Fifteen years after Rebecca Charles pushed the first lobster roll across the marble counter at Pearl Oyster Bar, the simple summertime sandwich has become a New York staple, with dozens of versions on menus all over town. We tried 17 lobster rolls—at no-frills upstarts, elegant midtown power players and new-wave clam shacks—weeding out tough meat and flabby buns to find the five best versions in NYC.
At this refined clam shack near the Gowanus Canal, chef Joe Atonte poaches live lobsters in house, and nestles the picked meat in an airy, toasted split-top bun from Lepage Bakeries in Maine. Squirt the accompanying lemon wedge over the stunningly sweet meat—barely dressed with Hellmann’s mayonnaise, lemon juice and bits of diced celery—to add an extra hit of brightness. On the side: semi-sour and homemade bread-and-butter pickles. • (718-522-1921). $18.Read more
High Line visitors can pop into chef Dan Silverman’s airy brasserie for his chefly update on the seaside classic. He tosses ocean-fresh lobster—plucked from 1.25-pound crustaceans after briefly boiling for six minutes—with homemade mayo, lemon juice, black pepper and finely chopped celery. A smoky grilled Pepperidge Farm roll cradles the bright seafood salad topped with fresh chives and microgreens, while a paper-lined copper cup of crispy french fries completes the meal. • (212-645-4100). $22.Read more
Maine native Luke Holden—who trapped lobsters throughout his childhood summers in Kettle Cove, Maine—and partner Ben Conniff now operate five New York locations, plus a roving food truck, for their growing seafood empire. Holden’s story is now a part of New York lobster lore: The real-estate investment banker gave up a promising financial career to start a lobster-roll business, with his pops, Jeff, who sources the picked and cooked crustaceans directly from Maine fisherman. For his simple roll, Holden sprinkles the meat with a proprietary seasoning blend, flavored with celery salt and oregano, along with lemony butter. It’s stuffed with a smidgen of mayo in a golden-toasted New England–style bun from Country Kitchen in Lewiston, Maine. • Visit lukeslobster.com. $15.Read more
At the 2009 Brooklyn Flea, Susan Povich and her husband, Ralph Gorham, became the first to bring the lobster roll—already popular at full-service restaurants like Pearl Oyster Bar and Mary’s Fish Camp—to the streets of New York. Today the couple still operates that weekend market stand, plus a takeout shop in Red Hook and roving trucks in New York and Washington, D.C. Their unadulterated Maine lobster roll showcases improbably perfect claw and knuckle pieces. The tender meat is kissed with mayonnaise, zipped up with scallion and deposited on crisp shredded lettuce in a buttery bun. • Visit redhooklobsterpound.com. $16.Read more
Inspired by childhood summers in Kennebunkport, Maine, Rebecca Charles opened her West Village restaurant in 1997, practically launching “New England seafood” as a restaurant category in New York. A decade and a half later, her lobster roll is still a knockout. She griddles the top-loading bun to give it a beautiful, browned crunch. It’s practically flattened under the weight of a heaping mound of home-cooked lobster salad: The huge chunks of the crustacean—boosted with a slick of Hellmann’s mayonnaise, and enlivened with lemon juice and chive—taste of pure ocean. • (212-691-8211).Read more