The Maine Meal: Where to Eat in the Pine Tree State

Make the most of Maine with these 15 iconic regional dishes (and the best places to try each one).

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Photo By: Bob's Clam Hut ©2012, Ted Axelrod

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The Best Meals in Maine

If you visit Maine thinking lobster is all there is to eat, you're missing out on a bounty of classic dishes and drinks with roots that range from Canadian to Colonial. The state's natural bounty stretches from the sea — haddock, clams and the famed crustacean — inland to towering maples, blueberry bushes and potato fields. But don't worry, lobster lovers: We have plenty of tips for you, too.

Clambake: Eventide Oyster Co. (Portland)

In Maine, a celebration calls for a clambake. Shellfish is steamed over layers of seaweed, building flavors of sea on sea. Eventide Oyster’s clambake features sweet Bangs Island mussels and plump steamers from nearby Casco Bay, plus lobster tail, Maine potatoes, salt pork and an egg, all snug in a seafood nest. Why an egg? Traditionally, it was added as a temperature monitor: Once the egg was cooked hard, it was time to eat. This tiny Portland gem lets you dine at a picnic-style table, but without having to wade into the water to fish out the mollusks first.

Lobster Pie: Maine Diner (Wells)

Each lobster pie at the Maine Diner includes nearly 5 ounces of locally caught tail, claw and knuckle meat, capped with a buttery Ritz cracker and lobster tomalley topping. The owners’ family recipe is one of its most-popular dishes: On some days the kitchen bakes more than 100 pies. There’s often a line for a seat in the summer and on weekends, but, thankfully, the owners also ship the pies in single-serve ramekins.

Blueberry Pancakes: Crissy's Breakfast & Coffee Bar (Damariscotta)

Maine’s official fruit is the wild blueberry, prized for its antioxidant power. The state is the largest supplier of the nation’s low-bush blueberries, which are smaller and more flavorful than their cultivated cousins and perfect for baking. Crissy's Breakfast & Coffee Bar packs as many tiny Maine berries as possible into their billowy pancakes, serving the dish with organic maple syrup from Strawberry Hill Farm in Skowhegan.

Lobster Roll: Red’s Eats (Wiscasset)

Red’s Eats has been an iconic figure along Route 1 in Wiscasset since 1954. In 2015, the tiny lobster shack — with its outside picnic table seating and notoriously long lines — served 14 tons of fresh lobster in its signature rolls during its six-month season. 14 tons. Even with all of the lobster roll options in Maine, Red’s sets itself apart with its generosity: The staff don’t measure the meat, they just “pile high.” If lobsters are shedding their shells and tails are small, you may find three tails on your buttery bun. There’s easily more than one lobster’s worth per roll — and no bib necessary.

Steamed Lobster Dinner: DiMillo's on the Water (Portland)

Few images resonate more with people “from away” (how Mainers refer to all non-natives) than a bright red lobster with melted butter. The lobsters at family-owned DiMillo's on the Water, a floating restaurant housed in a former car ferry on Long Wharf in Portland, are all purchased within a mile of the kitchen. Steamed single or double lobster dinners have been the restaurant’s mainstay for decades, and the unique setting and campy decor make dining here even more memorable.

Maine Potato Fries: Duckfat (Portland)

Maine is one of the top potato-producing states in the country, and many schools in the northern part of the state still close for tuber harvest. Duckfat in Portland is a great place to try the fries, made with Norwis Cross tubers grown at Green Thumb Farm in Fryeburg. The restaurant pays homage to Maine’s Franco-American heritage by offering its duck fat-fried thatch with a poutine option — smothered in two types of cheese curds and duck gravy. Add a milk shake made with Gelato Fiasco vanilla gelato, creme anglaise and Tahitian vanilla, and it’s a meal.

Baked Beans & Hot Dogs: Dysart's Restaurant & Truck Stop (Hermon)

In Maine, beans are served on Saturday nights, from grange halls to churches. At Dysart’s Restaurant and Truck Stop in Hermon, you can order Maine yellow eye beans and classic locally made frankfurters, called Maine Red Snappers, anytime, day or night. Snowbirds (folks who go south for the winter) load up on the bright red dogs before their travels, as they’re tough to find outside of New England. Don’t pass up the house-baked molasses bread.

