Yelp/ Julie W.
There’s something about eating a lobster roll that almost feels wrong. As lobster is one of the most gourmet and expensive food items out there, piling it up on bread and eating it with your hands almost feels like cheating — the right way to eat a lobster is in a fancy restaurant, with a bib, a shell-cracker, and a little pot of clarified butter, right? Well up in Maine, they’ll tell you that the right way to eat a lobster is in a roll.
Ask around Brunswick where to get the best lobster roll, and the majority will tell you to visit Libby’s, an unassuming shop on a quiet street, where the only indication of the pleasures that await are a couple of picnic tables on the edge of the parking lot. Lobster rolls here come in three sizes (small, medium, and large), and can be served on grilled or un-grilled buns, with or without lettuce. No fillers here – just a hefty portion of lobster, mixed with just the right amount of celery seed-flecked mayo.
Yelp/ Jeff L.
A lobster roll doesn't need to be traditional to be great (even in Maine), and the one served at tiny Portland destination Eventide Oyster Co. proves it. The fresh-picked lobster is tossed with nutty brown butter before being tucked into a Chinese-style steamed bun, and the end result is a marvel. Obviously, make sure you save room for some of America's best oysters.
Yelp/ Sven V.
This family-owned shack may be a bit tricky to find (it’s located on out-of-the-way Spruce Head Island), but once you track it down you’ll certainly be glad you did. Located directly across from the wharf that supplies their lobster (conveniently owned by McLoons), a seat here affords you views of the harbor and nearby islands as well as lobstermen unloading their day’s catch. The lobster here is literally as fresh as can be, and the rolls are stuffed with the meat from a steamed 1 ¼ pound lobster. Served with coleslaw, chips, a pickle, and your choice of mayo, warm butter, or garlic butter, these are lobster rolls as they’re meant to be eaten.
At Barnacle Billy's (and its sister restaurant, Barnacle Billy's etc.) you'll find plenty of New Yorkers around you talking about Brooklyn. Everyone's eating scallops and drinking white wine in cozy-clad bottles — it's an environment straight out of a '70s photo, with picture windows looking out on moored boats with names like Dough Boy. The lobster roll here is a grilled top-loader that’s filled with lobster, cooked well enough (not tough), and significantly dressed and dusted with paprika.
Yelp/ ZenFoodster E.
Astoundingly fresh seafood is the name of the game at Erica's, guaranteed by the fact that the owners also sell live lobsters retail and wholesale. Split-top buns are srilled with a little butter and filled to bursting with fresh lobster (you can also try a "crabster" roll, with half-crab and half-lobster). Make sure you also try the clam chowder, filled with whole fresh clams.
Man, Kennebunkport is cute. Too cute. It’s like the Key West of Maine, but without the Hemingway paraphernalia. As for The Clam Shack's lobster roll, it has just about everything going for it. Even though the bread is far from traditional, the lobster is good enough to still rank this as one of the state’s best: large chunks, big tail pieces and claw, wet and juicy. Eat the lobster, toss the bread to the gulls.
There’s a remote, local, peninsula vacation feel to Estes. Stacked lobster traps out front, pick-ups, a motorcycle, the cry of a lone, meditative gull. But smell that fry inside! The outdoor area boasts a fire pit, and blankets for when it’s cold. The big sky, quiet, and views of the blinding-sparkly water are big draws. So are the metal chairs, which you can lightly bounce-rock yourself in while awaiting food. As for the roll, the lobster meat is dressed with mayo a bit more heavily than the others on this list. The bun is toasted, but not buttery. This is a very good lobster roll, especially if you like yours with mayo.
Just another beautiful boat-filled harbor. You think, "It can’t get more quaint and beautiful." It does. It’s worth staking out the bar stools and eating ledges outside at Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster, overlooking the Freeport Town Wharf. The lobster is tasty, but a little sparse. This is being picky; the flavor of the meat is better than 90 percent of what you’ll find outside of Maine, whether it’s in your head or not, but the noticeable dressing does a bit of a mask job. And there are big lettuce leaves underneath the meat, lining the toasted bun. This is a bit of a bready roll. Fries are fine, but nothing special. Once you get past the frills and realize how delicious the lobster itself is, though, it becomes apparent just how delicious a lobster roll this is.
Boothbay Harbor is pretty gorgeous at sunset — a fantastic place to sit, drink, and eat. The folks manning the lobster tanks at The Lobster Dock are very friendly, too. Their T-shirts rock, and the logo, well, how can you not get into a lobster stirring the pot he’s sitting in? The menu poses a dilemma: "gently warmed with butter," or "cold" with mayonnaise? The cold with mayo option is a heaping portion of smallish chunks of lobster that’s lightly dressed, on a visibly toasted bun, a better alternative to the slightly soggy buttered option. All told, a juicy, toasty roll.
Shaw’s Fish & Lobster Wharf is a salty place with old-timers eating inside upstairs and Red Sox-bedecked locals drinking and watching the game at the bar downstairs. It makes Maine feel like Massachusetts’ backyard. The roll is butter-toasted, and layered with crispy shredded iceberg lettuce that adds little taste but some crunchy texture that works (and better than Harraseeket’s fancier lettuce). There’s a healthy portion of juicy lobster dressed lightly in mayonnaise, but you can still taste that great lobster flavor strong through it. Save room for the lobster stew.
