Venture beyond Boston's borders, and you'll find that New England is full of nooks and crannies hiding amazing dining scenes — especially in Bay State spots like Worcester and Salem, neighboring state cities like Portland, Maine and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, resort destinations like Newport, Rhode Island and Stowe, Vermont, and rural regions like the scenic Berkshires of Western Mass. We've covered all of these and more in our past "Reasons to Drive" series.
But some restaurants are tucked away in places that are slightly off the beaten path, yet still accessible enough for a day trip — and also surrounded by visitor-friendly sightseeing options. We've chosen a half-dozen destination restaurants, one for each New England state, that are totally worth the excursion.
From Top Chef runner-up Tiffani Faison's Sweet Cheeks Q to award-winning 'cue guru Andy Husbands' The Smoke Shop, Boston has really upped the ante when it comes to barbecue restaurants in recent years. But for the last 10 years, this new Central Mass fixture — which started out of a trailer parked at the acres-spanning Brimfield Antique Show (one of the world's largest outdoor fairs) — has turned out St. Louis ribs, beef brisket and plenty of other smoked meats and hearty sides that could compete anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line. The restaurant is only 10 minutes from the fair, so check it out if you make it this summer — or visit tourist-y Old Sturbridge Village, the 59-building re-creation of a late 18th-century New England settlement.
White Barn Inn
For something fully upscale, head to the five-diamond restaurant at The White Barn Inn, a Relais & Chateaux property. The seasonal bistro menu is presented as a four-course prix fixe ($125 per person), and it's the definition of classic New England white-tablecloth dining. Chef Derek Bissonnette also offers cooking classes and special packed picnic baskets, so you can enjoy some eats outdoors by the lapping waves of the Kennebunk shore. And the property recently rolled out a brand-new restaurant, The Bistro, which offers a less formal dining atmosphere and menu too.
37 Beach Ave., Kennebunk, ME; 207-967-2321
Golden Lamb Buttery
With all due respect to the beloved NYC borough of hipsters, it's the Connecticut town of Brooklyn that offers a truly unique farm-to-table experience that no trendy, tattooed chef can replicate. For over 50 years, the seasonal Golden Lamb Buttery has lured diners with a fully formed dining experience — think cocktail reception, hayride and four-course prix fixe — on a 1,000-acre sheep farm with a circa-1856 barn. But with dishes like rack of lamb and Châteaubriand sliced tableside, it's best to leave your flannel shirt and overalls at home; semi-formal attire (read jacket and tie) is requested.
499 Wolf Den Rd., Brooklyn, CT; 860-774-4423
Hanover, New Hampshire, is a postcard-pretty New England town. The home of Dartmouth College has a quaint Downtown of shops, cafes and grassy quads that attracts plenty of day-trippers who rub patched elbows with tweed jacketed Ivy Leaguers. Inside the classy Hanover Inn is this rustic-chic New American that is part of star chef Michael Schlow's portfolio. The Doretta Taverna and Tico toque leaves chef Justin Dain to the day-to-day operations, and he offers an eclectic array of sophisticated plates to visitors: think hamachi tartare with pickled mushrooms and yuzu sauce, roasted parsnip and celery soup, wild boar sausage and duck breast with apple agro dolce.
2 E. Wheelock St., Hanover, NH; 603-646-8000
It's not often we'd include a buffet in a list of must-try restaurants, but The Nordic — more often referred to by locals as the "Nordic lodge" — is sort of a seasonal legend among in-the-know New Englanders. The family-owned icon opened in 1963 as a lakeside hotel, but is most famous for its current use as an elaborate all-you-can-eat experience: Pay $96 and you have two hours to eat all the lobster, crab, prime rib, oysters and comfort seafood classics like shrimp scampi you can handle. There's even an elaborate dessert bar, if you can find room. Meanwhile you'll soak in sunset views on the water — and take part in a famous Ocean State tradition. The Nordic reopens for the 2017 season on April 21.
178 E. Pasquiset Trail, Charlestown, RI; 401-783-4515
The Common Man Restaurant
Vermont has some pretty impressive food scenes in the adorable Lake Champlain–side college city of Burlington and ski-friendly resort town of Stowe — but both destinations are pretty lengthy hikes for just a day trip. Slightly closer is the tiny town of Warren, home to Sugarbush Ski Resort. Just south of Stowe and just north of the Killington ski area, Warren is where you'll find The Common Man, where chef Adam Longworth, a Vermont native, distils a fine-dining experience honed in restaurants around the country — from NYC's Gotham Bar and Grill to DC's 701 Restaurant. The Common Man is an elegant eatery housed inside a 19th-century barn, where Longworth offers gorgeously plated gourmet dishes like grilled octopus with ginger vinegar, pork ramen with baby bok choy and a seven-course tasting menu that is uncommonly excellent.
3209 German Flats Rd., Warren, VT; 802-583-2800