Asbury Park has many reputations -- some know it as the slightly grungy home of The Stone Pony, the music venue where Bruce Springsteen got his start, while others consider it the best damn beach town on the Jersey Shore (a hotly contested topic in the Garden State). It also happens to be one of the best dining destinations in the state, thanks to a burgeoning food scene that goes way beyond boardwalk staples like fried Oreos and sausage & pepper sandwiches. From multiple Neapolitan pizzerias to an authentic Ethiopian eatery, these are the best restaurants in Asbury Park.
Please note: Indoor dining is not currently allowed in New Jersey; main drag Cookman Avenue is closed to traffic most of the week to accommodate outdoor dining.
There are two types of Italian restaurants in New Jersey: casual pizza joints with formica booths and pitchers of beer, and slightly fancy, white-tablecloth dining rooms fit for a Real Housewives table-flipping showdown. Brando’s, whose owner Steven Botta hails from Brooklyn, falls into the second category, and that’s not a bad thing. This is the type of Italian restaurant you go to when you want a heavy, comforting meal of ricotta meatballs, gnocchi in Alfredo sauce, and veal Milanese. Also, a lot of wine. How to book: OpenTable
Set in a Victorian house overlooking the lake that divides Asbury Park and Ocean Grove, Moonstruck is both upscale (white tablecloths and waiters in ties) and casual (this is the Jersey Shore, after all). The multi-story space with wraparound porches is split into separate dining areas and lounges, so you can partake in the full Mediterranean menu of pasta, seafood, and grilled meats, or just stop in for wine and the live piano music often playing downstairs. 2020 marks Moonstruck’s 25th anniversary and currently the restaurant is only offering takeout, with a dedicated menu including a fish fry made with you choice of flounder, cod, shrimp, or scallops and served with coleslaw, tartar sauce, and French fries and daily special announced on their website. How to book: Walk-ins only; takeout only right now
Some of the best pizza on the East Coast can be found in Asbury Park. Talula’s isn’t part of the old guard of Italian-American pizzerias in New Jersey (for that, go to Vic’s in nearby Bradley Beach or Pete & Elda’s in Neptune City); instead, this modern, industrial space offers lightly charred sourdough pizzas topped with, for example, fresh mozzarella, house-made fennel pork sausage, and in-house pickled cherry peppers. You’ll also find seasonal salads, toasts and sandwiches, homemade desserts, and natural Italian wines. Vegans are well taken care of here as well, thanks to made-in-house vegan mozzarella and cashew-almond ricotta. How to book: Resy
You won’t find a bevy of taco trucks along Asbury Park’s beaches, but you will find Pop’s Garage, which is as close to the Mexican beach lifestyle as you’ll get here. The boardwalk restaurant looks out onto the beach and is the perfect place to take a break from the sand and sun. The $4 tacos are a steal, but if you’re really hungry, go for the overstuffed Pop’s Burrito. And, they’re open for breakfast until noon, with dishes like a pork roll and egg sandwich (this is New Jersey after all), a breakfast burrito, and their own diabolical creation of Pupusas Rancheros, which involves cheese-and-bean stuffed corn pancakes topped with salsa roja and two fried eggs. How to book: Walk-ins only
This self-described “gourmet deli” is known to the Instagram food world for its stacked (and highly filtered) creations. Aside from viral specialties like General Tso’s chicken sandwiched between sticky rice buns, The Speakeatery serves an In-N-Out inspired burger called the Down-N-Out and tamer deli-style sandwiches and several versions of a cheesesteak sandwich. That said, if there’s one place to get a chorizo-French-fry-hash-fried-queso-blanco-with-chipotle-crema-on-a-pressed-gujaillo-chili-sauce-rubbed-roll, this is it. Check their Insta for daily specials and save room for the Fruity Pebble cheesecake if they got it. How to book: Walk-ins only
This bustling Neapolitan pizzeria-slash-beer garden with a large outdoor patio slings wood-fired pizzas with crisp and blistery crusts that are topped with house-made mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, and meaty add-ons like meatballs, hot soppressata, and sweet Italian sausage. You can also order salumi, salads, pastas, seafood, and craft cocktails and at brunch you’ll find an almond-crusted French toast and Eggs in Purgatory. During non-pandemic times, dance parties were a common sight. How to book: Tock
This upscale diner is the second location of the Montclair favorite and it caters to the hangry, slightly hungover crowd that often abound in Asbury Park on weekend mornings. The specialty here is pancakes, available in buttermilk, chocolate chip, strawberry, red velvet, and carrot cake varieties, though the challah French toast topped with Nutella and strawberries is a wise choice if you have a sweet tooth. The rest of the menu skews towards typical Americana fare -- build-your-own burgers, three-cheese grilled cheese, and eggs Benedict. How to book: Walk-ins only
