A jutting coastline, a narrow road, a gravel parking lot. Fishing boats lurch in the choppy waters; dense forests on nearby islands look like scribbles across the horizon. The breeze is piercingly cool even in June. I’m here, in this real-life New England postcard, in search of — what else? — an exceptional lobster roll.
My friend and fellow writer Amy Traverso has directed me to McLoons Lobster in South Thomaston along Maine’s midcoast. The sign in front of the shack’s red building tells me the pie of the day is strawberry rhubarb; it’s too early in the season for the state’s tiny, intense blueberries. No matter. I glut myself on the “lobster Rolls Royce,” a double-size serving. Its bun holds meat so sweet and snappy and phenomenally fresh that I won’t be ordering lobster in some city-slicker restaurant again until this memory fades into a foggy coastal haze.
In the recent weeks that I spent roaming New England I had plenty of superior lobster rolls and fried clams and chowder. Defining as those staples may be, though, many more of my meals were punctuated by incredible swaths of dishes — Portuguese stews, Turkish dolmas, Cantonese-style pork and shrimp dumplings, and modern imaginings like “Mexican fried rice” — that also shape the Northeast’s diverse, exuberant dining landscape.
Our survey encompasses six states: It begins in one of the country’s pizza capitals, New Haven, Connecticut, and stretches to Burlington, Vermont, 71 miles south of the Canadian border. No one person can definitively cover this much territory, and so 11 New England-based writers and experts joined me in narrowing scores of outstanding restaurants down to the essential 38. It’s their on-the-ground knowledge that really makes the roster exceptional.
Even five years ago, this list would have looked very different — or certainly less geographically broad. (As it is, Boston nabs a whopping 10 spots, but hey, it’s a metro area of nearly 5 million people.) Thanks to game-changers like Eventide in Portland, Maine, and Oberlin in Providence, Rhode Island, there’s now a breadth to the selections that shows off an upsurge in creativity. With its mosaic of risk-taking chefs and guardians of traditional foods, New England has never been a more varied or exciting culinary destination.
Scanning the lineup we singled out sends me back through the small towns that make up the soul of New England, and the remarkable meals set amid backdrops that include a working farm, a hydro-powered mill, a converted Carvel stand, and a clearing in the woods. No list can cover every gem: As with any Eater map, this assembly of restaurants is an invitation to savor and debate. I will say, though, that I devoured my share of rolls filled with lobster both slicked in mayo and doused in hot butter. I’m pretty confident in our nod to McLoons. — Bill Addison, restaurant editor
The 38 best restaurants in New England, in map form! →
New Haven, Connecticut
WHAT: The finest among New Haven’s legendary pizzerias, hands down. WHY: You might disagree with my pronouncement; some of the other writers involved in this project likely do, too. But twice now for Eater I’ve powered through the town’s stellar pies for comparison’s sake, and both times I’ve reached the same conclusion: The tang of the tomato sauce, the powdery char of the crust, and the light hand with quality toppings are all superior at Sally’s. Order the tomato pie with garlic and no cheese (other than a dusting of pecorino Romano) to know pizza divinity. The place is dim and spare and open only for dinner; you’ll receive efficient but gruff service from staffers who sport mailman-style shorts year round. The archetype of the Italian-American pizzeria, it’s a national treasure. — B.A.
