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Top 10 restaurants on the Conneticut Shoreline
Top Ten Western Shoreline - Top Ten Eastern Shoreline - Branford - Guilford - Madison - Clinton - Westbrook - Essex - Old Saybrook - Old Lyme

We’ve divided the Top 10 Best of the Best Shoreline Restaurants into two sections: Branford, Guilford, and Madison — the larger towns on the West, or New Haven County side, of The Shoreline in area code 203; and Westbrook, Clinton, Old Saybrook, Old Lyme, and Essex — the smaller towns to the East, or Middlesex County side, of The Shoreline in area code 860. And we’ve picked the Best of The Best on the basis of the place’s success in doing what they’re aiming to do, rather than any hierarchy of style.

Connecticut Shoreline

Eastern Shoreline

Quattro's - Guilford
Lenny & Joe's - Locations in Madison and Westbrook
G-Zen - Branford
9 East Hibachi & Asian Kitchen - Branford
Lenny's - Branford
Bar Bouchee - Madison
Le Petit Cafe - Branford
La Luna - Branford
Kamana Fine Indian Cuisine - Guilford
Donahue's Madison Beach Grille - Madison

Listed in random order

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Western CT Shoreline

Liv's Oyster Bar - Old Saybrook
Fresh Salt at Saybrook Point - Old Saybrook
Cafe Routier - Westbrook
Lenny & Joe's Fish Tale - Locations in Westbrook & Madison
Alforno - Old Saybrook
Nancy's Rosemary & Sage - Old Saybrook
Hanami - Clinton
Scotch Plains Tavern - Essex
Westbrook Lobster - Clinton
Carlson's Landing - Essex

Listed in random order

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Branford Restaurants

Donovan’s Reef - Located in the old Yale Lock Company, Donovan’s Reef is a Branford tradition, with a menu that ranges from your basic burgers and grilled pizza to fancy-dress fish, pasta, and meat dishes. Grab a seat at the bar for a casual meal — or settle in for a candlelight dinner with a nice bottle of wine. Rock bands and big-screen pro football draw loyal fans on weekends.
1212 Main St., Branford, 203-488-5573

Parthenon Diner - While the Parthenon calls to mind all of the things that made diners so popular “way back when,” this diner offers a thoroughly modern version of that beloved tradition with plenty of pizzazz, a wide-ranging menu, and portions you never saw in those little old boxcars.
374 E Main St. Branford, 203-481-0333
809 Boston Post Rd., Old Saybrook, 860-395-5111

Le Petit Café - This place is the little jewel where Owner/Chef Roy Ip’s devotion to “unfussy, uncluttered cuisine” has shaped a crowd-pleasing prix fixe menu rich with authentic French flavor for more than two decades. Duck dishes are a specialty, with superb organic country bread made from scratch daily and a carefully chosen wine list rounding out every meal. Reservations are a must.
225 Montowese St., Branford, 203-483-9791

Lenny's - Got a craving for some rich, flavorful seafood bisque…a savory clear-broth clam chowder…or a generously portioned fresh-from-the-sea fish dinner? Then you’ve come to the right place. Lenny’s Famous Shore Dinner, featuring lobster, is a bona fide bargain. They still serve small eight-ounce glasses of frosty draught beers, which is smart since nothing is worse than a warm, flat pint. And it’s all perfectly enhanced by the soft breezes that drift in from the nearby saltwater marsh.
205 S. Montowese St., Branford, 203-488-1500

G-Zen - Known for their award-winning vegetarian, vegan, organic, and farm-to-table cuisine, G-Zen takes great pride in making healthful dining utterly delicious. But then that’s hardly a surprise with celebrated Vegan Chef Mark Shadle designing mouth-watering dishes that combine a pinch of culinary genius and a dash of Buddhism’s peace beautifully balanced with the freshest of ingredients — all 100% organic and all locally grown. Indeed, his menu is known for pleasing even the most discerning diners.
2 E. Main St., Branford, 203-208-0443

Nellie's - Set behind some weathered buildings at the marina — and both inside and out a bit of a plain Jane, Nellie’s is hardly the sort of restaurant you’d expect to sweep you off your feet. But we were completely smitten by her beautiful views of the Branford River and a superb Bouillabaisse. And they serve a burger featuring picked lobster, confit tomatoes, lettuce, smoked mozzarella, and chive aioli that’s indescribable.
50 Maple St., Branford, 203-433-4646

La Luna - Now well into its third decade, La Luna continues to be one of The Shoreline’s favorites, with its upscale yet comfortable setting and expertly varied lunch and dinner menus that feature both authentic Tuscan dishes and innovative culinary creations certain to please. Their legendary blockbuster Sunday brunch — which begins at 10:30 a.m. with the best of breakfast, then shifts into carving stations, antipasti, and all sorts of sinful desserts around twelve — lives up to their claim that it’s the best on the Connecticut coast, and the complimentary Mimosa or Bloody Mary is a nice touch.
168 N. Main St., Branford, 203-483-9995

Home - For some reason, small restaurants often take on the personality of their owner — and that’s how it is here at Home. Truth is, owner Jared’s genuinely hospitable nature seems to infuse the waitstaff, the kitchen crew, and even the customers with such warmth that diners actually feel, well…at home. Then there’s the food. Both lunch and dinner menus offer a nice fusion of modern American and Italian, with plenty of choices and some lovely gluten-free dishes that combine to make dining at Home a memorable pleasure. Have a Thimble Islands Ale on us!
1114 Main St., Branford, 203-483-5896

GW Carson's Restaurant - This place has a great reputation for its burgers. And their burgers are amazing — even the Meatless Maverick, which features a plant–based patty on a brioche bun nicely enhanced with garlic, A1, aioli, tomato, spring mix, Swiss cheese, and fried onion straws. But burgers aren’t all they serve. Their starters are intriguing (especially the Pickled Peppers with sriracha ranch sauce.) Their salads are sassy. (Try the GW Burger Salad.) Their sandwiches are savory. (The Classic Grilled Cheese All Grown Up is awesome.) And the entrees are guaranteed to bring you back for more. (Do not miss the Honey Bourbon Shrimp or Chicken.) Uniquely stylish plating adds flair to flavor, the house wines are designed to please, and it’s come as you are. So go!
308 East Main St., Branford, 203-208-1469

9 East Hibachi & Asian Kitchen - The first thing — no, make that the first five things — you’ll notice upon entering 9 East are the giant Buddha extending a warm welcome...the waterfall flowing gently behind him...colorful koi, a symbol of love and friendship, swimming happily below…above, tiny lights that look like a sky filled with stars…and a blend of aromas so tantalizing that you simply cannot wait to order. But wait, you must, because their menu requires perusal. There’s sushi and sashimi, a host of different fusion rolls, and traditional Asian favorites. Teriyaki and Tempura. A whole section of East-meets-West dinners. And the wildly popular Hibachi, where guests can watch chefs as entertaining as they are gifted creating their entrées right in front of them. Frankly, 9 East is an A-to-Zen dining experience you won’t find elsewhere. But call ahead — especially at the weekend. This place has earned quite a following.
310 East Main St., Branford, 203-315-8111

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Guilford Restaurants

Maritime Grille - Got your heart — and taste buds — set on authentic New England seafood? Then come here for grilled, broiled, baked, or seared-to-your-liking shoreline fare, prime cuts of steak, crisp green salads, and a raw bar. Grab a seat on the patio during the summer months. And after dark, unwind in the cozy lounge while enjoying the music of the area’s finest acoustical musicians.
2548 Boston Post Rd., Guilford, 203-453-0774

Som Siam - Despite its location off the Guilford Green, this little place attracts everyone with its genuinely happy bright-yellow clapboards. But while that may be what makes year-rounders and visitors come in for the first time, they come back time after time after time because of Som Siam’s award-winning Thai cuisine. Indeed, their loyal following raves about the fresh veggie and seafood-combo stir-fried specials — and their signature sticky rice. The mango dessert is not to be missed. It’s got a take-out window. And there’s a location in Branford, too
63R Whitfield St., Guilford, 203-458-0228
1209 Main St., Branford, 203-208-4204

