2024 Best Dining

05 Jul 2024

The “Best of” Culinary Compass: An Immersive Directory of Dining and Drinking in Wilmington Hungry Wilmingtonians have cast their votes and although the results are in, one thing is indisputable. The Port City’s dining scene is an enclave of modern culinary artistry, tropical provisions, and timeless comfort food. Our beachy backdrop lends itself to relaxed seaside eateries and dives, but just down the road you’ll find black truffle grits for brunch and French bistros serving snails swimming in rich Roquefort sauce.

The point is: Wilmington is a diverse tapestry of tastes, which makes this year’s “best of” list our biggest one yet. The subsequent spread is not just an attempt to answer the ongoing question, “where should we eat?” It’s an awards ceremony that tells the story of Wilmington through the top spots for specific food and drink—documenting everything from where coffee nerds unite to the best kept secret barbacoa tacos in town.

By Fanny Slater

Cuisine

Authentic American & Steak

True Blue
910-679-4473
wearetrueblue.com

Celebrated for their tasty, full-rounded brunch, lunch, and dinner roster, True Blue effortlessly merges the roles of butcher shop, restaurant, and cocktail haven—establishing itself as one of Wilmington’s most formidable triple threats. Regular flock to this steakhouse for elevated American meals complemented by five-star service. The dry-aged bone-in ribeye with creamy bearnaise sauce is worth every button you’ll pop. 

 

Barbeque

Moe's Original Bar B Que
910-769-0617 
moesoriginalbbq.com

This modern chain embraces all things Southern: BBQ, blues, college football, and whiskey. In a mellow, exposed-brick atmosphere with plenty of flat screens, Moe's serves Alabama-style pulled pork, crispy-fried Boudin Balls, and a mouthwatering lineup of scratchmade sides and desserts. The smoked chicken sandwich with slaw, tangy ‘Bama sauce, and pickles is the ultimate meal.

 

Coffee Shop

Hidden Grounds Coffee
910-228-5436
facebook.com/hiddengroundsilm

If sipping minty matchas in a secret garden amidst dinosaur décor sounds like a Taylor Swift lyric, don’t worry—it’s not. It is, however, an activity you can do at Hidden Grounds. This fresh downtown hideaway near 2nd and Dock promises a unique blend of hospitality and coffee creativity. The majority of the shop’s seating is outside, so patrons with pups are welcome to indulge in specialty coffees and smoothies amidst the lush tropical greenery.

 

Farm to Table & Latin / Spanish

Savorez 
910-833-8894
savorez.com

NOFO’s Savorez celebrates authentic farm-to-table Latin-American cuisine in a cozy, colorful setting. Chef Sam Cahoon's menu is a showcase of locally-sourced goodies that bring new meaning to word savor. The signature BLT arepas with balsamic glaze, bacon jam, and microgreens are a staple, and the quinoa-crusted fried flounder with chipotle sweet potatoes and citrusy salsa fresca is an absolute star. 

 

French

Caprice Bistro
910-815-0810
capricebistro.com

One buttery bite of Caprice’s garlicky, Roquefort cream-bathed escargot and you’ll forget you’re in North Carolina. This refined bistro is a fixture for French fare, and the Beef Bourguignon is just the beginning. For a more intimate experience, climb the stairs to the swanky second-floor cocktail lounge and ask the bartender which cork to pop with the mussels and fries.

 

Greek / Middle Eastern

Kippos Hellenic Cuisine
910-492-2893
kiposwilmington.com

This intricately adorned, seafood-centric eatery pays tribute to Greece's culinary traditions and cultural heritage. While the Mediterranean courtyard vibes at Kippos are unmatched, the moussaka and marinated souvlaki take it to the next level. Traditional shared plates like smoky grilled octopus and saganaki—skillet fried graviera cheese with fennel pollen, lemon, and parsley—are perfect for the table.

 

Healthy / Organic

Tidal Creek
910-799-2667
tidalcreek.coop

As a consumer-owned cooperative natural food store, Tidal Creek focuses on providing sustainable, organic, and fair trade products—not to mention nourishing, wholesome, freshly-made food. The retail shop and café has been committed to enhancing the well-being of individuals, communities, and the planet since the 80’s. Grab breakfast from the hot bar while you’re waiting on your smoothie (a popular pick-me-up on Saturdays during farmer’s market hours).

