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With an end in sight to the pandemic, we rediscover some of the best high-end restaurants in South Jersey
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With an end in sight to the pandemic, we rediscover some of the best high-end restaurants in South Jersey

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It’s time to eat out again. With the light at the end of the tunnel for the end of the pandemic thanks to vaccinations, and herd immunity on the horizon by the end of summer, life can slowly start going back to normalcy.

Restaurants are still at 50 percent capacity and mask mandates are paramount, all protocols that should make you feel safer when you head to your favorite restaurant.

Consider this a special occasion. When is the last time you really indulged yourself to a special meal? Get dressed up. Have a date night. Treat yourself!

So take off the pajamas, put away the kitchen apron and pick up your phone to make reservations instead of ordering takeout for a night and head to these amazing restaurants, which we consider the cream of the crop in South Jersey.

Amada Iron Chef Jose Garces opened Amada as his first Atlantic City restaurant inside the former Revel casino when it first opened in 2012. The space was forced to shutter when Revel went under, but it came back better than ever with the opening of Ocean Casino Resort in 2018. An absolutely perfect spot to dine on a romantic evening, the setting is beautiful – contemporary décor in dramatic hues of black, tan and blue are complemented by sweeping ocean views, and a creative menu of Spanish and Mediterranean tapas-style dishes are joined by house specialties, including a lobster paella that is out of this world. And the ability to allow the chef to put together a special tapas menu for you means you can easily remove any of the guesswork. Ocean Casino Resort is located at 5000 Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Go to TheOceanAC.com.

Assaggio! Located in a pleasant but unassuming building on the White Horse Pike in Egg Harbor City is Assaggio!, a charming and lovely Italian restaurant with a large, marble-topped bar flanking the dining room. Fresh pastas are their specialty, and you can pair any of them with your favorite sauces, including Bolognese, pescatore or pomodoro, among others. But some of the most creative and flavorful selections are found in the weekend specials they offer each week. Recent standouts include a veal and spinach cannelloni served with a creamy tomato béchamel and topped with mozzarella, carbonara ravioli in a light alfredo sauce with crispy prosciutto, and a macadamia-crusted grouper served over a pineapple and coconut risotto in a cream curry lime sauce. Assaggio! is located at 500 W. White Horse Pike in Egg Harbor City. Go to AssaggioGalloway.com.

Café 2825 Cafe 2825 has not only been a culinary staple, but a culinary standout in Atlantic City for nearly 30 years. With consistently great food, equally fine service and an old-school charm that is genuine and appealing, the Italian eatery’s reputation has always been stellar and was once the best-kept secret in town. That changed over the last few years, especially after Café 2825 was selected as one of the Top 100 eateries in the nation by Open Table. Needless to say, getting a reservation at the family-run restaurant helmed by Joe Lautato can sometimes be difficult at the relatively small restaurant. But trust me when I tell you it’s worth the effort. In between its classic, red brick walls accented by dark woods, wine bottles and an old-school decor that is classy and not over-the-top Italian, the professional servers and Lautato himself will make you feel special. There are so many great dishes to try but here are our favorites: whole-stuffed artichokes; baked clams oreganata; fresh calamari with marinara; the meatball salad; Spedini ala Romana (when offered); warm mozzarella made to order tableside (when offered); chicken parmigiana Bolognese a la vodka fra diavolo, which is all of your favorites in one dish with spicy, breaded chicken parm topped with Bolognese a la vodka sauce and melted mozzarella; linguini with white clam sauce; and the Sunday Gravy, an Old World-style sauce balanced with just a hint of sweetness with meatballs, bracciole and Italian sausage with rigatoni; and the veal chop parmigiana or the stuffed veal chop Valdostana with prosciutto and cheeses, mushrooms and marsala sauce. The homemade desserts are also superstars, including the coconut cream New York cheesecake, and the tiramisu. Cafe 2825 may receive a lot of hype, but the word “hype” would suggest an exaggeration of what Cafe 2825 actually delivers on a nightly basis. Fresh, quality ingredients. Over-the-top personalized service. And flavors that would make any Italian grandma proud. Cafe 2825 is superb. Café 2825 is located at 2825 Atlantic Ave., Atlantic City. Go to Cafe2825.com.

