Feature

15 NYC Lobster Rolls Worth Obsessing Over

By Zagat Staff  |  August 20, 2014
Credit: Danya Henninger

Sometimes it seems like our city is being invaded by crustaceans from the north. Lobster rolls, once a regional cult food, are now a full-blown New York City obsession, spreading from simple seafood shacks to Midtown caviar palaces, hipster beach shacks and mobile food trucks. Even Junior's serves a version now. To help you wade through the glut, Zagat's editors have been dutifully tasting through some of the city's most prominent lobster rolls this summer, focusing on spots with high Zagat ratings and great reputations. What follows is a sampling of some of the rolls that we fell in love with — the ones that we thought about revisiting again and again. There were some surprising rolls along the way; some of the most famous lobster roll joints disappointed and some unexpected spots (Cafe Centro?) surprised us with the care and quality of their cooking. 

Read on to learn more about one of the quintessential summer foods. 

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  • Beer Bar at Cafe Centro

    Price: $17.50

    Chilling out in the shadows of Grand Central Station, Cafe Centro’s more casual beer-bar annex has a surprisingly delicious lobster roll ($17.50). Perfect for diners who don’t need highbrow touches, a generous amount of lobster salad — with a nice mayo-to-lobster ratio — comes stuffed in a big toasted and buttered roll. (You’re definitely getting your money's worth here.) Fresh herbs and some crunchy celery seal the deal.

  • The Boil

    Price: $18

    Just about everyone in this NOLA-style seafood joint is wearing rubber gloves and tucking into boiled bags of crawfish, which is why the huge, oversized lobster roll is a big surprise. Big, meaty hunks of lobster are seasoned perfectly, with a barely there coating of mayo and some spicy Old Bay for a nice kick. Lettuce added a crisp crunch, and its only downfall was the bun, which was neither griddled nor buttered. It was one of the larger lobster rolls we had —and the price is right. A total surprise hit.
     

  • Ditch Plains

    Price: $28

    You have to be ok with add-ons to enjoy chef Marc Murphy's version of a lobster roll, as Ditch Plains' version features celery, parsley, scallions and tarragon. Still, nothing upstages the lobster, which is served cool and in a pretty sizeable portion. The bun is the weak link — a large sausage bun, but only toasted on one side and not buttered. As for the side of sweet potato chips, well, that's a matter of personal preference. 

  • Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co.

    Price: $18

    If you’re eating lobster rolls strictly to get as much fresh lobster meat as possible, beeline it to Greenpoint’s new sustainable-seafood-focused raw bar and market. Their Maine-style roll uses close to two full lobsters, which are brought in daily from Maine and kept in a live tank in the kitchen. Unfortunately, we didn’t taste any mayo on our roll (the menu says there’s a light touch), but the lack of condiments did allow for that fresh lobster flavor to really shine through. Lobster snobs, this place is for you. Just be ready to face what seems to be a perpetual line.

  • The John Dory Oyster Bar

    Price: $28

    This is what happens when a star chef tackles an Americana icon. The roll is housemade, as chef April Bloomfield stretches her salty and fluffy Parker House Rolls into elongated buns; and the meat is cooked to order, sauteed in an aïoli alongside the crustacean's tomalley, which lends a strong, briny hit to the dish. Far more aggressively seasoned than the traditional lobster roll, Bloomfield's version is worth checking out if you're interested in chef-y experimentation. Bonus: the housemade waffle potato chips are spot-on.  

  • Littleneck

    Price: $18

    This Maine-style roll features an entire lobster, which arrive fresh to the restaurant from Maine daily. The huge, melt-in-your-mouth chunks are perfectly coated in what is best described as a mayonnaise glaze; the mayo-to-lobster ratio is spot-on. Put it in a toasted bun that could not have more butter flavor if it tried, and you have one of the city’s best rolls. Thankfully, there are now two places where you can enjoy it: the original Gowanus location and the newly opened Greenpoint cafe, which specializes in sandwiches and salads.

  • Luke's Lobster

    Price: $15

    One of NYC's gold-standard lobster rolls, Luke's starts with the very freshest Maine lobster that their team imports daily to NYC, a process that co-owner Luke Holden oversees personally. This lobster roll doesn't go crazy with mayo like some of its competitors; in fact, it's barely even detectable upon tasting. Instead, they top it with warm butter and celery salt and serve it atop a perfectly toasted buttered roll. For $15, this superbly juicy and flavorful lobster roll is not only a steal, it's also one of the best in town.

