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24 New England restaurants worth a road trip

by Staff

Location: Dorchester Brewing Co., 1250 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, 617-514-0900, dorchesterbrewing.com; M&M BBQ, 617-307-7674, mandmbbq.com

The ribs from M&M BBQ at Dorchester Brewing Co.Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

2. Fresh Fruit Ice Cream at Benson’s Homemade Ice Cream

When it comes to roadside ice cream stands, Benson’s is as classic as they come: a cheery blue-and-white cottage, wedged deep in a rural town, with teen servers and flavors that include both classic New England varieties (my grandfather’s favorite was frozen pudding) to downright modern (vegan mint chip). After a beach trip to Hampton or Rye, New Hampshire, we’d turn off Route 495 for the sweetest detour possible. Benson’s calling card is the flavors made from freshly picked, seasonal fruit from local farms: think black and red raspberry, Maine blueberry, peach. You won’t find those at your beachfront soft-serve joint. –Kara Baskin

Location: 181 Washington Street, Boxford, 978-352-2911, bensonsicecream.com

The black raspberry is one of the fresh-fruit creations at Benson’s Homemade Ice Cream.anthony tieuli for the boston globe

3. Popovers at Jordan Pond House

Crusty on the outside, warm on the inside, with a hint of salt — we could be describing a Downeast lobsterman. But no, we’re talking popovers; specifically, the puffy delights served at Acadia National Park’s Jordan Pond House. Popovers have won the hearts of hungry hikers at this rustic restaurant since 1893, when proprietor Nellie McIntire began baking them for tea time. (The original building burned down in 1979 and was rebuilt in 1982.) The hollow, egg batter-based rolls, similar to Britain’s Yorkshire pudding, are now a treasured Acadia treat. A triumph of crispy-meets-airy deliciousness, it’s best enjoyed with a generous pat of butter and a dollop of Maine-made strawberry jam. Enjoy one with tea at an outdoor table overlooking Jordan Pond, with views of the Bubble Mountains. –Diane Bair and Pamela Wright

Location: Opens May 17. 2928 Park Loop Road, Seal Harbor, Maine; 207-813-4342, jordanpondhouse.com

4. Frozen Lemonade at Del’s

Del’s frozen lemonade, simply put, is a Rhode Island staple. Heck, in the Ocean State, we proudly display Del’s tree ornaments, bibs, and pet bandanas. While we drink it year-round, much like Dunkin’ iced coffee, it just hits differently in the summer. This is no ordinary lemonade: It’s a thick, sweet concoction with lemons and icy slush in a paper cup — like a sugary snow cone. To drink like a local, skip the straw and gulp it — ideally while noshing on clam cakes. Bonus: No matter where you’re headed in Rhode Island this summer, you’ll always be near a Del’s stand or truck. –Lauren Daley

Location: Various Rhode Island locations, 401-463-6190, dels.com

The frozen lemonade at Del’s is a classic summertime treat.Alex Larson / Alamy Stock Photo

5. Oysters at Glidden Point Oyster Farms

The Damariscotta, named the “river of many fishes” by the Native American Wabanaki people, is known for its world-class oysters. Some 15 oyster farms dot the wide, clean estuary, including Glidden Point Oyster Farms in Edgecomb, one of the oldest and largest in the state. Take a guided tour of the dockside farm, dodging tangles of ropes and stacks of wire cages, and then belly up to the takeout counter. The rich and buttery Glidden Point topsiders, grown near the water’s surface, are top sellers, offering a mouthful of salt and sea. While in the area, join a trip with Damariscotta River Cruises for scenic views, and an up-close look at the farms, while enjoying just-shucked bivalves onboard. – Diane Bair and Pamela Wright

Location: Opens May 6. 637 River Road, Edgecomb, Maine; 207-315-7066, gliddenpoint.com

6. Maple Creemees at Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks

Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks is known for maple creemees.Ohn Mar Win for the boston globe

When in Vermont, one just doesn’t scream for ice cream — one screemees for creemees. A Green Mountain State specialty, these treats are a richer, creamier version of soft serve ice cream, flavored with the golden goodness that is Vermont maple syrup. Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks in Montpelier is known for ‘em. There are seasonal flavors, such as chocolate and pumpkin — but for an authentic taste, go for straight maple: from their tap, to your cone. The family has been tapping maples for some 200 years, and their creemees are made with their own syrup. Go for the creemee, stay to walk the “maple trail,” and visit the Morse Farm goats. Before you go, snag some sweet treats, including maple fudge, maple candy, maple cookies — and some bottled tree-nectar for pancakes at home. –Lauren Daley