The Place - Self-described as “an unusual restaurant,” The Place really is quite a place. For ambience, you’ll be invited to “put your rump on a stump” at one of the big, bright-red picnic tables. And as evening falls, strings of lights suspended on poles ward off the enfolding darkness — which will help you to read the menu that is painted quite cheerfully (though somewhat inelegantly) on a big red sign. But then ambience isn’t what The Place is known for. What it’s known for is food. Really good food cooked over a sizzling wood fire. Lobster, smoky roasted rather than boiled. Fresh clams on the half shell with butter and cocktail sauce. Steamers. Wine & garlic mussels. And their amazing roasted corn. They even top off their meals with desserts like cheesecake and key lime mousse. BYOB and BYOF (fries), but leave your credit card home. A stump awaits you.
901 Boston Post Rd., Guilford, 203-453-9276

Quattro's - Specializing in both Northern Italian cuisine and a lovely mingling of Italian and Latin flavors, Quattro’s is proof that fine dining can be elegant and fun. Enjoy exceptional tapas served with drinks at a good-time bar where you can linger awhile. If you’re still hungry — or simply hungry for more of Quattro’s delectable dishes, grab a table and order the Zuppa di Pesce (a mix of fresh seafood sautéed in garlic and wine over linguine) or maybe the Lobster Ravioli. And before you leave, take a peek through the kitchen door windows, where you’ll see four slammin’ chefs — skillets flying — turning out the tasty, small plate creations you’ll want to try on your next visit.
14 Water St., Guilford, 203-453-6575

Kamana Fine Indian Cuisine - Have you been to Kamana? If not, you must. For starters, it combines the colorful vibrancy of an Indian marketplace with the calm and simplicity of a small temple — and it’s a lovely balance. Then there’s the service, which is delightfully attentive to all and especially so toward those needing a bit of guidance through a rich menu that even includes vegetarian selections. Finally there’s the cuisine, which, featuring the premium Indian spices, is wholly authentic, utterly delectable, and individually prepared to meet each customer’s preference for mild, medium, or hot seasoning. Kamana is, as they themselves say, a feast for body and soul — and that’s not something to be missed.
1004 Boston Post Rd., Guilford, 203-689-5728

javahut - When you find a place that’s serious about coffee, it’s “grounds” for celebration. And when that same place is also serious about food and their customers, well that’s the trifecta of dining experiences right there! And for that, head to javahut. Their specialty coffees, hot drinks, and iced, frozen and smoothie beverages all go nicely with their breakfast crepes, their luncheon crepes, the paninis and burritos, some very unique salads, as well as their small plates, soups, salads, sandwiches, and quesadillas. There is always dessert. And at javahut, vegans, vegetarians, and those on a gluten-free diet will never feel left out. This one’s a winner.
20 Church St., Guilford, 203-689-5060

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Madison Restaurants

Lenny & Joe’s Fish Tale - Lenny & Joe’s Fish Tale isn’t just your run-of- the-mill success story. It’s a shoreline legend, starring an extensive menu of New England seafood so good that crowds of loyal followers — locals and tourists alike — have been totally hooked for years. Their lobster roll is king. But scrod, fried scallops, and the salt potatoes are right up there in the hierarchy, along with seafood options that are baked, broiled, char- broiled, and steamed. Eat in or take out for the perfect picnic, and Lenny & Joe’s is fast, fresh and very Safe. It simply never flounders.
1301 Boston Post Rd., Madison, 203-245-7289
86 Boston Post Rd., Westbrook, 860-669-0767

Cafe Allegre - Café Allegre is like a good friend you can’t wait to see — a friendship that just keeps getting better. Outdoing itself with every passing year, Café Allegre offers a superb ambiance exceeded only by a seasonally inspired farm-to-table cuisine that blends the best of old-world styles and traditions with today’s new world tastes for a menu that’s nothing short of a triumph. It’s white-linen dining at its best.
725 Post Rd., Madison, 203-245-7773

Donahue's Madison Beach Grille - Knowing that this popular restaurant is owned and operated by Chris, Patrick and David Donahue — whose family over the years has owned and operated seven other highly successful restaurants in Fairfield County, it’s not surprising that Donahue’s Madison Beach Grille is yet another winner. But the proof, as they say, is “in the pudding” — or in this case in their outstanding menu selections, which include fresh seafood, homemade New England clam chowder and lobster bisque, savory salads, mouthwatering steaks and burgers, and a nice variety of daily specials, all served in an atmosphere inviting both for its “cozy décor and charming fireplace.” And Donahue’s is also mindful of making their dining experience a well-rounded pleasure, having made sure that the bar features a satellite sports package broadcast over nine flat-screen TVs. Stop in once — and you’ll be stopping back often. Guaranteed.
1320 Boston Post Rd., Madison, 203-318-8362