Clam Roll: Bob's Clam Hut (Kittery)

In 2015, Bob’s Clam Hut served nearly 10,000 crispy clam rolls alongside Route 1 in Kittery. Clams are available two ways: Bob’s style, in which whole belly clams are dredged in a corn-and-white-flour blend, and Lillian’s — named for a longtime employee who passed away in 2013 —in which the clams get a milk-and-egg wash before frying. The clams are then piled atop a buttered, flattop-grilled, split-top hot dog roll and served with a savory tartar sauce developed 60 years ago by original owner Bob Kraft.

Moxie and Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy: Great Lost Bear (Portland)

Maine has two emblematic beverages, each of which is an acquired taste. The first is Moxie, the nation’s first soda — a bitter brew created in Lisbon. The second is Allen's Coffee Flavored Brandy, which sits atop the state’s list of best-selling alcoholic beverages despite being produced in (gasp!) Massachusetts. Allen’s is often jokingly referred to as the Champagne of Maine. Portland bar the Great Lost Bear combines the two in a sweet, coffee-tinged cocktail called the Burnt Trailer — a hit drink for the past decade, served over ice in a pint glass.

Whoopie Pies: Governor’s Restaurant (Various Locations)

Pennsylvania may lay claim to whoopie pies, but Maine has a long history with these cakey confections. You will find freshly baked whoopies everywhere from gas station counters to fine-dining dessert lists. Governor’s Restaurant uses a recipe from its founders, Leith and Donna Wadleigh, to create whoopies that are heavy on cocoa and have a filling rich with butter, confectioners’ sugar and Marshmallow Fluff. The combination has helped Governor’s score repeat victories at the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival. The restaurant also bakes peanut butter-filled whoopies and seasonal flavors such as maple bacon, root beer float and strawberry rhubarb.

Haddock Chowder: Dolphin Marina & Restaurant (Harpswell)

Fish soups in Maine are ruled by the ubiquitous haddock. The fish’s mild flavor and thick flakes make it the perfect base for hearty chowders. For 50 years, people have patiently waited out the winter for the version served at Dolphin Marina, a seasonal restaurant in South Harpswell with a panoramic view of Casco Bay. This chowder is laden with onion, potato, clam, cream and local haddock, and every bowl comes with a blueberry muffin for a one-two Maine punch.

Italian Sandwich: Amato’s (Various Locations)

The Maine Italian was born on the streets of Portland in the early 1900s. Giovanni Amato would push a cart past the town’s docks, selling the sandwiches to hungry fishermen. He later opened a shop and served his style of “Italians” for decades. The sandwich starts with a long, soft roll that’s sliced lengthwise and stuffed with ham, cheese, pickles, raw onions, green peppers, black olives and tomatoes, then topped with oil dressing. It’s remained largely unchanged for a century. Today you can order the salty, wax-paper-wrapped sandwiches across New England and New York.

Indian Pudding: Warren’s Lobster House (Kittery)

In this New England adaptation of hasty pudding, cornmeal and molasses are cooked in milk, with ginger and cinnamon. The dish is served piping hot and capped with vanilla ice cream at Warren’s Lobster House in Kittery, a sprawling 76-year-old restaurant that opened as a six-stool lobster shop in 1940 and sits atop wooden pilings along the Piscataqua River in southern Maine. It’s prepared in-house and available year-round, which is ideal, because it beats the chill on a Maine winter day.

New England Boiled Dinner: Moody's Diner (Waldoboro)

Another hearty traditional meal is the New England Boiled Dinner — or classic meat and potatoes. At Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro, every Thursday is Boiled Dinner Night. Cooks boil raw brisket and serve it with steamed local turnips, cabbage, carrots and potatoes as well as hot, buttered canned beets. Why Thursdays? “For an 88-year-old diner, this is how we have always done it and there is no reason to change,” said General Manager and President Dan Beck.

Maple Sugar and Syrup: Central Provisions (Portland)

Maine’s robust maple industry isn’t just about syrup — the state’s mature maple trees are also tapped for sugar. Central Provisions in Portland uses the sweetener as the backbone of its Fall Old Fashioned, combined with black walnut and Angostura bitters and stirred with a newer local crop – Gunpowder rye whiskey, distilled at nearby New England Distilling. The rustic restaurant was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best New Restaurant of the Year award, and also features Maine maple in its cider-based Old Port Punch.

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