Maine’s love of lobster is showcased in many ways, but it’s the roadside shack that signals the start of summer. Since the first shacks popped up on Route 1, greeting tourists in the 1970s, these tiny buildings have been a magnetic force that draws people in. The lines are so long you’d think it was a Taylor Swift concert.
Lobster and clam shacks are just that — shacks. Some don’t even look strong enough to withstand the hurricane or three they’ve already made it through. The most legit shacks will let you know that there are no frills right away. As much as serving seafood is part of the gig, a true shack will also have a tremendous waterfront view.
Every town in Maine serves lobsters, clams, and oysters, but only a few offer true shack service. We’ve compiled some of our favorites and particularly paid attention to some of the best-kept secrets on the Maine coastline.
Since Kittery splits off into several peninsulas, it helps to have options throughout the town. When you just can’t wait to get your hands on Maine lobster and seafood, Buoy Shack and Morrison’s Lobsters await on Badger’s Island, less than 1,000 feet from the state line.
Perhaps nowhere else in the world are Calvin Klein and clams so close together. Bob’s Clam Hut has been serving since 1956 with a sign demanding “Eat Clams” in the middle of the Kittery Outlet Mall corridor.
If you’re on the way to Fort Foster, Chauncey Creek offers lobster, clams, mussels, crab, and oysters along a stunning riverside view.
Kennebunk & Kennebunkport
Even President George W. Bush visited the team in June 2023 after years of getting deliveries to his summer home in nearby Walker’s Point.
“Sweetest lobster rolls (look at those whole tails!), fried clams, shrimp and juiciest scallops.Top Chef Judge Gail Simmons
While Kennebunkport has amazing restaurants on its Dock Square side, the next best shack sends you to the Cape Porpoise part of town. Nunan’s Lobster Hut is all about lobster cooked to order with no frills and lots of melted butter. Head to the fishing village on the coastline and chow down on chowder at Cape Pier Chowder House.
Picnic tables line the grass along Biddeford Pool in a dog-friendly outdoor space. Views of the (haunted) Wood Island Lighthouse in the distance — with boats coming and going on the water — make this an idyllic spot for a Maine moment.
Bear with me as I tell you why The Hamburger Stand is a great shack in a list focused on lobsters and clams. Yeah, they serve lobster rolls. However, they also crush other Maine classics like poutine (fries with cheese curds and gravy), red snappers (the only hot dog worth eating in Maine), and whoopie pies (the official Maine state treat).
Additionally, the Hamburger Stand is great for those traveling with picky eaters or those who want to get some classic Maine ice cream.
DID YOU KNOW? Lobsters aren’t naturally red. They turn red when cooked because of astaxanthin, a carotenoid pigment in their shells that breaks down and binds to proteins when heated. In their natural habitat, lobsters have greenish-black or brown shells.
Tucked away in the Mid Coast treasure town of New Harbor, you’d never guess that you’re walking through a Nicholas Sparks love story movie set. Shaw’s Fish & Lobster Wharf is one of my local locations used to film “Message in a Bottle” in 1999.
That’s right, a movie about an Outer Banks town shot in Maine because it’s so beautiful. Rumor has it that Paul Newman and Kevin Costner ate here almost daily while filming. The menu spans shellfish from oysters to shrimp to clams with large lobsters available in the rough.
“About one out of every 2 million lobsters may come up in a trap colored blue. Your chances of finding a yellow lobster are even less… one in 30 million. However, the rarest lobster is a white lobster… only one in 100 million.”Maine Lobstermen’s Community Alliance
As home to the Maine Lobster Festival since 1948, Rockland should be on your shack snack list. After seeing the latest menu additions at Claws, a place that caters to “Sea Foodies,” I’m already planning my next road trip.
The numerous awards grab your attention, but it’s the “Lobsters & Crabs from Penobscot Bay, Scallops from Vinyl Haven and Clams from the Saint George…” that really tackle your taste buds. Lobster Rangoon, lobster mac ‘n cheese, and baked stuffed lobster tails are just a few of the unique creations at this seaside shack.
LOBSTER TAIL TIP: If you want to skip the crowds, head 9 miles south of Rockland to Spruce Head Island where McLoons Lobster Shack serves seafood staples with a seasonal Sugar Shack offering an assortment of ice cream. Even NewEngland.com says that this is the best shack in the state.
Damariscotta is all about oysters as the only place on earth where Pemaquid oysters grow. The Shuck Station has an out-of-this-world oyster raw bar with eight raw and three baked choices. That’s in addition to seafood baskets, chowder, and lobster grilled cheese.
While you’re here, visit the Whaleback Shell Midden historic site, which holds middens (oyster shell mounds) from more than 2,000 years ago.
After several changes, The Lobster Haul is now in a brand-new location and serving old favorites and new traditions. This location is top rated for its lobster roll sliders, which is nice when you’re not hungry enough for a full roll but still want a taste. Nine roll options include a Crabster, which is a mix of lobster and crab.
Home to the famous Portland Head Lighthouse, Cape Elizabeth brings big shack surprises too.
