Food & Drink

Boston Chefs Share Their Favorite Lobster Rolls in Town

“You simply never forget the sweet taste of lobster right off of a fisherman’s boat.”

Boston lobster rolls might not necessarily have the same reputation as Maine, but guess what? A quick day trip north to hit up Red’s or The Clam Shack isn’t exactly in the cards right now. That is not to say Boston is any slouch when it comes to this seafood staple. In fact, our city’s chefs revere the lobster roll as much as anyone, and have some pretty strong opinions on the matter. 

Exhibit A is Kathy Sidell, founder of the Met Restaurant Group, including Saltie Girl, who used to summer up in Maine as a girl. “You simply never forget the sweet taste of lobster right off of a fisherman’s boat,” she says. “I am a purist when it comes to lobster rolls. Less is more. You want the fresh, sea-soaked, plump lobster meat to sing for itself. So, no lettuce, no tomato, and absolutely no celery. Just a perfectly griddled buttered bun cradling a cluster of butter-poached lobster meat tossed lightly in house made mayo.” (Yes, we just drooled a little.)

Of course, then there’s the other side of the coin, also known as the hot buttered contingency. “A hot buttered lobster roll is less common than the classic lobster roll with mayo,” says Michael Serpa, chef-owner of Select Oyster Bar. His perfect ingredients include a hearty, crusty roll that soaks up and holds the butter, and lobster meat that is heated just right. “People maybe don’t realize it because it is such a simple sandwich, but each piece is important and it works perfectly,” he says. “I think that’s what makes it enduring and a classic staple.”

There is no better time than Pandemic Summer 2020 to remind yourself what Boston’s seafood scene is made of -- you’re not traveling to Europe this summer, after all, so might as well spend your vacation money on a tour through every last, great lobster roll the city has to offer.

Frank
Frank

Frank

Beverly
Looking for another reason to travel to the North Shore besides fried clams? We bring you the latest, more casual venture from Frank McLelland, late of the iconic L’Espalier. Expect lobster tail, claw, and knuckles, and lots of it -- five ounces, or “essentially a whole lobster in each sandwich,” according to McClelland. That’s all inside a very soft and fluffy sesame seed milk bun, similar to a potato roll. For the roll, there don’t use a traditional mayo at all, but a green garlic aioli, which gives it extra bite
How to order:Order online from the market for takeout.

Union Oyster House

Faneuil Hall Area
One of the oldest restaurants in the country is probably not where you normally go for your lobster roll fix, but times have changed. A generous five-and-a-half ounces of primarily tail and claw, and big chunks of both, come in a classic top split bun with just enough mayo to dress the meat. This is an amply, throwback pleasure in a throwback space. Why hadn’t we noticed this sooner? 
How to order: The restaurant has debuted its first-ever patio after almost 200 years. Let that sink in, then sink into an outdoor seat.

Select Oyster Bar

Back Bay
Michael Serpa was the one who sparked the original hot buttered craze, so it’s safe to say you’ll follow him anywhere -- but especially to this perfectly appointed seafood bar inside a city brownstone. This roll features a whopping seven ounces of Maine lobster claw, knuckle, and tail on a lightly browned Iggy’s brioche bun. If you order it cold, it’s mayo enhanced with a squirt of lemon. But we know you’re going for the warm buttered version. Serpa’s rolls are revered for a reason -- and are worth every pretty penny.
How to order: Indoor and outdoor reservations are required for lunch and dinner.

Lexington at the Picnic Grove

East Cambridge
Will Gilson is turning lemons into lemonade -- literally, as he is pivoting to a picnic-style cookout spot while he waits to open his trio of anticipated Cambridge Crossing eateries. Here, a Martin’s potato roll is stuffed with six ounces of claw and meat and topped with a half-and-half blend of mayo and Greek yogurt, with a little bit of lemon juice, scallions, celery, and togarashi. How is this roll only $21?? Oh, and don’t skip out on the lobster toast either -- a lobster and scallop mousse steamed inside a brioche and then griddled with butter. 
How to order: It’s an entirely outdoor setup with walk-up picnic tables

Woods Hill Pier 4

Seaport
A divine rebirth of a onetime waterside dining stalwart where once upon a time everyone went to celebrate birthdays/anniversaries/whatever. This version actually includes five ounces of local lobster tossed with celery, red onion, and (drool) crème fraîche all inside a popover! The crème fraîche turns something old -- the popover is a holdover from the restaurant’s original incarnation -- into something new and amazing and almost-but-not-quite too decadent.
How to order: The restaurant is open for both indoor and outdoor dining (stick with the large waterside patio area) and is also offering takeout.

Island Creek Oyster Bar

Burlington
The suburban sister to the still-shuttered Kenmore Square restaurant has thankfully reopened  and will save us all. All of owner Jeremy Sewall’s lobster is caught by his cousin off a dayboat in Maine and the roll is a balanced blend of tail, knuckle, and claw inside a hand-rolled brioche bun with chopped rosemary folded in -- all griddled order. As for toppings, ICOB goes with the classic Hellman’s enhanced by celery, pickles, red onions, and crème fraîche. Hearty thanks to Grandma Ethel for giving up her A-1 secret salad recipe. More hearty thanks to the bar for offering the roll on both their lunch and brunch menus.
How to order: Both the patio and the indoor space are now open for reservations

Cusser’s Roast Beef and Seafood

Back Bay
You don’t go to a roast beef takeout spot expecting a sublime lobster roll, but here we are -- a perfect takeout window made for these COVID times. The lobster arrives live at Mooncusser and then is cooked and broken down into four ounces of tail, claw, and knuckle on a griddled potato bun. On the cold version, it’s the tarragon that brings the mayo home. But it’s hard to resist a hot version made with red wine butter.  
How to order: There’s a patio! Sit a spell and drink deep the Back Bay views.

