Sometimes you want a hundred-bottle wine list, aji foam, and a four-star kitchen driven by an up-and-coming chef. And sometimes you want a plate of meatloaf served beneath the glow of a neon sign. Maine’s history of roadside diners stretches back to the era of the Model T, when a scatter of slapdash lunch carts and dining cars popped up along the coastal route, catering to the first adventurous auto tourists. Some have since received stylish facelifts—the A1 Diner in Gardiner, for instance, and the Palace Diner in Biddeford both play to gastronomes with smartly plated, fusion-y entrees in a retro setting (both are worth a stop). The handful on this list, however, harken back to a simpler time, when Formica booths glistened, the servers called you “honey,” and all food was comfort food. Have I mentioned pie? Crust is never so flaky nor Maine blueberries so sweet as when served at counter next to a mug of black coffee.
Opened in 1927, it isn’t Maine’s oldest diner, but Moody’s might be the state’s most beloved and least changed. The open-faced turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes and beets is about as comforting as food gets without being served with a blankey. Folks drive hours out of the way for Moody’s pies (the maple walnut is a classic).
A mid-century dining car with unabashed greasy spoon appeal, this Portland landmark is conspicuous on a strip of new condo construction and upscale retail. As it should be, breakfast is served all day. Try the slow-cooked corned beef hash—by itself or on an Irish benedict—and whatever you order, add a side of the crispy home fries.
You might be thinking, “I didn’t come to Maine to eat at a truck stop.” Your loss. Bangor’s no-frills, 24-hour eatery has a from-scratch ethos, hearty portion sizes, and a legendary pot pie that attract famished road-trippers, whether they’re driving eighteen wheels or just four.
Eat where the fishermen and the dockworkers eat—although you don’t necessarily need to dine at 4 a.m., like they do. There’s more than just breakfast at this family-run, waterfront diner, but the pancakes and the lobster omelet are both crazy fluffy. Try the clam cakes with house-made tartar sauce at dinner.
The Maine Diner
Seafood with a comfort twist is what attracts hordes of Maine pilgrims to this slightly hackneyed roadside eatery. Skip the adjacent and much-hyped gift shop and tuck in to flaky lobster pie and generously morseled seafood chowder. For dessert, The Maine Diner keeps alive the New England tradition of Indian pudding, a sweet mash-up of molasses, cream, and brown sugar.