By Lydia Woolever

Illustrations by Josefa

Photography by Christopher Myers

Travel & Outdoors

The Ultimate Guide to Eating and Drinking in Ocean City

From bins of taffy and buckets of just-cut fries to teetering towers of ice cream, the beach is an edible paradise.

By Lydia Woolever

June 2024

A big, beachy love letter to going Downy Ocean.

Sticky, sweet, and sentimental, our most iconic indulgences can still be found at a handful of old-school businesses.

What would a trip to the beach be without what we eat? For a few hours or days, all inhibitions get thrown to the sea breeze as we revert to our childhoods and indulge every craving our stomachs could desire, be it the saltiest snacks—popcorn, pizza, hot dogs, heaping piles of French fries—or the sweetest, most cavity-inducing desserts—candy, funnel cakes, fried Oreos, enough ice cream to last us through Labor Day.

But our affinity for these decadences is about more than just vacation-induced gluttony. Over the last century, they’ve become the nostalgic flavors of American youth. Of not only the beach, but carnivals, county fairs, end-of-school field days, and, in turn, the freedom of summer. In our fast-paced world, perhaps we are so drawn to them, often against our better judgement, because of their ability to transport us back to those simpler times.

Many of the establishments behind them have been open for decades, if not a dozen of them. These treats “are timeless and special,” says Anna Dolle, fourth-generation co-owner of her namesake Dolle’s Saltwater Taffy, which dates back to 1910 on the boardwalk corner of Wicomico Street. And for whatever reason, she adds, “they just taste better at the beach.”

Sure, these days, when you come to Ocean City, you can sit down for a fancier meal in a more modern setting, with servers and silverware to boot. But if you ask us, no visit would be complete without at least one extra-large slice of pizza while walking the boardwalk, or a couple carefully clenched cones over a game of Skee-Ball, or a few subs eaten over your beach towel on a bluebird afternoon—sand be damned.

Just like it always has been. Just like we always hope it will be.



French Fries

If there’s only one thing to eat on every trip to Ocean City, it is, without a doubt, a bucket—big or small—of just-cut, flash-fried, boardwalk-style fries from Thrasher’s. Follow the seagulls on South Atlantic Avenue toward the Ferris wheel, and there, on the wooden planks, you’ll find the original location of this circa-1929 potato slinger. It’s a sight to behold, watching employees slice the spuds right before you. (Idaho russets only.) Just don’t forget to douse your order in Morton salt, plus several shakes of apple cider vinegar, and try not to fight over those last crispy bits.


Saltwater Taffy

Since 1910, this fourth-generation business has been luring beachgoing sweet-tooths with its sticky specialty of saltwater taffy—originally invented in an age without refrigeration as a treat impervious to summer heat. Although there are multiple locations, the original brick-and-mortar stands on the boardwalk at Wicomico Street, where old neon signs still glow in red and teal, and bins of perfectly wrapped confections can be bought by the pound. Made onsite by hand to this day, the taffy’s flavors range from vanilla and chocolate to cotton candy and birthday cake. We’re always a sucker for banana and peanut butter.



From movie theaters to baseball games to the beach, there are few more simple pleasures than an old-school box of popcorn. And here in Maryland, that always means Fisher’s, with the family-run stand cooking kernels on the boardwalk’s Talbot Street since 1937. Classic butter and caramel flavors persist from the old days—“If it ain’t broke,” says third-generation owner Donald Fisher Jr. But now there’s also cheddar, and chocolate-drizzled, and our hands-down, always-and-forever favorite, Old Bay caramel—like an ever-so- slightly spicy taste of the Old Line State. Grab one of the small paper boxes full of the stuff for any of your sits in the sand or leisurely strolls.


Ice Cream

A confession: We’ll always have a soft spot for the frozen custard at Kohr Bros. But they’re from Coney Island, so when we’re really craving an authentic scoop, cone, or shake in Ocean City, the locally owned Dumser’s Dairyland is our destination, and any one of their several locations will do. Since 1939, this old-fashioned parlor has been making ice cream daily, with tried-and-true flavors like strawberry, butter pecan, and mint chocolate chip. You’ll find all the fixings, too—hot fudge, whipped cream, rainbow sprinkles, a bright-red maraschino cherry on top. On the hottest nights of summer, Dumser’s is the most happening place in town, and the lines are well worth the wait.

DOUGHNUTS: The Fractured Prune
BAGELS: Rosenfeld’s Deli
BREAKFAST: Sahara Cafe
CRABS: Belly Busters
SUBS: DeVito’s
PIZZA: Paisano’s
BURGERS: Alaska Stand
TACOS: Casita Linda
SUSHI: Sushi Café
WINGS: Shotti’s
FUDGE: Jessica's Kitchen
CANDY: Candy Kitchen

An ode to Maryland’s signature drink of summer.