Location: 1168 County Road, Montpelier; 800-242-2740, morsefarm.com

7. Nantucket Bay Scallops at Sayle’s Seafood

Tender and firm, sweet and salty, clean and fresh, rich and buttery. Tiny Nantucket Bay scallops are considered one of the finest mollusks in the world. They grow in the island’s thick, dark beds of eelgrass in the shallow waters just offshore, one of the few remaining wild bay scallop fisheries in the country. The coveted delicacies are shipped to upscale restaurants around the world, but you can get them close to the source at Sayle’s Seafood, a Nantucket seafood market and takeout joint. These marvelous sea morsels are available fresh from November through March (what better excuse for an offseason visit to the island?), but Sayles has a flash-frozen stash available as well. Order a plate of them — lightly fried with a squirt of fresh lemon — to go and enjoy them with the sights and scent of the sea. – Diane Bair and Pamela Wright

Location: 99 Washington Extension, Nantucket; 508-228-4599, saylesseafood.com

8. Lobster Rolls at Nunan’s Lobster Hut

On the outskirts of swanky Kennebunkport, Maine, Nunan’s Lobster Hut — founded by a fishing captain in the 1950s — is a reminder of simpler times. I’ve been visiting since the 1980s, and it hasn’t changed one bit: ketchup-colored awning, mustard-colored door, low-slung ceiling, unflappable servers, and picnic tables spilling onto the street. The menu is simple and lobster-forward — boiled, stewed, or in a roll — but try a briny bowl of steamers to start. The lobster roll, overflowing with unadorned sweet meat on a spongy hot dog bun with a simple side of potato chips, is all you need for a perfect Maine dinner. Until, of course, you pair it with a hulking wedge of fresh blueberry pie. Arrive before 6 p.m. or expect to swat mosquitoes in the parking lot. And when a server escorts you into that narrow little mess hall? It’s like winning the Maine lottery. –Kara Baskin

Location: Opens May 25. 9 Mills Road, Kennebunkport, Maine; 207-967-4362, nunanslobsterhut.com

Lobster rolls are popular at Nunan’s Lobster Hut in Kennebunkport, Maine.Alamy Stock Photo

9. Johnnycakes at The Barn Restaurant

Rhode Island, for those who don’t know, is a magical landscape of farms, fields, seascapes… and cakes. Not birthday cakes or cupcakes, mind you, but a quintessentially Rhode Island breakfast item called Johnnycakes. And this rustic local eatery has perfected these cornmeal treats, which aren’t overly sweet and taste a bit like corn bread — if you flattened it with a rolling pin and pan-fried it. Johnnycakes have a taste of the verdant lands found in the southeastern part of the state, but other regional foods can be had at this former barn, including a Portuguese omelet, grilled sweet bread, and a chourico, egg, and cheese sandwich. – Marc Hurwitz

Location: 13 Main Street, Little Compton, Rhode Island; 401-635-2985, facebook.com/thebarnbreakfast

The counter is always bustling at Woodman’s of Essex, where fried seafood is the star.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

10. Down River Combo at Woodman’s of Essex

According to legend, baseball great Yogi Berra once quipped about another restaurant, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” The same might apply to this renowned seafood shack by the Essex River in the heart of the North Shore. Woodman’s can indeed get packed, especially on weekends and in the summer, as people from near and far flock to this old-school counter-service spot for fried clams that are so good you’d swear it invented them. Well guess what — the Woodman family says they did just that, introducing these perfectly fried morsels to the region more than 100 years ago. Combine the whole-belly clams with other fried seafood via the Down River Combo plate that features scallops, jumbo shrimp, and whitefish — the ultimate coastal New England dining experience. –Marc Hurwitz

Location: 119 Main Street, Essex; 978-768-6451, woodmans.com

The country fried chicken wings at Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen.anthony tieuli for the boston globe

