It’s a proven fact: The closer you are to the ocean, the stronger your craving for seafood will kick in. Fortunately, Rehoboth’s Henlopen City Oyster House is there for you with a tempting array of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean’s finest bounties.
Since opening eight years ago, this sophisticated seafood spot has become beloved by locals and sought out by tourists. With shell-colored walls, rustic wood, and weathered brick, the restaurant, just two blocks west of the beach, is reminiscent of the kind of upscale space you might find in a place like Portland, Maine, but with distinctly Delmarva touches. Tables are topped with Old Bay and Tabasco sauce, while mollusk memorabilia finds its way into every corner, from framed antique oyster plates to a hand-painted mural depicting the namesake bivalve’s anatomy.
To get the juices flowing, a small chalkboard behind the bar lists the daily craft beers on draft, including Maryland brews like a special cask version of the Country Ride pale ale out of RAR in Cambridge. The curated wine and cocktail list is also worth perusing, with the horseradish-heavy house Bloody Marys being a liquid highlight (and hangover cure-all).
For the main feast, begin with the raw bar’s titular oysters. Prettily presented on a silver platter, the rotating selection ranges from local picks, like the restaurant’s own Virginia Salts, to North Atlantic specialties, like Katama Bays and Wellfleets, sourced from Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod.
While the shellfish plays a starring role in a number of offerings—classic Eastern Shore stew, bread-crumbed Rockefeller, Creole-style po’boys, or just flawlessly fried—give some love to the rest of the classic menu, too. One mouth-watering must is the plate of flash-fried clam strips, which taste nothing like the mundane morsels from the seafood shacks of our youth. Crispy, tender, and accompanied by a tangy remoulade, these addictive appetizers are (yes, we’ll say it) the best we’ve ever had.
If you like variety, we can’t say enough good things about the massive bowl of bouillabaisse. This fragrant fishermen’s stew is a cornucopia of the sea’s bounty, chock full of fish, scallops, mussels, clams, and shrimp and served with a grilled baguette for bathing in saffron-tomato broth. The New England lobster roll, piled high with Maine lobster meat and mixed with just enough mayo (along with a side of Old Bay fries), is another fine excuse for forsaking that bikini bod. For some turf to balance your surf, try the decadent pulled-pork sandwich—smothered in a sweet and smoky barbecue sauce and piled high with crunchy coleslaw.
By the end of the meal, you won’t have room for dessert, but if you want to linger a little longer, head down the street for a Frosé night cap at The Blue Hen, Henlopen’s James Beard-semifinalist sister restaurant. There’s nothing like a boozy slushy to make it feel like endless summer.
HENLOPEN CITY OYSTER HOUSE: 50 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, DE, 302-260-9193. Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 12-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 12-9:30 p.m. Cuisine: Elevated seafood classics. Prices: appetizers: $9-13; entrees: $10-99.