33 West Ale House and Grill, Dover
In 2009, seasoned restaurateur Kevin Reading opened Abbott’s Grill. Today, it is a hub for business lunches, dinners, after-work beers in the pub, bridal parties on the patio and charity events. It also has a new sibling, Abbott’s on Broad Creek, in Laurel. The pub, separated from the main dining room, has its own menu, but servers are flexible if diners want to mix and match menu items. Must try: baked oysters with spinach, Asiago cheese and mushrooms.
249 N.E. Front St., Milford, 491-6736, www.abbottsgrill.com
Latin-themed Agave has become a must-do if you’re beach bound. Owner Chris McKeown has crafted a cantina with cachet in the historic district. There’s a beamed ceiling over wood tables, and blue-rimmed margarita glasses dangle over the bar near the open kitchen. Agave takes no reservations, and even with an expansion several years ago, seats fill up early. Must try: a sampler of three guacamole flavors.
137 Second St., Lewes, 645-1232
Hari Cameron, who opened the restaurant in 2012, was named Delaware’s Restaurateur of the Year in 2013. He creates food that he’d like to eat. And that might mean crispy fermented okra with chili aioli and pickles or rockfish with collard greens, garlic, black lentils and walnuts. For fun, sit at the bar, serviced by David Engel, who delivers a martini with a twist of dry wit. Must try: potted chicken with foie gras and whiskey.
44 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-7107, www.amuse-rehoboth.com
For five years now, Aqua Sol has served Latin fusion cuisine while staying true to local roots. That translates into crab cakes served with a black-bean-and-rice-stuffed poblano and chicken Alfredo with avocado-Parmesan cream. Jicama, chorizo, guava, mango, conch and other Cuban-South Beach influences appear on the menu, as do touches of Asian, Southern and the Eastern Shore. When the summer party season kicks into high gear, the water-view deck becomes a hot spot. Must try: grilled mahi-mahi tacos with queso fresco, red cabbage and corn salsa with chipotle mayonnaise.
3006 Summit Harbour Place, Bear, 365-6490, www.aquasolrestaurant.com
For 35 years, country-cozy Back Burner has lured regulars with consistently good food that, despite its various iterations, has always leaned toward the classic. (You don’t often see bouillabaisse on a menu.) That doesn’t mean it’s staid or conservative. The bill of light fare may offer shrimp Léjon and crab-stuffed mushroom caps, but it also stretches with an Asian-style crispy pork belly. The small but wide- ranging wine list is exceptionally well priced. Must try: The pumpkin-mushroom soup remains a true original.
425 Hockessin Corner, Hockessin, 239-2314, www.backburner.com
Pan-roasted swordfish from Back Burner in Hockessin
To be sure, this is where the well-known chefs go for their own special occasions. Credit its reputation to longtime chef Leo Medisch, who died in 2013, and his protégé Tim McNitt. When it comes to the restaurant’s layout, the old Hotel Marvel looks more like a home than a restaurant. Yet, the rooms make for a series of intimate dining spaces. The “back porch” includes a balcony deck. The restaurant is old school: It closes for the season. So note the May 1, 2015, opening on the calendar. Must try: Much of the menu is seasonal, but you’ll likely find the jumbo lump crab-and-shrimp cakes.
59 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3674, www.backporchcafe.com
The Sugrue brothers’ humble but delicious family recipes launched an empire of casual Eastern Shore family dining establishments. In Rehoboth, diners pack in like sardines for the bountiful crab cakes, the surf and turf, Maine lobster and the always speedy, friendly service. In Wilmington, Big Fish furnishes the Riverfront with a casual-but-classy fish-house atmosphere. That extends into the menu, too, where old-school broiled seafood standbys join upscale dishes like pumpkin-seed-crusted red snapper with risotto and shrimp velouté, or scallops with jasmine rice and balsamic reduction. Must try: A half-dozen Chincoteague oysters and a crumbled-Saltine-infused broiled crab cake.