Donahue's Clam Castle - A shoreline favorite for sixty years, Donahue’s Clam Castle, recently won the Shoreline Newspapers “Best of 2020” Readers Poll for their incredible clam chowder — New England and Rhode Island, and shoreliners know their chowder! Plus the best fried clams available anywhere. Hungry for something different? Well then, you’ve still come to the right place, because the Clam Castle also offers a menu filled with other good stuff, including lobster bisque, fresh seafood platters, lobster rolls, fish tacos, Southern fried chicken nuggets, hot dogs and burgers (including one genuinely tasty veggie burger), some seriously substantial sandwiches, five different sides, one zesty Caesar salad, and more! You’ll be glad to know that Donahue’s Clam Castle is both BYOB and dog friendly. And if you happen to miss it while heading west out of Hammonasset Beach on Route 1, turn around. You won’t regret it.
1324 Boston Post Rd., Madison, 203-245-4911

RJ Cafe & Bistro - This is one of Madison’s hippest little hideaways. Hungry? The Bistro serves an imaginative selection of lunch and dinner offerings, including small plate items like their unique quesadilla…some very tempting salads (check out Scoops)…decidedly fresh takes on popular sandwiches (do try the Egg Salad BLT), as well as fantastic flatbreads…some very pleasing paninis…and great gourmet grilled cheeses. Just looking to relax? The Café features a full coffee bar, making it just the place to sip and read. And what a coincidence! It’s hidden behind Madison’s celebrated RJ Julia’s Bookstore, where you can stop on the way in and choose a new title to relax with.
768 Boston Post Rd., Madison, 203-318-8008

Bar Bouchée - Bar Bouchée is fashioned after les bouchons — the classic neighborhood bistros of Lyon, France, where regional comfort food and casual conviviality blend flawlessly. Indeed, guests, new and longtime, often greet the maitre’d with at least a few French words or phrases before being seated in Bar Bouché’s stunning dining room, replete with furnishings directly from France, or out on their stylish patio. The award-winning menu includes “perennial favorites with seasonal changes that reflect the offerings of our neighborhood farmers.” This is an absolutely lovely little spot.
8 Scotland Ave., Madison, 203-318-8004

Zhang’s - Zhang’s two shoreline locations have an amazing following, making them two of the hottest restaurants in the area — especially on the weekends. And it’s no wonder they are so popular. Featuring beautifully prepared Chinese dishes, like the Jumbo Shrimp with a white Marnier sauce and Crispy Orange Beef, as well as Japanese specialties like Donburi or Udon and sushi, guests can enjoy the best of both worlds by ordering a combination of both Chinese and Japanese favorites. And no one is ever disappointed. Choose either location.
44 Boston Post Rd., Madison, 203-245-3300
455 Boston Post Rd., Old Saybrook, 860-388-3999

Friends & Company - As its name suggests, Friends is a family favorite, and that’s because this restaurant turns out comfort food by the boatload. There are homemade soups and homemade breads. Delicious salads with savory dressings. Piquant pastas. Substantial sandwiches and wraps. And an abundant array of flavorful entrées. Stop in for a bite — and bring your friends.
11 Boston Post Rd., Madison, 203-245-0462

Old Schoolhouse Deli - The Old Schoolhouse Deli has a reputation for satisfying serious cravings with serious sandwiches. From gourmet combinations made with famous Boar’s Head meats, as well as their own cooked-daily roast beef, all piled high on fresh-baked hero bread straight from New York to grilled specials and wraps, it’s all good. Very, very good. And if you prefer, order a salad or one of their hot-lunch specials. Be sure to try the Veggie Supreme Wrap. The prices and the staff are both delightful.
268 Boston Post Rd., Madison, 203-245-DELI (3354)

