A Foodie’s Tour of Chesapeake: Top Local Eats and Treats

local food and treats in Chesapeake

For those who think Virginia only offers peanuts and ham, we’ve got news for you. Over the last few years, Chesapeake has become a top foodie destination, preparing five-star dishes from awesome appetizers to delectable desserts, and, of course, multiple kinds of crave-worthy crab. And, for those lucky enough to be in town during one of the many food festivals, you’ll have the opportunity to try some of these delicious creations and celebrate with the locals.

Key Takeaways

  • Chesapeake is a top foodie destination with a variety of five-star dishes.
  • The region is famous for its multiple kinds of crave-worthy crab.
  • Chesapeake hosts numerous food festivals where you can try local delicacies.
  • Local treats include Smith Island Cake and Maryland Fried Chicken.
  • The area also boasts unique beverages like the Maryland Rye Manhattan and local craft beer.

Crab & Oyster Trail

seafood platter with crabs and oysters in Chesapeake Bay

Explore the Crab & Oyster Trail

When people think Maryland food, they think crabs and oysters, and with good reason. You like pretzels? How about a crab pretzel. You like po-boys? How about an oyster po-boy. Honestly, there’s nothing that Marylanders can’t make better by adding a little crab and oyster (and some Old Bay seasoning), so check out our one-of-a-kind Crab & Oyster Trail and explore all the options for enjoying Maryland’s trademark seafood feasts.

Crab Cakes

Crab cakes, broiled or fried, are a local favorite, with nearly every restaurant in town vying for the title of best. Hint: The true contenders usually feature especially delicious seasoning, plenty of lump meat and little filler.

Oyster Preparations

Oyster preparations include cooked dishes like Oysters Rockefeller, and for those feeling especially adventuresome, oyster shooters. These come in a variety of ways, but perhaps the most approachable is a raw oyster slipped into a mini Bloody Mary, or just some beer or vodka.

What Should We Order?

  • Dig into a bushel of crabs steamed and dusted generously with Old Bay, and served with drawn butter or vinegar if you’re feeling adventuresome (the jury is out on whether butter or vinegar is more traditional).
  • Order a dozen raw, freshly shucked oysters on the half shell. You can slurp them straight from the shell or plop them on a cracker and top them with horseradish, cocktail sauce and a squeeze of lemon.
  • Or opt for rockfish cooked up any which way.

Smith Island Cake

Smith Island Cake in a Chesapeake local eatery

A Maryland Icon

Smith Island Cake is not just a dessert; it’s a Maryland icon. This multi-layered cake, originating from Smith Island, is known for its delicate yellow cake layers separated by rich, handmade chocolate frosting. No visit to Maryland is complete without sampling this culinary masterpiece.

Layers of Tradition

The cake typically features anywhere from 8 to 16 thin layers, making it as visually stunning as it is delicious. Each layer is meticulously crafted, showcasing the dedication and skill of Smith Island bakers.

Where to Find It

You can find Smith Island Cake in various bakeries and restaurants throughout Maryland. Some popular spots include:

  • Smith Island Baking Company
  • Classic Cakes
  • SugarBakers Cakes

Making Your Own

For those who want to bring a piece of Maryland into their own kitchens, making a Smith Island Cake at home is a rewarding challenge. Here’s a simplified version of the process:

  1. Prepare the batter for the yellow cake layers.
  2. Bake thin layers individually.
  3. Allow layers to cool completely.
  4. Spread a generous amount of chocolate frosting between each layer.
  5. Stack the layers carefully to create the iconic height.
  6. Finish with a final coat of frosting on the top and sides.

Smith Island Cake is more than just a dessert; it’s a testament to the rich culinary heritage of Maryland. Whether you enjoy it at a local bakery or make it at home, each bite is a celebration of tradition and flavor.

Maryland Rye Manhattan

cocktail with rye whiskey and local food in Chesapeake, Maryland

The History of Maryland Rye

Maryland’s thriving boutique distilling industry is hand-crafting world-class examples of just about every spirit, but there’s one whiskey no one else on Earth can touch – Maryland Rye. Lost for decades after Prohibition, Maryland-style rye had been the toast of the country, considered the finest spirit made in the nation. Now, with the return to craft distilling, a new wave of dedicated distillers is recreating this unique and beloved whiskey.

Distillery Tours

Take a distillery tour and make sure your next Manhattan includes real Maryland Rye. The distillery in Baltimore is producing liquor under the supervision of federal regulations, ensuring top-notch quality and authenticity.

The Perfect Maryland Rye Manhattan

You can’t have a real Manhattan without Maryland Rye. Rye is sweeter and has less spice than Western ryes, and a more refined finish than bourbon. Raise your glass to a perfectly crafted cocktail that showcases the best of Maryland’s distilling heritage.

Maryland Rye is more than just a drink; it’s a celebration of local craftsmanship and history.

