There are very, very few foods I love more than a lobster roll. The only two I can say for sure are pulled pork sandwiches and boneless buffalo wings. Even a good slice of New York pizza doesn't make my mouth water like a perfect lobster roll. Of course, I have never had a "perfect" lobster roll in California. And I'm not holding my breath.
Years ago, my friend Maya and I had lunch in late July on a deck overlooking the water in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I had a lobster roll with lobster that had probably been in the ocean a few hours earlier. I finished every tiny bit of butter-soaked lobster on my plate. I could have eaten five of those rolls. Any list of the top meals of my life would have to include that one.
In California, there have been precious few lobster rolls that were better than average. I had one at Spitfire Saloon last month that I called "outstanding," although in retrospect I was a little too effusive in my praise. I may have given it too much credit for simply not being bad. (By the same token, however, I may judge California lobster rolls too harshly, since it's unlikely that any will ever live up to the ones I have had overlooking the water on the East Coast.)
Lobster rolls and lobster meat, of course, are much more expensive here than they are back east. I think a pound of quality lobster meat at Bristol Farms costs 55 dollars. That's not in my budget for anything but the most special of occasions. Last Valentine's Day I bought two Australian lobster tails at Fish King that were fantastic, but they were also expensive. (But I was making a nice dinner for me and my dog, so I figured why not?)
At Trader Joe's, however, they have bags of langostino that only cost $8.99. Langostino isn't actually a lobster - it's meat from a "squat lobster," which, in addition to having a fantastic name, is more closely related to a crab - but it tastes very similar. When places like Rubio's advertise "lobster" burritos or tacos, they use langostino meat. (A few years ago there was a class-action lawsuit against them for this; apparently people were surprised that $6 burritos weren't full of actual lobster meat.)
The other night my friend and I were in the mood for lobster rolls, and we decided to make them with TJ's langostino. I defrosted the bag and mixed the meat in a bowl with chopped celery, mayonnaise, and lemon juice, then put it on a hot dog bun with butter lettuce. I fried up some homemade potato chips (the perfect accompaniment to many things, but none more so than lobster rolls.)
Did it come close to any of the lobster rolls I have had back east? Of course not. But it was delicious, and the whole meal for the two of us cost around ten dollars.