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The Restaurant Issue: 96 Favorites


1776 Steakhouse

Owners Bob Mitchell and Tom Holmes scour the markets for aged beef so fine, it should be insured. Your new favorite slab of beef: 10 ounces of certified Angus bliss seared in a 1,600-degree oven. Filet mignon, Delmonico, New York strip—they’re all here. One-of-a-kind seared beef capriccio is served with deep-fried prosciutto, artichokes drizzled with roasted garlic and horseradish-infused olive oil, then garnished with shaved Parmesan. 18585 Coastal Hwy., Suite 6, Rehoboth Beach, 645-9355

Abstractions Sushi Bar 

Traditional Japanese decor is hip again, which makes Abstractions even hipper by default. You’ll find sushi and sashimi of salmon, tuna, yellowtail and more, as well as creative maki. If that’s not your thing, try the lobster crab cakes, teriyaki or pad thai. There’s a variety of sakes, as well as sake-based cocktails, a wine list heavy on Californians and more martini combos than you can shake a cocktail mixer at. 203 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-0877

 Agave Mexican Grill

At Agave, more than 70 varieties of tequila find their way into glasses for sipping, tasting flights and margaritas. Before opening the place, owner Chris McKeown toured Mexico to learn what gives añejo tequila its oaky finish while he also discovered the secrets of stellar Mexican cuisine. Think chiles en nogada and crispy fish tacos. Diminutive though it is, Agave has become a hotspot. The good: It’s hoppin’. The bad: You might have to wait for a seat. 137 Second St., Lewes, 645-1232

Aqua Sol

You’ll love the view of the marina from the sunroom, with its towering windows. You’ll also love a festive offering of starters such as skewered jerk chicken, ceviche and conch fritters. Feeling the island vibe yet? Try the dark rum-guava barbecue sauce on the ribs or a good Cuban sandwich. If you like yuca, you’ll find plenty of it here, as chips, as a mash and as gnocchi. 3006 Summit Harbour Place, Bear, 365-6490

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At the Rail treats meats and seafood with equal respect and innovative twists. The plates are beautiful, but don’t forget to look up—the golf course view is peerless. Photograph by Thom ThompsonAt The Rail

Other places may have golf course views, but none is as panoramic as At the Rail’s vantage of White Clay Creek Country Club. You’ll find classic steak and seafood dishes, but the chefs also stretch with offerings such as an appetizer of short rib spanikopita ravioli bursting with tangy feta cheese. Seasonal wine dinners stretch the bounds in delicious ways. The decor is classic and comfortably rich. 777 Delaware Park Blvd., Wilmington, 994-6700

The Augusta Grille

The renovated Clarion Belle hotel is a world away, and with a name like The Augusta, the emphasis is on cuisine of the South, such as peanut soup and pecan- and sweet potato-crusted catfish, pecan pie with bourbon cream and, from the bar, cool mint juleps. But there are Italian favorites too, prime rib and beef tenderloin, and fresh seafood, all served in a warm, softly lit dining room. 1612 N. Dupont Hwy., New Castle, 299-1414

Back Burner

Almost 30 ago, the Back Burner set the standard for an area that was in need of fine dining, and it remains at the fore. The menu recently changed to accommodate budget-minded diners, but the decor is still country elegant, and the pumpkin-mushroom soup and stuffed mushroom caps remain area classics. There is nothing like a seafood stew Provençal on a chilly night. 425 Hockessin Corner, Hockessin, 239-2314

The Back Porch Café

Made by foodies, for foodies, The Back Porch is the only place in Delaware where you will find grilled rabbit loin with truffled gnocchi or walnut-crusted paillards of duck breast with beet root polenta and blood orange. Chef Leo Medisch and the rest of Back Porch’s owners travel far and wide to excite their taste buds, then pass the adventure on to you, via Pugliese buratta, roasted Guinea hen and more. Try The Back Porch’s Café Flambé, a mix of Kahlua, Galiano and coffee embellished with fresh whipped cream, cinnamon and nutmeg and a rim of scorched sugar. It’s the best, if not the coolest, drink at the beach. Watching one made is akin to watching someone blow glass by hand. 59 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3674

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Big Fish Grill

Norman and Eric Sugrue’s family recipes are so good, other families pack into Big Fish to taste them. Fish is an obvious choice—from crab cakes and fried shrimp to pan-seared mahi mahi—but you’ve got to love homemade sides like sweet potato mashers and desserts like peanut butter pie. The new Wilmington Riverfront location takes the same approach as the original in Rehoboth, but with an uptown twist. Expect more mushroom- and Gouda-crusted rockfish and rare-only tuna with wasabi cream. 20298 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3474; 720 Justison St., Wilmington, 652-FISH

Blue Moon

The only Delaware bar-restaurant to host the Shirelles and serve foie gras in the same calendar year combines a hugely popular bar with a high-end dining room. Chef Lion Gardner’s French-, Spanish- and Italian-influenced menu borrows heavily from local, sustainable and organic products. He loves pushing the envelope, so fans expect superb lamb dishes, as well as the signature fried green tomatoes to start. On Tasting Tuesdays, Gardner turns loving patrons into his willing guinea pigs with a slightly off-beat tasting menu. Expect dishes such as duck confit tamales and smoked mackerel taquitos. 35 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-6515

Like customers of her Bluecoast Seafood Grill in Bethany Beach, Bryony Zeigler can’t resist the sunset views from the dining room. Photograph by Thom ThompsonBluecoast Seafood Grill

Colors and flavors mingle during picturesque sunsets on the bay, when amber and crimson from the sky meld with green-lipped mussels, white clams and red lobster on the table. Fresh goes a long way in describing the food at Bluecoast, where a devotion to seasonal produce and an on-site fish market makes freshness abundant. The place wows diners with dishes such as rustic seafood stew alongside shaved Brussels sprouts with shaved pecorino and truffle oil on a cool off-season night. 1111 Highway One, Bethany Beach, 539-7111

Bon Appetit

Nobody’s confusing western Sussex with the Burgundy countryside, unless they’re in Bon Appetit, Karen and Chino Pedemonte’s love letter to French sophistication. Salmon (or saumon, en Français) Poireaux, chicken divan, country pâté and the best sautéed escargot in Delaware win loyal diners. Visit when the bouquet of garlic and herbs de Provençe is what you’re after. While other restaurants hang their hats on French influence or style, Seaford’s little gem is likely the last full-bore French experience in the state. 312 High St., Seaford, 629-3700

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Bonz in Harrington serves its charbroiled rack of lamb with lamb demi-glace, baby vegetable sauté and shoestring vegetables. Photograph by Thom ThompsonBonz

