If you haven’t been to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, or if you haven’t been in a while, it is one of the best places to grab a laidback meal where the seafood is the star. Cape Cod restaurants are famous around the world for their seafood dishes.
As the first stop of the Pilgrims, and once a whaling empire, today Cape Cod is known more for tourism, a deep connection to the Kennedys and some of the best clam and lobster shacks in a concentrated area.
15 small towns comprise Cape Cod within Barnstable County. In 1602 an English explorer, Bartholomew Gosnold, caught a large amount of Cod out of the waters around the landmass. He named the peninsula, Cape Cod.
The hook-shaped sandy peninsula forms Cape Cod Bay on one side and extends out into the Atlantic Ocean, so the fish is fresh. The restaurants on the Cape serve up some of the tastiest fried, broiled or boiled fare on the East coast. There are so many great places up and down the Cape, you can’t go wrong. Here are just a few great stops to visit.
Five Must-Visit Seafood Restaurants in Cape Cod, MA
138 Ocean Street, Hyannis, MA // (508) 771-2770
Hyannis is synonymous with the Kennedy family. It sits right on Hyannis Harbor and is considered Mid-Cape. It is the second-largest commercial fishing port on Cape Cod and is famous as a destination for the charming downtown and the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum. Tourists heading to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard can catch a ferry to the islands from here.
There is no shortage of great restaurants in Hyannis, but Spanky’s is a casual clam shack that sits right on the inner harbor. Open daily from April to October, they serve seafood harvested locally and make award-winning clam chowder. The menu offers all preparations including fish and chips and a full New England style lobster dinner. However, don’t miss out on the fried clams.
I tried the lobster bisque, and a crab cake topped with a lobster sauce. Lobster chunks fill the bisque and the crab cake was filled with sweet crab, no fillers at all. It was absolutely delicious. My husband ordered the grilled shrimp Caesar salad. The shrimp, fresh and cooked perfectly, sat on top of a mound of crisp romaine, croutons and shaved parmesan cheese.
The beer list includes local breweries like Barnstable Brewing, and the cocktail menu is full of inspired drinks including a Spanky’s Original. The ingredients in this cocktail are proprietary, and the limit is two per person.
357 Sesuit Neck Road, Dennis MA // (508) 385-6134
Touted as the world’s most beautiful dining room, the Sesuit Harbor Café overlooks the Northside Marina and Cape Cod Bay. The five-star lobster roll is not the only reason that regulars flock to the waterside spot. The raw bar serves fresh oysters, shrimp, and clams. The chef piles the fried platters high with the freshest fish caught locally.
The shack has some rules that, as a newbie, you have to know before lining up to get your meal. The Café is cash only, and they are a BYOB. If you are a party of two or more, one of you should wait on the line and order. Meanwhile, one of the others should scout one of the coveted picnic tables along the water. As patrons get up, you can snag a spot.
Many of the diners bring plastic wine glasses, metal flatware, and placemats to decorate the table, but that is totally optional. Sesuit Harbor Café provides every picnic table with a roll of paper towels and baskets of plastic flatware if you forgot to pack yours from home. Once you place your order, take your seat and watch the boats sail in and out of the harbor. If you are lucky to be there on a clear evening, you can watch the sunset over the bay as you slurp on Wellfleet Oysters or munch on fried cod or bite into one of the best lobster rolls you ever tasted.
36 Old Bass River Road, South Dennis, MA // (508) 394-2923
The lines outside this family-run breakfast and lunch restaurant are worth the wait. Inside, the Fifties Diner Décor and vintage black and white photographs of old Cape Cod will bring you back to simpler times.
While this is primarily a breakfast place, it is on this list because of the signature lobster rolls and lobster eggs Benedict that you can order with either a ¼ pound or ½ pound of lobster meat. Don’t let the diner vibe fool you, the proprietor and chef Dan Rosenbach is a graduate of Johnson and Wales who grew up in the business. His family has owned the Red Cottage for 38 years. When Dan took over, he expanded the dining room and the menu to feature the freshest ingredients and local lobster. It has been consistently voted as the #1 Best Breakfast and #1 Best Lunch in Reader’s Choice Awards.
