Eat Your Heart Out, Wilmington, NC
Your 3-day weekend guide to gobbling your way through the Port City
Fruity drinks on the water and enough crab cakes to build a fort. Foodies pair well with this coastal town.
Thanks to a Wilmington, NC, zip code, this may be my daily reality—but it’s not real life for everyone. I get that. Living in a vacation town definitely comes with its perks, and one of them is the multitude of visitors we receive looking to live it up Wilmington-style for the weekend. Opening our homes to our tourist and traveler friends of all ages comes with a responsibility, though. Being a coastal native means that it’s your job to show these folks a good time—especially when it comes to food. But, with every versatile group having different dining destinations in mind, how do you map out your Friday, Saturday, and Sunday itineraries to please your friends?
This is where I come in (No, seriously, can I come?). With Wilmington offering so many restaurant styles that speak to the masses, I decided to split things up and lay out three (three-day) eating excursions. Whether you live riverside and happen to be hosting guests or are a tourist yourself in town for a long weekend—pay attention. I’m about to show you how to seamlessly cruise your way through the Port City’s cuisine.
The Wilmington Food Scene Caters to Crustacean Cravings
Let’s start with the obvious. Wilmington is a water town, after all, so the hunt for seafood is strong with this crowd. The biggest problem is knowing how to avoid the tourist traps and finding the hot spots locals actually frequent. Shellfish for breakfast? Oh yes, we do. This coastal community loves its crab cakes so much; we even bring them to the breakfast table.
1 Eternal Sunshine on Eastwood Road has benedicts for days, and if you’re feeling something fishy on a Friday, this is your jam. Get a load of hand-pattied blue crab claw meat a la croissant or sample the Smoked Salmon Benedict on parmesan peppercorn bread.
2 Going light for lunch? Look no further than NOFO’s Savorez. Also look at their Yelp status because it’s impressively impeccable. The Brooklyn Arts District has been blowing up in the past few years, and Sam Cahoon’s luxurious Latin fare has only made the homey neighborhood that much more of a draw. Pop in just before noon, snag a seat at the bar, and start with a Black Cadillac featuring Hornitos Plata tequila, agave, fresh pineapple and lime juice, and a Grand Marnier Floater. In the non-liquid lunch department, everyone in your party will be fighting over who gets to lick the plate of the Langousta Y Coco (lobster ceviche in an inexplicably addictive citrus-coconut ginger marinade spiked with habanero).
It’s been a filling day. Scratch heavy dinner plans, and catch the sunset at 3 Anne Bonny’s on the Riverwalk where baller buffalo and blue cheese shrimp meet frozen rose, and live music is always on deck.
Wakey, wakey. We’re headed to the shore. Start your Saturday off at 4 King Neptune on Wrightsville Beach’s main strip. This Lumina Avenue longtime gem runs from sunrise to late night and offers coastal southern cuisine that will cure you from the night before. Set your sights on the Crab Bowl—a delicate mixture of egg whites, citrusy pico de gallo, guacamole, and crab meat. King Neptune’s take on shrimp and grits also gets high marks from regulars.
Thanks to a lighter morning meal, lead your mounting appetite to 5 Cape Fear Seafood Company (with three locations, I might add) for a lowcountry lunch. Get your spread on by sharing the bubbly Crab Dip—a rich hybrid of crab, spicy horseradish, cheese, and spices served with dippable pita points. If a downhome southern dish is what you’re after, the seafood platters—which come broiled, grilled, or fried—are a comforting bite of the coast.
Finish your Saturday seafood finale by following 6 Joe Loves Lobster Rolls food truck wherever it rolls for a seriously succulent, seriously loaded handheld with lobster meat straight from Maine.
Take it easy (like a Sunday morning) and treat yourself to some extra sleep. Roll into 7 Shuckin’ Shack around 11 AM, and belly up to their epic Bloody Mary bar where you check off your choice of spirit, mix, rim, and garnish—and they take care of the rest. This recently unveiled masterpiece is brimming with booze and cream-cheese stuffed snacks. Cover breakfast and lunch here by pairing your tomatoey concoction with a pile of chargrilled oysters.
