Calling all Food Lovers to Wilmington, NC
Whether you consider yourself a foodie, a food enthusiast, a gourmand, an epicure or simply a lover of good food, you’ll find more than enough options to satisfy and delight here. Wilmington and our Island Beaches' food scene is bursting with what some might be surprised to find is a diverse range of offerings ranging from traditional Southern fare and coastal cuisine to international delights. From fine dining to local dives, seafood feasts to farm-to-table, quick eats to award-winning cuisine, there is something for everyone to experience while on vacation in Wilmington and our beaches.
Fresh to Table, From Farm and Sea
Situated in the perfect location for both land and seafood favorites, Wilmington has a variety of restaurants that offer fresh local meats, fish, produce and more.
Enjoy a meal sourced from sustainable farms, grilled over natural hard-wood charcoal and served in a casually elegant coastal setting at Port Land Grille. From a Jumbo Lump Blue Crab Meat “Cocktail” to Red Neck Eggrolls, N.C. Black Grouper, Sugar and Spice Breast of Local Duck and the Southern Comfort and Caramel Walnut Tart, there is something to delight everyone’s taste buds at this hotspot often frequented by celebrities when in town shooting the latest TV show or film.
The first and only restaurant in Wilmington to receive the prestigious AAA Four Diamond Award, manna ave. 123’s menu is curated using the freshest ingredients from local farmers and fisheries to create colorful, American dishes like the Tell-Tail Heart (lobster tail roulade with pickled Enoki mushrooms, green garlic emulsion, sweet pea salad and sunflower seed tuile) or Pork Shank Redemption (roasted and braised Heritage pork shank with scarlet runner beans, charred green onions, broccolini and carrot mole). The grilled or braised octopus is also a favorite. The restaurant is also famous for its craft cocktails that utilize unique, fresh ingredients.
Celebrating the seasonality of the region's diverse coastal offerings, Seabird perfectly pairs locally sourced, in-season seafood with creative vegetable dishes made from the freshest local produce to create a menu defined by community and sustainability. Located in the heart of historic downtown Wilmington, the restaurant is captained by Chef Dean Neff, a James Beard Best Chef Southeast semi-finalist. Savor made-to-order biscuits with fried chicken and pimento cheese for breakfast or stop in at lunch or dinner to enjoy freshly-caught local oysters - raw or baked - with lemon, hot sauce, champagne mignonette, sambal cocktail and saltines.
Featuring bounty from the area’s best farmers, fisherman, oysterman and shrimpers, PinPoint Restaurant is known for its menu that changes daily and a selection of local raw oysters on the half shell, along with dishes such as N.C. Butterbean Hummus, Local Grilled Peach Salad and Crisp Smoked N.C. Catfish. Be sure to try the Cornmeal Crusted N.C. Catfish with leek and corn creamed grits, which was featured on The Cooking Channel’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” PinPoint was also named among “The South's Best Restaurants” by Southern Living.
Located on the second floor of the Embassy Suites by Hilton Wilmington Riverfront, Steam Restaurant and Bar features sweeping views of the river in a casual-meets-luxury setting. Dine on fresh seafood dishes like Cast Iron Diver Scallops or one of the butcher’s selection of hand-cut meats like the Kalbi-style Short Ribs.
Get a taste of Italy with a Southern coastal twist at celebrity chef Vivian Howard's creation, Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria, which offers farm- and sea-to-fork Italian fare in the charming, renovated South Front District near historic downtown Wilmington. The star of the popular PBS series, “A Chef’s Life,” Chef Howard has been named one of Food & Wine’s “20 Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink. She has been recognized as a James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Southeast semifinalist and was also named Best Television Personality by the James Beard Foundation. Benny’s menu features wood-fired pizza, homemade pastas, big salads and smaller, shareable dishes, with signature specialties including the Southern Fried Chicken Parm, Green Tomato Pizza and Spumoni Surprise.
Savor dishes created from a generation of original family recipes originating in the Abruzzo region of Italy at Tarantelli's Ristorante Italiano. Experience gourmet dishes and service, like Spaghetti al Formaggio Parmigiana with 24-month aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, served tableside from an authentic Italian cheese wheel, or pizzas served with their own pizza shears. Leave room for fresh desserts made daily by the pastry chef.
At Catch, award-winning chef Keith Rhodes shows off his passion for North Carolina seafood, sourcing every ingredient from organic growers and local fisheries that support sustainable practices. First-timers should be sure to try the award-winning Catch Signature N.C. Lump Crab Cakes or the N.C. Sweet Potato Salad. Patrons may recognize Chef Rhodes from Bravo TV’s "Top Chef." He has also been nominated by the James Beard Foundation as a finalist for Best Chef: Southeast. Fans of the restaurant should also be on the lookout for Catch the Food Truck while in town.