Away from the main drag of Cookman Avenue, this cafe with its own patio offers reliable, high-quality Mediterranean food in a fast casual setting. Consider the pita sandwiches -- the falafel, chicken shawarma, and beef kofta are top contenders -- and the kebab platters. Definitely order a few sides as well, like the labneh or baba ganoush, to share, and save room for the genius combo tahini shake and fries, a shake made with tahini, frozen banana, and simple syrup that’s served with “a fistful of fries,” according to the menu. How to book: Walk-ins only
A daytime staple in Asbury Park, Cardinal Provisions offers a variety of brunch strongholds, from chicken & waffles, avocado toast, and breakfast burritos to cacio e pepe scrambled eggs and a coconut shrimp wrap. Breakfast is available all day here, and there are also several vegan items on the menu, like a vegan “McRib” sandwich and three vegan bowls. How to book: Takeout only right now via website
While you probably wouldn’t associate the Jersey Shore with French food, some fine Parisian-style fare can be found at this Asbury brasserie by the same owners as Porta and Brickwall Tavern. The sleek spot is a go-to for brunch, but also offers excellent dinner and late-night options. Expect typical French bistro dishes like escargot, moule frites, and steak tartare, plus caviar options and a burger topped with raclette and caramelized onions. How to book: Tock
Long Branch’s loss is Asbury Park’s gain when this Dominican/Ethiopian eatery moved here in 2018. How did owner Chef Adanesh Ashghedom come to cook these two very different cuisines? While Ethiopian is her native cuisine, she made Dominican food while in Long Branch so she decided to serve both at this new iteration. Consequently, you’ll see dishes like empanadas and mofongo rubbing shoulders with ye siga tibs (beef sautéed with onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes) and injera with gomen (collard greens stewed with onion, ginger, garlic and tomato) and mesir wot (split lentils simmered with onions, garlic, ginger and berbere spice). Trust us, it works. How to book: Walk-ins only
Seafood lovers, this is your spot. Ogle the raw bar, slurp up the chowder, and just try to resist the siren call of linguine and clams. Clams casino, lobster roll, crabcake, shrimp scampi…the gang’s all here. And don’t despair if you’re not into fish, the burger here is top-notch and there’s also some dry-rubbed spare ribs and a New York strip steak on the menu. How to book: OpenTable
In 2018 the team behind popular Mexican spot Barrio Costero opened this Middle Eastern spot and it’s undeniably a hit. Start with a slew of the small, shareable plates like hummus, Israeli salad, portobello fries, and eggplant with feta, before moving onto sandwiches like lobster salad on a brioche bun, a lamb burger with tzatziki, and a shawarma wrap. How to book: OpenTable
Asbury Park is blessed with several good pizza spots, and Medusa became a serious contender when it quietly opened in 2016 tucked into a former garage on the corner of 4th Avenue and Main Street. Chef-owners Lauren Castellini and Aimée McElroy installed a 1,700-pound wood-burning oven and started cooking classic pie as well as ones with toppings like salami and shisito peppers. McElroy, who’s in charge of the pizza, cut her teeth at Il Buco Alimentari in Manhattan and then baked at both Talula’s and Porta here in Asbury Park. Meanwhile, Castellini has cooked at Grant Achatz’s Next in Chicago and she takes care of dishes like a French dip sandwich, charred kale salad, and tiramisu for dessert. How to book: Takeout only right now
Sometimes, classic is best. And when it comes to deli sandwiches in New Jersey, Frank’s is an icon that has stood the test of time for more than 50 years. Consider fasting the day you go to Frank’s so you can have a fighting chance at finishing the overstuffed club sandwiches they’re known for and if you go for breakfast expect to see a whole lot of pork roll on the menu. How to book: Walk-ins only
The Asbury is the hippest hotel in town so naturally it also has one of the best rooftops. Head over at sunset for killer views, as well as craft cocktails, bubbly, and that Whispering Angel you know you can’t get enough of come summertime. While the ambience is more the focus here, if you need a snack there’s a solid cheese board, charcuterie, and pizzas on offer. How to book: Resy
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Devorah Lev-Tov lives in Brooklyn but travels the world, from Israel to India to Italy and across North America. She writes for Travel + Leisure, Afar, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times, Saveur, Taste, Eating Well, Eater, Edible Brooklyn, and more.
Elaheh Nozari is the Former Senior Cities Editor at Thrillist. Before that, she sold beach badges on the Jersey Shore. Now she just goes to the beach.