Second the vote for Fullers -- it's owned by a Lumbee tribe family and always has a great lineup of country-style vegetables. We stopped in last week on the way to Wrightsville. Also at PeeDee, another traditional stop of ours, I'm always torn between the peach and scuppernong ice creams, so I get a scoop of each. A third option if you're willing to stop for longer than 30 minutes is Dale's Seafood in Lake Waccamaw. You turn right onto Lake Waccamaw Road from US 74 and follow the signs. The sight of the lake is startlingly -- hard to believe such a big body of water is hidden back there. Dale's is your basic fried seafood place, but it's a nice place to sit on the terrace and have a plate of shrimp. And finally, if you time it right (they usually sell out by 12:30 on Saturdays), Ward's in Whiteville does a classic rendition of the Carolina chili dog.
100 Canal Cove Rd, Lake Waccamaw, NC 28450
As for Wilmington a few favorites (after living 9 years there):
1. Circa 1922, in the downtown area, is great for a walk around before/after the meal. It serves small plates that really allows for enjoyment of different courses. It has a decent wine list but the scallops with the oyster fondue, organic greens salad with tempura gorgonzola, trio of tuna, filet in puff pastry, and white chocolate mouse in a shot glass are all some of my favorites. But stay away from the sushi because it's not what makes this restaurant shine.
2. The Wrightsville Beach area isn't brimming with great food options but the beach there is amazing. The homemade crab nachos at South Beach Grill are spectacular. Add a cold beer and sit outside, and it's bliss. I don't think I've ever had a bad meal there. As for a great view, Bluewater Grill and the Oceanic are both Wrightsville Beach staples but go for the drinks and a possible app and skip the food. Never eat at Dockside Grill but their Bloody Marys are great.
3. Indochine is an Asian fusion restaurant close to the downtown area that has a nice atmosphere. Sit outside! Have a (strong) mixed drink! And get the curry with duck.
4. K 38 and Tower 7 are owned by the same person and have the same menu and are totally worth the trip. Amazing margaritas and the fish tacos (ask for a side of California hot sauce) are amazing. Everything's good from the Wings of Fire to the tacos and it has a casual surfer vibe that all the locals like.
I could actually write a book about all the wonderful food in this town and its surrounding areas! Enjoy your trip.
One more: The Olive Tree in downtown closes early-ish (8pm, maybe) but is worth a pop in. Try the chicken empanadas with a side of Chimichurri or the Reuben (although it’s not a traditional one) or my favorite the fried green tomato BLT. Note: Ask for a side of Chimichurri with anything there. Wash it all down with one of there great beer options, I could never leave without a Delirium, and walk it all off around downtown.
South Beach Grill
100 S Lumina Ave, Wrightsville Beach, NC 28480
7 Wayne Dr, Wilmington, NC 28403
4 Marina St, Wrightsville Beach, NC 28480
8 N. Front St., Wilmington, NC 28401