Where To Eat Down The Shore: Atlantic Highlands To Seaside Heights
The 35 best restaurants along the northern Jersey Shore.
The 40 miles of coastline from the Atlantic Highlands to Island Beach State Park—complete with its beautiful wide beaches, iconic boardwalks, and legendary lighthouses—is less than an hour away from NYC. It’s the perfect place to escape Manhattan’s sticky summer pavement, and a lot closer and more casual than the Hamptons. And when you’re here, you should use this guide to find the best places to eat and drink.
Let’s be clear, this isn’t just a list of the best spots if you happen to find yourself heading somewhere between mile marker 116 and 82 on the Parkway. These are the restaurants, stands, and pit stops that are worth the drive and the traffic along Jersey’s northern shore and the Ocean County barrier island. From dockside lobster shacks and sit-down BYOs, to the best place by the beach for a breakfast sandwich, here are the 35 best spots to eat along the northern Jersey Shore.
So you decided to try to outsmart the shore traffic and take the ferry from Manhattan to the beach. Well played. What you didn't bank on was roasting in the sun for 40 minutes to find yourself reaching the shores of Jersey in a translucent sweat-drenched shirt. The good news is that you’re a few minutes from an ice cream therapy session at Nicholas Creamery. Nicholas is a name that for years was synonymous with seasonal fine dining in New Jersey, but now they’ve taken that same local ingredient sourcing approach to ice cream. Expect flavors like chocolate caramel pretzel, honey lavender, and brown sugar cookie dough, and enjoy them all in made-to-order waffle cones or as the centerpiece in their fantastic milkshakes.
$$$$1 1st St, Rumson
Located just inland from the beaches of Sea Bright is the only necessary enhancement to the scenic views: a fat, perfectly cooked 10-ounce burger from Barnacle Bill’s. During the pandemic they opened an elaborate outdoor dining setup on a marina, that’s an incredible place for a sunset drink or dinner overlooking the Navesink River. With a classic tavern menu of burgers, wings, and seafood, Barnacle Bill is one of the area’s best casual spots when you need a minute away from the beach.
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Anjelica’s Restaurant isn’t just slinging the best pasta on the Shore, it’s one of the best along the entire Eastern Seaboard. Reservations may seem impossible to score at this downtown Sea Bright BYO, but it’s worth checking time and time again to secure one. When you finally get in, the tuna carpaccio and stuffed langoustines are the perfect way to start your meal, before ordering a few housemade pastas like orecchiette in a spicy vodka sauce, caramelle in lemon cream, and mafaldine al ragu. Entrees like veal saltimbocca and homemade desserts and pastries like cannolis made from anise pizzelle are an equally important part of the meal—even if you already feel like you’ve hit capacity. If there are no reservations available while you’re in town, make sure to check out the Italian street food offered throughout the day in the outdoor paninoteca located in the adjoining alleyway.
In most Shore towns, sushi spots seem to significantly outnumber dockside seafood shacks in popularity. And of all the choices, Yumi in Sea Bright is the absolute best. Aside from scallop, amberjack, king salmon, and sea urchin nigiri, Yumi specializes in inventive and near-perfect small plates of raw fish—like the octopus carpaccio and fluke Sichuan, both of which are light and packed with complex flavors. While they offer takeout options, you should come here for a casual dinner so you can eat this fish as soon as it hits your table. Plus, the Sea Bright location is BYO so you can bring your favorite sake along, too.
Max's Bar & Grill
Cased meats, particularly hot dogs, are often overlooked in the discussions around New Jersey food lore, which is dominated by diner and pizza culture. Max’s Bar & Grill, the most recent version of Max’s Famous Hot Dogs, is the best of the bunch. The Bar & Grill in Long Branch pairs a wide variety of local beers with their custom blend of beef and pork foot-long frankfurters. Whether you’re looking for a classic with kraut, a statewide favorite Italian hot dog (topped with peppers, onions, and potatoes), or something more out there, like a pork roll-topped Jersey Shore dog or a lobster topped surf n’ turf, you’ll pretty much find anything you’re looking for here. If someone in your group is not into dogs, Max’s offers a full menu of burgers, sandwiches, fried fish platters, and salads.