 

Indian

Tandoori Bites
910-794-4545
tandooribites.net

If piling bountiful amounts of butter chicken on a plate is your idea of heaven, you likely voted for Tandoori Bites in this category. In addition to the magnificent lunch buffet showcasing a host of vegetarian options—the Indian eatery is esteemed for their prompt, attentive staff plus over 70 authentic dishes. For a truly melt-in-your-mouth curry, try the creamy, aromatic Lamb Korma with nuts.

 

Italian

Tarantelli’s
910-763-3806
tarantellis.com

There’s a reason Tarantelli’s tops our list and takes home the victory for best Italian cuisine time and time again. This 2nd Street family-owned gem is a treasure trove of Tuscan delicacies and family recipes like pillowy handmade pasta and slow-simmered house marinara. We suggest the Calabrian gnocchi scampi with spicy lemon butter and prosciutto, but save room for airy zeppole.

 

Japanese, Sushi, & Happy Hour

Yosake
910-763-3172
yosake.com

All hail Yosake for their hat trick of homeruns in three different categories this year. If one of the intricate sushi creations isn’t in your wheelhouse, scan the sprawling menu for familiar Japanese delights like Udon noodles with housemade pork belly and silky black garlic broth. Hit up happy hour twice in one day (5–7pm)daily and 10pm to midnight Fridays and Saturdays) for steals like Yosake’s crunchy firecracker shrimp in spicy Shanghai sauce for only $9.

 

Pub / Tavern

Copper Penny
910-762-1373
copperpennync.com

It’s not just Eagles fans (and Guy Fieri) that drool over this downtown tavern. From the legendary wings and beer-battered onion rings to the lengthy tap list and friendly bartenders, it’s clear why Copper Penny holds a place in everyone’s hearts. You can’t go wrong, but the cheesy Philly and 109 Chesnut Chicken Sandwich with caramelized onions and spicy mayo are top choices.

 

Thai & Outdoor Dining 

Indochine
910-251-9229
indochinewilmington.com

For a taste of the tropics that’s as close to Thailand as you can get on the east coast, pass through Indochine’s ornate dining room, hit up the outdoor tiki bar, and feast under one of the thatched shelters. There’s nowhere better than this opulent al fresco setting—marked by exotic décor and a serene lotus pond garden—to sip a rum-laden elixir and savor time-honored Southeast flavors. Seafood aficionados swoon for the Choo-Chee Salmon Curry featuring fragrant red curry coconut sauce and sticky rice.

Dining Amenities

Boat Access Restaurant

Dockside Restaurant
910-256-2752
thedockside.com

Offering ice-cold beer, seafood straight from the waves, and stunning marina vistas—Dockside is undeniably one of WB’s finest dock-and-dine establishments. This beachy bar and restaurant sits smack dab on the Intracoastal Waterway, exuding island vibes and drawing hordes of hungry boaters from all over. But whether you arrive via ship, car, or foot, Dockside’s waterfront locale is a winner.

 

Business Lunch, Crab Cakes, & Seafood

Cape Fear Seafood Company
capefearseafoodcompany.com

Attention to detail, efficient service, and crab cakes dressed in lemon beurre blanc are just a few of the reasons Cape Fear Seafood Company regularly makes an appearance on the “best of” list. With multiple locations across the state, CFSC is synonymous with superior regional American seafood. The fresh ingredients, friendly waitstaff, and tasteful ambiance create an ideal setting for professional networking, while the extensive dietary accommodations ensure that everyone’s nutritional needs are met. As for those Bald Head Island Crab Cakes, the plump patties are packed with backfin lump claw meat, covered in a citrusy white wine and butter sauce, and exceed all expectations.

 

Caterer

Middle of the Island
910-392-3593
middleoftheisland.com

In addition to being the premier wedding catering company in the Port City, Middle of the Island is the go-to when it comes to feeding the masses at events of all kinds. Their mobile kitchens rock out impressive full service seafood and southern spreads right on-site while the drop-off services are ideal for church dinners, company picnics, corporate functions, and fundraisers. The Island Variety buffet is a popular choice for Caribbean palates.

