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Our recent trip to the Outer Banks

Well hello. I just came back from a week in Kill Devil Hills with a long-time group of friends. The place we rented had a fully furnished kitchen and a nice grill so we did do a lot of cooking/grilling. Still, we managed to make a few trips out for food when we were feeling lazy so I thought I’d report up on it. Thanks in advance to all the contributors to the large OBX thread already here; it’s where I got a large majority of my info.

Tortugas Lie: This place is BUSY. We tried going twice during the weekend, and there were really long waits. Finally went on Tuesday to a much lighter, though still busy, crowd. Good fare overall. I tried their clam chowder: very fresh and full of seafood flavor. The coconut chicken had really interesting flavors, though I think their sides of beans/rice were both a little too mushy. The crawfish pasta was delicious, seasoned and steam shrimp were fresh, but the tuna tacos were just standard.

Kill Devil Grill: Really unexpectedly good food. The place looks pretty much just like your old-town diner. We all opted for the specials (which are significantly pricier than the standard menu). They were all very worth it. I had the soft shell crabs (delicious) with a nice refreshing slaw and some cheesy grits. I love grits, though these were a bit overly creamy for my tastes. There was an order of steak and ribs with the ribs being impressively well cooked – really tender and fall-off-the-bone. There was also an ahi ordered which was done very well.

John’s Drive-In: Amazing! There was all this hype that I was worried, but it really was wonderful. Everyone got the dolphin sandwich (tartar with lettuce and tomato of course): flaky, flavorful, great portion and great balance. There were some milkshakes and some orangeades ordered; I got a cherry chocolate milkshake. I can’t say it was the very best milkshake I’ve ever had, but it definitely is near the top.

Ocean Boulevard: Chosen over the more (apparently on CH) popular Blue Point because Duck was considered a bit far of a drive for us while on vacation. It turned out to still be near outstanding. The tuna sashimi appetizer was the best out of the three we ordered (the other two were a ravioli and a beef special): it had a great flavor and paired really well with the mixed salad. Crispy skinned duck breast was delightful as were the scallops. The fish orders, while definitely cooked perfectly, didn’t wow in flavor. Finally, most of the desserts were okay to good, with no real stunners.

That’s it. Hopefully we’ll go back next year.

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  1. Thanks for the post. We're heading down there next month and might try Kill Devil Grill.

    1. 20 yr veteran, have seen many come and go. Those were good choices, though haven't been to Kill Devil Grill in a long time. Looks like it merits a taste. Next time, check out Kill Devil Custard, Cap'n Frank, Mama Kwan's, Goombays. If you have time, drive down to Buxton and the Hatteras Lighthouse and across the street, the best homemade ice cream, Uncle Eddys.

      1 Reply
      1. re: nickdanger

        I'll have to second the Cafe 12. It IS still there as of 12/31/2009. We ate there because it was one of the few places open on New Year's Eve (although they closed at 8). The Hatteras Flats are absolutely wonderful. They are actually a sort of open faced quesadilla, served sliced like a pizza. It is ringed on the outside with a lacy wreath of perfectly toasted finely shredded cheese. Very unique and quite wonderful. Very good crabcakes at this restaurant as well. Off-season, we had the place to ourselves and the staff was super-nice even though we hit them close to closing time. They assured us that we could enjoy our dinner and not be in any hurry.

      2. We also just came back from a week in the Outer Banks, although we stayed in Hatteras, so didn't get as much exposure to the KDH/NH restaurants. All told, here are our ratings for the restaurants we tried:

        #1 (Best) - Cafe 12 (Avon) - The first time we ever tried a Hatteras Flat (basically a sauceless pizza on a fried tortilla crust). Absolutely addicting. We tried both a garlic/bacon/honey with chipped beef, and a "Hot Flat" with various peppers and veg - both were amazing. Probably the only place on the islands that 2 people can have a full dinner for less than $30. I wish I could find a "Flat" closer to the Triangle, but Cafe 12 (previously the Pickled Steamer) is the only place I've ever seen them at. This restuarant guarantees our return to the OBX next year, assuming they are still around.