720 Justison St., Wilmington, 652-3474; 20298 Coastal Highway, Rehoboth Beach, 227-3474, www.bigfishgrill.com
Nowhere else in Delaware will you find house-made pâtés (we recommend the rabbit, when available) and deviled eggs elevated to such great heights. (The Jacques version is made with Kalamata olives, capers and smoked paprika.) When Belgium native Jacques Macq, longtime manager of the Wilmington Country Club, bought the former Mona Lisa a couple of years ago, he brought a whole lot of Europe with him—sauerbraten, Wiener schnitzel and more—and we are grateful. Must try: schnitzel cordon bleu. (photos below)
607 N. Lincoln St., Wilmington, 888-2201, www.bistrojacquesde.com
Bluecoast is praised for its views, spectacular sunsets and its stature. The restaurant started Matt Haley’s empire along the coast, and the chef/entrepreneur, who died last August, was like a proud parent with an accomplished child. Of course, it’s the seafood-focused cuisine—a mix of down-home Delmarva ingredients with a twist—that’s largely responsible for its longevity. Reservations aren’t accepted. Must try:lobster cavatappi with peas, crispy bacon and lobster-white-cheddar cream.
1111 Highway One, North Bethany Beach, 539 -7111, www.bluecoastseafoodgrill.com
Any restaurant that puts Châteaubriand on the menu announces itself as something exceptional, and there hasn’t been a moment in its 34 years that Blue Moon was anything else. Venison tartare, seared Hudson Valley foie gras and oxtail Bolognese seal the deal. Chef Lion Gardner oversees everything from the making of the house charcuterie to the selection of artisanal cheeses. Co-owners Tim Ragan and Randy Haney keep Blue Moon true to its roots. Must try: the drag shows.
35 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227- 6 515, www.bluemoonrehoboth.com
Bon Appétit has always described itself as French, and the Gallic influence is certainly felt in the elegant decor and on the menu—escargot, quiches, pâtés—yet it is more diverse. Chef-owner Chino Pedemonte learned about food in his native Peru, a place known for blending diverse ingredients and seasonings. One thing remains truly French, however: the care Pedemonte takes to make all soups, stocks and sauces from scratch. Entrées cover all the bases: roasted half duckling with black-cherry sauce, veal Marsala, salmon with dill aïoli, shellfish and beef. Must try: the five-course dinner, a steal at $44.
312 High St., Seaford, 629-3700, www.bonappetitseaford.net
The real payout at the Harrington Raceway & Casino doesn’t come from the games. It comes from Bonz, where steak lovers hit the jackpot. Choose from two sizes of filet, a large strip or three sizes of rib-eye. Not that there aren’t other choices. The sea bass is pleasantly enhanced with smoked bacon and olive brown butter. A rich short-rib ragôut is served on pappardelle. There are chicken and seafood dishes and classic appetizers such as oysters Rockefeller and a chopped salad. Must try: the 48-ounce “tomahawk” rib-eye, if you dare. To be clear: That’s 3 pounds of beef.
15 W. Rider Road, U.S. 13, Harrington, 398-5348, www.casino.harringtonraceway.com
Buckley’s is the area’s version of “Cheers,” the kind of place you take your siblings when they’re home for college during a break or where you shepherd out-of-towners to give them a taste of local flavor. New owners, who overhauled the place in 2012, have maintained the iconic flair, and chef Tom Hannum, previously of the Hotel du Pont, keeps the menu unpretentious yet fashionable. Must try: Buckley’s mac ’n’ cheese with crab or chicken. (photos below)
5812 Kennett Pike, Wilmington, 656-9776, www.buckleystavern.com
The Buttery is housed in the old Trader Mansion, a Victorian landmark. Once dubbed a special occasion spot—and it’s still ideal for an anniversary, birthday or graduation—the grande dame has an approachable elegance. Hit the pub for a burger, cheesesteak or crab cake. Whether you sit inside or out, you’ll be steeped in a coastal tradition edged with style. Must try: The Buttery seafood chowder with shrimp, clams and cod.
102 Second St., Lewes, 645-7755, www.butteryrestaurant.com
The restaurant suffers the sort of identity crisis you can’t help falling in love with. Does it represent Italy or modern America? Is it a great place to enjoy homemade gelato, or is it a really fine full-service restaurant? With 100 varietals represented in its 1,500-bottle wine cellar, is it simply afraid of commitment? Those kinds of dichotomies have kept it interesting for the past 15 years, and our infatuation has yet to wane. Scottish salmon with big lumps of crabmeat served with whipped carrots and parsnips? Or homemade linguini topped with lemon-thyme braised chicken with roasted fennel, roasted shallots, oven-dried tomatoes, arugula and toasted pine nuts? Um, yes. Please. Must try: frutti di mare over linguini.