Don’t let the fact that there are almost as many Rook Coffee outposts along the Shore as there are lighthouses be a turnoff. Just appreciate the fact that the best coffee shop on the coast has found a way to set up about a dozen shops from Holmdel to Point Pleasant. Rook’s New Orleans-style cold brew is a proven morning antidote for shocking your sun-burned and beer-fueled body back to normalcy.
Ethiopian and Dominican fusion is not meant to be a new trend that’s taking the Shore by storm. Rather, it’s the story of one unique restaurant whose chef/owner is from Ethiopia but learned to cook exceptional Dominican food to appeal to locals. You’ll find Dominican classics like tostones, mofongo, pastelón, and yucca cakes on the same menu as Ethiopian dishes served with lentils and veggies on housemade injera. Swing through for dinner as their outdoor seating area often features some live music, and don’t forget to pack some drinks because Ada’s is a BYO.
Pascal & Sabine
While the shore features no shortage of seagulls or sweaty beachside bars, it does lack proper places to eat and drink like an adult, especially when celebrating a birthday, an anniversary, or just the fact that you were smart enough to hop on route 18 and skip miles of traffic. Pascal + Sabine is an exception. They make great cocktails and serve really good French-inspired food, from a great pork chop to local seafood—which makes this a good place to order lots of things to share.
El Rey in Asbury Park serves some of the area’s best Mexican food. Located on a residential street a few blocks north of the popular Cookman Avenue row of restaurants and bars, El Rey was recently opened by a local family originally from Oaxaca. The restaurant is BYO (although their aqua fresca is good enough to make you skip the cerveza), and once you step inside, you’ll be drawn to the oversized pot of birria bubbling on the stove. Everything here from choriqueso to carnitas to quesadilla de maiz is fantastic. Also worthy of your attention is their pollo rostizado, which can sell out quickly each day.
At some point during the Shore season, you’ll sleep late enough that you’re not sure if you want breakfast or lunch before you hit the beach. When you’re feeling indecisive, Cardinal Provisions is the place. We really like their poached chicken salad that comes piled high on a croissant, the gravlax with beet-horseradish cream cheese on an everything bagel, and the terrific salads (the New Mexico Bowl and Lunch Bowl are standouts). Cardinal has a bunch of vegan options, including almost all of their baked goods, making it an ideal place for special diets, pastries, and everything in between.
When you mention the name Talula’s, the conversation naturally leans towards pizza. And rightfully so, because the wide variety of pies seemingly suits even the most unique of dietary restrictions. They’re also really good. We really like the Beekeeper’s Lament, The Super Mario, and the occasionally available Detroit-style pies, but the real reason to visit Talula’s is the bread they bake in-house and the sandwiches and toasts they create with it. The sandwiches are only available at lunch and that’s the ideal time to go—the reuben on country sourdough features housemade pastrami and is among the best sandwiches in town.
Frank's Deli & Restaurant
We may never get a consensus on the correct usage of pork roll vs. Taylor ham (it’s Taylor ham, by the way). But what we can all agree on is that Frank’s is among the best places to get this iconic deli meat sandwich in New Jersey, which actually means any other place on earth. Part deli, part diner, Frank’s has been an Asbury Park staple since before the Boss and his E-Street Band were rocking the Stone Pony on the other side of town. Go for breakfast and get that thick-cut pork roll with egg and cheese on a housemade roll or rye bread (our preference). While you’re at it, they make their own donuts and pastries, too. And if you’re headed to the beach, grab a deli sandwich for lunch. You’re probably not hungry after all that pork roll, but you’ll thank us later.