Harrington is a steak-and-potatoes kind of town, and Bonz gives its visitors some of the best. Strip dance, anyone? Rastilli Bros.-procured Kansas City strip steak, New York strip steak and hard-to-come-by Wagyu strip steak. Or go for the coveted bone-in filet mignon. You’ll enjoy a very un-casino-like 44-seat outdoor courtyard shrouded in greenery and brick floors. Harrington Raceway and Casino, U.S. 13, 398-5348

Brasserie Grille

Why don’t more people know about the Brasserie? Tucked into the Christiana Hilton, it’s far more than a convenient place for travelers. It’s part steakhouse, part seafood house (chef Jim Lauser prepares some of the best crab cakes around), and all classic. We don’t see veal Oscar on enough menus these days. 100 Continental Drive, Newark, 454-1500

Buckley’s Tavern

David Weir bridges two worlds: country pub and country inn. In the lounge, feast on burgers, quesadillas and ribs. In the dining room, try shrimp and grits with tasso ham, sherry cream and green chilis. Happy hours are lively. The dining room stays genteel. Come summer, choose from three outdoor dining areas: the vine-covered front porch, the villa-like rear patio, or the rooftop deck. 5812 Kennett Pike, Wilmington, 656-9776

The Buttery

The Buttery is a rare package of liveliness, intimacy and innovation, all in a comfy Victorian mansion. Chefs are passionate about farm-fresh and organic produce and meats, but not at the cost of flavor or true innovation. The Buttery has no trouble with contempo dishes, but its crab cakes, bleu cheese salad and seafood chowder will never be replaced. Opulent dining is a steal at $28 for three courses between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., and nice weather is for dining on the lovingly restored veranda. The Buttery’s wine program, with an emphasis on small producers and estate-bottled selections, is legendary. 102 Second St., Lewes, 645-7755

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Café Mezzanotte

Café Mezzanotte is nothing if not comfortable. The palette is soft and soothing. The tables are nicely spaced. The food, of course, is delicious. You’ll find all the usual Italian favorites done very well, but with a few surprises such as baked oysters stuffed with crab meat and drizzled with truffle oil, as well as crepes filled with chicken and spinach. There is ample seafood, as well as beef, veal, pork and chicken with sides such as polenta and sauces such as porcini cream. The wine list is predominantly Italian, natch. 1007 N. Orange St., Wilmington, 658-7050

Café Scalessa’s

Neighborhood Italian isn’t supposed to be this fun. Don Scalessa and his crew make every service a party with music, dancing, great food and adoration of Italian-American culture. Sunday pork with rigatoni and ricotta is a can’t-miss, as is the creamy and delicate crab dip. Meatballs are heralded across the region. Fridays are ladies nights—$5 mixed drinks and $3 beers. Sunday brunch is big, as are homemade tiramisu, cannoli and butter cake. 504 Greenhill Ave., Wilmington, 656-0955

Caffé Gelato

Fine dining in downtown Newark used to be a rare sight. Gelato changed that. Owner Ryan German’s love of wine is fun to observe. At the new wine bar, try one of 1,500 bottles on reserve. Whether you’re an amorous sophomore marketing major trying to impress a restaurant management major with your refined taste, or whether you’re keeping the flame alive, this is your place. The gelato is one of the best desserts in the state. 90 E. Main St., Newark, 738-5811

Capers & Lemons

Don’t let the beautifully contemporary lines and warm palette of the dining room fool you—this is pure Old World comfort. Build your own antipasto from a selection of such delicacies as braised fennel, roasted beets, delicious Italian meats and more. There are a variety of individually sized wood-fired pizzas, as well as homemade pastas. The chicken piccata proves that Capers & Lemons lives up to its name. Don’t fill up on the garlic mashed potatoes. You need room for the decadent tiramisu. 301 Little Falls Drive, Wilmington, 256-0524

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Captain Pete’s Mediterranean Cove

If you’re looking for good Greek food, Captain Pete’s is one of the few places to offer it. Start with a sampler of dolmades, spanakopita, olives, meatballs, sausages, good feta and more. Since you’re at the beach, go native by ordering the catch of the day. Grilled on an open flame, it’s always perfect. Yes, there are Greek wines. 700 Coastal Hwy., Fenwick Island, 537-5900


A softly lit dining room with cushy seats and rugs is the backdrop to one of the most fun dining experiences around. The roasted lemon chicken falls off the bone. The flaky bastilla of cinnamon-dusted phyllo dough and ground chicken is a revelation. From places unseen emerge bellydancers and Moroccan waiters bearing seven tempting courses. At $25 a head, it’s the best value at a place without a drive-through. 4010 N. Dupont Hwy., New Castle, 652-5344

Catch 54

Pick your view of Assawoman Bay: from above, via the dining room, or from sea level on the deck. Either enhances the menu of creative seafood. Where else would anyone find so local a catch as bluefish? Menus change, but there’s usually a seafood pasta dish and a seafood stew. Now is the time for special off-season prices on food and wine. Del. 54, Fenwick Island, 436-8600

Chops Grille

The signatures as the restaurant of the Sheraton Dover? Chops, of course: the pork chops with grilled apple-fennel slaw and amaretto reduction, as well as grilled rack of lamb with black cherry-mint sauce. There is prime rib and grilled steaks (combined with shrimp or crab, if you wish). Seafood gets touches of Asia, Italy and France. 1570 N. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 678-8500

Cloud 9

This bistro offers a bit of everything: a lively bar, live entertainment, dancing and good food. The menu changes frequently, but often includes fun items such as lobster tempura and scallop-lobster risotto. Blueberry martinis win raves. 234 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-1999

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Flash-fried salt-and-pepper shrimp is a favorite appetizer at Confucius, where the beach’s best chefs like to dine on nights off. Photograph by Thom ThompsonConfucius Chinese Cuisine

A secret handshake among locals who know how amazing it is, Shawn Xiong’s Confucius goes toe-to-toe with Rehoboth’s classiest restaurants. Like its simple, bright and sophisticated interior (eggshell walls covered sparsely with local artwork), Confucius’ dishes have an inescapably clean quality—beautifully plated, never greasy, never muddled with sauce. Fried dishes are only lightly fried. Peking duck is a signature dish. Go when you want to see where the town’s best chefs dine out. The surprise: Sunday brunch, a $10 three-course meal that may include items like steamed pork buns, stuffed eggplant, and dumplings. 57 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3848

Cool Springs Fish Bar

Dennis Forbes and crew offer perfectly consistent fish-house fare with a twist. From the open kitchen, chefs create tried-and-true recipes such as stuffed rockfish, prime rib and seared tuna, plus more adventuresome oyster sashimi—sushi-grade tuna pounded flat to top a raw oyster piqued with wasabi sauce. Call ahead to find out whether Cool Springs is doing your favorite seafood special, be it highly coveted shrimp and grits or grilled halibut with shrimp succotash. Forbes bakes eight desserts daily. 2463 S. State St., Dover, 698-1955