Maryland Fried Chicken

Maryland fried chicken in Chesapeake restaurant

A Taste of Tradition

Maryland’s Eastern Shore may well be the epicenter of the chicken world. We raise them, we love them, and we sure do know how to cook ‘em! Of course, you don’t have to go to the Shore to get a heaping helping of real, Maryland-style fried chicken. Mom & Pop spots across the Old Line State know how to fry up a yard bird just right. Served with a glass of fresh lemonade and the sweetest Maryland Silver Queen corn, and you are living your best life for sure!

Historical Roots

Before there was Kentucky Fried Chicken, there was Maryland Fried Chicken. This dish has deep roots in the state’s culinary history and is a must-try for anyone visiting. No visit to the Old Line State is complete without sampling some of our Maryland-style cuisine.

Perfect Pairings

To truly enjoy Maryland Fried Chicken, pair it with some local sides. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Fresh lemonade
  • Maryland Silver Queen corn
  • Coleslaw
  • Biscuits

Where to Find It

You can find this delicious dish in various spots across Maryland. From roadside diners to upscale restaurants, everyone has their own twist on this classic. Explore Clarksville’s diverse culinary landscape through food tours, local eateries, and celebrity chef influences.

Maryland Fried Chicken is more than just a meal; it’s a tradition that brings people together and showcases the rich culinary heritage of the state.

Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham

Southern Maryland stuffed ham in a Chesapeake restaurant

A Culinary Journey Back in Time

Make a culinary journey back through time with genuine Southern Maryland stuffed ham. This unique, regional delicacy is made by starting with a boneless, butterflied corned ham, with deep slices ready for stuffing. The stuffing is a mix of kale, cabbage, onions, and secret spices handed down from Colonial times. Stuff, roll, and cook the ham to perfection for a dish you won’t find anywhere else.

Popularity and Availability

Popular at church dinners and family gatherings, you can find stuffed ham on the menu at traditional spots in St. Mary’s county and throughout Southern Maryland. No visit to the Old Line State is complete without sampling some of our Maryland-style cuisine, and stuffed ham is a must-try.

Explore Montgomery’s culinary treasures, historic food spots, desserts, festivals, and cooking tips from local chefs. Southern Maryland stuffed ham is a testament to the rich culinary heritage of the region.

Maryland Beer

local food and craft beer in Chesapeake, Maryland

Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House

When the legendary brewers at Guinness were looking for a spot to build an American brewery, they knew just where to go. Maryland boasts some of the best brewers, unparalleled local ingredients, and a dedicated and discerning population of beer aficionados. If a brewery can make it here, you know it’s world-class. So get out to a local brew pub and sample some of Maryland’s best.

Burley Oak Brewing Company

Located on the Eastern Shore, Burley Oak Brewing Company is known for its innovative and delicious brews. Their commitment to using local ingredients and sustainable practices makes them a standout in the Maryland beer scene.

Eastern Shore Brewing

Another gem on the Eastern Shore, Eastern Shore Brewing offers a variety of craft beers that cater to all tastes. From hoppy IPAs to smooth stouts, there’s something for everyone.

Flying Dog Brewery

Flying Dog Brewery is one of the most well-known breweries in Maryland. Their bold and flavorful beers have earned them a loyal following. Don’t miss their seasonal releases and limited-edition brews.

Raise your glass to great Maryland beer and discover the unique flavors that make this state a beer lover’s paradise.

Maryland Snowball

Maryland snowball dessert in Chesapeake local eatery

What is a Maryland Snowball?

A Maryland Snowball is a delightful treat made of chopped ice, generous pumps of flavored syrup ranging from cherry to chocolate, and topped with gooey marshmallow if you’re feeling authentic. This unique sweet is a Maryland staple sure to beat the heat.

History and Tradition

In Maryland, the start of spring is marked not by blooming flowers, but by the opening of snowball stands. This tradition has been a part of Maryland culture for generations, making it a must-try for locals and visitors alike.

Popular Flavors

  • Cherry
  • Chocolate
  • Egg Custard
  • Skylite

Where to Find the Best Snowballs

You can find snowball stands all over Maryland, each offering their own twist on this classic treat. Some popular spots include:

  • Opie’s Soft Serve and Snowballs
  • The Snowball Stand
  • Summer Shack Snowballs

When in Maryland, don’t miss out on this refreshing and nostalgic treat. It’s a perfect way to cool down and enjoy a taste of local tradition.


rockfish dish in Chesapeake restaurant

What is Rockfish?

Are you ready for rockfish? The rest of the world calls them striped bass. Here in Maryland, we call them rockfish, and there’s a reason they’re the official state fish. One of the most popular gamefish on the Atlantic coast, they’re great fighters, and the meat strikes an uncommon balance between steak-y and flaky. You haven’t been to Maryland until you’ve had this treasure of the Chesapeake.

Local Preparation Styles

Here on the Chesapeake Bay, we’re best known for three things: Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, oysters, and rockfish. You won’t find them fresher anywhere else. Our local chefs prepare them in ways ranging from classic to creative—and just plain steaming or frying is always an option.

When is Rockfish in Season?

