Each town down the southern Jersey Shore has its own distinct personality - from Ocean City being the “dry” one that ends up hosting every single high school senior week to Cape May having a diehard “Exit 0” cult. While they’re all different, there’s one thing they all have in common: each is home to some excellent places to eat. Since there are more great restaurants between Atlantic City and Cape May than we could ever include in one guide, consider this a cheat sheet of the 30 best spots to get seafood, pizza, ice cream, and more along the southern Jersey Shore.
After a long night at the casinos, that’s left both your confidence and bank account depleted, you need something that’ll give you enough energy for the drive home while also leaving enough money in your wallet to put gas in the car. Fortunately, right before you head over the bridge out of town, you’ll find White House Sub Shop. The White House Special with thick-cut salami, provolone, ham, capicola, and hot pepper giardiniera should do the trick. If you want something only slightly less meaty, go for the regular Italian. The lines can get long, but it’s well worth it.
Chef Vola’s is the kind of place you see in movies, like the ones featuring old-school gangsters who meet in restaurants with crushed-leather booths and get taken out while eating their veal milanese. Which brings us back to Chef Vola’s, where the veal milanese is near-perfect. It’s almost impossible to get a reservation at this 95-year-old spot, but if you know someone - or at least can convince them you know someone - you shouldn’t pass up the chance to eat some seriously amazing red-sauce Italian food in a Boardwalk Empire-era basement.
Dock’s is another place that’s been around forever, but it looks more like an old country club or somewhere you’d go for your grandparents’ 50th-anniversary party (just don’t forget your starchy khaki pants or to part your hair to the side like your nana likes). It has white tablecloths and dark wood walls, and the food is classic Shore seafood. Focus on the raw bar - it’s the best one in the area - and if it’s your anniversary you’re celebrating, the lobster is a great choice.
Tomatoes is a pretty strange place. It serves mostly American food, but also has sushi, and while it looks like a nicer restaurant, it turns into a rowdy bar once the dinner crowd leaves at 10pm. Despite its inability to decide what it wants to be, Tomatoes has always been a staple down the Shore. Most of the food is great - even the sushi - and it can work for pretty much any occasion, whether it’s a first date with someone you met playing flip cup at Maynard’s the night before or a family dinner with some insanely picky 10-year-olds.
If you want to go to Steve & Cookie’s on any weekend night in the summer, you’ll have to try to make a reservation on the first day of spring, either in person or on the phone, and hope you get lucky. Otherwise, you can cross your fingers and pray that something opens up at 5pm on a Wednesday. But if you do get in, it’s one of the best meals you’ll have in the entire state of New Jersey. The produce is all local and incredibly fresh, as is the seafood, and you shouldn’t leave without at least one order of the butter-poached clams.
A few times every summer, you’ll pack all your bags, throw one of those beach chair backpacks over your shoulder, and drag everything five blocks to the beach, only to realize as soon as you get there that you left your lunch sitting in the fridge at home. Instead of heading all the way back and wasting another 45 minutes of peak sun time, give Dino’s a call and order a sandwich right to whatever beach you happen to be sitting on. They’ll meet you there with one of their ridiculously large subs (enough to feed at least two people, or you for two days in a row) so you can get back to your daily routine of forgetting to put on sunscreen.
There are two things you need to know about Downbeach Deli. One is that you don’t want to actually go to the deli there - Dino’s is a far superior spot for hoagies and lunchmeat. But the second is that they have one of the best and cheapest breakfasts in Margate. You can get a full breakfast with an omelet, toast, and hashbrowns, or french toast made with carrot cake or cinnamon babka, for under $10. Either way, you’ll leave with enough change in your pocket to buy an extra six-pack to bring to the beach.
If there’s one reason to wake up before 8am on a summer Saturday morning, it’s to make it to Brown’s before the line is so long that you can barely see the boardwalk shack from the end of it. Pretty much everyone knows about this place, so if you arrive past 9:30am, there will be layers of bicycles lined up across the boardwalk and lines both to sit down for breakfast and to take donuts to go. But once you’ve waited, you’ll be rewarded with the best donuts on the entire Shore. They’re cakey on the inside, crispy on the outside, and served hot in six flavors, like vanilla, honey, and cinnamon sugar. The breakfast itself is also solid, but mostly it’s just a way to skip the much-longer to-go line and get your donuts brought to a table instead.
Our thoughts on breakfast in Ocean City are simple. If you want donuts, go to Brown’s; if you want anything else, go to Uncle Bill’s. There are a few locations down the Shore and they’re all pretty much the same, with not only the best pancakes in the area (get the chocolate chip ones), but also some of the better omelets you’ll find. There will likely be a bunch of groups waiting for tables on most summer mornings, but they move people in and out super quickly, so the wait is usually shorter than what the host tells you when you sign in.
