You'll likely wait in line for The Clam Shack's heralded lobster roll, which may be the most meat-focused in all the land (what with those big pieces of hand-pulled lobster meat and just whispers of mayo). But here at the narrow bridge that spans the Kennebunk River on Maine's beautiful coastline, do you care? Not a whit. And when the roll itself arrives with a hot handful of crinkle fries and perched on that distinctive round bun, you may forget how great the scenery is. 2 Western Ave., Kennebunkport; 207-967-2560
This must be what "lobster shack" looks like, if the dictionary had an illustration: a sturdy little shack on a dock, the deep blues of Sheepscot Bay and deep greens of forested little islands just offshore. Lobster boats bobbing on their moorings, traps stacked nearby. Yes, it's lobster heaven here in Five Islands, and the divinely simple roll (starring the local catch, which is renowned for its flavor) here is every bit as good as the setting. 1447 Five Islands Rd., Georgetown; 207-751-5964
Lightly dressed, plump with super-fresh, buttery claw and tail meat, the bright red of the flesh peeking past the sauce, shoved generously into a grilled, split-top hotdog bun. On a paper plate. At a tiny lunch counter. At the back of Georgetown Country Store, a neon-signed speck of a log cabin convenience store on 5 Islands Road as it meanders south away from U.S. 1 just past Bath, Maine. Simple, perfect. 769 5 Islands Rd.; 207-371-2106
The prize-winner for sheer size and abundance comes, of course, from Maine: the overflowing lobster rolls at this tiny red-and-white building under an elm tree right on U.S. 1 contain all the meat from a 1-pound lobster. All. The. Meat.
Don’t let that long line deter you. This is a rite of lobster roll passage. 41 Water St.; 207-882-6128
This waterfront general store makes an immense version of the classic New England lobster roll—chilled meat in a buttered, toasted, split-top bun. You can eat it there, among the postcards and rental DVDs, or cross the street and gaze out over the harbor.
1 Main St.; 207-326-8625
One of the finest seafood restaurants in the region has an irresistable lobster roll that's been tweaked just enough to make it utterly fascinating. Eventide Oyster Co.'s lobster roll in a brown butter sauce pairs with an Asian-inspired soft bun--a brilliant reinvention that is simultaneously down-home and sophisticated. (Like we needed another reason to visit fabulous Portland, Maine.) 86 Middle St., Portland; 207-774-8538
It's tempting to blaze a trail to Maine for the perfect lobster roll, but that means missing out on a hidden gem on beautiful Cape Ann, on the North Shore of Massachusetts. The Lobster Pool, a crazy-looking waterfront shack with five lobster traps nailed to its roof, puts out one of the very best lobster rolls in New England (it's a favorite of lobster--and lobster shack--guru Mike Urban, author of an indispensable road-trip-oriented guide to the best lobster joints in the region). According to Urban, the meat's picked fresh each morning and dropped into a split-top with just a sprig of lettuce. Want mayo? You gotta ask. 329 Granite St., Rockport; 978-546-7808
A cult favorite among Boston's food fanatics, the lobster rolls at the tiny Neptune Oyster Bar draw seafood pilgrims from far and wide. The meat is the highest quality, the bun is perfect, and they're available hot or cold. Some brave souls get both and vow never to leave the cozy bistro. Who would blame them? 63 Salem St., Boston; 617-742-3474
The quality of the meat is superb in this Rhode Island seafood dive’s perfect lobster roll, served up at Evelyn's rustic, rocky waterfront setting in picturesque Tiverton. Even Maine lobster roll purists concede that this southern New England roll is a true contender (and they're hard to please). 2335 Main Rd.; 401-624-3100
One of three Lenny & Joe's in Connecticut, the more casual Madison dive does not skimp on classic summer entertainments, including a carousel and an ice cream stand. But the chowder, fried shrimp, and particularly, the hot lobster roll (a treat pretty much only found in Connecticut) steal the show. 1301 Route 1, Madison; 860-669-0767
While Abbott's, a great waterfront hangout on the Connecticut coast, does a traditional lobster roll (pictured here), it innovates deliciously as well with its hot lobster roll—a local variation with melted butter on a round bun. New Yorkers, this one’s for you. 117 Pearl St.; 860-536-7719 or abbotts-lobster.com.
It's the best Mason-Dixon line lobster roll share ever: from the salt-swept shores of Nantucket (home of the original 167 Raw, a seafood market and catering operation) comes this elevated beauty for hip and delicious 167 Raw restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina. Which means it tastes like New England summer all year round here. 289 E. Bay St., Charleston; 843-579-4997
Southern California is not just about fish tacos, any more. The lobster rolls at The Albright, a bright and sunny eatery with outstanding local catch (that also happens to be parked out on the Santa Monica Pier) are making a real name for themselves, and with good reason. These little treasures are simply dressed on buttery rolls--just as the Maine gods intended it. A great homage from the Left Coast. 258 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica; 310-394-9683