For a superior Sunday night seafood feast, hit up…
8 Catch on the busy end of Market close to Gordon Road. Global twists on regional seafood is the sweet spot of this Asian-southern fusion restaurant, and celeb chef and James Beard nominee Keith Rhodes is always on his game. Go for the soft shells if the season is right; otherwise get after the signature North Carolina Lump Crab Cakes in Lobster Cream and 1/2 Pound “Hong Kong” Tempura Lobster Tail with a citrusy ponzu reduction.
Brews & Chews
Gastropubs have become a Wilmington specialty, and there’s no shortage of these beer havens doling out topnotch homemade bar food. The majority of our area’s well-known breweries (Wilmington Brewing Company, Flytrap, New Anthem, and Waterline to name a few) specialize in superb hops, but only carry food in the form of food trucks out front. For those brewpubs that are kicking it in the kitchen, here are some of your stops.
9 Bill’s Front Porch is kind enough to include Friday in their morning menu lineup, and regulars rave over the brewpub’s Sunday-Fil-A (an open-faced fried chicken biscuit sammy with pimento cheese, a fried egg, and sriracha). The Breakfast Stout has your name all over it.
Once mid-day hits, a sandy-toed walk by the ocean (in any weather) is always a treat. When you’ve crossed exercise off your list, treat yo’self to a flight of suds and a fiercely good bowl of greens at Wrightsville Beach’s…
10 Waterman’s Brewing. Head Chef Andrew Stanley is an artist when it comes to vibrant presentations and the Berry Salad with goat cheese, candied walnuts, and berry-beer vinaigrette is a healthy mouthful. The Po’ Boys—boasting flawlessly fried seafood, tart pickle, and tangy remoulade—are a meal made for two. Pair one with the Abundant Sunshine IPA with lingering piney resin and notes of mango, grapefruit, lemon, and coconut.
Stick around WB and hit the bustling patio of…
11 Poe’s Tavern for dinner. Though they’re not brewing in-house, the craft lineup is impressive at this lively eatery. Chomp down on Edgar’s Nachos: mounds of multicolored tortilla chips layered with a generous amount of creamy jack cheese, hoppy booze-infused chili, pico, guac, and spicy jalapenos. The tavern also prides itself on making a mean burger, and the brilliantly cooked, smothered beef (and veggie) sammies exceed every expectation. Taco-wise, the Buffalo Shrimp with Marinated Bacon-Blue Cheese Cole Slaw hits the spot.
With a brunch menu served Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., you can’t pass up…
12 Fork n Cork to fire up the day. This quaint, artisanal burger and beer bar has always been locally famed for its enormously satisfying creations, but received a national nod when Guy Fieri and his Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives crew popped in for chef/ owner James Smith’s confit duck wings and beef wellington bites. If you’re in the mood for a hearty breakfast, the Brisket Biscuit (14-hour smoked brisket, two sunny side up eggs, and a creole mustard cream sauce) is your one-way ticket to food coma land.
13 Skytown Beer + BBQ on New Centre Drive is tapping righteous housemade brews and dishing out smoky specialties. Taste familiar? Their sister restaurant is popular Princess Street taco joint.
14 Beer Barrio. Still full from Fork? Share the deep-fried sausage gravy bites (Yeah, you read that right!) and a round of Dreamsicle Milkshake IPAs.
Wilmington’s food truck scene is rapidly expanding, so you’ll want to hit as many as you can in a short amount of time. Look for 15 CheeseSmith Co. at whatever brewery or bottle shop parking lot this grilled cheese mobile has pulled into Saturday night. Their eclectic lineup—like the Buffalo Baby with creamy Havarti, braised buffalo chicken, buttermilk ranch, and quick pickled carrot and celery slaw—is nothing short of divine.
Yesterday was a pants popper. Skip breakfast and swing into downtown staple 16 Front Street Brewery (the first of its kind around here) for lunch. Known for epic pulled barbeque chicken nachos and a double happy hour, any time of day is a good time at FSB.
