No meat left behind! That’s our rule when cracking into crab, and we suggest you follow suit. If you’re wondering where to seek the best soft shells, cakes, benedicts, and dips—you’ve come to the right page. Don’t worry, we won’t be shellfish and keep these selections to ourselves. Here’s a guide to help you crawl your way through 19 of the best crab houses the Cape Fear region has to offer.
By FANNY SLATER
Bowman’s at the Beach
Cancel the road trip to Calabash. Look no further than Carolina Beach for impeccably breaded and fried seafood (not to mention hushpuppies that are—as the southerners say—slap yo’ mama good). Bowman’s fresh fish lineup is extensive (oysters, broiled flounder, clam strips, shrimp and more), but the crab is where it’s at. Indulge in a filling, but informal feast that’s been served up since 1992 with a side of smiles and lemon wedges. If there’s a chill in the breeze, dig into the scratch-made crab dip loaded with lump meat and secret spices. Sneak a sinful bite of Fried Deviled Crabs (think: crab cake meets croquette) or go big or go home with the enormous Alaskan Snow Crab Legs bursting with sweet, flavorful meat.
Seafood and sunsets is the name of the game at this Topsail Sound dining gem. A monument to the area since 1949, Breezeway Restaurant has been serving traditional fried and steamed out-of-the-water eats for more than half a century. The stunning waterfront view might be what draws diners in, but it’s the Monday night “all you can eat crab legs” special that keeps them clawing their way back for more. If unlimited isn’t your thing, order up the ooey gooey crab dip, the superior Deviled Crab basket with fries, homemade slaw, and outrageous hushpuppies, or the delicate Blue Crab Cakes. Looking to get your fix à la spoon? Breezeway’s velvety She-Crab Soup is worth every rich bite.
Buddy’s Crab House & Oyster Bar
Ever find yourself daydreaming of an oceanside tiki bar were the brews are ice cold and the enormous, moist snow crab legs come by the bucket? Haul tail over to Buddy’s in Surf City to make all of your tropical dining dreams comes true. Perch on their deck for the best views of the pier, but don’t forget to stay awhile to appreciate all the coastal crab you can handle. Regulars rave over the soft-shell sandwich that comes out expertly fried to a golden crisp. For sharing, the luxurious crabby shrimp dip is a creative spin on the standard crab and cream cheese mixture. How about hand-pattied crab cakes with crispy corn nuggets and slaw? Yep, they’ve got that too.
For a relaxed lunch with a beachy backdrop, catch a Buzz at the Roost. Situated right along the Carolina Beach boardwalk, this waterside haven is always humming with friendly sunburnt faces and seafood for days. Don’t miss the delicious crab balls that are so famous, they’ve developed their own egos. Rather keep all the meat for yourself? Go for the Crab Cake Dinner brimming with sweet, succulent blue crab. If you’ve got surf-and-turf on the brain, the Steak & Crab (top sirloin coupled with a hefty half pound of snow crab, potatoes, and veggies) will leave you anything but hungry. If it’s Snow Crab or bust, the dinner portion greets you with over a pound of steamy Alaskan snow crab and plenty of glossy butter for dipping.
Cape Fear Boil Company
How could you possibly turn down “the best pot on the beach?” Cape Fear Boil Company is changing the game when it comes to the classic low-country boil. Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply treating out-of-towners to a vacation weekend—don’t drag the group to a crowded restaurant to satisfy their crab fix. Skip the long table waits and excessive bar bills and let CFBC bring this coastal spread to your very own home. For the crustacean lovers in your life, honor them with The Crab Pot. This full-blown seafood supper includes seasoned red bliss potatoes, yellow corn, spicy andouille sausage, sweet onions, jumbo shrimp, and a large cluster of snow crab per person. Lemon, butter, homemade cocktail sauce, and happiness all included.
The first bite I ever tasted of Chef Keith Rhodes phenomenal cuisine happened to be Catch’s Signature North Carolina Lump Crab Cakes. It was then I realized what love is—and it wasn’t because I was on a date with my future husband. Rhodes is a master of regional ingredients, and his execution of gorgeous lump crab meat gently folded with rich, savory spices is enough to make you fall out of your chair. What’s that? He tops it with a silky lobster cream sauce, you say? Seriously, I can’t get up. Catch changes up the cakes’ accompaniments based on the season—so run, don’t walk, anytime you can catch Rhodes’ decadent seafood sauce. For an exotic journey into the flavors of Asia, the Bun Rieu Cua (Crab Noodle Soup) in red curry broth with crispy tofu and pork rind is also hit-the-floor-good.