11. Country Fried Chicken Wings at Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen

Sometimes, a road trip is a state of mind. Break away from the humdrum of daily reality by steering the jalopy to Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen. Vibes practically ooze from the walls at the South End hot (but also chill) spot, which has been serving soul food and live music since it opened more than six decades ago, when it was originally known as Bob the Chef’s. Today, owner Nia Grace keeps the city satisfied with dishes including the fried catfish with remoulade, chicken and red velvet waffles, and jambalaya, plus cocktails with names like Roxbury Royal-Tea and Misbehavin’. But it’s the irresistible country fried chicken wings, which come in various flavors, that steal the show. We’ll never argue with the plain, so crispy and juicy, but don’t sleep on the honey hot. The loud and lively Sunday soul and jazz brunch buffet is an event; make reservations. – Devra First

Location: 604 Columbus Avenue, Boston; 617-536-1100, dcbkboston.com

12. Hot Dogs at Larry Joe’s New England FirePit

Larry Joe’s hot dogs are grilled over a wood fire.Stacey Myers

The food truck parked in a lot on the side of a Mendon road feels like an anomaly this far out in the suburbs, but it’s worth the journey. The charming folks who run Larry Joe’s serve up several summer staples, but the hot dogs are the big draw. They marinate the links in apple juice and molasses before grilling them on a wood fire. Since the dogs come in ¼- or ½-pound sizes, they’re served on large, torpedo-style rolls toasted on the flame grill. Even those who aren’t big hot dog fans find it hard to resist the aroma. Be warned though, there’s no ketchup at this stand. Instead, they offer a homemade tomato salsa along with an array of other condiments including chili, sauerkraut, a mustard blend, and barbecue sauce. It’s worth the trip to Mendon just for Larry Joe’s, but you could also pair it with a visit to Southwick’s Zoo or the Mendon Twin Drive-In. –Stacey Myers

Location: 89 Hartford Avenue East, Mendon, 508-735-9006, larryjoesfirepit.com

13. Clam Cakes at Flo’s Clam Shack

For Rhode Islanders, it’s not summertime until you taste that first clam cake of the season. If you’ve heard of one spot for them, it’s likely Iggy’s Doughboys & Chowder House in Warwick — so let me recommend Flo’s Clam Shack in Middletown. Flo’s boasts character in spades, from the sandy boardwalk entryway to the nautical ephemera decorating its walls. A stone’s throw from the ocean, you might stop by after a day at Easton’s Beach. The clam cakes are battered and fried to golden perfection, crispy on the outside, pillowy on the inside. Pair it with the Rhode Island clam chowder and a draft beer for maximum pleasure. For a quick fuel-up, there’s a drive-in location in Portsmouth, at 365 Park Avenue. –Lauren Daley

Location: 4 Wave Avenue, Middletown, Rhode Island; 401-847-8141, flosclamshacks.com

The deviled eggs are a sleeper hit at Terlingua in Portland, Maine.from Terlingua

14. Deviled Eggs at Terlingua Restaurant and Market

This Portland, Maine, restaurant, located down a lonesome side street, has the unprepossessing air of a saloon — calling to mind its namesake Texas ghost town. But step outside to its magical patio, where, when the sun hits just right, you’d swear you were at a party in Austin. House-smoked meats and chili are the specialty, but deviled eggs are the sleeper hit. These chile-oil-splashed morsels are crowned with different jewels, depending on the day, including thick, smoked mussels and all manner of savory, silky meats. The yolks are rich and creamy, dotted with bursts of pickled pepper far more bracing than any salt air. –Kara Baskin

Location: 40 Washington Avenue, Portland, Maine; 207-956-7573, terlingua.me

15. White Clam Pizza at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana

Pairing seafood and cheese is a big no-no for many, but those who refuse to mix the two are missing out on some great dishes. Take the famous, yet deceptively simple, white clam pizza from Pepe’s Pizzeria, a Connecticut institution that now has locations along the East Coast. Sure, the tomato pie here has brought many a person to their knees, but the combination of fresh clams, pecorino Romano, olive oil, garlic, oregano, and charred crust is the stuff of legend. For the full experience, pilgrimage to the original location in New Haven’s “Little Italy,” a cozy neighborhood steeped in history and with easy access to two major highways. It’s a no-brainer for even those who say “no” to certain food pairings. –Marc Hurwitz

