Dungeness crab is the crustacean king of San Francisco but we have a soft spot for lobster too. Luckily, you don’t have to fly to New England for an outstanding butter- or mayonnaise-tossed lobster roll. Whether you're looking for a low-key take-out version or a spruced up rendition in the FiDi (with equally outstanding fries), these lobster rolls could compete with Maine’s best.
Anchor & Hope
New England meets Chesapeake Bay with this excellent lobster roll, served in a lofty FiDi seafood restaurant that leans upscale. Purists can opt for plain drawn butter, but the real kick comes from the aïoli made of lemon, herbs and Old Bay seasoning. The lobster roll comes on an atypical pain de mie bun and is curiously served with (stellar) tater tots and coleslaw. Order a few oysters before the lobster roll, and it's a meal fit for a business power lunch — with the vibe of an Atlantic beach vacation.
83 Minna St.; 415-501-9100
San Francisco’s newest lobster roll comes from this most unexpected source: a bustling Polk Gulch Mexican restaurant and bar. Chef Matt D'Ambrosi steams whole lobsters each morning, then poaches the meaty chunks in chile butter to order. The tender, slightly spicy lobster is nestled in a thick brioche bun brushed with a Meyer lemon aïoli and topped with chives, chervil and celery. Fried pickles on the side add a flavor twist. Pro tip: The bitter-smoky profile of a barrel-aged mezcal Negroni is a great complement to this lobster roll.
2323 Polk St.; 415-441-2323
Woodhouse Fish Co.
This primely located fast-casual duo in the Castro and Lower Pacific Heights, each decked out in nautical New England decor, are top of mind for most locals craving lobster rolls. It's one of the more basic versions you’ll find, with just a touch of mayonnaise and small amount of diced celery assisting the lobster. Opt for the smaller version and order some fried whole-belly clams to feel like you’re in Ipswich by way of Kennebunkport.
Leo’s Oyster Bar
Most diners can’t get past the novelty of chef Jennifer Puccio’s lobster roll involving cultured uni butter. In reality, the salty funk of uni is barely detectable. Despite that subtly (and its not so subtle price of $32), the sandwich offers the real deal. You'll get excellent, tender lobster meat nestled in a toasted Starter Bakery brioche bun brushed with that headline-grabbing butter. The roll is a fittingly grand signature dish for this stunning setting; think 1950s "Mad Men" meets Palm Beach. It's accompanied by those incredible Marlowe fries, fried in rice bran oil.
568 Sacramento St.; 415-872-9982
Believe it or not, we found a compelling reason for locals to dine in Fisherman’s Wharf. At Crabsters, Dungeness crab and Maine lobster are served in various forms (as rolls or on hot dogs, salads or in mac ‘n’ cheese), and the lobster roll is a legitimately fantastic version stuffed into a bun baked for Crabsters by the Wharf’s own Boudin. The meat has a pleasantly salty finish, there's just the right touch of drawn butter and the serving size is generous for $16. Even though this is the tourist area, show you're in-the-know by customizing it with extra meat — or make it a half crab, half lobster roll — then bring it to In-N-Out Burger’s patio or picnic on the lawn by Ghirardelli Square.
2800 Leavenworth St.; 415-590-3730
Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar
Locals and Wine Country tourists can't enough of the signature lobster roll at the Stark family's always packed seafood joint. It arrives cut in half sandwich–style, served on a potato roll from neighboring Costeaux Bakery. The secret to its success is the first step of poaching large chunks of lobster meat with fennel and garlic butter. This is a bold tasting and nuanced roll, with elements of umami, the salt of the sea, the sharpness of anise and a little crunch from lettuce leaves.
403 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg; 707-433-9191
Old Port Lobster Shack
You'll pull up to this Redwood City strip-mall spot and think, "This place serves one of the Bay Area's best lobster rolls?" Some say it's the best, all thanks to a Boston native who settled in the area over a decade ago. Once inside the wharf-themed space (complete with fishing net decor and checkered tablecloths), diners can opt for mayonnaise-dressed lobster meat or a "naked" version with butter and lemon juice on the side — both tucked in a standout buttery brioche bun. Sandwiches, New England clam "chowdah" and beer and wine round out the menu. Note there's a second Peninsula location in Portola Valley.
20 Woodside Plaza, Redwood City; 650-366-2400
Sam's Chowder House
This sprawling, consistently packed Half Moon Bay destination along Highway One is known for three things: gorgeous Pacific Ocean views, chowder and lobster rolls. Indeed, the buttery oversized chunks of lobster fill a griddled bun that can't hold most of the meat after the first bite. And there's something special about enjoying a New England coastal staple while gazing at the Pacific. You'll get the same goods, minus the views, from Sam's roving Chowdermobile.
4210 N. Cabrillo Hwy., Half Moon Bay; 650-712-0245