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Clinton Restaurants

Lobster Landing - Featuring the quintessential lobster roll (indeed, the “best in Connecticut” according to most), Lobster Landing is an authentic shoreline original, as are its tattered little hundred-year-old building that sits on a dock in Clinton Harbor welcoming diners — and its owner, Enea Bacci. Just “Bacci” to his regulars, he can usually be spotted racing around the dock from table to table, enthusiastically delivering that epic lobster roll of his to eager patrons, while the rest of the menu (equally good with its tasty sausage/pepper/onion sandwiches, hot dogs, sodas, chips, and ice creams) longs for attention. And while this place may not be fancy, it’s a fanciful little place where the food is absolutely mouthwatering. Start with the lobster roll. Everyone does. But try everything. You don’t want to miss a morsel.
152 Commerce St., Clinton, 860-669-2005

Westbrook Lobster - The first thing you’ll want to know is that Westbrook Lobster is NOT in Westbrook. It’s in Clinton — as well as just north of The Shoreline in Wallingford. Confused? Don’t be. Their fans would go anywhere for the Westbrook Lobster’s chowder (NE or RI), all the lovely seafood platters, their fabulous lobsters, the small plate menu, and the bar specials that make this unpretentious gathering place so popular. And frankly, it’s really refreshing to find an affordable spot like this with such dependably fresh fish. Clearly, a local favorite.
346 East Main St., Clinton, 860-664-9464
300 Church St., Wallingford, 203-265-5071

Chow Food and Beverage Co. - What do you get when you combine the flavors of barbecue with traditional — and not-so-traditional — American cuisine? An exciting culinary experience. Farmhouse chic accents the eclectic dining room, making this a great place to meet, while the menu — ranging from some seriously innovative gourmet pizza to some seriously innovative small plates and smokehouse favorites, as well as sandwiches and wraps — makes it the perfect place to chow down.
36 Killingworth Tpke. (Rte. 81), Clinton, 860-669-6200

Taste of China - Without a doubt, this is the finest genuine Chinese cuisine you’ll find on The Shoreline. And don’t be afraid to stray from the ordinary. Sliced Beef with Sichuan Pepper & Chili and Bang Bang Chicken are superb appetizers. The dumplings get rave reviews. They usually have at least five fish choices in addition to beef, pork, chicken and shellfish specials. And Wok Seared Sea Scallops or Shrimp, Pork with Jingling Bells, and Tea Smoked Duck are worth the adventure — and truly a taste of China.
233 East Main St., Clinton, 860-664-4454
954 Chapel St., New Haven, 203-745-5872

Hanami Japanese Sushi & Hibachi Steak House - Hanami is the star of The Shoreline when it comes to sushi. Regulars often order without even looking at the menu, either creating their own combinations or heeding a tip from one of the savvy servers. They’re confident that they’ll get what they have come to expect — fresh, perfectly made, and beautifully plated. Our favorite? (Well, one of them, anyway.) The Hanami Special Roll. Go discover your favorites.
114 E. Main St., Clinton, 860-664-9268

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Westbrook Restaurants

Bill’s Seafood - Join friends on the deck for a pitcher of beer or a cold Pepsi and some fresh clams on the half shell, a steaming cup of lobster bisque, or a generous plate of Steamed P.E.I. Mussels with garlic bread. For dinner, give “Del’s” Fish & Chips Platter a try — or go with the 1 ¼-pound Boiled or Stuffed Maine lobster. Both are wonderful. And if you’re into turf not surf, count on The Best Roasted Prime Rib Au Jus to satisfy completely. The prices are fair and the food is terrific. But it’s the soft hum of cars driving over the “singing bridge” next to it, the sight of the boats that whisper by, and the sounds of the Dixieland music that make Bill’s a must for shoreline residents and visitors alike. Don’t miss it.
548 Boston Post Rd., Westbrook, 860-399-7224

Lenny & Joe’s Fish Tale - Lenny & Joe’s Fish Tale isn’t just your run-of- the-mill success story. It’s a shoreline legend, starring an extensive menu of New England seafood so good that crowds of loyal followers — locals and tourists alike — have been totally hooked for years. Their lobster roll is king. But scrod, fried scallops, and the salt potatoes are right up there in the hierarchy, along with seafood options that are baked, broiled, char- broiled, and steamed. Eat in or take out for the perfect picnic, and Lenny & Joe’s is fast, fresh and very Safe. It simply never flounders.
86 Boston Post Rd., Westbrook, 860-669-0767
1301 Boston Post Rd., Madison, 860-245-7289