90 E. Main St., Newark, 738-5811, www.caffegelato.net
We give owner Bob Ashby heaps of credit for rehabbing the old Colonial Inn and giving the area something new: historic dining—at least in spirit. As befits a port town, there are raw-bar offerings, good crab cakes, more seafood and hearty beef and chicken dishes. A large menu of flatbreads, burgers and sandwiches keeps things casual. The selection of craft brews includes any style you can imagine. Given the right inspiration (Brooklyn Black Ops Imperial Stout: 11.5 percent ABV), anyone would feel at home writing a Declaration of Independence here. Must try: Sierra Nevada Barleywine.
109 Main St., Odessa, 376-0600, www.cantwells-tavern.com
Capers & Lemons, located in a bright, modern space, takes a contemporary approach to Italian cuisine. Look for upscale versions of the classics—ravioli, cavatelli, pizza, veal saltimbocca—as well as grilled venison loin and braised short rib. No matter the dish, count on comfort food with flair. Must try: C&L braciole with spicy capicola over polenta.
301 Little Falls Drive, Wilmington, 256-0524, www.capersandlemons.com
An exposed-beam ceiling, wide-plank floors, paneled walls, leather upholstery—even the most recent versions feel classic, which is what the venerable inn remains. It’s no surprise that you’ll find a very good veal Milanese, and the center-cut filet is served with broccoli and a twice-baked potato. But you’ll also find shrimp and scallop pad Thai and a beef and broccoli of Asian-style short ribs and roasted greens. In season, the patio is as popular as ever. Sunday brunch is a lively affair. Must try: the craft spirits.
2216 Pennsylvania Ave., Wilmington, 571-1492, www.columbusinn.net
Cool Springs was more than welcome when it opened 15 years ago, filling a void in not only Dover, but also the state, which had suffered a dearth of good seafood restaurants. There were few places that took fresh fish in new directions. Enter Dennis Forbes. His colorful, contemporary dining room, open kitchen and fresh approach made Cool Springs an instant hit. Forbes’ fare is approachable and fun, from subtle seafood bisque to classic stuffed flounder to swordfish in crispy Parmesan crust and grilled tuna with a ginger reduction. Must try: oyster sashimi.
2463 S. State St., Dover, 698-1955, www.coolspringsfishbar.com
Bonz Restaurant & Lounge, Harrington
You can count on seeing partners Ezio Reynaud and Pam Grabowski stand side-by-side at the open kitchen. When they go on vacation, the restaurant closes. Since it opened in 1999, Culinaria hasn’t changed much. The decor—think paint-splashed floors, copper-colored accents and leafy trees in corners—has as much staying power as the menu. Must try:roasted salmon with mashed potatoes—actually, anything with mashed potatoes, which are positively decadent.
Branmar Plaza, Marsh and Silverside roads, Wilmington, 475-4860, www.culinariarestaurant.com
The original sushi place at the beach, the Pearl continues to set the standard for all others. The bar and dining rooms are thoroughly contemporary, the rooftop koi pond otherworldly. The menu teems with tempura and teriyaki, but you’ll find dishes inspired by the many cuisines of Asia. Green curry scallops and yellow curry shrimp say Thailand. Cashew chicken takes you back to your favorite Chinese takeaway. Pasta pleases the picky. The sake list excites exploration. Dining with kids? The Pearl accommodates gladly with a special room and menu. Dinner entrées: $17-$35. Must try: the firecracker roll with shrimp and salmon.
301 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-8493, www.culturedpearl.us
Twenty-five years ago, Lisa DiFebo took her newly minted certificate from the Culinary Institute of America, her newly wedded husband, Jeff Osias, and her family’s Italian recipes, and proceeded to transform the clan’s sub and steak shop into one of the best restaurants in the state. Big Bob’s (Dad’s) red sauce still figures prominently in dishes such as meatballs and gnocchi. The younger generation’s touch is evident in delicious entrées such as braised short ribs in port-fig reduction, salmon with lemon and capers, and chicken topped with roasted pears, walnuts and Gorgonzola. Best of all, the DiFebos welcome everyone as if they were their own. Must try: the cioppino.