Mickey Donatello has created a relaxing  atmosphere at his Corner Bistro in North Wilmington. Photograph by Thom ThompsonCorner Bistro

Mickey Donatello’s masterpiece has a little quirk, which provides North Wilmington a bit of cool and affordable made-from-scratch cuisine. Classic bistro offerings—steak frites, split game hen—are handled well. Affordable wines by the glass are plentiful. CB’s relaxed atmosphere allows diners to have an audible conversation. Regulars know to save room for homemade desserts, from classic Key lime pie and “the cake” to layered delicacies like dulce de leche-laced banoffee tarts. 3604 Silverside Road, Wilmington, 477-1778

The Crownery

Authentic Chinese cuisine is more common in big cities, but Hockessin is home to one of the area’s best examples of beyond-General-Tso Chinese. Think of it as soul food from the East—seafood-bean curd soup, salt-crust baked pork chops, fat braised egg noodles and mushrooms. 228 Lantana Drive, Hockessin, 239-3825

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Ten years of style and sophistication in strip-mall laden North Wilmington is, ironically, found in a strip mall. In Culinaria’s open kitchen, the masterful Ezio Reynaud turns the familiar into something striking, be it roast salmon, famous potato-crusted catfish or otherworldly mashed potatoes. Trends be damned. Liver and onions, tomato soup, shrimp scampi—Reynaud and partner Pam Grabowski never overshoot. They do the basics very, very well. 1812 Marsh Road, Wilmington, 475-4860

Cultured Pearl

The Pearl is artful in every way, from its rooftop koi pond to its martinis. Maki helped put the Pearl on the map, thanks to creative twists on rolls adored by Western palates. Look for a bit of pineapple in the East of Maui roll and habañero in the Kazan roll. The sake list is the best at the beach. The Pearl is packed in summer, but the multi-level dining nooks help guests feel more spread out. Wow—there are 15,000 gallons of water in the Pearl’s rooftop lagoon, where gazebo islands provide the best way to watch the doings in town. 301 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-8493

Deep Blue

There was no better way to kick off the downtown Wilmington renaissance 10 years ago. Owner Dan Butler already had a proven record of great concepts and hiring great talent. From its start, Deep Blue has been sleek, urbane, lively and delicious. Power lunch, fun dinner, happy hour or late night, Deep Blue does it all. The first place in Wilmington to give fish the royal treatment is still one of the best. 111 W. 11th St., Wilmington, 777-2040


Jeff and Lisa Osias care for their guests like family, so it’s no wonder a wait on summer weekends is the norm. The Culinary Institute of America grads treat their ingredients with respect. Your veal shank won’t be swimming in an overpowering demi-glace or overwhelmed by a heavy sauce. The place is bright and airy, yet still family-cozy. 789 Garfield Pkwy., Bethany Beach, 539-4550

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The breast of squab a l’orange typifies Domaine Hudson’s adventurous approach to food and wine. The dish is served with Asian pear and black quinoa. Photograph by Thom ThompsonDomaine Hudson

Domaine has an unparalleled wine program (400 constantly rotating bottles) that satisfies serious oenophiles and neophytes, all in a dining area that feels more like your neighbor’s rec room than a stuffy wine bar. The country French bistro-style menu is as rock-solid as the wine program, one heavy on seasonal ingredients and motifs. Even rack of lamb glazed with 15-year-old balsamic vinegar won’t break the bank. Domaine’s regular wine dinners, the ones where vintners themselves are typically present, are a must for wine lovers. And Domaine’s new craft beer list is as impressive as its wine list. 1314 N. Washington St., Wilmington, 655-9463

Dos Locos Stone Grill

Dos Locos really took off when it started offering the stone grill three years ago. Order some beef (or lamb or seafood), then cook it to your liking on a red-hot stone delivered to your table. Choose your own seasoning rub and accompanying sauces such as jerk or teriyaki. The Two Crazies also offer all the standard Mexican dishes such as fajitas, burritos, enchiladas and more. The hacienda decor is as warm as the grilling stones, and the bar sizzles with regular drink specials (but don’t be wary about bringing the kids). 208 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3353

Eclipse Bistro

Carl Georigi’s cozy-chic Eclipse wrote the script for his other restaurants: superior service and straightforward ingredients that sing on the plate. Hearty cold-weather items such as braised short ribs with maple demi-glace always reappear on the menu, along with marinated ribeyes, great pastas and more. Weekends pop with unique fish specials and a small bar crowd. Regulars have been known to dine there five or six nights a week. And it’s truly family-friendly. 1020 N. Union St., Wilmington, 658-1588

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Chef Cyrus Keefer is an artist at heart. He takes his quality ingredients and turns them into masterworks without sacrificing simplicity. Produce from Fifer Orchards and grower Bob Russell of Milton find their way into high-end plates. Wine director Christopher Capriotti steers an award-winning wine program. Eden features intimate curtained booths and a veranda that overlooks Baltimore Avenue. And there’s a new bar menu featuring blue-collar dishes with an Eden twist. Try a braised short rib Manwich or an open-faced meatball sandwich on house-made peasant bread. 23 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3330


Hip and upscale in a sort of neo-classic Philly way, Espuma is up there with the most intimate of Rehoboth’s top-tier restaurants. Exciting food in a relaxing environment is prepared by a chef who’s so skillful, you’d think he’d want to show off once in a while. He doesn’t. Go whenever artful revisions of classic flavor combinations (bacon and egg, duck and cherry, citrus and thyme) are available—or whenever it’s martini night. Jay Caputo is a legit celebrity chef. Diners often wait after their meals like kids at a football game to meet him. 28 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-4199

Feby’s Fishery

The fish is fresh off the boat, whether it was caught in local waters or the Pacific. Feby’s keeps it simple with a menu of seafood classics: oysters Rockefeller, clams and oysters on the half, or shrimp Lejon to start; creamy clam chowder, tomato-y crab and snapper soup to chase; then surf and turf, a crab cake or broiled seafood to top the tank. After 35 years, Feby’s is a classic. 3701 Lancaster Pike, Wilmington, 998-9496

Fenwick Crab House

Kitschy and fun, the crab house is a great family place and one of the oldest dining establishments at the beach. The namesake crustacean gets star billing (steamed crabs, crab cakes, crab imperial, etc.), and there’s seafood galore, but longtime owner Scott Fornwalt wants you to try the barbecued ribs. We have. They’re delicious. This is an authentic beach experience. 100 Coastal Hwy., Fenwick Island, 539-2500

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Fins Fish House and Raw Bar

Fins knocked it out of the park when it opened. Diners went bananas over the raw bar (good ones have always been surprisingly rare at the beach), which sources nearly 35 types of oysters from around the world, including briny faves from Chincoteague. Entrées range from well-prepared standards such as crab cakes, fried oysters, and fish and chips to spicy cioppino. The bar, created in classic English pub style, is just plain fun. 234 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-3467

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill

Big bar, big dining room, big beef. And all that beef is grilled over an open flame for the big Western flavor that inspired the concept. Lobster-spinach queso is a bold alternative to crab dip. Bison is an authentic touch. If a handcut filet, strip or ribeye doesn’t move you, there are delicious salmon and chicken dishes. Potatoes are de rigueur. 1225 Churchmans Road, Newark, 366-7577

Fish On!