Capriccio Resorts Casino Hotel’s signature restaurant is proof that getting older doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, the iconic Atlantic City Italian restaurant inside Resorts keeps getting better with age. It is perhaps the most unique restaurant in the city for so many reasons. First, it is the longest running casino restaurant in Atlantic City, opening its doors at the same time Resorts became the first Atlantic City casino to open in 1978. Second, the décor of the room, while, of course, freshened up over the years, remains nearly the same since it opened — opulent, classy, grandiose, classic and downright stunning, thanks to its towering marble pillars, soft color palette and white linens. Third, the servers, many of whom have been there for decades, dress formally and offer European-style service rarely seen anywhere anymore, particularly in A.C. Fourth, its view of the ocean ranks as one of the best in the city, and the recent construction of an outdoor patio – and even more recently a permanent roof structure — now allows al fresco dining in season. Fifth, the Sunday brunch, another forever staple that is currently on hiatus because of the pandemic, is arguably the best in the city and possibly one of the best in the country. It is one of only two remaining like it in the city. And finally, the food, while occasionally entering into contemporary cuisine, is unapologetically classic. And that’s a good thing. This Old World, unique offering is still one of the best restaurants in New Jersey? Don’t believe me? Well, believe USA Today’s 10Best.com Readers’ Choice, which named it the No. 1 United States Casino Restaurant in 2020. That’s right, Capriccio isn’t just the best casino restaurant in New Jersey, it’s the best casino restaurant in the country. With its warm, intimate bar – Cielo – that greets you at the entrance to start the night off right, make sure you delve into the signature calamari with red cherry peppers, garlic chips and Capriccio’s stellar marinara; the Seafood Zuppetta ($51), lobster, scallops, shrimp and crabmeat simmered in olive oil, red onion, garlic, crushed red pepper and served over linguini; stuffed Italian long hot peppers with sweet sausage, aged provolone and mozzarella cheese, served with marinara; and lobster ravioli with sauvignon blanc blush sauce. Resorts is located at 1133 Boardwalk, Atlantic City. Go to ResortsAC.com.

Casaldi’s A great Italian meal should always come with a sense of family, and that is certainly the case at Casaldi’s in Linwood. This wonderful gem of a restaurant is owned by the team of Angie Casaleno and Joe Finaldi, a warm and friendly pair of siblings from Newark whose names join together to become “Casaldi.” The menu leans heavily on Italian comfort food, with recipes learned from years growing up in an Italian household. Menu standouts include a variety of fresh pastas such as the homemade gnocchi which we think pairs best with their blush – a light cream sauce with prosciutto, peas and diced tomatoes. You can’t go wrong with one of their family favorites either, such as Dino’s Eggplant Parmesan, an old-school dish of breaded and fried eggplant with mozzarella and marinara sauce served with a side of spaghetti. And if you want to mix things up with a truly delicious and unique appetizer, don’t miss Casaldi’s crab fries, which are exactly what they sound like – homemade french fries topped with a lump crabmeat sauce that will make you forget all about any diet plans you might have been making. Casaldi’s is located at 199 New Road in Linwood. Go to Casaldis.net.

Chart House A lot of restaurants have gorgeous views, but Chart House inside Golden Nugget Atlantic City is completely unique, as it offers both waterfront and skyline views from its massive wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, and most tables come with a view thanks to some creative seating choices. But it’s more than just a great view — the seafood here is truly superb. Their award-winning New England clam chowder is good enough to make your knees buckle, as are many of the entrees, including the lobster and shrimp carbonara – a dish that accomplishes the near impossible task of making a carbonara somehow more deliciously indulgent; and the coconut crunchy shrimp, a creative take on a classic that features coconut fried shrimp with a citrus chili drizzle alongside a pyramid of mango sticky rice and a coconut cream dipping sauce that is worth the trip all by itself. Golden Nugget is located at 600 Huron Ave. in Atlantic City. Go to Chart-House.com.

