Road Trip: How to Eat Your Way Up the New England Coast
Start in New Haven.
The first rule of driving I-95 north out of New York City—epic road trip or no—is what? Always stop to eat in New Haven. The pizza is why, really—coal-fired ovens were churning out thin-crusted, Neapolitan-style pies for nearly a century before fancy pizza became a thing across North America. Don't choose between Sally's (237 Wooster St, 203-624-5271) and Frank Pepe's (157 Wooster St, 203-865-5762) in the city's diminutive Little Italy—grab a pie from both. Pizza isn't the city's only claim to fame though. The hamburger as we know it was said to have been invented in New Haven across town at the magnificent classic Louis' Lunch (261 Crown St, 203-562-5507), which began life as a humble lunch wagon, the predecessor to today's ubiquitous food trucks.
Go on to the little state with the big food scene.
Rhode Island may be tiny, but the state has more than it's fair share of unique foodways—think fried doughboys, coffee milk, hot wieners loaded with meaty chili and onions. But these days, nothing's quite so interesting as the food scene that's heating things up in Providence. Go for casual, small-plates dinner at seafoody Oberlin (186 Union St,401-588-8755), the tasting menu at big brother Birch (200 Washington St, 401-272-3105), or a late-night supper at North (3 Luongo Square, 401-421-1100), a memorable little Asian-inspired spot with serious food, up in the North End. And if you’re feeling casual there's fried chicken at the new Bucktown (471 W Fountain St, 401-343-0441), too. Whatever you get up to, spend the night at Downtown's Ace-like Dean Hotel (122 Fountain St, 401-455-3326)—the best days in Providence start here with the in crowd at the super-cool Bolt Coffee (122 Fountain St, 401-400-0459), tucked in back of the lobby.
Don't miss the food on Cape Cod
It's never a good idea to drive past the Cape—certainly not these days, as the food is better than ever. Start out with almond croissants or sticky buns at the pretty little Happy Fish Bakery (173 MA-6A, 774-994-8272) in genteel Yarmouth, or hold off and go for breakfast bowls at Sunbird (85 MA-6A, 508-237-0354), a hip, all-day Orleans café with a perfect BLT, great coffee and a solid selection of beers. Save room for superb clam bellies (with a side of light-as-a-feather onion strings) at The Knack (5 MA-6A, 774-316-4595), a new, soon-to-be-an-institution spot just off the busy Route 6 traffic circle, before heading to the end of the line to Provincetown and you your first lobster roll of the trip at Canteen (225 Commercial St, 508-487-3800)—another newbie that already feels indispensible. They do them warm (with drawn butter) or cold (lightly dressed with mayo), and you can eat them in the back garden, an Insta-ready spot with a direct line to the gentle waters of Provincetown Bay.
Stick to the classics on Boston's North Shore.
Who eats roast beef at the beach? Boston, that's who— Kelly's (multiple locations) is said to have invented the modern roast beef sandwich, piled high on a grilled sesame bun, when it debuted back on Revere Beach (think Boston's Coney Island, kind of) back in the mid-20th century. It's just one of the throwbacks still very much doing it's thing in this working-class area around Logan Airport—one of the best pizzas in in the area, a thin-crust gem best sampled with the house sausage, can be had at nearby Santarpio's (111 Chelsea St, 617-567-9871).
Stick around at the Maine border.
The tiny town of Kittery, Maine was, for years, best known for two things—outlet shopping and the lobster rolls at Bob's Clam Hut (315 US-1, 207-439-4233). Both are still there; both still draw hordes. In the old town, or Foreside area, however, away from the highway, just by the bridge across the Piscataqua River into Portsmouth, New Hampshire, an exciting food scene has been taking shape. You may not have come to Maine to eat ramen, but the well-crafted bowls at Anju (7 Wallingford Square #102, 207-703-4298) are more than a little memorable; if you're more the sandwich type, the craft butcher's next door at MEat (7 Wallingford Square, 207-703-0219) does a brisket one that’s worth the trip. If you're here early in the day, coffee and crullers at the lovely Lil's Café (7 Wallingford Square, 207-703-2800) is a must; as is happy hour cocktails at Wallingford (7 Wallingford Square #101, 207-703-4298), a smart bar that ties the whole experience together in a neat little bow.
Stop at Maine’s most iconic park
If Portland's Fort Williams Park was your turnaround point, you'd be all set. This is, after all, where you'll find one of the most famous lighthouses—Portland Head Light, commissioned by George Washington himself—in a state synonymous with lighthouses. Also here: One of Maine's best lobster rolls, served up at Bite Into Maine (1000 Shore Rd, 207-420-0294), a truck that also has outdoor tables right on the premises. There's the all-important frozen dessert, too, over by the lighthouse at the appropriately named Gorgeous Gelato (1000 Shore Rd,207-699-4309). If Maine had a pavilion at Epcot, it might look a lot like this park.
Press on to Portland's East End.
The Old Port at the heart of the city may be more famous, but Portland gets really interesting as you head past Franklin Street and away from the crowds—this is where you'll find some of New England's best eating. Crush the raw bar options at Eventide Oyster Co. (86 Middle St, 207-774-8538), pay tribute to Duckfat (43 Middle St, 207-774-8080), the little restaurant that did so much for the city's reputation as a nascent food destination, then head deeper in to the neighborhood to Rising Tide Brewery (103 Fox St, 207-370-2337) to sample a beer (or three).
Wonder why you took so long to get to Bar Harbor.
Resting in a prime spot between the gentle magnificence of Acadia National Park and some of Maine's most scenic shoreline, this classic summer town—along with the little outpost villages dotting the rest of Maine's largest island—is one of the very best places in the world to be when the weather's good—it's the very best of New England, reduced down to one tasty, manageable bite. If one meal is all you have, make it one last—and among the best you'll have tried—you-know-what roll at Thurston's Lobster Pound (9 Thurston Rd, 207-244-7600), followed by scoops of cleverly-flavored ice cream at Mt. Desert Ice Cream (325 Main St, 207-801-4006), followed by some brisk exercise on the miles of trails in the national park. (Or a nap. A nap would be fine.)