Mike’s Seafood in Sea isle. Photography by Trevor Dixon
It’s not actually a law, but it seems no one gets out of Cape May without first visiting the Mad Batter. Located in the Carroll Villa Hotel, this is the spot for a relaxing (if ever so slightly fancy-pants) dinner. Go for the crabcakes, a textbook example of the proper assembly and preparation of this oft-ruined dish.
For a more Summer Rental sort of experience, there’s always the Lobster House. The long, low-slung restaurant side of the operation, with its big windows and red-checked tablecloths, is lovely — and hugely crowded on any nice summer day. But it’s the Schooner Bar aboard the old Schooner American sailing vessel that combines kitsch and alcohol in one successful formula.
One of the big reasons foodies head to the Shore is for crabs. If this is your motivation, hit up H&H Seafood. It’s hard to miss (it’s the place with the big sign that says LIVE CRABS) and serves big paper bags full of steamed crabs to eat on the beach (or wherever else you feel like eating them).
You already know you’ll be eating at the Diving Horse, so you might as well just make your reservations now. This has been the go-to dinner spot for a few years, and it deserves all the love it gets.
If you’re looking for something else, there’s Café Loren for the BYO enthusiasts (and people who really like that family-owned, Shore-town vibe), or the Princeton and Bobby Dee’s Rock ’N Chair for bar-crawlers (the latter being a degree more classy than the former).
Fish Alley is as seafood-and-beer-laden as it sounds — and will not disappoint.
First stop: Mike’s Seafood for crab legs, fries, crab legs and crab legs. Go early, because the line gets long, and grab a spot at one of the picnic tables overlooking the water. (See the “Family” section for more info on when kids eat free.) Marie’s Lobster House is a few doors down from Mike’s. While you lose a little of that classic crab-shack atmosphere, the food here is just as good, and all that neon in the front windows makes it easy to navigate.
Can’t seem to get off the beach? You don’t have to. Bubba Dogs is a mobile wienery parked right on the sand at 59th Street.
Why Strathmere? Because there are two notable places for eating and drinking. First, there’s Mildred’s, which is one of those little old restaurants that wear their weathering of Sandy on their sleeve like a badge. It’s absolutely beloved for the exceedingly friendly service, the family vibe and the solid (if predictable) Italian menu — you can’t go wrong with a bottle of white and a plate of linguine with clam sauce.
For something a bit … grittier, you have to go to Twisties Tavern. It’s the kind of joint where you drop in for one drink and then wake up 20 years later having become an every-night regular, with a table all your own and a couple shifts a week behind the bar. There are powerful cocktails, fish on the walls, patio seating that looks out over the bay, and a menu that’s more comprehensive than you might think.
Ocean City and Somers Point
If you’re in Ocean City, you’re most likely shuffling the fam between the sand and Boardwalk — so save your mornings for something all your own. The Varsity Inn is a classic small-town diner that operates under a perpetual siege by locals and tourists who come here for big, filling, cheap plates of eggs, pancakes and toast. The Fractured Prune is famous for its crazy, delicious handmade doughnuts, in flavors like chocolate-covered cherry and French toast.
As for those two other meals of the day? If you can get off the beach, hit either Smitty’s Clam Bar or Charlie’s Bar, both in Somers Point and both cash-only. You go to Charlie’s for the wings and cold beer — and for the 70-odd years of corner-bar history. Smitty’s is a super-casual BYOB and a favorite among locals for the simple clam-shack menu and the fact that you’re encouraged to drink while waiting for a table.
Ventnor and Margate
In Ventnor, classic tastes and newer ones compete for attention. For the latter, hit Megu Sushi for well-assembled modern Japanese cuisine in an unassuming (read: sandwiched between a liquor store and an Italian restaurant) setting. If you’re tempted by the former, there’s chicken-and-chops at Johnny’s and crabcakes from Bobby Chez (which, despite the commercialization, is still first-rate). Or class it up at Steve & Cookie’s — just make sure to save room for dessert.
For daytime eats, go to Junior’s for corn dogs, or sit and wait for Dino’s Subs & Pizza, which delivers right to the beach and has a tuna hoagie that deserves its own national holiday.
A.C. is home to most of what passes for big-name dining at the Shore — we’re talking Buddakan, Luke Palladino’s steakhouse, Iron Chef Garces and others — but these show-stopping temples aren’t the only go-tos for gastronauts.
New and independent places like chef Kevin Cronin’s Iron Room at the Atlantic City Bottle Company and the Vagabond Kitchen & Tap House are for those looking to keep away from the slot monkeys. Vagabond isn’t fine dining (no place with a sandwich of brisket, pulled pork and peppered bacon called the Three Way is aspiring to that kind of cred), but it’s got easy bar food and the largest beer selection in the area.
Still, if you find yourself falling into the gravity of the casinos, there are some restaurants worth checking out. Palladino has places at both Revel (Luke’s Kitchen & Marketplace) and Harrah’s (the eponymous Luke Palladino), though his most beloved is probably the original Luke Palladino — a 60-seat trattoria in nearby Linwood. There’s Il Mulino at the Taj Mahal for super-upscale Italian, and the new Eastwind offering mainland Chinese at Resorts.
You’ll find a smorgasbord of named chefs at Revel (Marc Forgione, for one), but Jose Garces has made it into a mini-Philly with outposts of Village Whiskey, Amada and Distrito, plus the new-ish dim-sum-and-dumplings joint Yubōka.