Best of Wilmington NC 2018
Hops Supply Company
Traditional American fare with an elevated twist boasting a wildly impressive lineup of beer and wine on tap is easily the best way to classify Hops. This Oleander gastropub has been bringing in the crowds for years with their crave-worthy burgers, tacos, and exceptional brunch. Dishes are familiar yet eclectic with house specialties like the Tostada-style BBQ Beer Braised Short Rib Nachos dusted in black bean corn salsa. Don’t pass up Hops’ unforgettable BLT with white cheddar, pesto aioli, and a farm fresh fried egg.
Where better to alleviate your persistent seafood craving, than at a restaurant named after the most popular dish of the coastal regions of Latin America and the Caribbean? For Ceviche’s, authenticity is key when it comes to the refreshing concoction of chilled, raw eats from the ocean marinated in freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice. Get your sample on with the Mixto—a sensational combo of shrimp, calamari, and bay scallops in a spicy citrus horseradish sauce with zippy red onion, tomatoes, chives, and cilantro.
It’s no coincidence there’s always a packed house at Market Street staple, Indochine. This far east café has been awarded numerous accolades for well over a decade (including major nods towards their majestic portions and exotic, al fresco Asian-themed garden complete with private dining huts). Vegetarians drool over the Buddha's Feast in a Nest featuring teriyaki-basted broccoli, bamboo shoots, tofu, shiitake mushrooms, edamame, yow choy and other veggies in a crunchy noodle nest. Sushi lovers rejoice for the Bermuda Triangle with crab, avocado, cucumbers, cream cheese, and kelp salad.
Tarantelli's Ristorante Italiano
Ciao bella! Welcome to Wilmington’s most bona fide Italian café. From top to bucatini, Tarantelli’s screams Tuscany (in an operatic tune, of course). Start things off with a can’t-miss Antipasti list, like the Salsicce e Finocchio Arancini—a parmesan risotto ball stuffed with fennel and garlicky sausage, lightly fried, drizzled with house sauce and draped with ooey gooey melted buffalo mozzarella cheese. For the pasta lover in your group, Tarantelli’s exclusive family recipe of classic Spaghetti e Polpette (spaghetti and meatballs) is a hug in a bowl.
By virtue of Head Chef Julio Camberos, this Barclay Pointe-based modern eatery has a fiercely authentic flair and is delivering Mexican flavors that will light up your taste buds. You’ll find familiar favorites like generously packed Chimichangas (try the juicy, tomatoey shredded chicken tinga) floating on a pool of melty queso; or lighten up with the fresh Tuna Watermelon Ceviche. With five different types of tortillas made in-house, an abundant collection of Mexican draft brews, over fifty tequilas, and sublime cocktails—what’s not to love?
Apple Annie's Bake Shop
For over 32 years, locals have been indulging in every daily-baked good that Apple Annie’s has to offer. Snack on a mini almond croissant in-house while you wait for your affectionately-prepared takeout order. Box up a pound of their sweet, chewy Coconut Macaroons or grab a round of pizza dough you can roll out at home. Apple Annie’s is also a wizard when it comes to cupcake parties to-go. You host—they provide the cakes, frosting, and decorations.
Jackson's Big Oak
If tangy, chopped east Carolina-style BBQ is your jam—well, you’re probably already a Jackson’s regular. A true Wilmington tradition, this restaurant has been offering their mind-blowing barbeque, classic sides, southern style vegetables, fried chicken, slaw, ribs, Brunswick Stew, and more since 1984. Get all these goodies in their cozy country dining room, with their full-service catering, or take home a bottle of their famous vinegar-style sauce. Don’t leave without the banana pudding or a life-changing piece of chocolate pie.
Raise your hand if you’ve been going to this nostalgic Wrightsville Beach diner for well over twenty years. Guilty. Sure, the sticky, malted chocolate pancakes may be a childhood memory that lives on in my hungry dreams—but I’m not the only one. Vacationers and locals alike love this old-school bustling breakfast spot for its salty-aired sentimentality, but it’s the food that keeps them coming back for more. Longtime patrons recommend sugary treats like fluffy Oreo waffles or the Eggs Neptune—a traditional benedict that subs in plentiful blue crab for bacon—if you’re craving a beachier bite.
