By Michelle Gross
July 14, 2015
Credit: Courtesy of Larsen's Fish Market

Divided into six towns over the span of a hundred square miles, Martha’s Vineyard has a restaurant scene more accurately described as charming than bustling. Of course there’s an assortment of high-end eateries to choose from. But the Vineyard doesn’t have the same buttoned-up vibe of its Nantucket counterpart. The Vineyard is cool. And casual. Which is exactly what makes it so appealing to the celebrities and socialites who flock there every summer, among them the Obamas and the Clintons. (And, oh yeah, Oprah.) As far as food goes, sustainable agriculture is deeply embedded in the local ethos, a principle buoyed by the many on-island farms that supply produce to farmers’ markets and year-round residents. And of course the ocean itself is a source of constant inspiration for island chefs and food purveyors, who can buy just-caught fish and seafood from local fishermen just off the boats.

Put simply, people on the Vineyard eat well. Really well. Especially in summer, when the island’s bounty is at its peak. For those visiting this time of year, here’s an insiders’ guide to the best local eats in all six towns.

Larsen’s Fish Market, Menemsha

Hands down, Larsen’s Fish Market makes the top spot on this list. Located up-island in the storied fishing village of Menemsha, this charming little locale encompasses all that’s magical about Martha’s Vineyard: beautiful views and amazing food served in a modest setting. Though everything is cooked to order, lobster is the star of this show, as are the oysters and the littleneck and cherrystone clams.

Opened in 1969 by Louis and Mary Larsen, this family-owned business also has a Vineyard Haven location called The Net Result. You might be hard-pressed to find a spot at one of the picnic tables out front during the lunchtime rush, but if you get your order to go, make your way across the lot for lagoon-side views and a little seclusion.

Insider tip: Larsen’s is BYOB so bring a bottle (or two) of your favorite rosé and sit at one of the makeshift lobster-trap tables to watch the fishermen bringing their catch in to shore.

Credit: Courtesy of Larsen's Fish Market

Red Cat Kitchen, Oak Bluffs

With a rotating menu that offers a variety of locally sourced dishes, Red Cat Kitchen is truly in a league of its own. From the Menemsha mackerel and “big-ass asparagus” to sweet corn risotto and fried chicken and grits, the food is as eclectic (and delicious) as it sounds. Treat yourself to the fresh basil gimlet or a lazy John Daly. You won’t regret it. (Until the next morning, that is.) It’s an intimate venue with limited seating so reservations are definitely recommended.

Insider Tip: Located off Kennebec Avenue parallel to Oak Bluff’s main drag, Red Cat Kitchen can be tough to find. Keep your eyes peeled for the "Ken 'n' Beck" sign.

Grace Episcopal Church Lobster Rolls (Fridays Only), Vineyard Haven

There’s something sinfully delicious about getting down and dirty at Grace Church’s Friday-night lobster-roll dinner. For the bargain price of $18, your meal includes a lobster roll, chips, a drink, and occasionally a slice of watermelon. Hot dogs and slices of pie are also on sale for $3 and $4 respectively. A portion of the funds raised each week is donated to local organizations and nonprofits on the island. Hands down the best deal in town, each lobster roll is packed with meat and can be eaten in the Church’s mess hall or boxed to go.

Insider tip: Get there early to avoid the line. Order your roll to go and walk to Owen Park Beach, just five minutes away. Fridays only through September, 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Back Door Donuts, Oak Bluffs

For the uninitiated, Oak Bluffs is home to what is arguably one of the best bakeries on the planet. Located next to the Oak Bluffs post office, M. V. Gourmet Cafe & Bakery is great place to grab a quick cup of coffee and an old-fashioned during the day. By night, take a walk around the corner to the back of the shop and behold, Back Door Donuts. The cue starts around 7 p.m. and closes down around 1 a.m. Most renowned for their king-size apple fritters, the nocturnal shop also wins raves for customer favorites like Boston cream pie, fried dough, and, of course, an assortment of freshly baked doughnuts.

