Lunches Locals Love

It is one of the first questions discerning visitors will ask upon arriving on Cape Cod: “Where do the locals go?” Nothing brings more enjoyment to a vacation than discovering a hidden jewel thought to be known only to actual Cape Codders.

When it’s lunch time, Cape Cod offers a multitude of restaurants and pubs that are favored by locals for their food, ambiance and prices. From the Captain Kidd in quaint Woods Hole to the Barnstable Restaurant and Tavern in idyllic Barnstable Village to the often raucous Beachcomber in Wellfleet, local flavor is served alongside lively conversation and fresh seafood in a variety of places that won’t flatten your wallet.

Orleans is home to a pair of just such local institutions. The Yardarm, open for nearly 40 years, is a family-operated business that has the feel of a classic European pub. Carpenters and plumbers share space alongside lawyers and doctors in a casual, cozy setting. Local fishermen sell their catch at the back door of the kitchen, guaranteeing the freshest seafood around. The codfish cheeks are a Yardarm specialty, and daily entrees feature Cajun chicken, Hungarian goulash, Portuguese kale soap or traditional New England meatloaf.

Not far away is the Land Ho!, housed in one of the town’s oldest buildings. Everything about this pub cries out local from the moment you walk in the door and spot the wooden signs from local businesses hanging from virtually every inch of the ceiling. The expansive wooden bar, the brass fixtures and the oak floor create a relaxed atmosphere. Owner John Murphy’s son, John Jr.,  tends bar, keeping conversations spirited as he pours from 15 taps of draught beer. Keeping it local, the Land Ho! recently opened a Harwich Port location.

Further down the Cape, within Cape Cod National Seashore, is The Beachcomber of Wellfleet. Overlooking the ocean, it has been voted the best bar on Cape Cod in numerous magazine polls for its picturesque setting, live music and sea-swept atmosphere. The outside cabana bar is the ideal place to watch the sunset while sipping a frozen margarita, preferably with a plate of Wellfleet oysters or littlenecks.

On the opposite end of the Cape, in Falmouth, is The Flying Bridge. Set alongside the harbor, it has the flavor of a dockside café, with spacious seating and a bar on the outside deck. Tables are set only feet away from a bevy of docked boats large and small, and menu offerings include everything from baked stuffed lobster to steaks to sandwiches and burgers.

If you’ve got lobster in mind but don’t care to fuss with cracking open the shell, then the Raw Bar at Popponesset Marketplace in New Seabury is the place to visit. There is nothing fancy about it. It’s a small bar with barely enough room to stand behind it, and outdoor seating is on picnic tables. Yet it’s usually crowded, with nearly every patron ordering the famous (and extremely large) lobster roll. Voted the best lobster roll on the Cape by Boston television’s Chronicle, TV Diner and Phantom Gourmet, the specialty of the house overflows with fresh lobster meat, absolutely no filler, and is large enough to be shared.

The Captain Kidd is a Woods Hole landmark, located at the starting line of the famous Falmouth Road Race. Decorated like an old ship with views of Eel Pond, the century-old tavern side includes wooden barrels as chairs. The waterfront dining room is open through Labor Day, while the tavern, featuring a wide variety of sandwiches, wraps and burgers, is a local hangout and open all year.

Barnstable Village, along picturesque Route 6A, rekindles memories of Cape Cod from years gone by. In the town’s center, is the Barnstable Restaurant and Tavern. Set alongside buildings that date to Colonial times and located directly across Main Street from the historic courthouse building, the noon meal has been frequented by lawyers, politicians and local officials for decades. The atmosphere is pure New England pub with high-backed booths and buttery yellow walls on the inside and wrought-iron tables and chairs on the brick terrace. The menu offers a slew of local seafood options such as mussels steamed with garlic, olives and capers in a spicy tomato broth and baked crab cakes with pineapple salsa, chipotle ketchup and lemon butter. Others items include a wide selection of unique Italian specialties and thin crust pizza.

The Chatham Squire has livened up Main Street in Chatham since the 1960s. A summer favorite of players from the Cape Cod Baseball League and a local haunt throughout the year, “’The Squire,” as it’s known, is an unpretentious, down-home spot that belies its location in one of the Cape’s wealthiest towns. The wide-ranging menu features smoked bluefish, fried haddock and barbecued rib eye, along with lobster rolls, fried shrimp and fried scallops.

For true history, the Old Yarmouth Inn Restaurant & Tavern on Route 6A in Yarmouth Port stands apart. Established in 1696, it is the oldest inn on Cape Cod. A former stagecoach stop, it’s dark and cozy, with roaring fireplaces providing warmth and comfort through fall and winter. The wood-paneled tavern, with its wrap-around polished bar, is the ideal spot to enjoy a classic New England lunch of clam chowder, lobster ravioli or perhaps fried sea scallops. 

So pick a restaurant on either end of the Cape, soak in the history and the views and enjoy lunch alongside some real-live locals.