        #2 - Sandbar and Grille (Buxton). Great view, excellent seafood pasta dishes (the clam linguini was perfectly prepared), and reasonably priced (sub-$16 for many entrees).

        #3 - Rundown Cafe (Kitty Hawk). Close to the beach, very reasonable prices, and one of the few places we tried that didn't focus on fried/broiled seafood. It has more of a Caribbean feel, with dishes served with rice/beans for the most part. Conch Fritters were a great starter, especially paired with the apple chutney. Jamaican Pork was a winner - very tender, and a huge portion. Stuffed Chicken looked interesting, but was dry and not as appealing.

        #4 - Doplhin Den (Avon) - Quite expensive, but very well prepared. The shrimp + crab baked with cheese (can't recall the real name) was very, very good - loads of cheese, huge chunks of crab, and jumbo shrimp all mixed together. Probably 100g of fat, but nice for a vacation meal. Their ravioli were also good. Nicely decorated interior, but very busy. The waits here were the longest of all the restuarants we tried.

        #5 - Gingerbread House (Frisco) - love the exterior decorations - it literally looks like a Gingerbread house, designed to lure in unsuspecting children. The interior is spartan, but their pizza was quite enjoyable, albeit somewhat pricey (~$20 per pie).

        #6 - Magnolia Grille (Manteo) - An enjoyable breakfast. Simple, no frills, but cheap and filling. Also one of the few places in Downtown Manteo that we could find that opens for breakfast.

        #7 - Flying Melon (Ocracoke) - we had brunch here, and it was ok, nothing special. At least it was cheap.

        #8 (WORST) - Quarterdeck (Frisco) - this place got some great reviews, but it was not a winner in our books. Bland, unspiced, overcooked seafood seems to be their specialty. The $25 broiled sampler we ordered was completely overcooked in all regards, to the point where the fish became an unidentified mush on the plate. Saladbar was laughable, Hatteras Chowder was ok but not the best we had on our trip. And the interior wood-panelling is not at all inviting - you can't even see outside for the most part.

        We ate the rest of our meals in our suite, thanks to Risky Business Seafood in Hatteras. We fried up a different fish each day, and had some great (and cheap!) meals done up with different local spices. Risky Business' steamed spicy shrimp are also the best you can get - we tried 4 or 5 different versions at various restaurants, but the Risky Business version won out (and for $9 a pound, you can't go wrong).

        1 Reply
        1. re: mgreig

          Risky Business rocks. They make the mostly mediocre restaurants of the Outer Banks irrelevant.

        2. reposted from another outer banks thread:

          have eaten at a few popular places listed in the thread:

          - sam and omie's. i had the crab eggs benedict. quite tasty, and the staff alone makes it worth the trip. i see how they have earned their rep.
          - thai room. again, what an amazing staff. i'm relatively sure the lady refilling our drinks was also the owner, and the food was excellent.
          - jockey's ribs. overpriced. WAY overpriced. and the ribs were pathetic. i had a gumbo that was tasty, though; this place feels like it has an identity crisis, trying to bridge the gap between a grub-type rib place and fine dining, and it doesn't work.
          - mama kwan's. i had the fish tacos one day for lunch. decent. there are better fish tacos available where i'm from (huntington, wv). how does huntington west virginia know how to better make fish tacos than a place at the beach?
          - corolla pizza. this place is quality. my (large) family ate two pepperoni pizzas, a works pizza, and a white pie (the one sans ricotta) and were thoroughly impressed.
          - beach bread. haven't eaten here per se, but bought a few cookies and a loaf of seeded rye, all of which was AWESOME. i'm buying a loaf of their country white to freeze and take back.
          - austin's seafood. bought some soft shelled blue crab. the staff was extremely helpful, explaining in detail how i should prepare them and just in general being super nice.
          - the blue point. food was excellent. the little rolls they bring pre-meal were like little clouds of delicious yeasty goodness, and i'm relatively sure the crew consumed a good four plates of them. we ordered two appetizers: the chipotle prawns and the fried green tomatoes. can someone PLEASE give me the recipe for something that tastes like the lemon tarragon mayonnaise they put on the tomatoes? holy moses. i personally had the crab cakes, but others around the table ordered the fried catfish, scallops, and new york strip, all of which were stunning in appearance and delicious in flavor. desserts were good if a bit dainty. i prefer my desserts huge and decadent, and it's clear they're shooting for a more french aesthetic in this department. definitely try the strawberry rhubarb cobbler. it was the star of the four we ordered (strawberry banana bread pudding, chocolate torte, creme brulee, and the cobbler).