Spanish-inspired Savorez brings big Latin flavor to downtown Wilmington. The menu features fresh salsas, tacos and traditional Latin seafood dishes, as well as popular vegan and vegetarian options. Dishes including Sweet Potato Goat Cheese Guacamole, Caliente Tuna Tacos and Jefe’s Arroz Con Pollo, among others, are all made with high-quality, local ingredients. Savorez was recently featured as "the best new restaurant to try in North Carolina" by BuzzFeed.
While visitors often head to Wilmington for fresh or Calabash-style seafood, our coastal city’s hidden seafood secret is mouthwatering sushi found at a variety of local spots.
Located in Historic Downtown Wilmington, savor delicious sushi and pan-Asian favorites surrounded by Tokyo-inspired décor at YoSake Downtown Sushi Lounge. Indulge in your favorite classic roll or try out the Southern Chicken Sushi Roll featuring tempura fried chicken, coleslaw and pickles in a BBQ soy wrap.
Transport yourself to the Orient with a trip to Indochine, where you can dine in an outdoor Thai hut surrounded by a lotus pond filled with colorful koi or in their indoor dining room adorned with Oriental antiques. From classic California and Rainbow Rolls to Unagi and Spider Rolls, there’s something for every sushi lover to savor at Indochine.
Enjoy hibachi-style dining at Hiro Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar. Head to the sushi bar to watch as professional sushi chefs create a variety of made-to-order sushi and sashimi, then round out the evening with an entertaining dining experience at the hibachi grill.
Don’t fret if you’re craving sushi, but others in your group would prefer something else. Nikki’s Fresh Gourmet & Sushi offers Mediterranean, Mexican and American dishes, in addition to its show-stopping sushi rolls.
Or, sample local favorites like the Oleander or Salmon on the Beach Rolls at Kabuki Korean Café & Sushi Bar, where you can dine on authentic Korean and Japanese cuisine.
Famous and Noteworthy Noshes
Some of the best restaurants in Wilmington are the ones that put a twist on their menu items and atmospheres – and they’re known for it!
SOMETHING FISHy Seafood Restaurant, a Calabash-style restaurant, has been a local favorite for years and was recently featured on the Food Network. From fried trout, flounder and scallops to hush puppies, coleslaw and fried okra, SOMETHING FISHy is “frying up the favorites.”
Voted as having one of the 33 best burritos in America by Thrillist.com and featured on the Cooking Channel’s “Man v. Food,” Flaming Amy's Burrito Barn is the place to go for chips and dip, a plate of nachos or a quesadilla. Try the Flaming Amy Specialty Burrito, the hottest – and spiciest! – thing on the menu, made with chipotle peppers, fresh jalapeños, mild green chiles, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, rice, beans and flaming hot salsa.
Pile up your plate with award-winning Southern barbecue, fried chicken, catfish and savory sides, like black-eyed peas and collard greens, at Casey's Buffet. Voted "The Best All-You-Can-Eat Buffet in North Carolina" by the readers of Reader's Digest, adventurous diners can try pigs' feet, fat back and chitlins, available daily among the wide array of Southern and American dishes.
Wilmington’s first fine-dining vegan eatery, The Green House, features a menu focused on fresh vegetables and clean proteins. Kick off the dining experience with one of the restaurant’s six signature alcoholic drinks, or opt for one of the “conscious cocktails” to enjoy a creative non-alcoholic beverage. Indulge in the executive chef’s signature dish, delicate roasted vegetables served with smoked cheddar grits, saffron beurre blanc, chimichurri and beans. Or, try out The Green House’s take on a Southern BBQ plate featuring smoky “ribs” of Swiss chard, served with cucumber and tomato salad, butter beans and a square of blue cornbread with cashew butter. Finish off your meal with a slice of the Darkest Chocolate Cake, a gluten-free and vegan treat layered with raspberry jam, fresh raspberry and lime zest, and chocolate ganache.
Get a taste of the Orient without leaving Wilmington at Indochine – an acclaimed Thai and Vietnamese restaurant. Visit the lotus pond, dine outside in one of the Thai huts or enjoy your meal in the beautifully decorated indoor dining room. A favorite among locals and visitors alike, the braised Vietnamese catfish is marinated in traditional brown sauce and served alongside basil, eggplant, broccoli, bell peppers, carrots and onions.
Headed out from downtown Wilmington in a spot just off the water, take in the view of the Cape Fear River while feasting on a mix of seafood, smoked and signature BBQ recipes with a New Orleans flair and local brews and wine at Smoke on the Water. The back deck offers spectacular sunset views, large tables ideal for big groups indulging in the steamer pot or shucking oysters and a fire pit perfect for spending chillier evenings.