Whether you just need a few Italian hoagies to throw into your 17-year-old beach bag or are trying to feed your entire extended family - all of whom have entirely different preferences - Voltaco’s is the way to go. The tiny, take-out-only Italian place has been around since 1954, and neither the menu nor the space has really changed in its over 65 years on the planet. They have everything from perfectly crispy veal parmesan to pasta fagioli soup that you’ll be dreaming about six months later when you’re in full winter hibernation. They don’t do delivery or internet orders, so you’ll have to place your order the traditional way: by talking on the phone to a real person and showing up 20 minutes later to pick it all up.
There are a few things you can always expect to see on the boardwalk: a group of 13-year-olds living a coming-of-age story, that mini-golf gorilla who intermittently spits water at unsuspecting victims, and a line out the door of Manco and Manco’s. Formerly known as Mack & Manco’s (and still called that by half the island), Manco & Manco’s looks like pretty much every other counter-service pizza shop on the boardwalk. Except that it’s not, it’s better. The slices are bigger, the crust is crunchier, and the cheese-to-sauce ratio is scientifically perfect.
There are a bunch of good places to get ice cream in Ocean City. There are even a lot of really good places. But if you were to play a word association game with your friends out on your Wesley Ave deck, and the prompt was “ice cream,” 10 out of 10 times their immediate reaction would be to yell “Kohr Bros.” This soft-serve spot with a few locations on the boardwalk has been around longer than most people on the boardwalk have been alive, and is known for its twists. In addition to the classic vanilla/chocolate combo, they have options like orange sherbet/vanilla, mint/chocolate, and peanut butter/chocolate. You can get your custard plain or dipped in sprinkles, and it’s piled so high you’ll have to take a few laps around the boardwalk rides next door before you head home.
If the only reason you’ve ever found yourself in Somers Point is to buy liquor, you’re not alone. But another place worth making a trip for is Smitty’s. It’s a small shack right on the banks of the bay with bar seats that wrap around the perimeter, and on most days there’s about an hour or so wait. But if you bring a cooler with a few beers (yes, people really do this) and maybe a bag of chips to tide you over, it’ll be worth the wait for a bowl of clam chowder, baked scallops, and pretty much anything that’s been put through the deep fryer.
Right down the street from Smitty’s is The Crab Trap, a large, diner-looking place with an even longer wait than Smitty’s. And while you probably shouldn’t give up too many beach days to wait in line for a bucket of crabs, you should sacrifice a particularly gray one to leave the Shore early and get in line before the dinner crew shows up. Their seafood is all delicious and turned into things like deviled clams and honey-glazed salmon. If you can, try to get a table at the outdoor bar overlooking the bay so that you can eat your fish while you stare at its former home.
Sea isle city
There are two ways you can do Mike’s. You can wait in line, place an order, sit down, and then wait for another 30 to 40 minutes for your buckets of fried seafood to arrive. Or, you can place an order over the phone, pick everything up with no wait, and take it all home to dig into in the privacy of your beach house. Unless you’re someone who enjoys chaos, the latter is the way to go. You’ll get the same tins filled with battered fish and crab claws doused in Old Bay, but without being stepped on by people still in their bathing suits and squeaky rubber flip flops.
Most of the time, eating at the Jersey Shore consists of finding things that are easy, cheap, and can quickly be consumed on the beach before a seagull has the chance to scoop it right out of your hands. Hank Sauce fulfills all of those requirements with everything from burgers to Hawaiian tacos to skewers covered in their signature hot sauce and served with toasted bread.
There aren’t that many fancy date-night restaurants in Sea Isle City, but if you want to go out and have a nicer meal on the island, it should be at La Finestra. It’s an Italian spot right on the water with lots of classics (focus on the pasta and seafood dishes) and a candle-lit dining room that’s best used for a summertime date night. After you finish sharing the pappardelle with short rib ragu, you and the only person you trust to put sunscreen on your back without missing any spots can head to the beach and watch the stars while “Summer Nights” plays somewhere in the distance.
Avalon / stone harbor
If you’re thinking about opening a pizza place down the Shore, don’t do it in Avalon. Or Stone Harbor for that matter. Everyone already has their favorite pizza place, and it’s Circle. Circle Pizza is a pretty standard spot, with large pies topped with the classic pepperoni or mushrooms and onions, and huge fountain sodas that will make their way, half-full, into your fridge when you get home. But due to how simultaneously greasy and crunchy their slices are, this indoor/outdoor spot has a fanatical following. You’ll find just as many people here at 2pm on a beach break as you will at 2am after the bars close down - though everyone will likely be wearing the same amount of clothing as if they had just gotten out of the water.
The Diving Horse is a BYO spot right on the main stretch of Dune, and it basically feels like you’re going over to your friend’s beach house - that is, if your friends cooked anything other than burgers. Like most other Shore restaurants, the focus here is on seafood, but they also have a smoked pork chop with a caramel glaze that’ll have you wishing you could put the entire restaurant in your pocket and bring it home with you for the winter. If you have a big enough group and call early enough, ask for one of the few patio tables out back when the weather’s nice. And since it’s right across the street from the Princeton, you already know where you’ll be ending your night afterward.