Edd’s Place - Oh sure. Edd’s has indoor dining in the “Gazebo,” all ship-shape and dressed up in crisply checkered oil-cloth table covers. But this delightfully zany “seafood shack” also invites hungry seafood lovers to dine al fresco on picnic tables that rest on sections of connected planking — a great view of the Menunketesuck River salt marsh adding even more flavor to a fearlessly far-ranging menu. And how’s this for customer service: Bring in your own freshly caught fish and they’ll cook it for you. A playground keeps the kids happy while the grown ups linger over excellent lobster rolls or whatever. And they make the best fries we’ve had in ages.s.
478 Boston Post Rd., Westbrook, 860-399-9498

Café Routier - It was a Thursday night, we were road weary, and both the dining room and Mood Lounge were full. The two seats left at the bar were a welcome sight, so we took them. The affable young bartender suggested the Routier Special — a Black Rita, which he shook expertly while hustling to keep up with the wine and drink orders coming from all directions. And while the appetizers and entrées from the regularly changing dinner menu were (and are) primarily French, a zesty global mix provided exactly the je ne sais quoi we needed. Treat yourself to the same gratification. Bon appetit.
1353 Boston Post Rd., Westbrook, 860-399-8700

Turtle Café - Some describe this little find as a diner. Others, a hole-in-the-wall. But I’m happy to stick my neck out and side with the throngs of regulars who rave about the Turtle Café’s fabulous breakfasts — including some old favorites like the Lobster Crepe, sautéed with spinach and goat cheese, as well as frequent specials, like the Salmon Frittata or their fabulous Pulled Pork Mess. Get there early or expect a wait. But if there’s a wait, wait. It’s worth it.
4 Westbrook Pl., Westbrook, 860-399-1799

Water's Edge Resort - Dine at Water’s Edge Resort & Spa and enjoy magnificent views of Long Island Sound for a background, casual upscale ambiance, and an eclectic menu of traditional New England-style, Northern Italian and Continental specialties. The Courant, New York Times and Zagat all call it “Excellent”! The resort features perfectly landscaped gardens, acres of grounds overlooking the water, a private white sand beach, entertainment, a luxurious spa and so much more.
1525 Boston Post Rd., Westbrook, 860-399-5901

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Essex Restaurants

Copper Beech Inn - Elegant, inside and out, Copper Beach Inn — once the haunt of Connecticut’s power brokers — has undergone numerous transitions over the years. Now under new ownership and featuring both a new look and a new menu, guests can savor superb seasonal entrées and upscale ambience in the main dining room or more casual fare in the beautiful Oak Room. But it’s all good because it’s all excellent. An exceptional experience.
46 Main St., Ivoryton, 860-767-0330

The Griswold Inn - Referred to by locals and those in the know as simply The Gris, this is one of very few colonial New England restaurants that has succeeded in remaining not only relevant but unfailingly popular. The dimly lit tavern, with its good old-time music and period dining room, brings you back to the days of river captains and deep-water schooners. Classic Gris entrées include a Roasted Cod Filet and Prime Rib of Beef — both excellent. Seasonal entrées, like the Seared Sea Scallops, are superb. And the Hunt Breakfast is legendary.
36 Main St., Essex, 860-767-1776

Gelston House - Come by land, river, or sea — but come, because the stately Victorian Gelston House, set next to the Goodspeed Opera House and above the river in East Haddam village, is a shoreline tradition. The restaurant menus and all of its dining spaces have been polished up, bringing back the elegance and joie de vivre of its glory days, while the casual al fresco dining option is decidedly popular in season. Regular entrées, like the Shrimp Scampi, the Bistro Steak, and an intriguing Parmesan Encrusted Cod, are impressive. And for those feeling a bit more casual, a menu of Hand Helds, all served with fries, is ideal. This is a lovely spot!
8 Main St., East Haddam, 860-873-1441

Black Seal - The Black Seal is an Essex favorite, serving lunch, dinner, and a terrific Sunday brunch. And while it looks a little like an old ship that’s battled through rough seas, it serves up jolly good chowder, delectably fresh fish, savory salads, and some great hot sandwiches with the steady hand you’d expect from an experienced captain. And there’s an equally steady flow of jolly good cheer from a bar that’s homeport for boaters and their mates. Stop in. But prepare to linger a while, relaxing over whatever your pleasure might be and listening to good seafaring conversation. It’s that kind of place.
15 C Main St., Essex, 860-767-0233