Bradley Beach is among the most underrated towns for dining down the Shore, and Bamboo Leaf is its star restaurant. After being takeout-only for a few years, indoor dining is back open which is great for making sure your basil chili softshell crabs arrive hot and crispy. Don’t forget a couple of curries (we like the duck penang and the spicy green vegetable), whether you’re eating at the restaurant or at home, chilling on the front porch.
E. Holland Sundries
If you’re visiting a friend at the Shore, save yourself the case of hard seltzer that you’re just going to drink yourself and bring them a box of pastries from E. Holland Sundries. The fruit-filled hand pies and croissants are the best in the state, and the lemon bars, cookies, and brownies are also fantastic. Definitely make sure you’re grabbing ample fresh-baked pretzel knots with their homemade beer cheese, too. You know, for a balance of sweet and savory.
photo credit: David A. Lee
Berg’s Smoked Meat & Poutine
Anyone who has spent time in Montreal can wax poetic about their first experience with the city’s famous smoked meat and poutine—it’s the same way we Jersey people talk about Taylor ham to anyone who’ll listen. While we’re all talking, the team behind Berg’s in Belmar took action and brought the legendary smoked meat sandwiches, gravy-laden fries, and top-notch matzo ball soup to the Shore. While this is an ideal lunch option, Berg’s is located just around the corner from Belmar’s popular Bar Anticipation (or, Bar A for those familiar). So if you’re in the area looking for a 2am snack, Berg’s is your spot for late-night poutine and fries.
Strollo's Italian Ice
In a confusing (and surprisingly common) Jersey Shore tale of frozen desserts by the same name with different owners, enter Strollo’s Italian Ice. The Strollo name is the pinnacle of Jersey Shore Italian ice, but Strollo’s Italian Ice in Belmar (not to be confused with the six locations of Strollo’s Lighthouse) is the best of them all. Served out of soft serve machines, this is not the same as the frozen ice cube of sugar water you can find at the grocery store. On the hottest days of the summer, this is what you want, and a twist of chocolate and pistachio is the best-in-class order.
Pete & Elda's Bar - Carmen's Pizzeria
Asking anyone in Jersey about where you can find the best bar pie might fire up an argument on par with debates about what happened after the screen went black in the final episode of The Sopranos. For us, though, Carmen’s Pizzeria at Pete & Elda’s stands above the rest. Get the XXL, and not because you want the t-shirt you get for finishing it. The paper-thin crust is perfectly crisp, and do your best to finish it all onsite because, unlike The Sopranos, leftover thin crust pizza doesn’t stand the test of time.
The Grand Tavern
Not much makes sense about Grand Tavern, and that’s exactly why we keep coming back here. It’s in a sort of random location just west of Bradley Beach’s business district and has a rapidly evolving menu featuring an often different but always fantastic burger in addition to a terrific rotating offering of steak, pork chops, locally sourced fish, and the area’s best chicken. It’s a casual spot with an outdoor seating area where they grow vegetables and herbs used in many of the dishes on the menu. An outdoor dinner reservation for six people is ideal as it should allow you to basically try the whole menu—which you’re going to want to do because rarely does this place miss.
Maeberrie’s is our go-to breakfast spot in Avon for great sandwiches, poached eggs on top of potatoes with hollandaise, and chicken and waffles. But all of those can be easy to miss when walking in here for the first time. We can tell you that “super-cute farmhouse” is not typically a design choice reserved for Jersey Shore establishments, but here the surfboards get ditched for cutting boards, along with stone bowls, copper pots, and peonies, all of which are for sale.
The lack of great seafood restaurants along the Monmouth County coast is almost as disappointing as missing that once-a-season whale sighting because you ran off the beach to refill the cooler. Thankfully, Spring Lake Seafood recently opened, making it one of the best new restaurants in the area offering fresh, locally-caught sustainable seafood. The ahi tuna with house-made lo mein noodles, a crisp arugula topped fluke milanese, and an octopus served with lemony fennel and potatoes highlight a widespread menu of fish-focused options. The restaurant is a BYO and also operates as a fish market and coffee shop by day. So it’s possible to find yourself here three times in one day: grab a coffee, come back for some fish to toss on the grill for lunch, and round things out by coming back for dinner with friends.