 

Date Night Restaurant

Olivero
910-399-2961
oliveroilm.com

Drawing inspiration from family and emphasizing decadent flavors that honor the cuisines of Italy and Spain, Olivero is a newer hot spot who quickly endeared itself to the locals as a date night staple. The black beam-lined ceiling, rustic brick walls, and open kitchen concept set the stage for a romantic evening, while wood-fired tapas and handmade pastas scream “share me!”

 

Family-Friendly Restaurant

Mess Hall ILM
910-604-4927
messhallilm.com

Thanks, in part, to colossal demand over those addictive Scott’s Tots, Mess Hall debuted in the main arena of the Cargo District only to quickly outgrow its space. The new digs provide abundant outdoor seating and the same fine-tuned menu of beefy smash burgers and premium chicken tendies that appeal to every member of the fam.

 

Fine Dining Restaurant & Oysters

Seabird Oyster Bar
seabirdnc.com

Dean Neff is a force of nature when it comes to superb shellfish, and his coastally-motivated menu at Seabird is unmatched. His interpretation of oysters—from freshly plucked to broiled with cornbread crumbs to tangled in smoked catfish pie—dominates the menu, but there’s plenty to dazzle at this five star restaurant. Small plates like serrano pork ribs with sticky-sweet chili glaze are great for those who don’t dabble in ocean delicacies, while the epic seafood tower—a plentiful pyramid of grouper rillette, mussel escabeche, and yellowtail with playful accoutrements—is a thing to behold.

 

Best Kept Secret Restaurant

Capricho
910-765-1167

There’s a reason this compact venue only has 25 seats. Capricho is an irresistible mecca of Mexican street food that’s relatively under-the-radar to the general public, but highly regarded by its faithful followers. The Princess Street restaurant is easy to pass by, so keep your eyes peeled and your mouth open for barbacoa tacos and all-things-tamale.

 

Late-Night Dining

Slice of Life
grabslice.com

Slice's longstanding late-night service not only offers solace for night owls, but also satisfies cravings of all kinds. The local pizzeria and pub’s delicious pies, tacos, and wings complement Wilmington's craft brew scene like a pro. The downtown hub particularly caters to the 2 AM crowd, but all locations flaunt chewy, in-house crust, fresh toppings, and affordable prices.

 

Live Music & Best Place to Hang with the Locals

Satellite Bar and Lounge
910-399-2796
satellitebarandlounge.com

No matter the weather, thirsty mobs swarm to Satellite’s Sunday Bluegrass Jam sessions. Between the mountain lodge feel, colossal booze list, and regular bands, the eclectic dive bar seamlessly secured this win for best live tunes and number one destination to socialize with the locals. You’ll find cornhole and music in the kid-friendly backyard and an adjacent walk-up taco window in the front.

 

Overall Excellence Restaurant

Ceviche’s
910-256-3131
wbceviche.com 

It’s no surprise Ceviche's got this year’s pat on the back for all-around performance. Aside from the first class dining experience, the menu is a deluxe lineup of unparalleled Panamanian cuisine. Foodie finesse takes center stage in Hunter and Laura Tiblier’s kitchen, which steadily serves up jaw droppers like the Ropa Vieja—a luscious, slow-cooked medley of flank steak and veggies in a rich tomatoey broth. Seafood-wise, the ginger-coconut milk lobster ceviche deserves its own award.

 

Pet Friendly & Waterfront Dining Restaurant

Carolina Beach Pier
910-636-3075
carolinabeachpier.com

Pets welcome? More like “dogs encouraged” at this beachfront oasis that actually doles out a short-but-sweet doggy menu. While your four-legged friend slurps his pupsicle, you’ll want to pop a few pimento cheese-filled deviled eggs and breathe in the scenery. Dining at CB Pier redefines the expression 'ocean view' as you literally enjoy your meal on a boardwalk above the waves. The Tiki Bar trumpets the best views on the island and the fish tacos with burnt orange crema are equally as lovely.

