It’s one of summer’s quintessential meals: fresh steamed lobster loaded into a buttery bun. In Connecticut they serve it toasted with drawn butter; in Maine it’s often slathered in mayonnaise and presented chilled. “Too much mayo or butter and you mask the wonderful lobstery flavor,” says Luke Holden, president of New York City-based restaurant chain Luke’s Lobster and coauthor of the newly released book Real Maine Food.
In honor of this classic warm-weather food, we’ve rounded up 10 of America’s best places to have one. Just remember: It tastes best outdoors, preferably by the water.
The Lobster Shack at Two Lights
Cape Elizabeth, Maine
One of Holden’s go-to spots for a lobster roll in Maine, his home state, the cliff-side Lobster Shack has been serving fresh-caught crustaceans since the 1920s. “They’re known for super-fresh lobster meat, a simple approach and dramatic oceanfront scenery while you eat,” Holden says.
Five Islands Lobster Co.
Set on a barnacled wharf overlooking deep Sheepscot Bay, a spot beloved by lobsterers for generations, Five Islands is rumored to have some of the freshest lobster rolls around. It offers a Big Boy version, which has twice as much meat as is usually served in a grilled and buttered homemade potato roll.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Its chowder wins awards, but the River House’s lobster roll, served barely dressed with mayonnaise and overflowing its grilled brioche, is equally up to par. Sit on the deck overlooking the Piscataqua River and neighboring Maine.
Alive & Kicking
There’s a reason Boston Magazine named this “Best Lobster Roll,” even though it’s not technically a roll: The restaurant’s owner, Louis Mastrangelo, prefers just a tiny bit of mayo between slices of Italian scali bread, which makes it seem like something a nonni would whip up for you. Wash it down with one of Alive & Kicking’s signature sarsaparilla sodas.
New York City
Holden now owns a multi-city lobster empire, but our pick remains the tiny hole-in-the-wall where it all began: his eight-seat spot in the East Village. One reason for his continued success: Luke’s buys only from sources in Maine, ensuring freshness. You won’t find needless fillers in these rolls, just chilled lobster meat dressed with mayonnaise, lemon butter and a sprinkling of spices.
Locals obsess over Oyster House’s lobster rolls, which come stuffed with fresh-caught wild Maine lobster. Inside, the dining room is a light and airy space with antique oyster plates hung on the subway-tile-lined walls. Go during Buck-a-Shuck happy hour to complement your roll with $1* oysters and $5 cocktails.
Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls
Marylanders flock here from every corner of the state because it fulfills all cravings: Mason’s makes a Maine Classic Lobstah Roll; a no-mayo, extra-butter Connecticut Roll; and even its own state varietal, which has mayo, celery and fresh lemon. Most options are $12, which is a deal for lobster caught in Portland, Maine.
The owners of Steuben’s are focused on getting America’s regional dishes just right, from Louisiana crawfish étouffée to Rhode Island calamari. But they’re from Boston, which means that their lobster roll is especially good—fresh Maine lobster meat simply dressed with a touch of mayonnaise.
Dock & Roll Diner
The first Austin restaurant devoted to New England’s major export serves wild-caught Maine lobster in 12 variations on the lobster roll, from the BLT to El Fuerte (spiced up with cayenne, cilantro and lime). The original location is the place to try; it’s housed in a glossy 1957 Flying Cloud Airstream trailer.
Hinoki & the Bird
You wouldn’t expect to find a lobster roll in this Silk Road-inspired restaurant, beloved by Hollywood scenesters. But you do, and it’s divine: largely because it’s boundary pushing, with green curry and Thai basil to punch up the traditional fillings.
Alive & Kicking269 Putnam Ave., Cambridge, Mass.; 617-876-0451; aliveandkickinglobsters.com; market price
Dock & Roll Diner1503 S. 1st St., Austin, Texas; 512-924-1766; dockandrolldiner.com; from $14 a lobster roll
Five Islands Lobster Co.1447 Five Islands Rd., Georgetown, Maine; 207-371-2990; fiveislandslobster.com; market price
Hinoki & the Bird10 Century Dr., Los Angeles; 310-552-1200; hinokiandthebird.com; market price
The Lobster Shack at Two Lights225 Two Lights Rd., Cape Elizabeth, Maine; 207-799-1677; lobstershacktwolights.com; market price
Luke’s Lobster93 E. Seventh St., New York, N.Y.; 212-387-8487; see lukeslobster.com for more locations; $15 a lobster roll
Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls188 Main St., Annapolis, Md.; 410-280-2254; masonslobster.com; $12 a lobster roll
Oyster House1516 Sansom St., Philadelphia; 215-567-7683; oysterhousephilly.com; $26 a lobster roll
River House53 Bow St., Portsmouth, N.H.; 603-431-2600; riverhouse53bow.com; $20 a lobster roll
Steuben’s523 E. 17th Ave., Denver; 303-830-1001; steubens.com; $23 a lobster roll
- *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: June 2015