Near the tail end of the Delaware coastline, locals and travelers enjoy surf and turf on the sandy shores of the Atlantic Ocean. With its Biblical name meaning "broad spaces," Rehoboth Beach was first established as a resort in 1873 and is now an almost year-round destination for everyone from D.C. politicians, to families from Pennsylvania, to members of the LGBTQ+ community. Famous visitors have included the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl, Denzel Washington, Kathie Lee Gifford, and Joe Biden who owns a summer home there. For me, this has been my family's summer destination since the last quarter of the 20th century, and now with my own family, the tradition endures for another generation.
While fun in the sun has always been a siren call to return again and again to Rehoboth Beach, it's actually the food and drink memories I can never truly let go of, calling me back for another precious bite and puckering sip. Two of my favorite restaurants in the world call this forever burgeoning city home, and there's always something new opening up to fall in love with and become a highlight of future visits. While there are some excellent fine dining choices to be found here, let's focus on what's best about a beach town — beach eats and drinks. Here are the ones from Rehoboth Beach, right on its famed boardwalk, to beyond, in its surrounding areas up the Coastal Highway, that you cannot, and should not miss.
Before heading off for a day at the beach, one of the best leisurely ways to start a day is to head over to Café Papillon for bites that conjure up the morning carbohydrates of cuisine from across the Atlantic Ocean. The French-style outdoor café began life in the 1960s as Constance Dougat's boardwalk pushcart called Crêpes Suzette, and when Maya Contractor couldn't get enough of her baked goods, she bought the business in 1994. Contractor has kept everything as authentic as can be, telling The News Journal, "Everyone and everything is French, but me," although she's definitely no stranger to Europe herself, previously summering in France and England.
Café Papillon now resides in the quaint shopping alley known as Penny Lane (sharing its name with the Contractor's business partner and mother), where patient lines form daily for their coffee bar, and fresh pastries like brioches, tarts, and naturally soft croissants, filled with the likes of spinach and cheese, chocolate, and almonds. The most patient eaters take their time deciding, then wait for fresh and perfectly cooked crêpes, sweet or savory, to be made on Café Papillon's twin griddles. Fruits swirled and then folded with chocolate or Nutella, or savory options like ham, egg, and cheese are popular orders here, but for me, I like to keep it simple and order their delectable lemon and sugar crêpe, with a plain ol' croissant.
Chaps Pit Beef
Chaps Pit Beef's humble story began in 1987, as a wedding gift. Gus Glava pushed daughter Donna and son-in-law Bob Creager into serving beef barbecue out of a 12 by 15 foot shack parked in front of his bar in Dundalk, Maryland. Word of mouth started to spread, and eventually, the likes of Guy Fieri, Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, Adam Richman, brought both their bellies and TV shows for beef, ham, turkey, sausages, burgers, and dogs. This additional exposure, including a cameo on HBO's "The Wire," helped to make Chaps a famous Maryland institution.
The Rehoboth Beach location, which opened in 2019 thanks to Chris and Gary Desch, is not only the first non-Maryland site of the franchise, but the first Chaps Pit Beef to include a bar. That's in addition to a fixings bar that includes fresh horseradish, pickles, and endless BBQ sauces to slather your favorite choice of meat, or perhaps even its sides like mac and cheese, slaw, fries, and the like. Personally, my go-to is the mammoth The Raven Sandwich, a trio of beef, turkey, and corned beef with cheese, which I pair with some pit wings. My only beef with the place is that I have to make the impossible choice of which awesome regional soft drink on the fountain tap my heart desires at the moment — non-alcoholic Cheerwine or Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer.
Neighboring Maryland and the shores of Chesapeake Bay are famously the home of blue crabs, but Delaware shares the same tradition. There are places to go crabbing but, for those who prefer to get straight to eating, there are also crab houses and seafood markets that'll save you the trip. In downtown Rehoboth Beach, crabs are served in full shells, soft-shelled form, and as crab cakes. But the best bet is further afield, where the crabs and other treasures of the sea are sold live or steamed for your take-home pleasure.
Copp's Seafood may seem a bit far away but, with 50+ years of crustacean sensations, it's worth the trip. While no longer run by the family whose name adorns the marketplace, couple David Wing and Lisa Olivere have kept things the same. In 2022, soon after taking over, they told The Cape Gazette, "We want to keep it a mom-and-pop operation, and we like the shack look."