 

Rooftop Restaurant

Cloud 9 Rooftop Bar
910-726-9227
cloud9ilm.com

Hovering above downtown’s Embassy Suites, Cloud 9 is a chic, rooftop refuge for boozy ice cream martini flights, live music, and solid food. The open-air eatery is a no-brainer for those seeking spectacular views, but the clever drinks and deliberate menu (see: street corn-inspired pizza and Maine lobster coney dogs) add to the restaurant’s charm.

 

Special Occasion Restaurant

Little Dipper
910-251-0433
littledipperfondue.com

Look no further than Little Dipper when you’re on the hunt for an out-of-the-box culinary adventure. The interactive element of the restaurant’s fondue concept (skewering-and-dunking to your heart’s delight) is a blast for special occasions, and everything from the artisanal breads and melty cheeses to the fruity finale of dark chocolate is exceptionally scrumptious.

 

Sunset View Restaurant

Smoke on the Water
910-833-5069
smokeonthewaternc.com

If you’re on board with the idea that a crimson Carolina sky over the Cape Fear River is an epic background for barbeque, a sunset supper at Smoke on the Water will be your cup of (sweet) tea. The Marina Village restaurant’s spacious deck fills up quickly at golden hour, and the 14-hour smoked brisket sandwich will make it obvious why.

 

Wine List

Fortunate Glass
910-399-4292
fortunateglass.com

This evocative Front Street wine bar is famous for pairing tasty tapas (like to-die-for duck confit empanadas) with a copious wine list that showcases around 60 wines by the glass and 350 bottles. Whether you’re a newbie to the art of sniff-swirl-sip or a longtime sommelier, the knowledgeable staff will guide you through the maze of boutique and cult wines to everyday values for any budget.

Drinks & Dessert 

Bar

Jimmy’s
910-599-1931

Call it a dive. Call it a beach bar. We just call Jimmy’s the place-to-be in Wrightsville Beach. The ever-bustling, open-air hangout just over the second bridge on North Lumina is known for floater-topped slushies, dollar bill-lined walls and ceilings, and local musicians keeping things loud and groovy. Don’t forget to pet Cruiser on your way in.

 

Beer List

Fermental Beer & Wine
910-821-0362
fermental.net

Originally rooted in Ogden, this bottle shop was named the Best Beer Bar in North Carolina by the Brewer’s Association and Garden & Gun dubbed them one of the top beer destinations in the south. Now set in a former 1950’s service station in the Cargo District, Fermental continues to carry an ample selection of local, regional, national, international, and non-alcoholic beers for the sober-curious.

 

Bloody Mary

Castle Street Kitchen
910-769-4316
castlestkitchen.com

Authenticity and attention to detail are what’s on the menu at Castle Street Kitchen. Oh, and a righteous tomato pie. The breezy, dog-friendly spot features American fare with a distinctive twist, but it’s those peppery brunchtime Bloodys (splashed with pickle juice and rimmed with sriracha-salt) that have made CSK the talk of the town. 

 

Craft Brewery

Wilmington Brewing Company
910-769-0293
wilmingtonbrewingcompany.com

WBC is one of Wilmington’s original magnets for craft beer devotees—and if you know owners John and Michelle Savard, you know why. The charming couple has been dominating the tank-to-glass brew game here for a decade with flagships like Tropical Lightning and Midtown Swank. The newer 3,000 square foot taproom and venue is always family, dog, and food truck-friendly.

 

Craft Cocktails

End of Days Distillery
910-399-1133
eoddistillery.com

EOD emphasizes a legacy of hard work and hustle, and there are no shortcuts when it comes to their ultra-premium ingredients and creative process. With standards like that, the lounge’s craft cocktail menu (showcasing their small-batch spirits) predictably scored this touchdown. The High Tai with EOD’s Castaway Series Barrel Aged Rum and purple sweet potatoes is North Carolina in a glass.

 

Dessert & Ice Cream

Boombalatti’s
boombalattis.com

Owners Wes and Kristen Bechtel have been enthroned once again for their outstanding ice cream exclusively spun with dairy from grass-fed North Carolina cows. Every Boombalatti’s scoop promises to exclude artificial flavors and colors and include dope combos like vegan Vietnamese coffee made with coconut milk. If you like your dessert through a straw, opt for a milkshake or cold brew float. Find the daily lineup for each location on IG, and speaking of—if this list included an award for most hilarious social media account, Boombalatti’s would have easily taken the cake. Oh, did we mention they make ice cream cakes?