          on the whole i've come away relatively unimpressed thus far with the food at the outer banks. have i just eaten at the wrong places? i did so much research, and tried to take everyone's advice, but the best meals i've had are the ones i made myself. what's the story?

          should emphasize that BEACH BREAD has some amazing loaves for sandwiches. i made their seeded rye bread into jalapeno cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches, which was good, but the real star of the show turned out to be two slices of their country white bread, toasted, with strawberry rhubarb jam and sea salt.

          it was the best toast i've ever eaten. make sure you get them to slice it thick.

          1. Was in OBX last week and ate at Kill Devil Grill. Fantastic meal. The cold-smoked roasted chicken was fantastic, and my wife's salad topped with grilled salmon was excellent. The grilled pizza app with goat cheese, roasted tomatoes and basil was also delicious.

            I have to take issue with the positive marks given to Goombays and Dolphin Den. Ate at the Dolphin Den a few years ago and it was wretched. Ate at Goombays last year, the app was all right, but my wife's "surf and turf" was a sad little plate of overcooked scallops and a flavorless pork chop, while my tuna dish was a pathetic overcooked piece of tuna on some noodles with a barely serviceable peanut sauce. Both, I believe, were specials, to boot.

            1. I am off to the OBX later this week. We are staying in Whalehead, and will cook most of our meals at home. We will be in Kill Devil Hills for two nights before we get our house, however. Have been checking out sites to scope out some meals. HAs anyone been to Chiilli Peppers in KDH? It is close to our hotel, and they have shrimp for 10cents, and wings for 25 cents from 3-5. It may just be the palce to take lots of hungry teenage boys on Friday afternoon!

              10 Replies
              1. re: macca

                I was a big CP fan years back, but the place has gone down hill; I think it was sold, or is part of, a group. They had killer crab cakes and interesting entrees. Now, I found the food to be not as exciting. That said, cheap wings and shrimp sound good, and you can have a happy hour adult beverage.

                1. re: nickdanger

                  Thanks for the info- It may be just the place after the beach, and before we find someplace for dinner and waiting for the fireworks! I forgot about happy hours drinks- we do not have happy hours here in MA!!

                2. re: macca

                  macca, up toward corolla i'd try sooey's bbq (friends like it, i haven't tried yet) or bad bean taqueria (the guy that runs it is a riot). if you are closer to duck, i like the duck deli. not exceptional, but solid. roadside i enjoy for lunch though a touch pricey.

                  blue point and OB are always good choices.

                  generally we eat out more for lunch at OBX and just use the rest of the time as a time to cut loose in the kitchen. it's great to be able to choose from seafood there and cook to match the weather. we also stop in at costco on the way down and get the alton brown special -- a full tenderloin. there's one or two meals right there. it's a treat to be able to play in the kitchen and eat great food for about $10 a day per person (breakfast, lunch, and dinner).