When the weather gets warm enough in the Land of Pleasant Living, an inevitable thirst emerges. Not for any particular can of beer, mind you, not even an ice-cold Natty Boh. Instead, it's our state’s unofficial but undisputed drink of summer—the one and only orange crush.

Back in the day at the Bearded Clam. Courtesy of Mike Strawley

All across the state, and now even up and down the East Coast, there are fans of this refreshingly bittersweet cocktail, made with citrus-flavored vodka, fresh-squeezed citrus juice, a triple sec-style liqueur, and lemon-lime soda over ice—like Maryland’s tastier screwdriver. And for at least the last 40 years now, Ocean City has been the drink’s epicenter, and in many ways, where it all began.

“It’s a rite of passage,” say Mike Strawley, co-owner of The Bearded Clam on Wicomico Street. “We’ve been around long enough that people’s kids are coming in now, getting the same crushes that their parents drank.”

There’s debate over the origin story of the orange crush, of course. West Ocean City’s Harborside Bar & Grill claims to be the “home of the original” since 1993, serving “well over a million of them,” says co-owner Chris Wall.

“It tastes like vacation. A lot of people come in before they even check into their hotels, just to get started on the right foot.”

Meanwhile, many locals believe that Strawley’s circa-’78 bar was the first to serve some version. Back in the ’40s, his grandparents started slinging “squeezers” at their original establishment, just up the seaboard in Cape May, New Jersey. When his dad took over the business and moved down to Ocean City, he brought the tradition with him, with fading Kodachrome photographs of the early Clam showing the same hanging fruit baskets and steel juicers still used in the bar today.

“I never asked how they came to be, because they were just always there,” says Strawley, 56, who learned the recipe on day one as a barback at age 19. “I can make them in my sleep.”

Fresh-squeezed faves.
  1. The Bearded Clam
    15 Wicomico St.
  2. Harborside Bar & Grill
    12841 Harbor Rd.
  3. Mackey’s
    5311 Coastal Hwy.
  4. M.R. Ducks Bar & Grill
    311 Talbot St.
  5. The Wedge
    806 S. Atlantic Ave.

The ingredients are simple, and largely the same from bar to bar, but perfecting the ratio is somewhat of an art form. Too much triple sec? The drink’s too sweet. Too much soda? It’s too weak. Fresh juice is always key, hence halves of fruit being squeezed to order, with the Clam moving through more cases of citrus than it cares to count. And then there’s the technique, often inducing a Pavlov’s dog-like reaction in onlookers, who then generally can’t help but order one. “You can’t not love the show,” says Wall.

These days, there are also grapefruit crushes, and half-and-halfs with both juices, and “skinny” versions that swap Sprite for club soda. Some places like Seacret’s and Fish Tales even blend them into frozen drinks. But every iteration, as the name implies, is often dangerously easy to drink. “A lot of people come in before they even check into their hotels,” says Strawley. “It tastes like vacation.”

Oh, and in a town run on Natural Light—aka “Delmarva champagne”—the Clam also keeps a steady supply of Natty Boh in stock for its bevy of Baltimore patrons. “People get excited to see it, I can tell you that,” says Strawley. “We’ve had it so long, it’s cool again.”



One of the best restaurants in the Mid-Atlantic is two blocks north of Ocean City, just over the Delaware line at One Coastal in Fenwick, where James Beard Award finalist Matt Kearn works with local farmers and fishermen to celebrate land and sea.

  • What local ingredients do you love this time of year?
    We use Henlopen Sea Salt, right from the ocean in Lewes, Delaware. We get our blueberries from Bennett Orchards in Frankford. And we only serve fish that swim in [Mid-Atlantic] waters—Chesapeake catfish, tuna, scallops, even shrimp.

  • What are your most popular dishes?
    There are two dishes I can never take off the menu. We get our eggs locally to make the pasta for our cacio e pepe...And then our chicken liver pâté and buttermilk biscuits are constantly evolving with the seasons. It’s a little bit French finesse, a little bit Sussex County. You can’t get enough of it.

  • Do you ever cross over into Ocean City?
    My staff usually hangs out at Ponzetti’s, this great dive bar pizza parlor. My wife and I love Spain Wine Bar and The Hobbit.

Day in the Life

DeVito’s Deli perfects the quintessential beach sandwich.

The meats in the cold case at DeVito’s are almost impossible to read without a Tony Soprano accent: soppressata, mortadella, prosciutto, Genoa salami, and of course, capicola. And the owner of this longtime delicatessen still carries the hint of an Italian-American inflection, too, even after 40- odd years of living at the beach, where he opened one of the most beloved sub shops this side of the coastal bays.

