Wilmington is always a delicious food adventure. Many of North Carolina’s best places to eat are here, making the city perfect for restaurant hopping. World influences, incredible seafood and new restaurants opening all the time convince me to map out diverse stops every time I visit. Here’s where I’m dropping pins right now.
I nosh my way through at least three spots when exploring Wilmington. Seabird’s devotion to local seafood wins my shore-loving heart. Creative delights like sambal pickled shrimp and deviled grouper join oysters, crab claws and more on mile-high seafood towers. The kitchen team is serious about sourcing fresh catch. They even spend time with commercial fishers.
In the sunny dining room at Dram Yard, inventive cocktails like the frozen passionfruit caipirinha balance rich, eclectic flavors. Crab-filled, brown butter agnolotti are a must. The pasta pillows rest on silky sauce mingling coconut, sweet potatoes and Thai chili.
Taste The World
Wilmington menus trace global influences. Ships from everywhere have docked here for more than 400 years. Spanish flair and cozy Carolina cottage style intersect at Mariposa Tapas Bar. Linger-worthy sunsets involve sangria and shareable “tabla” boards piled high with chorizo, olives sharp cheeses and top-quality jamón. Don’t miss spring’s smooth, white gazpacho blending buttery marcona almonds and white grapes.
When my restaurant expeditions start early, a traditional Honduran breakfast, “desayuno Hondureño,” with a side of Salvadorian pupusas is a treat at Gracias a Dios. Eggs, ham or chorizo, avocado, cheese and sour cream cover the platter, and the pupusas have deep sweet-corn flavor.
Hidden Gems and Off-The-Beat Path Finds
Discovering secret menus is always a thrill. On weekends, Cousins Deli transforms from one of Wilmington’s top sandwich shops into a boisterous Italian family dinner. Food just keeps coming – bruschetta, hot antipasto, salad, pasta, meat, vegetables, homemade desserts, coffee – just like at Nonna’s.
Equally exciting is finding restaurants in unexpected places. Seaview Crab Company Kitchen hides away at the giant retail/wholesale Seaview Crab Company, where seafood coolers are large enough to host forklifts. Fresh fish glistens on ice nearby as you tuck into classic fried fish sandwiches, tacos hugging whole soft-shell crabs and cheffy masterpieces like grouper collar with preserved lemon and banana relish.
Venture down a clandestine side street east of downtown and you might meet North Carolina’s most famous chef, Vivian Howard. She and her husband, Ben, own Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria. The restaurant, featured on “A Chef’s Life” specializes in brick-oven pizza but also puts a couple Southern spins on Italian food, namely southern fried chicken parm with hot honey.
All my foodie jaunts include a little extravagance. Premium, dry-aged steaks deserve full attention at True Blue Butcher and Table, so when I’m restaurant hopping, I pop in for the jazz brunch, usually with a friend. We share the lux jumbo lump crab cake benedict under tomato-kissed bearnaise.
Vegan fine dining is pure bliss at The Green House. Chefs source herbs and vegetables from the restaurant’s own greenhouse. They also make their own dairy-free cheeses such as herb-and-fennel ricotta inside candy-striped raw beet “ravioli.”
Sitting on one of the fancy, wrought-iron balconies overlooking Cape Fear River at Italian restaurant Floriana makes me feel like queen of the foodie castle. Lobster gnocchi with brandy sauce is the jewel in my crown.
Restaurant hopping is a delicious way to discover Wilmington’s vast assortment of wonderful restaurants. Chart two or three courses at a time for unforgettable dining experiences. Trace routes to more tasty destinations at nearby Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach.