April to late October, this establishment, run by the Vazquez family, offers up burritos and tacos alongside more authentic Mexican treats such as flautas, tortas and tamales. They make their own tortillas, too, and Mexican pastries sometimes as well.
155 High St., Belfast
Darby’s Restaurant has been around for 30 years and is an institution in downtown Belfast. And yet, even a venerable eatery such as Darby’s has ways to surprise you — such as the fact that some of the best Pad Thai in eastern Maine can be found there. Sure, steaks and seafood dominate the menu, but their Pad Thai is fresh and flavorful, and can be ordered as spicy as you want it. It’s also very vegetarian friendly (though much of the Darby’s menu is, to be fair).