Harmon’s Lunch

I can’t remember eating two cheeseburgers faster than I did at Harmon’s Lunch. I even had the presence of mind to order two, right upfront, so that I wouldn’t be delayed waiting for a second cheeseburger. In fact, maybe that was my mistake: maybe a forced intermission between burgers would have served me better.

Harmon’s Lunch has been serving fresh, homemade cheeseburgers from their small roadside restaurant since 1960. The walls are lined with regional glass milk bottles, and tiny handwritten signs are scattered throughout the restaurant, correcting misbehavior on the part of Harmon’s customers. “This cooler contains ice,” one sign informs, “if you leave the lid open, the next customer will get water.” Another reads, “We made a deal with the bank: They won’t serve hamburgers, and we don’t extend credit. Cash only.” And a tiny sign over the ancient flattop grill, blackened with the remains of probably millions of hamburgers, reads, “This is not Burger King. You don’t get it your way. You take it my way, or you don’t get the damn thing.”

Though founder Marvin Harmon passed away in 2003, the hamburgers being served from behind the tiny counter haven’t changed. And for good reason: after over 50 years of cooking primarily one thing (Harmon’s does offer hot dogs in addition to hamburgers, though you’ll never see anyone eating one), you’d better believe they’ve got the formula down, and your dumb requests for lettuce are not going to upset the careful balance of ingredients that Harmon’s has settled on. The “Loaded” version of their burger combines mustard, red relish, and sauteed onions, on a buttered and heated soft roll.

The burgers at Harmon’s are thin, and cooked to a solid medium. They are topped with a thick layer of American cheese, which melts and oozes perfectly into the nooks and crannies on the surface of the burger. The “red relish” is a kind of pickle relish/tomato hybrid, and the onions are sublime; slow cooked for so long that they become incredibly sweet, with the consistency of a marmalade. Skip the fries (which, though perfectly serviceable and admirably homemade, have a tendency to be a little on the limp side), and save the extra room for a second hamburger. It’s a much better use of your stomach’s space, and at only $2.45 each, a second hamburger will deservedly stay in your mind much longer than the french fries will.

In fact, if anything, try the second burger plain. As delicious as the toppings on the “loaded” version of a Harmon’s Burger may be, as carefully balanced between sweet and savory as they are, eating a burger plain, or with just cheese, turns eating a Harmon’s cheeseburger into a blissfully textural celebration. The bun is heated until just warmed through, and it combines with the grilled hamburger and the melted cheese into a whisper of a burger that you smell and feel as much as you eat, that is through your mouth and into your stomach before you even realize what’s happened.

As the weather warms up, Harmon’s is exactly the kind of place we like to find ourselves on a Spring Friday afternoon. It feels like family, even on your first trip, and it feels like your neighborhood place, even if you’ve driven in from Portland. It’s the kind of place where customers will pitch in and clean up some dropped napkins when they see them, or take a minute to mop some spilled root beer off a table in a neighboring booth. Everyone works together, and the payoff is a round of delicate, ethereal little steamy burgers that you will find yourself eating one after another. Go.

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as Brocavore, a blog focusing on street food culture, and the junk food-centric "Spork & Barrel." His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, "'Wich, Please," was named "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.


  1. I’ve been eating at Harmon’s from the day I was born. I moved away and return to Maine as often as I can (I’ll be there in May, as it happens) and ALWAYS make a point of stopping at Harmon’s. One of my favorite holes in the wall!!!

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    1. Hi Kristen! You did already ask this, but I don’t mind answering again. I use a Canon Rebel t2i, and do some post-editing in Adobe Bridge and Adobe Photoshop. Be sure to also check out our post on food photography here, and thanks for reading!

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  2. Do yourself a favor and try the hot dogs! They’re split, grilled, and stuffed into a buttered and grilled split top roll. Loaded with the same toppings as the burgers they’re just amazing.

    FYI, although Mr. Harmon passed away in 2006, he sold it to my wife’s uncle about 20 years ago. He then ran it for about 10 years and then sold it to the current owner. The product consistency is a direct result of these families’ commitment to high quality and the simple pleasures of a perfect lunch!

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  3. I’m frequently accused of having a convenient memory and a propensity towards occasional exaggeration…the well-deserved privilege of being somewhere north of 60. But when it comes to Wasson’s Grove, my memory is clear and I’m not exaggerating when I say that those buttery, meaty, steamed onion-smothered buns of goodness were nothing short of unforgettable. Growing up in Portland, in a family of food-lovers, the quintessential road trip was a Sunday afternoon outing to Wasson’s Grove, for the fabulous burgers and, believe it or not, for the very cool and very fun swing-set. My sister and I ate and swung and swung and ate until our parents piled us all back into the Buick for the trip back home. Now that I’ve learned that Harmon’s carries on the “Wasson Grove” tradition, it’s time for a road trip!

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