Voted Wilmington’s best burger for the last twenty years, PT’s is a landmark when it comes to icy cold, fresh squeezed lemonade, hand-cut fries, and of course—chargrilled patties complete with your choice of tasty toppings. Drive by any of their locations with your windows down and good luck not letting the aroma of smoky beef sizzling over an open-flame draw you in. With speedy, yet made-to-order, counter-style service—this old-fashioned between-buns grill will quench all of your cookout cravings.
Candy / Chocolate
South ‘n France
What do you get when you combine a down-south Wilmington gal, a joyful Parisian man, and a passion for creating confectionary treats? I’m no mathematician, but I think it results in two very enthusiastic thumbs up for bon bons. Proficient chocolatiers (also delightful husband and wife duo) Pascal Siegler and Charlene Dupray have been preparing and individually dipping every handmade, imperfect round for more than a decade. With no added stabilizers or preservatives, every bon bon (you need the Peanut Buttah) is ridiculously good good.
Middle of the Island
You’ve seen the purple and yellow truck—and you’ve likely eaten their epic baked mac and cheese at a wedding. Easily the largest catering company in town (responsible for over 200 weddings per year), Middle of the Island is an expert when it comes to enormous seafood and southern buffets cooked on site in their mobile kitchens. But it’s not all major functions. From drop-off services for church dinners, company picnics, corporate functions and fundraisers to a backyard burger shack division—there’s no event they can’t take on.
Port City Java
There’s a reason I spend several days a week tapping away at my computer from Port City Java’s downtown location—and it’s not just for the Front Street people watching. This Wilmington franchise has been our town’s top coffeehouse choice since 1995. From the nutritious Green Wave Smoothies to the strong, Japanese-style iced coffees to the life-saving munchies (BEC muffin, Mediterranean or Buffalo Chicken Wrap for me, please), our beloved PCJ reigns supreme over monstrous international chains all day long.
Cape Fear Seafood Company
As if crab cakes aren’t enchanting enough on their own, Cape Fear Seafood Co. said, “You know what—let’s envelop them in a sinfully creamy lemon butter sauce.” Well played, CFSC. Only at this land-and-sea grill can you find the unforgettably decadent Bald Head Island Crab Cakes. This ample mixture of fresh backfin lump and claw meat gets pan seared (not fried) to seal in all of the sweet juices. CFSC tops these beauties with a smooth, supple citrus beurre blanc, serves them with your choice of sides, and calls it a day.
One Belle Bakery
With a resume that includes receiving a patisserie and baking degree from Le Cordon Bleu, creating cakes for major celebs like Bill Murray, and being the youngest lead competitor on TLC’s Ultimate Cake Off—One Belle Bakery owner Anna Echols is a master of mini confectionaries. Ideal for dessert bars or accompanying wedding cakes, her artful sweets are almost too magnificent to eat. Almost. Come in and graze the case for addictive morsels like three-bite Blueberry Pies and classic French Tartlets whose flaky shortbread pastry shells are exploding with lush buttercream.
Sweet n Savory
Herd the whole crew and head over to this all-day all-American café where you can indulge in everything from Texas Pete and wasabi powder-infused Bloody Mary’s (for the adults) and homemade pita pizza for the little ones. Diners of all ages are always taking in the sun on Sweet n Savory’s lively patio—making it difficult to ride by without swinging in for a chicken salad sandwich or two. Don’t forget to hit the in-house bakery on your way out for everything from bear claws to velvety NY style cheesecakes.
Jerry's Food Wine and Spirits
Blink and you’ll miss it. As you drive towards the beach, this hidden gem is housed in a tiny strip mall just before the bridge. Don’t let the inconspicuous location fool you though—Jerry’s offers one of most distinguished dining experiences in town. From the well-executed, upscale cuisine to the waitstaff, everything is a cut above, and Jerry’s has the years behind him to prove it. Must-try plates include the Goat Cheese Crusted Grouper with Honey-Lemon Aioli, but keep an eye out for seasonal chef specials like Seared Rare Ginger-Orange Glazed Tuna.