Scotch Plains Tavern - Tavern is such a modest little word. It calls to mind an ordinary space with a well-worn bar, small wooden booths, and hearty fare ideal for those ending a long, hard day or gathering with friends on the weekend. But Scotch Plains Tavern is much more. Indeed, so much more. The long sleek bar and spacious dining room are awash in burnished woods, warm accent lighting, and a posh, contemporary flair. And the food? Excellent, with everything from appetizers, soups, salads, burgers, and sandwiches to steaks, seafood — and real deal “tavern fare.” Try the SPT Short Rib Burger for something both simple and simply delicious. And if you’re feeling like something a little jazzier, experience their Beef Barbacoa. It doesn’t get any heartier — or tastier.
124 Westbrook Rd., Essex, 860-662-4032

Carlson's Landing- Well, if setting counts for anything, Carlson’s Landing is a restaurant you must visit. Sooner than later. And often. And that’s because they are located at historic Essex Boat Works overlooking the Connecticut River, making the scenery the perfect seasoning for whatever you order to eat. Inside, its mahogany bar, intimate dining room, and gorgeous wrap-around deck are just as appealing, offering “an elevated yacht club experience to the dining public.” And the food? The word delectable comes to mind, the menu offering a rich selection of pristine seafood, including a superb raw bar — the oysters and scallops coming directly from the Niantic Bay Shellfish Farm, known for its Pristine Product Promise; classic American fare (be sure to try the awesome Steak Frites with spinach, roasted mushrooms, and smoked salt); and craft cocktails. True. Carlson’s Landing is new to The Shoreline — and this summer is their first. But by mid-July, theirs will be a name everyone has come to know. Trust me.
63 Main St., Essex, 860-767-2727

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Old Saybrook Restaurants

Alforno - OK, here’s the scoop: The lovely New Haven style, thin crust, roasted-veggie pizza is certainly one of the main reasons this well loved brick-oven pizzeria, which opened more than 20 years ago, is a shoreline favorite. But there are other reasons, too, like their Spaghetti with Littleneck Clams or the Pan-Roasted Flounder Livornese, prepared with a sauce of fresh tomatoes, green and black olives, and white wine over sautéed spinach. You’ll have to discover the rest for yourself. Eccelente.
1654 Boston Post Rd., Old Saybrook 860-399-4166

Liv’s Oyster Bar - Why do we love Liv’s? Well, there’s her extensive raw bar, along with some very creative specials all served up in a handsomely restored old movie house. But truth be told, it’s the good-natured staff that makes us happy as a clam. Our server once told us about a 40ish couple who loved a Sashimi Yellow Fin Tuna Pizza appetizer they were offering so much that they bought it for everybody at the bar. Anyone who didn’t love it could send it back. Needless to say, no one did. Another time I asked if the chef could make me some clam broth, even though it wasn’t on the menu. She soon returned with a steaming bowl — and a bunch of littlenecks. It simply does not get any better than that.
166 Main St., Old Saybrook, 860-395-5577

Liv's Shack - If the name of this little waterfront restaurant rings a bell, it’s because Liv’s Shack is not only the offspring of Liv’s Oyster Bar — an Old Saybrook favorite, but every bit as good. Oh, sure. The menu is a bit less diverse. But when you stumble across a hot buttered lobster roll this luscious, a lobster and grilled cheese sandwich this melt-in-your-mouth lavish, grilled fish tacos this tasty, fried shrimp this delectable, New England Clam Chowder this rich — as well salads both substantial and sassy, juicy grilled burgers and hotdogs and chicken tenders, and all the right sides to tops things off perfectly…well, the number of selections just doesn’t matter. What matters is the sheer joy of simple food this well done — and a view so delicious, it’s almost as good as the food. Almost.
26 Bridge St., Old Saybrook, 860-391-8353

Nancy's Rosemary & Sage - Much like a great piece of artwork, this place is an original. Indeed, unexpected takes on contemporary American cuisine prepared with a special touch are a delightful surprise. And with a full bar and an extensive selection of reasonably priced wines — along with Nancy and her attentive staff, every visit is truly satisfying.
1080 Boston Post Rd., Old Saybrook, 860-388-1166