Insider tip: Everything is good here, especially the fritters. Bring hand wipes. You’re gonna need ‘em.

Scottish Bakehouse, West Tisbury

Celiacs and gluten-avoiders, rejoice: Scottish Bakehouse in West Tisbury has your back. With a wide variety of gluten-free breads (banana bread is my personal fave) along with heartier options like quinoa burgers and quiche, this place truly has something for everyone. Even their fabled breakfast sandwich—loaded with fried eggs, melting cheese, spinach, a beefsteak tomato slice, red onion rings, and crisp bacon—can be made gluten-free. It’s no surprise it took the top spot in Martha’s Vineyard Magazine’s 2015 list of best breakfast sandwiches.

Insider Tip: I’m a breakfast sandwich connoisseur and this one changed my life. It’s that good. Grab a seat on the front deck and ham it up with the locals to get the town gossip.

7a Foods, West Tisbury

There are so many good things happening at 7a that’s it’s hard to pinpoint just one. But if I have to choose a favorite, I’d start with the Liz Lemon: hot homemade pastrami, turkey, Swiss, coleslaw, Russian dressing, and potato chips on rye. As Liz herself would say, “I want to go to there.”

Insider tip: From locally produced sea salt to a wide variety of island-made jams, 7a sells an abundance of local treasures to take home.

The Newes From America Pub, Edgartown

Dark and utterly delightful, the Newes From America Pub is a year-round favorite serving up hearty dishes like bangers and mash, lobster mac ‘n’ cheese, and some of the most insane onion rings you’ll ever have. Nothing beats their signature “world-famous fish and chips” (fried haddock, home-cut fries, and secret sauce) especially when washed down with one of the many micro-brews on tap.

Insider tip: Call ahead to ask about their live-music schedule. Great local artists often play for the late-dinner crowd.

The Right Fork Diner, Edgartown

There are a few diners to choose from on Martha’s Vineyard, and everyone, it seems, has an opinion on which one’s “the one.” Personally, if I had to pick a side, I’d say The Right Fork Diner in Edgartown slightly edges out the competition. Nestled within the Katama Airfield, the laid-back diner serves chocolate-chip pancakes, brioche French toast with real maple syrup, and blood orange mimosas that are more than worth a trip. It’ll be the best “airport food” you’ve ever had.

Insider tip: Try and score a seat on the outside patio so you can have unobstructed views of the bi-planes taking off and landing. Open daily 7a.m.-2p.m. Open until sunset in July and August.

Chilmark General Store, Chilmark

So here’s the thing with the Chilmark General Store. Yes, it’s iconic and yes, its been known to be frequented by the likes of Larry David when he’s in town, but the general gist of this general store is that it’s not only a store, but a local gathering place. You’ll want to hang out on the wrap-around porch with a good book and a bottle of wine root beer and let the dog days of summer pass you by. The other surprising thing about the Chilmark General Store: it serves excellent pizza! For the meat-averse, try the “Island Grown,” which comes topped with locally grown veggies. Carnivores should head straight toward the sausage- and pepperoni-topped Stonewall.

Insider tip: If you want to make friends with the local lifeguards who patrol some of the area’s more secluded beaches, a couple slices of the Chilmark General Store’s pizza just might be the ticket.

Little House Café, Vineyard Haven

The quaint Little House Café boasts one of the boldest menus in town. Located off of State Road in the business district of Vineyard Haven, the cozy and convivial atmosphere will make you feel like you’re in the dining room of your favorite aunt. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, this is a popular spot for visitors and locals alike. Lunch specialties include the curried mango chicken-salad sandwich and the muffaletta pressed sandwich with mortadella, peppered salami, olive tapenade, goat cheese, and arugula. The café also serves a wide variety of vegetarian and gluten-free dishes.

Insiders tip: Save room for the extensive homemade dessert menu.