30 Essential Eats Down the Shore

From breakfast to seafood to barbecue, everything tastes better at the beach. Here are our favorite spots.

best shore restaurants

Best Shore restaurants: The spread at Black-Eyed Susans in Harvey Cedars / Photography by Michael Persico; illustrations by The Ellaphant in the Room

For those of us who make an annual pilgrimage down the Shore, the first hot day of summer triggers a Pavlovian response: We salivate for fried clam strips, seared scallops, and oysters plucked straight from nearby waters. We pine for Shore bars with buck-a-shuck and wing nights, old-school Italian eateries, and getting dressed to the nines for a fancy sunset meal. Beyond the food, we yearn for the places we gather year after year with our families and friends to relive old memories and create new ones. Here are our favorites.

Black-Eyed Susans

New American in Harvey Cedars

It’s the kind of place that perfectly balances classy and casual — where you can go for date night and splurge on the lobster gnocchi or share Sicilian calamari with friends over frozen Aperol spritzes in the garden (during the live-music happy hour, of course). Regardless of the occasion, you need to order a couple of pizzas. Go bold with the clam pie, a New Haven novelty and a rarity for our Shore. For a more traditional version, you can’t go wrong with a classic pepperoni. 7908 Long Beach Boulevard.

Black-Eyed Susans’ beet lumache

Fishin’ Pier Grille

Breakfast in Avalon and Stone Harbor

If you leave Seven Mile Island without stopping by Fishin’ Pier Grille, you’re seriously missing out. The family-run biz — which boasts outposts in Stone Harbor and Avalon, the latter now in its 35th season — dishes out big-ass classics like pork roll, egg and cheese sandwiches, stuffed and stacked pancakes, and “outrageous” three-egg omelets. (No, really, they’re massive.) If you’re not an early riser, become one — the Grille doesn’t take reservations,­ but those lines are worth it. 32nd Street and the Boardwalk, Avalon, and 9700 3rd Avenue, Stone Harbor.

Turtle Gut

New American in Wildwood Crest

The leopard-spotted norteño tortillas hugging house-made chorizo and Smith Poultry eggs … The Cioppino Nights, opening with fritto-misto of local veggies and closing with Sicilian blood-orange amaro dropped on the table as the sun throws lilac-and-Cheeto-colored streaks over Sunset Lake … The plush conchas and magnificent maritozzi … On an island beholden to common-denominator tourist demands, where just-like-in-Pop-Pop’s-day nostalgia runs as powerful as a riptide, three-year-old Turtle Gut is a kaleidoscope of owners Joe Pettinelli and Eva Basilio Garcia’s culinary and aesthetic fascinations. Coming this summer: a Sunday porchetta collab with Wildwoods BBQ, and new pastries inspired by a winter baking workshop the couple took in Puglia. 7609 New Jersey Avenue.

Hooked Up Seafood

Seafood in Wildwood

shore restaurants

There’s no greater joy in my life than pulling into Hooked Up’s gravel parking lot, rushing my kids out of the car, and spotting the seafood shack’s chalkboard menu. What will it be today? John Dory? Big-eyed tuna? Or — Lord, please! — tile?

Hooked Up, I tell people way too often, is my favorite place on Earth to eat. It’s where my shoulders relax as my salt-kissed kids watch owner Bill Bright break down whatever fish he hauled in that day on the F/V Defiance, the sun dimming over the picnic tables covered in seared tuna and crab chowder and half-gnawed ears of Jersey corn. It’s where strangers share bottle openers and hot sauce and ask, “Do you guys want any of these?” as little eyes dart at our tablemates’ leftover onion rings.

It’s a time capsule of my own life: the year my wife was pregnant with our son, the first pandemic summer when all we could order was takeout, the year my six-year-old daughter crushed nearly 30 peel-and-eat shrimp. Hooked Up is watching their smiles grow and ours age, and knowing that we’ll be back next summer, on the same dock, eating clams as the sun sets. — Bradford Pearson
1044 West Rio Grande Avenue, Wildwood.