The name says it all. Simple, clean, fresh food. Sensibly-priced, Clean Eatz is a winning marriage of healthy and fast (and they even offer meal plans for convenient pick-up). Their “it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle” motto is a refreshing reminder that eating nutritious food doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor or creativity. Popular café choices include the “Good for You” Nachos (sweet potato “chips” with shredded beef and veggies) and the righteous Grilled Goat Cheese Sandwich with squash, tomato, and homemade spinach remoulade on oat bread.
Icicle Roll Ice Cream
Forget the standard scoop method, Icicle Roll Ice Cream has put a fun, funky spin on everyone’s favorite frozen treat. Select a custom flavor and enjoy the show as ice cream baristas pour the creamy liquid on a cooling ice pan and roll it up into a refreshing treat right before your eyes. These one-of-a-kind dessert bowls are always made-to-order and completely customizable with offerings like non-dairy ice cream and—wait for it—unlimited toppings.
Blue Surf Café
Speedy counter service brought to you by a first-rate chef? True story. Blue Surf’s “Good Afternoon” lunch menu is a tempting sequence of local ingredients served in a casual style. Chef Jon Webb is all about from-scratch, homegrown ingredients—so you can rest assured that sandwiches like the Roasted Chicken with buttermilk raita (a spiced Indian spread) are prepared from scratch with love. There’s always a local feature, so peek at the blackboard specials before you make up your mind.
Word on the street is this new eatery and butcher shop is not only slicing some of the finest cuts of meat in town—but has been equally acknowledged for veg dishes like melt-in-your-mouth fried Brussel sprouts. A newcomer to the Forum, True Blue swooped in and pulled on our heart strings with their insane shallot-speckled steak tartare and juicy Lady Edison pork chops with charred escarole. Not starving? Hit the butcher case and select your own beef-by-the-inch. At brunch, the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake Benedict with smoked prosciutto and tomato-spiked béarnaise is worth every calorie.
From the beginning, Tidal Creek’s vision has been to foster and nourish the health of the individual, community, and planet. Incorporated in 1982 as a consumer-owned cooperative natural food store, this specialty shop seeks out suppliers and produces their own sustainable, organic, fair trade foods and environmentally-sound products. Pop by the in-store café and check out healthful hot bar items like the robust Ponzu Stir Fry Chicken and Veggies on Tuesday’s Asian array.
A massive number of new restaurants may consistently rise to Wilmington’s surface, but some things never change. Stroll along the Riverwalk and hop onto Elijah’s patio to experience one of the city’s most well-established eateries. This waterfront café has been an outdoor dining destination for over three decades, and let’s face it—why wouldn’t you want to snack on sesame-soy marinated Tuna Avocado Poke on the Cape Fear River? Enjoy the boats and breeze with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and a chilled pile of oysters.
Pizzetta’s deeply rooted Italian heritage radiates through every sumptuous bite of their gloriously loaded pies. You can’t go wrong with simple pepperoni by-the-slice, but Nonna’s thin-crust, square pie with loads of garlic, plum tomatoes, and fresh basil is a fan favorite. No seriously—I ate it yesterday. From the first bite of each hearty, juicy triangle to the last chomp of the thin, crispy crust—you’ll be in true pizza paradise. The Salad Pizza—lettuce and veggies galore in a cheese shell tossed with chianti vinaigrette—will fill you up without weighing you down.
So popular they had to shuffle their downtown location to expand—Shuckin’ Shack is a beach lover’s happy place. There’s no shortage of stellar sea-fare here and when it comes to raw bar items, regulars and tourists line up and grab a lemon. Go Cold Sampler or go home with half a pound of chilled shrimp served on ice alongside six briny raw oysters and six tender raw clams. Be bold with the Bloody Bivalve shot—a splash of vodka-tomato juice garnished with a sweet, raw oyster.
This interactive eatery whispers date night with its quiet booths and fun dining experience that lets you play with your food. Nothing says romance like coming together over melted cheese, so grab your partner and watch along as Dipper provides tableside preparation with assorted artisanal breads for dunking. Share a bottle of wine and prolong your evening with a three-course meal (your choice of fresh catch or a tender cut of meat). Don’t forget the fruit and chocolate fondue to satisfy your (or your date’s) sweet tooth.
