Best Atlantic City restaurants, according to local chef Leslie Daniel

Kuro has been named among the 10 best hotel restaurants under the direction of chef Leslie Daniel — Photo courtesy of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City

Chef Leslie Daniel recently made headlines as a winner of “Guy’s Grocery Games” on the Food Network. But at USA TODAY 10Best, we know him as the executive chef of Kuro, one of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City’s fine dining establishments. Kuro has been voted one of the 10 best hotel restaurants in our Readers’ Choice Awards for the past three years.

When “Chef Leslie,” as he’s fondly known, was asked to leave Las Vegas and join the Kuro opening team as a sous chef in 2018, he didn’t have plans to stay long term. “I didn’t have a big life plan, but the move to Atlantic City definitely wasn’t on my short-term list,” he says. “I thought it would be an in-and-out mission.”

But he did accept that mission, and in 2021, he was named executive chef. He proudly prepares dishes that highlight Japanese cuisine with simple, fresh ingredients.

Along the way, he fell in love with Atlantic City. A self-proclaimed creature of habit, Daniel enjoys exploring the city by e-bike. Once he finds a restaurant in Atlantic City that offers something he loves, he’s likely to keep returning for it.

We asked the chef to share his favorite restaurants in Atlantic City, and his picks did not disappoint.

Best breakfast restaurants in Atlantic City

A great Atlantic City restaurant for breakfast, Gilchrist is known for hotcakesA great Atlantic City restaurant for breakfast, Gilchrist is known for hotcakes — Photo courtesy of Marsolluna Media

Gilchrist Restaurant

Known for big breakfast and lunch plates, the popular Gilchrist Restaurant offers hotcakes, waffles, omelets, salads, deli sandwiches, and other breakfast and lunch staples.

Daniel recommends the Gardner’s Basin location, where guests can eat on the patio and watch as boats come in to dock. For a menu recommendation, his go-to is The Hungry Man #3, which has three eggs, three blueberry hot cakes, and scrapple.

Hot Bagels & More

Daniel frequents Hot Bagels & More on 212 Pacific Avenue. As the name suggests, the daytime-only spot offers much more than bagels. The menu includes breakfast platters with French toast, pancakes, omelets, hot and cold lunch sandwiches, burgers, quesadillas, and more.

The chef regularly orders pork roll with egg and cheese on an everything bagel. “It’s a perfect way to start the morning,” he says. “I could eat two of them, but sometimes I don’t want to go right back to sleep, so I just get one.”

Velo Cafe sources ingredients from local New Jersey farmsVelo Cafe sources ingredients from local New Jersey farms — Photo courtesy of Marsolluna Media

Velo Cafe

Another of Daniel’s favorite breakfast spots is Velo Cafe, located just four miles from the Atlantic City Hard Rock in Ventnor City. Velo Cafe prides itself on sourcing its breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu with fresh, locally farmed ingredients.

The dinner menu includes fresh seafood, steak, housemade pasta, and salads, while the brunch menu has everything from crepes and omelets to stuffed French toast, waffles, and avocado toast. One of Daniel’s favorites is the signature crispy chicken on a homemade waffle topped with Sriracha honey.

Best lunch restaurants in Atlantic City

Daniel loves Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall for its great, simple fareDaniel loves Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall for its great, simple fare — Photo courtesy of Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall

Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall

A 10-minute walk from the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall features a robust beer selection, indoor and outdoor seating, fire pits, and live music. Combine that with impressive happy hour deals, and it’s yet another fantastic Atlantic City restaurant experience. “A fun take on elevated bar food,” Daniel shares. “There is a lot of good food out here (in Atlantic City). You can tell when they are cooking for the locals.”

Daniel usually orders The Kentucky Ave. Chicken Sandwich, which features Japanese pepper-spiced fried chicken, kimchi slaw, and sweet chili aioli — all with a good beer, of course.