Chelsea Five Gastropub Atlantic City has hundreds of restaurants. So among the dozens of steakhouses, the plethora of Italian restaurants and endless pizza and sub joints, it takes something special to make a restaurant stand out among the masses. The Tropicana Atlantic City’s Chelsea Five Gastropub does just that. The beauty of the Chelsea Five Gastropub is there’s nothing overly complicated about it. It simply offers awesome, creative comfort food made from the finest and freshest ingredients in a setting that would wow the most curmudgeonly visitor to our fine city. Chelsea Five Gastropub is the centerpiece of the Tropicana’s impressive overhaul of its Chelsea Tower. Situated on the fifth floor and overlooking the ocean – and also overlooking the pool with restaurant seating in season — the former Chelsea Prime steakhouse has been transformed from a once- classic black-and-white color palette to bright aquas and neutral grays to match the ocean and create one of the most stunning restaurants in the city, complete with tiered seating and a comfortable bar that ensures a great view no matter where you sit. And while it’s easy to get lost in the décor and visuals, diners will leave, not talking about the view, but about the amazing meal they just experienced, and that’s breakfast, lunch or dinner! The food is so good, you will have to visit multiple times to check out its best items: Griggstown Farm buttermilk fried chicken featuring a spicy dredge that is honey glazed and served with jalapeno cornbread rivals any other fried chicken in South Jersey; Creekstone Farms burgers, including the Chelsea served with crispy fried shallots, Cooper sharp cheese and sweet bourbon glaze; the best turkey burger on the planet featuring quality turkey that’s ground fresh daily with balsamic onions, basil, fresh mozzarella and oven-roasted tomatoes; local, fresh tuna is used in the superb yellowfin tuna tacos, crispy fried wonton shells filled with fresh tuna, avocado, cucumber and a sweet soy dressing; Executive Chef Demetrios Haronis’ legendary Cape May clam chowder ($8); the jumbo lump crab cake with Cajun remoulade; the 8-ounce, 28-day aged filet mignon with red wine demi; the salmon with a maple whiskey glaze and mushroom risotto; and the lobster cheesecake, an ingenious creamy, quiche-like creation of Maine lobster, smoked gouda, onions, peppers and parmesan crust. And we didn’t even get to the salads, the raw bar, the sides, the awesome cocktail and spirits and beer lists, and the breakfast and lunch menus! The Chelsea Five Gastropub is so good, it immediately ranks in the Top 3 upscale-casual dining experiences in Atlantic City. The Chelsea Tower at the Tropicana is located at 111 S. Chelsea Ave., Atlantic City. Go to Tropicana.net.

The Crab Trap A Somers Point institution, The Crab Trap has been the go-to for a classy night out in Somers Point for decades thanks to their top-notch seafood and lively atmosphere. Most dishes are familiar favorites, which makes this a great choice for less adventurous eaters who simply love a perfectly prepared piece of fish. You really can’t go wrong with most of the menu, but we definitely recommend the stuffed filet of flounder, which comes stuffed with their deviled crab, or the Second Mate – a broiled seafood combination platter featuring lobster, shrimp, scallop, crab, fish and a deviled clam. Not a fan of seafood? Go with the Texas porterhouse, a 24-ounce western-cut steak served with onion rings and herb butter. The Crab Trap is located at 2 Broadway in Somers Point. Go to TheCrabTrap.com.