Cape Fear Seafood Company
With three locations all waiting to make your crab cravings come to fruition, Cape Fear Seafood Company is a no-brainer when it comes to fresh ocean fare. Chef and owner Evans Trawick’s modern, yet approachable, take on the land-and-sea grill has been rocking our boats since 2008. CFSC is also a one-stop shop for all things crab. Start off your spread with their bubbly Crab Dip—a rich hybrid of crab, spicy horseradish, cheese, and spices served with seriously dippable pita points. For a unique shared plate spin, the Crab Scampi Risotto is a delectable fusion of crunchy risotto cakes and lemon garlic butter crab. Still not crabbed out? The Bald Head Island Crab Cakes (doused in a tangy lemon beurre blanc, I might add) are a filling blend of pan seared backfin lump claw meat.
It’s not unusual in Carolina Beach to taste seafood so good you think you’re having a religious experience. Might as well make it happen inside a renovated church turned inviting eatery. Deck House in CB is notorious for serving up superior coastal catch with a side of stupendous cocktails. Setting a base of their Hot Crab Dip—oven baked and accompanied by fresh, toasted garlic bread—is always a solid way to start, but don’t forget to save room for the Crab Cakes. These sautéed meaty patties are paired with an outrageous cream sauce but are just as good on their own. If fresh fish is on your mind, you can still sneak in a little crab meat with the Grouper Special or Stuffed Flounder where the filets are topped or stuffed with crab and more of that righteous lobster cream sauce.
Fins Island Buffet & Grill
There’s clearly no shortage of crab houses in Carolina Beach, and Fins is one you’ll want to paddle out for. This waterfront restaurant offers a handful of memorable edible experiences. One flip flop into the main dining room downstairs and you’re immediately greeted by vibrant island décor and the unique tall sail "Calabash Style" Seafood Buffet. There are 100+ items to choose from—but it’s hard to beat a never-ending stream of crab legs. Grab your drawn butter and head onto the screened in side porch for a marina view. And for the piece de la resistance, Fins Rooftop Bar & Grill is the epitome of coastal dining. Overlook the yacht basin and marina while dunking blue corn chips into their Jumbo Lump Crab Dip with toasted parmesan, spinach, and herby chives baked in a spiced lemon cream sauce. Lighten up with the Crab Escondido—a mixture of chilled fresh crabmeat, chipotle mayo, and refreshing avocado salsa.
Fork N Cork
We’re not in BurgerTown anymore, Toto. Although they may be celebrated for their enormously stackable meat sammies, downtown favorite Fork N Cork has way more tasty tricks up their chef’s coat. The Toasted Crab Bread—crusty French Bread smeared with cheddar, fontinella, and smoky gouda baked and served with marinara—gets such high praise that the burgers are getting jealous. A melt-in-your-mouth dip you don’t even have to put in the effort to dip? Yes, please. A squirt of citrusy lemon on top and you may never go back to traditional southern crab dip again. This brick-walled burger bar also dishes out the occasional Crab Cake Sandwich special that will have you saying, “Where’s the beef? I don’t care.”
Gibby’s Dock & Dine
Neighborhood Pub. Sports Bar. Music Hall. Crab House. Pull up a neon chair onto Gibby’s harborside deck and take in the glorious sights, sounds, and smells Carolina Beach has to offer. Their Maryland-style twist on crab dip, the Original Double Dipper, is swimming with spinach and artichokes and screaming for warm pita chips. For crab between buns done two ways, go for the Kaiser Bun Soft Shell Sandwich slathered with delicious Bistro dressing or the crispy Crab Cake Sandwich done Maryland style (scented with Old Bay) and cloaked in spicy sauce. For the best of both land and sea, the Black Angus Ribeye Combo with Crabmeat-stuffed Flounder is broiled with lemon butter and white wine and comes with a “need another notch in my belt” garnish. Too full from the Double Dipper? The delicate, steamed snow crab clusters have your name all over them.
Whether you’re craving crab first thing in the morning or when the sun sinks low, Havana’s has got you covered. Housed in a historic cottage from the early 1900’s, Havana’s is a rare paradise tucked into Carolina Beach. Get your morning started with their renowned Blue Crab Benedict—two toasted English muffins, poached eggs, plump crab cakes, hollandaise, Havana Hash, and fresh fruit. For dinner, it’s nearly impossible to deny the Salmon stuffed with lump crab cakes, enveloped in lemon caper sauce and served with sweet pea risotto and sautéed spinach. If you’re looking to keep it light, look to the Seafood Chill Bar section of the menu where the Blue Crab Cocktail—chilled jumbo lump blue crab with chef’s pungent mustard sauce—is filling, but doesn’t weigh you down.
From an addictive aged parmesan crab dip to a piping hot bowl of some of the best She Crab soup you’ll ever taste, Hieronymus (once featured on The Today Show) clearly tops charts when it comes to serving crab in the Cape Fear region. Thanks to an ambience that has embodied Wilmington’s beachy vibe since 1972 (check out guests’ hand-picked shells in the tables along with nameplates dedicated to regular bar patrons), Glenn Hieronymus provides an experience that’s truly one-of-a-kind. Take in some sun on the patio and crack your way through a pound of Alaskan Snow Crab Legs with drawn butter. On the side—don’t miss the veggies from Granny’s Royal’s garden. Keep an eye out for specials like the ethereal Crab Melt of Soft Shell Crab Sandwich.