237 Wooster Street
New Haven, CT 06511
(203) 624-5271 | sallysapizza.com
WHAT: A former Carvel stand east of Mystic Seaport that now serves some of New England’s finest fried clams. WHY: We're talking whole-belly clams — plump and ocean-sweet with a salty snap to the lasciviously tender meat inside a brittle crust. Beyond clams, this summertime drive-in serves a full roster of expertly fried seafood, including scallops, shrimps, and oysters. Of all Connecticut’s shoreline clam shacks, Sea Swirl’s ambience is the most delicious. Dining is all outside at picnic tables, where you can smell the ocean’s flood tide crawling in behind the restaurant. — Michael Stern
30 Williams Avenue
Mystic, CT 06355
(860) 536-3452 | seaswirlofmystic.com
WHAT: An outdoor restaurant that’s really more of a clearing in the woods, two miles inland from the beach: Diners sit on tree stumps instead of chairs and all the food is cooked on a massive open-fire grill. WHY: There’s only one menu at the Place, a hand-painted wooden sign that towers over the sunburnt families (and occasional well-behaved dog) who’ve packed this warm-months-only spot since 1971. Watch other tables and you’ll see a reliable pattern: First, a tatter of iron grating bearing a dozen roasted clams under a blanket of cocktail sauce and butter; next, a lobster or two, some barbecue chicken, and maybe some bluefish. Most people also order a pile of smoke-kissed corn still in its charred husks; it’s the only side dish on offer, but you’re encouraged to BYO anything else you might want (including a six-pack, which you can pick up at a nearby gas station on your way in). — Helen Rosner
901 Boston Post Road
Guilford, CT 06437
(203) 453-9276 | theplaceguilford.com
WHAT: The home of the central Connecticut steamer, aka a steamed cheeseburger, made with pizzazz by this snug little shack since 1959. WHY: Individual patties of ground beef and blocks of cheddar cheese are put in separate metal trays inside of a steam cabinet, where they are vapor-cooked. The result is a burger that’s unconscionably juicy, its cheese a pearlescent mass just viscous enough to seep into every crevice of the meat below. It’s maximum umami per bite. — M.S.
1046 Broad Street
Meriden, CT 06450
203-237-6660 | tedsrestaurant.com
WHAT: A natural wine bar and modern American bistro that, like the city it’s in, punches above its weight at every turn. WHY: Carried by an infectious enthusiasm and boundless knowledge of wine and the people who make it, co-owners Peter and Orenda Hale have built an impressive 200-bottle strong natural wine list that’s matched in tone and quality by chef Ben Jackson’s menu. A springtime bowl of duck consommé with hen of the woods mushrooms is worth doubling down for a second serving, and bright house-made yogurt offsets the concentrated umami of roasted chicken with carrots and lambs quarters. The kitchen and cellar are ambitious, but it’s the genuine warmth in the front of the house that makes this an East End gem. — Anestes Fotiades
63 Washington Ave
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 805-1336 | drifterswife.com
Eventide Oyster Co.
WHAT: The exuberant seafood phenom that sets the standard for the modern oyster bar — not only in New England but for all of America. Eventide is no secret: No matter what time of year you arrive, or at what time of day, there will likely be at least a short wait. WHY: Nearly 20 varieties of craggy, pristine oysters from Maine and throughout the region sit piled on ice atop a hollowed-out slab of granite. Their names reflect their geography, etching maps in the mind: Pleasant Bay, John’s River, Basket Island, Dodge Cove. Eat them plain and then dabbed with accompaniments both classic (red wine mignonette) and newfangled (ices made from horseradish or kimchi). Trust that blackboard specials like fish crudos and octopus terrine will deliver, though the marquee remains the signature lobster roll umami-blasted by an unlikely triumvirate: browned butter, dried milk powder, and lemon. — B.A.
86 Middle Street
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 774-8538 | eventideoysterco.com
WHAT: A detour-worthy neighborhood restaurant among a rambling row of businesses in a picturesque town, run by husband-and-wife team Ravin Nakjaroen and Paula Palakawong. The menu takes its initial cues from the couple's Thai homeland, then veers into what could be pigeonholed as “pan-Asian” cuisine—though Nakjaroen’s precise and personal cooking style transcends any cursory labels. WHY: A universal comfort like fried rice shows off uncommon care, each grain distinct and mingled with local seafood like Maine crab or smoked mackerel. But every meal should also include Nakjaroen’s true-minded Thai dishes, including pad kee mao (rice noodles fiercely seared in a wok and paired with locally grown vegetables) and a deftly calibrated, not-too-sweet panang curry with beef. — B.A.
