Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a bad lobster roll. I’ve eaten a lot of them. You can’t tell if the roll is going to be good or bad until you’ve taken that first bite. I usually prefer the classic Maine lobster roll – warm bun, lobster (not lobster salad), the smallest touch of mayo or a bit of butter when I am feeling extravagant. I do like the Southern New England variety too – warm lobster with butter. If the chef is going for a modern twist, it better be good. Celery is generally a no-no in my book.
My Favorite Lobster Rolls
I’ve been looking for the best lobster roll for a while. Here’s a list and map of my favorite ones:
Alive & Kicking Lobsters – Cambridge, MA
Technically, Alive & Kicking does not serve a lobster roll. This is a lobster sandwich made of two large slices of tasty toasted buttered Italian bread, and a lot of lobster. You get a free bag of chips, in case the lobster sandwich is not enough for you. The place is really a lobster pound, tucked back behind a parking lot in a residential neighborhood in Cambridge. There are tables over to the side where you can sit and eat. Nothing special and it feels like you’re sitting in a parking lot because you are. There is no quaint New England view. No gulls calling in the distance or refreshing sea air. Not that any of this matters. The sandwich is so good, you’ll want to eat it right away. Call ahead because in my experience, they don’t really have hours. They’ll close early or sometimes stay open just a little later so you can get down there for an advance order. One of the best – my wife and I ordered a stack of these for our post-wedding lunch and it proved to be so much better than a caterer.
Bagaduce Lunch – Brooksville, ME
Bagaduce Lunch is the one place on this list where the lobster roll wasn’t my favorite thing on the list. It was a great lobster roll. But after enjoying our rolls and noticing what everyone else was eating, we decided that maybe we could have made another choice. Since the day was beautiful, the tide was changing (Bagaduce’s is near a reversing falls highlighted in my Maine atlas), I decided I could branch out and try the onion rings. We were not disappointed. My wife loves onion rings more than I do, but these were excellent and not overly oily once they started to cool. Get both the roll AND the rings.
Bob’s Clam Hut – Kittery, ME
I don’t know if it is possible for my wife and me to go to Maine without stopping by Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery. Nestled in the outlet malls, Bob’s has a great, dog-friendly outdoor eating area (in the summer, a friendly staff will offer a water bowl for the pup) and a heated dining room for the winter time stops. I have to make a few decisions when I go to Bob’s. Do I get fried clams instead of the lobster roll? (The fried clams are great, but usually I go for the roll.) The next decision is if I want to order the fish chowder to go, so I can eat it for lunch the next day. The fish chowder is just how it should be – thin, milky and full of fish and potatoes, not thick and gloppy like it come out of the can. It is hard to beat the fish chowder in the winter or on those cold summer days where you wonder if summer will ever really come to the Maine coast. The lobster roll itself is pretty good – lots of lobster, a tasteful amount of butter or mayo (depending on your order), warm bun, great fries, and a pickle. Pretty nice – and hard to beat.
Cape Pier Chowder House – Cape Porpoise, ME
What Cape Pier has going for it is the Pier. The wait staff is gruff in that quaint New England kind of way that I still don’t really understand why we put up with it. But that’s okay because after ordering your roll, you can sit out on the pier and watch eiders, mergansers and other sea ducks fishing in the clear water next to the restaurant. For those of you who are not bird watchers, the lobster rolls are pretty good without the pier.
The Clam Shack – Kennebunkport, ME
The Clam Shack is in downtown Kennebunkport. The lines are long and the bun is round. There aren’t any places to sit, but you can walk behind the shack, lean against the railing and resist the temptation to toss the gulls a small piece of the bun. They ask every customer to choose butter or mayo for their roll – kind of a basic thing, but some places just hand you the roll and you’re left thinking, “Oh. I wanted the hot, buttered roll.” More importantly, they treat the butter and mayo as an enhancement to the lobster, rather than the main ingredient. Either choice is a good one.
Five Islands Lobster Company – Georgetown, ME
Five Islands is the reason I switched from a full boiled lobster to a roll. We were staying in Georgetown and coming down to Five Islands for practically every meal. My wife couldn’t take breaking apart a full lobster for 3 meals a day, and switched to a roll for a break. I took one bite and agreed – this was the way to go. I have not ordered a boiled lobster since. This is probably the most idyllic spot on my list. The view here is hard to beat. There are only so many places in Maine that look as much like Maine as this place does.
Neptune Oyster – Boston, MA
There are several things that are over the top about the Neptune Oyster experience. The first is arriving at 3:15 on a Tuesday and being told that it is a 45 minute wait. The second is the size of the lobster roll. It is by far the biggest, butteriest one on this list. Absolutely delicious and one of the best on this list. I would go back again and again, but the wait! Going here requires careful planning, a willingness to wait, and an absolutely empty stomach. You will need to be hungry because the oysters here need to be eaten. The oyster menu describes the oysters as having notes of popcorn and buttery finishes – and they really do. Highly recommended!
Nunan’s Lobster Hut – Cape Porpoise, ME
When we are staying at Goose Rocks for our week on the beach, there is always a debate over where to go – Nunan’s or Cape Pier. Nunan’s usually wins, unless the kids are too hungry and can’t manage the 45 minute wait to get into this place. If you plan right, you can beat the rush or have just enough time to drink a beer in the parking lot while you wait. Inside, the place is just what you want it to be – long wooden tables, celling covered in lobster traps, nets, glass buoys and other Mainer marine debris. The food is excellent – I usually flirt with the idea of getting both lobster stew and a lobster roll. Sometimes I do, but the lobster roll is enough. Once I made the grave mistake of just getting the stew. Then I had to watch longingly as everyone else enjoyed their rolls. Big mistake. We always finish our meal at Nunan’s with a couple brownie sundaes for the table to share. Can’t go wrong with Nunan’s.
Red’s Eats – Wiscasset, ME
Red’s Eats almost didn’t make my list. The problem with Red’s is the hour wait and the fact that the lobster roll is just too big. There is too much lobster here. It’s all the meat from a (one-pound?) lobster packed into a delicious bun and it is just too much. But it needs to be eaten.
Of course the best lobster roll is usually the one I am eating, and the quest continues. Did I miss a great one? Let me know in the comments and I will be sure to check it out!