Boston is a great food town. And an expensive one.
I say that at the outset because while you will find excellent lobster rolls here, you may come up against some sticker shock. That is, if quality is a concern (I’m looking at you, McDonald’s lobster roll). Whereas most Maine lobster shacks, with their comparatively low overhead, aim to keep prices below $20 per roll, the best spots in Boston will top off at about $36. The price is elevated, in part, because the price of lobster is up. But then there are the higher built-in costs of rent, payroll, and other behind-the-scenes necessities.
To be fair, these rolls tend to be stuffed to capacity, requiring some diligent fork work before you can pick them up and take a bite. You’re paying about 50 percent more for a roll with 30 percent more meat, relative to our favorite Maine mainstays.
But if lobster is what you’re craving and you’re willing to splurge a bit, you’re in good hands here. We revisited nine top lobster spots in search of the best lobster roll in Boston and tasted the rolls (both cold-with-mayo style and hot-with-butter style, if they had them). We evaluated the quality of the meat, the bun, the amount of the mayo or butter, and the value of any added seasonings. Then we winnowed the list down to a winner and a runner-up.
As befits Boston’s geographic placement between Connecticut (home of the hot buttered roll) and Maine (land of the cold roll with mayo), most of these places offered rolls in both styles. And conveniently, the quality of the rolls was, with one exception, consistent across styles. If the hot one was good, so was the cold. So let’s get right to the winner and the runner-up.
Why: The meat in both the hot and cold rolls at Row 34 was the sweetest of the lot (chef-owner Jeremy Sewall sources it from his cousin, Mark, who captains a boat out of York Harbor). It’s enhanced by the sweet, buttery split-top New England hot dog bun and just-right applications of butter or mayo (along with some diced celery, pickle, onion, a bit of celery salt, and lemon juice). Note: You can also find this roll at Row 34’s second location in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Why: High-quality meat (though not quite as sweet as Row 34’s), expertly sauced, on a split-top bun. B&G Oysters chef-owner Barbara Lynch modeled this restaurant on classic New England seafood shacks, not French oyster bars, and there’s an admirable restraint in the seasonings and flourishes. Plus, the fries and pickles on the side are excellent.
What’s your top spot for the best lobster roll in Boston? Let us know below!
Note:Prices are subject to change.This post was first published in 2017 and has been updated.