Fantastic Al Fresco Dining Spots

08 May 2016

Outdoor dining is one of the trademarks of summer, a special ambience-addition that you can only take advantage of when the weather is warm enough. Our outdoor dining guide list some of the best places around Wilmington to graze, nurse a beer, and just soak up the sun


Blue Surf Café 

Cozy, casual, and colorful outdoor seating are just a few of the traits of this modern eatery. Blue Surf Café —celebrated for their fabulous breakfast, lunch, and dinner—has been blowing diners minds with their clever spin on contemporary American cuisine. Owners took outdoor seating into their own hands by saying “no thanks” to traditional rounds and opting for rustic tables and Adirondack chairs instead. The setting screams surfs up dude, now let’s eat. Luckily Blue Surf’s eclectic charm matches their imaginative menu. Your crunchy crew will love the Hippy Style Breakfast Plate with feta, tomato, spinach, and mushrooms. But don’t commit just yet—check the blackboard for daily specials made from scratch. Stick around outside in the afternoon and sample signature lunch items like the Mojo Pork, Braised Beef Brisket, and killer Cuban. 910-523-5362,

Big Daddy’s Restaurant

Stunning glimpses of the ocean, in-house fileted fish, and a quick hop from patio to shore. That is Big Daddy’s. Located in the heart of town (walking distance to all Kure Beach has to offer), this massive, locally motivated restaurant offers upscale food at a beach price. Give their in-house catering a buzz for your next event, or scoot up a stool to the outside bar for people watching, fruity drinks, appetizer specials, and a marvelous view of town. Big Daddy’s is flexing their culinary muscles with a newly revamped menu that includes a fresh (not fried) concept and top-notch proteins showcased through vibrant plate presentations. If it’s crunch you’re craving—no worries—Big Daddy’s still rocks out Calabash-style platters for those who keep it old school. For your daily dose of veg, the colossal salads drizzled in homemade Poppyseed Dressing do the trick. 910-458-8622,


Situated smack dab on the Intracoastal Waterway, this island-style bar and restaurant boasts beach vibes and croakie-clad locals. Oh, and did I mention ice cold beer and fresh regional seafood? This marriage of coastal eats and gorgeous marina views have made Dockside a Wrightsville Beach landmark for decades. It’s ideal for a casual vacation meal with the fam, and equally as epic for Sunday Funday with your friends. For the real deal, go for the fresh catch or share a plate of the Fish and Chips: a piled-high plate of blue corn chips, seared ahi tuna, creamy Baja sauce, and citrusy Pico. To soak up those lime-infused liquid libations you’re sure to indulge in at the crowded waterfront bar—juicy chargrilled burgers and fries are a Fan favorite. Seriously, it’s my favorite thing on the menu. 910-256-2752,

East Oceanfront Dining

East Oceanfront Dining, located inside the Blockade Runner Beach Resort on Wrightsville Beach, is known for harvesting ingredients from their backyard garden and snagging their specials straight from the ocean. This posh waterside eatery’s gorgeous sights are the perfect complement to their regional cuisine—a mix of polished casual coastal dining and a pinch of Southern living. Pull up a chair on the terrace and enjoy everything from breakfast to lunch to dinner and drinks with the sounds of the surf as your background music. Take shade under a white cabana, surround yourself with palm trees, and start with the Thai Clams—which come swimming in a sea of curry, coconut milk, and fresh lime juice. Impress the palates of your plant-based-diet friends with East Oceanfront's generous selection of vegan and vegetarian fare (like the Raw Beet Ravioli Salad and the Zucchini Pasta). 910-256-2251,


Known for being one of the Port City’s most “seasoned” eateries, Elijah’s is equally as much of a tourist destination as it is a local hot spot. The knowledgeable staff and superior seafood have kept patrons flooding back for more than thirty years. This casual American grill offers more than just a scenic backdrop of the Cape Fear River. They’re famed for fresh catch like the Buffalo Shrimp appetizer and the raw bar offerings. Seriously, who wouldn’t want a frosty pint and a pile of chilled oysters on a waterfront deck? Take a bite out of Wilmington history by stepping inside to check out the remaining relics—paintings, ship models, and nautical artifacts—from when Elijah’s was a maritime museum. Head back outside for the sunset and a side of their Southern (Long Island-esque) Carolina Iced Tea. 910-343-1448,


On the hunt for Thursday night fireworks with a side of Hot Crab Dip for Two? Look no further. Havana’s prides themselves on having the best seat in town for Carolina Beach’s weekly sparkly spectacle. If you forgot to call ahead for the front porch—no worries. You can still catch a glimpse of the show from their covered patio or deck. Havana’s—housed in a historic cottage who celebrates its 100th birthday this year—transmits equally as excellent of an atmosphere as they do service and food. Anyone in the mood for Lobster Shrimp and Grits with salty Tasso ham? Other items exclusively served and praised at Havana’s include their Beach Burger: a beautiful blend of North Carolina bison, Applewood smoked bacon, and oozy American cheese. Have a taste of the ocean—like their local Catfish Tacos or Horseradish Encrusted Ahi—all while you toss Cornhole bean bags in the palm tree-lined front yard. 910-458-2822,