Like all of Matt Haley’s SoDel Concepts restaurants, Fish On! is contemporary in decor: big, bright windows, sleek black banquet, clean maple chairs, white tablecloths. The cuisine is a perfect match. Pan-roasted halibut with a maple-sherry glaze is teamed with shiitakes and caramelized Brussels sprouts. The tomato-based seafood stew is a fave, as is shrimp and grits studded with chorizo. If fish isn’t your thing, opt for a filet or really good cheeseburger. The caramel toffee cheesecake is beyond description. 17300 N. Village Main Blvd., Lewes, 645-9790

Go Fish!

This is an ordinary chippy that’s so much more, thanks to horseradish-crust salmon, organic cider, and a heck of an environmental conscience. (The place is powered by windmills.) Icelandic cod and thin batter is used to make the fish and chips sweet and crispy. Rich sticky toffee pudding is owner Alison Blyth’s gift to the world. 24 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-1044

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The Green Room at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington is a Delaware classic. Photograph by Thom ThompsonThe Green Room

Closing in on 100 years, the stately space formerly known as Main Dining Room is still the epitome of fine dining. The Green Room wraps French-inspired cuisine in gold chandeliers, mahogany walls and Versace china under a soaring ceiling. Executive chef Keith Miller, who’s been with DuPont hospitality for 18 years, is a creative force (and accomplished sugar artist) who is tasked with harnessing the energy of his young, Culinary Institute of America-trained team. The premier special-occasion place isn’t for special occasions only—a $27 entrée isn’t a king’s ransom, and The Green Room offers a three-course meal for $40 every night. On the regular menu, you’ll find pan-roasted squab, seared Costa Rican corvina and Muscovy duck with kale marmalade, but if the crab and fontina cheese sandwich ever left the menu (or heaven forbid, the macaroons), regulars would revolt. 100 W. 11th St., Wilmington, 594-3154

Harry’s Savoy Grill

The flagship of David Banks and owner Xavier Teixido continues to be an indomitable force. The naysayers who think Harry’s hasn’t changed in 20 years are still out there, blissfully unaware that Harry’s was one of the first around to add ceviche to an American menu. Even still, the prime rib, lobster and crab cakes remain superb. It’s the perfect place if your party is a mixed bag. Steak and crab cakes for some, duck confit and ostrich loin for others. All are delicious. Sommelier Anne Hood is one of the best. She trains servers at both Harry’s restaurants in the ways of the grape. 2020 Naamans Road, Wilmington, 475-3000

Harry’s Seafood Grill changes the menu regularly,  according to the market. Expect fun dishes such as the oyster pan roast with sriracha cream topped with microgreens. Photograph by Thom ThompsonHarry’s Seafood Grill

Busy in a fun way, Harry’s, like its beef-and-lobster forebear, consistently sources better product than its competition. And you can’t beat the view of the Christina River. Splurge on the grand seafood plateau, a full-on thesis of the raw bar’s best in oysters, mussels, clams, shrimp, ceviche, sashimi, ponzu and lobster. Never be afraid to ask your server exactly what, pray tell, an amberjack, a triple tail or a bigeye is. He’ll explain gladly, and it’s usually delicious. (P.S.: They’re fish.) 101 S. Market St., Wilmington, 777-1500

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Home Grown Café

Perfect for a college town, Home Grown is the eclectic upperclassman who has it all figured out. Lancaster produce and goods can be found in everything from Caesar salad to root vegetable fricassee to goat cheese truffles. It’s the place to go when dieting—or when trying to convince yourself you’re dieting while you pass on the vegetable stir fry in favor of braised pork belly. The bar may be smallish for Main Street, but Home Grown has one of the best beer selections in town. Skip the Pabst and grab a big bottle of Southern Tier’s potent Unearthly. 126 E. Main St., Newark, 266-6993

Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant

Call it Old Reliable. Iron Hill has always been counted on for consistently solid food in a warm, relaxing atmosphere and impeccably trained servers. The bargain-priced menu plays it safe without being dull. Prime rib, meatloaf and the ilk will always have a place, but so will shrimp Lejon pizza with malted barley dough. Iron Hill will soon surpass Michael Phelps in gold medal count. Its medals are from the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup. 147 E. Main St., Newark, 266-9000; 710 S. Madison St., Wilmington, 472-2739

Jake’s Seafood House

Owner Bill Klemkowski makes a big deal of his crab cakes, which are fashioned according to an old family recipe, and rightfully so. One would expect nothing less than perfection from a place that styles itself a Baltimore seafood house. That means lots of steamed mussels, clams and shrimp, Maryland crab soup and seafood bisque. And it means classic fare such as stuffed flounder, stuffed shrimp, crab imperial and more. There’s ample beef, too. Both locations are bright, modern and very popular. 29 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-6237; 19178 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 644-7711

Jasmine Restaurant and Lounge

Business crowds file in daily to pop edamame and to nibble on bento box lunches (make your box Japanese, Thai, Chinese or Vietnamese), then take their families back later for dinner. Cool lighting (the walls change color) and a bar that’s always buzzing (sometimes with live music) gives suburban North Wilmington a bit of edge, and the sushi bar, which cranks out signatures such as the lobster and avocado Jasmine Roll, is a favorite place for regulars. You’ll enjoy pad thai, as well as Thai chicken and basil. Jasmine covers the full range of Asian cuisine. 3618 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 479-5618

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Jessop’s Tavern in New Castle is the perfect spot for a romantic fireside supper. Photograph by Thom ThompsonJessop’s Tavern

Was all food this good in 1724? Jessop’s sets out to be the cozy historic tavern in a cozy historic neighborhood and succeeds because the food turns out to be better than anticipated. The period-dressed staffers refer to themselves as compatriots and give true customer service. Chef Lee Ward takes great care for his daily selections of soup and chowder—from clam to Indian mulligatawny to butternut squash—which are served in pewter. Thirteen draft beers, including a few great Belgians, are always good. Mondays mean big business on oysters, but it’s hard to imagine a better way to enjoy Jessop’s than by warming up at its fireplace on a cold night. 114 Delaware St., New Castle, 322-6111