Rockfish season is much longer, opening in mid-April and lingering through December. This extended season means you have plenty of opportunities to enjoy this local delicacy.

Rockfish, also known as striped bass, is a must-try when visiting Maryland. Its unique flavor and versatility in preparation make it a standout dish in Chesapeake cuisine.

Pit Beef Sandwich

The Baltimore Classic

The indigenous sandwich of Baltimore and Central Maryland, pit beef may very well be the most delicious thing ever placed between two pieces of bread. Cooked over a hot pit grill and sliced or even shaved thin and served in mile-high piles of flavor, you just can’t beat ‘em. This writer is partial to a rare pit beef and pit ham sandwich on a Kaiser roll with thin-sliced onions, a dollop of sweet BBQ sauce, and a heaping helping of fresh horseradish juuuuust thick enough to make the eyes water.

Where to Find It

Pit beef stands and even traveling trucks dot Central Maryland. Some popular spots include:

  • Andy Nelson’s BBQ
  • The Fishin’ Pig
  • The Butcher’s Son

How to Enjoy

  1. Order your pit beef sandwich rare for the most authentic experience.
  2. Add thin-sliced onions and a dollop of sweet BBQ sauce.
  3. Don’t forget the fresh horseradish for that extra kick!

For a true taste of Maryland, nothing beats a pit beef sandwich. It’s a must-try for any foodie visiting the Chesapeake area.

Atlantic Ocean Fish

fresh seafood platter with Atlantic Ocean fish in Chesapeake restaurant

When people think of Maryland seafood, they tend to think of crab, rockfish, oysters, and other Chesapeake treasures, but here in the Free State, we’ve also got the Atlantic Ocean. Try fresh-caught monkfish prepared just a few hours from the dock. Enjoy inch-thick swordfish steaks, bright red sashimi-grade tuna, clams, shrimp and more caught right here and prepared as only Marylanders can. By which we mean “perfectly.”

Fresh-Caught Monkfish

Monkfish is a local favorite, often described as the "poor man’s lobster" due to its firm, sweet meat. It’s a must-try for any seafood lover visiting Maryland.

Swordfish Steaks

Swordfish steaks are a hearty option, perfect for grilling. These inch-thick cuts are both flavorful and satisfying, making them a popular choice among locals and visitors alike.

Sashimi-Grade Tuna

For those who enjoy raw fish, sashimi-grade tuna from the Atlantic is a treat. Its bright red color and fresh taste make it ideal for sushi or sashimi dishes.

Clams and Shrimp

Clams and shrimp are versatile and can be prepared in numerous ways, from steaming to frying. They are staples in Maryland seafood cuisine and are always a hit.

Embark on a culinary journey through Maryland’s best seafood spots, from hidden gems with exceptional cuisine to beachside havens and iconic seafood landmarks.

Perfectly Prepared

Marylanders have a knack for preparing seafood in the most delightful ways. Whether it’s a simple steam or a creative culinary twist, the seafood here is always top-notch.


Chesapeake, Virginia, is a hidden gem for food enthusiasts, offering a diverse array of culinary delights that cater to every palate. From savoring fresh seafood at local festivals to indulging in the city’s top-rated restaurants, there’s no shortage of delicious experiences to be had. Whether you’re a fan of sweet treats, craft beers, or gourmet dishes, Chesapeake has something to satisfy your cravings. So, the next time you find yourself in this charming city, be sure to embark on a foodie adventure and discover all the mouthwatering eats and treats it has to offer. Bon appétit!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Crab & Oyster Trail?

The Crab & Oyster Trail is a culinary journey through Chesapeake, featuring some of the best local seafood, including crabs and oysters, prepared in various delicious ways.

What makes Smith Island Cake special?

Smith Island Cake is Maryland’s official state dessert, known for its multiple thin layers of cake and rich frosting. It’s a must-try for anyone visiting Chesapeake.

How is a Maryland Rye Manhattan different from a regular Manhattan?

A Maryland Rye Manhattan uses Maryland Rye whiskey, which has a distinct flavor profile that sets it apart from other types of rye whiskey used in regular Manhattans.

What distinguishes Maryland Fried Chicken from other fried chicken?

Maryland Fried Chicken is known for its unique seasoning and cooking method, which results in a crispy, flavorful crust and tender, juicy meat.

What is Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham?

Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham is a traditional dish made by stuffing a cured ham with a mixture of cabbage, kale, and spices, then cooking it to perfection.

What types of beer can I find in Maryland?

Maryland offers a wide variety of craft beers, from IPAs and stouts to lagers and sours. Many local breweries in Chesapeake provide unique and award-winning options.

What is a Maryland Snowball?

A Maryland Snowball is a popular summer treat made from finely shaved ice topped with sweet syrup, often served with marshmallow or other toppings.

What is special about Rockfish in Chesapeake?

Rockfish, also known as Striped Bass, is a prized catch in Chesapeake. It’s known for its firm texture and mild flavor, making it a favorite among seafood lovers.

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