31 Elm Street
Camden, ME 04843
(207) 236-9001 | longgraincamden.com
The Lost Kitchen
WHAT: A fairy tale of a destination restaurant, occupying part of a hydro-powered millhouse (circa 1834) in a midcoast town whose population totals 719. Here’s the plot twist: Dinner at the Lost Kitchen ranks as one of the country’s most unattainable reservations. Chef-owner Erin French begins accepting annual bookings on April 1 for reservations between May and New Year’s Eve, and they fill within hours. WHY: Those who do score a golden ticket are in for the kind of evening that addresses all the senses. Listen to a small dam burbling just outside, note the shift in aromas while watching French and her staff cook eight courses in the day’s dying light, and savor her unfussy knack for layering flavors. Oysters perfumed with basil and violet might kick off a meal; lamb loin revved with pickled rhubarb and feta epitomizes springtime. The food is remarkable, but the calming pace and collective cheer completes the spell. — B.A.
22 Mill Street
Freedom, ME 04941
WHAT: A roadside diner that is a beacon of classic Downeast eats, from luxurious chowder to old-fashioned Indian pudding for dessert (a la mode, please) and a fresh lobster omelet for breakfast. Seafood is the star but baked beans, chicken pot pie, and mac-and-cheese are Yankee classics, too. WHY: There is no comfort food on earth more satisfying than Grandma’s lobster pie, a voluptuous casserole of hunky crustacean pieces drenched in butter and topped with equally buttery cracker crumbs. Easily one of the best dishes in New England. — M.S.
2265 Post Rd.
Wells, ME 04090
(207) 646-4441 | mainediner.com
South Thomaston, Maine
WHAT: The quintessential Maine lobster shack with a postcard setting and a roll to beat all. WHY: Lobster rolls are the gravitational center of Maine dining, usually priced in the teens and produced at high volume, which is why so many shacks pre-mix large batches of meat with enough mayo to lube a pot puller. The result: spongy, indistinct meat. But not at McLoons, where mayo is slathered on the bun, not the meat, and hot butter is an at-the-ready alternative. Better yet, order a half-and-half roll and decide which one you like best. — A.T.
315 Island Road
South Thomaston, Maine 04858
(207) 593-1382 | mcloonslobster.com
WHAT: A pre-Depression Era diner car located in the former mill town of Biddeford, Maine, that will reset your appreciation of how good classic diner fare can be. WHY: Chefs Chad Conley and Greg Mitchell relaunched this 90-year-old institution with a menu of standard diner options (burgers, breakfast sandwiches, and flapjacks) pulled off with a special finesse that makes waiting for one of the scant 15 seats well worth it. Slices of grapefruit become something else entirely when tossed on the grill. A thick layer of iceberg lends a cool crunch to the tuna melt, heaped with tuna salad and pickles. Thick-cut challah french toast arrives with the top bruleed for built-in sweetness. — A.F.
18 Franklin Street
Biddeford, ME 04101
(207) 284-0015 | palacedinerme.com
WHAT: Chef Melissa Kelly’s ode to midcoast Maine; part restaurant and part sprawling, organic farm. WHY: There are restaurants that tout the proximity of their sourcing and then there’s Primo, situated on four-and-a-half acres of rolling farmland. Melissa Kelly is the head of the agricultural operation as well as the talent behind the food. Dinner may start with a stroll through the garden, glass of wine in hand, and move into the rustic two-story house that has been converted into a restaurant and parlor. The menu of purely prepared vegetables and pasture-raised meats showcases Kelly’s time at Chez Panisse: Snap peas are blistered and sprinkled with sea salt, thick-cut pork chops accompanied by sweet roasted brussels sprouts. The casual top-floor lounge serves house-made charcuterie, pizzas, and oysters and doubles as the best taverna in midcoast Maine. — Korsha Wilson
2 Main Street
Rockland, ME 04841
(207) 596-0770 | primorestaurant.com
Tandem Coffee + Bakery
WHAT: An award-winning roastery and bakery launched by Blue Bottle alums Will and Kathleen Pratt with some of the best baked goods in the city and a dose of millennial coffeehouse magic. WHY: When the already-beloved East End coffee house — known for clean, lightly roasted coffees in an intimate space — expanded to to Portland’s West End in 2015, it brought on talented baker Briana Holt, who cranks out contemporary spins on traditional baked goods that perfectly balance sweet and savory. One of her butter-and-jam biscuit sandwiches or a bowl of turmeric steel-cut oats are blissful ways to start the day. (So is a wedge of that plum and black pepper pie.) Lunch specials like the capicola sandwich with chile-infused honey, banana peppers, and chickweed on seeded focaccia are why you’ll be back by noon. — A.F.
