One of the best things about living in North Carolina? We’ve got a long coastline, which means beach trips are a way of life around here.
You can pack pimento cheese and crackers to keep you going during the day, but eventually, you’re going to need to put some dry clothes on and get something more substantial to eat. Like most tourist areas, there are a lot of choices. Unfortunately, many of them are so-so and others are downright disappointing.
So we made you a list, from traditions like Britts Donuts to newer places with farm-to-table menus. We even found a place that will bring the shrimp boil to you. Whether you’re aiming for a hotel room or a beach house, pack our list to take along with you.
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Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafe. Owned by a local family, they emphasize fresh and locally caught seafood, with a stunning view of Roanoke Sound.
The Bistro at Topsail. A beautiful space with a view and a farm-to-table focus with local fish, seafood and plenty of non-swimming dishes. They work with local farms and grow some of their own food. There’s even a 10-seat chef’s table.
Sears Landing. More than just your basic fried seafood. Expect Caribbean touches like coconut milk crab soup and West Indies seafood rolls, along with local delicacies like soft-shell crabs in season.
Manna Avenue. When you want to get dressed up and go out for an adult meal – and an adult beverage – this spot in downtown Wilmington is a worthy destination for beautifully prepared American cuisine. Cocktails are imaginative riffs on the classics.
RX. In an old drug store in the Castle Street Arts District, about a mile from the Boardwalk area along the river, RX serves a seasonal and Southern menu in a casual-but-nice atmosphere. Don’t miss the fried pig ears appetizer.
Catch. The don’t-miss dining experience in Wilmington is definitely chef Keith Rhodes’ high-end seafood restaurant. It isn’t cheap, but it’s well-sourced, with respect for N.C. coastal catches.
Oceanic. There are plenty of places with views and outdoor tables for soaking up the sun, but this one stands out for the family atmosphere and history, and for the long wooden pier where you can dine out on a nice evening.
South Beach Grill. A little upscale in price, a little casual in style, with an Intracoastal view. It has all the beach-food favorites, but also has contemporary twists, like the seafood Napoleon and chef’s specials that change daily.
Cape Fear Boil Company. Where has this idea been all your life? The brainchild of a former student at UNC-Wilmington, you can go there and pick up a seafood pot already packed and ready to add water (or better: beer) and put it on the stove. Or they’ll come to you with a propane burner in tow. Options include shrimp, crab legs, clams or mussels, along with potatoes, corn and seasoning. Prices range depending on what you get, but it starts at $21.95 per person if you do it yourself, $22.95 with a minimum of 10 people (plus a $100 catering fee) if they come to you.
Britts Donut Shop. It’s legendary for the long lines and the limited season – it’s only open from May to September. But it’s a tradition for a lot of families, and their glazed doughnuts are what Krispy Kreme wishes it could be.
Surf House Oyster Bar and Surf Camp. Farm-to-table is hard to find at the beach. This place is creative, with a focus on sustainable and regional seafood. But they have great burgers, too.
The Southerly Biscuit & Pie. Owned by the same people who own Surf House, this is for breakfast and lunch, with biscuits and biscuit sandwiches (things like country ham, fried chicken and catfish). Desserts are the thing, though: Try their homemade moon pies and oatmeal cream pies. Seating is limited, so plan to get it and go.
Soulflavor. Funky and fun, with house cocktails. Seafood with comfort-food twists, like paella, shrimp and grits, or fried green tomatoes topped with grilled shrimp. Also a lot of non-seafood offerings, like pickle-brined fried chicken with collards and Hoppin John. A lot of the ingredients are organic or local, and the menu has vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.
Gravy Southern Eatery. Everything in Calabash is about fried seafood, and there are plenty of places to get that: Boundary House, Calabash Seafood Hut – just drive toward water and take your pick. But when you’re tired of fried shrimp, Gravy has Southern-style comfort food, from burgers to meatloaf. It’s even in a barn-shaped building.