Chincoteague Island oyster

Family dining on Chincoteague Island

Let me start by saying that the very best thing I ate on Chincoteague was not served to me in a restaurant – in fact it was not even cooked.

Sampling a fresh Chincoteague salt oyster

Please click on photos for full size versions.

I had never before eaten a famous Chincoteague salt oyster, and let me tell you, this is the way to be introduced to them – fresh as can be, with a chaser of salt water. They are plump and have a sweet finish that is deeply satisfying. I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted a better oyster in fact.

But if raw oysters aren’t your thing, don’t worry – there are plenty of other options in Chincoteague. Here are some of my favorites: 

Bill’s Prime Seafood and Steaks

If you can’t eat seafood that’s been pulled out of the water in front of you, the next best thing to do on Chincoteague Island is head for this popular spot right in the center of town. We were fortunate enough to dine there the weekend of the annual Oyster Festival, which meant a large menu of specials made with those salt oysters – everything from oysters on the half shell to crab and cheddar oysters to oyster pot pie.

Oyster and artichoke gratin at Bill's Prime in Chincoteague

Matt and I started our meal with a shared order of oyster and artichoke gratin that was the perfect blend of textures from the buttery, salty breadcrumbs to parmesan cheese to the fat artichoke hearts. It was definitely a big enough appetizer to share and could easily have been a main course for one person.

The fried oysters were Matt’s entrée choice and they were prepared perfectly – with a light touch in terms of both batter and amount of time in the fryer.

A traditional Chincoteague Island speciality: Oyster pan roast

But without question, my oyster pan roast stole the show. Creamy, salty, unctuous, chock full of oysters and served with a side of the most delicious buttery garlic toast I’ve ever had the pleasure to dredge. And also? I got a side of mashed red skin potatoes with ham hocks and smoked cheddar. Yes, you read that right.

Perfectly accompanied by a glass of Church Creek Virginia Steel Chardonnay, this was local dining at its finest. And with a count of about 20 oysters that evening, I felt like I had done Chincoteague proud.

The boys were very happy with their meals as well. Tommy ordered a bowl of the thick New England clam chowder and Teddy chose fish and chips from the children’s menu. His food was so delicious that Matt and I kept stealing from his plate. Because, you know, we just didn’t have enough food ourselves.

The service at Bill’s is excellent. We arrived a little late for our reservation because the boat tour we were on ran late, and even though they were very busy with a line out the door, we were seated within minutes. When I explained to the host that the kids were absolutely ravenous (it was almost 8:00 and they had just spent three hours on the water) a waiter immediately appeared at our table with a loaf of homemade bread. He also made sure the boys’ meals were prepared quickly and served as soon as they were ready.

Oh, and before I forget, you’ll want to order dessert – but be warned that they come in generous portions. Teddy’s lemon sorbet was a creamy citrus delight. And Tommy’s chocolate cake, well, let’s just say it had to be served on its side.

Chocolate cake comes big at Bill's Prime in Chincoteague

The prices at Bill’s are very reasonable and the vibe is friendly and casual. It is a deservedly busy place, so I recommend making a reservation. I’m dying to get back to Chincoteague and try their Sunday brunch, which includes sticky bun French Toast.

Woody’s Beach BBQ

A short walk, drive, or bike ride from the entrance to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, you’ll find two shacks spread out on a grassy patch of land next to the road. One of them serves seafood and the other barbeque. We stopped there for lunch, and the siren call of the smoker’s thick scent led us to the BBQ side of things.

We weren’t sorry, I can tell you that. Matt went for the signature sandwich, which includes pulled pork, onion rings, and homemade red sauce.

Woody's signature sandwich is topped with onion rings

I’m a Carolina-style barbeque girl, so I had to try the pulled pork sandwich that was, as the menu described it “straight out of Mayberry” with vinegar sauce and coleslaw. The pork was smoky and delicious, and the vinegar sauce competently executed, although I wouldn’t have minded a bit more of it on my sandwich.

We also had to try the creamy fried corn nuggets served with the aptly named “Yum-Yum Sauce,” a cousin of Thousand Island dressing that makes a great complement. And then there were these, which I’m pretty sure don’t require any words:

Loaded fries with bacon and ranch at Woody's BBQ in Chincoteague

Do I even have to say that this is no-brainer kid-friendly eating? You’re outdoors, they serve sodas in glass bottles from an old-fashioned cooler,

We had to show the kids how to use the bottle opener

There are numerous games from giant tic-tac-toe to tether ball,

Tether ball is just one of the games at Woody's in Chincoteague

And the kids menu items are served adorably, in plastic pails accompanied by shovels.

Woody’s is open seasonally from spring until fall. They also offer food to go (although I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to hang out onsite with all those fun things to do) and have a variety of family packs that look like a good value.

The Sea Star

We arrived in Chincoteague right at lunchtime, hungry and ready to eat. Turning right off the road that carried us across the causeway bridge from the mainland we almost immediately saw brightly colored building with a line of people at the window. When we saw the huge sandwiches and salads that were being served here, we knew we’d come to the right place.

Vegetarians will do well at the Sea Star – there’s a large portion of the sandwich and salad menu dedicated just to them with choices like the Super Veggie, which comes loaded with Swiss cheese, sprouts, avocado, mushrooms, tomato, and vinaigrette. Homemade hummous and tabouli are also options and the menu includes daily specials, including homemade soup.

The Turkey Harv at the Sea Star is not for the faint of heart

We went the carnivorous route, trying chicken salad on a croissant and a Turkey Harv on sourdough. Stuffed with roasted turkey and Havarti cheese, it also was doused in the house special dressing, a tangy mix of mustard and mayo.

Pickier eaters can design their own sandwiches. And if you’ve got kids with similar tastes, you can probably order sandwiches to share, as they are big. Another nice touch is that the sandwiches are served with large crisp salty-sour dill pickle spears.

The Sea Star is another seasonal dining option, and days and times vary as business slows. A sign in the window said that starting with the 2013 season they will be moving from their current Main Street location to Maddox Boulevard (that’s the street that leads from the bridge up to the wildlife refuge).

Island Creamery

I might visit a beach town without actually going to the beach, but I won’t do so without sampling the local ice cream. I’ve got priorities people.

You've got lots of choices at the Island Creamery

The ice cream at this popular shop is made on the premises, and boy is it good – dense and full of flavor. I usually go for chocolate or coffee, but decided instead to give Bourbon Caramel Crunch and Pumpkin Pie a whirl. The latter was the best version of this flavor that I’ve ever tried – rich with nutmeg and stuffed with chunks of pie filling and graham cracker crust.

The homemade waffle cone is deserving of this ice cream

Make sure you get your ice cream in a homemade waffle cone – these are almost good enough to justify eating without ice cream in them. (Almost.)

I share this post as part of Wanderfood Wednesday at Wanderlust and Lipstick, where there are always lots of yummy stories to whet your appetite.

Special thanks to Steve Potts, the owner of Bill’s, for serving us such a fabulous dinner on the house. You can always count on me to disclose when I get something for free – and to share my honest opinions.

Reader Responses

4 fellow travelers had this to say

  1. Enjoyed all of your Chincoteague posts! We have loved exploring the area and now have a bunch of new places to check out on our new visit. Great way to spend a gorgeous fall weekend..ocean air minus the crowds.

  2. Excellent Post-I have been following your blog for quite some time now and really enjoy your personal posts.

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