Drivers headed south down Coastal Highway can spot another excellent option by the words "CRABS HERE" written in large red letters on the side of a truck, parked in an unassuming gas station lot. This is where The Crab Connect runs its operations, connecting eaters to crabs as simply as can be. Availability and price are always in flux, so it's best to call ahead if you're planning a visit. Mallets and crackers are most likely required, so be sure to have them on hand before you rip into those crabs.
Dogfish Head Beer
One of America's most beloved modern craft beer makers started off as Delaware's first-ever brewpub in Rehoboth Beach. Since June of 1995, Dogfish Head has been tapping "off-centered ales for off-centered people" thanks to James Beard award-winning founder Sam Calagione and his wife Mariah, and although it merged with Sam Adams in 2019, it has not only stayed true to its roots but branched out in many ways.
For fans of Dogfish Head beer, Rehoboth Beach and the surrounding areas is a pilgrimage must. One could plan an entire weekend just around the company's local ventures. While the original brewpub location was torn down in 2017, in its place stands a retail store selling Dogfish Head beers (the 90 Minute IPA remains my favorite), spirits, and paraphernalia. On opposite sides of the store are two eateries — the seafood-centric Chesapeake & Maine (honoring the heritages of the two owners) and a bigger and better Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats. The latter also hosts live music, which recently hosted the Middle-Age Dad Jam Band fronted by Calagione's former roommate and Dogfish beer tester, the actor-comedian Ken Marino, who also helps promote the brand whenever and wherever he can.
Dogfish Head even has a place for its fans to rest their heads — the Dogfish Inn in Lewes. In nearby Milton, a day trip is in order to visit the brewery for a tour, ending with a stop in the tasting room, where there are new experimental flavors to try.
While many children drag their parents into the colorful Candy Kitchen for gummies and stuffed animals, better beach candies and other delights can be found right across the street at Dolle's Candyland. After finding success slinging salt water taffy in nearby Ocean City, Maryland, co-founders Thomas Pachides and Rudolph Dolle set up shop in Rehoboth Beach in 1926. After the great storm of 1962, everything was basically destroyed apart from the 3,500-pound taffy machine, which is still in use today. That same year, they rebuilt their store with a large neon orange Dolle's sign that served as the equivalent of the Hollywood sign for Rehoboth Beach for decades.
Sadly, nothing is forever, and after selling their property, Dolle's moved a few doors down but the sign didn't move with them. While the sign was saved and now welcomes visitors on the exterior of the Rehoboth Beach Museum, a smaller, but familiar-looking one adorns the new shop. Luckily not much has changed, as Dolle's is still an excellent pit stop for fudge, chocolates, taffy of every flavor imaginable, and perhaps the real draw — popcorn, and caramel popcorn. Sold in boxes or larger tubs (for those who can't resist), the caramel corn comes in a variety of sweet and savory flavors, including Cinnamon, Chocolate Heath Bar Crunch, and Old Bay. If you can allow yourself to go nuts, grab a tub of their irresistible Three Nut Caramel Corn, with cashews, pecans, and almonds swimming in golden brown harmony.
Old-school Rehoboth Beach sit-down breakfast stalwarts include the Robin Hood Restaurant and Crystal Restaurant but, since 2016, Egg has been the leader in a new school of elevated rise-and-shine options. Melissa Postles opened Egg in the former McQuay's Market spot, right across the street from the Rehoboth Beach Museum, where the Dolle's sign welcomes travelers just over the Rehoboth Avenue drawbridge. Her goal from the get-go, as told to the Cape Gazette, was "to offer upscale, trendy breakfast food in a quaint atmosphere with appropriate cocktails to accompany the dishes," and eaters seemed to agree as she later added that, "We outgrew the kitchen the first week we opened."
With only a few available chairs to pull up, long lines formed each and every morning, but with the deliciousness that is their sriracha bacon candy, crab and avocado toast, lemon curd crêpes, and pumpkin pie praline French toast on the menu, the wait always proved well worth it. Thankfully, in 2023, Egg was able to expand its kitchen and seating area inside as well as outside, to satisfy more hungry mouths than ever. Although on a recent visit, we still had to wait, ordering and sipping a coffee, mimosa, or Bloody Mary from their bar certainly isn't the worst way to pass the time. Egg-cellent!