Nino’s Family Restaurant

Italian in Cape May Court House

Housed in a Route 9 bungalow with bright blue awnings, between a Mister Softee and a MAGA store, Nino’s in Cape May Court House is the last surviving of three area locations. Off-shore doesn’t mean off-radar, though. The Malusa family has been sautéing mussels and frying cutlets for decades both on and off the island, cultivating a deeply loyal following that’s on a first-name basis with the friendly servers. Chianti-carrying locals and shoobies alike fill up long wait-lists on summer weekends for the crispy triangles of fried mozz, fire-breathing stuffed long hots, gooey baked gnocchi, and 10 types of parm. Have mercy. Have antacids. 16 South Main Street.

A.C. Sandwiches

Bahn Mi in Atlantic City

There’s only one thing on the menu: banh mi, crispy baguettes packed with your choice of various combinations of Vietnamese lunch meats and pâtés, char-grilled chicken or pork, and what seems like handfuls of cilantro and jalapeños. To cool down, grab a homemade kumquat soda. 3023 Atlantic Avenue.

Pizza and beer at Tony's Baltimore Grill

Pizza and beer at Tony’s Baltimore Grill

Tony’s Baltimore Grill

Italian in Atlantic City

From the anchovy-striped antipasto and the tavern-style pizzas to the mini jukeboxes mounted inside each maroon Naugahyde booth, the self-proclaimed oldest pizza joint in A.C. (est. 1927) is proud of its venerable age — but also interested in what the kids are up to these days. This outlook comes courtesy of caretakers Nolan and Julie Aspell, who bought TBG in 2021. Specials highlight South Jersey farms, Little Water spirits anchor the house cocktails, cross-river collabs pop up with Meetinghouse and Paffuto, and an outspoken social media presence offers heartfelt addiction recovery assistance one moment, then entertainingly trolls naughty customers the next. Just shy of its 100th birthday, Tony’s is having the time of its life. 2800 Atlantic Avenue.

Pinky Shrimp’s

Seafood in Long Beach

One of the greatest joys of LBI summers is a pile of fried seafood outside at Pinky Shrimp’s, where the rules tend to bend in the warm sea breeze. Putting your elbows on the wooden picnic table while housing a crabcake sandwich is totally acceptable, and eating crispy golden clam strips with your hands is not only allowed but encouraged. It’s outdoor-seating only, and it’s pretty limited at that. But don’t worry — you can always walk just a couple blocks and enjoy your fried feast on the sand. 8211 Long Beach Boulevard.

The C-View Inn

Pub Grub in Cape May

This comfy, friendly locals bar is all about wing night. Every Wednesday for decades now, throngs of people do their darndest to get a table or a couple of bar seats from which to scarf down as many saucy 75-cent wings as they can, burning through piles of napkins in the process. These aren’t fussy wings; they’re your basic bar hot wings, done as well as basic bar hot wings can be done. But it’s not as much about the wings as the tradition — a night when locals and shoobies cram into a place to get messy and drink ice-cold beers together. 1380 Washington Street.

Kessel’s Korner

American in Ocean City

Families have traditions. My family has a lot of them. One is that we spend two weeks together every August in Ocean City — in the same duplex we’ve been renting from the same landlords (hi, Chuck and Jayne!) since 1990. Another is that while we’re there, we share a midday meal at Kessel’s Korner, an old-school luncheonette right around the, well, corner, at 28th and Asbury.

Did I mention we have traditions? Not only do we eat there; we always order the same things. Most of us get cheesesteaks. I get chicken salad. We all get black-and-white milkshakes, though my sister Nan and her husband always split theirs. The Kessel’s proprietors — they must be into their fourth generation now, just like we are — make their shakes by hand, rich and creamy and thick. We order french fries for the table — well, tables, really, since we have to shove several together to fit us all — and bedazzle them with ketchup. The bright-faced waitresses (different every year, turning over like calendar pages) spoil us with extra fried onions and refills on Coke.

We talk and laugh and wipe the noses of the grandkids, surrounded by the ghosts of those who once sat with us here — my dad, Aunt Phyllis, my sister Jan. We’re not religious, but there’s something holy about our annual pilgrimage for shakes and steaks and fries. It’s what we have instead of God, I guess. Take, eat: chewy rolls for the bread, ketchup for the wine, a red-checked-tablecloth altar. Forever and ever, amen. — Sandy Hingston
2760 Asbury Avenue.