 

Establishment with the Best Bartenders

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
910-399-6078
whiskeytf.com/home

Just as the quality of the chef makes or breaks a meal, the knowledge and charisma of the bartender can enhance or diminish your drinking experience. At WTF, you can always count on an engaging lineup of mixologists who take pride in what they do and are well-versed in the art of the cocktail. You’ll also find Thursday karaoke, house-infused liquors, and delightful dessert-y spirits.

 

Juice Bar

Adapt Kitchen & Juice Bar
910-679-8125
adaptkitchenjuicebar.com

Adapt is deeply committed to providing cold pressed juices (we dig the Dorian with red apple and turmeric) that are always organic, made with raw produce to preserve nutrients, and thoughtfully handled and processed. The beach-based, environmentally-conscious café not only uses sustainable and biodegradable products, but the yummy juices are served in generous 16-ounce glass bottles to avoid plastic leaching. 

 

Key Lime Pie & Martini

Circa 1922
910-762-1922
circa1922.com

Nestled onto Front Street in a lavishly renovated bank, Circa is a trendy retreat that wows at every turn. The stylish vibe creates an impeccable canvas for enjoying some of the best martinis in town, whether you prefer them extra dirty with gin or creamy with fresh-brewed espresso and Kahlúa. Pair your drink with the outrageous key lime pie: tangy and sweet with a brown butter pecan crust, key lime curd, and vanilla-scented Chantilly cream.

 

Liquor Store

Wrightsville Beach ABC Store
910-256-2670
newhanovercountyabc.com

There are only a handful of prerequisites for being dubbed the best liquor store in town, and Wrightsville Beach ABC exceeds each one. As far as the booze selection goes, shelves are consistently overflowing with all the usual suspects plus new and rare finds. The shop itself is well-designed, always clean, and helpful employees go out of their way to make sure you don’t leave empty-handed.

 

Wine Shop

Total Wine & More
910-239-3259
totalwine.com

Fully stocked is an understatement when it comes to America's Wine Superstore®, and Wilmington’s Renaissance Market location is all that and more. Total Wine’s enormous shop is thoughtfully arranged, and with associates participating in extensive training programs—customers always get elite service. With an emphasis on fine and hard-to-find wines, you can browse over 8,000 wines from every wine-producing region in the world plus loads of budget-friendly bottles.

 

Food Item

Appetizers

Front Street Brewery
910-251-1935
frontstreetbrewery.com

Pulled chicken nachos for president! Front Street Brewery is the OG craft beer bar in the Port City, but the brewpub earns equal hype for their OMG collection of starters. Name a more dazzling duo than beer-battered dill pickles and FSB crisp lager. Well, maybe garlicky beer nuggets and queso. Don’t miss half-price select apps from 3-6pm every day.

 

Bagels

Beach Bagels
beachbagels.biz

Wilmington houses a myriad of bagel shops, but you can only get a shmear of jalapeno black bean hummus at this one. And with numerous stores across the Carolinas, you’ve got plenty of opportunities to scoop up a BEC with freshly cracked eggs on your way to the shore. The labor intensive process of kettle boiling and baking is how Beach Bagels produces that dense, chewy interior consistent with a genuine New York-style bagel.

 

Bakery

Little Loaf Bakery and Schoolhouse
910-399-6061
littleloafbakeryilm.com

Little Loaf is one of Wilmington’s crown jewels when it comes to crusty artisan bread and heavenly honey biscuits. Searching for 159 year old sourdough starter? Yep, she sells that too. The sweet, slight bakery is bursting with character and boasts a rotating selection of Old World-style, handcrafted breads and pastries ranging from gluten-free focaccia to flaky Pain Au Chocolat.