Bite Into Maine has four locations — two in Portland and another in Scarborough — but it’s the location at Fort Williams Park that threads all the Maine elements together. The window service offers lobster rolls with mac ‘n cheese, lobster BLTs, and chowder for chilly days.
Another great stop in Cape Elizabeth is right on the way to Crescent Beach. Kettle Cove Ice Cream & Shack has the traditional lobster rolls with additions such as a haddock basket, up to a pint of clams, and red snapper hot dogs. The Creamery serves a slew of ice cream options with special pup cups for pets.
The Lobster Shack at Two Lights ranks as one of the best scenic views you’ll find shackside. Crack off those lobster claws while waves crash into the dark, intimidating rocks just feet away. All of your favorite lobster and clam dishes are available on rolls, in boats (with fries), or by weight.
EAT LOBSTER LIKE A MAINER: Maine tradition calls for you to suck the seawater from the lobster claw shells before getting to the meat.
Mount Desert Island & Bar Harbor
Just before you cross the bridge into Bar Harbor, Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound is a great stop for seafood to go or to grab your favorite crustacean steamed, baked, buttered, or bundled in a roll. When you want seafood without shticks or gimmicks, this shack proudly states, “No lined tablecloths or fancy glasses.”
Tired of the traffic and long lines in Bar Harbor? Abel’s Lobster is tucked away in a cove that still has Acadia National Park aesthetics but gives plenty of space to crack the lobster tail and soak in the water views.
The Travelin’ Lobster is one of the top Bar Harbor seafood shack stops. With specialties like the Bay Tower (12 oysters, six shrimp, six crab claws, and one lobster) or Happy Hour that goes to the oysters, it’s no wonder why superstars — like Super Bowl Champ Hines Ward — are returning customers.
Other MDI favorites include:
- Archie’s Lobster in Bass Harbor — Try the lobster quesadilla.
- Beal’s Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor — Pick between lobster nachos and fried lobster bites to start.
- Happy Clam Shack in Bar Harbor — Because who wants unhappy clams?
Of course, Maine’s biggest city has Maine’s biggest food scene, and crustaceans conquer all. The Highroller Lobster Co. turned a food truck into a storefront but still has an upscale shack vibe. Unique creations like lobster pops and lobster roll flights mix with a raw bar and whoopie pies for dessert.
Craving clams instead? The Clam Bar moved into new digs in late 2023 with a beer garden, food window, and pavilion where you can shuck or sip while mixing and mingling.
Take a ride on the ferry to Peaks Island, which is still part of Portland, to enjoy views of the city and surf from Island Lobster Company. Try the clam cakes or haddock fritters for a unique twist on classic foods.
MAINE vs. CONNECTICUT: If you haven’t heard about the Lobster Roll Wars, let me enlighten you. There’s the right way to make a lobster roll — as Maine does — with cold meat, mayo, and some spices. Then, there’s the way Connecticut makes it, hot meat with melted butter only. Connecticut calls a Maine lobster roll a “lobster salad roll.”
I’ve seen a few Maine shacks that say “Mayo or Butter, we don’t judge.” What do you think? Cold with mayo or hot with butter?
In what might be one of the best drive-up views to a restaurant in all of Maine, Five Islands Lobster Co. humbly sits on a working dock on Five Islands harbor. It’s known as the “Prettiest harbor in Maine.”
Once your shellshock from the view wears off, you have three shacks to choose from — The Lobster Building, The Love Nest (the bulk of the menu is here), or the Ice Cream Building. If you’re lucky, you will see someone bring in a massive bluefin tuna.
TIP: While you’re here, head down to Reid State Park. A long straight stretch of sandy beach faces the ocean, with Griffith Head offering stunning 360-degree views.
Maine Lobster & Clam Shack Trip Tips
Before you go searching for your favorite shack, here are a few pieces of advice for those not familiar with Maine’s legacy foods. We have 10 tips for the 10 legs of a lobster (eight legs to walk on and two claws).
- If you wear the bib, you’ll stand out as a tourist. If you see someone else wearing a bib, they are a tourist.
- Steamers are clams.
- Most shacks don’t serve booze but allow you to BYOB.
- It’s okay if you don’t know how to crack a lobster, but ask for help. Always crack the tail facing down so that lobster juice and shells don’t fly in people’s faces.
- There’s a difference between hard-shell and soft-shell lobster. Hard shells have more meat. Soft shells have more tender meat.
- You will watch your lobster go from the water to the cooker. You are welcome to look away if that seems a little too… real.
- Don’t ask for lettuce on your lobster roll. We hear Manhattan serves them that way.
- If lobster is offered “in the rough,” it means either a steamed lobster with nothing more than a side of butter and/or eaten outside at a table with no fancy amenities.
- Expect the lines to be long and the wait to be well worth it.
- A lobster pound is the Maine name for a lobster shack. It just means a place where lobsters are contained in seawater until it’s time to eat them. It’s the same way that animal shelters got the name “the pound.”
Don’t Miss Maine Seafood Shack Season in These Towns
Lobster and clam shacks are the epitome of summer in Maine. Most open by Mother’s Day and close down by Indigenous Peoples’ Day (the second Monday in October). However, some close after Labor Day. Despite that, there are still plenty of seafood restaurants serving the freshest catches daily at any time of year.