Bar Lola, Portland, Maine, ME, Guy Hernandez, Stella Hernandez, Chefs, Architects, 04101, Congress Street, Where to eat in Portland Maine, ME, Best Restaurants in Portland, Erik Desjarlais, Munjoy Hill, “The Hill”, Where to eat on The Hill


In a risky career change, Guy and Stella Hernandez traded their pencils, straightedges and successful lives as architects for sauté pans, pork belly and martini shakers. They own and selflessly operate Bar Lola, a popular dinner spot on Munjoy Hill (or “The Hill” as locals call it) in Portland Maine. They have generated a very loyal following amongst locals and food tourists with Guy’s relentlessly organic and simple approach to straight-up tasty food, and Stella’s keen sense of…well…just basically making you feel welcome. She has a masterful grip on mixing traditional cocktails and creating lusty libations of her own. These two are all about balance, balance, balance, and it is evident in their approach to life in and out of the restaurant.

I had the pleasure of working with Guy and Stella a few years back, and albeit short, it was sweet. Guy taught me that it was OK to braise a pork belly in beer, and Stella taught me it is not OK to snap at her waitstaff.

Q. Your restaurant is called Bar Lola, but only has 4 seats at the bar.  What’s up with that?

A. We wanted the name to let people know that this was a casual restaurant, but we also liked it because it introduced some ambiguity – is it a bar with great food or a restaurant with great cocktails, wines and beers? We try and achieve both. There is something attractive to us about being in the seam, being a part of two things and between them at the same time.

Q. Tell me about Bar Lola in one sentence. It can be a run on if you want.

A. We made Bar Lola a restaurant that we would want to eat at: a casual atmosphere, but precise in how everything is prepared with the option to snack on a few small plates or have a 5 or 7-course tasting menu, and where you’re treated well no matter which option you choose.

Q. You made the career leap from Architects to restaurateurs. What were you thinking?

A. Clearly we weren’t. We were blinded by love of food. Oddly enough, the hours are pretty similar and we still never get to sleep. That said, there are many parallels between architecture and the making of a restaurant. Both involve craft, attention to detail and the ability to lay out a sequence of events that all line up to a great experience in the end – whether it’s to create a beautiful space or a perfect dish.

We also often talk about how food and architecture are both about community and bringing people together. A well-executed architectural space can bring people together to share an experience – whether it’s a family in a home that works for them or museum that heightens your experience of the art it contains.

A restaurant can create that same haven for diners by providing food and service that lets them enjoy each other’s company and appreciate the ingredients on the plate. Someone once said that the power of architecture lies in the fact that it is seen in distraction. A good friend of ours, who happened to have a stunning personal wine collection, said that a good bottle of wine is one you enjoy drinking. This is what guides us at the restaurant. Guy wants every plate that leaves the kitchen to be the best plate of food you’ve every eaten, but when Stella says good-bye to you at the end of the night, we want you to feel that you were treated well and that you enjoyed your time with us.

Q. Your menus change every few weeks. Currently what is your favorite dish?  

A. Hard to say. As Stella’s mom says, they’re all like your kids – can you love one more than the other?

That said, at the moment, a favorite dish would have to be the smoked duck with Morse’s sauerkraut. Lots of complex flavors – sweet spice from brining the breasts, applewood smoke, tang from the sauerkraut, spice and cream from the mustard sauce. It was due to come off the menu, we figured no one would complain if we made it for a few more weeks.

Q. Favorite mixed drink?

A. For a cocktail, I’d say that the Gibson we have on the menu says a lot about our approach to food, which is also reflected in our cocktails. It’s a classic, simple cocktail, but we picked a small-batch gin (Hendrick’s) and house-pickled onions with just a little bit of heat (chiles) to balance out the floral botanicals of the gin. We often try to pare things down to their most essential elements and then focus on making each of those pieces absolutely perfect.