Kenny’s Pan Asian Cuisine

We love the black lacquer and bright white plates, the red walls, the contemporary art. And we really love the blend of Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisines as expressed via fried calamari with chili dipping sauce, shrimp tempura and crab Rangoon—and that’s just to start. Kenny’s offers Peking duck and roasted duck with bok choy, as well as a variety of seafood, chicken beef and more. Sushi and noodle dishes are big hits. 1255 Quintilio Drive, Bear, 838-1725


It’s only natural warm would be the first thing you think of when it comes to Kindle, the recently relocated bistro whose earth-toned booths and friendly atmosphere made it an instant hit in downtown Lewes. Chef Ian Crandall works magic over seafood and steak dishes. Housemade desserts, like pumpkin cheesecake brûlée topped with whipped Lewes Dairy cream, are unforgettable. 111 Bank St., Lewes, 645-7887

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Krazy Kat’s

Krazy or Kozy? Either way, KK is the most successful around at creating such a relaxing environment, you forget you’re shoulders-deep in fine dining. It’s a study in locally sourced product obsession on the part of chefs Jesse Jones and Donny Merrill, whose shared vision results in some of the most visually stunning and delicious plates around. That’s local goat cheese in the risotto and local crab in the lemon verbena-infused crab cakes that attract some of the area’s social and professional elite. Krazy Kat’s is one of the few places that doles out an amuse-bouche—a quickie one-bite hors d’oeurve—between courses. Think of it as a fun little hello from the chef. Del. 100 and Kirk Road, Montchanin, 888-4200

La Casa Pasta

Chef Giuseppe Martuscelli hails from Salerno, so the man knows seafood, and it has won a following that has stayed true for more than 30 years. Regulars return for his pescatore over spaghetti. Newcomers appreciate classics like shrimp scampi done perfectly. Lovers of beef, veal and chicken also will be well pleased. The dining room’s subdued palette is relaxing, setting a stage that puts the food at center. Del. 896, Four Seasons Shopping Center, Newark, 738-9935

La Tolteca

The last of La Toltecas stand sentry on Wilmington’s bustling Concord Pike, still doing wild business by giving its customers exactly what they want—flavorful versions of their favorite Tex-Mex dishes and tasty margaritas. What’s made Tolteca stand the test of time? How about the marinated skirt steak that finds its way into parrilladas, or the fresh-tasting house made pico de gallo. 2209 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 778-4646; 4015 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-9477

La Tonalteca

The Cedillo and Herrera families continue to march toward Delaware dominance—an extensively renovated Tonalteca reopened in Dover last year. That location pairs its classic, 200-item Tex-Mex menu with an astoundingly colorful dining room, replete with bright colors, a striking, marble-top bar and Mayan-looking artifacts. The restaurant’s heralded statewide Cinco de Mayo celebration is just a few months away. 245 S. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 735-1572; 528 S. Bay Road, Dover, 734-4575; 654 N. Dupont Blvd., Milford, 422-2111; 60 N. College Ave., Newark, 737-8220; 4578 Highway One, Rehoboth Beach, 644-3994; 1724 W. Newport Pike, Stanton, 636-9484

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Lamberti’s Cucina

Soft colors create a mellow vibe where you can enjoy home-cooked food that will warm you through and through. There are no surprises, just the classics: grilled chicken and veal, Marsalas, saltimboccos and Parmagianas, lots of shellfish in zesty sauces over pastas, and wood-fired pizzas. 1300 Centerville Road, Wilmington, 995-6955; 514 Philadelphia Pike, Wilmington, 762-9094

Lupo Di Mare Cucina Italiano

Super chef Matt Haley’s foray into coastal Italian hits the right notes by leaning on fresh herbs, lemons and good olive oil as the backbone for many of its dishes. TV screens in this restaurant (in Hotel Rehoboth) may show classic Italian cinema, but you’ll be too engrossed in seared tuna or eggplant capanata—or too busy watching the doings on Rehoboth Avenue. Go coastal with starters such as octopus stewed with white beans in garlicky tomato sauce. Warm, beachy colors set the tone in the intimate dining room. There’s a fine selection of wines from California and Italy, as well as a couple of choice grappas. 247 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-2240

The Melting Pot

The Melting Pot defines romantic dining, as well as fun dining. Whether you’re dipping with a small group or with a special someone, The Melting Pot is contemporary and cozy and dripping with warmth. Cheese, chocolate and specially seasoned boullions provide an endless variety of ways for you to cook beef, poultry, fish, fruit and more. A fun wine list means even more variety. 1601 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 652-6358

Michele’s Steak and Seafood

With floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the hotel lobby, Michele’s is the pinnacle of dining at Dover Downs, which now features several great restaurants. It ditched a globetrotting menu that mixed East Asian and Tuscan with Maryland seashore and Southwestern. The new menu is back-to-basics steak and seafood. Michele’s upscale Sunday brunch is considered one of the best in town, and Thursday nights are packed for ladies night, when entrées are half-price. The chef’s table is a lost art, but Michele’s behind-glass chef’s room is undeniably cool, as is its private wine room. Dover Downs Hotel and Casino, 1131 N. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 674-4600

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Darius Mansoory’s smashingest of smash hits is bathed in black lacquer, deep red walls, and more Japanese pop art (hello, Racer X) than you’ll ever need. An approachable but never-dull pan-Asian menu is highlighted with Western sushi rolls like its famous Hairy Mexican and the inventive Sahara Roll—snow crab and asparagus topped with Cajun-spiced white tuna. During happy hour, select sushi rolls are priced two for one, sake-tinis are poured with profusion and Wilmington’s younger power set settles in. Part of Miki’s strength is its ability to attract non-sushi types with solid seafood and steak offerings, plus stir-fry, tempura and things like fried Oreo cheesecake spring rolls. 1212 N. Washington St., Wilmington, 656-8638


After a not-so-seismic shift from New American- to Mediterranean-inspired fare (think more pastas, seafood, salumi, and risotto), Moro, under James Beard Award-nominee chef-owner Michael DiBianca, remains one of the most innovative dining forces in the state. Moro prides itself on its ability to source the best and most unique product, be it seafood from top-notch Philly fishmongers Samuel and Sons, or salami flown in overnight from Seattle’s Creminelli Fine Meats. Perhaps the best way to experience Moro is with a three-, four- or five-course chef’s tasting menu, created by DiBianca on a whim using the best ingredients of the day. 1307 N. Scott St., Wilmington, 777-1800

Another masterpiece from Nage in Rehoboth Beach: slow-poached eggs and marinated clams served in a buttered croissant consommé with kumquat and prosciutto. Photograph by Thom ThompsonNage