Gus & Gus Place
Gus Svolis, with a short-lived partner also named Gus, established Gus & Gus Place at the corner of Wilmington Avenue and the Boardwalk in 1956. It's a Rehoboth Beach summer highlight and happens to be one of my favorite restaurants in the entire world. For over six decades, beachgoers have lined up at its Boardwalk window to place their orders, which is also where all the cooking action takes place, on a constantly-in-motion flat-top grill.
One cannot go wrong with a Gus & Gus burger, dog, or cheesesteak, with a side of fries that even first daughter Chelsea Clinton was a fan of, and a birch beer served in a giant styrofoam cup. The cash-only restaurant also has an interior for seating, with tiny booths, ancient wallpaper, and classic lit-up letterboard menus. For me, a single trip to Gus & Gus is never enough, as one time is reserved for a cheeseburger sub (with a minimum of four patties!), and another, to sit in the back room for their beyond excellent, made-to-order salty and sultry fried chicken.
Even well into his 80s, Gus Svolis was always a presence at his namesake corner hot spot, where he would often cut up the fresh vegetables that made up his outstanding Greek salad. Svolis sadly passed away in the fall of 2020, aged 90, but Gus & Gus Place remains in good hands with his sons Billy and George, daughter Stacey, and their families keeping things running.
Hickman's Meat Market
When one thinks of the beach, a butcher shop is probably not one of the first things that comes to mind, but for locals and vacationers looking for premium meats for grilling, there's no better place to pop into than Hickman's Meat Market. Bill Hickman II opened this market in 2001, where quality and choice cuts have always been the standard and a step above whatever the grocery store could offer. Today, his meat cutter son Bryan and office manager daughter Jennifer are the fifth generation of Hickmans to carry on 200 years of family tradition.
Hickman's roster of meats runs the gamut of every imaginable cut of beef, pork (including whole pigs), lamb, veal, poultry, and sausages of everything in between. ESPN personality and former Washington Post columnist Tony Kornhieser swears by Hickman's hamburger meat and champions its glory often on his podcast. Local restaurants turn to Hickman's for their own meat supply, and in the past have even partnered with them for demonstrations and dining discussions. For those who stick around Rehoboth Beach well into the fall, Hickman's is naturally the place that Thanksgiving early planners turn to pre-order one of the best turkeys around. While the prices certainly match the quality, if one is looking for just a more affordable taste of Hickman's, I recommend grabbing a pack of beef or turkey sticks, or even some slices of their super fresh deli meats to chew and stew over.
The Ice Cream Store
Every beach town has its own classic and unique ice cream shop, and since The Royal Treat closed for good in 2023, the best place to hit up in Rehoboth Beach is now the one with an oddly generic name — The Ice Cream Store. Opened in 1970, it's evolved over the years, thinking big and outside of the ice cream tub to offer up outrageous flavor combinations with monikers to match.
Owner Chip Hearn told The Daily Times, "We're not stuck with a basic flavor concept," and he really meant it. The Ice Cream Store offers over 100 flavors, with new ones introduced every summer. Dessert-hungry patrons gather in a jumbled line each night to order, and aren't in the least bit embarrassed to ask for a scoop of Better Than Sex, Crack, I Don't Give a Fork, Cereal Killer, or Booger ice cream. Hern, who also owns a hot sauce store called Peppers, crossed his two loves together with the Ghost Pepper flavor, which requires a signed waiver to eat and was good enough to be included in the book "Ripley's Believe It or Not! Unlock the Weird!" Not all flavors have silly names though, and those with simple names like Peaches or Blueberries offer just as much enjoyment for all ages. If you're having trouble picking a flavor, why not order a flight where you can try six?
When I was a child, two slices of "the legendary taste" of Grotto Pizza were all I ever wanted, but as I grew older, I grew apart from the ubiquitous chain that has three Rehoboth Beach locations within 700 feet of each other. The legend of Grotto's swirled pizza wore off for me, and over the years I've warmed up to a singular spot that was there all along, with a wryly smiling pizzaiolo chef logo staring right at me, coupled with a compelling greasy smell right under my nose — Louie's Pizza.
Greek immigrant Lazaros "Louie" Gouvas first came to Rehoboth to work for his uncle at his George's Lunch and didn't know a thing about making pizzas. He proved to be a natural, and in 1974, Gouvas struck out on his own by opening Louie's Pizza. Beyond quality pies, Louie's specializes in tasty oven-toasted grinders and cold subs like Italian, meatball, gyros, turkey, pizza steak, and tuna, as well as salads utilizing some of the same meaty and fishy ingredients. While Louie still shows up to crack a smile for happy customers, his sons Tony and Tim have picked up the mantle to cook for them.
