There is one thing that you absolutely must eat when visiting Maine: a local lobster roll.
A large serving of cold, chopped lobster meat, stuffed into a simple roll or bun, is our northernmost state’s signature dish.
But where to start? Coastal Maine is dotted with restaurants, cafés, seafood shacks, markets and even gas stations offering up their version of the traditional lobster roll.
Start on Route 1, off of Interstate 95. This road meanders along the coast, passing charming coastal towns like Ogunquit. From there, head north to Kennebunkport via Route 9. Known as the summer home of the Bush family, Kennebunkport is an upscale summer enclave, famous for its beaches, the Seashore Trolley Museum, Goat Island Lighthouse and home to your first must-have lobster roll, the Clam Shack.
You can’t miss this crustacean institution, because it sits right on the bridge over the Kennebunk River that serves as the gateway to Kennebunkport.
In business since 1968, The Clam Shack serves up a classic Maine lobster roll. Saltwater boiled and shucked on the premises, their chunks of lobster meat are served cold on a locally baked hamburger-style bun. Customers can choose to have their bun smeared with either butter, mayonnaise or both.
Your next stop is Cape Elizabeth, just outside of Portland. Be sure to visit Fort Williams Park, where you’ll get a great view of Casco Bay from the park’s craggy cliffs, visit the Portland Headlight Lighthouse and grab a lobster roll at the Bite into Maine food truck. Created by former Chicagoans Karl and Sarah Sutton, Bite into Maine serve six varieties of lobster rolls with flavors like curry, wasabi, chipotle mayo and their signature picnic-style lobster roll with homemade coleslaw.
Bite into Maine can be found at three locations; their food truck at Fort Williams Park, Allagash Brewing Company in Portland and their newest location, a small takeout spot in Scarborough.
From Portland, continue north to Freeport, known for its extensive outlet shopping, The Desert of Maine, a 40-acre sand park, plus daily ocean cruises and sailboat charters.
After you shop till you drop, stay an extra day to explore Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park, 244 acres of woods, hiking trails and riverfront and The Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment, a sustainable farm that offers everything from farm training programs to camping facilities to kayaking.
Spend the day there kayaking along the center’s rugged shores on Casco Bay, then pay a visit to their dairy barn and peruse their country store.
From Freeport, head further north on U.S. 1 to Boothbay Harbor, stopping along the way in Wiscasset, Maine, where a lobster roll battle has been waging for decades. On the north side of the Davey Bridge, that leads to Boothbay, sits Red’s Eats, a small red shack that’s been serving lobster rolls for over 78 years. Known for their large portions, Red’s serves their lobster roll with a side of butter or mayonnaise. Because of their popularity, there’s usually a long line of customers snaking round the corner. Some things are worth the wait.
Across the street, on the south side of the Davey Bridge sits Sprague’s Lobster. While not as well known as Red’s, Sprague’s lobster shack also serves a large portion of lobster in their lobster roll, but for a few dollars less with little to no line. The final decision here is yours, but what a delicious choice to have to make.