Nage is a fine balance of comfort and spectacle that simultaneously satisfies adventurous guests, a creative kitchen and the Sunday supper types. The menu changes daily, and has to, in order to keep up with the imaginations of Kevin Reading and Hari Cameron. Part of the fun is watching the gastronomes in the kitchen take an ingredient and run with it (see sumptuous fig halvah with pistachio ice cream and fig compote) or take a familiar dish and turn it ever so slightly on its side (see slow-cooked beef tenderloin with mulled red wine gastrique and mustard seed jam). One mainstay, Nage’s Kobe beef burger, is considered one of the best in the country. Great deals are plentiful, so keep a keen eye toward happy hour ($6 and under bar food), Sunday seafood dinners, farm-to-table dinners, VIP deals, and more. 19730 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 226-2037


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In a region where Eastern Shore cuisine is gospel, Nantuckets is a welcome and reverent New England-style breath of fresh air. The quahog-scallop chowdah is the breadwinner, but lobster shepherd’s pie is just an awesome idea—two 5-ounce tails baked with garlic mashed potatoes, wild mushrooms, spinach and a splash of Chardonnay. White tablecloth spots in Fenwick aren’t the norm, so clean up by taking advantage on Sundays, Wednesdays or Thursdays, when entrées go for $19. Nantuckets’ taproom—homey with hardwood floors and glass liquor cabinets—is a favorite local hangout because its bar food is as good, if not better, than dining room fare. Go for fresh-tasting baked Brie Alla with grape tomatoes, or try the heartier Nawlins shrimp and sausage. 601 Coastal Hwy., Fenwick Island, 539-2607

Okura Japanese Cuisine Restaurant

In a time when every restaurant that puts a spin on a sushi roll calls itself pan-Asian, Okura has stayed true to its Japanese roots. And it has set the standard. Yes, Okura serves sushi. Yes, it has a few rolls all its own. But it also offers a variety of traditional soups and noodle dishes, the teriyaki and tempura treatments of everything from shrimp and lobster to chicken, and broiled eel. Rice paper screens and tatami seating make Okura the real deal. 703 Ace Memorial Drive, Hockessin, 239-8486

Olé Tapas Lounge

Striking, bold reds and oranges on the wall match Ivan Torres’ Spanish cuisine—rustic, authentic tapas like gooey seared goat cheese with red wine reduction, house-marinated olives or gambas rebosadas, Florida shrimp splashed with saffron aïoli. Go with a group. Few dining experiences are as fun as ordering a lot of Olé’s tapas and sharing. Depending on the time and day, there’s usually a half-off special on sangria or tapas. Wine dinners on the last Tuesday of the month are going gangbusters. Mmmm—tapas for dessert in the form of crispy house-made churros with a rich, hot chocolate cup for dippin’. 1126 Capitol Trail, Newark, 224-9378

Orillas Tapas Bar and Restaurant

Orillas has been teaching Wilmingtonians the true meaning of tapas (and the pronunciation of Spanish double-Ls) one gamba al ajillo at a time. Mission figs, Serrano ham, Manchego and more are combined in ways that feel at once traditional and innovative. Go when it’s time to get romantic. Cozy and rustic and cool and trendy all-around, the city’s undisputed new date place is causing more romance than “Barry White’s Greatest Hits.” As if the sangria wasn’t enough, Orillas now carries high-end cachaca, distilled sugar cane juice from Brazil. Try it in a caipirinha, the new margarita. 413N N. Market St., Wilmington, 427-9700

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Palacio Maya Mexican Restaurant

The Cedillo family built its La Tolteca-La Tonalteca empire on the strength of well executed yet familiar Tex-Mex, and introduced those who dared to authentic regional Mexican with Palacio Maya. From earthy quesadillas de huitlacoche, the sweet-and-savory chiles en nogada and reverence to Gulf shrimp, Palacio Maya creates flavors that go well beyond the norm. 7288 Lancaster Pike, Hockessin, 239-5590

Pan Tai

Still spicy after all these years, the Union Street original melds Southeast Asian influences—think loads of chilies, garlic, ginger, limes and tamarind—in its chicken, seafood and vegetable dishes. Its pad thai is a longtime favorite, especially for the many chili-heads who order it with maximum heat. The upstairs bar-lounge is a great place to unwind, thanks to a relaxing atmosphere accented with candlelight and original artwork. 837 N. Union St., Wilmington, 652-6633

The Parkway Restaurant

Consistently delicious, The Parkway is an institution in Bethany, the place that started the town down the road of fine dining. Winter brings hearty peppercorn-crusted filets of beef with cognac cream, as well as roasted lamb chops crusted with pecans and rosemary, all drizzled with a demi glace of dried cherries and Shiraz. Summer brings favorites with a twist, such as crab cakes with a sweet chili remoulade. If you like West Coast wines, this is your place. 114 Garfield Pkwy., Bethany Beach, 537-7500

Pickled Pig Pub

Pickled Pig hits that sweet spot all good gastropubs aim for, somewhere between fine dining and fun, atmospheric bar casual. Thank the food, invented by creative chef Michael Stiglitz, and one of the area’s better selections of craft beer. It’s not often you get the chance to pair beer-braised boar cheeks with herbed spaetzle with a pint of North Coast Brother Thelonius Dubbel. 18756 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 645-5444

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The Pig + Fish Restaurant Company

The owners, Iron Hill disciples (and past employees), bring well-executed comfort food, good beers and a familiar upscale-log-cabin vibe to the beach. Michael Stiglitz’s signatures include Tabasco-smoked pork tenderloin, barbecue pork quesadilla and a Pig of the Day special. The Pig + Fish goes cow on Steakhouse Sundays, when $20 gets you prime rib au jus, a New York strip or dry-aged sirloin, plus a house salad and a glass of wine. Extra thirsty fish can head down the road to the Pig’s cousin, Pickled Pig Pub, which offers many microbrews on tap. 236 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-7770

Pizza By Elizabeths

Pizza by Elizabeths reflects its Greenville clientele perfectly—somehow melding classic, elegant, funky and chic through cushy, vividly patterned booths, big, bold colors and giant murals of famous Elizabeths (Montgomery, Shue, etc.). It’s a concept unlike anything else around: pizzas with sauces like mushroom duxelles and olive pesto, a wide selection of cheeses, and toppings from Serrano ham to artichokes. (There is mozzarella and pepperoni, too.) PBE is consistently packed, so you will always see someone you know, and the crowded front lounge (complete with pianist) creates an air of fun. More than just pizza? Believe it. Creamy tomato soup, curry chicken salad and a seafood salad are some of the best items on the menu. Quiche-like breakfast pizzas, served for Sunday brunch, are out of this world. 3801 Kennett Pike, Greenville, 654-4478

