In April, our editor-in-chief Hillary Reinsberg penned a piece asking “Are You All Really Going To Party As Hard As You Say You Will This Summer?” And as Michael Jordan taught us in The Last Dance, the entire Jersey Shore took that personally.
This is the home of Springsteen and Bon Jovi. Where Tony bought Carmela her beach house, sort of, and where over the past 15 years, proud Jersey residents have endured the pandemic, Hurricane Sandy, and a seemingly endless 12-year run of various Jersey Shore episodes, reunions, spinoffs, and then reunions of the spinoffs. Going hard is what we do, and we do it unapologetically and unquestionably better than anyone else.
But besides all of that, the stretch of land from the Atlantic Highlands to Island Beach State Park features 50 miles of coastline filled with beautiful wide beaches, iconic boardwalks, and bookended by legendary lighthouses. It’s the perfect place to escape Manhattan’s sweltering summer pavement, and a lot closer and more casual than the Hamptons. And when you’re here, you should use this guide to find everything from dockside lobster shacks and sit-down BYOs to the best spots for beach-adjacent breakfast sandwiches.
For years, legions of pizza lovers from New York and San Francisco have argued about which version of Una Pizza was best - and the answer is simple, neither. Una Pizza Napoletana was born on the Jersey Shore (Point Pleasant Beach to be exact) and 25 years since that happened, it’s back and as good as ever - this time in the Atlantic Highlands. As it has been for every one of its iterations, the method here is meticulous, the ingredients are limited, and the end result is really great. Like the pizza, the rules here are simple. Order from their small menu of classic Neapolitan pizzas and toss in whatever they’re doing as a daily special. If they have their housemade peppers, make sure to get them and throw in some cannoli for good measure too.
So you decided you were going 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 on the boat for 40 minutes to find yourself reaching the shores of Jersey in a translucent sweat-drenched shirt. The good news is the Seastreak landed in the Highlands and you’re a few minutes from an ice cream therapy session at Nicholas Creamery. Nicholas is a name that for years was synonymous with fine dining in New Jersey. They’ve taken that same local ingredient sourcing and approach to ice cream making with flavors like chocolate caramel pretzel, honey lavender, and brown sugar cookie dough, and pairing them with made-to-order waffle cones or as the centerpiece in their fantastic milkshakes.
The Navesink River and the towns that surround it, namely Rumson, are among the most beautiful anywhere in the state. Located just inland from the beaches of Sea Bright, the only necessary enhancement to the scenic views of the rolling green hill-surrounded river is a fat 10 oz Barnacle Bill’s burger, cooked to perfection at their bar. During the pandemic, Barnacle Bill’s opened an elaborate and frankly beautiful riverfront outdoor dining set-up along the on-premise marina. While the seating may have changed, their classic tavern menu of burgers, wings, and seafood hasn’t. You don’t have to be on the ocean to enjoy the Shore and Barnacle Bill’s offers the area’s best non-ocean views.
Sushi has become a staple for shoregoers with options lining beach boulevards up and down the coast. And of all the choices, Yumi in Sea Bright is the absolute best. Aside from the incredibly fresh nigiri with options like live scallop, amberjack, king salmon, and sea urchin, Yumi specializes in inventive and near-perfect small plates of raw fish - like the octopus carpaccio and fluke szechuan, both of which are light and packed with complex flavors. While they offer takeout options, we recommend Yumi for dine-in to 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.
Often overlooked in the discussions around New Jersey diner and pizza culture is the important place that cased meats - particularly hot dogs - hold in our hearts. Most people have their favorite spots and the Shore is no exception. Max’s Bar & Grill, the most recent version of Max’s Famous Hot Dogs (which is slowly inching itself towards its centennial anniversary), is the runaway best of the bunch. The bar and 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 exotic like a pork roll-topped Jersey Shore Dog or a lobster-topped Surf n’ Turf, you won’t go home hungry. If someone in your group isn’t into dogs, Max’s offers a full menu of burgers, sandwiches, fried fish platters, and salads too.
Avenue is the tale of two very different experiences that just happen to be in the same place under the same name. Le Club Avenue is a trendy, nighttime oceanfront club with bottle service and can be skipped, but during the day, Avenue is just a nice spot to hang out at and eat good French food. The bright floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the ocean and the brunch menu, with things like a croque madame, moules frites, and great cocktails, is a solid escape from the one-too-many burgers you’ve already had this weekend.
Don’t let the fact that there are almost as many Rook Coffee outposts along the Shore as there are lighthouses be a turn-off. 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. No doubt ensuring there is one close enough to shock your sunburned, barbecued, and beer-fueled body back into normalcy with its New Orleans-style cold brew.
