Your ultimate shore guide 2018
Fine dining picks
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Five picks for a special meal
By Craig Laban
Restaurant Critic

Fine-dining restaurants at the Shore inevitably channel a more casual vibe than their big-city counterparts. But no compromises are made when it comes to the quality of the cooking and the passion it takes to produce meals with character, creativity, and a seaside sense of place. — Craig LaBan

The Red Store

Every year brings an ambitious new chapter for this charming country store-turned-gastronomic-BYOB in Cape May Point. This year, co-owner Lucas Manteca reclaims his role as head chef to create five-course prix-fixe menus ($65) that change frequently with the seasons (cacao pasta with nettle cream and morels) and that are accented by Manteca's Argentine roots (beef with "chili-churri;" dulce de leche pudding with rhubarb jam). The Store, meanwhile, remains a favorite for more casual breakfasts and lunches. 500 Cape Ave., Cape May Point, 609-884-5757;

Diving Horse

This breezy homage to beach-chic dining in Avalon from Center City's Pub & Kitchen crew is reliably one of the Shore's best BYOBs. Chef Melissa McGrath (High Street on Market) will lead the kitchen this summer with a focus on sustainable Jersey seafood and "barely cooked" local produce to keep it light and fresh. That means fluke with pistachio dukkah and carrot yogurt, and tuna tartare with sea beans and crunchy papadums. 2109 Dune Dr., Avalon, 609-368-5000;

Steve & Cookie's By the Bay

Regulars come year-round to this Margate institution because owner Cookie Till, it seems, is at the heart of so many positive developments for the Shore's dining scene (the local-food movement). Her restaurant is also the epitome of steady class, from the lobster mac-n-cheese to the seafood pan-roast and legendary blueberry pies. The oyster bar is also worthwhile for local bivalves and a burger. 9700 Amherst Ave., Margate, 609-823-1163;

Cafe 2825

South Jersey has so many Italian restaurants. But there's such a unique drama to dinner at the Lautato family's upscale A.C. standby, with tableside preparations for hand-pulled burrata and cacio e pepe twirled inside the hollow of a big rolling Pecorino cheese, that my family is begging for a revisit. Deft updates to Italian American favorites like Sunday gravy and veal chop Milanese make that proposition impossible to resist. 2825 Atlantic Ave., Atlantic City, 609-344-6913;

Cardinal Bistro

The family duo of Thomas Brennan and his chef son, Michael, have built on their impressive debut in 2016 to create perhaps Absecon Island's most forward-cooking BYOB, with artful combinations that pair sturgeon with lobster and maitakes, and shrimp with grits made from popcorn. The house-made bagels are a draw for brunch. 6525 Ventnor Ave., Ventnor, 609-541-4633;

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