 

Breakfast & Brunch

Eternal Sunshine Café 
910-791-6995
theeternalsunshinecafe.com

Eternal sunshine meets eternal happiness meets black truffle grits at this unassuming breakfast and brunch mainstay. The café’s colorful decor, theme, and ambiance are a direct reflection of a happy lifestyle, and it’s hard to be sad with Bananas Foster French Toast— Banana bread heaped with sliced bananas, butterscotch rum sauce, and chopped walnuts. 

 

Burger

Winne’s Tavern
910-762-1799
wilmingtonsbestburger.com

One of Wilmington’s quintessential dives since 1962, Winnie’s is the place for gloriously greasy flat-top burgers (like the Stationwagon with grilled onions, shrooms, and Swiss), flawless onion rings, and frosty beer. Shame on those who don’t bow down to the former drive-in’s Trailer Park burger stacked with sweet bread-and-butter pickles, Cajun fried-green tomatoes, bacon, and gooey jalapeño pimento cheese.

 

Chicken Wings

The Dive Food & Spirits
910-458-8282
thedivecarolinabeach.com

This laidback Carolina Beach watering hole may be known for its spirited drinks and happy hour specials, but the wings are the main event. The after-hours crowd has an insatiable craving for the Dive’s juicy handhelds tossed in housemade sauces like zippy strawberry jalapeno or savory white cheddar garlic. Try them dry rubbed or boneless, and then try your hand at music bingo or trivia.

 

Doughnuts

Britt’s Donuts
910-707-0755
brittsdonutshop.com

Britt’s frequently graces national top 10 donut shop lists, so naturally, this accomplished, cash-only, seasonal CB boardwalk venue (who’s been kicking since 1939) swiftly locked in this achievement. Their ethereal, inexplicably light glazed donuts are the only item on the menu and you only need one melt-in-your-mouthful to understand why.

 

Pizza & Salad

Cugino Forno
910-399-1536
cuginoforno.com

Welcome to Wilmington’s little slice of Napoli. Snugly positioned in the Soda Pop District, Cugino Forno dishes out craft pies from their 900° oven that, no big deal, contains stone from Mt. Vesuvius. Less adventurous eaters love the Americano with pepperoni, Bufala Mozzarella, and basil—but the Funghi with mushrooms, cippolini onions, and white truffle oil is fabulously funky. The charred crust is the pizzeria’s calling card, but the salads receive just as much love. If you lean towards a sweeter mix of greens, you’ll adore the Verona with apricot sauce, blue cheese, and honey-glazed pecans.

 

Raw Bar

Perla Raw Bar
910-239-9094
perlarawbar.com

Ash Aziz’s restaurant empire now includes Perla, and the seafood sanctuary is already beloved by locals. Perla’s aura is on point, and you’ll want to dive headfirst in the soaring seafood tower with raw lobster salad and chilled swordfish dip on the palm tree-lined garden. Raw items run wild—from daily ceviche to tuna tartare to oysters presented five ways. We suggest the signature house preparation with caviar, crisp apple, and a refreshing mignonette.

 

Sandwich

The Half
910-399-3355
thehalfbev.com

You won’t believe the monumental flavors coming out of The Half’s 1,000 square foot Northside-set building. Their innovative between-bread concoctions are globally-inspired and the menu has an unexpected multitude of vegan variations like the Clara—a faux tuna masterpiece made up of chickpea salad and giardiniera on rye. The Chipped Ham featuring frizzled ham, sharp garlicky mustard, house pickles, and provolone is a must.

 

Seafood Market

Seaview Crab Company
seaviewcrabcompany.com

On account of a ubiquitous presence across the Carolinas (plus a talented team of fishmongers), Seaview Crab Company remains the prime landing zone for fresh fish, seafood-y dips, house seasonings, frozen products, and bait and tackle. SCC employees are happy to help with special ordering needs and the market prides itself on staying ahead in the industry, both locally and globally.

 

Tacos

K38 Baja Grill
k38bajagrill.com

One of Wilmington’s most respected restaurant groups runs this Cali-fusion grill, and the Live.Eat.Surf brand is a longtime favorite for all-things Baja cuisine. K38 is home to the original fish taco with divine Dos Equis-battered cod, red cabbage, and yogurt ranch. If pulled chicken or carne asada is more your speed, don’t worry–anything on the homemade tortillas slaps.

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