Serving both Ethiopian and Dominican food under one roof isn’t a trend we imagine taking the Shore by storm anytime soon. Rather, it’s the story of one unique restaurant whose chef/owner is from Ethiopia, but took it upon herself to learn to cook exceptional Dominican food to appeal to locals at their former location in Long Branch. Then when Ada’s Gojjo opened in Asbury Park, she brought the two styles of cooking together and the result is a unique menu blending Dominican classics like tostones, mofongo, pastelón, and yucca cakes with Ethiopian standouts featuring beef, chicken, and lamb stews served with lentils and veggies on housemade injera. Throw in their takes on the classic Cubano and cheesesteak served with fries or maduros, and Ada’s literally has something for everyone.
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. This is one of the best restaurants in Asbury Park. They make great cocktails and serve really good French-inspired food, from a great pork chop to local seafood. This is a good place to order lots of things to share, which will give you plenty to discuss when your bathing suit doesn’t fit poolside the next day.
El Rey might be new to Asbury Park, but it hands down serves 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 cucumber aqua fresca is good enough to make you skip the cerveza) and has become popular for takeout and delivery. Upon entry, you’ll be drawn to the oversized pot of birria bubbling on the stove, but everything here - from choriqueso to carnitas to the quesadilla de maiz - is fantastic. Also worthy of your attention is their pollo rostizado, which sells out quickly each day. Outdoor dining is available too.
At some point during the Shore season, you’ll get in that groove where you’ve slept late enough that you’re not sure if you want breakfast or lunch before you hit the beach. When it’s 11am and you need to eat something, Cardinal Provisions is your place. We really like their poached chicken salad piled high on a croissant, their gravlax with beet-horseradish cream cheese on an everything bagel, and their terrific salads (the New Mexico Bowl and Lunch Bowl are standouts). But they also have a wide and creative assortment of vegan options including most of their daily pastries, so this is an ideal place for anyone with dietary restrictions or when you’re particularly looking for something healthy (I like finding ways of putting “pastry” and “healthy” in the same sentence). But if you just want to go nuts on some cacio e pepe eggs or pork belly hash, Cardinal’s got you covered there too.
For the second year in a row, thanks to Asbury Park’s efforts to enhance support for local businesses, restaurants on Cookman Ave will benefit from increased capacity via outdoor dining as the street is pedestrian-only through November. This is a good thing since Talula’s can be a difficult table on most summer nights. When you mention the name Talula’s, the conversation naturally leans towards pizza - and rightfully so since the wide variety of pies here are in fact very good. We really like the Beekeeper’s Lament and The Super Mario, but the real reason to visit is their homemade bread and the sandwiches and toasts they create with it. The sandwiches are only available at lunch and that’s the best time to go - the reuben on country sourdough features housemade pastrami and is among the best sandwiches in town.
We may never get a consensus on it being pork roll or Taylor ham (it’s Taylor ham, by the way). But what we can all agree on is that Frank’s Deli is among the best places to get it 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 our preference, on homemade rye bread. While you’re at it, they make their own donuts and pastries too. And if you’re headed to the beach, grab a fat deli sandwich for lunch. We know you’re not hungry after all that pork roll, but you’ll thank us later.
It’s Saturday morning and you’ve successfully navigated the parkway traffic. You’re blocks from a friend’s beach house and realize you’ve brought nothing to your hosts to properly thank them for putting you up for the night. Problem solved. Go to E. Holland Sundries and have them fill a box with whatever pastries they’ve made that morning. The fruit-filled hand pies are among the best I’ve ever had and the lemon bars are fantastic, as are the cookies and brownies. Definitely make sure you’re grabbing ample fresh-baked pretzel knots with their homemade beer cheese too. You know, to balance all that sweet with a little savory. As for the croissants, they only make them on Thursdays and you can bet on them selling out.
In what’s another confusing 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 as opposed to Strollo’s Lighthouse and their six locations (Long Branch being the original), Strollo’s Italian Ice in Belmar is the best of them all. Served out of soft-serve ice cream machines, this is not the same as the frozen ice cube of sugar water you’ve become familiar with 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 in our opinion.
People search long and hard for the perfect bar pie and asking anyone in Jersey about which is best will fire up an argument on par with 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 of what you’ll find down the Shore. Get the XXL, and not because you want the t-shirt you get for finishing it. Get it because it’s damn good. The paper-thin crust is perfectly crisp, and do your best to finish it all onsite because, unlike Carmen’s, leftover thin-crust pizza doesn’t stand the test of time.
Not much makes sense about Grand Tavern and that’s exactly why we keep coming back. 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 great mix of steaks, pork chops, locally sourced fish, and the area’s best chicken. It’s a casual spot with outdoor seating in a vegetable garden that will remind you of a friend’s backyard. An outdoor reservation for six people is ideal as it should allow you to basically try the whole menu.
