There are endless reasons to visit Newburyport. There are the views along the waterfront and the burgeoning public art scene. There are the picturesque wooded trails of Maudslay State Park and the charming cobbled streets of downtown. There’s art on the walls at the Newburyport Art Association and on the stage at the Firehouse Center for the Arts. And then there’s the food.
The brioche donuts glazed with rich dark chocolate ganache at The Angry Donut. The chocolate chip cookies at the Cookie Jar Kitchen, The ocean-fresh oysters at Brine. The umami-packed kimchi fried rice at The Joy Nest. The Brazilian steaks at Mission Oak Grill. The seafood-studded paella at the Tuscan Sea Grill. The raw bar at Sea Level. The burgers at the Black Cow. The pies at Buttermilk Baking Co. And much more. “There’s a lot of restaurants in a very small area,” says Suzanne Maitland, chef and co-owner of Paddle Inn, a coastal food restaurant in downtown Newburyport. “Literally, you can get anything.”
The richness of today’s culinary offerings in Newburyport is a somewhat recent development, say local industry insiders. Ten or so years ago, the city was known to have a fairly staid dining scene, centered mainly on classic New England fare and, of course, seafood. And then change began to creep in.
As real estate prices began to rise in Boston, aspiring restaurateurs began to look farther afield for places to set up shop. And when pandemic lockdowns kept everyone closer to home, the suburban market for exciting food got even stronger.
Newburyport, with its waterfront views, quintessentially charming downtown, and established visitor base, was well situated to benefit from these trends. Brine opened in 2012, with an elevated, flavorful take on seafood and meat. Paddle Inn joined the lineup in 2016, with killer cocktails and a casual and eclectic take on foods from coastal destinations around the world. In 2020, Joy Nest started serving up its take on Asian street food in colorful, vintage-inspired surroundings, and Tuscan Sea Grill debuted with a blend of seafood and Italian flavors. They were followed in 2021 by Bar25’s Middle Eastern–influenced fare, and in 2022 by Carmine’s elegantly traditional Italian menu.
And this list only scratches the surface. “There’s definitely an immense amount of diversity now that there wasn’t in the past,” says Brine owner Nancy Batista Caswell.
At the same time, longstanding local favorites remain to complement and anchor the evolving landscape. The Grog, with its cozy dark wood and a menu of hearty comfort foods, has been a Newburyport institution for more than 50 years (though it keeps up with the times, boasting plenty of gluten-free options and a rotating selection of craft beers). Down near the river, Starboard Galley is as classic as it gets, with a very traditional menu of chowder, steamers, lobster rolls, and fried seafood. “It’s just really good,” Maitland says of the old-school eatery.
If you’re not dining in (or if you just want to keep the foodie fun going), there are plenty of ways to bring a taste of Newburyport home with you.
Swing into Grand Trunk Wine and Cheese for cheese, wine, and other treats procured from across Europe, or Joppa Fine Foods for more wine and cheese, as well as sandwiches, charcuterie, and pantry items. During the warmer seasons, the Newburyport Farmers Market hosts more than 20 local vendors selling vegetables, baked treats, spices, and honey.
Beyond the gastronomic, Newburyport also has plenty to offer. “Once you park your car, you can walk everywhere,” says Lori Parolisi, a lifelong Newburyport resident and the general manager of Tuscan Sea Grill. “You can spend the whole day here.”
The retail offerings downtown have diversified alongside the restaurants, Caswell says. Stop into boutiques like Wheat or Charleston & Coco for a curated selection of unique, trendy women’s clothes, or visit Banter Barber & Clothier for men’s apparel and accessories or a classic shave and haircut. Find your new favorite handbag at Vaalbara Supply, or browse the shelves at the brand-new Illume Books.
Stick around into the evening for a classic or independent film at the Screening Room, a show at Exit Dance Theatre, or a play at the Firehouse Center for the Arts. Several restaurants around town even offer discounts for those attending Firehouse performances.
The result of all these moving and growing parts, say locals, is a dynamic community that just begs visitors to return over and over. “This young energy that has been introduced into our downtown has really established a creative sense of community,” says Caswell.