Lunch items feature homemade crab cakes with New England baked beans, creamy New England clam chowder and ¼ or ½ pound lobster rolls served on a grilled hot dog roll. You can also order a savory crepe with a ½ pound of lobster. Breakfast items include a cheddar and lobster omelet or the crowd favorite, lobster eggs Benedict.
The chef offered to prepare our Benedict in a popover since they were made fresh that morning. The chef sliced the fresh, piping hot popover in half and topped it with lobster meat, poached eggs and blanketed in a lemon hollandaise. It was hands-down, the best breakfast I have ever eaten.
3580 Route 6 Eastham, MA // (508) 255-2575
For 40 years, Arnold’s has had a reputation as the place for fried seafood on the Cape. While the line is long, if you visit off-peak, you can have a late lunch, order a cone with premium gourmet ice cream and finish your meal with 18 holes of mini-golf. It is an excellent stop for families.
If you aren’t a fan of fried foods, you can order a fresh salad, grilled chicken, Angus burgers, or foot-long hot dogs. But, keep in mind, Food & Wine Magazine named the tender fried clams, “the best in the world.” If you are a seafood lover, the menu includes baked cod, scallops, and salmon. They also specialize in lobster rolls, crab cakes, steamed lobsters, mussels and steamers. There is a raw bar next to the bar. If you like fried fish, the fried platters are enormous, especially the plate of fried shoestring onion rings coated with a light crispy batter.
We ordered the fried shrimp platter, and the shrimp were huge. The batter is light but crisp. We ordered the onion rings as we heard they were incredible. They did not disappoint. The chef slices the onions so thin then fries them up so crisp they are more like onion straws. The entire meal we perfect for two of us to share. Make sure you keep that in mind when you order as these plates were perfect for sharing.
The mini-golf is challenging and fun. You can play 18 holes beside a pirate ship and enjoy the water features along the course. The waterfalls let off an enjoyable mist, and the lush landscaping makes an afternoon here a pleasant activity. It is a perfect shack to have the quintessential Cape Cod experience. It is cash only, but there are two ATM’s on the premises.
50 Kendrick Ave. Wellfleet, MA // (508) 349-3154
The Bookstore & Restaurant overlooks the beautiful Wellfleet Bay. It sits near the hook of Billingsgate where an original whaling town stood before it was submerged under the sea. This restaurant has been family-owned since 1964. It is open every day for lunch and dinner daily and serves brunch on the weekends.
While the setting is pretty, and the sunsets are incredible, what makes this place really unique is the fresh local seafood prepared with the owner’s own family recipes. The Parlante family likes to incorporate their Italian Heritage in their preparations and also honor the Portuguese history on the Cape. The chef prepares the dishes to order using butter, wine, or marinara sauce. Combine the classics like the Oyster Stew, Fruits of the Sea, and Portuguese Hot Pot with craft cocktails, microbrews, and an extensive wine list, and you will have all the ingredients for a fantastic evening. The shellfish comes right out of the bay, and many customers have a tradition to drop in and have a fresh plate of oysters or clams with a glass of wine and a Wellfleet sunset.
We opted to follow the locals and enjoyed a “six and six,” which is a plate of six oysters and six clams served with spicy cocktail sauce and fresh lemon slices. The staff shucked the Wellfleet oysters right in front of us. Both the oysters and the clams were plucked from the water early that morning. I paired my plate with a Sauvignon Blanc, and I was in heaven.
Steps away from the restaurant is a used bookstore. Here you can find a massive selection of second-hand, antique and rare books, magazines, and comic books. Hard-to-find varieties and classics cram the shelves and make for a great beach read.
Countless places up and down the Cape take pride in their food. The seaside bounty allows for fresh and tasty meals anywhere you travel. No intricate preparation is necessary; all you need is a lobster boiled and served with lemon and drawn butter.
Which of these Cape Cod seafood restaurants do you most want to try? Let me know in the comments section below!
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Jeanine Consoli is a freelance travel writer, photographer, and foodie based in Washington Crossing, PA. A retired elementary school teacher, she used her summers to feed her passion for travel and kept journals of all the destinations she explored. Today, Jeanine is working as a writer full-time.
She loves uncovering the history and understanding the culture of each location, including the local flavors of each place. She has traveled extensively in the United States and Europe and is excited to keep adding to the list, finding special places that are off the beaten path both at home and abroad. You can check out more of her work by visiting her website.