“I try to do the early shift, come in, bake the bread, get all the prep done, then let Tony take over, because these old bones just can’t do it anymore,” says Mike DeVito, 72, through a thick salt-and- pepper mustache, referring to his youngest son, who helps run the place six days a week in summer.

Between a laundromat and ice cream shop in a one-story strip mall off Coastal Highway on 143rd Street in the northern neck of Ocean City, a green, white, and red flag declares DeVito’s open on this Thursday afternoon in early April. Closed from December through March, it reopened two weeks ago, and is already busy, with only three rolls left in the wire rack by the back Blodgett bread oven.

“It’s been word-of-mouth,” says DeVito of the business’s success, making up to 400 subs a day during the peak season—and that’s subs in these parts, despite all the out-of-towners who ask for hoagies, heroes, torpedoes, even wedges. “That’s what they call them on the north side of Long Island.”

In 1934, Mike’s grandparents opened the original DeVito’s Restaurant on the corner of 10th and H Streets in Washington, D.C., with neon signs advertising pizza, Coca-Cola, and air conditioning. By the time his father took over, the family had already begun vacationing at the beach, even buying some of the first lots at the proposed resort town on Assateague. In the late ’70s, they started eyeing the northern streets in Ocean City. “I saw a for-sale sign in the window here and said, ‘Hey, what about this place?’” says DeVito. “We’ve been here ever since.”

“If all I had to do all day was bake bread, I’d be in seventh heaven.”

Like in the early days, the menu features an assortment of classic cold cuts, served on fresh-baked bread with the works, plus hot sandwiches, like cheesesteaks and chicken Parm, as well as pizza, using the same old family recipe. Meanwhile, cnnolis get shipped in from Vaccaro’s in Baltimore.

“The good thing is, we’re on this side of the highway,” says DeVito, meaning oceanside, not bayside, with many of his customers calling in orders from the beach, then sending their kids straight from the beach for pick-up. He’s known some families for generations. “In the summertime, you don’t even look at the clock, you don’t have time, you just cruise, because it’s constant from the moment we open.”

He gets why subs are a go-to for beachgoers. They’re a whole meal. They’re easy to eat. And here, it’s all about consistency and quality. Meats and cheeses are imported from Italy, every ingredient gets sliced fresh daily, and then there’s the bread.

“If all I had to do all day was bake bread, I’d be in seventh heaven,” says DeVito, leaning against the stainless-steel prep table in a flour-dusted apron. “I say it’s nothing but earth, wind, and fire. But I like taking something from nothing and watching it grow.”

Skip the beach bars for the city’s stalwart watering holes.

Every beach town is a bedlam of tourist traps, especially when it comes to the sand-strewn bar scene. Ocean City is no different, full of big, busy, booze compounds, tempting open tabs, and always toting at least one bachelorette party. One surefire way to drink like a local, though, is to find a dive bar. And luckily, downtown, in the historic heart of things, a trio of timeworn watering holes offers a respite from the rest of the revelry. Make a night out of bouncing between them, and remember to tip your bartenders.

From top, A cold beer at Cork Bar; the neon sign; the Bearded Clam’s pool table; outside on Wicomico Street.


3 Wicomico St.

This might be our favorite bar in all of O.C. Beneath the small neon sign featuring a dripping mug of frosty beer, Cork Bar has been a fixture for local residents since it first opened on Wicomico Street in 1964, with its lone pool table, Keno, and surprisingly good food menu. (Get the hot dog.) In this corner of the state, Natty Light, not Natty Boh, flows like a high tide. Have a cold one or two before moseying down the street.


15 Wicomico St.

Just 100 feet from Cork Bar, you’ll find the blinking bulb lights of the circa- 1978 Bearded Clam. Through its hulking Formstone façade, the long wooden U-shaped bar is covered in a collage of old license plates, motorcycle swag, and cop memorabilia, giving off a sort of delightfully debaucherous TGI Fridays vibe, with its own carryout packaged- goods store to boot. Order what’s said to be the original orange crush, play a round of darts, and then head west.


216 Somerset St.

By the time you reach the little brick shack of this bona fide dive—perhaps Ocean City’s oldest bar, dating back to 1935—it’s likely time for last call. At Harbor Inn, expect no frills. The cans of beer are cold and cheap, the plastic cups of mixed drinks are potent, and the crowd gets louder and lewder as the hours wear on. Chat with the sassy barkeep, add a dollar to the ceiling, and call a cab to take you home.

COFFEE: High Tide
KOMBUCHA: Real Raw Organics
SMOOTHIES: Pablo’s Bowls
WINE SHOP: The Buzzed Word
BEER: Liquid Assets
WINE: Spain Wine Bar
SHOTS: Crawl Street Tavern
COCKTAILS: The Coconut Club

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