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A Week in Wilmington, NC

My girlfriend and I are from Southern California and are flying out to North Carolina next week for a family reunion in Wilmington. I haven't been there since I was a toddler.

What are the "Not to be Missed" chow-ventures? Where should we go to sample dishes that we can't find in California? Doesn't matter if it's a 5 star restaurant or a tiny shack with a still out back. Just has to be amazing food.

We figure we should definitely try the BBQ (both East NC and West NC style). I'd like to have Maryland-Style Steamed Blue Crabs if that's possible.

Also, we'll be flying in and out of Raleigh so recommendations for lunch in the Triangle area would be great as well. We also welcome any non-chow suggestions for things to do between meals ;-)


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  1. Deluxe, Circa and caprice bistro are some of my favorites in wilmington for more upscale food. All three are in the downtown area on the water. There is a nice pub down there too but I can't remember the name. Lots to do downtown just park and walk.

    1 Reply
    1. re: chefcolin

      Deluxe and Caprice, yes, but I don't know, Circa can be kind of ho-hum. Don't miss Catch, a small seafood place downtown on Princess, and Big Thai, up 4th Street near the PPD building. You'll probably have to cook your own crabs, and I'd suggest a night of pier fishing inbetween meals.

    2. Definitely go to South Beach Grill in Wrightsville Beach. Not much great BBQ in Wilmington...do a search for Raleigh 'Q...I think the concensus is that Clyde Coopers does a pretty good job. If you have time to backtrack from the RDU airport you can hit Allen and Son BBQ, on Highway 86, just north of I-40. My personal favorite in NC.

      1. many say Portland Grille is the best. Very pricey, though.

        1. Lunch:
          Catch 215 Princess St downtown- I second Catch. It's one of our favorites. The chef, Keith Rhodes, does some wonderful things with local ingredients.This would probably top my do not miss list. My brother and his wife, visiting from Denver, made us eat there for lunch every day they were here, they liked it so much.
          El Guajiro 1015 S Kerr Ave- authentic Cuban hole in the wall on Kerr. Excellent food.
          Big Thai 1001 N 4th St downtown - personally, I think they have the best Thai food in town. There are other good ones, but I like Big best. The coconut cake is a must-try for dessert. Lunch or dinner.
          El Agave 3803 Oleander Dr - Really good Mexican - hand-made tortillas.

          Deluxe 114 Market St - Keith Rhodes is also the chef here, for now. One of our favorites for downtown nice dining.
          Zooi Bistro 1121 Military Cutoff Rd - really excellent dining. We love eating there. THe menu is imaginative and well-executed. They have a great bar and a good wine list.
          Marc's on Market - 7213 Market St - (not open Mondays) A little off the beaten path, but Marc's has consistently great food at really reasonable prices. White tablecloth, good wine list, great bar, great service and wonderful food.
          Brasserie Du Soleil - 1908 Eastwood Rd in Lumina Station- loud and boisterous, but lots of fun. Their pommes frites are some of the best in town. Great wine list, excellent food all around. But it is loud and usually crowded, so just be prepared for that.
          K38 - Baja Grill 5410 Oleander Dr - More casual, always busy - Baja/Mexican - good food, good margaritas - a local favorite
          South Beach Grill 100 S Lumina Ave - Wrightsville Beach - I get some disagreement here with the following statement, but I think it's about the only decent place on the beach. Others may recommend Bluewater Grill or Dockside, but I have been consistently disappointed with every meal I've had at those places, so I'll defend my position. South Beach is very good, and is on the sound side of Wrightsville Beach.
          Dock Street Oyster Bar - 12 Dock St downtown - if you're looking for a seriously casual place to just kick back and enjoy a bucket of steamed oysters and a beer, I'd recommend them. Their other food isn't any great shakes, but they're about the oysters.