The Deauville Inn The legendary Deauville Inn is undoubtedly historic. Debuting in 1881, it has been everything from a hotel to a Prohibition hangout and casino to a dive bar. Now, the Deauville’s history has been rewritten once again thanks to Dr. Tim Fox, a longtime resident of Strathmere, who has not only restored the iconic building but has modernized it without losing the seafood shanty aura that makes the Deauville so endearing. The impressive interior redesign is nothing short of remarkable. The dining room boasts its own bar that was completely refurbished, hardwood floors of different grains, copper ceilings, recessed lights, a refurbished fireplace, plush red banquettes and a porch area that overlooks the water and outside dining area. The separate pub area, once a rundown blast to the past, pairs perfectly with the modern dining room with its matching hardwoods and ceilings and centerpiece bar where throngs of people will once again gravitate post-COVID. The menu matches the stunning décor thanks to Executive Chef T.J. Ricciardi, who transitioned the menu, which was about 40 percent sandwiches at the time, to a more upscale experience without losing its shore casualness, adding more fresh items and entrees to attract a dinner clientele. You can still get their famous wings, Twirlin’ Potato and the view, but now you can enjoy awesome food – with a focus on seafood – including the best crispy calamari you will ever have with spicy cherry peppers, fresh herbs and tomato aioli; Jersey-style steamers; Dutch mussels in a hazy beer broth with leek cream and grilled crostini; a raw bar that offers everything from oysters and clams on the half shell to shrimp ceviche, lobster roll and the best salmon crudo we ever had; a crab and avocado club sandwich with blue crab salad and spicy tomato aioli; an oyster Po’ Boy with Dijonaise; a crab cake sandwich, broiled or fried, with tartar; and entrees including seared sea scallops with squash puree and brown butter-lemon cream; shrimp and bacon and cheddar grits with shishito peppers; and the stellar grilled swordfish with sea urchin butter and braised collards. Hearty fare includes the Deauville burger with a long hot-mento spread with cheddar cheese, crispy onion, lettuce and tomato; a 12-ounce Berkshire pork chop with crisp Brussels sprouts and apple mostarda; and three black Angus steaks. Even the desserts are homemade. And with the plans they have, the Deauville will keep getting better! The Deauville Inn is located at 201 Willard Road, Strathmere. Go to DeauvilleInn.com.

Dock’s Oyster House The Dougherty Family could have a number of restaurants on this list, particularly the legendary Knife & Fork Inn, but since its massive renovation and addition in 2016, Dock’s Oyster House stands as the family’s crown jewel. Go to Dock’s Oyster House’s website and the first thing you will see is: “You don’t survive for nearly 120 years without keeping up with the times.” Perhaps a truer statement has never been said. That’s why the fourth generation of the Dougherty family decided to invest millions of dollars and undergo the biggest renovation and expansion in the iconic restaurant’s history. Dock’s has come a long way since the 60-seat original restaurant, when a fine dinner would set you back 75 cents. The new Dock’s features a 35-seat bar with separate, eight-seat piano bar, a striking replica of a ship’s hull that serves as a ceiling and stretches from the bar into the new dining room, which now has seating for nearly twice as many people thanks to a second level that includes a private dining room and the original Dock’s bar.

Overall, the decor is a perfect mix of classic oyster-bar feel, maritime accents and a bit of contemporary with a gorgeous wine cabinet and flat-screen TVs at the bar. Despite all of the changes, the menu remains relatively untouched. The new raw bar, which is located right behind the main bar, is more spacious and interactive to eat a variety of oysters shucked to order, shrimp ceviche with jalapeno, tuna tartare nicely made with sesame and avocado, and the chilled shellfish towers with oysters, clams, shrimp, mussels, ceviche, crabmeat and lobster seem to endlessly appear from the kitchen. Other staples include fried oysters, Oysters Rockefeller, grilled octopus, oyster stew, Maine clam chowder made to order, pecan-crusted salmon, potato-crusted flounder, crab meat au gratin made with three cheeses and cream, the legendary sauteed crab cakes with a roasted red pepper puree, the seafood fry with shrimp, flounder and crab cake served with fries, steaks, rack of lamb and more. Make sure you get the unique pommes souffle. Thank us after you do. Dock’s Oyser House is located at 2405 Atlantic Ave., Atlantic City. Go to DocksOysterHouse.com