Summer Salt

New American in Avalon

What started as a pop-up in 2019 out of Isabel’s Bakery and Cafe is now Avalon’s dreamiest restaurant. Complementing the dune-surrounded terrace, string-light-laden covered patio, and coastal-chic indoor dining room is Summer Salt’s tour de force: chef Connor Dore’s ever-changing tasting menu showcasing Jersey’s finest. We’re talking locally sourced corn turned fritters, peaches paired with burrata, scallops over sunchoke puree, and bone-in chicken raised by co-founder and farmer Heather Sedlacek at her nearby 23-acre farm. If chocolate lava cake is on the menu, get it. Open May through September; BYOB. 2800 Boardwalk.

Lobster House

Breakfast in Cape May

Some years ago, I nudged my wife awake at Cape May’s historic Congress Hall resort not long after sunrise. She thought something was wrong. No, I just wanted breakfast. An old friend had told me I simply had to try breakfast at the Lobster House.

I was well aware of the Lobster House, which has been shoveling out plates of seafood for many decades. But breakfast? It turns out the Lobster House has what it calls a coffee shop that for many years was a locals-only secret hangout. Keeping it a secret was sort of a necessity, because there are only 18 stools. No tables. Just a breakfast counter.

We were wowed by the plentiful plates of breakfast deliciousness, tickled by the servers who seem like they’ve been there forever, and particularly enamored of the nifty machine behind the counter that transforms whole peel-on oranges into the fresh-squeezed OJ you need to start the day. We’ve returned many times, sometimes getting the hairy eyeball from patrons behind us in line who are, uh, not happy that we’ve brought our children to fill up those highly coveted seats. It seems to be an unwritten rule amongst locals that the coffee shop is for parties of two and definitely not for the little ones. It also seems to be an unwritten rule that you’re not supposed to talk about breakfast at the Lobster House, because it’s already far too hard to get seated. It’s actually not: You just have to wake up early enough. — Victor Fiorillo
906 Schellengers Landing Road.

Wildwoods BBQ

Barbecue in North Wildwood

Until Australian best mates Joel Romano (from the Main Line’s The Goat’s Beard) and David Gill (from Brooklyn’s Hometown BBQ) opened three summers ago, smoking in North Wildwood usually meant Parliament Lights. Now, the perfume of smoldering oak emanating from the corner of 7th and New Jersey heralds the best barbecue in the region, from the profoundly black-peppered brisket to fat Aussie-style sausages whose casings snap like Kit Kats. It’s almost incomprehensible that the glistening smash burgers and bronze, better-than-boardwalk fries are also so perfectly executed. As the writing scrawled on the wall commands, “Best Pig Out!” 701 New Jersey Avenue.

best shore restaurants

Wildwoods BBQ owners Joel Romano, left, and David Gill

Ocean Steak

Steakhouse in Atlantic City

Sometimes you want to trade in the board shorts, polo shirts and tank tops for blazers and slinky dresses and feast on ginormous aged tomahawk steaks, pristine raw shellfish, snow-aged Japanese A5, our favorite diver scallop dish at the Shore, and some fabulous Italian wines. And this lavish steakhouse at Ocean, Atlantic City’s most refined casino, is where you go for that. Book one of the new rooms upstairs so you don’t have to go far to get to bed. 500 Boardwalk.

Cafe 2825

Italian in Atlantic City

Most of the roughly five billion Italian restaurants at the Jersey Shore are cut from the same red-gravy cloth. And while you can get some better-than-average saucy dishes here, they aren’t what sets this jewel box in the shadow of Tropicana apart. That would be the tableside experiences (the best of the bunch: made-from-scratch Caesar salad; warm burrata hand-stretched in front of you; and cacio e pepe mixed in a huge parmigiano-reggiano wheel) and less-seen plates like gently fried stuffed squash blossoms, sautéed conch in a spicy Sicilian-style sauce, and trippa alla Romana (yes, tripe), just to name a few. The only problem? Getting a table. 2825 Atlantic Avenue.