Location: 157 Wooster Street, New Haven; 203-865-5762, pepespizzeria.com

White clam pizza at Frank Pepe’s. Steven G. Smith for The Boston Globe

16. Beef Birria Tacodillas at La Tacodilla

Once you’ve gobbled all the fried clams and onion rings you can handle on your Cape Cod vacation, seek out La Tacodilla. The improbable taco trailer in a West Dennis parking lot was launched in 2020 by the team behind Clean Slate Eatery as they sought to adapt to the pandemic. Walk up to the window and order the dorado-style tacos, made of folded corn tortillas, pressed and crisped on a griddle. Our choice of filling? The savory birria de res — tender beef with slivered onions and melted cheese, served with a cup of its own fatty broth for dipping. If you must have seafood, order the camarones asados, plump grilled shrimp with a punch of tart, electric-green tomatillo sauce. Whichever you choose, it’s best eaten while balanced on your dashboard. – Kara Baskin

Location: 702 Route 28, West Dennis; 508-292-8817, latacodilla.com

17. Chow Mein Sandwich at Evelyn’s Drive-In

Rhode Island may be small, but it is home to more regional foods than states many times its size. One of these is a local fave that can be found at Evelyn’s, a waterside eatery southeast of Providence known mainly for its seafood. And no, the chow mein sandwich isn’t a seafood dish, but people flock here for what is a quintessential comfort food consisting of crispy noodles, warm gravy, and beef or chicken, all stuffed into a hamburger bun. Sound weird? Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it in all its umami-filled glory, but those who yearn for more traditional foods can also opt for the buttery Rhode Island chowder, crispy clam cakes, or lightly-battered fish and chips. Despite its name, Evelyn’s features a dining area and patio. –Marc Hurwitz

Opens in early May. 2335 Main Road, Tiverton, Rhode Island; 401-624-3100, evelynsdrivein.com

Evelyn’s take on the chow mein sandwich, a Rhode Island classic.Marc Hurwitz

18. Boiled Lobster at Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier

The best lobster shack in Maine? Let the debate begin. But you can’t beat the experience at Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier, where lobster-in-the-rough meets bring-your-own picnic. Here’s the plan: Load a cooler with beverages. (May we suggest a nice sauvignon blanc or a growler of locally brewed Tributary Pale Ale?) Add a few cold appetizers and your favorite side dishes — you can bring your own as long as they’re not offered on the menu. Take a tablecloth, fancy glasses, and perhaps a vase of summer flowers to set on one of the brightly painted picnic tables. Select a lobster from the tanks, then settle in to enjoy views of the wide tidal river as it ebbs and flows into the ocean. It won’t take long before your steaming lobsters arrive, accompanied by hot butter, bibs, and a pile of napkins. – Diane Bair and Pamela Wright

Location: Opens May 14. 16 Chauncey Creek Road, Kittery Point, Maine; 207-439-1030; chaunceycreek.com

19. Tacos at Vida Cantina

You know you’re eating somewhere special when the warm, bottomless tortilla chips with salsa fresca leave you feeling fully satisfied, like you could already go home happy. But you won’t want to at this laid-back Portsmouth restaurant. Chef/owner David Vargas is perfecting modern Mexican dishes and earning accolades, including a James Beard Award nomination in the Outstanding Chef category. It’s easy to see why: The menu is playful and thoughtful, the ingredients fresh and locally sourced. When your taco plates arrive — hands down the star of the evening — take in the creativity of it all: fried avocado with guava puree, marinated chicken with rajas, confit pork belly with spicy mango salsa, carnitas with orange-garlicky aioli, and fried shrimp with a baja slaw. This is to say nothing about the sweet potato fries, ribs (often available on the specials menu), or guacamole, which leaves the table raving. To top it off, a plate of churros arrives, sugary, crispy exclamation points marking the end of a wonderful meal. –Chris Morris

Location: 2456 Lafayette Road, Portsmouth, New Hampshire; 603-501-0648, vidacantinanh.com

The playful, creative tacos at Vida Cantina are earning accolades, and it’s easy to taste why.erika cole

20. Ice Cream and Waffle Cones at We-Li-Kit Farm

The family-owned We-Li-Kit Farm is off the beaten path in Pomfret, but if you roll down the windows you can practically follow the vanilla scent of freshly made waffle cones right to the small, window-service shop where there is always a (fast-moving) line of eager ice cream fans. A local favorite for more than 30 years, We-Li-Kit has been scooping up outrageously creamy ice cream (16 percent butterfat!) in traditional flavors such as grape nut, cherry vanilla, and maple walnut (the farm makes its own maple products, too), as well as rotating ones, like a recent Easter offering with caramel and Cadbury creme eggs. Whatever you choose, get it on a fresh cone — there’s nothing like licking melty ice cream off a still-warm cone to make you appreciate the lazy days of a New England summer. – Stephanie Tyburski