Feel like dining inside a tropical rainforest? Grab a gazebo at Indochine where guests are whisked to Thailand thanks to an exotic outdoor garden. Complete with Asian-style architecture, a lotus pond, and authentic Thai and Vietnamese fare—Indochine boasts lines out the door before they’re even on the clock. It’s no surprise customers have gathered here for years as the restaurant’s intriguing cuisine is as fabulous as their highly qualified servers. While the traditional dishes are exceptional, step outside of your Pad Thai comfort zone for exotic creations like Thundering Dragon in a Cloud (fiery tamarind-infused shrimp, pineapples, and veggies topped with crispy rice noodles). Generous portions, belly dancing, and flavor-infused dishes like sweet and savory Yellow Coconut Curry set the tone for this exquisite outdoor dining experience. For a light bite, go for the Fresh Mango Summer Rolls with plum sauce. 910-251-9229,

Jack Mackerel’s Island Grill

Relax. You’re on vacation. At least you’ll feel like you are at Jack Mackerel’s. This Kure Beach classic will cure your blues with an island flair and a taste of the sea. Diners adore the restaurant’s imaginative, whimsical décor but the real tropical treat resides on the second-floor patio. You’ll find a cool breeze and stunning shoreline views from the upper deck. Skim the bar specials for great drink deals and go for the Tuna Sashimi (served with a vinegary seaweed salad and salty ponzu sauce) for rare seafood at its finest. For a hit of real Caribbean flavor, order the Rum and Plantain Chicken brushed with a sticky dark rum glaze. Sunday is sport city at this beach joint, but if you’re not in a game day mood—pop up to the patio for a bite, a sip, and a relaxing dose of Sunday sunshine. 910-458-7668,

Kornerstone Bistro

Despite its somewhat mysterious location, Kornerstone has picked up a boatload of loyal followers. This classy Mediterranean-inspired bistro dishes out fresh, organic, high-quality fare topped off with excellent customer service and a side of righteous Chicken Marsala. The interior upscale décor is idyllic for intimate evenings and special occasions; but when the weather warms up—check out the sunlit courtyard for Thursday’s “Cocktails & Keyboards” and a slice of their sensational pizza. Thanks to the wood burning oven, all crispy pies are thin, smoky, and just light enough to enjoy al fresco. Did I mention they toss a gluten free crust in-house? Drink specials are every night and don’t miss half price wine on Wednesdays for a steal-of-a-deal. Call ahead on the weekends and show up early to grab a sunny spot outside. 910-686-2296,

Le Catalan French Café Wine Bar 

For a taste of Paris in the Port City, trot down the Riverwalk to Le Catalan. One bite of the Shrimp and Orzo Gratin and you’ll be convinced your chilled Pinot Grigio swirled you straight to France. “Bon appetit!”, you’ll exclaim. That is, until you look up and catch the crimson sunset over the Cape Fear River. Le Catalan’s humble, yet decadent menu dishes out deliciously simple Provencal fare like Quiche Lorraine, garlicky Escargot, and an artisan cheese plate served with a crusty baguette. Pair that with some vino by the glass and you're in for a treat. Non-nautical themed waterside restaurants are few and far between in Wilmington, so this classic European bistro is in a category all its own. Le Catalan’s charming outdoor café tables are one of downtown’s best spots. For those rainy days—take cover in the cozy wine shop. 910-815-0200,

MoJo’s on the Harbor

MoJo’s serves up vacation vibes to the max topped off with Coconut Shrimp, palm trees, and fresh, local catch. Round up your happy hour crew or rowdy wedding reception for a trip to MoJo’s marina you’re sure to forget (thanks to the cocktail bar). Neighboring the Old Baldy Light House, this Bald Head Island staple is a piece of heaven for those in search of a true island experience. Not only does every seat on the patio ensure a blissful sight, but the expansive menu offers something for everybody. For lunch, the outrageous Grouper BLT—tempura battered and finished with Jalapeno Mango Mayo—is the king of sandwiches. For dinner, treat your table to the Hot Lobster & Artichoke Dip and keep the Pistachio Crusted Mahi (doused in Champagne Cream Sauce) to yourself. Kick back and marinate with a Drunken Pineapple Cocktail soaked in coconut, rum, and magic. 910-457-7217,