Q. Since you do change things quite a bit, what is a dish you miss cooking?  

A. We still talk about our fried bologna sandwich. It was a very Bar Lola dish. The menu read something like toasted brioche with seared mortadella and a farm egg, but we all knew it was the best fried bologna sandwich, ever. We used some great mortadella that we hand cut thick and gave a good sear, put this on a piece of our own house-made brioche with Mornay sauce, and topped it all with a fried egg from a local farm. Delicious.

Q Drink you miss mixing?

A. As for cocktails, I would say the Ward 8 was probably one of the more popular cocktails on the menu. The recipe is about 100 years old and it’s usually made with rye or bourbon and fresh citrus. We use bourbon, fresh lemon juice and little bit of pomegranate molasses. It’s not on the menu anymore, but you can still get it f you ask nicely.

Q. I’ve seen it first hand: you work wonderfully together. What makes that work?

A. After 26 years together, we still actually like working with each other. We’ve been through a lot together, and we’ve always made it a priority to work together whenever we can. The restaurant gave us a way to do it all the time. I think we each let the other do what he/she does best, and we have a lot of respect for each other’s work. It’s not always easy – we’re both pretty intense about what we do – but at the end of the night, we know that we’re both just trying to make the restaurant the best it can be.

Q. But, there was that one time when Stella.... (fill in the blank)

A. Told a customer that, yes, the chef could do a gluten & dairy free tasting menu on the fly (He did it.).

Q. ...or that time when Guy....

A. Sent me to a charity event with snacks to pass out, but didn’t tell me that each little bite had 5 elements and had to be assembled to order.

Q. I already know this, but tell the readers how wonderful Matt from Sparrow Arc Farm is.

A. Just a great person who also happens to grow the most amazing veggies and greens I’ve ever seen. We’re working together to bring some of his CSA shares to Portland and speaking together at an event I found out he came to farming by an equally strange path as mine to cooking. He grew up in suburban Massachusetts, did not go to agriculture school, just decided he wanted to be a farmer. He is driven by a passion and a commitment that is really infectious. When you see the pride he takes in his products, you can’t help but want to honor and respect them. We get a cooler of goodies that I order every week, but I honestly prefer when he shows up with his truck and we get to rummage around the back, tasting things that were literally still in the ground 12 hours ago.

Q. I firmly believe that a properly cooked chicken dish is the direct line to the chef’s soul and talent. What do you think?

A. Couldn’t agree more.  Someone recently asked me what I would want my last meal to be and without hesitation I knew it would have to be a simple roasted chicken. A close second, of course, would be the egg. But that just makes sense, no?

Q. One tool you can’t do without at work?  

A. At the restaurant, an engraved silver spoon that Stella gave me. I taste with it, plate with it, baste with it, pull quenelles with it. I call it my magic spoon.

Q. At home?

A. At home, I have black steel French skillet to that is my go to pan when I come from work and want to cook myself something. It’s also the perfect pan making Antonio his eggs and rice.

Q. Does Stella's Mom still shell peas in the dining room?

A. Absolutely. Just did another case the other day.

Q. Who else amongst your peers is doing things you love?

A. This question inspired a long discussion between the two of us. We feel like our heads have been down for so long, we need to take the time to get out there and see what’s going on. Between running the restaurant and raising our three-year old son, and the recent acquisition of a small, local coffee shop, we feel like it’s been a really long time since we’ve gone out and seen what others are doing. It’s one thing to read about everything that’s going on in the culinary world. We need to get a baby sitter and get out there!

That said, there is so much going on locally here in Maine. The Slow Food movement here in Portland has really been putting together a lot of wonderful events and bringing people together to talk about and experience food in lots of different ways. Cultivating Community, a local nonprofit, is using their farming programs to build communities and champion social and environmental justice. In addition to their regular programs, they host a 20-mile meal in the fall, where participating chefs must use only produce, fish, or meat grown, raised, or landed within 20 miles of the farm. At Rabelais Books, Samantha Hoyt Lindgren and Don Lindgren are really unique in their ability to combine the literature, art and personalities that are part of our food culture. They are just a fascinating couple.

Q. Guy: True or false... After a long shift at Bar Lola, it is awesome to sit and enjoy a freezing cold Miller High Life, straight from the ice.

