Best of Wilmington - Dining 2023

15 Jul 2023



Innovative cocktails meet adventurous bar snacks at Rumcow, and given the unanimously enthusiastic consensus over the small bites—it’s no surprise restaurant reigns supreme for their apps. Modern and rustic, Rumcow offers a fusion of frothy drinks and southern-tinged global cuisine. Bask in crispy pork belly pockets with peach chutney and fig goat cheese or blackened shrimp and fried grit cake tacos with pork belly lardons. On the lighter end, the lemony kale chips with garlic, parmesan, and sweet Thai chili sauce are addictively delicious.

Authentic American


By embracing practices such as sourcing directly from local suppliers, Henry’s surpasses the typical American restaurant experience. While you'll find familiar childhood classics, like slow-roasted pot roast and gravy-smothered meatloaf atop garlic mashed potatoes, Henry's elevates each dish through creativity and a commitment to crate-to-plate dining. Whether it's buttermilk-fried jumbo shrimp harvested from nearby waters or produce that was just picked, there's no doubt that this kitchen prioritizes freshness above all else.

Authentic Asian

Cafe Chinois

One of the latest endeavors of Solange Thompson, Café Chinois has followed in big sister Indochine’s footsteps while carving its own unique identity: a sophisticated eatery combining French-inspired Asian fare with enticing cocktails. The exuberant setting showcases vintage Japanese dolls and family heirlooms. You’ll spot the generously-portioned Pad Thai on almost every table, but we suggest a signature dish like the hearty Vietnamese bouillabaisse with fresh seafood and crusty bread.


Authentic Caribbean


At Ceviche's, authenticity and artistry take center stage as the kitchen consistently dishes out pristine Panamanian cuisine. Case and point: the Ropa Vieja—a luscious, slow-cooked mélange of flank steak and veggies braised in a rich tomatoey broth. On the seafood side, you clearly can’t go wrong, but top choices include the ginger-coconut milk lobster ceviche and corvina—mild, white Pacific sea bass with loads of lime juice and jalapenos.


Authentic Italian


Although we tend to harp on Tarantelli’s whiskey-ignited Spaghetti al Formaggio Parmigiana, this family-owned restaurant has a multitude of marvels in store. From the moment the elegant trattoria opened its doors on Second Street, it became a go-to for Italian cravings. Handmade pastas—like wide pappardelle noodles tangled with porcini, shiitake, and cremini mushrooms in a velvety herb cream sauce—evoke nostalgic Tuscan flavors, while stellar drink and dessert specials keep things interesting.


Authentic Mexican

Tequila Comida & Cantina

Owned by brothers Ramon and Miguel Villaseñor, this Monkey Junction eatery features bona fide Mexican fare that’s as real as it comes. These are the minds behind Wilmington’s esteemed Los Portales, after all, so a menu filled with fabulous twists on familiar favorites was all but guaranteed. Expect hot, flavorful fajitas, bright ceviche, robust moles, flawlessly-made tortillas, and so much more. Partake in a pretty kiwi margarita to wash it all down and don’t forget extra queso.



Apple Annie’s Bakeshop
910-799-9023, 910-256-6585

Treasured for manifesting the most magnificent baked goods in town for over three decades, Apple Annie’s is fluent in everything from sinful red velvet cake to pizza dough to heavenly chocolate croissants. Lovingly gaze into the dessert case for a tempting array of coconut macaroons, swirl-topped cheesecakes, and chocolate-dipped cookies. Whether you're in need of a gorgeous golden loaf of bread (try the slightly sweet pumpernickel) or a luscious blueberry cobbler to bring to a potluck, this bakery is a one-stop shop.



Mac’s Speed Shop

For almost twenty years, Mac's has been serving award-winning barbeque alongside a love for beer and bikes. Their dedication to stellar smoky treats is evident in the expertly cooked ‘cue—as well as the homemade sauces, dressings, and sides. Mac’s spacious design and live music make it an optimal setting for large crowds clamoring over all-thing meaty. Spoil yourself with polished comfort food such as brisket burnt ends, dry-rubbed wings, and pork tacos with mustard sauce.


Breakfast Spot

Famous Toastery

A dependable breakfast café where the exemplary service matches the skillful preparation of each dish is a rarity, but the Carolina-bred Famous Toastery franchise runs like a well-oiled machine. With fresh ingredients and generous portions, the massive menu is chockful of essential eats, including stuffed French toast, benedicts galore, and bold items like Huevos Rancheros with feta cheese and black bean salsa.



