It may be difficult to find good seafood in metro Phoenix, but the Maine Lobster Lady food truck's mission is to bring quality Maine lobster to Valley diners. And trust us, it delivers. It is not uncommon at food truck roundups to see lines wrapped around the corner for lobster rolls from the Maine Lobster Lady. The rolls have an almost cult-like following in metro Phoenix, and the truck serves what we think is some of the best food in the Valley.
Diana Santospago, owner and operator of the Maine Lobster Lady, works alongside her husband, Greg, and daughters Ruby, Roz, and Rachel to serve Maine lobster and other seafood dishes. Hailing from Maine's Isle au Haut, a small island about six miles off Stonington — Santospago's food truck operates in Phoenix only during the temperate winter months.
Santospago dreamed up the Maine Lobster Lady after years of visiting her husband's daughter in Chandler for Christmas and being unable to find satisfactory seafood in the Valley. "Forget it. It's not going to happen," she says of the search. Greg was a seasoned lobster trapper, and after years of acting as his sternman — "I was doing all the work on the boat while he operated the traps," as Santospago puts it — she knew enough about the "trap-to-table process" to feel she could fill the empty niche.
"It was about the time that food trucks were starting to bloom in 2010 and 2011," she says, and so Santospago spent a year developing her concept before the Maine Lobster Lady hit the streets in 2012. She and her family are now at the beginning of their fifth year of operations.
Although lobster rolls are not the only item the truck serves, Santospago's rolls are worth the devotion they inspire. The hot rolls are our favorite, heaped with huge, lush pieces of fresh lobster, drizzled in warm butter, and served with a slice of lemon that is best squeezed over the top. Other dishes include lobster and clam "chowdah," lobster mac 'n' cheese, a fried scallop roll, and Maine lobster bisque, among several other seafood treats.
Though lobster rolls have risen in popularity over the past few years, Santospago says she knew of only one other place to find one in the Valley when she started her business. She says she recently received an article listing 20 places to get a lobster roll in metro Phoenix, which made her laugh. Instead of expressing jealously at the abundance of her specialty, Santospago says, "[It's] good for the Maine lobster fishermen!" In any case, the list in question comprised grills across the Valley whose lobster rolls barely hold a candle to Santospago's.
Unsurprisingly, the Maine Lobster Lady is not Santospago's first run when it comes to food and hospitality. During the fishing season on Isle au Haut, she and her husband would trap lobster, and instead of tossing the peeky-toe crabs that would find their way into their traps, she would keep them, clean, prepare, and package them, and leave them in front of her house in a cooler next to an empty jar. It worked on the honor system, she says. "When I would come home, the cooler would be empty and the jar full." Eventually she started putting out sandwiches and cakes, too.
When the only inn on Isle au Haut closed, she found a family on the other side of the island looking to downsize from their large home, persuaded them to lease it to her, and opened a four-bedroom inn in the summer of 2004. The inn housed a 14-seat restaurant catering to "the island folks," as Santospago refers to them.
But when Santospago came to Arizona and realized her passion for the food truck business, she says she knew her time had come. She sold the inn and dedicated to herself to the fledgling Maine Lobster Lady truck. Although she didn't start the business until she was in her 50s, she says she feels that it is what she was meant to do, and everything before led her straight to it.
Santospago and her family arrive in Arizona in November and stay until April or May, and the reinstatement of the Maine Lobster Lady is typically greeted with excitement across the Valley. Santospago describes how when driving the truck down the freeway, people honk and wave, and some stick their phones out the window to scream, "What's your number?" She says she's received phone calls while on the road, during which callers will say, "I'm behind you on the 202! Where are you going? We call them lobster stalkers, and we love our lobster stalkers!"
The visibility and success of the food truck can sometimes lead to lengthy lines. Customers stood in line for nearly two and a half hours during last year's Street Eats event.
Santospago says her lobster is shipped from Maine with the meat already picked and ready, and it comes from fishermen she and her family know. Santospago says the Maine lobster community is tight-knit and that people in it tend to help one another out when needed. They're the "here, have my shirt so you don't freeze" type of folks, she says, and she recounts a story of a Maine man who waited in line for her lobster rolls in front of a patron who'd never eaten one. When asked if she could take a look at his roll, the man replied, "Sure, would you like a bite?" and according to Santospago, that kind of generosity is the rule rather than the exception.
There's a similar camaraderie Santospago finds among the food truckers in metro Phoenix. There's a community feel, she says, "especially when you're circled up with 15 or 20 other trucks."
Santospago says she's been blessed to have avoided major setbacks or crises with her truck. Things have gone remarkably smoothly since its opening, she says. She does admit she knows she can't please everyone all the time and confesses to having certain "problematic folks," including one woman who took issue with the size and cost of her lobster roll, which runs at the steep price of $18.75. Santospago says she took the time to speak with the woman and was able to turn the situation into a positive one. "She left us such a wonderful review. If you look at our Yelp, you'll know which one it is," she laughs.
The Maine Lobster Lady retires for the summer months "before it gets too hot to serve lobster out of a truck," Santospago says. When the temperature rises to an uncomfortable point for the East Coasters, the truck is covered and stored for several months in Phoenix. "We used to drag it 3,100 miles, barge it across six miles of ocean [to Isle au Haut], but it was too much wear and tear," she says. When the summer has passed, Santospago will return to Phoenix to begin a new season and her return undoubtedly will be greeted with enthusiasm once more.
Editor's Note: This post has been changed from its original version.