Nothing says late Sunday afternoon like pizza, and 17 Wrightsville Beach Brewing Company is a beach go-to where the crackly pie crusts are made with beer-infused dough and the draft list boasts crushable crafts. Ask owner Jud Watkins for a flight of his favorites or tap into the classics like the seasonable Puppy Drum Pale or the Orange Krush Kölsch permeated with fragrant orange peel and hints of vanilla. Get your veg on with the flash fried Tempura Cauliflower tossed in your choice of sauce, or pop a few of the Kimchi & Fried Oyster Bites whose acidic punch of vinegar and chili cut the fat from the fryer.
Flip Flops & Bowties
While Wilmington certainly offers its fair share of fine dining establishments, we’re a comfortable coastal town where board shorts are almost always acceptable. That being said, enjoying a fancy meal or craft cocktail in your flip flops around here is the norm. Hey, you made it to Friday! You deserve something frothy. Pop into 18 Bespoke Coffee & Dry Goods on Princess Street where the chic Counter Culture Coffee baristas doodle hearts in the dirty chai lattes. Locally baked goods are great for grab-and-go.
Since the portions at…
19 Indochine are typically large enough to ensure leftovers, split an early lunch here so you don’t fill up before dinner. Favorites from this oriental far East café include classic sweet-and-sour Pad Thai and light Vietnamese Pork Meatballs loaded with citrusy lemongrass.
There’s no better prescription for satisfying your hunger than a Southern, locally-inspired feast at 5th and Castle Street’s 20 RX Restaurant. Known for being one of the first eateries to bring genuine farm-to-table dining to the Wilmington food scene, RX stole our hearts years ago and still steadily wows regulars with their seasonally-changing menu. Many items are pork-tastic (like the wonderfully quirky Buffalo Pig Ears with funky Bleu cheese), but RX is equally praised for their cocktails and thoughtfully-prepared seafood.
Superstar chef Jessica Cabo (a season 1 competitor on Hell’s Kitchen) runs 21 East Oceanfront Dining inside Wrightsville Beach’s Blockade Runner. Her globally-influenced seafood and vegetarian dishes are explosive, and her a la carte breakfast menu is just as refined. I vote for the Exotic Mushroom Omelet with peppery arugula and goat cheese. This upscale, yet relaxing restaurant is famed for their gorgeous canopied garden deck which overlooks the beach. Stick around for lunch.
Am I biased about…
22 PinPoint Restaurant? Yup, and I have no problem admitting it. I consistently pick Pinpoint as the top eatery in Wilmington thanks to head chef and co-owner Dean Neff’s ability to work magic with anything edible. Their menu is slammed with local seasonal offerings from Wilmington’s farmers, fishermen, oystermen, and crabbers. Raw oysters here are an absolute must and come with spicy chilled cocktail sauce, yuzu-cucumber granita (spa water meets crushed ice), and a tangy shallot-based mignonette. For dinner, the Crisp Smoked North Carolina Catfish crusted in cornmeal and bathed in lemon brown butter is the best thing I ever ate. Don’t believe me? Google “PinPoint + Best Thing I Ever Ate.”
Okay, I know I just went googly eyed for PinPoint—but here’s my P.S. I love you too…
23 Love, Lydia Bakery & Café. This charming coffee shop (owned by Lydia Clopton—PinPoint’s head pastry chef—not to mention, Dean’s wife) recently opened on South 3rd Street to rave reviews. The building is a lovely re-furbished house, and you’ll want to cozy up with a cappuccino, a book, and one of Lydia’s crispy bacon, egg soufflé, and smoked gouda biscuit sandwiches and never leave.
I made you carb-load for breakfast (and will again for dinner), so I’m sending you straight to…
24 Steam Restaurant & Bar—one of downtown’s newest eateries tucked inside The Embassy Suites. The hotel’s classy coastal demeanor and style parallels the restaurant’s vibe, and though you can get smothered Southern things like creamed leek and béarnaise fried oysters, I’ve sent you here for the salads and waterfront view. I’m a sucker for the Riverside Caesar: bright chilled hearts of romaine, shaved parmesan, white anchovies, and a luxuriously creamy garlic dressing.