742 Congress Street
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 805-1887 | tandemcoffee.com
WHAT: The college-town flagship of chef and restaurateur Cara Stadler, who counts dumpling whisperer among her many singular skills. WHY: Stadler and her mother, Cecile, ran an underground restaurant in Beijing nearly a decade ago, when Stadler was only 21. They reunited in Maine, where the family often spent summers. The cooking skews pan-Asian, but zero in on the dishes with overtly Chinese influences to revel in the full measure of Stadler’s abilities. That means seared scallops bathed in XO sauce sharpened with Iberico ham, tangled greens with young ginger and sesame vinaigrette, and her standout dumplings in forms like open-faced shu mai filled with pork and shrimp. — B.A.
22 Pleasant Street
Brunswick, ME 04011
(207) 725-9002 | tao-yuan.me
Craigie on Main
WHAT: The American bistro in its noblest form. WHY: Chef-owner Tony Maws was an early adopter of the high-low formula: In a roomy, brick-lined space, he composes tasting menus that might segue through Maine amberjack sashimi, green gazpacho, garganelli with clams and pork belly, a study in lamb, and a bitter chocolate terrine. But a la carte comforts exhibit equal prowess. His kitchen nails a roasted chicken, and the restaurant’s bar serves one of the nation’s gutsiest burgers, a freshly ground patty boosted with bone marrow and miso and topped with cheddar on a towering milk-bread bun. Maw serves only 18 a night; arrive at 5:30 p.m. if you’re intent on grabbing one. — B.A.
853 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 497-5511 | craigieonmain.com
WHAT: Venerable Boston restaurateur Garrett Harker gives New England the brasserie it deserves. WHY: This lively Kenmore Square institution is an all-people pleaser: excellent craft cocktails, perfected bistro favorites like steak frites and roasted chicken, and exceptional hospitality (legend has it they have a dossier on every guest). The tables may sport white linen, but don’t mistake that for pretense; the restaurant stays open all day and into the wee hours, when bartenders leap atop the back bar to scrawl late-night specials on the mirror. — K.W.
528 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
(617) 532-9100 | easternstandardboston.com
Gypsy Apple Bistro
Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts
WHAT: An unassuming eight-seat French bistro in Western Mass, aka the escape from city life for husband and wife chef-owner team Michaelangelo Wescott and Ami Aubin. Its cozy quarters make up one of the few remaining respites where consistency, creativity, and hospitality are given equal weight. WHY: While the menu nods to nostalgia (duck confit, house-cured gravlax), Wescott lets his mood dictate the eclectic daily specials, which can range from hand-torn pasta to scrapple with duck egg to house-made ramen. Wintertime brings a deep braise of local pork shank with thick berry jus, the just reward for braving ice-slicked roads. In summer, fresh trout and metallic local cheeses stud a stack of tomatoes still warm from the country sun. Come once and you’re a regular for life. — Sally Ekus
65 Bridge Street
Shelburne Falls, MA 01370
(413) 625-6345 | gypsyapplebistro.com
WHAT: Live-fire dazzlement by culinary wunderkind Daniel Bojorquez, opened in 2014 in deepest Somerville’s last frontier. WHY: Following an extended apprenticeship under local haute cuisine kingpin Frank McClelland, the Sonora-born (and Puebla-trained) chef brings all those disparate influences to bear on a high/low menu characterized by gutsy, vibrant, refined cooking. Charred-poblano onion fondue plays pillowy foil to crisp-skinned wood fire-roasted chicken. “Mexican Fried Rice” samples the best parts of arroz mexicano (bright, sofrito-driven flavor), Chinese fried rice (smoky wok hei), and Spanish paella (crispy socarrat). Plus, wherever you fall on the charge-for-bread debate, the transcendent fixins you get gratis for your measly few bucks — gloriously viscous neon-green olive oil, dreamy smoke-kissed ash butter — make one hell of a convincing case. — Jolyon Helterman