Guy Fieri’s Chophouse When Twin Rivers bought Bally’s Atlantic City last year, one of our concerns was that Guy Fieri’s Chophouse would close. So we are extremely relieved to learn that Guy Fieri’s Chophouse will not only stay at Bally’s, but its new ownership will finally market the great restaurant properly to find the audience it always deserved. One of the most underrated restaurants in Atlantic City, Guy Fieri’s Chophouse excels because of the love it receives from Executive Chef Giancarlo Generosi and his awesome team helmed by Food and Beverage Director Jerry Beaver. Whether you are looking for a semi-casual or upscale experience, this steakhouse with a twist can deliver it all. As proven at several Atlantic City Weekly Wing Wars events, Fieri’s wings are some of the best around, and the signature buffalo wings feature lollipop-style drums accompanied by the awesome blue-sabi dip for ultimate wing heaven. Make sure you also check out the sashimi tuna tacos with bigeye tuna and wasabi crema; stuffed and stacked tater skinz with house-smoked, pulled BBQ chicken, super melty cheese and bourbon BBQ sauce; ($13) Bloody Mary Jumbo Shrimp; blackened Scottish salmon; Cajun chicken alfredo; the bacon mac’n cheeseburger; and the 14-ounce New York Strip with five-peppercorn sauce. Sides like the Mac Daddy Bacon Mac ’Cheese, drinks like the Cadillac Margarita and homemade desserts like the chocolate mint ice cream pie will keep you coming back. As Fieri would say, the Chophouse is the real deal! Bally’s is located at 1900 Pacific Ave., Atlantic City. Go to BallysAC.com.

Harbor Pines Grill Room Is there a more peaceful and serene setting than a golf course? With rolling hills of expertly manicured grass as its backdrop, the Grill Room at Harbor Pines Golf Course is a pleasing and worthwhile restaurant experience. Right now they are only open for dinner on Fridays – plans are to open fully after Easter — which they do a fantastic brunch for — but for now, Fridays are the night to be there, as they not only offer dinner, but live music as well from 5 to 8 p.m. each week with popular acts like Danny Eyer and Patty Blee just to name a few. The signature “don’t-miss” dish here is the endlessly tender prime rib, but if you are not a red meat lover, we suggest you go with the fabulous salmon with mustard barbecue sauce. Whatever you choose, it’s a fine and relaxing way to dine after a day at the links. Harbor Pines Golf Course is located at 500 St. Andrews Dr. in Egg Harbor Township. Go to HarborPines.com.

Josie Kelly’s Public House Josie Kelly’s is at once exciting yet elegant, raucous yet refined and, most of all, welcoming and wonderful. This truly authentic Irish Pub has been a success story since it opened in 2018 and has upped its culinary game by installing Chef Michael Brennan of Cardinal Bistro fame in the kitchen. The menu goes far beyond the usual fish and chips and shepherd’s pie with inspired dishes such as the lamb shank, which is slow-braised in corned beef jus and served with cheddar polenta, baby carrots and peas and garnished with a Cipollini onion; or the Dublin Lawyer – a wonderful mix of Jonah crab claws, crab meat, shrimp and lobster with a mushroom risotto in a whiskey cream sauce with lemon. Of course, a meal is but one part of an evening at Josie Kelly’s, as they also have a large space dedicated to live music, which regularly features some of the best local bands. Right now, it’s mostly duos and trios, but with restrictions easing more and more, you can expect to see the full bands rocking out soon enough. Josie Kelly’s is located at 908 Shore Road in Somers Point. Go to JosieKellys.com.

Kuro What started as the best restaurant at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood Florida is now the best restaurant at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City: Kuro, the modern

