lobster roll, maine
Lobster rolls are just the tip of the iceberg. | Visit Maine
Lobster rolls are just the tip of the iceberg. | Visit Maine

Get a Taste of Old-School Maine with a Road Trip on Route 1

Maine’s tastiest eateries await.

Let’s not beat around the lobster tail and get straight to the point: If you’re planning a proper road trip through Maine, there’s one way to go, and it’s Route 1. 

Starting at the Piscataqua River in the south, Route 1 traces the jagged Atlantic shore, winding through postcard-worthy New England towns and swaths of dense forest along the way. It nearly reaches the easternmost point of the US mainland before it pivots north, ending right at the Canadian border. Think of Route 1 as Maine’s answer to the Pacific Coast Highway—in other words, it's the best damn road trip in the state

But you can't come to Vacationland without taking a bite out of its funkier side. Along these scenic sandy shores, you’ll get a taste of Maine’s most legendary eateries, including a retro women-owned hot dog stand, a 19th century general store, and a traditional “lunch wagon.” Some are over 100 years old, helping make this state’s culinary history one of the richest on the East Coast.

Here's everywhere you absolutely must stop on a seafood-fueled cruise down Maine's Route 1.

flo's hot dogs, neddick, maine
It might not look like much, but Flo’s has the best damn hot dogs in the country. | Flickr/Pat M/

1359 US-1, Cape Neddick
Instead of a lobster roll, we highly recommend you kick this road trip off with a hot dog. It’s not one of the state’s infamous “red snapper” dogs (more on those here), but the classically steamed wieners from Flo’s. The lines are long and the ceiling low at this quirky roadside shack in Cape Neddick, which has been women-owned since 1959. The “Maine” attraction (sorry, had to) is neither the frank nor the bun, but the housemade secret relish spooned on top and finished with a dash of celery salt. You won’t miss the lobster one bit, promise. 

maine diner, wells, maine
Come hungry for unbeatable seafood chowder and so much more. | Maine Diner "World Famous Food Like Grandma Used To Make"

2265 Post Rd, Wells
For a one-two punch of iconic Maine dishes, pop into Maine Diner. Founded by Albanian immigrant Socrates “Louie” Toton back in the ‘50s, the diner was eventually purchased by brothers Myles and Dick Henry, who brought their family’s own recipes into the kitchen.

Allegedly, their very first customer arrived by accident after crashing into a pole near the parking lot. But the folks flocking here today come with a clear purpose: to savor a bowl of silken seafood chowder alongside some borderline intoxicating lobster pie. Described as “rich city” by Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, this butterific lobster casserole doubles down on decadence with a crisp topping of cracker crumbs and velvety tomalley,  the coveted crustacean’s green digestive gland.

miss portland diner, portland, maine
This throwback diner from 1949 is even cooler on the inside. | Flickr/C.C. Chapman

140 Marginal Way, Portland
There’s literally no getting around Portland’s explosive food scene while driving through its downtown core via Route 1. But on this trip, we’re sending you to the city’s only official landmark diner. Constructed in 1949 by the Worcester Lunch Car Company, Miss Portland is a celebrated relic from the heyday of handcrafted dining cars.

After buying this prized piece of Portland history in 2007, current owner Tom Manning left the NYC publishing world to return to his hometown and restore this faded diner to its former glory. It’s the ultimate spot for comfort food, from the Maine Blueberry Pancakes down to the Scallop Casserole.

515 Basin Point Rd, Harpswell
With finger-like peninsulas that jut into Casco Bay, the Harpswell region offers some of midcoast Maine’s most spectacular drives. As if the views weren’t rewarding enough, just wait until you reach Dolphin Marina. The ride takes about 25 minutes from Brunswick (your exit off Route 1) to Basin Point, where Malcolm and Jean Saxton built their restaurant in 1966. It has remained family-owned ever since, earning near-pilgrimage status not just for its panoramic vistas, but also its famous Haddock Chowdah and blueberry muffins baked fresh daily.

There will be a line at Red’s. This will be your reward. | Red's Eats

41 Water St, Wiscasset
This family-run seafood shack in Wiscasset is teeny-tiny, but you can’t miss it. Just keep an eye out for the line that stretches down Maine Street before crossing over the Sheepscot River. They’re waiting for what might be the state’s most dreamed-about lobster roll. Bold statement, we know, but these babies easily clock in at over two pounds, overstuffed with whole claw and tail meat in a grilled split-top bun. So brave the wait to get your hands on one, and throw in a side order of fried zucchini for good measure.

pie at moody's diner, maine
Moody’s is old school Maine eating at its finest. | Moody's Diner

1885 Atlantic Hwy, Waldoboro
Moody’s began as a trio of tiny travelers’ cabins operated by Percy and Bertha Moody in the late 1920s. And as demand for roadside lodging grew over the decades, so did Moody’s, which is still run by the namesake family.

The cabins eventually became a motel, and the original “lunch wagon” was replaced with today’s beloved white clapboard diner. After filling up on Yankee Pot Roast with a side of mac and cheese, keep your cholesterol spiked with lard-fried donuts and a generous slice of seasonal pie in flavors like four-berry or lemon meringue.

morse's sauerkraut, maine
Who said sauerkraut can't be sexy? | Morse's Sauerkraut

3856 Washington Rd, Waldoboro
Morse’s is half delicatessen, half luncheonette, and 100% worth the quick detour north off Route 1. The shop carries on the legacy of Virgil Morse, who in 1918 began making batches of sauerkraut from scratch. The celebration of Morse and his German roots continues with an impressive inventory of fresh sausages, tinned fish, craft beers, cheeses, and of course, lots and lots of signature kraut. For lunch, head to the outpost's restaurant section for outstanding schnitzels, Reubens, and the most divine pickles you could imagine.

sweetgrass single malt whiskey, maine
Take home a bottle if you know what’s good for you. | Sweetgrass Farm Winery & Distillery

347 Carroll Rd, Union
It may not be old-school, per se, but the novelty of finding half-decent wines and spirits up in the challenging climates of northern New England certainly earns a spot on this list. While Sweetgrass operates offshoots in Kennebunk and Portland, you'd be remiss not to stop for a tasting at its original location nestled in a bucolic 70-acre farm.

They exclusively use Maine-grown fruit and grains to produce an eclectic range of award-winning booze, including blueberry sangria, cranberry brandy, and single malt whiskey. But it’s the Back River Gin that really deserves your attention, which according to spirits critic F. Paul Pacult sports an aroma “unlike any other gin in the world and better than a whole slew of them.”

dorman's dairy dream, maine
This age-old ice cream stand is a beloved Maine institution. | Dorman's Dairy Dream

189 New County Rd, Thomaston
Each summer, Dorman’s reprises its role as one of reigning hotspots for frozen treats along Route 1. The “dairy dream” officially commenced in 1951, and we still haven’t woken up. The roadside creamery dishes out fresh ice cream and soft serve, as well as parlor-style milkshakes, sundaes, and banana splits. Expect baseball-sized scoops, a solid variety of flavors, and a generous sprinkle of old New England nostalgia on top. Just how we like it.

Paul Jebara (@pawljebara) is a travel writer, content specialist, and polyglot based in New York City.