Best places to eat in Wilmington, NC from seafood to hotdogs and everything in between.
The coastal town of Wilmington, North Carolina brings in thousands of tourists each year for the beach, Azalea Festival, Cucalorus Film Festival, and Screen Gems Movie Studios. People assume that there's great seafood in Wilmington, which of course there is, but what they don't realize is that our other cuisines are to die for as well.
While there are many great seafood restaurants around, I will hit on just 3 of best, each very different in their menu and ambiance. First, for those that want to wine and dine right on the beach overlooking the ocean, there's the Oceanic. Located on the south end of Wrightsville Beach, it's just a 15-20 minute drive from downtown Wilmington. The Oceanic is an upscale restaurant situated oceanfront with indoor dining or, in nice weather, dining on the pier that is attached to the restaurant. The food is excellent, but they are certainly proud of it ($$). This is not the type of restaurant you want to roll into wearing your board shorts and suntan oil. It is, however, a great place for that romantic dinner your honey wants.
Across the bridge on the Wilmington side of the inlet is Dockside. Dockside is your casual seafood restaurant with plastic tables and chairs and a water view. It's kid friendly atmosphere is complimented by kid friendly items like hotdogs and chicken tenders. Even better yet, you can just pull up your boat, dock, have lunch, then gas up before heading back out! Watch out though, happy hour gets packed! Especially, on the outdoor veranda. They have daily drink specials and great appetizers. You really get your money's worth here.
Perhaps the most well kept secret though is nestled right in the heart of downtown Wilmington - Dock Street Oyster Bar. You might have correctly guessed that you will find this little hole-in-the-wall restaurant off the beaten path on Dock Street, right by the water. There's no views and the restaurant is tiny, but the food is unbelievable! I have never taken anyone there that didn't absolutely love it. The seating is wooden picnic benches and in nice weather a couple of plastic table and chairs are positioned out front on the sidewalk. The kitchen is open and you can watch them prepare everything. Roll up in there in your coverup and flip flops or dress up and head out for a romantic time. You will find both meld perfectly together here. Best still - you won't spend all your vacation money here.
One can only eat but so much seafood though, so what else does Wilmington have to offer? Perhaps one of the best Thai/Vietmanese Restaurants around - Indochine. In nice weather, opt to sit outside and enjoy their amazing ponds and decor while nestled in your own private tiki booth. They also have several rooms for private parties. We had our rehearsal dinner here and it was a big hit. The food is pricy, but one meal can easily feed 2 adults. Everything is great here and they have some of the best calamari around (just in case someone didn't get their fill of seafood yet). The ambiance is spectacular. They don't take reservations though and they get packed every weekend, so go early! But don't worry, if you have to wait they have a great lounge to have cocktail hour in first.
If you're more of a tapas style eater, then Circa 1922 in downtown Wilmington or Boca Bay near Wrightsville Beach are for you. Owned by the same management and boasting the same menus, Circa and Boca Bay are fine dining at their best. With a piano player to provide the right mood for you and great food, you are sure to woo that special someone. Just make sure to order a couple of dishes because everything is tapas style. I highly recommend the organic greens salad - perhaps the best salad I've ever had in my life! During happy hour they have 1/2 priced sushi and drink specials. On Sundays, Boca Bay serves a to die for brunch that you don't want to miss. Boca Bay also provides outdoor seating year round.
If you're just looking for a quick lunch to satisfy the kids, try one of the 3 locations of Trolly Stop. Check them out at Wrightsville Beach, downtown Wilmington, or across from UNCW. Their hotdogs are killer and their price fits even the most economical budget.
Wilmington has its share of chain restaurants, but if you are into a city specific type of feel but fondue is your thing, then don't waste your time at the Melting Pot, head on down to The Little Dipper in downtown Wilmington. They have great fondue and ambiance, but their on the cheaper side than the Melting Pot. Not to mention you can take a nice stroll down the riverwalk afterwards.
Lastly, don't forget desert! If you are downtown I'm sure the aroma will draw you near to Kilwin's. You can smell their fudge and waffle cones all over downtown Wilmington. Some of the best deserts in Wilmington. But, if you are on the Wrightsville Beach side of things, just head on over to Boombalatti's for some great homemade ice cream. Locally owned and operated, Boobalatti's makes all their ice cream fresh each day and their flavors change daily.