The locally caught crabs served at Sambo’s Tavern in Leipsic are delivered straight to the restaurant from the crabbers’ boats.
*Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Delaware Today, and has been updated for accuracy.
210 Garfield Pkwy., Bethany Beach • 537-4700
Since opening in 2004, The Blue Crab has become Bethany’s go-to place for juicy steamed crabs. It doesn’t hurt that the restaurant is two blocks from the boardwalk. The décor sets the tone. There are pencil drawings by Baltimore-based Jonathan Brown (dubbed Maryland’s “crab artist”), oil paintings by Bethany Beach artist Jennifer Carter and photographs by Michael Orhelein.
The Blue Crab now has a full bar and raw bar, thanks to the adjoining Bethany Oyster House. (You can get oysters in The Blue Crab’s dining room.) As for the crabs, buy them by the dozen or half-dozen. You might spot Old Bay in the restaurant, but the kitchen uses a spice blend with rock salt on the crabs.
The all-you-can-eat feast remains the main attraction. Accompaniments include corn-on-the-cob (served in the husk), fried chicken and hush puppies—all for $42.95 per person. (You can also get a shrimp feast, blue crab and shrimp feast, or chicken feast.)
The restaurant also features snow crab and Alaskan king crab, which, for fussy diners, are much easier to pick. Those who prefer meat can order beef tenderloin or baby back ribs. The Blue Crab is open daily from noon-10 p.m.
Aficionados head to Boondocks near Smyrna to get their fill of the local delicacy./Photo by Leslie Barbaro
825 Lighthouse Road, Smyrna • 653-6962
If there’s a mythical place for crab aficionados, this is it. Rising like a mirage from the surrounding farmland and marshes, Boondocks is prized for its crabs and its porch, one of three rooms that together can accommodate 400 people. No wonder it’s popular with large parties—and now the porch is air-conditioned. “One of the best things I ever did,” says owner Pat Keeler.
The decor is eclectic: stained-glass lighting fixtures and artwork, a stuffed Minnie Mouse dangling from the ceiling and signed bras in the ladies room.
Hours are limited to Wednesday through Sunday, because Keeler gets her crabs from a family of local watermen when area crabs are in season. The restaurant also serves Dungeness crabs every day. A new broiler accommodates those who prefer their crab cakes broiled and lets the restaurant offer steaks to landlubbers.
Boondocks is famous for its Pig Out: typically six crabs, shrimp, chicken wing, fries and corn. The price varies with the market price of crabs but averages around $40. Eating crabs crusted with Old Bay is thirsty work, so don’t miss the Swampwater, the official drink: rum, vodka, triple sec, Sprite and lime juice garnished with a cattail and served in a Mason jar. (Word of warning: Don’t have more than one if you don’t have a designated driver.)
458 Forest Beach Road, Annapolis, Md. • (410) 757-1311
This restaurant prides itself on being the place where watermen gather. At the least, it’s where crab-lovers convene. Seasoned with J.O. Spice, the crabs are priced daily. You can buy one or a dozen.
167 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach • 227-CLAW
When Claws opened in 2006, it was called a crab house. To avoid deterring diners who didn’t eat crabs, owner Jeff Hamer replaced “crab house” with seafood house. The switch was a natural, considering he also owns Fins Fish House & Raw Bar up the street and Fins Ale House & Raw Bar on the highway.
The name change hasn’t kept customers from ordering crabs, but they’re also tempted by fresh fish dishes and oysters on the half shell, as well as whole lobster, snow crab legs, shrimp—even chicken and pork chops. In addition to the usual sides—hush puppies, coleslaw, fries—you’ll find saffron rice, garlic mashed potatoes and spicy grits.
You can also sample beers by Big Oyster, the hospitality company’s brewery. And as we all know, nothing goes better with crabs than beer.
19598 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach • 227-2019
When The Big Fish Restaurant Group opened The Crab House in 2014, it was strictly a seasonal operation. It’s now so busy that it’s open most of the year.
Because the space underwent a redo before it opened, it lacks the patina of a seasoned crab house. It’s a clean, tidy look with white-painted plank walls, photos of the Chesapeake and red-and-white tables covered with brown paper.
As early as spring, the restaurant was buying crabs from Maryland. You can order just one crab, a half dozen or a dozen.
The Smith Island boil includes one crab, mussels, clams, and potatoes and corn in a garlic-tomato broth for $15. Not enough for your appetite? Order the Ultimate Crab Feast: a half dozen crabs, two pieces of fried chicken, a quarter rack of ribs, hush puppies, corn on the cob and slaw. Sides include cauliflower mash and boardwalk fries.
The Crab House has a stellar selection of craft beers, including nitro drafts. Beer flights are available, but if you want to go old school, you’ll need a pitcher.
100 Coastal Hwy., Fenwick Island • 539-2500
Fenwick Crab House has been a landmark since 1962, when Casher Evans, Mabel Evans and Edgar Rickards opened for business. That’s not about to change now that it’s owned by Pat McArdle and Todd Hays, who purchased the restaurant from Scott and Cathy Fornwalt in 2016. The recipes, including the closely guarded one for crab cakes, have been passed from owner to owner.
