Picture this: It's a sunny afternoon. You're sitting outside at a picnic table, looking out at the water and waiting for your number to be called from the loudspeaker of a tiny seafood shack. Your order arrives on a colorful plastic tray: Alongside a bag of potato chips and maybe a pickle is a squishy hot dog bun filled with succulent lobster meat lightly dressed in a bit of mayonnaise. You smell the ocean breeze and take your first bite. It tastes like summer in Maine.
This is the experience I look forward to all year along. Just the mere thought of it gets me through the cold, bitter Connecticut winters. When the ground thaws and the birds start to chirp again, my husband and I eagerly head up to our family house on a little island in Maine. And just as we return to Vacationland every May, many of our favorite seafood shacks also begin to reopen for the busy season. Sure, there's plenty of other interesting, creative food to sample in the Pine Tree State, but eating a lobster roll will always be my favorite summer rite of passage.
A Coastal Maine Lobster Roll Crawl
If you, too, want nothing more than to see the Maine coast and eat some damn fine lobster rolls, I've got 10 essential places for you to stop. Whether you prefer the traditional hot dog bun or an Asian steamed bun, classic mayo or brown butter, there's something here for everyone. The most ambitious can stop at all of them, making your way north from Kennebunk to Bernard, and deciding which lobster roll deserves the blue ribbon. Or pick and choose. There are no rules except that if you go to Maine, you must try at least one lobster roll.
1. The Clam Shack, Kennebunk
Open May through Columbus Day
This popular seafood spot sits on a bridge over the Kennebunk River. There's almost always a line of customers waiting for lobster rolls served on round bakery rolls instead of the standard hot dog buns. The locally caught lobster is boiled in saltwater before the meat is hand-picked, and you can get your roll with butter, mayonnaise, or both!
2. Bite into Maine, Cape Elizabeth
Open May to October
Husband-and-wife team Karl and Sarah Sutton are the masterminds behind the Bite into Maine food truck, located at Fort Williams Park in South Portland. You can't go wrong with the classic Maine (served cold with mayonnaise and chives) or Connecticut (hot with butter) rolls, but Bite into Maine is best known for putting their own spin on things (think: wasabi-, curry-, and chipotle-spiked mayos and a "picnic-style" roll, with coleslaw, hot butter, and celery salt).
Fort Williams Park is home to the Portland Head Light. Order a lobster roll, snag a seat at a picnic table or bench, and take in the spectacular view.
3. Eventide Oyster Co., Portland
This unconventional roll, served on an Asian steamed bun, features lobster tossed in brown butter and lemon juice and finished with some fresh chives. It's simple yet sophisticated and may well be my favorite (shh!). This is the lobster roll that launched a thousand ships — er, or no, that's another story. It did, however, inspire our brown butter lobster roll recipe.
You'll most likely run into long wait times at this busy Portland restaurant (known for its robust raw oyster selection), but it's totally worth it.
Heading to Portland? Check out our Bite-Sized Guide!
4. Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster Company, Freeport
Open April 28 to October 9
It doesn't get much fresher or simpler than these lobster rolls, with lobster caught daily by local fisherman and served with a touch of mayonnaise and a lettuce leaf on a toasted hot dog bun (you can also get the lobster plain or with butter if that's more your thing).
If you worked up an appetite shopping at the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport, this is the best place to grab lunch. Sit outside on the deck, which overlooks the harbor, and enjoy a bottle of whatever you picked up earlier at the Maine Beer Company in Freeport (the restaurant is BYOB!).
South Freeport is also home to Valy Steverlynck and Eric Horne, the husband-and-wife oyster farming team behind Flying Point Oysters. Read more about them here.
5. Five Islands Lobster Co., Georgetown
Open May 13 to October 8
If you like your lobster roll with a side of breathtaking views, you must visit this all-outdoor-seating spot. Five Islands Lobster Co. sits on the picturesque Sheepscot Bay, which opens up to the Gulf of Maine. The water is deep and cold here, which is ideal for cultivating healthy, meaty hard-shell lobsters.
Their fresh lobster rolls are simple — served with a touch of mayonnaise and a lettuce leaf on a toasted bun — but make sure to grab some of their homemade sauces (dill tartar, dill mustard, or cilantro mayo) to dunk your fries or onion rings into.
6. Red's Eats, Wiscasset
Open mid-April to mid-October
Red's is notorious for having long lines of hungry patrons and causing traffic delays on Route 1, but you can't blame people for wanting one of these rolls! Each Red's roll boasts more than an entire lobster's worth of meat on it. The gigantic portion of lobster comes unadorned on a griddled hot dog bun (they have a gluten-free bun option too) with your choice of butter or mayo on the side.
7. Larson's Lunch Box, Damariscotta
Open May to October
This is my husband's grandpa's favorite roadside spot for lobster rolls (he's been going since the '70s!). Although Larson's lacks beautiful seaside views, they make up for it with their lobster rolls (their tagline is "Tiny place, big lobster rolls"), which are simply dressed in some Miracle Whip and served with a lettuce leaf on a traditional hot dog bun.
8. Muscongus Bay Lobster, Round Pond
Open Mother's Day weekend through Columbus Day weekend
If you're not a fan of the traditional hot dog bun, you'll be happy to learn that Muscongus Bay Lobster serves their lobster rolls on homemade white or wheat buns. It's the extra-thoughtful touch that really takes things to the next level. And if that's not enough to entice you, there's plenty of outdoor seating on their deck that overlooks the scenic Round Pond Harbor.
9. Mcloons Lobster Shack, South Thomaston
Open May through Columbus Day weekend
Located on Spruce Head Island, Mcloons Lobster Shack sits across from the area's oldest working lobster wharf, so the fresh-from-the-water lobster doesn't have to travel very far to get to you. Their lobster roll features tail, knuckle, and claw meat served up in a buttered and toasted New England split-top hot dog bun with your choice of butter, mayonnaise, or both.
10. Thurston's Lobster Pound, Bernard
Open Memorial Day through mid-October
Whether you're up hiking in Acadia National Park or checking out the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, you can get your lobster roll fix at Thurston's. The restaurant sits on a dock overlooking the harbor, so you can watch the lobster boats come into the wharf while you enjoy your roll. The simple lobster roll is available in two sizes and features fresh claw, tail, and knuckle meat dressed in mayo and served on a bed of lettuce in a grilled hot dog bun.
P.S. Don't Forget the Crab Rolls!
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that most places that sell lobster rolls also offer crab rolls. With succulent, fresh Maine crab meat lightly dressed in mayonnaise, the crab rolls are often as good as (if not better than) their lobster counterparts.
What's your idea of the perfect lobster roll? Butter or mayo?