B&G Oysters

South End
B&G has the quintessential subterranean South End seat you covet -- and yup, the patio is open again. This roll takes a classic Pepperidge Farm hot dog bun toasted in butter and fills it with hard-shell lobster meat cooked fresh daily. The mayo is made in-house and mixed with diced celery, lemon juice, salt, and fresh cracked pepper and the roll is dressed sparingly -- the motto being it’s a lobster roll, not a mayonnaise roll. You might forget to eat those kickass accompanying bread and butter pickles, so singularly obsessed you’ll become with the roll itself.
How to order: You can order it to go or enjoy it on the patio for both lunch and dinner.

Yankee Lobster Company

Seaport
This small water-adjacent spot -- the retail outlet of a decades-old lobstering biz -- feels worlds away from the big-box restaurant mayhem nearby. A classic split-top that’s lightly grilled with butter is stuffed with all claw and knuckle meat, whittled down to bite-sized chunks. This one goes light on the mayo, letting the natural sweetness of the lobster meat shine through, amplified by a touch of tarragon. And don’t eschew the fried lobster roll, either. Our accompanying guinea pig ordered it, regretted it, then dumped drawn butter all over it and declared it his new favorite Dagwood.
How to order: Order ahead of time by calling 617-345-9799, or through ChowNow or Uber Eats. You must wear a mask when picking up your food, and only two people are allowed in the building at a time.

James Hook & Co.

Financial District/Waterfront
That double-wide trailer you see? It’s home to the steadiest lobster bargain this side of the harbor. Traditionally, this spot takes an uncooked hot dog bun (though they’re happy to toast it) and packs it with a nice balance of hand-picked claw and knuckle meat with slightly sweet mayo that is kept to a minimum. The lack of a middleman means you can order these like you would a pizza -- in affordable regular and large sizes. 
How to order: The outside patio stays open until 8pm on both Fridays and Saturdays -- so you can breathe in the salt air while inhaling your roll.

Row 34

Fort Point
This is a terrific weekend spot with industrial decor, on-point wine list, and thankfully a divine patio. Chef Sewall’s at it again, but this time turns up the heat a notch. The warm roll is the way to go -- tail, claw, and knuckle meat steamed and chopped, then tossed in melted butter on a New England soft roll griddled in (you guessed it) clarified butter. All you need is a touch of sea salt on top and you’re golden.
How to order: Earlier this season, the restaurant ingeniously created a takeout window to put more rolls in the hands of the depressed and isolated. Reward its creativity, then return for a sit on the patio.

Belle Isle Seafood Best Lobster Rolls BOS
Dan Tobin

Belle Isle Seafood

Winthrop
Slightly out of the way, but worth trekking out to this takeout spot with terrific views of the city skyline, Belle Isle’s lobster roll rivals anything you’ll get on the Cape (watch your back, PJs). 
We’re talking a whole claw nestled atop a full eight ounces of meat, including copious chunks of tail all packed into a traditional grilled and buttered hot dog bun, with a dab of mayo and a little bit of melted butter for a wee bit of richness.
How to order: This was one of our very first post-shutdown ventures out of the house, and the takeout setup was great -- all masks and taped six-feet spaces.

Neptune Oyster

North End
In normal times, you’d prepare to wait for hours at this Lilliputian jewel of a seafood bar. But now there’s an Octopus-painted patio and the insane wait is a little less insane that usual. Get this roll “Connecticut style,” which means absolutely dripping in hot drawn butter, with an enormous pile of large-chunk claw, tail, and knuckle on a gargantuan brioche bun. Seriously, skip your weekly 12-pack in favor of this deity.
How to order: Best enjoy on the new patio, of course.

The Barking Crab

Seaport
Think Key West by way of the Seaport. This old-school alfresco spot has an iconic striped tent, picnic tables, and generous bar area with seats facing the harbor. Recent renos added additional outdoor seating -- thank god, given our current unending nightmare. Don’t pass this one over just because BC isn’t the new kid on the block. The stalwarts will save us. This classic-style roll includes the trifecta of tail, knuckle, and claw meat on brioche hot dog roll with dab of mayo, salt, pepper, and lemon. The hot, or “naked,” version is just as divine, with the meat actually poached in drawn butter rather than simply tossed. 
How to order: While the restaurant is now completely reopened, it deserves kudos for shutting down very early and pivoting to takeout window service, which is still available.

Saltie Girl

Back Bay
This tiny, galley-like townhouse space has a limited number of tables and bar seats (which is why you’ll be outside). We recommend you go the hot-buttered route here -- it’s too delicious and comes with lobster roe on top of more than a Gloucester lobster’s worth of tail, knuckle, and claw meat on a buttered brioche roll. It’s so buttery, so rich, so difficult to stop at just one. The housemade salt and vinegar chips on the side are the savory cherry on top. 
How to order: Amazingly, SIdell has now set up patio seating around the corner at sister restaurant Met Back Bay.

Pauli’s

North End
Think big. But being the biggest roll in town, it’s not just a gimmick -- it’s actually good. This roll stuffs one-and-a-half pounds, to be exact, of knuckle and claw (Pauli’s eschews tail meat, owing to its toughness) meat into either a 20-inch sub roll or split between two 10-inch rolls with a pal.
The meat is tossed in a combo of lemon juice, lobster broth, and mayo. Hot butter is an extra two bucks, but that’s basically a drop in the bucket considering the overall cost. 
How to order: It’s strictly to-go, then, now, and always. Order takeout or delivery ahead of time on the website.

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Meaghan Agnew is a Boston-based writer for Thrillist.