Japanese restaurant that can be best described as if Nobu and Izakaya had a culinary baby. Kuro is not just the best restaurant at Hard Rock’s Hollywood AND Atlantic City properties, but is perhaps the best restaurant in all of Atlantic City. Kuro takes pride in featuring contemporary artisanal dishes, using locally sourced and imported ingredients directly from Japan. Dishes are complex. Ingredients are bold, yet flavors harmonious. The setting is all class, no kitsch, with its subdued lighting, neutral color scheme and open kitchen. The dishes are as creative as they are flavorful, including the signature Wagyu tacos with spicy cilantro, soy shallots and aji Amarillo aioli; the tuna crispy rice with spicy tuna and caviar; and any of the sushi, sashimi, hand rolls and maki that are created by chefs who are like artists working in the kitchen. Other standouts include crispy Brussels sprouts with pears, chives and soy-honey; a half dozen types of tempura including crispy white fish with hazelnut furikake, truffle and vinaigrette and the soft-shell crab with shiso, ponzu and lemon; anything from the stunning Robata charcoal grill like Berkshire pork belly with scallions, ginger and miso glaze and Chicken Momo with yuzu kosha and olive oil; and entrees such as Chilean sea bass miso with pickled daikon and tamamiso; and Wagyu Donburi, braised shortrib with ansen tamago and jus. The cocktails are as intriguing as the food, separated into sweet, sour, umami and salty categories. Kuro even offers Sushi School every month (this month is March 27) and a great happy hour 5 to 6 p.m. Fridays. Kuro is a culinary adventure worth taking.The Hard Rock is located at 1000 Boardwalk, Atlantic City. Go to HardRockHotelAtlanticCity.com.

Martorano’s Italian Restaurant Are there better Italian restaurants in Atlantic City? Maybe. Are there more upscale restaurants in Atlantic City? Perhaps. But I can guarantee you there is not a more fun, versatile and crowd-pleasing Italian experience than Martorano’s at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City. Martorano’s is a homecoming of sorts for Steve Martorano, a South Philly boy done good who has made a name for himself in Las Vegas and Florida by offering traditional Italian food with his twist. Where else can you sit back in white leather banquettes, eat some of the best meatballs and Italian salad you will ever have while watching Joe Pesci ask Ray Liotta “I’m funny how?” in “Goodfellas” — unedited — while drinking Philly water ice martinis (try the coconut). Martorano’s thrives because it offers traditionalists Italian staples such as chicken and veal parmigiana, linguini and clams and the best bucatini carbonara you will ever taste, while also pleasing those looking for a little something different, such as the greatest cheesesteak this side of Philly with prime ribeye, caramelized onions and melted American cheese on a toasted Italian roll from Sarcone’s Bakery, where Martorano frequented as a kid; an eggplant stack layered with homemade mozzarella, marinated tomatoes, arugula and slices of parmigiano reggiano; and fried calamari Bibzy tossed in a sweet and spicy chili sauce and finished with sesame. With its white décor and open kitchen, posh seating and state-of-the-art sound system, it’s like a piece of Miami meets Philadelphia dropped into Atlantic City. Yo Cuz, Martorano’s is not hype. It’s the real deal. Harrah’s is located at 777 Harrah’s Blvd., Atlantic City. Go to Caesars.com.

Nero’s Italian Steakhouse Those who frequent casinos know that the Top 2 restaurants in every casino are usually the steakhouse and the Italian joint. So, in 2015, Caesars Atlantic City decided to make its patrons happy by putting their two favorite cuisines on one menu and adding Italian to it’s longtime steakhouse Nero’s. At first, it seemed odd, but under the management and guidance of longtime GM Betty McHugh, she made it work, especially when Chef Maurizio Di Marco joined the team shortly after its transition. With its sharply-dressed and extremely professional staff – some of them have worked there since the casino opened — white tablecloth atmosphere and the most stunning views of the ocean and boardwalk that Atlantic City has to offer, Nero’s Italian Steakhouse is one of Atlantic City’s best-kept secrets even though it has been around since the casino opened in 1979. The menu is constantly revised to stay fresh and use the best, seasonal ingredients forever, but staples include Chef Maurizio’s famous prime meatball with marinara and parmesan; burrata salad with heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers and avocado; jumbo lump crab cakes; Jersey baked clams; meats including the signature Kansas City-bred, 24-ounce cowboy steak and the 14-ounce veal chop from Creekstone Farms in Kentucky; and Italian dishes including linguini with shrimp, scallops and crab in a variety of sauces, and Chilean sea bass with artichokes, fava beans and peas in a saffron lemon sauce. And, yes, they have chicken parm! Betty’s Back Room, McHugh’s boutique Italian restaurant located in the back of Nero’s, and McHugh’s famous Sunday brunch are on hiatus because of COVID-19, but we can’t wait until they’re back! Caesars is located at 2100 Pacific Ave., Atlantic City. Go to Caesars.com.