A. Without a doubt.

Q. If not a freezing cold Miller High Life straight from the ice, then what does Stella pour that spells “Ahhhhh…”

A. Currently, a cocktail called the Siesta. It took a while to track down the recipe. Tequila, lime and grapefruit juices, Campari and little simple syrup.

Q. What is your least favorite culinary trend and why?

A. Stella: Wines with silly names.

A. Guy: That the idea of ‘farm to table’ has overtaken actually being farm to table. I’ve always been suspicious that trends are, in reality, just marketing ploys. And saying something doesn’t make it so. It is more important to me to source good products from people I know and trust and prepare them faithfully and respectfully than to tell you that we are doing that.

I also think that the food world has the tendency to fetishize things… It’s okay to be fascinated by an ingredient, a technique, or a particular style of cooking, but in the end, we need to keep our eye on the ball and make sure that we are putting beautiful, flavorful food on the table and providing gracious service to go with it.

Q. How does your son eat Peanut Butter?

A. Stella: Quenelles. It’s all Guy’s fault.

A. Guy: It’s true, I thought it would be fun to show him once. I did not expect that he would make me do every time he wanted a sandwich. At least now I’ve got him making his own. I’m not sure if Stella thinks that’s an improvement of the situation or not.

Q. Is there an animal part you have wanted to put on your menu but have resisted?

A. Foie Gras. I’ve always wanted to serve a nice foie gras torchon, but I’ve always felt I’d end up eating more of it then we might sell. Of course, we sold a ton of the pork head taco we made so maybe I should reconsider.

Q. What are the least “foodie” and most “foodie” things you like to eat and why?

A. Most foodie: We are currently as enamored of pork belly as the rest of the food world seems to be.

A. Least foodie. Stella likes to eat fresh whipped cream out of the bowl with a big spoon. Guy likes hot dogs off the street corner with radioactive green relish.

Q. And what do you think about the word “foodie”?

A. Let’s just say, we’re not a fan.

List your favorite:

Restaurant in New England that won’t break the bank

Full dinners out are rare for us these days. For us, any place with a lovely bar, a great list of cheeses, and a nice selection of wines by the glass will work!

Bagel in New England:

One Fifty Ate – and not just because that’s where Guy learned to make them.

Purveyor, local or national:

Have to go with the local farmers who take the time to get to know us and come up to see us at the restaurant and let us hop in the back of their trucks – Matt at Sparrow Arc, Chris at Fishbowl and Daniel at Freedom Farm.

Favorite dish you ever ate and where:

Guy: hand-rolled pasta with tripe that I ate at a restaurant outside a former slaughterhouse in Rome near the Trastevere neighborhood where I finished grad school.

Stella: a dish my mom makes. My last meal on earth. Hand rolled phyllo dough, squash, dill, feta and it’s all rolled into a beautiful spiral. It’s an amazing combination of sweet squash, briny cheese, crispy dough. Made for many generations, and impossible to replicate no matter how many times we watch.

Kind of tomato?

Not too particular here, it just has to ripe and sprinkled with a little sea salt. If I’m eating it on a folding chair in the backyard on a hot September day, then bonus points.

Favorite Rye?

Stella: I’m more of a bourbon drinker, but I’d have to go with Sazerac, because the Sazerac cocktail is one of the most beautiful and complex cocktails out there.

Finally, who is the best, most talented and likeable cook to ever work in your kitchen?

Ahh. We knew it was coming. Well, Erik [Desjarlais], you know it had to be you. You gave us the best gift – running our restaurant for a week when we went to the Philippines to bring our son home. And that beautiful poulet a la moutarde you would make for staff meal.... But we also have to give proper credit to our sous chef, Josh Peck. He’s talented, hard working, and gets what we do.




Guy and Stella’s recommendations on where to eat and shop in Maine.



100 Congress Street

Portland, ME 04101 (view map)

T: 207.775.5652 (make a reservation)



Wed - Sat: 5pm - 10pm


Guy and Stella’s recommendations on where to eat and shop in Maine.