The Fork n Cork offers a spot-on combination of bar and comfort food in its historic downtown location. This cozy restaurant is known for the most intriguing burgers, brisket, gourmet pot pies and macaroni and cheese around. Dine inside or in the dog-friendly outdoor café seating area and dig into Toasted Crab Bread, a Duck Duck Goose Burger or Brisket Biscuit. A constantly changing menu means there’s always a new opportunity to try Chef and Owner James Smith’s inventive creations. Locals and repeat visitors to Wilmington may remember that Fork n Cork started as a popular food truck, The Patty Wagon.
Located in the heart of Wilmington’s historic downtown, Circa 1922 boasts a menu full of items from both the land and the sea. Offering a full selection of cheese and charcuterie, the restaurant is known for its seafood, meat and vegetarian tapas, including Fresh Lobster Mac and Cheese covered in bread crumbs, Prosciutto-Wrapped Dates filled with gorgonzola and Mushroom Bruschetta topped with truffle oil.
Enjoy traditional French cuisine in a decadent, downstairs dining room or in the upstairs sofa bar lounge at Caprice Bistro. Cooking since age 13 in some of the finest French restaurants in Europe and New York City, Chef Thierry Moity delivers French cuisine that is influenced by a combination of traditions – like tender escargot sautéed in a garlic Roquefort cream, vegetable medley crepes and Duck Confit – in this historic downtown Wilmington hotspot that was named one of Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in the Country by OpenTable.
For a sweet treat, swing by The Peppered Cupcake, which prides itself on treating even the most sophisticated palates to creative, exciting, irresistible, gourmet cupcakes. Give in to your sweet tooth craving with a signature Peppered Cupcake, Black Velvet or Crème Brule cupcake, or swing by the shop to indulge in one of the featured flavors of the days.
Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives
Located in historic downtown Wilmington and also seen on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” The Copper Penny offers a delicious, eclectic mix of lunch and dinner choices – with menu items ranging from the Beer-Battered Onion Rings appetizer to the Lady Liberty Portabella Sandwich and its Soon to be Famous Bread Pudding dessert.
Sweet n Savory Café offers a fresh, seasonal menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Another spot favored by locals, Sweet n Savory is known for its Wrightsville Beach French Toast and Mutha Heffer Sandwich, both of which were featured on Guy Fieri’s television show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
The Dirty South Biscuit from Cast Iron Kitchen, also a “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” alum, is a true showstopper. The restaurant is popular for serving its simple, Southern-style menu all day long – its Chicken & Waffles with fig-bacon jam, honey-bourbon syrup and fresh berries is a fan-favorite. Be sure to stop in before 3 p.m. for a taste of one of its cast-iron specialties.
Indulge in the flavors of Panama at Ceviche’s, a cozy Latin American restaurant located near Wrightsville Beach that houses a bar made of reclaimed wood straight from Panama, a deli counter for easy ordering and a charming outside courtyard. The restaurant also featured on “Diners, Dive-Ins and Dives,” is known for its namesake signature dish, ceviche. The menu also features Tuna Poke Wraps, Jerk Camarones and Tres Queso Empanada, Caribbean Fried Oysters and Panamanian Paella.
Try it All
Can’t decide where to go or what to try? Sample numerous local favorites, famous hotspots and coastal flavors on a gourmet food tour with Taste Carolina. The Downtown Tasting Tour offers a unique tasting experience in downtown Wilmington's Historic District including savory and sweet items, most paired with a drink, at five to six restaurants and bars. Meet local chefs and owners while learning about downtown Wilmington and its thriving culinary scene. The Downtown Evening Drinks and Tasting Tour includes stops at five of downtown Wilmington’s eclectic assortment of restaurants and bars. Or join Taste Carolina for a Saturday morning Farmers’ Market Tour and Cooking Class, which starts with a guided tour through the Riverfront Farmers’ Market, followed by a quick spin through historic downtown Wilmington and a delicious breakfast snack. A local chef will then bring you into their restaurant kitchen for a cooking class. And if that weren't enough, the tour ends with lunch!
Wilmington’s nearby island beaches – Carolina, Kure and Wrightsville – all have their own unique food experiences as well. Thanks to a blossoming food scene, visitors to Carolina Beach can indulge in fresh, locally grown and sourced menus at notable hotspots alongside a laid-back island vacation. At Kure Beach, enjoy flavorful bites from Southern favorites to fresh seafood dishes and pork chops worth waiting in line for – all near an ocean view. From fresh-to-table meals and oceanfront fish houses to unique eats and seafood markets, Wrightsville Beach has plenty of options to inspire booking a foodie beach vacation here.