789 Garfield Pkwy., Bethany Beach, 539-4550, www.difebos.com
When owners Michael and Beth Ross took over the restaurant in 2011, it gained new life and direction. Though the couple slimmed down and un-busied the dining room’s more ornate decorative flourishes, they remain devoted to sharing great wine from a seemingly endless cellar and robust, forward-thinking cuisine. They recently installed chef Dwain Kalup, who is no stranger to serving the region’s elite, having worked in all three kitchens of Harry’s Hospitality Group and winning the praises of Zagat raters. Must try: grilled New York strip steak with roasted eggplant purée, cashew-cilantro pesto, cured kohlrabi and a balsamic-soy reduction.
1314 N. Washington St., Wilmington, 655-9463, www.domainehudson.com
Eclipse has changed over the years, moving from upscale white linen to funky bistro, and the menu has evolved as well. J.D. Morton heads up the kitchen, which has hosted plenty of local talent in the restaurant’s nearly 20-year history. The Domaine Hudson alum likes to tweak the menu for seasonal surprises. You might find Kobe sirloin, braised veal or pancetta-wrapped tuna. Must try: roasted free-range venison with Brussels sprouts and sunchokes.
1020 N. Union St., Wilmington, 658-1588, www.eclipsebistro.com
Eden has survived and thrived, despite changes in location, ownership and chefs since 1997, when it opened on Rehoboth Avenue. Now in an elegant space, just steps from the ocean, the restaurant is owned by Jeff McCracken and Mark Hunker and lives up to its mission to provide “bold American food.” Think grilled, smoked pork chop with pumpkin grits, shaved Brussels sprouts and apple butter, or crab beignets with pear chutney. Must try: mac ’n’ cheese with goat and Romano cheeses, spinach, grilled chicken, garganelli pasta and roasted red pepper.
23 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3330, www.edenrestaurant.com
Few chefs can layer flavors as densely and masterfully as Jay Caputo. The chef and his team at Espuma spend hours (and sometimes days) behind the scenes marinating, roasting, curing, brining and sous-vide’ing ingredients in order to stuff the highest concentration of flavor and tenderness into each bite. The magic is revealed in the form of house-cured 72-hour bacon or the sherry-clam broth that pools beneath New England cod. It’s the same philosophy employed at the bar, where muddled fruits and herbs, pickled veggies, infusions and homemade limoncello comprise some of the best cocktails at the beach. Must try: Caputo’s signature three-day pork.
28 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-4199, www.espuma-restaurant.com
Salt Air, Rehoboth Beach
The granddaddy of Delaware fine dining just doesn’t seem to age. From the Versace china to the gold chandeliers and original oil paintings, the grandeur of the dining room is unmatched. Its army of CIA-trained chefs, young and seasoned, ply a blend of hearty, traditional fare like center-cut rib-eye and butter-poached lobster, and erudite, locally inspired creations like house-cured lamb belly or foie gras with pickled apples. The work of legendary executive pastry chef Michele Mitchell never fails to impress—whether it’s the signature amaretto macaroons, white chocolate and raspberry Napoleon or mind-blowing treats like olive-oil genoise cake with roasted apple confit and green apple sorbet. Must try: Normandy chicken with pork belly and fingerling potatoes.
42 W. 11th St., Wilmington, 594-3100, www.hoteldupont.com
Icy martinis, rosy slabs of prime rib and glistening oysters. These oldies but goodies became trendy when Harry’s Savoy Grill opened in 1983, and they’re still the main attraction at this North Wilmington restaurant. Nevertheless, owner Xavier Teixido, with the help of executive chef David Leo Banks and chef Pat D’Amico, likes to rattle the status quo. Harry’s decor got a hip redo in 2013 in honor of its anniversary, and the community table in the grill area sports a casual menu that belies the myth this is just a special-occasion restaurant. Must try: prime rib, of course.
