10 Lobster Rolls We Love in and Around Portland, Maine

The Lobster Shack at Two Lights

Sure, it’s not a favorite among some locals. With only about four to five ounces of lobster meat per roll, and costing anywhere from $16 to 18 according to the fluctuating market price, it’s not the biggest or the least expensive lobster roll in town. You’ll be amazed, though, at just how much better a lobster roll tastes when you are sitting smack on the coast on a huge slab of granite, looking at a lighthouse, and letting the cool Atlantic ocean spray on your face. It’s a lobster shack with easily one of the most scenic “dining rooms” on the East Coast, and it’s what you imagine in your mind when you picture eating a lobster roll on a perfect Summer day in Maine.

Lobster Shack at Two Lights: 225 Two Lights Rd, Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107 (map); (207) 799-1677; lobstershacktwolights.com

Malcolm Bedell

For a sandwich that seems so basic, individual preferences seems to be a major factor in what defines a "real" Maine lobster roll. Most agree on the basics: a New England split-top bun, griddled in butter until golden brown, then stuffed to overflowing with succulent, sweet, freshly-caught Maine lobster. After that, things get a little trickier.

Should the meat be served hot? (No.) Should the lobster be naked, or should there be mayonnaise, and if so, how much? Should it be mixed with the lobster claw, knuckle, and tail meat, spread on the inside of the bun, or blobbed on top? Should the lobster be mixed with anything else, like celery? (Also no.) Should there be spices or other flavorings? Should lettuce come into play, and if so, how much?

Ask ten different seafood-loving locals in Portland, Maine, where to get the best lobster roll nearby, and you'll get ten different answers.

Some base their recommendations entirely on how much lobster a particular restaurant is cramming into their version of a lobster roll, but that never struck me as the most important criteria. After all, if "quantity of meat" is my chief concern, I'll just eat a whole steamed lobster.

I think the difference between "good" and "great" lobster rolls is trickier to pin down. The best lobster rolls aren't just expensive, bready troughs full of lobster meat, made to shovel into the mouths of tourists. No. The best lobster rolls are a careful balance of texture and temperature.

Something magical happens when a warm, soft on the inside, crispy on the outside, golden-griddled, fluffy bun contrasts with the cool sweetness of the lobster, with just a touch of lettuce for crunch. It's the interplay between those elements that make an outstanding lobster roll, not just the amount of lobster meat served in the sandwich.

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Environment can be a big factor, too, depending on your personality. Ask yourself: When in Portland, Maine, do you derive more pleasure from looking at a scenic lighthouse while you eat your lobster roll? If so, you'll pay a premium at some of Portland's tourist spots, some of which also serve excellent lobster rolls. They are expensive, but there's something about feeling the spray of the ocean on your face, watching the lobster boats go by, as you perch on a giant slab of granite, that satisfies every mental image you have of summers in Maine.

Don't care as much about scenery? Venture off the beaten path in Portland, and even a little outside the city, to find amazing lobster rolls being served out of the backs of convenience stores and from converted auto shops, where the ocean is nowhere in sight.

No matter where you land on the "best" lobster roll debate, Portland (and the small towns surrounding it) have options made just for you. We'll help you find the best.

See all 10 lobster rolls in the slideshow »

10 Lobster Rolls We Love

Portland Lobster Company »
The Lobster Shack at Two Lights »
Becky's Diner »
Fisherman's Grill »
Susan's Fish n Chips »
Old Port Tavern »
Town Landing Market »
Bite Into Maine »
J's Oyster »
Scarborough Lobster »