This Portland restaurant constantly ups its game

I was invited to check out Local 188 on Congress St. this week and write an honest review in excange for a complimentary meal. Of course, I’d been there before, but not in a minute, and was looking forward to seeing what was new. I first started going there before I had this blog, and over time, they’ve really grown on me. I appreciate that they keep their Spanish-themed menu fresh and interesting and always have top-of-the-line cocktails.

Once seated, we admired the wall-hung art for sale on the walls and I searched for a drink from the large menu to commence the evening. I chose the Beach Fire #2 ($12) – pineapple infused tequila, aperol, mezcal, lime, grapefruit – thinking it would remind me of summer as the season changes to fall. Mrs. Portlandeater went with a soda and lime, skipping the alcohol.

The food menu was simple, consisting of Tapas, Raciones, and Cena. The waitiress also provided a couple daily specials. By the time the drinks came, we were ready to order. She started with Patatas Bravas ($6) – tomato sauce, garlic aioli – and took a scallop special as her meal even though it was only a tapas portion. I went with Goat Cheese au Gratin ($9) – roasted red peppers, mint, grilled sourdough toast – to start, and Roast Chicken ($27) – grilled corn on the cob, eggplant caponata, corn fritters – as my entree.

My drink fit its name quite well. With the strongest flavors the smokey mezcal and tart citrus, it did indeed feel like a beach fire in my mouth. I’ve been on somewhat of a mezcal kick this year and this was up there with the best of the mezcal cocktails I’ve been drinking. A smokey summer beverage is almost always a winner and this one also went well with the bread and olive oil we were provided.

Our potatoes and goat cheese came out with the former as a large portion in a bowl filled right to the brim and the two sauces on the side. The goat cheese came with the colorful minty peppers on top and four toast points. I tried the cheese right away, smearing the warm, easily spreadable goat product and peppers on a slice of the toast and loved everything about it. The grilling of the bread, the cheese flavor, and the veg all gave it a crostini aura with a little twist.

She worked on her potatoes and I tried one. I liked the seasoned, solid outer shell from the perfect frying. The tomato sauce was an unusual addition for them, but reminded me of a freshly made tomato soup. Unusual…but pretty good. Still, I think I preferred the creamy aioli though I went back and forth with the sauces as I ate more than my share of the taters.

Before we received our entrees, we were given a couple dishes to try – New York Strip Carpaccio ($13) – whipped blue cheese, pickled celery, Thai chili – and North Spore Mushrooms ($11) – romesco, grilled onion, almonds, pickled shallots. It was quite the dichotemy for me. I’m not a big fan of raw meat, but I absolutely love mushrooms. Of course, I had to try them both.

First, I cautiously tried the beef. I rolled up a slice with all the toppings inside and spread some of the blue cheese on it. Though not my exact cup of tea, it was a solid offering. The blue cheese added some pungent potency and the pickled celery added a side of vinegar that was enjoyable. No doubt it wouldn’t have been my first choice for an app, but if you like carpaccio, this was a nice preparation.

On the other hand, the mushrooms had me at “hello”. One bite of the voluptuous oyster shrooms was enough to know I was in fungal heaven. I noticed the pickled shallots immediately and then a little romesco. My next bite added a couple slices of almond and there was something about the nut flavor that covered the mushrooms in a calmness, muting a little of the vinegar and blending everything together. I found it entrancing.

When we were done with the surprise apps, we held on tight, waiting for our entrees with great anticipation and receiving them after a little delay. That was okay since I was getting quite full already. My chicken was huge, with a breast and a thigh in addition to a half ear of corn, the caponata, and a few fritters. My wife’s tapas portion of scallops was small but looked quite appealing.

The first taste of chichen was solidly tender and tasty. The grilled corn, like the bread from earlier, gave a charred flavor that is difficult not to love. The caponata was better than I expected, adding some acidic notes that worked well with the bird. But maybe the most intriguing part of the dish were the fritters. The crispy one-bite corn capsules were downright spectacular and a shockingly good addition to the meal.

Mrs. P finished her food and I tried hard to empty my plate, but ended up taking some of it home. We considered dessert like Baklava or Churros, or even a sherry, but were just too full to consume any more. With all the food including extra plates, specials, and drinks, our meal would have come to just under $100 before tip and it was a lot of food.

Local 188 is a place that I’ve been to at least a handful of times in a city where there are so many restaurants that it’s hard to visit many repeatedly if you’re trying new ones all the time. I’ve brought visitors there and they are a great place to stop for drinks even if you’re not eating. But what makes them really worth visiting is that they are a rare restaurant that never stops getting better.

Stay hungry.

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Peter Blanchette

About Peter Blanchette

Peter Peter Portland Eater grew up in Lewiston, Maine and graduated from the University of Maine in Orono with a degree in English. After college, he left the state to work in Massachusetts, but the allure of a more comfortable life in his home state brought him back after eight years. Upon his return and after meeting his now wife – Mrs. Portlandeater, he slowly integrated himself into the Portland food scene by trying as many restaurants as he could afford. That and a desire to write for others again led him to start where he reviews restaurants and blogs about whatever Portland/Maine food topics he finds interesting.