2020 Naamans Road, Wilmington, 475-3000, www.harryshospitalitygroup.com
Xavier Teixido and chef David Leo Banks aren’t ones to miss an opportunity. Harry’s Seafood Grill was an early pioneer on the Wilmington Riverfront in 2003, and in the past 10 years, its chic good looks and innovative seafood dishes have made it the go-to spot for business lunches, happy hours and dinners with a water view. Must try: half-priced oysters on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
101 S. Market St.,Wilmington, 777-1500, www.harryshospitalitygroup.com
There is no shortage of restaurants serving oysters at the beach, but few can touch the variety and the flavor offered at Henlopen City Oyster House. It is usually packed, no matter the time of year. Some come for the libations at the bar—check the chalkboard for beers on tap—some for the generously sized fish sandwiches. Nearly all come for oysters. Expect all the standards that make for a good oyster-house menu, from steamers to lobster rolls. Must try: oysters in any form—raw, fried or oysters Rockefeller.
50 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 260-9193, www.hcoysterhouse.com
Chefs William “Bill” Hoffman and Merry Catanuto have made their Hockessin restaurant a family affair. They live on the premises with their two children. Since opening in 2011, the restaurant’s changing menu has featured a tasteful collage of flavors, textures, foams and sauces. Consider a 12-ounce rib-eye, dry-aged for 28 days, that’s served on a mound of aged-cheddar-tasso-ham grits with a crawfish-bell-pepper sauté. The crowning touch: a pan-fried duck egg and a spoon of au jus. Must try: anything with foie gras, duck confit, truffles or caviar.
1336 Old Lancaster Pike, Hockessin, 234-2255, www.williamandmerry.com
Stroll down Second Street in Lewes and keep a sharp eye out for Kindle, located on the alley-like Bank Street that links Second with Front Street. If it’s a nice day, you’ll know you’re in the right place when you see diners relaxing under umbrellas on the patio. Inside, the dining room is tight on a busy night, but tables are well placed so there’s still elbow room. Chef Ian Crandall, who owns Kindle with Matt DiSabatino, mines farmers markets for inspiration. Must try: roast chicken from Pure Harvest Farm in Milton.
111 Bank St., Lewes, 645-7887, www.kindlerestaurant.com
Krazy Kat’s is the sort of place where duck fat always has a prominent placement on the menu, just as the portrait of Admiral Cat holds a dominant spot on the wall. The renovated blacksmith’s shop feels clubbier than its tiger-print chairs and wacky animal paintings might suggest, and its French-inspired, seasonal bistro cuisine runs the gamut from kataifi-crusted sword-fish to espresso-braised lamb shank. Its upscale Sunday brunch and power breakfasts are still the stuff of legend—thanks to delicious espresso and dishes like smoked salmon crêpes with lemon-dill and Brie Mornay sauce. Must try: Hudson Valley foie gras with cinnamon brioche crostini.
528 Montchanin Road, Wilmington, 888-4200, www.krazykatsrestaurant.com
Buckley’s Tavern, Centreville
Bryan Sikora’s breezy bistro won the hearts of foodies for its modern yet straightforward cuisine, and the praise of civic leaders for keeping downtown buzzing. The chef and his wife, Andrea Sikora, crafted a dining experience that feels kinetic and hip, and is anchored by the kitchen’s artfully rustic dishes, including the Berkshire pork tenderloin, dusted with black-trumpet essence and floating in spring onion broth, and the hickory-smoked scallops with white grapes. The in-house (soon to best standalone) bakery operation is La Fia’s secret weapon, supplying breads, rolls and heavenly gougères from the cooling rack to your table. Must try: potted olive-oil poached salmon.
421 N. Market St., Wilmington, 543-5574, www.lafiawilmington.com
The focus is steak and seafood: Broiled crab cakes, stuffed shrimp and butter-brushed lobster tail are offered alongside a selection of steaks and sauces such as bordelaise, béarnaise, hollandaise and more. Cook your own on a searing-hot volcanic rock brought to your table. Starters range from silky cream of crab soup to fried calamari to lollipop lamb chops. The side dishes are what you would expect from a classic steakhouse. Must try: Girls’ Night Out on Thursdays: half-price entrées.
Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, 1131 N. Dupont Highway, Dover , (800)711- 5882, www.doverdowns.com
With Miki’s, owner Darius Mansoory and chef Al Chu helped orchestrate sushi’s mainstream march into Delaware back in 2000. Thank Chu’s consistently solid take on approachable pan-Asian cuisine, the sushi bar’s still-unsurpassed specialty rolls and the regular slate of “Sushi 101” events that demystify Asian cuisine. The food is dialed into Western palates without sacrificing flavor or creativity. The clubby vibe and looping anime videos keep its hipster cred afloat, while the bar’s potent cocktails (and two-for-one sushi specials) sustain one of the city’s most popular happy hours. Must try: the iconic Hairy Mexican roll.
1212 N. Washington St., Wilmington, 656-8638, www.mikimotos.com
Moro pulls off a neat trick: being at once cozy and slick, both in the dining areas and on the menu. Share an Asia-inspired tuna tartare or a silky Burrata with roasted peppers, prosciutto and fried basil. Or feast on James Beard-nominated chef Michael DiBianca’s maple-glazed salmon, a house classic. Cured Italian meats, raw or roasted oysters and roasted bone marrow—God’s own butter—will leave you licking your fingers. The menu changes frequently. Must try: the chef ’s tasting. It will be memorable. Call ahead.
1307 N. Scott St., Wilmington, 777-1800, www.mororestaurant.net
Nage is a sleek yet comfortable place with a bar area and a dining room that puts the open kitchen on display. Go with a menu mainstay—truffle mac ’n’ cheese or seafood à la Nage—or explore one of chef Paul Gallo’s specials. He likes to push the envelope. Nage also has meatless Monday offerings and vegetarian tastings. Must try: the burger, named one of the 50 top burgers by Food Network Magazine. (The secret? There are mushroom duxelles in the mix.)
19730 Coastal Highway, Rehoboth Beach, 226 -2037, www.nagerestaurant.com
Tucked in a small strip center with a deck that faces a parking lot, Off the Hook appears unassuming. Yet, Steve Hagen’s restaurant, the first of three, turns out some memorable meals. Hagen worked at Big Fish Grill and Catch 54 before flying solo. Even without the telltale restaurant name, you can bet seafood is a good choice. Hagen is also devoted to local vendors. Must try: Crab cakes are a specialty.
769 Garfield Parkway, Bethany Beach, 829-1424 , www.offthehookbethany.com
â€‹33 West Ale House and Grill, Dover
A Wilmington native, Dan Butler opened Griglia Toscana in Trolley Square in 1991, creating Italian food that didn’t depend on heavy red sauce or gooey mozzarella cheese. With each rebirth—it’s been rechristened Tavola Toscana, Toscana Kitchen + Bar and now, Piccolina Toscana— the restaurant has become more relaxed, yet the quality has remained steady. Must try: tortellini with mortadella, ham and ricotta in sun-dried tomato and cream sauce.
1412 N. DuPont St., Trolley Square, Wilmington, 654-8001, www.piccolinatoscana.com
Actresses Elizabeth Montgomery of “Bewitched” and Elizabeth McGovern of “Downton Abbey” are two of the many Elizabeths providing inspiration for the pizza menu at this popular restaurant, which since 1993, has crafted gourmet pizzas in a wood-fired oven. But PBE also makes exquisite soups, like the creamy tomato, and salads, like the field greens with curried pecans, to tempt diners, too. Must try: the Barrett Browning pizza—just spicy tomato sauce and mozzarella.
3801 Kennett Pike, Greenville, 654-4478, www.pizzabyelizabeths.com
Beneath Andean alpaca fur tapestries and heirloom copper etchings, Chilean food and wine immersion shine inside tiny Pochi. Family recipes for camarones al pil pil (buttery sautéed shrimp), paila marina(a seafood-stuffed rice dish) and costillar al horno (spicy pork spare ribs encrusted in South American seasonings) are at the heart of Patricia Millan’s menu. But it’s the Chilean wines—like Indomita’s Duette pinot noir and Sierra Batuco’s pinot grigio—that make the Pochi experience unforgettable. Must try: pan-seared Chilean sea bass with blackberry reduction.
220 W. Ninth St., Wilmington, 384-6654, www.pochiwinebarde.com
Talk about a burger-lover’s heaven. To wit: the not-for-breakfast sage burger with a fried egg, bacon and American cheese; the cordon bleu burger with grilled ham and Gruyère cheese; and the Santa Fe burger with cheddar, bacon, root-beer barbecue sauce and onion confetti. And what goes better with burgers than beer? The 12 taps pull favorite local brews, and there’s a large selection of bottles. There are salmon, tuna, turkey and veggie burgers, too, as well as comfort entrées such as turkey croquettes and stuffed meatloaf. Must try: the bronto burger: 10-plus ounces of fresh ground chuck.