There are dozens of deli-esque café-style establishments who offer tasty salads, but before Chopt—there were no restaurants who put their sole emphasis on nutritious local produce, meats, and cheeses all chopped into a generous blend that will make your body say, “thank you.” The Spicy Santorini Bowl with nutty Lemon Tahini, shredded Greek chicken, grains, and salty feta is wholesome, balanced, and mighty good. Heads up for ever-changing specialties that take full advantage of the season’s bounty.
If you’re not aware of Catch’s awesomeness by now—you’ve clearly been living under a rock (shrimp). Hometown chef Keith Rhodes grew up around these waters and knows how to put anything that comes out of them onto a plate. The Thai Steamed Blue Bay Mussels in Coconut-Yellow Curry Broth with Kaffir Lime and Sesame Toast is a prime example of Rhodes’ signature southern style with an Asian spin. For real dish local fish—the Southern Fried Seafood Platter is an intoxicating combination of crispy North Carolina flounder, Carolina shrimp, and Virginia oysters.
This abundantly word-of-mouth gem is always bustling with hungry patrons preparing to dive their sashimi fish-first into a salty ramekin of scratch-made soy. Thanks to Chef Danny on the sushi line taking immense pride in his hand-rolled work, service is always praiseworthy. Overwhelmed with delicious choices? Gracious, knowledgeable servers will gladly walk you through quality menu suggestions. I suggest starting off with several swigs of their ice-cold, milky house sake, following up with the pan-fried Gyoza, and ending with the Lobster Crunch and a homemade caramel.
Port City Chop House
Regulars rave about PC Chop House for special occasions, but folks dine in just as often to enjoy a traditional steakhouse experience. Don’t pass up classic starters like the Iced Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail with zesty chili horseradish sauce and the rock star Caesar with heirloom tomatoes—but save stomach space for the main attraction. Signature Chop entrees include the enormous 18-ounce Cowboy bone-in Ribeye that you’ll want to order “smothered” with sautéed onions and meaty Cabernet ‘shrooms.
Around here, it’s no secret that the word “sushi” is synonymous with the name Nikki. The many locations of this Asian fusion Hibachi steakhouse have been serving exquisitely prepared Japanese cuisine for years. Load up on freshness with more petite rolls like the Spicy Crunchy Scallop Cucumber Roll or a Philly with crab, cream cheese, and scallions. Leave room for generously-sized specialties like the exotic Hawaiian Roll—a seaweed wrap nestled with tuna, salmon, white tuna, crab, scallion, tomago, spicy soy vinegar sauce, and sriracha.
Carolina Beach brunch with a Cuban flair? Yes, please. Grab your friends, perfect your cornhole game, and enjoy live music and jumbo shrimp-garnished Bloodies while you work up an appetite at one of the best island eateries around. The fluffy omelets (which come with Havana hash, fruit, and coffee cake) are hard to pass up—particularly seasonal specialties like the “Summertime” loaded with fresh veggies. The giant Mayan Burrito with cilantro aioli on red bean sausage gravy is a solid choice for setting a hefty Sunday Funday base.
SeaLevel City Gourmet
Covertly situated in a Kerr Avenue strip mall, Sealevel is the brainchild of chef / owner Nikki Spears (see above: esteemed local sushi). Specializing in southern-style seafood, Mediterranean flavors, and standout vegetarian fare—this eclectic restaurant is number one with the meat-free and meat-eating masses. One bite of Sealevel’s crisp, peanut oil-griddled Chipotle Avocado Lentil Burger—a dynamic mixture of organic lentils, seeds, and aromatic veggies—and you’ll be hooked. Another must-try: the majestic kimchi and tempeh Reuben with adobo Thousand Island dressing.
This open-air waterside restaurant is equally as admired for their fresh, southern coastal cuisine as they are for their scenic dock-and-dine patio service. As a result of being the only downtown restaurant with a private dock—boaters take full advantage of hopping off their catamarans and heading in for a bite. What better way to enjoy a grilled salmon BLT on toasted rye than with a stunning view of the Cape Fear Memorial bridge over the shimmering water?