Matt's Fish Camp
After opening Bluecoast Seafood in 2002, Matt Haley and his aptly named SoDel Concepts restaurant would go on to dot Southern Delaware, from Lewes to the very end at Fenwick Island, together with an abundance of other fine restaurants like Lupe Italian Kitchen, Catch 54, Fish On, and one named after its founder — Matt's Fish Camp. The original Matt's Fish Camp location in Bethany Beach opened to great fanfare in 2011, with fresh seafood options and sunny drinks in a bright and casual setting.
In 2014, Haley was honored by the James Beard Foundation as the Humanitarian of the Year, and sadly in that same year, while in India on a philanthropic mission, he lost his life in a motorcycle accident. Scott Kammerer succeeded Haley at SoDel Concepts, and in 2016 the very first restaurant they opened after his passing, in a fitting tribute to his legacy, was a second location of Matt's Fish Camp, in Lewes.
Formerly a house on the highway, Matt's Fish Camp Lewes has a lovingly homey look on the outside, complete with a classic rustic Custom 10 Chevy truck parked out front. On the inside, there's nothing but comfort, including the excellent food, like briny oysters, their truly sticky icky wings, lumpy (in a good way) crab cakes, giant onion rings, revered crabby fries, and one of the best seafood salads we've ever had the pleasure of ingesting, the lobster Cobb.
Regan and Kim Derrickson brought a slice of life from the Pacific to the Atlantic when they opened their Nalu Hawaiian Surf Bar & Grille in Dewey Beach back in 2008. 11 years later, they jumped at the opportunity to open a quainter, yet just as lively, and open-aired second location of Nalu on Rehoboth Avenue's prime real estate. "Nalu" is Hawaiian for the simple sound of waves, and with a cool island atmosphere within, you'll want to hang more than just 10 (minutes), sipping on giant frozen drinks.
Poke bowls, tacos, and Hawaiian-tinged apps speak to many from their surfboard-shaped menu, but the best thing to get on an empty stomach, and for a large group, can be found right at the top — Nalu Nachos. A mammoth bowl of crispy chips is beyond loaded up with a pound of shredded cheese, queso, guac, sour cream, salsa, and jalapeños. On paper, these nachos may sound like any other you might have had elsewhere, but once you've had Nalu's, it's hard to go back to having any old nachos going forward. Best eaten at the restaurant, I have also had these to go and munched on them at the beach, where any crumbs that fall into the sand will be happily scooped up by a seagull.
In 1971, Nick and Joan Caggiano opened a 17-seat restaurant called Nicola Pizza that went on to be expanded three times including a second location around the block. One of my favorite restaurants of all time, while their pizza is excellent, their real claim to fame is the Nic-o-Boli. A stromboli folded like a calzone, Caggiano tested his dish with his staff before giving everyone else a taste in 1973.
Standard issue Nic-o-Bolis come with ground beef, cheese, and pizza sauce, but every other ingredient is on the table to be ordered. My order is light beef, extra cheese, and extra pepperoni. My Mrs. gets a lo-carb one, which ditches the bread, with black olives and sweet peppers. The Nic-o-Bolis are so popular with guests of Rehoboth Beach, they can be bought frozen by the case to be cooked at home. There are plenty more options on Nicola's menu, including punchy pepperoni rolls, a fantastic basic salad (be sure to ask for extra cheese), and a kids menu.
Today, Nick Jr. is the main face of Nicola's, always bouncing from table to table with a smile and making sure his customers are just as happy. Some fans cried blasphemy when the family decided to spread their wings and leave town for Lewes. I was skeptical myself, but the new roomier location, with plenty of parking and an outdoor patio bar, captures the essence of the old, while leaving open the opportunity for an even brighter future.
Obie's By The Sea
A few blocks north on the boardwalk, just far enough for the crowds to start to whittle down, lies a breezy bar and grill that has been the place to unwind, day and night — Obie's By the Sea. Originally opened by John V. Sharigan in 1981, Obie's and their bustling daytime snack bar offered standard American fare like burgers, dogs, subs, and fries, but the food was never the main draw here. The atmosphere was. Endorsed by the New York Times, with an open-air, multi-tiered, wooden structure, Obie's offers one of the best dining views of the beach. Patrons are always happy to stop in, to take a break from the sun or blow off some steam with a few drinks just after sunset, when a beautiful purplish-orange hue hovers over the Atlantic Ocean.