Maeberrie’s is our go-to breakfast spot in Avon (local tip: pronounce it Av-on, not A-von as it’s a beach town, not a cosmetics brand), with 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” isn’t typically a design choice reserved for Jersey Shore establishments, but here surfboards are ditched for cutting boards, along with stone bowls, copper pots, and peonies, all of which are for sale. Don’t let that setup, or the fact that their fluffcakes sound more like something on a four-year-old’s tea party menu, fool you. This is one of the great breakfast and lunch spots in the area.
Maybe New Jersey is called 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 town-to-town along Route 35, but Hoffman’s is the one you’ll be thinking about in your office on Monday. We’d like to believe that it’s some cream-to-sugar ratio that they’ve nailed, but scientists are still trying to prove that. It’s 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 and coffee Oreo. If you’re not heading to Spring Lake anytime soon, Hoffman’s has shops in Long Branch and Point Pleasant too.
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 is known for day drinking, long lines, and due to a long-standing town ordinance, last call is at 11:30pm. Pandemic protocols have changed some things for the time being with reservations being required, but as restrictions evolve, we’d recommend calling before heading over.
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 bowels 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 simply out of dough before you’ve had a chance to place your order. We especially love the round pie with sausage and vinegar peppers, the square pie with spinach, and their calzone that makes risking your job and leaving work extra early to ensure you get one before they sell out worthwhile. The pandemic has caused an ever-evolving protocol for ordering and what items are available when (example: the calzone is currently lunch only). Check the site to confirm the latest rules and be prepared to place your dinner order around noon to ensure you secure your pies for the night.
Joe Leone’s is far and away our favorite place to stop by the beach in Monmouth or Ocean County to fill our 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 here, but the sandwiches, eggplant pie, or any of their daily specials from the chef’s case are what you want.
If you roast in the Jersey sun all day, by 6pm you’re either greasy or burnt, which is how we’d describe most of the Shore’s burger options as well. But Frankie’s Bar & Grill is an exception and makes the northern Shore’s best burger. 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 be in luck and learn what a good burger tastes like.
We’d like to consider the official designation of the Jersey Shore 12-course meal as a six-pack and half a dozen lobster rolls from Point Lobster Company. They’re served hot with butter, the perfect amount of celery salt, and crispy, seasoned fries so good that they’ll make you forget your friend had to pee on your leg after that jellyfish sting earlier in the day. 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, but this is the only place to get their signature roll. Also, Point Lobster has opened a sitdown restaurant in town, but we still think the best experience is the fish market where you can sit outside in the marina and share your crumbs with the seagulls.
After a day of accidentally swallowing too much saltwater, you’ll likely be craving oysters, clams, maybe some lobster for good measure, and a plastic bib. Red’s in Point Pleasant is one of the best places in the area to get all of those things. This super-popular dockside seafood shack previously operated separate menus inside and out, however, they’ve now changed things to 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. Red’s is also BYO, so make sure you have a bottle of wine or four in tow.
Although the juice and acai bowl shops try their best, the Jersey Shore breakfast scene hasn’t changed much. There are still plenty of bagel shops to stop at for egg sandwiches, marina-side cafe’s that serve as one-stop shops for fisherman to get omelets and bait and tackle, 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 above their counter that you definitely didn’t order with your eggs.
You’re on vacation, and on vacation, you get to eat cake for breakfast. Mueller’s is one of our favorite places to stop by because of their incredible crumb cake. They make other pastries too, but you can go ahead and waste your time on those while we pick every sweet, meatball-sized crumb off your piece when you’re not looking.
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 where you can check two boxes, like getting a meal and some needed weekend groceries, can help you maximize your ability to grab your board and catch those perfect waves between high and low tide. Lovelandtown is one of those spots. Outside, you can get a classic cold lobster roll piled high with lobster meat, fresh herbs, capers, and a squeeze of lemon from a 1955 Chevy truck that’s outfitted with a kitchen. And inside, the small grocery store has a great coffee bar and a deli/butcher that offers fantastic hot and cold sandwiches to go, along with all the essentials to stock your fridge with for the next few days.
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 oz. 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 with rows of grilling steak, piles of peppers and onions, and massive cups of salty french fries. This far north of Philadelphia, you won’t do better than Midway.
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: The Original 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 one of the best ways to cool down after a long day on the beach.
You no doubt 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 your assumed summer beach adventure has led you to a land of strip malls you could have found 15 minutes over the George Washington Bridge. But the good news is that Brooklyn Square Pizza is nearby. This place specializes in 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. It’s likely that, aside from all the beer and late-night slices, you spent those last few quarters playing NBA Jam at the old arcade next to your favorite boardwalk bar. Nevertheless, we hope that you can scrape the pot and 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 around. 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 still intact, just grab a dozen to try them all.