Fresh Salt at the Saybrook Point Resort & Marina - A top contender for “where to be seen” along The Shoreline, Fresh Salt offers stunning water views, seasonal outdoor dining, an innovative approach to locally sourced American cuisine, the day’s fresh catch, and a raw bar. Go. Be seen. And enjoy.
2 Bridge St., Old Saybrook, 800-243-0212

Otter Cove Restaurant - If I had to describe Otter Cove, I’d say that for those seeking to impress, it’s elegantly casual. For those hoping to relax, it’s casually elegant. And for those just in search of a good meal at a good price, it’s ideal. From the beautifully weathered clapboards and crisp white trim of the restaurant’s exterior to the spacious fountained terrace, Otter Cove is charming. Inside, it’s cozy and warm, with a menu that includes all of the seafood and landlubber dishes you’ve been hankering for, like clams, scallops, shrimp, lobster — and yes, steak. Factor in a variety of drinks (including beer on tap) and friendly service, and this little place is otterly perfect.
99 Essex Rd., Old Saybrook, 860-388-4836

Penny Lane Pub - This unpretentious yet tasteful little place not only looks uniquely British inside and out but feels like the neighborhood pubs beloved by the English since, well…forever. And while a pub’s traditional fare is usually a bit humble, the fare at Penny Lane Pub is anything but, with hearty traditional lunches like Shepherd’s Pie and Fish & Chips — as well as burgers, sandwiches, and wraps. For dinner, expect great seafood, beef, and chicken entrées, including Pan Seared Salmon and Oven Roasted Chicken with a lemon glaze. There’s an extensive selection of Between the Breads sandwiches. Salads are numerous and satisfying. And their specialty wines and world-class beers round things out nicely. As the Brits would say, “A brilliant little spot.”
150 Main St., Old Saybrook, 860-388-9646

Zhang's - Zhang’s two shoreline locations have an amazing following, making them two of the hottest restaurants in the area — especially on the weekends. And it’s no wonder they are so popular. Featuring beautifully prepared Chinese dishes, like the Jumbo Shrimp with a white Marnier sauce and Crispy Orange Beef, as well as Japanese specialties like Donburi or Udon and sushi, guests can enjoy the best of both worlds by ordering a combination of both Chinese and Japanese favorites. And no one is ever disappointed. Choose either location.
455 Boston Post Rd., Old Saybrook, 860-388-3999
44 Boston Post Rd., Madison, 203-245-3300

Little Pub - Well, their name may be Little Pub, but they are very big on what matters. Take their pub grub. It’s amazing. Not only does it all look as good as it tastes but it’s a clever menu, featuring fresh tastes like Pickle Wings (wings brined in pickle juice with a jalapeño-dill buttermilk ranch dip) and Farmers Market Spring Rolls (vegetable spring rolls with a sweet Thai-chili dip). Little Pub Favorites include Fish & Chips and a chipotle-glazed Meatloaf Dinner. There are nine luscious burgers to choose from. (Be sure to try the Six Napkin Burger!) And even the Kids Menu is cool, with one awesome entrée known simply as Buttery Noodles with No Green Stuff. Their list of beers is long and lusty. And they host a busy calendar of live music events. Little Pub. Big deal. Go.
1231 Boston Post Rd., Old Saybrook, 860-339-5591

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Old Lyme Restaurants

Cafe Flo - Situated at the historic Florence Griswold Museum, Café Flo serves extraordinary lunches on their airy veranda overlooking Old Lyme’s Lieutenant River — and given the superbly artistic aura of the location itself, it should not come as a surprise that their luncheon selections are as luscious to look at as they are to eat. The menu offers a number of clever starters, including a rich Vegetarian Black Bean Chili, Miss Florence’s Asparagus Soup, and Lump Crab Cake with House Remoulade. The salads, comprising of numerous choices plus add-ons, are equally creative and quite substantial — especially their Lobster, Avocado, and Corn Salad. The sandwiches — such as the Liverwurst on seedless rye with red onion and grainy mustard or the intriguing Lobster BLT, are delightfully different. The trio of entrées covers all the bases, with its Roasted Cod, French Chicken Breast, and Sliced Bistro Steak. Their wine list includes a pitcher of Seasonal Sangria. And dessert is a must. Open Tuesdays through Sundays from May 1 through the end of October, reservations are highly recommended.
96 Lyme St., Old Lyme, Reservations 860-434-5542, ext. 126

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