Beach Plum Farm

New American in West Cape May

There’s “farm-to-table,” and then there’s a farm where you can actually eat the food grown there. This is the latter. Breakfast and lunch feature eggs harvested from the farm’s hens; ham, bacon and liverwurst made from its heritage hogs; and a veritable bounty of vegetables. Dinners are the hot ticket here and are all prix-fixe, served communally, and centered on a specific ingredient, whether that’s a multi-course dinner that leans into tomatoes or an Argentinean-style pork and chicken feast cooked over an open fire. On your way out, stop by the farm store to grab seasonal vegetables and other goods to go. 140 Stevens Street.

best shore restaurants

A variety of seasonal dishes from Beach Plum Farm

Dock’s Oyster House

Seafood in Atlantic City

If you’re a fan of the bivalve that makes up a third of this iconic Atlantic City restaurant’s name, it’s where you want to be. There are always 10 to 12 raw oyster varieties on the menu, almost exclusively from the East Coast. And all available to order by the piece. Oysters also come broiled, fried, in a stew, and, occasionally, as an oysters parmigiana special. Not a fan of oysters? There are plenty of other seafood and non-seafood dishes and cocktails that will please your palette. One rare touch that Dock’s offers: a nightly piano bar. 2405 Atlantic Avenue.

Steve & Cookie’s

New American in Margate City

Long before this slice of coastline had much of a dining scene, there was Steve & Cookie’s. Since 1997, Cookie Till’s breezy bayfront spot has been luring a loyal crowd (so loyal, in fact, that they’ve made it a niche sport to land a table) who still come as much for the plates of farm-fresh Jersey tomato salad and juicy blueberry pie as for the warm summertime-reunion vibe. Nowadays, Till remains a force — during dinner service, while she’s bopping around the dining room to check on tables, and in the Shore community at large, where she runs No. 7311 bakery and A Meaningful Purpose at Reed’s Farm and animal sanctuary. 9700 Amherst Avenue.

margate best shore restaurants

From top: Ugly tomato salad, grilled lamb chops and butter poached clams at Steve & Cookie’s

Knife & Fork Inn

Steakhouse in Atlantic City

If you’ve ever taken the Black Horse Pike into Atlantic City, you land at a five-point intersection where a Tudor-style building anchors one corner. That building is the Knife & Fork Inn, and it’s been sitting there in one form or another since 1912. This remains one of Atlantic City’s dressier dining destinations, where customers line up down the street year-round for the daily 4 p.m. happy hour. There are plenty of steaks, chops and seafood plates on the menu, but we usually belly up to the bar for a classic wedge salad, the ridiculously good lobster bisque, and a martini — or two. 3600 Atlantic Avenue.

Sabor Latino #2

Mexican in Atlantic City

The Shore’s Hispanic population boom in the past decade has brought with it lots of delicious food. We found some of our favorites at this bright shop two blocks from the boardwalk. Grab a couple of beef-and-cheese and chicken-and-cheese empanadas, plus whatever special empanada they’re serving that day. A side of hot-out-of-the-fryer tostones is never a bad idea, either. 3901 Ventnor Avenue.

El Alebrije

Mexican in Wildwood Crest

During my teendom in the D.C. suburbs, it was a local rite of passage to drive across the Bay Bridge with a fresh license and spend a couple days cruising back and forth among the beach towns of Maryland and Delaware’s shared Eastern Shore. One thing was crucial to me on those trips: a visit to Grab & Go Taco in Fenwick Island. At 17, I loved no part of summer vacation more than those quesadillas, piled high with chunky salsa and sour cream. But I haven’t been back there in years. I got a little older, moved away, and lost my love of the beach.

Until an old roommate invited me on her family’s annual trip to Wildwood a few years ago. I didn’t know much about what Jerseyans and Philadelphians affectionately call “the Shore” or what traditions took place there. I felt like a fish out of water my first time on the unfamiliar route to their duplex.

But everything started to make sense at lunchtime. As we left the beach one day, tanned, tired, and thinking about where to stop for a bite, I spotted an unassuming white building across the street from us that promised authentic Mexican fare and some seats outside. “Why not there?” I asked. So at El Alebrije, we stopped. All my worry about the beach — a new beach — melted into my first tostada and the hill of chicken, refried beans, lettuce, tomato, avocado and queso fresco atop it. Sure, I was never going to be 17 again, but at a place like this, in the euphoria of good, hearty food after a day on the sand, I could sort of feel that way once more.