After almost 40 years of chilling and grilling, Obie's By the Sea got a bit of a refresh recently, when Big Fish Restaurant Group took over its management. The group's co-founder Eric Sugrue told the Delaware Business Times, "We've changed the menu to make it more seafood-centric, with fewer burgers, wraps, and hotdogs." With options like steamed clams to be claimed and lobster rolls rolling out onto plates, Obie's is now a destination for its atmosphere, and its food ... and of course a drink or two or three.
Old World Breads Bakery
Combining 30 years of experience, as a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, apprentice at the famed Greenbrier Hotel, and pastry chef in Vail, Colorado as well as local Rehoboth Beach restaurants, Keith Irwin had all the tools he needed to become a baker in his own right. In 2014, he opened Old World Breads Bakery in nearby Lewes, which also makes the rounds, selling at farmer's markets, including Rehoboth's seasonal one. With a name like Old World Breads Bakery, it's no surprise that Irwin produces fresh and fine breads that are all-natural, and free from preservatives or enhancers. He told The News Journal, "Everything, and I mean everything, is made from scratch."
While hearty breads like sourdough, rye, focaccia, croissants, Italian, and baguettes add to Old World Bread Bakery's customer's slices of life, the real treats are their succulent sweetened baked goods. If you must order only one thing (which is virtually impossible, as the temptation is too great), then please, order the lemon donuts. If you can order only two things, order two lemon donuts. Okay, what about three things? How about their lusciously crumbly scones, like the blueberry or the lemon rosemary asiago? Might we interest you in a stealer sticky bun or comely cinnamon roll? The list goes on and on, so be sure to save space in your stomach for the next day. That way, you can try something else amazing by them, like their unforgettable soft, soft, soft pretzel.
Billy Lucas filled his mouth with burritos from the food trucks on the West Coast, and cut his teeth cooking as a roadie for the likes of Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Michael Bublé, and the Jonas Brothers. When he returned to Delaware, he brought his beloved SoCal street food culture and cuisine with him, gassing up his own food truck called Taco Reho. The truck proved to be a hit and, in 2021, Lucas found a more permanent home in the shell of a former Burger King ... keeping the old "Drive-Thru" sign.
"We go by the motto, 'Taco loudly,'" Lucas told Delaware Today, adding "We like to have a rock feel, but we don't want to hit you over the head with it." With that attitude and hearty food to back it up, Taco Reho has become the area destination for fast-casual Mexican food (sorry, Chipotle). Whatever your pleasure, be it tacos, burritos, or quesadillas, Taco Reho will fill them with their savory Baja fish, grilled shrimp (I highly recommend their Buffalo sauce type), short rib (amazing!), pork carnitas, chicken tinga or veggie options. The menu options are rounded out with loaded fries, amped-up hotdogs, Main Root fountain sodas, draft beer, and headbanging cocktails.
Business is going so well that a new location of Taco Reho is opening up north in Middletown, Delaware. Don't worry, it won't be called Taco Middle, so Rehoboth and its SoDel spin on SoCal food will stay well represented.
Thrasher's French Fries
Sorry McDonald's, but the best french fries are beach fries, and the best beach fries the world over may just be the ones fried up by Thrasher's French Fries. Thrasher's has been a beach tradition ever since 1929 when Georgian Mr. J.T. Thrasher set up a stand in Ocean City, Maryland, and today three locations service both that beach town to the south, and Rehoboth Beach as well.
Key to their success has been sticking to Thrasher's original recipe — Idaho potatoes cooked in peanut oil, apple cider vinegar, and salt, offered in three overflowing bucketed sizes. The only other items on the menu are Pepsi soda products. As for condiments, your options are more salt and apple cider vinegar. Wait, no ketchup? Don't even think about asking. You won't find any at Thrasher's. Rehoboth Beach manager Logan Kline told the Journal Record, "It's a company tradition since 1929," adding, "Some people do have a problem with it. They have their own opinions. Some people argue with us. It's a rare occurrence that people get super, super angry." Some of those eaters have even bothered neighboring businesses on our list for the condiment, like Gus & Gus or Louie's — which they will gladly charge for, as their ketchup isn't free.
In the end, though, all the ketchup fuss is missing the point. Thrasher's are the very definition of boardwalk fries and, to be honest, are so perfect as is, that ketchup would only sully their brilliance.
Read the original article on Daily Meal.