The best lobster roll I've ever eaten was last summer at the Kettle-Ho Restaurant and Tavern in Cotuit, Massachusetts out on the Cape. I was with Cape Cod natives and they, too, proclaimed the $32 lobster roll the standard of excellence.
In Redwood City, the Old Port Lobster Shack's version wasn't quite up to Kettle-Ho standards but it wasn't that far behind.
The lobster chunks were fresh, mixed with mayonnaise and green onions, and served on a lobster roll, which was like a deep pocket hot dog bun without the ends cut open. The coleslaw was a tad too sweet for my taste but overall, it was pretty darn good lobster in the land where Dungeness crab reigns supreme. At $22.75 with French fries and coleslaw, I had no complaints at all.
That wasn't the only good food at Old Port. The lobster bisque ($8.75 cup, $10.75 mug) was creamy, lobster-y, warm and luscious. The perfectly thickened New England clam chowder ($5.75 cup, $7 mug) had plenty of clams, potatoes and vegetables. My litmus test on clam chowder thickness is sticking a spoon perpendicular in the middle of the chowder. If it stays erect, the chowder is too thick. If it falls over quickly, it's too thin. If the spoon slowly lists towards the edge of the bowl, it's perfect.
The Ipswich fried clam roll ($23) had more clams than I could eat. The clams overflowed the lobster roll and filled the basket shared with French fries. The clam strips reminded me of those made famous by restaurant chain Howard Johnson (HoJo's) way back when lightly battered, quick fried and served hot.
The fried calamari ($11) was as good as any. The batter was just right, fried quickly. The greaseless calamari, served with two side sauces, was piled high and hot with plenty to share.
The grilled salmon burger ($9) came with a huge patty -- easily a quarter-pound -- that was lightly fried and served on a thick, toasted roll with lettuce. While filling, it didn't scream salmon as other dishes screamed lobster, clams or calamari.
Better was the fried haddock sandwich ($13.75), served on a thinner roll with tomato, lettuce and red onion. It was easier to eat than the salmon and the crunchiness made for a satisfying sandwich.
The key lime pie ($5) was disappointing. While Old Port gets high marks for not adding artificial coloring to make the pie green, it was simply too dense, more like a New York cheesecake. The pie didn't look or taste particularly fresh either and the graham cracker crust was mealy.
There is a lot going on in this little corner of a strip mall in Redwood City. Old Port moved two years ago here from its Veterans Boulevard location. Former owner Russell Deutsch announced in 2015 that the property had been sold and he was expanding to both Los Altos and San Francisco but neither restaurant materialized. Subsequently, he merged Old Port into his other Redwood City restaurant, Rack & Roll BBQ Shack, in Woodside Plaza. For this review, I focused solely on the lobster-shack side of the business.
Inside, the restaurant looks more lobster shack than barbecue pit. Customers order at the register before sitting at tables adorned with red-and-white checkered tablecloths and a bucket of condiments. Plates were ceramic but utensils were plastic. There's a lobster tank towards the back but it was badly in need of cleaning. One can only hope the tasty lobster roll ingredients didn't come from that tank.
Deutsch first opened Old Port Lobster Shack in 2006 and has since operated in various locations including San Jose, a pop-up in Palo Alto, a food truck, Rusty's Roadside Grill in Portola Valley and an Old Port Lobster Shack in Portola Valley, which is still operating as of this writing.
Deutsch sold the business after he was charged in 2016 with sales tax evasion; the case is still winding its way through the San Mateo County court system. The new ownership group did not respond to interview requests.
Despite Deutsch's hovering legal cloud, the food was worth seeking out at Old Port Lobster Shack.
Old Port Lobster Shack
20 Woodside Plaza, Redwood City
Hours daily: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Parking: mall lot
Alcohol: beer and wine
Happy hour: no
Outdoor dining: yes
Noise level: low
Bathroom cleanliness: fair