Biergarten Atlantic City

Located right on the boardwalk, Daniel says Biergarten Atlantic City is the place to be in the summertime. “You’re fully outside with a boot of beer, a platter with three different types of sausage, potato salad, and a large (Bavarian) pretzel with mustard and cheese. You really can’t beat that,” he adds.

With a varied selection of 30 draft beers and games like Giant Jenga, Connect 4, and Cornhole, it’s one of the best spots to gather with friends.

Ducktown Tavern is a restaurant industry favorite and great local's hauntDucktown Tavern is a restaurant industry favorite and great local’s haunt — Photo courtesy of Ducktown Tavern

Ducktown Tavern & Liquors

For Daniel, Ducktown Tavern is excellent for lunch and a perfect spot to wind down after a long work day. When everything but the casinos has closed, this casual hangout stays open for good food and cold beer. The menu consists of traditional bar fare, a surprising number of salads, wings, seafood, burgers, pizza, and more.

At Ducktown, Daniel orders a burger with a nice pour of local whiskey and prefers to enjoy it in the outside area known as The Duck Hut.

Wonder Bar offers great views of the sunset over the bayWonder Bar offers great views of the sunset over the bay — Photo courtesy of Marsolluna Media

Wonder Bar

Daniel suggests Wonder Bar for a late afternoon bite. This laid-back waterfront bar and grill overlooks the bay, offering stunning sunset views, refreshing drinks at their tiki bar, and great food. The menu includes salads, seafood appetizers, traditional bar bites, burgers, pizza, sandwiches, and a kids’ menu.

His favorite menu item is Local Favorite — a chicken, bacon, and avocado wrap with spicy chipotle mayo and French fries. He also recommends getting a side of the boom boom sauce and mozzarella sticks. For Daniel, it’s “the perfect start to a night of fun or the perfect way to end a busy workday.”

Chef-favorite Atlantic City restaurants for dinner

Daniel stops at Youyu after work for noodles and moreDaniel stops at Youyu after work for noodles and more — Photo courtesy of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City


“If I get out of work early, I hang around the Hard Rock before I go home because I know the chefs, I know the secret menu items, and I know it will be top-notch every time,” Daniel says.

One of his favorites is the hotel’s Youyu Noodle Bar, which features dim sum, noodles, and soups inspired by Asian street food. Because he knows the chef, he can get a little creative with his order. “They have this curry beef brisket with noodles, but I do a little hack with it,” he says. “I do mine without the noodles and add the pork fried rice with curry sauce.”

Los Compadres Restaurant & Bar

Los Compadres Restaurant & Bar is a small, unassuming dive and Daniel’s favorite spot for tacos. “It’s someone’s house that they turned into a restaurant,” he says. “The music is loud, and you can barely hear the server in front of you. The room is decked out in banners, sombreros, and the biggest bottle of tequila you’ve ever seen.”

His go-to order is a beef tongue taco and an al pastor taco with salsa verde, plus guacamole, rice, beans, and a cold margarita.

Daniel enjoys grabbing a late-night burger at Council OaksDaniel enjoys grabbing a late-night burger at Council Oaks — Photo courtesy of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City

Council Oaks

Council Oaks Steaks & Seafood in the Hard Rock Atlantic City is the perfect spot to celebrate a special occasion (or perhaps a big win from the casino!). While certainly known for its dinner menu, Daniel is a fan of their new late-night menu. After work, he likes to run over and grab an Oak burger and fries.

“I know it’s going to be good because I work with these chefs,” he says. “I’m going to go where the heart takes me, where home is.”

Ramen Wakana

Located just outside Atlantic City in Egg Harbor Township, Daniel insists Ramen Wakana is worth a spot on his list of the best restaurants in the Atlantic City area. The restaurant is known for its top-notch Japanese ramen, sushi, gyoza, and pork buns.

“When I heard a ramen place was opening this close to Atlantic City and I wouldn’t have to drive to Philly or New York, I was excited,” he says. “I get a large bowl of chop suey, ramen, wontons, and pork bao buns.”

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