Hoffman's Ice Cream & Yogurt
Maybe New Jersey is considered the “Garden State” because most Shore-goers consider ice cream to be a vegetable. Or maybe that’s just us. You’ll no doubt see dozens of ice cream shops as you drive along Rt. 35, but Hoffman’s is the one you’ll be thinking about in your office on Monday. We’d like to believe that they have technically perfected a cream-to-sugar ratio, but scientists are still trying to prove that. This place has been around for more than 60 years, and serves more than 40 varieties of rich and dense ice cream, including signature flavors like mint cookie, coffee Oreo, Jersey monkey, and cookie monster.
The Outside Raw Bar At The Parker House
This three-floor party fortress has been standing strong for more than 135 years and is the perfect place to go for cheap lobsters, steamers, and a variety of sliders as you transition from work to a weekend down the Shore. Walk past the reservation-only front porch and go straight to the outside bar in the back before you hit the basement for live music. Definitely come here on the early side, as the Parker House closes early (last call is at 11:30pm), and is known for day drinking, long lines, and big crowds.
We can only tell you two certainties about the Jersey Shore: if the winds are blowing from the west, the greenhead flies will make a sunny day feel like the depths of hell, and, if you pull up to Rosie’s after 8pm, they’re either going to be out of pizza or closed for the night. This place makes the best pizza south of Jersey City, but because it’s so good, it’s not uncommon that they're out of dough before you’ve had a chance to place your order. We especially love the round pie with sausage and vinegar peppers and the square pie with spinach. Rosie’s adheres to a pretty specific ordering schedule, so be prepared to place your dinner order early and pick it up at a specified time. Check their website to confirm the latest rules.
Joe Leone’s Italian Specialty Store
Joe Leone’s is our favorite stop by the beach in Monmouth or Ocean County to fill your cooler for the day or stock up for a weekend of hanging out poolside. This place serves bread and fresh mozzarella as good as you’ll find in north Jersey, and the whole place is packed with the best specialty items on the coast. It’s impossible to go wrong, but the sandwiches, the eggplant pie, or any of their daily specials from the chef’s case are what you want.
Frankie's Bar & Grill
If you roast in the Jersey sun all day, by 6pm you’re either greasy or burnt. The same can be said for most of the Shore’s burger options. The exception is Frankie’s Bar & Grill, which is home to one of the northern Shore’s best burgers. These huge and simple burgers are cooked at the bar and seared with a perfect char. Just know that they usually go one temperature rarer than you order, so if you’re a medium-rare person, we’d suggest you go medium. If you’re a medium-well person, you might actually learn what a good burger tastes like.
Point Lobster Co.
We’d like to consider a six-pack and half dozen lobster rolls from Point Lobster Company the official Jersey Shore 12-course meal. Their signature rolls are served hot with butter, the perfect amount of celery salt, and crispy, seasoned fries. Since this fish market and seafood spot provides many restaurants in the state with their fresh lobsters, there’s a good chance you’ve had one before. And even though Point Lobster opened a sit-down restaurant in town, the best experience is the fish market where you can sit outside in the marina and share your crumbs with the seagulls.
Red's Lobster Pot Restaurant
If you didn’t swallow too much salt water during your beach day, you’ll likely be craving oysters, clams, and maybe some lobster for good measure. Red’s in Point Pleasant is one of the best places in the area to get all of those things. This popular dockside seafood shack previously operated separate menus inside and out, however, they now have both the dockside classics (like fried fish, a raw bar, and sandwiches) available alongside the lobster mac and cheese, seafood pastas, and whatever got pulled out of the water that morning—especially lobsters available in all sizes. Although reservations can be difficult, Red’s is great for groups. It’s also a BYO, so make sure you have a bottle of wine or four in tow.