  • Lobster Joint

    Price: $17

    This mini-chainlet has locations in Greenpoint, the Lower East Side and even Rockaway Beach's 98th Street boardwalk concessions. Each outpost offers a few different varieties of the classic roll, including Maine-style, Connecticut-style and a lobster club. The New England-style roll mixes up chunks of fresh lobster meat and ground-up lobster salad and has a bright tarragon-forward flavor that won us over. The value isn't bad either, as that price includes chips and a pickle.

  • The Mermaid Inn

    Price: $24

    Though it's billed as a "lobster sandwich," this urban seafood shanty turns turns out a surprisingly authentic and delicious New England-style lobster roll. One upgrade: they rub a bit of cayenne pepper to the buttered, toasted bun for an additional kick. The lobster itself is dressed with plenty of mayo and lemon juice, and is served alongside a heaping pile of Old Bay fries.

  • Monument Lane

    Price: $24

    You'll find a gourmet take on a lobster roll at this non-seafood-focused West Village American restaurant's lunch menu during the summer months. The fresh lobster meat is tossed with mayo, finely chopped onion and herbs and served in between two pieces of thinly sliced country bread that have been buttered and toasted. While the traditional roll is still our preferred vessel (this one was a bit too crunchy) the lobster meat itself was bright, citrusy and had a lovely kick from the fresh raw onion and tarragon.

  • Pearl Oyster Bar

    Price: Market Price, $28 on our visit

    The OG of NYC lobster roll joints, this narrow West Village spot still turns out a picture-perfect specimen. The meat is sweet, saline and tender and dressed very simply. The price is on the higher end, but there's so much meat piled into each warm, buttered bun that there's no way to eat it with your hands — this is clearly a knife-and-fork version. The shoestring fries are an excellent crispy and salty accompaniment. So well done, you understand why chef Rebecca Charles' roll has inspired copycats and lawsuits

  • Petrossian

    Price: $24

    A surprise stunner, the lunch-only roll is smothered in avocado and served on a — traditionalists cover your eyes — flaky croissant. It may look nothing like the other, more classic, lobster rolls on the list, but the pastry bun has a buttery quality that nicely matches the traditional buttered roll. Instead of mayo, the lobster is tossed in avocado, which feels light and fresh. Demerit points for the side salad, a lackluster pile of greens, apples and walnuts, but the other side was a bowl of tomato-pineapple soup that was crazy good. Traditional — no way? Delicious, damn right.

  • P.J. Clarke's

    Price: $29

    A surprise hit, this classic lobster roll is served simply on a toasted, buttered bun with big hunks of perfectly cooked meat from a one-pound Maine lobster and lettuce for a nice crunch. Some might find the saloon's version to be a bit too mayo-heavy, but the expert seasoning (including a bit of lemon zest) makes up for the minor fault. The only bummer? It's served with potato chips instead of fries. 
     

  • Red Hook Lobster Pound

    Price: $16

    Though it's just five years old, this Brooklyn-based mini-chain is one of the kings of the local lobster scene. Bringing down its own product from Maine (including the cloudlike JJ Nissen top-split rolls), the Red Hook's lobster is perfectly tender — whether you order the Maine- or Connecticut-style roll. The scallions and lettuce underneath the meat seem unnecessary, distracting from the roll's biggest selling point — sweet, briny lobster meat. It's not one of the new-school hulking, overstuffed rolls; the Red Hook version is more modest and old-fashioned, and the price reflects that.

  • The Water Club

    Price: $26

    Huge chunks of fresh tail and claw meat from Maine lobsters are lightly dressed with mayo plus a little bit of celery and red onion for a subtle boost of flavor, and then tucked into a griddled split bun. In a step that shows extra care in the kitchen, the warm roll is toasted and buttered on the outside, keeping it crisp and preventing it from becoming soggy. The fries are pretty darn good too. A definite surprise, the Water Club's roll is served in the bar area at this old-school haunt, or on its outdoor roof deck, the Crow's Nest, and is worth the trek over FDR Drive to sample.