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

Maine’s most iconic eateries await.

Emily Carpenter/Thrillist

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. Just think of Route 1 as Maine’s answer to the Pacific Coast Highway -- or in other words, the best damn road trip in the state

But don’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: like a retro women-owned hot dog stand, a 19th-century general store, and an old “lunch wagon.” Some are over 100 years old, and help make this state’s culinary history one of the richest on the East Coast. So cruise up Route 1 and discover old-school Maine at its tastiest.

It doesn’t look like much, but Flo’s has the best damn hot dogs in the state | Pat M/flickr

Flo’s Steamed Hot Dogs

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

Come hungry for the famous lobster pie and blueberry muffins | Maine Diner "World Famous Food Like Grandma Used To Make"

Maine Diner

2265 Post Rd, Wells
For a one-two punch of iconic Maine dishes, stop at Maine Diner. Founded by Albanian immigrant Socrates “Louie” Toton way 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 that line up today come with a clear purpose: to savor a bowl of silken seafood chowder, as well as the 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 its crisp topping of cracker crumbs and tomalley, the crustacean’s green digestive gland.

This hand-crafted diner from 1949 is even cooler on the inside. | Miss Portland Diner

Miss Portland Diner

140 Marginal Way, Portland
There’s literally no getting around Portland’s explosive food scene when you cruise right through its downtown core on Route 1. But on this road 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 era 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.
MORE:   There's a reason why so many vintage diners look the same

The views at Dolphin Marina are almost as famous as the haddock chowder. | Courtesy of Dolphin Marina

Dolphin Marina

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 the panoramic vistas, but also the famous haddock chowdah and blueberry muffins baked fresh daily.

There will be a line at Red’s. This is waiting at the end of it. | Red's Eats

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 the fried zucchini, too.

Moody’s is old school Maine at its finest. | Moody's Diner

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 1920’s. 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, like four-berry and lemon meringue.

Get it at Morse’s. | Morse's Sauerkraut

Morse's Sauerkraut

3856 Washington Rd, Waldoboro
Morse’s is half delicatessen, half luncheonette, and one hundred percent worth the quick detour north from 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, THE kraut. For lunch, head to the restaurant side for outstanding schnitzels, Reubens, and the most divine pickles you could imagine.

Take home a bottle of Back River Gin if you know what’s good for you. | Courtesy of Sweetgrass Winery + Distillery

Sweetgrass Winery + Distillery

347 Carroll Rd, Union
OK, it may not be old-school, but it’s definitely a novelty to find half-decent wines and spirits up in the challenging climes of northern New England. While Sweetgrass has outposts in Kennebunk and Portland, we’d be remiss not to send road-trippers 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 leading spirits critic F Paul Pacuot is “unlike any other gin in the world and better than a whole slew of them.”

This 70 year-old softserve joint is a beloved Maine institution. | Dorman's Dairy Dream

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.