New restaurants and Reny’s planned for Portland in 2011

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Recession? What recession? Every time I think Portland’s reached the restaurant saturation mark, a new wave of openings is announced. A couple of weeks ago, while at Pai Men Miyake, I learned that Masa Miyake has leased the spot adjacent to Paciarino in the Portland Harbor Hotel building on Fore Street and plans to open a restaurant there in the  spring. Whether he will move space-challenged Miyake, open a branch of either, or open his third restaurant hasn’t been determined.

Today, I read in the Maine Biz Journal about another ethnic expansion, this time with a Southwestern/Mexican accent. Tod Dana and Alex Fisher, owners of El Rayo Taqueria, are opening two new restaurants, a cantina next door, and a bistro (okay, that’s not Southwestern/Mexican) in the former Popeye’s Ice House location; the latter a project with Cheryl Lewis and Noreen Kotts.

In recent weeks, Portland’s had a slew of new dining options: 15 Exchange, an Italian restaurant in the old Walter’s location on Exchange St; Gorgeous Gelato on Fore Street, serving an organic version of the Italian treat; Otto Pizza, in the former North Star Cafe spot on Congress, heading up Munjoy Hill. And still others are under construction or planned.

Enough about food, let’s talk Reny’s. Yes, Maine’s favorite home-grown department store is opening in downtown Portland. The store, slated to open in the spring, will occupy the former L.L. Bean outlet on Congress Street.

The addition of Reny’s should give Congress Street a real shot in the commercial arm, while also providing a nice balance to the art galleries and boutiques.

It’s also, in some ways, a return to the street’s glory days, when Porteous, Benoit’s, Grant’s, and other shops drew folks downtown (although Reny’s is probably more akin to the old Surplus Store and Levinsky’s than to those fancier joints).

Here’s what I love most about these new restaurants and Reny’s move to Portland: These are Maine folks making it work, Maine-grown businesses that don’t send the profits out of state.