Somerville, MA 02145
(617) 764-1412 | labrasasomerville.com
WHAT: An ambitious, thinky, New England-inspired restaurant without the ye olde kitsch. WHY: Chef Marc Sheehan’s “eat local” ethos goes beyond mere sourcing. As befits the chef’s Harvard-proximate locale, he does a deep dive into culinary history, reviving Colonial foodways like sallets and soused bluefish but with a coolly modern sensibility. Stripped of the Puritan stodge, doused with lively, who-woulda-thunk? accents like chamomile vinegar, sunchoke-walnut jam, and pork-fat hollandaise, he creates an authentic New England cuisine for today. — Amy Traverso
660 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02141
(617) 945-2576 | loyalninecambridge.com
WHAT: National-caliber izakaya opened in 2007 by Tim and Nancy Cushman in an intimate sliver of a rehabbed firehouse. WHY: Despite the menu’s seeming Magnetic Poetry randomness, dishes arrive as precise and evocative as edible Seurats. Kombu-braised whole-shallot “nigiri” shimmer with subtly molecular soy pearls doing their best Osetra impression. Salt-crusted A5 wagyu melts away into luscious beef butter on the palate. Even mid-aughts cliches evince improbable relevance. To wit: raw hamachi perched atop delicate rice boules, dolloped with briny-hot banana-pepper mousse, then doused with truffle oil—seconds before a creme-brulee torch chars up beguiling savory-marshmallow notes you never knew existed. Bring money. — J.H.
9 East Street
Boston, MA 02111
(617) 654-9900 | o-ya.restaurant
The Prairie Whale
Great Barrington, Massachusetts
WHAT: Country mouse meets city mouse in a rustic (but urbane!) Berkshires hotspot. WHY: The western strip of Massachusetts has long benefited from cross-pollination along the Taconic State Parkway, especially in southerly Great Barrington. So when Marlow & Sons’ Mark Firth decided to quit the city for farm life, the town gained a small eatery with all the farm-to-table signifiers: reclaimed wood, cornhole games on the front lawn, meat and veg from Firth’s own farm where he raises sheep and pigs (the restaurant’s name references that breed’s 19th-century nickname), and dressed-up rustic fare: potato-leek soup with poached egg; pork goulash with braised cabbage and spaetzle). No airs, no website, no reservations. — A.T.
178 Main Street
Great Barrington, MA 01230
(413) 528-5050 | facebook.com/PrairieWhale
WHAT: Classic New England seafood-shack standards featuring judiciously doled-out modern updates from the Island Creek folks, whose blue-chip bivalves ship daily from Duxbury, Massachusetts, to top U.S. restaurants. WHY: No better source than, well, the source to sample pristine raw-bar selections, including the coveted Row 34 oysters, with their intensely mineral merroir reminiscent of French Belons. Both lobster roll styles — Maine (creamy mayo) and Connecticut (hot butter) — reach apotheosis here, as does anything that sees the business end of the fryer or grill. All of the above wash down easily with the geek-friendly roster of high-toned sours and Old-World vins blancs. — J.H.
383 Congress Street
Boston, MA 02210
(617) 553-5900 | row34.com
WHAT: A party of a restaurant celebrating the diverse, radiantly spiced flavors of the Middle East. Chef-owner Cassie Piuma melds her recipes with the New England seasons, including produce from the farm of co-owner Ana Sortun. WHY: Piuma worked for nearly a dozen years in nearby Cambridge at Oleana, Sortun’s groundbreaking restaurant that foreshadowed the national budding ardor for Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisines. At Sarma, Piuma masters her own evocative translations, inspired by the mezze feasts served at meyhanes (Turkish taverns). She might sprinkle peanut dukkah on squid, reimagine dolmas using hollowed-out cucumbers rather than grape leaves, and zap spanakopita with za’atar, olives, and pickled hot peppers. — B.A.
