Unfortunately, I have to mention a place NOT to visit. On a recent visit to Wilmington, I had asked a local where to go for local food. I asked some of the staff at the Hilton where to go, since the Hilton was going through renovations. I was told the Copper Penny or Jackson's Big Oak BBQ were two good choices. We tried Jackson's and it was a poor choice. Maybe the foods are an acquired taste, but I didn't care for the looks or taste of the food, which was stewed looking meats, odd cole slaw/salads, and sauces were runny and heavily vinegar based. Left with a stomach ache and it was a big disappointment. We went to the Copper Penny for pub grub another day, and it was a decent choice.
Robl, I grew up on Memphis/Arkansas-style 'cue and really disklike NC style. The almost-straight-vinegar sauce just doesn't do it for me.. But folks who grew up on it really like it. I haven't ever eaten at Jackson's, but it sounds like they're doing standard NC-style, and I know it's pretty popular here with people who like that style. If it's an acquired taste, I haven't gotten it yet, after living here for twelve years. Unfortunately, the only "memphis-style" BBQ place around here really isn't, so I've just kind of given up on BBQ here unless I make it myself.
Expensive (but worth every penny)
Jerry's Food and Spirits near Wrightsville Beach
Ruth Chris's at the downtown Hilton (newly opened)
Port Land Grille in Lumina Sation
Casual (but creative menus)
Marc's on Market in Ogden
Catch downtown (lunch only)
Indochine on Market St. - good Asian
Terrazo near landfall - for Italian food its the best
South Beach Grill - best seafood on Wrightsville and inexpensive
Those are some good suggestions, ep! I work in the food business (which is a kind of shorthand way of saying I don't get out much!), and I worked with the chef at Jerry's years ago and he's one of the most talented young men I've ever had the pleasure of toiling in obscurity with. I'm glad he's doing well. Deluxe has had it's day, and chef Keith is certainly a creative guy, but I'd rather head over to Catch for lunch (the restaurant he owns) than spend money at Deluxe. I've eaten at Ruths Chris in other cities, and I've always been fairly favorably impressed with their food quality and the thorough training they give their staff (except for that one time in Manhattan when I ordered a Gibson and got a Gimlet instead -- in a martini glass, no less -- shameful!), so I'm looking forward to what they've done with the nightmare that was the Hilton. Sean at Portland Grille is always rock-solid, and while expensive, his portions are so large that you can eat off of them for a day or two after.
But like I said, I don't get out too much, so when I do I like to go where I can get a great meal and I know the chef will throw in a few delightful surprises along with an exemplary execution. If I can get all this at a price that doesn't break the bank, even better -- that means I can go back more often. And Marc's has never let me down. True, I am addicted to his "Chicken Under a Brick" (this from a girl who NEVER orders chicken in a restaurant). I was there last night for the first time in too long and got the veal flank steak with fresh creamed corn, local tomato salad and fried green tomatoes -- and it was the best meal I've had in a restaurant since . . . well, since the last time I ate at Marc's. I know Marc haunts the local farmer's markets for his produce (we've bumped into eachother there) and his respect for his ingredients comes through in every bite. I was concerned after Marc won the Taste of Wilmington Top Chef competition that the restaurant may have changed -- put on airs, your know, or gotten snooty -- but I should have known better. The staff is great and the food was so satisfying and it was like a visit home. Except that Marc is a better cook than my mom -- and if you knew my mom, you'd understand that that's high praise.
I thank you too, ep, for mentioning Terrazo. Best chicken parmesan pizza on the planet! Mmm. Gosh, I'm hungry.
Was just in Wilmington this past weekend and had some really good meals. Stayed in a loft above Deluxe and really enjoyed that. Upscale, but casual and good food and drinks. Around the corner was Circa 1922. Tapas style, but pretty interesting and a really good bar scene on the weekends. Caffe Phoenix is down the street and is a nice and casual lunch spot with decent sandwiches, salads, etc. Had breakfast at Dixie Grill and it was excellent. Probably the most casual of all the places we ate and potentially the best food. Just good comfort food at a good price.
It was my first time in town and I was really pleased with the selection. Some of the beach places and some of the other touristy spots were really disappointing but the places I mentioned above were pretty solid. Enjoy!
For a small city, Wilmington is blessed with many great independently owned restaurants. From upscale, to casual, to cheap....you name it. Wilmington also has just about every ethnic cuisine. Here's a fairly current thread that has a lot of suggestions. Enjoy your stay and happy eating!
Deluxe - Upscale, nice evening dining 114 Market St
Caprice Bistro - Upscale, nice evening dining 10 Market St
Catch - Best lunch in town, no holds barred. Definitely try - local ingredients, seafood 215 Princess St
The Copper Penny - pub food, casual lunch or dinner 109 Chestnut St
The Basics -Upscale Southern Food, lunch or nice dinner - great cocktail menu 319 N Front St
Big Thai - I think the best Thai food in town - lunch or dinner 1001 N 4th St
El Guajiro - Authentic Cuban lunch 1015 S Kerr Ave
Los Portalas Taqueria - Authentic Mexican lunch 1207 S Kerr Ave # B
Indochine - Good Thai/Vietnamese food, not great, but really nice ambience and a local favorite 7 Wayne Dr
Oleander/toward the beach/South part of town
El Agave - inexpensive good Mexican, dinner or lunch 3803 Oleander Dr
K38 Baja - Another local favorite - slightly more upscale Baja/Southwestern good for dinner 5410 Oleander Dr
Mason's Haunt - upscale dinner, kind of "continental", I guess. Good seafood 3315 Masonboro Loop Rd
Near and on Wrightsville Beach:
Osteria Chiccetti - Good Italian out at The Forum
South Beach Grill - Good Seafood on the ICW side of Wrightsville Beach 100 S. Lumina Ave.
There are other places that I'm sure others will recommend and fill in my gaps. I will say to not have high expectations of places with a water view. The best restaurants here are pretty much off the water. It's unfortunate, but those places on the river and the beach don't offer the best food in town.