SUMMERTIME, AT ITS very best, announces itself in little rituals: the sprint down the beach to feel the ocean hit your toes, the beer yanked from an ice-filled cooler. Up and down the New England coast, the first lobster of the season emerges steaming from an aluminum pot and is served with a little cup of drawn butter, a plastic bib and a fistful of moist towelettes.

Then there is the second lobster, likely tossed in butter and mayonnaise and piled on a toasted roll. The third one might arrive by way of a creamy bisque. By then, most of us have come to the end of our lobster repertoires. We're out of steam.

Lobster might be the ultimate totem of the seaside experience. Though it looms large in the summer vacationer's imagination, it has traditionally been pigeonholed into a tediously narrow range of preparations. This is a shame, because lobster has so much to recommend it. It's sustainable, for one, in an ocean full of creatures being fished toward extinction. It's lean. It has also, in recent years, become a bargain.

The cost of meats, fish, poultry and eggs has risen, overall, by almost 8% in the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but lobster is getting more affordable. Thanks to a glut of so-called soft-shell lobsters—the delicate specimens in new shells caught off the coast of Maine in the summer months—the past three seasons have delivered deals for anyone buying close to the source. Consumers at the seaside this summer are finding local prices as low as $5 a pound, as much as 50% below where they were a decade ago.

Still, you can be forgiven if the prospect of more lobster rolls strikes you as a little wearisome. What to cook, once the tried and true Yankee classics have all been exhausted?

Thanks in part to easing prices, chefs have begun to reconsider the crustacean's potential, branching out from well-worn luxury presentations. Think lobster BLTs and lobster mac and cheese. Some of the most inspiring and inspired of these treatments draw on lobster's traditional uses in far-flung global cuisines.

Homarus Americanus—the American lobster species with claws like boxing gloves, prized for its hefty size and sweet meat—is found only from New Jersey to Newfoundland, but spiny lobsters abound in the waters off Southeast Asia and Latin America. The bold flavors of those regions' dishes offer an antidote to Western butter- and mayonnaise-laden preparations.

At Talde in Brooklyn, chef Dale Talde serves a lobster-centric iteration of tom kha, the Thai coconut-milk soup flavored with lemongrass, galangal and chilies. Across the river in Tribeca, Marc Forgione riffs on Singapore's classic chili crab at his eponymous restaurant. Maine lobster is bathed in a buttery sauce spiked with Sriracha, lime juice, soy sauce and ginger. A few blocks away, at the sandwich counter attached to his Laotian restaurant Khe-Yo, chef Phet Schwader slings lobster banh mi at lunchtime. He stuffs the sandwich with a whole crustacean's worth of meat, poached in butter and mouth-melting "bang-bang" hot sauce, and garnished with cilantro and pickled vegetables. Mr. Schwader can only offer the sandwich, he said, because he's getting lobsters for half what he was paying five years ago.

"Whether it's river prawns, mantis shrimp, spiny lobsters...anything that's a crustacean we Southeast Asians love," said Mr. Schwader. "We always prepare it simply. It's either wok-fried with garlic and fish sauce or simply grilled, usually with sticky rice and papaya salad."

Michael Hung, the chef at Faith & Flower in Los Angeles, grew up in New Jersey eating wok-roasted lobster with ginger and scallions, a ubiquitous dish in Cantonese-style restaurants. "Seafood in general is hugely popular in Southern China, and that includes lobster," said Mr. Hung. "I've also seen lobster prepared Sichuan-style, with fiery chilies and a lot of fermented bean paste."

How to Make (and Keep) a Good Catch

This scrumptious shellfish is nothing to be intimidated by. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Price Check | Those in search of bargain-basement lobster will find the really low prices limited to "soft-shell" specimens available in coastal areas of the Northeast. While those are going for as low as $5 per pound this summer, expect to pay double that for "hard-shells" shipped elsewhere. Frozen lobster tails, meanwhile, are trending cheaper nationwide.

Feisty = Finest | When choosing lobsters from a tank, always go for the liveliest. "I look for the lobster that scares me the most," said Faith & Flower's chef Michael Hung.

Cold Storage | At home, store lobsters in the refrigerator, wrapped in wet newspapers or paper towels, for up to 24 hours. Never submerge them in water; it will suffocate them.

Mr. Hung considers lobster ideally suited to Asian preparations; it's a lean, delicate meat that marries well with powerful flavors. At Faith & Flower, he makes a Thai-inspired chilled cucumber soup enlivened with lemongrass and ginger, and bolstered with big hunks of lobster meat.

Others find inspiration in the Baja California region of Mexico, where fishermen pull spiny lobsters out of the Pacific. In the coastal village of Puerto Nuevo, the air is heavy with the scent of lard thanks to street vendors who fry fresh-caught shellfish in its shell and serve it with corn tortillas, rice and beans. It's a simple preparation that's captured the imagination of a number of chefs around the U.S., each of whom has added a signature spin. Whitney Otawka, the chef at Cinco y Diez in Athens, Ga., draws on memories of childhood trips to Puerto Nuevo to make her own pan-roasted version laced with clam juice, tomato juice, arbol chilies and mezcal. At Zapoteca in Portland, Maine, chef Shannon Bard's interpretation calls for par-boiling the lobsters in dark Mexican beer before pan-frying them in duck fat. She serves the lobsters on the half shell, with warm corn tortillas and all the fixings.

At Tico in Boston, chef and owner Michael Schlow loads the meat into a soft corn tortilla along with chipotle, avocado, cilantro, pickled red onion and radish. "It's the number one or number two selling taco every night," said Mr. Schlow. "As long as it stays under a certain price."