Pomodoro Ristorante Italiano

Giuseppe Furio is making an impassioned effort to introduce Wilmington to real Italian food from inside his cozy stone-and-brick trattoria. Handmade pastas and mozzarella are divine, as are Pomodoro’s seafood dishes. Catch them together in dishes such as linguini with octopus and squid ink sauce, as well as tortellini filled with crab and mascarpone. Furio’s wine list is dotted with Brandywine Valley favorites such as bottles from Penns Woods, and the restaurant holds occasional wine dinner specials to highlight other great vintners. Furio’s daily specials, from braised rabbit to wild boar to lots of fresh seafood, are worth calling ahead for. 729 N. Union St., Wilmington, 574-9800

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Ponos Hawaiian Fine Dining

Ponos is a truly unique experience—and a bit of a surprise in Dewey. Many dishes get Asian touches: yuzu, wasabi, various curries. There’s pineapple, of course. And though trying to turn paella into something distinctively Hawaiian is a novel exercise, you’ll be delighted by standouts such as the sweet-and-spicy glazed pork belly appetizer and the Hawaiian red snapper in a macadamia-cilantro crust served with pineapple risotto and corn-tomato concasse. 1306 Coastal Hwy., Dewey Beach, 227-3119

Porcini House

Chef Jay Caputo’s “other” restaurant is so much more, thanks to typically offbeat offerings that don’t stray too far from prevailing tastes: duck confit that’s crispy and tender, a risotto menu that’s delicious and fun, and—why not?—Kobe beef hot dogs. Just off Rehoboth’s main drag and voluminous foot traffic, Porcini’s lunch business is huge during summer. Folks can eat outdoors on relatively light fare and the rooftop deck is tricked out with stage lighting and a hefty mahogany bar. 210 Second St., Rehoboth Beach, 227-6494


In a shopping complex that’s loaded with chain restaurants, Potstickers almost feels like a chain, too—it’s big, it’s usually filled, it’s brilliantly decorated and it’s cuisine is consistently good. But Potstickers is a cut above, thanks to seasonal, organic vegetables and certified Angus beef that goes into its pan-Asian dishes like Kung Pao San Yang and house signature onion-infused Mongolian beef. The ginger-soy sea bass is delicious. The sampler of namesake potstickers is a terrific start. And there’s sushi. No wonder all those Buddhas on the wall look so contented. 1247 Churchmans Road, Newark, 731-0188

Prince on Delaware

Here, a CIA grad takes on supposedly stodgy Old New Castle with ample spice, freshness and Southern and South American-influenced fare. Prince Johnson’s menu changes with the seasons and is often built around organic produce. Currently, look for squash, sweet potatoes, lamb and dishes like creamy crab risotto or stewed sirloin over sushi rice. Check into Friday Night Jazz for soothing music and candle-topped tables. Prince’s desserts come from acclaimed pastry chef Dana Herbert, who whips up pecan pies, baked apple tarts and scintillating death by chocolate cake. 124 Delaware St., New Castle, 326-1130

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Ristorante Marco

Old-school neighborhood Italian meets Greenville upper crust chic—and works. Be it sautéed softshell crabs, salt-crusted branzino or ground sea urchin, chef-owner Marco Rizzo, a former fisherman, and main man Calixto Fernandez do some amazing things. On Friday and Saturday nights, Marco swings into host extraordinaire to entertain the throng. And there’s a salad even men go nuts for. Marco’s grilled version takes a whole romaine lettuce segment, then tops it with shaved Parmesan, diced fried pancetta and balsamic vinaigrette. 1847 Pulaski Hwy., Bear, 392-2244; 3801 Kennett Pike, Greenville, 254-5427

Ristorante Zebra

It’s no safari, but Zebra always seems to impress Rehoboth’s adventurous dining crowds with its upscale Italian offerings. Credit the homemade pastas, which include black and white fettuccine, and the house signature veal saltimbocca. A lively bar crowd turns out for downtown people-watching and sublime martinis. 32 Lake Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-1160

Roma Italian Ristorante

Dover’s favorite pizza shop-turned-dress-up Italian place still packs them in, thanks to chef Joey Garramone Jr. and his father Guiseppe’s recipes. Roma is old-school for good reason: There’s no denying the staying power of American-Italian favorites made from fresh ingredients, from veal scaloppini to chicken Parmigiana to veal saltimbocca. Yet how many Italian places serve sushi-grade ahi with wasabi and soy-ginger sauce? 3 President Drive, Dover, 678-1041

Salt Air

We may be very familiar with the produce of area farms, but Salt Air takes us to school anyway, propelling local corn, tomatoes, berries and more to new heights. Owner Jonathan Spivak sources darned good product, and chef Nino Mancari captures it in dishes like fire-roasted whole chicken, local porgy and Chincoteague oysters. Take visiting relatives who need an exposition on coastal Delaware cuisine. Salt Air’s secret weapon is pastry chef Rebecca Krebs, whose re-imagining of classics will leave you licking the plate. 50 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-2444

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Second Street Grille

Chef Ray Richardson deserves his propers. He maintains a cozy, laid-back place where his kitchen is as comfortable preparing local faves such as Maryland crab soup and crab cakes as it is with teaming fried green tomatoes with crabmeat and a salad of green pea tendrils drizzled with a chili-lime vinaigrette. Your fish dinner may get a simple buerre blanc or a more playful treatment of Asian touches such as wasabi and pickled ginger. Richardson has as much fun with beef, chicken and pasta. 115 Second St., Lewes, 644-4121


If you’re looking for a walk on the wild side, Sedona occasionally offers game. Less exotic fare all gets a contemporary treatment that goes perfectly with the sophisticated decor of this Bethany treasure. Think peppered tuna with white beans and portobellos in a Pinot Noir reduction. Make a reservation if you’re visiting during summer. 26 Pennsylvania Ave., Bethany Beach, 539-1200

The petite filet mignon, served with saffron cream sauce, roasted pepper sauce and pesto sauce, is the type of dish that put Soffritto on Delaware’s dining map. Photograph by Thom ThompsonSoffritto Italian Grill

Soffritto serves a healthy mix of Northern and Southern Italian specialties, created with fresh ingredients, in a breathtaking atmosphere. Linguini pescatore is a specialty of chef Antonio Ramos, as is nearly every seafood dish, from langostinos to Dover sole. Wednesday is fish night, when a whole fish can be ordered and filleted tableside for a mere $19.99. The copper water feature spans an entire wall of the dining room, and a nearby stone fireplace mixes with terra cotta and earth tones inside one of the prettiest dining rooms around. 1130 Kirkwood Hwy., Newark, 455-1101

Steakhouse 26

Chef Steve Hagen offers the best of both turf and surf: filets, strips and slabs of prime rib with such finishes as herbed butters, mushroom pan gravy and fresh ground horseradish; pork chops with brandied apple jam and fried leeks; and salmon, tuna and mahi mahi with delicious risottos, fresh fruit salsas and unique barbecue glazes. 238 Atlantic Ave., Millville, 539-0626