The restaurant has undergone some improvements, and it has opened a carryout section.
Though known for its crabs, the restaurant has an extensive seafood menu that includes snow crab legs, lobster, shrimp, fish and clam strips. There are also old-fashioned combos, including a crab cake and fried chicken with coleslaw and fries; fried chicken and a half rack of baby-back ribs; and a fried seafood platter (crab cake, fish, shrimp, clams and soft-shell crab).
8980 Gap Newport Pike, Toughkenamon, Pa. • (610) 268-2766
Delawareans have been creeping across the state line for years to swing a mallet at this casual crab house, which offers Dungeness and snow crabs along with the expected blues. Hilltop’s menu ventures further afield than the average crab house fare. As befits its location in the heart of mushroom country, the menu includes stuffed mushrooms, stuffed portabellas and cream of mushroom soup. Likewise, the pasta dishes and long hots salute Italian immigrants who nurtured the mushroom business.
The menu might remind some of the old DiNardo’s, whose crabs once ruled supreme in Wilmington’s Little Italy. Owners Richard Mason and Curtis Mason Sr. say the homemade tomato-based dipping sauce is similar to DiNardo’s concoction, which is hard to find in Maryland crab houses.
Cracking crabs can take awhile. Not to worry. Hilltop will keep you entertained. Thursday through Saturday nights, it hosts live entertainment, and there are always eight widescreen TVs that show the big games.
Congress and Market streets, Port Penn • 834-9221
As the name states, Kelly’s is a tavern, so picking crabs here is an adult-only affair. Call first to see if steamed crabs are available that day. The restaurant often posts on Facebook when they serve Louisiana crabs, so check back to see when you can snag some.
A locals’ hangout, this is a no-frills establishment. The straightforward menu offers plenty of fried foods, including flounder, shrimp and scallops. If the stars align, you can take advantage of the steamed shrimp special from 5-9 p.m. on Wednesdays, followed by crabs, which come crusted with spices in a white bowl.
The crabs are hot, the beer is ice cold, and the service is friendly, thanks to bartender-server Nancy, who all the regulars know by name.
18289 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach • 645-5115
In 1984, Lazy Susan’s opened in a shack on Del. 1 on land now occupied by Fork + Flask at Nage. The kitchen was in an outbuilding with a steamer. Customers ordered at a window and ate their crabs at a picnic table. As the demand and the business grew, so did Lazy Susan’s. It has moved twice, settling into its current site, which doubled the seating, in 2007.
Typically open April through October, Lazy Susan’s has also expanded its menu. You’ll even find pizza. But the star remains crab: crab cakes, crab soup, crabby deviled eggs, crabsgetti (back fin crabmeat in marinara over pasta) and, of course, the steamed crabs that started it all. Stone claws, Dungeness and Alaskan king crab are also available, and they’re all market priced on that day. Not surprisingly, the decor is crab-centric.
135 Christiana Road, New Castle • 328-5070
A minute from Hares Corner at U.S. 13 and Del. 273, Lestardo’s doesn’t look like your stereotypical crab house. It’s in a strip center. But this longtime family-owned establishment, which is open all year, has the right mindset, from the brown paper-covered tables to the fish netting to the old captain’s wheel.
This is one of the few places where you can find crab, still in its shell, in marinara sauce and crabs covered in minced garlic. Steamed crabs include blues, Dungeness, Alaskan king and snow crab. Diners rave over the spicy seasoning, the dipping sauce and the friendly, fun service.
39610 Jefferson Bridge Road, Bethany Beach • 539-5384
Just a stroll from the beach, Mickey Walker’s place has been a destination since he opened in 1990. The tropical plants and pilings give it a Caribbean vibe that’s only heightened by the picnic tables and festive umbrellas on the casual deck. But the Chesapeake Bay blue crabs place this popular eatery firmly on the Delmarva Peninsula. Usually open Easter-ish until early October, Mickey’s uses crab every which way. You can even order a snow crab cluster atop a salad. Folks visit mainly for steamed crabs paired with the usual sides—corn, coleslaw or fries—or the “premium” sides, which include asparagus, a salad and fingerling potatoes. Kids will love the Mickey’s Minnows menu, which features corn dog nuggets, “surfing” clam strips and popcorn shrimp.
902 E. Pulaski Hwy., Elkton, Md. • (443) 485-6007
Mick’s, on the same site as Bentley’s Banquet Center, brings a bit of the beach to Elkton; it boasts a sand-strewn outdoor area with picnic tables and umbrellas.
The restaurant is often packed before 8 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, and before 7 p.m. on Sundays. That’s because there’s a cutoff for ordering all-you-can-eat crabs. There’s also a two-hour limit to your feasting. But there are few diners who won’t find satisfaction in that time period. Dip your seasoned crab into drawn butter, crab sauce or vinegar. Add a squirt of lemon if you wish. The deal, offered at market price, includes fries.