P.T.'s Olde Fashioned Grille

In the realm of burgers, P.T.’s is king. With a two-decade legacy of serving up charbroiled classics and crisp, tangy lemonade—P.T.'s has rightfully earned the title of Wilmington's premier burger joint once again. Its widespread locations across the region, coupled with overflowing baskets of hand-cut seasoned fries accompanying each made-to-order burger, make it an ever-convenient and affordable choice. 

Candy / Chocolate 

Carolina Candy Company

If the soft buttery crunch of toffee brings you joy, run—don’t walk—to Carolina Candy Company. This family-owned sweet shop captivates its clients with handmade confectionaries like chocolate bark, gourmet candy, and small-batch toffee. CCC prides itself on using the highest quality ingredients and never compromising on taste by avoiding fillers, preservatives, and high-fructose corn syrup. The decadent morsels come in a gift box or basket form—you know, if you’re willing to share your dark chocolate Southern pecan toffee. 



Middle of the Island

You can't miss the festive purple and yellow truck, and chances are you've swooned for Middle of the Island’s legendary baked mac and cheese at a wedding. MOI is not just the biggest catering company in town, they're the go-to experts for over two-hundred weddings each year. Their mobile kitchens cook up massive seafood and southern buffets right on-site while the drop-off services are ideal for church dinners, company picnics, corporate functions, and fundraisers.



Cheeky Monkey Coffee
910- 399-3621

Nestled at the front of City Market Shops, dog-friendly Cheeky Monkey is clutch for getting your caffeine fix before exploring downtown. The Blackham family cherishes their customers and it shows in the rustic, homey vibe and small batch-roasted beans. With an allegiance to sustainability, this Ocean-Friendly Establishment provides alternative milks, prioritizes recyclable cups, and actively works towards reducing plastic straw usage by employing sip-lids. The cinnamon-infused Bananas Foster latte and rich, 16-hour-steeped cold brew are real crowd-pleasers.


Crab Cakes

Cape Fear Seafood Company

This regional American restaurant is renowned for its lively feel, multiple locations across the state, and irresistible selection of skillfully prepared seafood. At CFSC, the ocean-heavy cuisine is composed with attention to detail, quality ingredients, and exciting flavors, but the undeniable stars of the show are the Bald Head Island Crab Cakes. The generous patties are packed with backfin lump claw meat and covered in a lemony white wine and butter sauce.



The Peppered Cupcake

With two Wilmington locations, The Peppered Cupcake has gained a well-deserved reputation for its extraordinary take on classic flavors. Owner and baker Tabitha Meready regularly stuns with her everyday offerings like crème brulee and caramel macchiato, but rotating choices like earthy taro or sharp key lime pie are worth waiting for. If you’ve got a cupcake itch that just won’t quit, swing by the vending machine at the downtown shop which dispenses treats 7 days a week.


Family Restaurant + Salads


The flaky croissants and honey butter have their own cult following, but that’s just the beginning of this story. From American classics like fried calamari and potato skins to gourmet goodies like Cajun-dusted tuna with beurre blanc—RuckerJohns’ diverse menu caters to all kinds of crowds. The neighborhood-style chain in coastal North Carolina aims to accommodate not only families but individuals of all ages. With a dedicated staff and an emphasis on superior ingredients, RuckerJohns always delivers. But it’s not all comfort food. The restaurant also snagged the win for their top-notch salads and scratch made dressings. The herbaceous Greek vinaigrette is light on the palate, but the buttermilk ranch is hard to beat. 


Fine Dining

Circa 1922

Housed in a lavishly renovated bank in the heart of downtown, Circa is a trendy mainstay loved by both locals and tourists. The talented team both in front and behind the kitchen curtain—not to mention tasty tapas—contribute to its esteemed reputation. Circa's prix fixe and specialty items never disappoint when you’re after a luxurious dining experience. Premium entrées like aromatic seafood paella are filling while small plates such as charred octopus and beef carpaccio with truffle aioli are great for the table.