My love for the beach returns in waves now, sometimes when I remember my early trips to Fenwick Island, but always most prominently during my visits to El Alebrije for another year of those incredible tostadas. — Shaunice Ajiwe
6300 New Jersey Avenue.

Aversa’s Bakery

Hoagies in Brigantine

Aversa’s is, first and foremost, a bread bakery. And its sturdy seeded rolls stand up well to the bounty of fillings available, whether you’re in the mood for an old-school Italian with imported mortadella and sharp provolone or a roasted turkey with Cooper sharp and chopped pepper shooters. Bonus: Aversa’s also bakes beautiful Italian cookies, so grab a box for your blanket mates. 3101 Atlantic Brigantine Boulevard.

Westside Market

Breakfast Sandwiches in West Cape May

Skip the oh-so-ubiquitous avocado toast in favor of the Jolly Roger, a cheesesteak-y breakfast sandwich with scrambled eggs, chopped rib eye and cheddar, served up on a long Liscio’s roll. Add Italian long hots, if you dare. And don’t worry: Westside also makes traditional breakfast sammies, if that’s your thing. 517 Broadway.

Hot Bagels & More

Bagels in various locations

These shops offer the real deal — there are a lot of really, really bad bagels at the Shore — and offer them at five locations, seven days a week, year-round. Whether you’re a simple person who just wants a schmear or a piled-high-deli-sandwich-on-an-everything guy, you’ll find it here.

The Deauville Inn

Seafood in Strathmere

This spot has been holding down the bayside since the 19th century. The inn is long gone; what remains is a spacious restaurant that draws large crowds from the surrounding beach towns. It’s open seven days a week. The most popular of those nights are Thursday’s buck-a-shuck, Friday’s prime-rib dinner­ and Sunday’s surf-and-turf. But the real draw is the view of the sunset, easily one of the best vistas at the Jersey Shore. 201 Willard Road.

The 5 Best Bakery Bites Down the Shore

Early-morning strolls to the bakery are a summertime Shore tradition. These spots are worth the walk.

Blueberry Pie at Ventnor 7311

Cookie Till’s stylish cafe sells the same blueberry pie they’re dishing up at Steve & Cookie’s, her legendary restaurant known for its elusive reservations … and blueberry pie. We would say it’s a little easier to get your hands on one at the bakery, but a Philly Mag staffer once saw a brawl over the last pie, so get there early. 7311 Ventnor Avenue, Margate.

Crumb Cake at Mallon’s

When visiting friends with a Shore house, bring along a Mallon’s crumb cake — dense, butter-laden pound cake beneath a thick layer of cinnamon-and-brown-sugar topping. It comes in half- and full-size sheets, but get the big one if you want to be invited back. 1340 Bay Avenue, Ocean City and 5008 Landis Avenue, Sea Isle City.

Cream Doughnut at Kohler’s Bakery

After a dramatic 2023 — the fate of the bakery was up in the air due to a lease situation — this 75-year-old institution is back, albeit in a new location. After a year of uncertainty, you’ve more than earned a fill-up on these doughnuts, jammed with a cloud of buttercream and finished with a flurry of powdered sugar. 224 21st Street, Avalon.

Fully Loaded Sticky Buns at Bread and Cheese Cupboard

Every year, Stone Harbor summertime regulars make a beeline for the sticky buns here before even dropping their bags. Celebrate the gourmet shop’s 50th anniversary this summer with a box — in plain, raisin, or the appropriately festive fully loaded, studded with walnuts. 246 96th Street, Stone Harbor.

Apple Fritters at Britton’s

Plenty of bakeries claim to have the best apple fritters, but only one (that we know of) inspired a U.S. president to write a letter of praise. Grab a cinnamon-scented apple fritter gleaming under a varnish of sugary glaze and see what Ronald Reagan went on about. 5600 Pacific Avenue, Wildwood Crest.

Published in the June 2024 issue of Philadelphia magazine.