For a mouthwatering summer road trip surrounded by magnificent scenery, you can’t beat this expedition along New England’s coast. At waterside picnic tables and roadside drive-ins, in diner booths and vintage shore dinner halls, the good eats include chowders both briny-thin and cream-sweet, clams crisp-fried and charcoal-grilled, and plenty of lobster.
Don’t worry about dressing up or making a reservation. Like so much of America’s great regional fare, New England’s best seafood is of the people, by the people and for the people.
The Place Guilford, Conn.
The Place is an open-air clambake with tree stumps for chairs. The dining area surrounds a smoky wood fire over which freshly opened clams, brushed with butter and hot sauce, are roasted to briny hot succulence. BYOB; regulars know to bring their own salad, dessert and tablecloths.
Abbott’s Lobster In the Rough Noank, Conn.
Lobsters of all sizes are perfectly steamed until they virtually burst from the shell. Abbott’s steel-gray chowder is legendary, and it also serves a hot lobster roll, a local specialty, which is big hunks of warm meat sopped with butter and piled into a bun.
Aunt Carrie’s Narragansett, R.I.
Located at ocean’s edge, Aunt Carrie’s is the place to go for a grand, old-style shore dinner. First comes chowder (white, red or Rhode Island–style clear) along with clam cakes. Next, steamers with butter for dipping and filet of flounder with slaw and french fries, followed by a whole lobster. Finally, there’s strawberry shortcake or a slice of Aunt Carrie’s legendary rhubarb pie. Top it all off with a postprandial stroll along the ocean beach.
Oxford Creamery Mattapoisett, Mass.
The sundaes, frappés, freezes, floats, shakes and splits are dandy at this 1931-vintage drive-in, but the lobster roll is downright spectacular—and a bargain to boot. Large segments of claw, tail and knuckle meat, just barely cool, are veiled in a thin film of mayonnaise that provides a gauzy halo for a tidal wave of oceanic sweetness.
Clam Box Ipswich, Mass.
Shaped like the container for to-go orders, the Clam Box isn’t just an eye-boggling attraction. It also serves the best fried clams on the North Shore of Massachusetts, ergo the best on earth. Each whole-belly clam in a fragile golden crust is a rapturous eating experience.
Five Islands Lobster Co. Georgetown, Maine
With a stunning view across Sheepscot Bay, this might be the most beautiful restaurant in the Northeast. Just-trapped lobsters are boiled with corn and potatoes in the same huge pot, adding up to an unforgettable meal.
Maine Diner Wells, Maine
Two words: lobster pie. Made from a family recipe, it’s a savory casserole of buttery meat, cracker crumbs and the luscious lobster tomalley. It’s unspeakably rich, but do leave room for dessert: Indian pudding or Maine blueberry ice cream.
Sea Basket Wiscasset, Maine
A humble roadside café that serves lobster stew in a plastic-foam cup. Presentation notwithstanding, it’s sheer elegance, refined and balanced, rich but not heavy, loaded with tender meat. Fish and clam chowders are also masterpieces. For dessert, try the Down East favorite whoopie pie.