Justin Mi and His Lobsta Truck

Lobster rolls are scarce anywhere west of Connecticut, but a UC Berkeley grad brings them home.



The Lobsta Truck made fans in Alameda.

Lori Eanes

 

REGIONAL TREAT

Crustacean Nation

What if all the food gods got together and staged a succulence contest?

Patterned after a beauty pageant, it would pit against each other the tenderest morsels of land, sea, and sky, seeking the single sweet or savory that explodes between the teeth most effortlessly and most exquisitely, making even the steeliest diners stifle helpless, open-throated moans.

After every divine lip was daubed and the judging was done, one winner would glisten victorious, smelling of the open sea. Inscribed thenceforth across the skies, its name would be the Lobsta Roll.

Mortals line up to buy this classic New England sandwich off the Lobsta Truck, which is regularly parked at Alameda’s South Shore Center, the Oakland Museum of Coliseum, the North Berkeley BART station, and other Off the Grid locations. (Its website, www.LobstaTruck.com, lists upcoming appearances.) Boasting leisurely white lobsters silkscreened across its small fleet’s ketchup-crimson flanks, LT spent four years acquiring a faithful cult following in Los Angeles—amassing nearly 20,000 Twitter followers and 18,000 Facebook likes—before expanding its range to the Bay Area in February.

This shift was a kind of homecoming for 29-year-old owner-founder Justin Mi, who graduated from UC Berkeley in 2004 and worked for a seafood distributor for several years before deciding to launch his own truck. Family ties brought Mi to Maine, where he “tried a number of famous lobster rolls and decided that Los Angeles was missing out” and that he “needed to introduce an authentic lobster roll to the West Coast.”

His version of the lavishly casual comfort-food staple comprises North Atlantic lobster, flown in daily from Boston, adorned with drawn butter or seasoned mayonnaise and stuffed into a traditional toasted split-top roll. (To magnify the Maine-iness, order clam chowder, lobster bisque, and/or whoopie pies on the side.) Classic status notwithstanding, it’s a messy monster whose red-and-white wrapper should carry a drip-and-shatter warning.

The Lobsta Truck offers spoons to accompany soup orders, but for its sandwiches offers no utensils at all. How, then, to manage this magnificent but recklessly wet-and-crunchy miasma?

“Hands only,” Mi insists.

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