Mick’s is as much of an old-fashioned fish house as a crab house. There’s a fried section on the menu that includes shrimp, oysters and clams. Or opt for the combo and have a little bit of each. There are also broiled selections. (Speaking of combos, Mick’s invites you to add a snow crab cluster, shrimp, a crab cake, fried oysters or baby back ribs to any entrée for an additional fee.)
The hours vary with the season, so check the website, which also lists available crab sizes and pricing. You can also check its Facebook page.
8829 Waller Road, Delmar • 846-9000
Technically, the Old Mill is in Delaware. But that doesn’t stop the restaurant, open from early April through late October, from calling itself The Best Crab House on the Eastern Shore, a claim that’s reinforced by the pictures of the Eastern Shore on the walls and the huge scarlet crab in front of the trading post-like building.
The restaurant is known for its steam pots and mini feasts, which each has a dedicated section on the menu. The Crab Daddy steam pot comes with three blue crabs, a pound of little neck clams, a half-pound of steamed shrimp, potatoes, corn and a dusting of Old Bay. If you want some yard bird with your crabs, try the blue crab mini feast with five blue crabs, a piece of fried chicken, corn, and a boat each of fried shrimp, clams and hush puppies. The Old Mill takes crabs so seriously that they’re on the kids’ menu. (Diners must be 10 or younger.)
The list of libations is impressive. There are seven types of crushes and five types of Long Island teas.
Folks love to come together over crabs and other tasty seafood offerings at Sambo’s Tavern in Leipsic.
283 Front St., Leipsic • 674-9724
Sambo’s is not just a crab house. It’s a tradition, a legacy and an icon all rolled up into one little building on the Leipsic River. The tavern, is typically open from the first of April through mid November, dates back to 1953 when Samuel “Sambo” Burrows opened the business. Now it’s run by his son, Ike, and his daughter-in-law, Elva.
Snag a seat by one of the windows in the back room for views of the river and dock, where the watermen tie up with the day’s bounty. (If needed, the restaurant will buy crabs from other areas.) Ike cooks the crabs, which you can get with the restaurant’s own seasoning blend or, if you ask, Old Bay. Steaks, crab cakes and fish dishes are also available. Steamed shrimp is the most popular appetizer. The restaurant also has pizza.
Before you leave, put a pin on the map of the U.S. to mark your hometown. Sambo’s is a regular stop for the NASCAR crowd, including the drivers, so there are pins all over the map. This crab house has earned a celebrity status.
16723 Coastal Hwy., Lewes • 644-4448
Donald Vechery grew up to the sound of pounding mallets and the mouthwatering aroma of spicy steamed crabs. His father, Henry, opened the Bethesda Crab House in 1961. Vechery joined the family business at age 9. In 2008, he took his know-how to the beach, in part because his pop already had the D.C. area covered. In the years since he opened The Surfing Crab just north of Five Points in Lewes, he’s met a need. There are usually crowds waiting out front.
Crabs, which come from the Gulf, the Carolinas or the Chesapeake, depending on the season, are steamed to order, so be patient. It can take up to 30 minutes. The Surfing Crab’s all-you-can-eat offering is limited to two hours. There’s no sharing, and you must eat the whole crab, including the claws.
You’ll find the favored sides with the addition of succotash, a Sussex County favorite. Unexpected menu items include tacos. You can even get a burger. But most of the fans are here for the steamed clams, steamed shrimp or sautéed mussels followed by fries and big fat crabs.
The restaurant is typically open mid-March through Thanksgiving, with limited hours in the off-season. Call first to find out the size of the crab, the pricing and the hours.
210 Bohemia Ave., Chesapeake City, Md. • (410) 885-2344
A little bit Eastern Shore, a little bit Italian, The Tap Room is the place for blue crabs from Rock Hall and the Wye River, as well as linguini with soft-shell crabs. There are steamed crabs and crabs with garlic, and you can buy bushels to go. Bring cash; the restaurant does not accept credit cards or personal checks. The parking lot is tiny. Those comfortable on two wheels can bike in on the recently joined Michael N. Castle Trail and Ben Cardin Recreational Trail. You can pedal off those hush puppies on the way home.
21055 W. Sharp St., Rock Hall, Md. • (410) 639-2261
Dock at one of 30 boat slips. Crab is used every which way here. Crab dip, for instance, appears on a grilled chicken breast with applewood-smoked bacon and cheddar. You can buy one crab or a dozen. The crab pot contains four medium crabs, a half-pound of shrimp, clams, mussels, red potatoes and corn-on-the-cob.
523 Water St., Charleston, Md. • (410) 287-6666
Once the playground of U.S. presidents, The Wellwood now offers fine dining inside, casual dining and crabs all year long in the Club Room. Its River Shack on the North East River is cool indoors. Outdoors, you can dig your toes in the sand and listen to live music while you pick through your pile of steamers.
29 S. Main St., North East, Md. • (410) 287-3541
Right on the main drag, Woody’s features dishes from local family recipes—including traditional cucumber sandwiches. The menu includes jumbo lump crab salad and a sandwich that contains a crab cake topped with ham, tomato and melted cheese. Crab prices fluctuate, so call ahead.