Patients affected by diseases caused by arteriosclerosis are increasing. Atherosclerosis, which is becoming an especially difficult health problem, forms plaques from lipids such as cholesterol located in walls of the aorta, cerebral artery, and coronary artery. Because lipid-rich plaques are vulnerable and because arterial rupture causes acute vascular occlusion, early detection is crucially important to prevent plaque growth and rupture. Ultrasound systems can detect plaques but cannot discriminate between vulnerable and equable plaques. To evaluate plaques non-invasively and easily, we developed a handheld photoacoustic imaging device. Its usefulness was verified in phantom experiments with a bovine aorta in which mimic plaque had been embedded. Photoacoustic images taken at wavelengths that produce high light absorbance by lipids show strong photoacoustic signals from the boundary of the mimic plaque. Results confirmed that our system can evaluate plaque properties by analysis with the photoacoustic spectrum. The effects of surrounding tissues and tissue components on plaque evaluation were investigated using a layered phantom. The mimic plaque located under a 6 mm blood layer was also evaluated. Results of these analyses demonstrate the system's usefulness.