The Nizam’s The complex culinary skills required to make truly outstanding Indian food are nothing to scoff at, and The Nizam’s in Egg Harbor Township has earned its reputation as one of the best spots in all of South Jersey for Indian cuisine. Owner and Chef Syed Abbas spent years mastering his technique in 5-star restaurants in his native India, and you can taste the skill in his recipes, which include a long list of curries, kabobs and a remarkably flavorful tandoori chicken marinated in yogurt, herbs and spices and cooked in a clay oven. It’s also available in wing form as an appetizer, should you be looking for a slightly more Americanized snack. The Nizams is also a fantastic spot for those who don’t eat meat, as the menu features an entire section devoted to vegetarian dishes. The Nizam’s is located at 6725 Black Horse Pike, Egg Harbor Township. Go to TheNizams.com.

Old Homestead Steak House Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa is packed with amazing, upscale restaurants, but the crown jewel is its Old Homestead Steakhouse, a classic steakhouse by menu, a modern by décor. The New York City institution is one of the country’s oldest steakhouses, serving the finest cuts in the Big Apple for about 150 years, and it took nearly that long for its owners – Marc and Greg Sherry – to expand to a second location at Borgata when it opened in 2013. Ever since, Atlantic City has never been the same as every steakhouse that has opened since has tried to replicate its success – it’s still difficult to get a table there nearly 20 years after opening. With warm woods accented by a soft blue palate, the two-tiered steakhouse is known for its steaks, including its signature 34-ounce Gotham rib steak and an 18-ounce filet that might be the biggest filet in the city, but Old Homestead is so much more than steaks, including its old-school clams casino and new-school pepper-crusted tuna sashimi for starters, a stunning raw bar selection including its tiered seafood towers, whale-sized lobsters weighing up to 5 pounds, the best Chilean sea bass you will ever devour with long beans, raisins, cashews, soy, butter, lime and honey, plus delectable sides like lobster mac and cheese. Borgata is located at 1 Borgata Way, Atantic City. Go to TheBorgata.com.

Rhythm & Spirits Rhythm & Spirits is the perfect spot for a one-stop shopping style night out, as they serve as both a lovely high-end restaurant with a flair for Italian and a hip, trendy craft cocktail bar. Try an Oh Donna, made with Tito’s vodka, fresh lemon juice, blackberry sage simple syrup and egg white for a tart and tasty masterpiece. Foodies are in luck, as Chef Kevin Cronin of Iron Room fame mans the kitchen and puts out an array of dishes that are each better than they need to be. The salami toast is an unforgettable starter that features honey-whipped ricotta, chive-infused olive oil, sun-dried tomato and black pepper jam all on a toasted piece of their house sourdough; the Southern-fried chicken parm takes a tour of Italy by way of Georgia with its buttermilk–brined organic chicken thighs, which get fried and served with fresh tomato sauce along with manchego and parmesan cheeses; and the 32-ounce bone-in ribeye for two is pan-seared with butter and rosemary and served with an arugula salad and makes for the perfect date-night entrée. Rhythm & Spirits is located at 129 S. Tennessee Ave. in Atlantic City. Go to RhythmAndSpirits.com.

Setaara No matter where you go, you aren’t likely to find an Afghan/French restaurant, but Atlantic City is home to one by the name of Setaara, and it’s one of the most unique and satisfying dining experiences you can have. From a visual standpoint it’s truly dazzling, with incredible lighting, artwork and architectural elements combining to transport patrons back to the Afghanistan that once was, including a remarkable outdoor space that has received national attention. Dining is an exploration of fusion and flavor with standout dishes like Uzbeki Palu, Afghan rice with lamb shanks cooked with onions mixed with shredded carrots and raisins; or the poulet chasseur, a sautéed breast of chicken in demi-glace sauce with marsala wine, mushrooms, scallions, olives and fresh tomatoes. Guests can choose between standard tables and booths or opt for a more authentic Afghan experience with floor seating in your own private alcove. Setaara is located at 2322 Arctic Ave. in Atlantic City. Go to SetaaraAC.com.