Sure, it’s touristy, but the tourists are there for all the right reasons: J’s is located right on the wharf, is no-frills, has a huge bar, a wide selection of oysters, and world-class lobster rolls. For $13, you get a toasted hot dog bun, some lettuce, and a pile of fresh-picked lobster meat, and that’s it. A couple packets of mayo and a container of butter come on the side so you can dress it up yourself, but the real star of the show here is the lobster, served with as few frills as possible.
The Maine Diner doesn’t just serve one of the state’s best lobster rolls, they’re also one of the country’s best diners. In 1983 it was purchased by two brothers who spiffed it up and introduced a menu of what you might call "Yankee shoreline" cooking: pot roast, chicken pot pie, cod cakes and beans, crabcakes, clam bake, and a legendary lobster pie. The lobster roll, however, is a thing of beauty: super-fresh lobster, served warm and unadorned, in a toasted bun with a cup of drawn butter on the side. Simple yet elegant, and just about flawless.
Locals and seasonal residents swear by Trevett's lobster roll. It's about as traditional Maine-style as it gets, with a generous portion of lobster and mayo, served on a hot dog roll with a bag of chips. The setting at Trevett is sublime: a low-traffic road with a hand-cranked draw bridge and water in two directions, and live lobsters for sale behind you. This out-of-the-way store near Boothbay is the real deal.
Yelp/ Julie W.
This tiny lobster shack might play second fiddle to the much more famous Red’s, but you’d be hard-pressed to figure out why. The lobster is brought in fresh and served in huge chunks in toasted split-top buns with a light layer of mayo, it’s located right on the water, and it's delicious. One other advantage over Red’s: the line is at least an hour shorter. But, there’s just something about the roll at Sprague’s that isn’t quite as good as the one you’ll find at Red’s. You get a little bit more lobster on your buttery bun at Red’s and you’ll pay a little bit more for it here, but when it comes down to it, the lobster roll here is still one of the finest in the state, and is the place where the locals go when they don’t feel like waiting two hours for their lobster roll.
While this restaurant has been renowned for its fried clams and other seafood since it first opened in 1956, the lobster roll here is a thing of beauty, and so is the ordering ritual: peer inside the takeout window while trying to give your eyes a chance to adjust (they won’t), place your order, pay, get your number, get your food, and grab a spot indoors at either the no-frills counter or a table, outdoors at a picnic table, or if all else fails, in your car. No matter: the lobster roll here is so fresh and plentiful that nirvana will find you as soon as you take that first bite. The lobster is slightly chilled, slicked with just a little bit of mayo, served on a bun that’s been buttered and toasted on both sides, and is just about as simple and delicious as a lobster roll can get.
Take one step into the Town Landing Market, a small, old-school market located right on the water, and you know that you’re in for a killer lobster roll. The market is stocked with snacks, produce, drinks, and the like, and in the back is a small counter with a handwritten sign reading simply, "Lobster Rolls $13.99," and a man standing behind it breaking down lobsters and diving the meat into large piles. Order yours with a little lettuce, salt, pepper, and mayo (hot ones aren’t available), and he’ll make it for you on the spot, a generous pile tucked into a store-bought hot dog bun. Head on down to the water, take a bite, and you’ll immediately know what makes Maine such a great state.
The name doesn’t lie: this is a real working lobster wharf, with lobsters and other seafood coming in fresh daily. There’s an indoor area with picnic tables and a bar, but the real showpiece is the huge deck for a lobster roll-eating experience that’s about as authentic as it gets. And what lobster rolls these are: 11-ounce behemoths, with meat that’s left whole (think entire half-tails) instead of chopped up, tossed with a little mayo, and served in a buttered and toasted split-top bun. It’s a world-class lobster roll, and a top-notch overall experience.
The line is long and as a New York Times article documented, the wait begins in your car on the one-lane lead-up to Red’s Eats and the bridge. It hasn’t endeared tourists to locals. Indeed, on a recent visit, someone shouted out their window "Red’s Eats sucks" during the hourlong wait. Two notes. First, there’s a short-cut that bypasses a chunk of traffic. (Follow Gardiner Road until you reach Churchill Street. Take Churchill, hang a left on Lee, left on Middle, and you’re there). The roll itself is heaping with fresh, wet lobster — so much it falls all over. It tastes just-cooked and picked, and it’s a great deal. No dressing. Get butter (warmed in a kettle on the stove) and mayo on the side. Put simply, it’s lobster roll perfection.
The lobster roll offered seasonally here is a dressed up take on the classic Maine lobster roll. It’s a bit more fancy-pants, but if you’re in the mood for something a little bit more gussied up, it’s about as delicious as a lobster roll can be. A toasted artisanal roll replaces a hot dog bun, and the generous portion of lobster is accented with mayo, lemon zest, and chives on top of salad greens. It’s bound to draw criticism from tradition-loving Mainers, but there’s no way around the fact that this is an insanely delicious lobster roll. It’s also somewhat of a neighborhood gathering place: it’s one of the few lobster shacks with free Wi-Fi.
One of the most picturesque spots in all of Maine also happens to be home to a little shack that’s serving the state’s best lobster roll. Lobsters are pulled right out of the water throughout the day and go directly into boiling water; the lobster you’re eating was most likely in the sea an hour beforehand. From there it’s de-shelled, coated with a tiny bit of mayo, and tucked into a toasted bun with a little lettuce. It’s the lobster that really shines here, and is good enough to eat without the bun, dunked into some butter. But as a complete lobster roll, the Big Boy, which clocks in at nearly 10 ounces, eaten outdoors with a stunningly picturesque view, isn’t just the perfect lobster roll; it’s the perfect lobster roll-eating experience.