As New Hanover County’s oldest dining establishment, King Neptune rules Wrightsville Beach as the top spot for happy hour, seafood, and live music. Oh, and did I mention the pirate bar? You don’t have to wait until noon to get your crab on here. Pop into this Lumina Avenue landmark for breakfast seven days a week and dive face-first into a Crab Omelet or reasonably priced Crab Bowl—a healthy combination of egg whites, citrusy pico de gallo, guacamole, and a dash of crab meat. For lunch, the Crab Cake Sandwich dabbed with zippy roasted red pepper aioli is made for one, so order it up slider style if you feel like sharing. At dinner, start by loading up on the Crab Corn Chowder and then go for steamed crab legs or handmade, barely-any-filler Crab Cakes with a bold Old Bay Aioli.
A picturesque ocean setting is one thing, but pair that with extraordinarily good cuisine and you’ve got a culinary experience that will be hard to forget. You might not expect to find locals lining up at a resort restaurant in their own town, but Oceans tells a different tale. Inside the Holiday Inn on Wrightsville Beach, this American eatery yanks their specialty items straight from the nearby Atlantic Ocean. It’s easy to hide less expensive crab meat in a dip, but Oceans opts for lump crab in their creamy spinach and seafood blend. The Crab Cake Sandwich with zesty Creole mustard gets rave reviews, but the fresh catch smothered with crab sauce is hard to pass up. Not enough crab? You’ll find the good stuff spread all over their menu (like loaded up on their beloved pizzas).
Port City Chop House
The word “chop” might not scream seafood, but if you’re on the hunt for fresh catch—you’d be crazy to miss out on this Port City palace. PC Chop House is as equally praised for their sea fare as they are for their thick cut Ribeye. Cool evening? Cozy up by the fire with a big bowl of their Blue Crab Bisque laced with cayenne pepper and sherry. The generous 5-ounce Carolina Crab Cakes are lightly pan-fried and prepared with an exquisite medley of baby greens, honey pecan remoulade, basil oil and crispy wonton strips. For double the fish action, the Crab-Stuffed Flounder with lemon butter sauce will leave you full and happy. If you’ve got briny treats on the brain, but steak in your heart—order your beef Oscar style with crabmeat, asparagus, and sharp béarnaise sauce. Julia Child would be proud.
Sure, they might be pegged as a family-friendly oyster and ice-cold-beer bar—but Shuckin Shack serves up its fair share of unique crab specialties. While every other kitchen in town is sliding their crab dip under the broiler, Shuckin blends and chills their rich blend of lump crabmeat and spices to manifest a cold appetizer (paired with toasted garlic bread) that you won’t find anywhere else. Crunchy fried crab cakes and juicy crab legs grace the menu, but I suggest going straight for the signature shareable Crab Balls. Made for passing around the table (or keeping all to yourself—hey, we don’t judge) this starter showcases six bite-size crab fritters alongside house po-boy sauce. Look for two locations (one coming soon smack dab downtown on Front Street) to curb all of your crab desires.
The Crab Shack
Having the word “crab” in your restaurant name certainly certifies you as a professional crab house—and The Crab Shack has proven itself to be exactly that. For well over a decade, the mountains of mussels and piles of freshly steamed blue crabs have been thoughtfully crafted and consistently prepared to order. For a Mexi-spin on ocean cuisine, the Seafood Quesadilla with crabmeat, shrimp, and scallops is a melty fan favorite. Plop a Maryland style crab cake on a bed of greens if you’re looking to skip a sandwich, or head straight for the Soft Shell dinner featuring two whole-bodies sautéed or fried. Feeling bold? The Crab Daddy steamer pot is one pound of divine crab legs, nine blue crabs, half a pound of shrimp (plus corn and ‘taters). If you’re up for the challenge, this feast is for you.
You can’t meander down the Riverwalk without being tempted to pop onto The George’s patio for a bite. Acclaimed for their broad southern selection, dock-and-dine service, and breathtaking views of the bridge—this restaurant is the perfect place to put your face in some nachos. Crab and Shrimp, to be exact, over multi-colored tortilla chips, fresh tomatoes, scallions, Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses. If the air is singing sweater weather, warm up with the “Chef’s Choice” creamy Lump Crab New England-style chowder simmering with sweet corn and potatoes. Go fish-on-fish with the Crab Topped Salmon: a seared filet blanketed with a lump crab cake, baked, and finished with scratch-made tomato fondue. Come back again for breakfast and set your sights on the Surf & Turf Benedict with Belgian waffles, shaved ribeye, and blue crab draped with Dijonnaise, poached eggs and béarnaise.