Smithville Inn Charm on top of charm on top of charm, the Smithville Inn is the crown jewel of Historic Smithville, itself a charming and quaint village filled with shops and eateries all built around a picturesque lake. The Inn has been here in one form or another since the Colonial days, and you can feel the history upon walking in, as its rustic folksiness intertwines with an elegant simplicity that defines the period from which it was birthed. Pop in and have a drink at the Baremore Tavern, the onsite bar, before dining on such classic dishes as their corn chowder or the beloved Smithville chicken pot pie, or more contemporary offerings like the cheesesteak eggrolls or the wasabi tuna – a sushi grade fish with a wasabi panko crust, sesame rice noodles, seaweed salad and sriracha aioli. The Smithville Inn is located at 1 N. New York Road in Smithville. Go to SmithvilleInn.com.

Sofia If there were an award to be given out for “most beautiful restaurant in South Jersey,” Sofia in Margate would possibly win year after year. The exterior sets the tone with its Spanish tile roof, wrought-iron railings and carved front door. Inside, each room is decorated to feel enchanting, unique and overwhelmingly romantic thanks to an incredible artistic eye for detail and over-the-top wow-factor elements such as the live tree that bursts directly through the middle of the bar. The cuisine is mostly Greco-Mediterranean, with luscious and flavorsome dishes like baked moussaka, grilled marinated lamb chops or the seafood plaki, which features jumbo shrimp and fresh cod baked in a terracotta pot with tomatoes, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, potatoes and a splash of Ouzo. You will also find an assortment of flatbreads and even some pasta dishes, as well as Galaktoboureko, a delicious-but-intimidating-to-pronounce dessert consisting of citrus custard wrapped in phyllo dough and drizzled with honey. Sofia is located at 9314 Amherst Ave. in Margate. Go to SofiaOfMargate.com.

Steve & Cookie’s When Jersey Shore newbies ask, “What is the best restaurant at the shore?” they are generally given the answer, “Steve & Cookie’s!” Now, that’s respect. And it’s well-deserved. The upscale Margate eatery, known for its impeccable service, farm-to-table ingredients and creative approach to relatively simple comfort food specializing in seafood, is incredibly popular to the point that people stand in line every spring to make their standing reservations for the whole summer. Accolades included Owner Cookie Till being recently nominated for a James Beard Award, and Open Table named the legendary shore destination one of the 100 best restaurants in America a few years ago. Till, who opened the restaurant more than two decades ago, may pass the credit of her restaurant’s success to her deserving and loyal staff, but it’s her calm, tactical, creative and philanthropic spirit that drives Steve & Cookie’s to the next level. Whether you dine in the upstairs dining room that feels like someone’s shore house, the piano bar area that feels like you are in a remote farmhouse or the Oyster Bar that offers a casual retreat for locals year-round, the main reason you go to Steve & Cookie’s is the food (and the ice-cold martinis). Diners crave for the fried oysters over grilled romaine salad; the shaved Brussels sprout salad with walnuts; the lobster mac and cheese with orecchiette pasta and a blend of cheeses baked in a casserole dish; Claudio’s burrata with roasted sweet and long hot peppers; bread delivered daily from Hammerbacher artisan bakery; the cauliflower steak with brown butter and crispy capers; the jumbo lump crab cakes; Leidy’s double-cut stuffed pork chop with Granny Smith apple, applewood-smoked bacon, white cheddar, sweet potato mash and Jack Daniels glaze that will be the best pork chop you will ever have; and the Snake River Farms meatloaf with smashed potatoes and peas and carrots, of course. But no one leaves without Cookie’s famous homemade blueberry pie! Steve & Cookie’s is located at 9700 Amherst Ave., Margate. Go to SteveAndCookies.com.

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