249 Pearl Street
Somerville, MA 02145
(617) 764-4464 | sarmarestaurant.com
WHAT: Modern trattoria from dining-scene queen Barbara Lynch, cleverly disguised as a brightly lit greasy-spoon lunch counter. WHY: While you won’t go wrong in any corner of Lynch’s empire, insiders know this undersung gem — wedged between her craft-cocktail temple, Drink, and upscale-French flagship, Menton — currently rocks a vibrant energy equal parts A-game and fresh. Classically trained “short-order cooks” rattle off riffs on the regional-Italian canon. Duck-prosciutto crostini with rhubarb compote, salsa verde, and burratini. Marinated mackerel with fresh chickpeas and chile oil. House-forged strozzapreti with rosemary-perfumed braised rabbit brightened with picholines. — J.H.
348 Congress Street
Boston, MA 02210
(617) 737-1234 | sportelloboston.com
WHAT: Seafood-driven decadence in Harvard Square from white-hot culinary talent Michael Scelfo. WHY: Confident, vivid, highly original cooking that throws moderation to the wind in deploying fat, salt, and pure-pigment flavor: the good stuff. Fresh bucatini gets luxed up with smoked egg yolk, bottarga, pecorino, and velvety blobs of uni. Gloriously marbled wood-roasted char belly — with shatteringly crispy skin — gets the cassoulet treatment atop a bed of creamy ceci beans punched up with grilled grapes and lemon. The thoroughly on-the-pulse cocktail program showcases supple milk punches, restless house infusions (see: squid-ink mezcal), and a card-carrying cordial dork’s depth in absinthe. — J.H.
1030 Massachusetts Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
(617) 864-2300 | waypointharvard.com
WHAT: In 2002, Uni was but a pint-size sashimi counter tucked into a windowless alcove of Ken Oringer’s flagship Clio. Last year, Oringer decided it might be time give his erstwhile side hustle the run of the place. WHY: Boy, was he right. Oringer and executive chef Tony Messina transformed Uni into a next-level izakaya showcasing ecumenical riffs on global street food, anchored by meticulous technique and relentless ingredient snobbery. The result? An exhilarating flavorscape where hamachi sashimi tangoes with banana, black truffle, and pork-belly croutons; sea-urchin toast dresses Italian-style in lardo and seaweed pesto; and wagyu dumplings are free to be, well, wagyu dumplings — with a little cheddar dashi and braised lettuce thrown in. — J.H.
370 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
(617) 536-7200 | uni-boston.com
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
WHAT: A intellectual small-plates spot with dishes and drinks originating from Portsmouth’s centuries-old history, natural bounty, and the often devilishly playful mind of Per Se alum chef Matt Louis. WHY: Louis brings plenty of gumption to his food, serving dishes that five years ago locals might have looked at with skepticism in this quaint seacoast city. The staff works a dedicated farm plot, oysters from nearby Great Bay are cultivated just for this restaurant and its sister spot Franklin Oyster House, and foragers bring nettles to serve alongside invasive green crab. Both the staff and the dishes tell the history of the region, too. You can picture colonial settlers enjoying nods to dishes from their era, like hasty pudding fries with a molasses barbecue and buttermilk dip or the New England dinner 2.0 with corned beef brisket, napa cabbage, and Raye’s maple mustard. — Rachel Forrest
106 Penhallow Street
Portsmouth, NH 03801
(603) 319-8178 | moxyrestaurant.com
Polly’s Pancake Parlor
Sugar Hill, New Hampshire
WHAT: The carriage house of a White Mountain farm that, in 1938, "Sugar Bill" and Polly Dexter (the two are married) converted into a tea room to showcase all the good things that could be made from the sap gathered from Dexter’s sugarbush. WHY: Sugar Bill’s progeny continue serving simple food with an array of maple products to pour, spread, and sprinkle over it. You’re here for pancakes and waffles, of course, but a visit isn’t complete without a scoop of ice cream topped with Maple Hurricane Sauce, created by boiling apples in syrup to create a slurry of woodsy sweetness. — M.S.