Get out your stretchy pants; we’re off to…
25 Tarantelli’s where familiar Tuscan fare sprinkled with live arias and a splash of Montepulciano is the epitome of Italian spirit. Beautifully crafted dishes like the Sicilian Braciole—thin rolled and stuffed beef tenderloin with loads of garlic, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and prosciutto—tastes like home to those who grew up with traditional Italian cooking. It’s rare to dine at Tarantelli’s without spotting a group wow-ing over the Spaghetti al Formaggio Parmigiana prepared tableside in an enormous oversized wheel of Parmesan cheese (doused in whiskey and lit on fire). What better way to end the weekend?
Wilmington Area Communities
When you are checking out the Wilmington cuisine, you’ll also want to see the welcoming communities and experienced builders who will work with you to design your dream home on the North Carolina coast.
1 Bill Clark Homes is a family business that has been building top-quality residences in Wilmington and all over the Carolinas for more than 40 years. Among their newest neighborhoods are The Landing at Mill Creek, located just three miles from North Topsail Beach, and Channel Watch, an intimate community of 36 homes off River Road in Wilmington. BillClarkHomes.com
2 The Bluffs on the Cape Fear offers large riverfront home sites and move-in-ready homes. Amenities include a private Beach Club on Oak Island and a resort-style clubhouse with a pool. The two-acre Riverfront Park & Boat Launch opens soon, to be followed by a new fitness center with pickleball courts. TheBluffsNC.com
3 Brunswick Forest has residential offerings that range from low-maintenance patio homes to estate-size home sites. The Villages commercial hub now includes the New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Recreational amenities like the Cape Fear National golf course, a complete fitness center, and kayak/canoe launches keep active residents happy and healthy. BrunswickForest.com
4 Cambridge Village of Wilmington makes independent retirement living a reality with spacious one- and two-bedroom apartment homes. The Optimal Living Center has a wellness director to customize every resident’s fitness plan, a life enrichment director to plan social events, and pampering professional services at the Salon & MedSpa.
5 Compass Pointe offers resort-style living in an award-winning master-planned community. The golf club is home to one of the best new courses in the Carolinas, while other fitness amenities include a wellness center, tennis/pickleball courts, and miles of hiking/biking paths. The Grand Lanai Amenities Center hosts community events.
6 Landfall is a family-oriented residential community with playgrounds, playing fields, and walking trails in 320 acres of conservation land. In addition to the Cliff Drysdale Sports Complex, The Country Club of Landfall is a member-owned golf club with two challenging championship courses by Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye.
7 Logan Homes is the leading name in coastal living with unique residential designs in premier Carolina locations like Wilmington. Their signature Build Smart program includes personal service at state-of-the-art design studios, the latest energy-efficient features in every home, and a complete warranty program for lasting peace of mind. LoganHomes.com
8 Palmetto Creek, perfectly situated between Wilmington and Myrtle Beach near Southport,features a beautiful boardwalk trail through a natural Palmetto preserve. One of the community’s preferred builders is Horizon Homes, a family-run business that provides quality homes at affordable prices. PalmettoCreek.com
9 River Bluffs features single-family homes and choice home sites along the North Cape Fear River. Lifestyle amenities include Davis Square events, boat/kayak launches, walking trails, a fitness center, tennis/pickleball courts, and an elevated riverwalk. Lunches at Porches Cafe can include produce from the 10-acre community farm. RiverBluffLiving.com
10 River Lights is a residential destination for young professionals to active retirees with traditional single-family, maintenance-free town homes, and age 55+ neighborhoods. The Marina Village is a hub of shopping and dining, while the wellness-centered lifestyle is enhanced by seven miles of trails, four community parks and a 38-acre recreational lake. RiverLightsLiving.com
11 St. James Plantation offers single-family residences and low-maintenance town homes in an unspoiled coastal setting. Golf memberships feature access to four championship courses and clubhouses. Also on-site are four fitness centers, an Intracoastal Waterway marina, and 36+ miles of walking trails. The private Beach Club on Oak Island and the seaside town of Southport are just minutes away. SJPLife.com/Living
12 Summerhouse on Everett Bay is a private residential community near the popular oceanfront destinations of Surf City and Topsail Island. Move-in-ready homes and customizable floor plans from leading builders are available. Community amenities include a clubhouse with pool, fitness center with tennis courts, and boat/kayak launches with direct Intracoastal Waterway access.