Happy Hour

Front Street Brewery

You already know Front Street Brewery for its fantastic lineup of craft beer, but if you’re unfamiliar with their famous happy hour menu—you’re in for a treat. From 4pm to 6pm and after 10pm, FSB becomes home to half-priced appetizers. Prepare yourself for a series of savory options like hand-breaded buffalo fried shrimp with gorgonzola, low country grit cakes with Cajun bacon sauce, and the timeless pulled chicken nachos featuring slow-cooked, slightly sweet shredded meat and homemade salsa.


Health Fare

Kale Me Crazy

Kale Me Crazy was born out of a personal journey by Founder and CEO, Roi Shlomo, who wanted to transform his diet with all-organic food to better support his own health. Mission accomplished, and he’s passed on the love. Using fresh, organic, and raw ingredients, KMC gives everyone access to real food and successfully meets the growing demand for quick nutritious options. Wash down salmon toast with a cold-pressed juice or lion’s mane and reishi mushroom latte with raw cacao, maple syrup, and almond milk.


Ice Cream


Wes and Kristen Bechtel, the creative couple behind Boombalatti’s have been crowned once again for their exceptional homemade ice cream made exclusively with dairy from grass-fed North Carolina cows. At their dreamy scoop shop, artificial flavors and colors are strictly avoided and combinations like cinnamon oatmeal cookie take are the norm. The coconut milk-based varieties at Boombalatti's elicit pure delight and the abundance of vegan selections always leaves an impression on first-timers.


Lunch Spot


Whether you’re after an artfully composed wedge salad with seared tuna or a hearty, showy handheld like the Phancy Filly with shaved ribeye and crumbled pork rinds, it’s easy to count the reasons Rebellion is a downtown hot spot for lunch. The consistently prompt service even during a midday rush doesn’t hurt either. I’ve always been a loud advocate for the mouthwatering mac-and-cheese draped in Gruyère Mornay, but other lunch staples include the smoke-perfumed wings and REB-L-T with crispy pork belly confit on sourdough.


New Restaurant

Kipos Hellenic Cuisine

Wilmington isn’t overflowing with Noteworthy Grecian fare, so the hype Kipos received when it recently landed in Lumina Station was expected. This intricately adorned, seafood-focused establishment pays homage to the culinary traditions and cultural heritage of Greece. Get in lost in their breezy interpretation of a Mediterranean courtyard while chowing down on classic mezedes like charred prawns or calamari. The moussaka is a no-brainer, but get the grilled whole fish fileted tableside for the full experience. 

Organic Food

Tidal Creek

Since its inception, Tidal Creek has been driven by a mission to promote the well-being of individuals, communities, and the environment. Established in 1982 as a consumer-owned cooperative natural food store, TD has been tirelessly dedicated to sourcing sustainable, organic, and fair trade foods, as well as environmentally-friendly products. Visit the in-store café for an excellent smoothie, the hot bar for nourishing provisions, or grab a wrap from the cold case if you’re in a hurry.


Outdoor Dining 

Marina Grill

Anchor your boat at this idyllic riverfront haven and treat yourself to a refreshing pineapple, coconut, and rum-spiked cocktail and a breathtaking sunset. Since its arrival on the downtown scene, Marina Grill has captured the hearts of many, with its brunch, lunch, and dinner-with-a-view experience. MG provides music of its own but sits adjacent to Live Oak Pavillion where your ears can often catch the sounds of a major concert for free. The patio’s panoramic river views and nautical aura will likely urge you to indulge in the fresh-as-ever fish tacos.



Wheelz Pizza

Two words: sourdough crust. Wheelz, with its fleet of food trucks, original headquarters on 17th Street, and dine-in locations now spanning from Wrightsville Beach to Charlotte has irrefutably become one of Wilmington’s pizza champions. The eminently worshipped three-day, cold-fermented sourdough crust is a Neapolitan-Brooklyn style hybrid and well worth the hype. It’s foldy, chewy, and crisp all at once—which produces a brilliant landing pad for fresh toppings like chunky, sweet organic tomatoes, ultra-premium “cuppy pepperoni,” and freshly snipped basil.


Raw Bar


Luxuriate in the sights and sounds on Elijah's waterfront deck and discover why this longstanding culinary gem relishes in having one of the best raw bars in the city. With over thirty years of history, this river-view restaurant has garnered a reputation for excellence and it’s not just the epic view. Though the chilled oysters and clams are hard to pass up, we recommend opting for the Carolina bucket—a low country boil-style feast complete with shrimp, crab legs, mussels, potatoes, and sausage you can enjoy right at your table.