John And Elaine's
Although a couple of juice and açaí bowl shops have opened, the Jersey Shore breakfast scene hasn’t changed much in recent years. There are still plenty of bagel shops, marina-side cafes, and of course, tchotchke-filled pancake houses. And along the northern Shore, we’re yet to find any pancakes that beat the ones at John and Elaine’s. Pair those hotcakes with their juicy breakfast sausage, which, if snapped loud enough, can drown out the political opinions blaring from the TV.
You’re on vacation, and on vacation, you get to eat cake for breakfast. Achieve this fantasy-turned-reality at Mueller’s, one of our favorite places to stop because of their incredible crumb cake. They make other pastries too, such as great donuts, but the lines are long for those sweet, meatball-sized crumbs.
Lovelandtown Grocery And Provisions
If you’re spending a couple of days down the Shore, the last thing you want to do is waste precious time running errands. Finding places that check two boxes, like grabbing a meal and some needed weekend groceries, is key. Lovelandtown is one of those places. Inside, the small grocery store has a great coffee bar and a deli that offers fantastic hot and cold sandwiches to go along with all the essentials to stock your fridge with for the next few days. And, if you hit Lovelandtown on the right day, you might find their 1955 Chevy food truck in the parking lot serving a classic cold lobster roll piled high with lobster meat, fresh herbs, capers, and a squeeze of lemon.
Midway Steak House
At some point, you’ll likely be a part of someone’s first visit to the Jersey Shore. Naturally, they’ll want to experience “the boardwalk” and there's a chance that boardwalk will be in Seaside Heights. Skip the 64-ounce lemonade and fried Oreos and head to Midway, the center-of-the-boardwalk cheesesteak stand. It’s not fancy, it’s barely scenic, but it is definitely iconic for its colorful exterior, open-air grills featuring rows of cheesesteak meat, piles of peppers and onions, and massive cups of salty french fries. You won’t do better than Midway this far north of Philadelphia.
The Best Cheesesteaks In Philly
photo credit: David A. Lee
Kohr's Frozen Custard: The Original
Like the Jets and the Giants or the Statue of Liberty, there’s a long debate as to whether or not New York or New Jersey can claim Kohr’s Frozen Custard as its own. This place started in Coney Island, but that perfect orange and vanilla custard swirl was perfected in various iterations on the boardwalks of the Jersey Shore. With locations in Lavalette, Ortley Beach, Seaside Park, and Seaside Heights, it’s the perfect accessory for evening boardwalk strolling.
Brooklyn Square Pizza
You probably have a friend that will invite you to their “Shore house” this summer, and after hours of driving, you’ll find yourself in a beachless neighborhood on the west side of the Barnegat Bay in Toms River. The bad news is that you’re actually in an endless land of strip malls. But the good news is that Brooklyn Square Pizza is nearby. This place specializes in upside-down square pies, layered with pecorino on top of slightly sweet sauce and mozzarella on a big cloud of dough dusted with sesame seeds. It’s like taking the subway to Bensonhurst, but without having to deal with the N-Train delays from Midtown.
After a long night out on the Jersey Shore, you’ll be lucky if you reach down and still find $1.45 in your pocket. Nevertheless, we hope that you can find that buck and change to cross the bridge to OB-CO’s to grab a sugar raised, which is one of the best donuts on the northern barrier islands. Lines can get long, so be prepared to wait, but the powdered croissants, lemon-filled, and Boston creams will be worth it. And, if your bank account is intact, grab a dozen and try them all.
A passion for bodybuilding and burgers has proven to be a better Jersey Shore love story than anything that’s ever aired on MTV. On select dates throughout the year, Burger Buff pops up in partnership with local coffee shops, restaurants, and businesses up and down the Shore offering up perfectly fatty and lacey double-patty smashburgers. Access to the now infamous cheese-and-sauce-laden burgers can only be achieved through scoring a ticket, and quantities are limited. This is a can’t-miss, burger-eating experience, though. Follow them on Instagram for upcoming dates, locations, and ticket information.