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Stingray Sushi Bar + Asian Latino Grill

Owner Darius Mansoory pulled out all the stops with Stingray, which melds seemingly incompatible elements in surprisingly harmonious ways. Ultra-contemporary Stingray lets you start with pork potstickers or fish tacos. Come dinner, go the other way, if you’d like. Latin: Pan-roasted pork tenderloin over black bean-corn salsa with ginger-lime beurre blanc served with butternut squash roasted with coriander. Asian: Pad Thai of wok-cooked duck breast with julienne vegetables, baby spinach and rice noodles covered with peanut sauce and topped with pan-seared scallops. Get it? 59 Lake Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-6476

Stone Balloon Winehouse

Its top-shelf wines will blow experts away, but the excellent and affordable wine-by-the-glass program is ideal for those still exploring. The food is equally good. Chef Jason Dietterick, formerly of Rehoboth’s excellent Nage, is big on farm-to-table, hearty but not overly heavy nouveau-bistro cuisine, and there’s a well-rounded cheese program. Visit Tuesday nights for Dietterick’s three-courses for $22 dinner. The dining room harbors an Old World feeling. 115 E. Main St., Newark, 266-8111

Sullivan’s Steakhouse

Sully’s is the chain place we just can’t ignore. Clubby in an uptown way, it never disappoints. Portions of its famous sides are enough for two. The seafood starters are fresh and delicious. The wedge salad is simply classic. The fish entrées range from simple (broiled lobster tail) to conservatively contemporary (Hong Kong Chilean sea bass). Then there’s all that aged beef. In a place so right, there may be many martinis to choose from, but only one to sip: gin and Vermouth, please. 5525 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 479-7970

Toscana Kitchen + Bar

Toscana has never been afraid to reinvent itself. Dan Butler’s legions expect him to stay ahead of the curve. His housemade tortellini, coated in sun-dried tomato cream, is a simple luxury, and the Really Good Fries aren’t just a clever name. Italian at heart, Toscana does a mean Sunday fish and pasta dinner, and 20 select bottles of wine are offered for only $20 each. One of the few upscale spots with a really lively nightlife scene, Toscana is where Trolley Square’s vintage crowd hangs with cosmos and John Dalys. 1412 N. Dupont St., Wilmington, 654-8001

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Union City Grille

An ambitious owner-chef duo injected new life into a stagnating steakhouse with weekly events and wine dinners, fresh-made pastas and, yes, darn good steaks. Matt Curtis and Robert Lhulier, both Deep Blue alumni, have brought imagination to a menu that is still rustic and recognizable. Sublime chili is made with braised short ribs. Lamb chops get a dose of balsamic gastrique. Gnocchi and fettuccine are made in-house. On Sundays, $2 buys you an ounce of filet mignon. Pony up $4 for two ounces. 805 N. Union St., Wilmington, 654-9780

Vallé Cucina Italiana

Vallé has come a long, long way from its humble beginning as a pizza place. Its meaty, well-seasoned crab cakes deserve all the praise that is heaped upon them. Other favorites verge on decadence, such as the char-grilled filet topped with Brie and baked in puff pastry. The Italian gumbo with orzo is a heartwarming dish for any winter night. And don’t forget the pasta. A diverse wine list shows why Vallé earned its Wine Spectator award of excellence. 4752 Limestone Road, Wilmington, 998-9999

Diners at Victoria’s enjoy an elegant meal with an unparalleled view of the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk and oceanfront. Photograph by Thom ThompsonVictoria’s

Victorian decor in progressive Rehoboth? Victoria’s pulls it off with ease with the leather chairs, rich woods and just enough gingerbread. Try the cream of crab soup, then go with any of the big, brazen and beautiful entrées like Dogfish-head braised chicken, grilled filet or roasted pork belly. Sunday brunch beneath the outdoor trellises is unbeatable, and the normally early-bird-only $29 three-course meal extends all night. Many folks make Victoria’s their last stop for dessert and a nightcap. Crème brûlée and cheesecake are top-notch. 2 Olive Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-0615


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Walter’s Steakhouse

Quintessentially Wilmington, Walter’s remains the place for a steak and beef done right. Don’t skimp on crab cakes or clams casino, but you’re visiting Walter’s for steak. Go for the 20-ounce Kansas City strip. On Monday, Thursday and Sunday nights, there’s a complimentary raw bar of juicy oysters, caviar and more. Never one to hop trends, Walter’s added hot-stone seared Kobe beef. It’s a perfect fit. 802 N. Union St., Wilmington, 652-6780

Crossing the Line

Far be it for us to stay home every weekend. These are just over the line and worth the extra 10 minutes of driving.

Bayard House Restaurant

Eastern Shore classics and Baltimore-style seafood favorites are the order of the day. The crab cakes are exquisite. 11 Bohemia Ave., Chesapeake City, Md., (410) 885-5040

Brandywine Prime Seafood and Chops

Owner Dan Butler did a fabulous job of renovating the old Chadds Ford Inn with exposed stone walls and warm woods. You’ll find a full range of steaks on the grill, veal chops and pork chops. 1617 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, Pa., (610) 388-8088

Chesapeake Inn

The first floor and deck offer tavern favorites that keep tiki bar patrons dancing to live music all night. Upstairs features fine dining on such classics as stuffed rockfish and beef on the grill. All areas offer great water views. 605 Second St., Chesapeake City, Md., (410) 885-2040

Dilworthtown Inn

Visit one of the most romantic rooms in Chester County. This is why we love Jim Barnes and his team: duck breast with candied orange, leg confit, frisee-watercress salad, Port-poached black Mission figs and juniper-infused jus. The wine cellar houses 800 selections. 1390 Old Wilmington Pike, West Chester, Pa., (610) 399-1390

Fair Hill Inn

Chefs Phil Pyle and Brian Shaw grow their own produce and herbs, source artisan cheeses from around the world, and serve entrées such as roasted quail and braised boar. Note the house-made charcuterie and cured Italian meats. 3370 Singerly Road, Elkton, Md., (410) 398-4187

Sovana Bistro

Seasonal and local is the mantra. Check the holiday antipasto of local pear and Fontina grilled cheese; local beets with sherry vinaigrette and crispy shallots; Medjoul dates with goat cheese and Tuscan salami and more. 696 N. Unionville Road, Kennett Square, Pa., (610) 444-5600

Talula’s Table

The wait for the lone table for eight at Bryan Sikora and Aimee Olexy’s 3-year-old BYOB is still a year. You’ll be treated to such dishes as beef tartare with poached quail eggs and capers, lasagna of potato and shaved porcini. 102 W. State St., Kennett Square, Pa., (610) 444-8255 

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