When people make fun of Avalon for being bougie, they’re talking about places like The Reeds, which is about as fancy a hotel as you’ll find on the Jersey Shore. But unlike Sax, the super-upscale hotel restaurant where they probably ask if you’d prefer your water filtered or straight from the mouth of a glacial river, Water Star Grille is a much less formal spot in the back of the hotel where you’ll actually want to hang out. The huge deck is covered in turf and looks out over the bay, and during lunch hours, the tables are covered in umbrellas so you don’t melt into your chair. The best time to come here, though, is as the sun’s going down for dinner. The views are great, the small-plates menu rarely has a miss, and the whole place feels like what the Hamptons would be if the whole island somehow migrated 200 miles south for the summer.
At some point during the summer, you and your friends or family should commit to waiting on Quahog’s patio for bowls of the moqueca (Brazilian fish stew) and the pacu fish ribs. But on most days, Quahog’s is best for a quick lunch on the way to the beach. Instead of heading out back, go through the side door that says “taco shop” on it where you can order tacos, burritos, quesadillas, or bowls with your choice of filling. The mahi-mahi tacos are always our pick, but the shrimp and pork shoulder are solid options as well.
You’re going to wait in line at Springer’s, even if you come right when it opens at noon. But, given that they have over 50 homemade and perfect ice cream flavors at a time, it’s worth standing in line for. Plus, it goes pretty quickly, so really it’s the perfect amount of time needed to narrow the 50 flavors down to just the three you can fit in the biggest size they have.
We could give you an entire history lesson on the Mack and Manco families - one of the most dramatic Jersey Shore stories of all time - but instead we’ll just tell you this: Mack’s in Wildwood is essentially the same as Manco & Manco’s in Ocean City. It has the same huge, cheesy slices of pizza, the same long lines out front, and even the same light-up signs hanging outside of their boardwalk location. The only real distinction is that if you’re in Ocean City, you go to Manco’s, and if you’re in Wildwood, you go to Mack’s.
Surfside looks like pretty much every other breakfast spot down the Shore. It has a ’60s feel, with wood-beam ceilings, teal (the 1964 Pantone Color of the Year, we assume) accents everywhere, and a full-wall mural of the Wildwood boardwalk that looks like a particularly talented second-grader painted it. But unlike the other breakfast places in town, Surfside has really good food that doesn’t just stick to the standards you’ll find everywhere else. There are fluffy lemon-ricotta pancakes, macadamia nut french toast, and a Greek dish called “The Hangover,” with eggs, chipped beef, tomato, spinach, and feta that will bring you back from whatever you got into the night before.
At any given time, there’s a lot going on at Rusty Nail. From the bar inside to the huge sandlot out back to the nightly live music, it’s a lot to take in. But for a casual dinner-and-a-beer situation in Cape May, there aren’t many better places you can go to. Start with a plate of barbecue at a table surrounded by Adirondack chairs, and then hang out by the fire pit until the bartender reminds you that all the people you came with left hours ago.
There’s normal Shore breakfast, and then there’s The Mad Batter. At the former, you show up to a cute diner, order something classic, and then take your handwritten check up to a counter and pay $15 per person for your meal. At the Mad Batter, you show up with a big group of friends, order either a manmosa or a pint glass filled with something called “shipwreck punch” (both of which have a two-per-person limit), fill the space leftover from the drinks in your stomach with a lox bagel, and then roll yourself to the beach and pass out for a few hours. It’s not something you can do every morning, but when it happens, you’re happy it did.
When Cracker Barrel decided on their general-store-plus-country-restaurant concept, what they were probably hoping they’d end up with was something very similar to The Red Store. This spot in Cape May Point manages to be both a very good general store - with some of the best pastries and pies around - and an incredible full-service restaurant. Their kitchen does everything from breakfast to dinner, and even though you’ll walk through a bakery and a row of birthday cards to get to your table, the $65 tasting menu is unlike any other tasting menu you’ll get down the Shore and changes regularly based on what’s in season.
If you have an uncle, cousin, or just distant family friend who staunchly believes that not enough people have looked their dinner in the face before eating it, then you should bring them to Beach Plum Farm. Everything you eat here comes directly from the land it sits on, and you’re encouraged to walk around and hang out with some of the animals before you sit down at one of their Saturday night farm-to-table dinners. They set tables on the grass, cook most of the meat in front of you in an outdoor fire pit, and serve everything family-style. It’ll cost you about $90 per person, but for the most fun dinner experience you’ll have all summer, it’s more than worth the money.
George’s Place has been around since the ’60s, and it serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week. We like it best in the morning because it’s one of the few places in Cape May where you can walk in unannounced, wait less than 10 minutes, and sit down for some reliably great Greek-ish food. Their breakfast menu is huge, with things like an herb-and-brie omelet and limoncello french toast. And, if you come in for lunch, don’t skip the lemon chicken Greek salad.
If you like your seafood fresh, steamed, and otherwise untouched, go to H&H. It’s a little shack with a deck that sits on the bay, and they serve everything they’ve caught that day on trays for you to bring to one of their picnic tables and season yourself. Get a steamed lobster and ask for some clarified butter on the side, or go for one of their all-you-can-eat crab feasts, where you’ll get a shaker of Old Bay and a basket of tools to break the shells open.