New Restaurant: Barrio Costero
This is not your papi's south of the border cafe. Overseen by Jamie Dodge, formerly of Elements in Princeton, this decidely chic and grown-up Mexican restaurant may be the only place in the state to pour Mexican wine and stock a variety of carefully curated mescals, served the traditional way, with sal de gusano (yes, that means worm salt).
Modern Casino Classic: Martorano's
What's black and white and disco-balled all over? The at-once opulent and over-the-top Italian dining room at Harrah's, owned by formerly "connected" Chef Steve Martorano. The ambiance is upscale but not serious and doesn't mind poking fun at itself with both Italian crooners and electronic dance music playing the soundtrack to the gangster movies showing silently on wall-mounted monitors. Plates are for sharing, and hospitality majors should take notes on the polished yet personable service.
Modern Casino Classic: Fin
Tropicana Executive Chef Demetrios Haronis is the ideal corporate chef: consistent, talented, poised, and unafraid to go off-menu when appropriate. Fin, the casino's showcase seafooder, showcases his skill in a space that glistens with iridescent sea-blue tiles. Diners looking for a lighter bite can sit at the circular bar and order from a long list of fresh sushis, local wines and cocktails that complement the food.
Elegance Outside Atlantic City: Sophia's of Margate
You could eat or drink at Sophia's five nights in a row and trick yourself into believing you were visiting a different restaurant each time. With a rooftop garden bar, a mosaic lounge whose centerpiece is a life-sized tree that bursts forth from the middle of the circular bar and several dining rooms decked out in full Medieval Spanish regalia, it's easy at this Margate Mediterranean stalwart to create whatever mood you desire.
Seafood in Swimtrunks: The Clam Bar
Smitty's (as it's known locally) is a place to go in Somer's Point the afternoon after. Throw on your flip-flops and your bathing suit and plop yourself at the outside clam bar next to some dock workers and order yourself a plate of fried clam strips. Bring your own beer and stay outside or tailgate in the parking lot while you wait for an (equally laid-back) indoor table, where regulars swear by the mixed red and white clam chowders.