Lobster roll at McLoons Lobster Shack
Carl Tremblay

From Kennebunkport to South Thomaston, Maine, these seafood dives serve the best lobster.

By Chris Hughes

There's something about the water in South Harpswell, Maine. Head out to the dock in front of Erica's Seafood and you can smell it wafting off the surface of Casco Bay: brackish, with notes of silt, salt, and even resin. More remarkably, if you sit down to a platter of steamed lobster at Erica's gravel-lined alfresco space, you can taste it.

While the term "merroir"—the way a particular body of water affects the taste of something growing in it—has been largely monopolized by oyster farmers, it's also apropos for Maine's most famous export. Whether steamed straight from a trap, boiled into a buttery stew, or tucked into a split-top bun, lobsters embody a sense of place: those cold waters, the stolid, mineral presence of rock, maybe even a whisper of pine. Which is what makes this stretch of Maine—from the town squares of Kennebunkport past the dockside dives and all the way to South Thomaston—one of the planet's singular seafood quests.

Lobster tacos at F.O. Goldthwaite
Greta Rybus

So here's to finding yourself a picnic table away from the local lobstermen who plucked your lunch straight from the Atlantic, whether you're at the foot of Dock Square Bridge or in the shadow of the Goat Island Lighthouse. And even if those hardworking Mainers didn't haul your lunch, the chef, server, brewer, or even shopkeeper almost assuredly knows who did. Welcome to the holy grail of lobster crusades.

Kennebunkport

Chef Jackson Yordon's comfort food at Salt & Honey shines brightest in the morning, when you can have sunny views of Kennebunkport's Dock Square with your fluffy lobster omelet brimming with Gouda and generous hunks of claw and knuckle meat.

F.O. Goldthwaite's postcard-perfect storefront
Greta Rybus

Biddeford

Learn how to boil, broil, and devil your lobster at Rabelais, an antiquarian bookstore that specializes in rare food and drink books, some of which date to the 16th century. After browsing the stacks, meander down Route 208 for breathtaking vistas of Biddeford Pool Beach. There you will find F.O. Goldthwaite, a general store/seafood shack that offers a little bit of everything, including lobster tacos dolloped with guacamole, lime crema, and crunchy corn slaw.

WATCH: How to Cook Lobster

Portland

There will be plenty of hot dog buns and butter-drenched lobster in the days ahead. Before diving in, pique your taste buds with East Ender's parmesan risotto, featuring local seasonal vegetables and pan-roasted lobster. Right across the street, The Honey Paw's Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley prepare lobster in a number of Southeast Asian guises, such as succulent wontons and Malaysian-style lobster laksa in a coconut curry broth. Finish the night at Oxbow Blending & Bottling, where you can raise a glass to Maine's state crustacean and then drink it down—the farmhouse brewery's seasonal Saison Dell'Aragosta is brewed with lobsters and sea salt.

STAY
From the typewriters blanketing the lobby wall to the vintage-styled journalist desks in each room, The Press Hotel certainly plays up its history in the former Portland Press Herald building. But the real selling point is the hotel's walking distance to many of Portland's best shops, bars, and farmers' markets. Rates start at $179.

Service with a smile from the takeout window at Erica's Seafood
Greta Rybus

Harpswell

Resist the lure of Freeport's outlet stores and head straight to Harpswell. Start at Erica's Seafood near Basin Point for a decadent Crabster roll (25 percent crab, 75 percent lobster) in view of a genuine Casco Bay wharf where they will pack you a cooler of live lobsters to go. Or scoot on over to Holbrook Lobster Grille on Cundy's Harbor, a BYOB shack that proves lobster shines on salad. Alongside a variety of fried bites (don't skip the pickles), you can also find tasty seafood salads featuring fresh fruit, feta cheese, and a medley of greens.

Deck dining at Holbrook Lobster Grille
Ted Axelrod

South Thomaston

Vacationland regulars will almost without fail point you to Wiscasset's Red's Eats for the state's top roll, and it's undoubtedly a great one. But continue northeast for a local favorite, and perhaps even the best lobster roll in all of Maine: McLoons Lobster Shack serves them with your choice of mayo, butter, or both, which will make anyone a lobster roll fanatic. What a fitting finale.

STAY
For a midcoast base camp, make your way to the picturesque Samoset Resort in Rockland, with its sweeping views and manicured golf greens—imagine the luxurious nostalgia of the resort in Dirty Dancing, seen through a coastal New England lens. Rates start at $249.

Crustacean perfection at McLoons
Carl Tremblay

Best Time to Go

Lobster is available year-round in Maine, but the crustaceans migrate to warmer waters closer to shore during the summer months. That's fortuitous for the lobstermen who are working around the clock to keep up with the demands of both locals and seasonal tourists.