A lobster roll is a simple thing: basically, cold lobster meat stuffed into a warm bun. It’s the street food of the rocky Maine coast–a vernacular masterpiece served high and low, at lobster pounds, cookhouses, and seafood shacks, at supermarkets and gas stations, at fast-food chains and in home kitchens.
But for a lobster roll to be a lobster roll, and not a lobster salad or some other concoction, it shouldn’t stray too far from the classic archetype; you can bend the lobster-roll rules, but you shouldn’t break them. For example, the bun can be any shape as long as it’s brushed with butter and slapped on the griddle to cook to a golden-brown; stale buns, freezer-burned buns, and ungrilled buns will ruin the roll. The meat, ideally a mix of knuckle and claw, with maybe a little bit of tail, must be picked from the bright red shells of freshly cooked lobsters, not leftover or dead ones. It’s best chilled but not quite cold; tossed with salt, black pepper, and a little bit of mayonnaise; and packed tightly and neatly into the bun.
Most Maine lobster rolls fit some variation of this description. Some are better than others, some are a lot worse, but at their best, lobster rolls in Maine are an edible excuse to drive down some long road to some big view and to take it all in with seagull sounds and a side of onion rings. Read on for our list of the best lobster rolls in Maine, then let us know your picks for the best lobster rolls in Maine in the comments.
BEST LOBSTER ROLLS IN MAINE
A list of the best lobster rolls in Maine would not be complete without a mention of Red’s. Anyone driving up Route 1 through Wiscasset, Maine, will have noticed the small white and red shack with the endless line out front. The crowd is so large and the number of visitors looking for parking so substantial, it tends to slow traffic to a crawl. Which begets the inevitable question: Is Red’s really worth the wait? Yes, actually, it is. First, there’s the quality of the lobster meat, whose freshness and sweetness is matched only by its abundance. Then there are the fixings, or lack thereof. Red’s lobster roll comes unadorned, served with mayo and/or butter on the side, so you can customize the roll to your preferences. What may seem like a cheat is actually its strong suit. By not being mixed in with sauce ahead of time, the lobster retains its pure flavor. The buns, meanwhile, are tender, buttery, and perfectly griddled. With all this delicious customizability, butter lovers can sit down with mayo aficionados in peace and enjoy the water view and the salt air at one of the outdoor picnic tables. 41 Water St, Wiscasset. (207) 882-6128
For 60 years folks have been slinging seafood, fried and steamed, from a little red-and-white shack perched on a hilltop overlooking the tidal Bagaduce River. Watch for eagles fishing in the falls. 145 Franks Flat, Penobscot. 207-326-4729, 207-326-4197
The Clam Shack
Fresh-daily, soft shell lobsters creates a freshness of flavor unmatched anywhere. Served on toasted, buttered hamburger-style buns from a local bakery, the Clam Shack’s cold-meat rolls may be had with mayonnaise or warm butter. 2 Western Avenue, Kennebunk, ME. 207-967-3321; theclamshack.net
Five Islands Lobster Company This shack is perfectly positioned on the town dock to receive a steady flow of super-fresh lobster from the nearby Sheepscot Bay. The lobster is fresh-picked throughout the day, tossed with a bit of mayo, and served in a toasted, buttered, split-top bun lined with a leafy piece of lettuce. Georgetown, ME. 207-371-2990; fiveislandslobster.com
J’s may be the last of Portland’s salty, divey seafood houses. Casco Bay and the urban working waterfront are right outside the door: condos, cruise ships, and bait houses. 5 Portland Pier, Portland. 207-772-4828; jsoyster.com
Thurston’s Lobster Pound
End of the road, end of the earth: Look for mountain views, bluebloods, bluehairs, and swarms of fishing boats. Steamboat Wharf Road, Bernard. 207-244-7600; thurstonslobster.com
Quoddy Bay Lobster Quoddy Bay Lobster is blessed with its location astride the deepest, coldest port and waters on the Eastern seaboard, perfect for propagating big, tasty lobsters. Their cold-only lobster roll comes plain or with mayo, Miracle Whip, or drizzled butter. Eastport, ME. (207) 853-6640
Where do you go for the best lobster rolls in Maine?