Sugar Hill, NH 03586
(603) 823-5575 | pollyspancakeparlor.com
Providence, Rhode Island
WHAT: Providence’s pillar of upscale dining since 1980, when Johanne Killeen and her husband, George Germon, began serving their luxe riffs on Italian-American cooking. WHY: The kitchen’s unwavering vitality keeps Al Forno stunningly relevant and in demand — Al Forno doesn’t take reservations. Go early or late, and start by ordering a grilled pizza, the masterpiece that first earned the couple national praise. It arrives looking like a flattened, misshapen boomerang. The crust crackles, the toppings like kale pesto and pine nuts sing; this brute is as thrilling as ever. Hold back from filling up on the last sausage-laced clam or final forkful of baked pasta in anticipation of one of Killeen’s sublime fruit crostatas or the platter of warm cookies. — B.A.
577 South Water Street
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 273-9760 | alforno.com
Providence, Rhode Island
WHAT: A compact neighborhood draw whose kitchen boasts a thrilling superpower: the ability to make crudo and pasta, two of America’s most ubiquitous restaurant dishes, seem like revelations. WHY: After opening their tiny, counter-only tasting-menu restaurant Birch in 2013, Benjamin Sukle and his wife, Heidi, followed with Oberlin in early 2016. Their sophomore effort taps winningly into Providence’s Italian-American heritage. Crudos are stripped down to their purest expression: exquisite raw fish (Connecticut royal red shrimp; bluefish; small, silvery scup) dressed in olive oil and lemon and little else. Their austerity primes the palate for lush, house-made noodles like chiatarra cacio e pepe. — B.A.
186 Union Street
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 588-8755 | oberlinrestaurant.com
East Providence, Rhode Island
WHAT: A sturdy brick building with pinstripe-blue awnings that doubles as an embassy for the filling, palliative foods of Portugal; the Ocean State boasts the largest Portuguese-American population in the United States. WHY: Natalia Paiva-Neves and her father, Dinis Paiva, stir up an enveloping, come-as-you-are atmosphere — as much neighborhood gathering place as restaurant. Expats and regulars of all backgrounds come to relish their homey, quintessential Portuguese classics: bacalhau na brasa (grilled salt cod and boiled potatoes strewn with browned garlic and onions wilted in olive oil), a cod variation called bacalhau de natas (this one baked in heavy cream), and carne de porco alentejana (marinated pork and fried potatoes with local littleneck clams). A bottle of effervescent Vinho Verde will lighten the meal and deepen the immersion course. — B.A.
579 Warren Avenue
East Providence, RI 02914
WHAT: One of the few restaurants in the West End to stay open past 10 p.m., drawing industry folks with an eclectic collection of dishes that swing from Momofuku-inspired to classic Southern, all with a locavore Rhode Island bent. WHY: They take no reservations and the wait can be long. Service can be charmingly grumpy. But those pedestrian annoyances are quickly made up for by the imaginative plates delivered to the six tables that make up the Asia-gone-nautical dining room. The tight kitchen executes tiny country ham biscuits as well as it does spicy dan dan noodles with mutton, squid, and fermented chiles. Its sister bakery serves a similarly delicious hodgepodge. — Molly Birnbaum
3 Luongo Memorial Square
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 421-1100 | foodbynorth.com
The Red Dory
WHAT: The second act for chef Steve Johnson (who closed his Cambridge, Massachusetts, restaurant Rendezvous in 2014), with deceptively simple fare served in a quaint one-story building overlooking the Sakonnet River, 45 minutes south of Providence. WHY: With a wood-fired stove in the dining room and a picnic-table-strewn waterfront porch, Red Dory screams more summer weekend than urban swank. But here, beneath canvas sails draped from the cork ceiling, Johnson works wonders with local seafood, like the tender Rhode Island squid he sauteed with thick borlotti beans and arugula, or the linguini slicked with red sauce and clams dug up nearby. The lemon pudding cake, which Johnson also served at Rendezvous, tastes of sunshine, summer weekend or not. — M.B.