          I'll confess that I'm not a huge fan of Southern country cooking, despite having been born and raised in the South, and I'm also not fond of NC 'cue. I grew up around Memphis, so I prefer that style of bbq. So others will no doubt have better recommendations for that kind of food than I will. There are lots of really good places to eat in Wilmington, so it should be easy for you to avoid chains while you're here. Hope you have a great visit, and we'd love a report back on where you ate and how you liked it!

          El Guajiro
          Wilmington, NC, Wilmington, NC

          Wilmington, NC, Wilmington, NC

          3 Replies
          1. re: Andiereid

            I will have to agree with Andiereid and here suggestions. She seems right on the money!
            I have some additional recs:
            Sweet and Savory is just before the Wrightsville Beach bridge. Recently underwent a complete makeover and is now a much more comfortable dining spot.
            Definately agree on Catch and Big Thai and will also add on Double Happiness on Wrightsville Ave.
            Also Two Guys Grille. There is one near beach and one on College Rd and one at Porter's Neck. Good cheesesteak. Sanwiches are also good but I am not a big fan of the salads.
            We do not get out much for dinner so someone else will help here.
            Other attractions, of course the beach and Arlie Gardens is a beautiful place to stroll around. There is a water taxi that you can get to take you over to Masonboro Island if you do not have a boat. Most of what Wilmington has to offer requires a boat.

            1. re: Andiereid

              Andiereid wrote:

              . I grew up around Memphis, so I prefer that style of bbq. So others will no doubt have better recommendations for that kind of food than I will.

              So, is there any place like Buntyn Cafe, The Cupboard, etc., in the Wilmington area you'd recommend? I'll skip NC bar-b-que (it's not up to Mfs standards) but a good meat and three, plus refrigerator rolls, now that's something I can't get here in my neighborhood.

              1. re: Coco Pazzo

                I wouldn't say NC bbq is bad, it's just very different from Memphis 'cue. It's maybe worth trying if you've never had any, just so you can sample some interesting regional differences in cuisine.

                But as far as your question, hmmm - I'm honestly not sure, Coco Pazzo. I might recommend Bon Appetit for something like that, but for lunch, not dinner. There are some similar places in town, but I can't recommend them, just because I haven't tried them.

            2. Not sure if it's true but my boyfriend told me Deluxe is forsale and closing, so sad it was our favorite place for brunch.

              7 Replies
              1. re: dtfoodie

                Andie, its just not true that South Beach is the only decent place on the beach. I have had wonderful meals at the Bridge Tender and the the great seafood at Oceanic, especially the crabcakes.They both have great views as well. Jerrys, not sure if you classify that as beach, but it is very good. The Dockside is a fun place but the food is only OK. I would still recommend it to someone from out of town to enjoy a lunch here just for the scenery and atmoshere and OK food.

                1. re: webvanman

                  Airlie Seafood Company is right next door to Bridgetender, In fact the are related and the lunch I have had there was good. I would only reccommend Oceanic or Dockside for drinks and scenery only. Remember the original poster wants great food and imo Oceanic and Bluwwater do not Qualify. The food at Jerry's is good although expensive for what you get. If that is the chosen destination get a reservation. So of my friends have enjoyed the $5 menu during the week downtown at Yo Sake, Caprice Bistro and Circa. It runs from 5-7pm

                  1. re: wineandcheese

                    wineandcheese, if you are only recommending great food, why are you putting South Beach on the list? Great? hardly. Good, yes. I'll say the the seafood is good at Oceanic and Bridge Tender also.

                    Many people have told me the best restaraunt in WB is PortLand Grille. Too me, its not. I would tell people without a budget to try it because so many other people rave about it.

                    Two Guys Grille, you gotta be kidding me. I'll take PT's anyday.