                  1. re: chili367

                    We're headed down in August and for a change, won't be in Ocracoke this year. As the 'extended family' is coming, we rented in Salvo. Of course that means finding all new places to go. Any input welcome!!!
                    Between hurricanes and the usual restaurant attrition, a list of OBX places is periodic literature and suffice it to say that the last two times I visited we were evacuated in anticipation of hurricanes. We must be some sort of magnets for the things.

                    1. re: houdini

                      Just returned from Nags Head. Will omit places north of you, as you may not be driving up that way much. Can recommend the Down Under in Rodanthe, for views of the sound, and menu from pub to full dinner. Try the burger with fried egg on top, Aussie style. Avoid Bubba's BBQ at all costs, as they have changed considerably for the worse. Passing through Kill Devil Hills on your way south, stop for frozen custard at Kill Devil Custard on the bypass around mp 9. Will observe that most restaurants were not that busy, and the high end places, such as Ocean Boulevard in Kitty Hawk, are hurting.

                      1. re: nickdanger

                        We went to Bubba's in January and it was awful. It was the first time in a LONG time that I didn't take more than a few bites of food and I didn't even bother with ordering something else. The pork was obviously old and dried up. Plus, we were the only ones in there and the boss/owner/manager was sitting next to us and must have heard our disgust at the food, yet he did not say anything nor question why we were throwing away hardly eaten sandwiches.

                        1. re: sarahUNC

                          I should have known when a sign in the window advertised mexican dishes.

                        2. re: nickdanger

                          stayed in avon two summers ago and heading down to nags head next month. we tried bubba's and two other places between avon and the ferry and none of it was good. hoping to try tortuga's lie this year. any good bbq in the nags/kill/southernshores area?

                          1. re: xman887

                            best bets (as of last season) are:

                            duck deli (solid Q and good to great sides)
                            high cotton bbq (good to very good Q and poor to average sides)

                            duck deli is in, er, duck (not a horrible drive really from KDH) and high cotton is in KH near southern shores.

                            1. re: chili367

                              just back from a great week in nags. cannot wait to go back.

                              we tried high cotton bbq and thought it was mediacre at best. where is the smoke flavor?

                              the pool guy told us to try b.j.'s bbq just over the bridge, but we did not make it there.

                              we hit a few other places, mostly for beers, but i took a look at a few menus. here is a quick summary:

                              totuga lie - our favorite. great beach bar atmosphere with nice beer selection. tried two apps: catch of the day (yellow tail) fried nuggets with a cilantro dipping sauce (good) and asian chicken wings (different but good). went late on wednesday a discovered sushi night - wives were generally pleased with what they had.

                              mulligan's (across frmo jockey's ridge). recommended by a local. a group of us went for lunch on saturday. crab legs (1lb for $16), steamed shrimp (1lb for $16), steamed clams & oysters, buffalo chrimp, fried softshell crab, artichoke & crab dip, thin cut crispy french fries. good stuff that hit the spot for a local seafood fix.

                              mama kwan's - only had beers, but the menu looked good. would like to go back for a try.

                              goombay's - only had beers, but the menu looked good. would like to go back for a try.

                              dirty dick's - got there at 10:00pm but the manager let our crew of 11 in for a beer. kitchen was closed and the bar tender seemed to be a bit put off that we were there extending her night a few minutes. the place seemed a bit red-lobstery.

                              striper's - in manteo - another rec of a local. i did not go, but half of our house went after taking young kids to the nearby aquarium. they said it was good.

                              slammin' sammies - went for the sole purpose of beers and playing table shuffle board. had some stale popcorn. i did not see a menu but it had the feel of deep fried sports bar food.

                  2. I used to live down there during the summers and I remember a place called the Collington Cafe (or something close to that). Does anyone know if it's still there or if it's still any good? Thanks alot.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: dcskinsfan

                      Have never been there, but I frequent another board that is for OBX lovers, and just this week the Collington Cafe got great reviews. We stay in Whalehead, so it is out of the way for us to try.