Consider the lobster roll. A decade ago, the quintessential summer sandwich was a regional specialty, and largely a treat for the wealthy. Today, you can find a great roll from Maine to LA. One big reason: Around 2008, while the economy was cratering, overfishing sunk lobster prices, which in turn made it affordable to ship and sell around the country. (Incidentally, lobster used to be so common in the 19th century that they served it to prisoners.) Anyway, that’s why we’re experiencing The Great Lobster Roll Boom of the 2010s. Here’s where to get 10 of the best ones in the US.
1. Luke’s Lobster, Various Locations: Luke’s is to lobster rolls what Shake Shack is to burgers: a chain where you can get a delicious and addictive sandwich. NYC’s East Village original replicates the feel of a Maine lobster shack, while Luke’s other outposts (including ones in Chicago, DC and Philly) typically include a nicer setup. (And beer.) Luke’s keeps its lobster roll simple with lobster, mayo and butter, all on a toasted hot dog bun. Textbook.
2. Anywhere in Maine: Even the worst Maine lobster roll is right on the money. The meat’s gonna be fresh, the average spot has decades of experience perfecting their roll, and you can chow down while looking out at the ocean your lobster once called home. Our favorites: The Lobster Shack at Two Lights; Bite Into Maine; the stunning MC Perkins Cove; Thurston’s Lobster Pound in Bernard; Nunan’s Lobster Hut on Cape Porpoise; Red’s Eats in Wiscasset; Eventide’s Japanese-influenced rolls; and the Clam Shack in Kennebunkport, which also sells lobster rolls via mail order.
3(tie). B&G Oysters and Neptune Oyster, Boston: Both these spots popped up about 12 years ago. Both have serious pedigree. Both have their partisans. So we say… why not try both? At B&G, expect plenty of mayo and some chives to round out the flavor. At Neptune, you’re getting a slightly more old-school roll, served hot. Whichever one you pick, you’re not wrong.
4. Pearl Oyster Bar, NYC: This West Village staple claims to be Manhattan’s first spot to serve the lobster roll. That’s impossible to verify, but the excellence (and hugeness) of their roll is not. Don’t take our word for it, though—trust the long wait, fueled in large part by the locals who swear by the spot. (And by the no-reservations policy.)
5. Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough, Noank, CT: And now for something a little different. Abbott’s serves their roll on a hamburger bun, rather than a hot dog bun. Everything else is how it should be: mayo-ed up, and served by the water. Bonus: It’s BYOB, so you can bring a sixer of Two Roads and do it right.
6. Champlin’s, Narragansett, RI: As you’d probably guess, there’s no shortage of great rolls in the Ocean State. We like this one’s no-fuss approach—light on mayo, light on seasoning, a leaf of lettuce tucked between the meat and the bun to keep the bread from getting squishy. Grab a spot outside and you can watch the fisherman doing their thing on the docks.
7. Acadia, Chicago: Lest you think the northeast has a monopoly on lobster rolls, we present Acadia, whose menu is influenced in part by time the chef spent in… Maine. They offer their rolls two ways: Maine style (cold lobster, toasted bun, usually some mayo) and Connecticut style (hot lobster, butter, hold the mayo). Just note: To try one, you’ll need to grab a seat at the bar, since the restaurant itself is tasting menu-only.
8. The Ordinary, Charleston, SC: Sure, Taco Tuesdays may have the hashtag, but Lobster Roll Tuesdays are a thing, too, at least at this hall of deliciousness in South Carolina. See, Tuesday is the only day where lobster rolls are on the menu, and they’re well worth planning your week (or vacation) around: a half-pound of the good stuff, piled high and dusted with Old Bay.
9. JCT., BeetleCat, and The Optimist, Atlanta: All three of these spots are run by Ford Fry, who is basically the king of Atlanta dining. At JCT., the roll is made with apple slaw and only available at lunch on Fridays and Saturdays. At the Optimist, the roll is available every day, but only at lunch or at the oyster bar during dinner. At BeetleCat, the roll is offered at both lunch and dinner and comes served on a hamburger bun with a huge helping of aioli. Plan accordingly.
10. Hinoki & The Bird, Los Angeles: East meets West meets Far East with this crazy one, which incorporates Asian touches like Thai basil, Vietnamese green curry aioli and a bun toasted with charcoal powder imported from Japan’s Nara Prefecture. The result is a tasty if strange roll, with bread made almost black by that powder. The most out-there roll in America, and one well worth trying.