                  2. re: webvanman

                    webvanman, sorry, but we'll just have to agree with you about the view, but disagree about the food at Oceanic and Bridge Tender. Oceanic food to me is pretty bad - I haven't had a decent meal there in five or six years. They used to be OK, but now it seems that most of their fare is pretty blah. BridgeTender has left me pretty much underwhelmed, especially for their prices. Jerry's is definitely on my list to try, but I'm sorry to say we haven't made it yet. I have heard very good things about it, though. And I ditto your sentiments on Dockside. Food OK, atmosphere great for hanging out at lunchtime, or enjoying a beer and watching the boats go up the waterway.

                    1. re: Andiereid

                      andi..if you haven't had a decent meal in 5 or 6 years at the Oceanic..why do you keep going back..for the view?

                      1. re: janebono

                        After two horrible meals in a row there, I haven't been back. It's been at least four years since I've set foot in the place.

                        1. re: Andiereid

                          the crab appertizer is ok..and the wine...plus the view...

                2. NC Hound, very well said.

                  1. OK, after lurking for over 6 months I finally registered so I could join in the ILM thread. I've had a second home in ILM for over 12 years and spent many weekends there with family before that. We mostly frequent the places near the beach). Here is my take on some of those discussed (and a few others).

                    o Dockside

                    We love it for the view, being on the water, and fried seafood. Not upscale but OK for what it is. The SS crabs, Calabash shrimp, steamed shrimp and oysters, lunch burgers, onion rings and a few other items are fine. I would not recommend straying too far off those type dishes.

                    o Portland

                    Some of the best food I have had in town but can be hit or miss. Very pricey for the area and in many cases more expensive then Charleston's finest. The portions are huge so get some apps an split a plate. Crabs cakes over limas are a highlight as are most fish entrees. Many celebs hang out there (or did at one time). Very nice ambiance.

                    o Boca Bay

                    Small plates, $8-12 prices, good value. Seafood is best. Calamari very good. The one time we tried a pork dish we sent it back. Good Caesar. Used to be packed for people watching but not as much last trip. Scallops, salmon, snapper have all been good for the price.

                    o Marcs on Market

                    Great value, a notch below what I would call fine dining. Nice and quiet. We have enjoyed both meals there.

                    o Zooi

                    One of the best values and some of our favorite dishes. The food is world bistro with some classics and specials. The mushroom strudel app is a must. The rabbit is also very tasty. Prices are a bargain (mid teens to very low 20s). Good wines by the glass.

                    o Deluxe

                    Ate there over the winter and found it good but not at the level of Charleston or Portland at it's best. It may come down to what you happen to order. We'd still go back.

                    o South Beach Grill

                    We ate there once late in the summer. It was crowded and small but the food was very good. The same folks own Savannahs which is next on our list based on glowing reviews. It is larger and a bit more upscale then SBG. We dine there a few years back and found it average but the new chef makes it worth a return.

                    My summary is that there are many good places in ILM but the only place I would give 4 stars is Portland and only then on occasion. We go to Charleston every Fall with some friends, hitting the best places in town. ILM is not yet at the level although there are some very good values. It seems you almost need to know what dishes are good at each reataurant. We've had hits and misses everywhere.

                    Good luck!

                    1. I just spent a long "girl's weekend" in Wilmington. We ate at Indochine, Zoi, and Marc's on Market. All delicious. I am still craving the pizza appetizer and the scallops with ravioli and truffle oil from Marc's. And the chocolate seduction pie is to die for. Great wine list and friendly service too. On my way out of town on Sunday, I stopped by the on-site gourmet market at Marc's on Market. They sell fresh and frozen made-on-the-premises prepared dishes and appetizers. I got the chicken pot pie, a frozen alfredo pasta, roasted red pepper goat cheese spread, artichoke dip, and a whole chocolate seduction pie. Oh yeah, and a brownie that I ate before I even made it out of the market! I had guests coming on Tuesday and since I didn't have time to cook, I thought these would be perfect and easy to have on hand. They were, and they were a HUGE hit with my guests (and me). Perfect if you don't have time to cook. Wish we had a market like that in Asheville!