Location: 728 Hampton Road, Pomfret Center, Connecticut; 860-974-1095, welikit.com

21. Bratwurst, Knackwurst, and Bauernwurst at Trapp Family Lodge

It’s a good thing we don’t live in Stowe. If we did, we’d be at the von Trapp Brewing Bierhall Restaurant at the Trapp Family Lodge far too often. But at least once a summer, we’ll make a pilgrimage to this Austrian-inspired beer hall. If we’re lucky, the day will be sunny and warm, the air tinged with the scent of pine and barbecue smoke. We’ll grab a table on the terrace and take in the views of fields and forests. We’re in no rush. We begin with salt-sprinkled Bavarian pretzels, with crisp lagers brewed on site. We’ll also get bowls of ultra-cheesy beer soup made with local Cabot white cheddar. Then comes the star: the Old-World-style bratwurst, knackwurst, and bauernwurst platter, with sauerkraut mashed potatoes and braised cabbage. There’s satisfaction and a pang of regret when it’s all finished, our plates empty, but our bellies full. –Diane Bair and Pamela Wright

Location: 1333 Luce Hill Road, Stowe, Vermont; 800-826-7000, trappfamily.com

22. Pancakes at Parker’s Maple Barn

Never eat something bigger than your head was a rule for many, but anyone who truly believed it has probably never been to Parker’s Maple Barn near the Massachusetts border. The restaurant in this sprawling space — which includes a gift shop and a maple sugar house — serves massive portions of classic country cooking, including unbeatable pancakes. They come in several varieties, including blueberry, chocolate chip, and the ever popular Old Fashioned. They’re also included in the “Parker’s Special,” which has eggs, sausage, home fries, bacon, and ham. Paired with real maple syrup, they make for the perfect experience deep in the woods. – Marc Hurwitz

Location: 1349 Brookline Road, Mason, New Hampshire; 603-878-2308, parkersmaplebarn.com

23. Cheeseburger at Shady Glen

There’s just something about a cheeseburger, juicy and perfectly grilled, served with golden-brown, crinkle-cut fries. Shady Glen, in Manchester, Connecticut, takes this classic combination a step further: Patrons can watch as cooks in paper hats prepare burgers the same way the restaurant has since it opened in 1948. The best part? They arrange four slices of specially-formulated American cheese on top of the patty, so the overhanging edges turn crispy and golden brown on the hot griddle, before serving it on a pillowy bun. It’s been drawing customers to this homey spot for generations — the James Beard Foundation even recognized the restaurant as an “American Classic” in 2012. And while Manchester isn’t exactly a vacation destination, one trip to Shady Glen will persuade you to add a few extra miles to a Hartford or New York trip to include a stop along the way. –Carrie Simonelli

Location: 840 Middle Turnpike East, Manchester, Connecticut; 860-649-4245, cash only

Shady Glen’s cheeseburgers have crispy edges made of melted American cheese.Carrie Simonelli

24. Lobster Savannah at Mabel’s Lobster Claw

At this point, you might be thinking: There are three lobsters on this list of 24 dishes, and two of them are from Kennebunkport? But I promise you won’t care about such details when you try the Lobster Savannah at Mabel’s Lobster Claw. It’s the height of old-timey indulgence: Scallops, shrimp, and mushrooms sauteed in a sherry newburg sauce, then stuffed in a whole lobster; the whole thing is then topped with provolone, and finished off in the oven. Eating it is like digging through Mary Poppins’ bag, if her bag happened to be full of the ocean’s briny bounty­ — it takes some kind of magic to fit so much fresh seafood in one shell. The price changes with the market (I paid about $75 for a two-pounder last summer) but the trick is to split it, then get Mabel’s famous blueberry pie for dessert. I’ve eaten the Lobster Savannah in the cozy, knotty pine restaurant and, most recently, out of a foam takeout container, with plastic cutlery that quickly proved too flimsy for the task. I didn’t care. I’ll eat that Lobster Savannah with my bare hands anytime. – Francis Storrs

Location: 124 Ocean Avenue, Kennebunkport, Maine; 207-967-2562, mabelslobster.com


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