2461 S. State St., Dover, 535-8102, www.myrestaurant55.com
You’ve heard it all before: fresh, seasonal, sustainable, organic. It’s not mere marketing at Salt Air. The team forages from South Jersey to Sussex and from southeastern Pennsylvania to the Eastern Shore in search of meats, fish and produce to transform into food we love: a slow-roasted half chicken with cheese grits, asparagus and tasso gravy; a tomato-y saffron-scented seafood stew. Must try: linguini heaped with duck confit, butternut squash, spinach and charred red onion in sage brown butter.
50 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3744, www.saltairrestaurant.com
Salt Air, Rehoboth Beach
Straddling the line between sharpened, high-end pan-Asian bistro and late-night
Trolley Square snack hole, Satsuma is the brainchild of heralded chef Michael DiBianca. The restaurant also exudes metropolitan ideas, from the tranquil, aqua-colored dining room to dishes like fluke sashimi, bathed gently in sake, ginger and cilantro; Korean-style meatballs; udon carbonara; and fried-chicken sushi rolls. The bar crowd can still dig into $2 Miller Lites, Kobe beef hot dogs and live music. Must try: spicy sashimi with a side of duck-duck disco fries—with pulled duck, pickled peppers, avocado and black-truffle gravy piled high.
1707 Delaware Ave., Wilmington, 656-3015, www.satsumakitchen.com
Donny Merrill revealed a mature, soulful side with Skipjack, which is tucked into Newark’s Shoppes at Louviers. The chef/owner and occasional rock ’n’ roll drummer toned down some of his zany culinary antics in favor of bracingly traditional offerings and homages to Eastern Shore favorites. But the embellishments still sneak their way onto the menu: Take flatiron pork seasoned with Fireball whiskey or house-smoked pineapple and sweet potato cookies with grilled mahi mahi. Must try: bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin with coffee-pecan pesto.
401 Louviers Drive, Newark, 456-1800, www.skipjacknewark.com
The lighting is dazzling in its subtlety, and so is the food. Even before a recent remodeling, owners Stefania and Giovanni Panza created a place on par with the most contemporary in Florence or Milan, but with a true commitment to good food. Family touches are evident in classics such as beef lasagna and eggplant Parmigiana. Stefania’s touches shine through in a chicken Marsala with shiitakes and sun-dried tomatoes and shells stuffed with a mixture of chicken, spinach, ricotta and herbs in a light vodka cream. Must try: the grilled fresh fish of the day. Branzino, pompano and other favorites get a drizzle of olive oil, a spritz of lemon and a hint of charring. (photos below)
1130 Capitol Trail, Newark, 455-1101, www.soffritto.com
The chain, which has locations from Lewes to Ocean City, Md., is known for its baked goods, cured meats and cheeses, many of which dangle in nets over a deli case. In Delaware, the group’s jewel in the crown is the full-service Rehoboth trattoria, a Mediterranean-yellow, two-story building with cherry red awnings on Del. 1. There are cases and shelves brimming with prepared foods and other delights. But here, most visitors pull up a seat to savor the Old World decor and food. Must try: any of the pizzas, made in an 800-degree, wood-fired oven.
Route 1 Shore Plaza, 19724 Coastal Highway, Rehoboth Beach, 227-3900, www.touchofitaly.com
Walter’s is the quintessential Wilmington restaurant. It has a pedigree: Owner John Walter Constantinou cut his teeth at his father’s iconic Constantinou’s House of Beef. It has a warm atmosphere, thanks to the former townhome that houses it. And it serves the kind of food diners always come back to. Long after the foams, infusions and emulsions have lost their luster, you’ll enjoy a grilled strip steak, crab imperial or broiled cold-water lobster tail, all with a salad and baked potato. Steaks get classic treatments such as au poivre or bernaise sauce, but that’s not to say you can’t find peach-mango salsa for your chicken. Must try: prime rib. Pick your cut.
802 N. Union St., Wilmington, 652-6780, www.walters-steakhouse.com