As a Southern Californian living in New York, I thought I would find my go-to beach destination in the Hamptons. My first summer, I packed my bags and headed out on the first post-work Jitney my friends and I could get on. I soon realized, though, that the Hamptons just wasn't my (beach) bag. The schlep is brutal, the restaurants are crowded, and the reservations are hard to come by. Plus, it just didn't have the laid-back California vibe I was used to.
It wasn't until I moved out of the city and across the river to Jersey City that I learned — I mean, really learned — about the Jersey Shore. Of course everyone's heard of the television show, but that is definitely not the destination that I found. The Shore is actually a bastion of amazing food, drink, and culture.
Where to Go & What to Eat at the Jersey Shore
From the Boardwalk Empire-inspired dining rooms of Atlantic City to a secret Tiki bar in Asbury Park and all of the amazing Italian ice stands, sub shops, hotdogs, and diners in between, here is my guide to where to go and what to eat at the Jersey Shore.
Atlantic City: Seafood, Subs, and Short Rib Ragu
Yes, Atlantic City has casinos and blue-haired ladies in velour sweatsuits. But it also has great food, whether you're looking for seafood with a side of nostalgia, Italian classics, or the best subs you'll ever eat.
Seafood with a side of nostalgia: Opened in 1897, Dock's Oyster House is reminiscent of a bygone era. On the weekends, a piano player will regale the crowd with classics, and you should definitely order an Old Fashioned at the bar before dinner. But what keeps me coming time and again is the seafood. It's plain and simple, and really well done. I never miss a chance to order a shellfish sampler and, for dinner, it's all about the crab au gratin and seafood fry, a breaded shrimp and flounder crab cake served with French fries.
Italian classics: One of the latest restaurants to hit AC, Angeline by Michael Symon is a family-style Italian spot in the Borgata Hotel. I highly recommend mama's lasagna, the baked clams, and the short rib ragu bucatini. Oh, and don't miss the rossini cassata cocktail, a variation of the bellini served with reggiano sparkling lambrusco, strawberry purée, mahina coco rum, and white chocolate garnish. It's an Italian wedding party in your mouth.
The best subs in town: Whitehouse Sub Shop on the Atlantic City Boardwalk has been a local favorite since 1946. Not only is it the best-known sub shop on the boardwalk, but it's also a crowd-pleaser every time. While I'm partial to the Italian sub, my husband never misses the chance to order the sausage parm, which comes loaded with melted cheese and marinara sauce.
Somers Point: The Best Littleneck Clams Ever
The main reason to go to Somers Point, about a 20-minute drive up the shore from Atlantic City, is Smith's Clam Bar aka "Smittys." Here you'll find, hands-down, some of the best freshly caught littleneck clams you're ever going to get your hands on. Don't be alarmed by the long lines — they move quickly and, trust me, it's more than worth the wait.
Asbury Park: Tacos & Tiki (Plus Pizza)
Asbury Park is the comeback kid of the Jersey Shore and its bloodline is Cookman Avenue, with dozens of restaurants, bars, antique shops, and cute boutiques. Each time we go back there are so many new places to try.
Fusion tacos: A great spot that's come a long way in recent years, Mogo Korean Fusion Tacos is an absolute must. The tacos are so good that Mogo, which started out as a simple taco stand on the boardwalk, has grown into a full-blown restaurant on Cookman Ave. I like the bulgogi tacos with Asian pico de gallo and the soy ginger chicken wings as an appetizer.
Tiki time: One of the latest spots to hit Cookman, Little Buddy is a tiny Tiki lounge serving up some of the best Painkillers (my personal fave) and piña coladas outside of the Caribbean.
You'll want to eat the whole pizza pie: Porta, a Neapolitan-inspired pizza spot that opened in 2011 and has been going strong ever since, is a go-to. The pies here are baked to perfection in a wood-fired oven and I have no shame in admitting that I can devour an entire Summer Betty — San Marzano tomatoes, house-made mozzarella, goat cheese, heirloom tomatoes, garlic and thyme — and still have room for the stuffed artichoke appetizer and Asbury Park Blonde Ale.
P.S.: If you venture a bit outside of Asbury to Bradley Beach, Vic's Restaurant has been serving up some of the best pizza and veal parmigiana since Vittorio "Vic" Giunco first opened in 1947. Bonus: They even have gluten-free pizza.
Long Branch: Eggs Benny, Hot Dogs, and Italian Ice
Long Branch has both of the best hot dog vendors on the Shore. Enough said.
Breakfast of champions: The breakfast menu at Amy's Omelette House can be somewhat overwhelming. There's a lot to choose from here — from omelettes and pancakes and Benedicts and crepes — and the portions here are huge, too. Try the pancrepe surprise, which comes loaded with blueberries, bananas, and pecans, or the Nutella stacker, which is exactly what it sounds like: total bliss.
The best hot dogs are here: There's some debate as to who serves the best hot dog on Jersey Shore. There are really only two contenders and they're both in Long Branch: Max's Famous Hot Dogs and WindMill Hot Dogs. Max's, which is said to be the favorite of hometown hero Bruce Springsteen, is my personal preference, and serves foot-long dogs that will definitely not leave you with a hungry heart. My personal favorite, the Mad Max comes served with cheese and homemade chili (root beer float not included).
Ice, ice baby: After you get your hot dog fill, head over to Strollo's Lighthouse for some homemade soft serve and Italian Ice. I'm a peanut butter and chocolate girl all the way, but I have been known to dip into the kiwi-strawberry from time to time.
Cape May: Farm-to-Table Fare
If you make your way up to the very southern tip of the Jersey Shore, you'll find a charming little beach town with Victorian homes, quaint B&B's, and restaurants and cafes that source their produce from local farms.
Farm-fresh eggs & more: The one place we never miss is the The Red Store, a cute (and cash-only) general store and cafe serving up homemade biscuits and jams, farm-fresh eggs, and the best damn avocado toast and huevos rancheros.
Splurge-worthy: For dinner, The Ebbitt Room, set inside the beautifully appointed The Virginia Hotel, is always a treat — especially on the weekends when live music and farm-to-table dinner options never disappoint. After dinner, do as the locals do and take a seat with your favorite summer cocktail (mine's the Singapore gin sling) on the front porch.
Have you been to the New Jersey Shore?