Romantic Atmosphere

The Little Dipper

Make your date night dinners truly memorable with an interactive and fun-filled experience at The Little Dipper. Cozy up in a booth with skewered baguette cubes and melted cheese prepared tableside for a meal that screams romance. Sample the delectable artisanal breads for dipping or opt for the assorted three-course meal featuring fresh seafood, juicy steaks, and a fruity finale of dark chocolate fondue. Enjoy the nostalgic charm of wine and cheese or check out the roster of "fauxtails" if your dining companion digs alcohol-free drinks.



The SeaWitch Café & Tiki Bar

Located a block from the oceanfront, this CB landmark has been steadily serving up exceptional seafood and entertainment since 1995. Beat the heat in the dining room decked out with beachy décor or hit the palm tree-lined tiki bar on the dock for ahi tuna nachos and a coconut margarita. The baked crab dip, laced with an ethereal Old Bay cream sauce, is great for sharing while the jerk mahi with mango salsa and cilantro lime shrimp tacos will take you to your own private paradise.

Seafood Market

Seaview Crab Company

With its widespread presence across the state, Seaview Crab Company has established itself as a true leader in the retail game. The owners' humble beginnings as retail fishmongers have instilled a knack for engaging with customers and staying ahead in the industry, both locally and globally. Nationwide shipping is available for retail products and fresh seafood, and for special ordering needs—just ask. The market’s take-home stock is top-notch, while SCC Kitchen’s MO also boasts hot, made-to-order food. Delectable creations from Executive Chef Brandon Stark include tacos, po' boys with pickled peppers, and seafood platters.



The George on the Riverwalk

You’ll appreciate al fresco river views and southern cuisine at The George, but it’s the friendly and attentive staff that have been instrumental in establishing this restaurant as a longtime local favorite. Take your taste buds on a coastal journey with the Cajun-fried gator bites served with roasted artichoke and zippy romesco sauce. The knowledgeable servers will never steer you wrong and pull out all the stops to make sure your meal is as special as possible.



Ruth's Chris Steak House

When it comes to exceptional steakhouses, Ruth's Chris is an undisputed chart-topper. Famed for their impeccable service and generous portions of buttery, top-quality beef, this upscale chain guarantees a gratifying dining experience every time. Located conveniently within Wilmington's downtown Hilton on the Riverwalk, the locale only adds to the attraction. While Ruth's Chris is celebrated for their champion USDA Prime Beef, their menu offers more than just steaks for any non-meat-eaters in your party.


Sunday Brunch

Havana's Restaurant

For Carolina Beach’s quintessential brunch experience, Havana's takes the cake once again. Their weekly Sunday Funday shindig features live music and the signature "Snow's Cut Bloody Mary" with an Old Bay rim and a garnish of steamed shrimp. Determined to source as many ingredients as possible from the nearby sea and land, every plate at Havana's is as fresh as it gets. Regulars rave about the Huevos Rancheros topped with crunchy pico and served on crispy corn tortillas with red bean gravy. Seafood lovers rejoice for the oyster catcher benedict with poached eggs and Tasso ham hollandaise. To satisfy your sweet tooth, the accompanying coffee cake is sublime.



The Green House

As Wilmington’s first upscale vegetarian bistro (that, BTW, flaunts a zero-proof bar program), The Green House focuses on wholesome ingredients with an emphasis on sustainable practices. Modern, high-end, vegan American eats are the stars of this show—like the seared eggplant filet with velvety parsnip potato puree, red wine demi-glace, and crispy roasted shallots. Pair the runny, housemade Camembert with one of the bar’s inventive sips like the foam-topped Matcha Man made up of a citrusy aperitif, herby NA spirit, and locally-made fig-cardamom shrub.


Waterview Dining

Bluewater Grill

For over twenty years, this waterfront venue at Wrightsville Beach has been serving up exquisite seafood, juicy steaks, and more. While you wait for your table, enjoy an islandy cocktail at the outdoor bar while watching sailboats glide along the waterway. On Sundays from April to October, relax on the patio and listen to live tunes as part of Bluewater's waterfront music series. Must-tries for newcomers include the sumptuous hot crab dip and wispy coconut shrimp with dark rum marmalade. Plan your meal around high tide to catch a dolphin sighting or two.

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