Tucked inside Wrightsville Beach’s Holiday Inn is the seaside dining establishment dubbed Oceans. The name is pretty spot on, as guests go gaga for their beachy outdoor atmosphere which features front row views of crashing waves and surfers galore. To pair with the salty air: the Chef’s fresh catch and tropical drinks. Did I mention that the weekends bring live musical entertainment? It’s nearly impossible not to relax at this cheerful, paradise-like eatery. Oceans’ American-inspired, family-friendly menu turns out stellar seafood like Grilled Grouper, Dijon Mustard-Glazed Salmon, and Creamy-Crab-Sauce-covered Mahi. For the land lovers of the group, there’s a casual pizza menu to please even the pickiest of palates. For a dose of greens, slip into a table on the terrace and order up their famous California Cobb with Creamy Sliced Avocado and Grilled Shrimp. 910-256-2231,

Pilot House

In the game of downtown veteran restaurants, Pilot House leads the pack. For nearly four decades, this nostalgic Riverwalk staple has satisfied locals and travelers from near and far. Pilot House’s interior is branded by their historic locale (a restored 19th-century house) but the patio—live tunes included—is where it’s at. When the warm weather hits Wilmington, the riverside seating fills up as the sun goes down. Pilot House prides itself on sourcing indigenous produce, seafood, and fowl. Their down-home cuisine is a dynamic, modernized balance of traditional southern eats and Cajun flavor. Go-to eats include all things crab (like their decadent Crab Melt on buttery sourdough and the Crab Stuffed Mushrooms with tangy Low Country Beurre Blanc). For a meal on a budget, stop in on a sunny afternoon for  a low-cost lunch with a view. 910-343-0200,


Bring your pup and your appetite because RuckerJohn’s is putting out a menu of high quality, homemade eats on their dog-friendly patio. With a Caribbean feel, consistent service, and reasonable prices—this locally-driven American restaurant is a hit with tourists and Wilmington residents. RJ’s is committed to putting out fresh, made-to-order food with a tropical twist and a side of smiles. Ingrained in family tradition, the lively indoor and outdoor atmosphere is the perfect setting for groups of all ages. Craving something light as you kick back on the terrace? Diners ecstatically go green for their signature salads and housemade dressings like the Grilled Cajun Chicken Salad dressed in spicy Cajun Catalina Vinaigrette. For a heartier meal to pair with a cold one under the sun, try the melt-in-your-mouth delicately Battered Shrimp or a juicy Certified Angus Beef Burger smothered in BBQ sauce and grilled onions. 910-452-1212,

South Beach Grill

Overlooking the picturesque port of Banks Channel sits South Beach Grill. You know—the one with the big blue awning and packed house of cerveza-sipping natives. Their slammed patio is a can’t-miss sight on your way into Wrightsville Beach. This longtime coastal-themed bar and restaurant is a hit with folks near and far thanks to their locally sourced, dietary friendly menu and jovial outdoor ambiance. For a more elegant dining experience, feel free to grab a table inside. The Seafood Napoleon—fried tomatoes, backfin crab meat, spiced shrimp, and garlicky boursin cheese topped with a buttery sherry sauce—will likely change your life. If you’re on vacation time and looking to lighten up, take shade under the covered patio, catch the sunset over the water, and indulge in the freshly fried Shrimp Po’Boy with grassy cilantro-tartar sauce. 910-256-4646,

Sweet n Savory Café

You can’t cruise by this Wrightsville Beach all-day-dining staple without being tempted by the cheery, patio patrons clinking drinks and gobbling down scratchmade baked goods. Sweet n Savory’s shaded outdoor terrace packs in the locals at all times of the week. As a result of gracious customer service, you’re treated like a regular the minute you step foot in the door. But make sure you head back out because the open-air deck always grants a good time. Known for their extensive breakfast menu, bodacious Bloodys, huge portions, and enticing desserts—Sweet n Savory’s name says it all. For lunch, the creamy Chicken Salad is known to be bomb dot com and the Mediterranean Tuna Sandwich with Kalamata Olive Spread and Feta is one fresh feast. Cap off your meal with a Salted Caramel Brownie from the in-house bakery. 910-256-0115,

The George

Three words: Shrimp and grits. Okay, three more words: dock and dine. Kick off your boat shoes and hoist yourself onto The George’s harbor for a meal to remember. Cruising in on foot? That’s cool too. This downtown favorite features waterside dining, bridge views, and creative cocktails. Along with coastal Southern specialties, The George dishes out vegan and gluten free offerings for those with nutritional needs. For first bites, the Blue Crab Dip (ooey gooey and partnered with garlicky baguette slices) is ideal for sharing. For yourself, it’s “George’s” Shrimp and Grits or bust. This house specialty is a luxurious fusion of Stone Ground white cheddar grits, smoky bacon, and white wine cream sauce. Take full advantage of the weekend weather by enjoying Saturday and Sunday brunch on The George’s always-bustling patio. 910-763-2052,

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