1848 Main Road
Tiverton, RI 02878
(401) 816.5001 | reddoryrestaurant.com
WHAT: Big-flavored, testosterone-fueled bar food grounded in classic French technique, at a DIY performance venue in Burlington's South End arts district. WHY: In late 2014, ArtsRiot cofounders PJ McHenry and Felix Wai ditched a half-baked “kitchen collective” concept and hired ball-of-fire chef-partner George Lambertson to execute the menu. Since then, Lambertson (with recent help from chef de cuisine Jean-Luc Matecat) has metamorphosed the once-reluctant restaurant into an anchor for the South End’s blossoming food scene. It’s the kind of place where you’ll find farmers alongside artists and drag queens, chop-sticking through bowls of black-garlic ramen bobbing with torchons of chicken, pigs feet, and lemongrass. You’ll also meet mammoth burgers — gooey with American cheese and special sauce — stacked on request up to four patties high. — Hannah Palmer Egan
400 Pine Street
Burlington, VT 05401
(802) 540-0406 | artsriot.com/restaurant
Hen of the Wood
WHAT: The surprisingly bountiful, four-season Vermont larder on a plate. WHY: When late winter begins to feel like an Ethan Fromian trial to be endured, just page through the menu at Hen of the Wood, where Eric Warnstedt conjures ripe cheeses from hidden caves, roasts roots to candy sweetness, and weaves silk out of pig’s ears. There is still life here, says the man who was doing mushroom toasts before they were a gleam in a Californian’s eye. Return a few months later and steep in the glory of summer’s sweet corn, lamb, and fried green tomatoes with kale and currants. — A.T.
92 Stowe Street
Waterbury, VT 05676
(802) 244-7300 | henofthewood.com
WHAT: An intimate, low-lit dinner spot steps from the state capital; forged tight farm partnerships and pursued plant-based cooking before such things were cool. WHY: Crystal Madiera has been a pioneer in the world of produce-centric cookery, dreaming up vegetable-fueled — if not wholly vegetarian — meals at her tiny State Street restaurant for a decade. Today, Kismet is still where in-the-know Vermonters go for paper-thin beef — or root vegetable — carpaccio, and for plates of roasted beets scattered with smoky lentils, powdered hazelnuts, and a shock of labneh. Come winter, it’s the only place in town to get savory bread puddings awash in steaming bone broth. — H.P.E.
52 State Street
Montpelier, VT 05602
(802) 223-8646 | kismetkitchens.com
Misery Loves Co.
WHAT: Experimental plates that have transformed Winooski from a Burlington backwater to a culinary and cultural destination. WHY: Chef-owners Aaron Josinsky and Nathaniel Wade have a habit of spinning wild foods into unfamiliar versions of dishes we thought we knew well. In spring, find a free-form lasagna with nettle leaves pressed into wide pasta ribbons, layered with morels and ricotta, all bathed in featherweight mushroom broth. Come midsummer, look for Vermont-caught crawfish served naked on stoneware plates. Dip these into tiny pots of brown-butter emulsion, and heed the servers’ advice to lop off the heads and drink up the musky river juices inside. — H.P.E.
46 Main Street
Winooski, VT 05404
(802) 497-3989 | miserylovescovt.com
SoLo Farm & Table
South Londonderry, Vermont
WHAT: Local food that upends the Vermont cliches of farmhouse cheese and maple syrup. WHY: Six years ago Chloe and Wesley Genovart decamped from New York City to open a restaurant in this tiny Vermont town. Frost-kissed sunchoke soup chases away winter blues, while summer dazzles with 20 different kinds of tomatoes from SoLo’s own garden. Wesley’s childhood in Spain brings Mediterranean inflections to a menu ample with house-made charcuterie, octopus, quail, and rabbit. Don’t miss his torrija, bread pudding rich with milk from the dairy up the road and fragrant with spices. This is Vermont with a bite. — Darra Goldstein
95 Middletown Road
South Londonderry, Vermont 05155
(802) 824-6327 | solofarmandtable.com
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Bill Addison is Eater's restaurant editor, roving the country uncovering America’s essential restaurants. Read all his columns in the archive.
Edited by Lesley Suter
Copy edited by Emma Alpern
Map illustration by Courtney Leonard
Special thanks to Matt Buchanan, Sonia Chopra, Amanda Kludt, Mary Hough, Adam Moussa, James Park, Helen Rosner, Jenny Zhang