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Dec 17, 2010 05:23 AM

Downtown Wilimington DE esp Ethnic

Hi, Will be in downtown Wilimington DE this spring without a car for several days. Would like to have some good food, esp ethnic--central Asian inc Indian, Afghan, Nepali; Far Eastern (except not sushi), Mexican and other Latin of any kind, Caribbean, eastern European, Spanish, Greek, Turkish, other mideastern, etc. Also like southern food (esp pulled pork), good breakfasts, pastry. Not interested in pizza or burgers. Walking is fine--we are willing to walk 1-2 miles if it's near interesting things to see and safe, no highwayys; also happy to take public transit if possible, but we're trying to avoid taxis. I saw already here at Chowhounds a soul food place called Evelyns and a tapas place called Orillas that both seemed like possibilities--your opinions? OK to walk to them? Also, there was a Mexican on Trolley Sq that looked promising--is there a trolley one can take there? Any other recs strongly appreciated.

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  1. This post is making me depressed. You should realize now that the city of Wilmington has a population of about 70,000, which is nowhere near sufficient to make possible the kind of international cuisine you're seeking. In downtown Wilmington you have about three international options--Caribbean (and it's not very good), bad Chinese, and Orillas Tapas (excellent). There are several very good restaurants in the fine dining category downtown--my favorites are Vinoteca 902 and Domaine Hudson--but cheap ethnic cuisine is almost nonexistent. Our immigrants tend to live in the suburbs, and that's where their restaurants are.

    You can take the bus easily to Trolley Square, or walk if it's not too cold (25-35 minutes from downtown, depending on where you're starting from). I'm not sure what Mexican you are referring to unless it is El Diablo Burritos. I would not classify this as Mexican, but it is pretty darn good anyway--more like fusion burritos, and very tasty. Also in Trolley Square and nearby Little Italy you have several food and drink options from that part of the city's two main ethnic groups, the Irish and the Italians. I would not go out of my way to eat at any of them if you are looking for great authentic cuisine, but they're more lively than most of the restaurants downtown.

    For better Mexican that is a little bit of a walk, but not much, go to Tijuana Taco at 1815 Lancaster Ave. Unfortunately, I would not do this walk at night. The neighborhood is not good. But you can try it for lunch.

    There are good international options in the Wilmington area, particularly in Elsmere, but you'll need a car. There are Indian, Malay, Korean, and Japanese places in the suburbs, plus tons of good (and some terrible) Mexican. No eastern European, no Turkish, no Greek, no Mideastern, which is sad. You can take SEPTA to Philadelphia for those.

    Orillas Tapas Bar & Restaurant
    413 N Market Street, Wilmington, DE 19801

    Tijuana Taco Shop
    1815 Lancaster Ave, Wilmington, DE 19805

    7 Replies
    1. re: travelmad478

      Unfortunately, the sidewalks of downtown Wilmington pretty much roll-up around 6 PM, so I think that it is pretty difficult for a "niche" restaurant (or even a fine-dining establishment) to survive based on the lunchtime traffic.

      As for why, just one look at the crime section of the local paper will answer that question. Wilmington murder rate just hit an all-time high.


      1. re: travelmad478

        The simple notion of being downtown Wilmington without a car would have me depressed.

        1. re: CindyJ

          +1. Hope you are staying at the Dupont Hotel Wanda! travelmad478 is right, the immigrant population is not in the city of Wilmington itself. Downtown Wilmington is a Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm kind of downtown.

        2. re: travelmad478

          Reporting back: We went to Evelyns and really liked it, had a big meal for a very late lunch the day we got in--pork cutlets, yams, collard greens all esp good, and they brought us sweet tea from the back even though not on the menu. Portions huge. Nice little place, homey, friendly, just the sort we like. We also liked the "lawyer's row" we walked down to get to it. We were so full we never even had dinner. Another day we had an early dinner at the Thai place in the Riverfront Market--mixed reviews on the food (good curry & Thai iced tea, bad pad thai), a little overpriced for the "milieu." Afterward we walked down the riverfront, very pleasant, and found a pretty good ice cream place, Molly's, for dessert.

          Another day we each had a big burrito for lunch at El Diablo in Trolley Square, to which we walked--it isn't very far, and once past the highway, the homes are very attractive. The burritos were excellent, if not authentic Mexican--everything nice and fresh, and we especially liked the pineapple salsa.

          Saturday night we thought of going to the Peruvian in Little Italy, but the hotel shuttle was booked with others, and we didn't want to spend nearly $20 on taxis. We then figured we'd go to Orillas, but they didn't answer their phone (it was busy for over 1/2 hour) so we couldn't make a reservation, and there was no online menu with prices that we could find, and the streets had seemed creepily deserted after dark, so we decided we didn't want to risk walking there and finding out we couldn't get in, and I really didn't want to walk back in the dark, even though it wasn't far. . . . So instead we caught the hotel shuttle to and from the place some others had booked it for, the riverfront, and wound eating at the Iron Hill Brewery. Steak was good, crabcakes not good, prices way too high, beer of the microbrewery wheaty sort that I don't care for but others loved.

          In New Castle we had lunch at Jacks on Delaware, had croque monsieur, tasty, and came with home-made fries and cole slaw, all very nice, if a little dull; Prince (recommended by someone here) would have been our choice, but it has closed, and the Cajun place that took its place got only a weak recommendation from someone who'd been to it. We really liked walking around in old New Castle too, and seeing the buildings open to the public; the bus ride there was easy and cheap (though went over a zillion speed bumps) and ran reasonably frequently.

          But Travelmad, you should be depressed about downtown Wilmington. It is filled with central Asian workers at the banks, and there is even a sari shop, rents clearly cannot be that high, so why on earth you cannot support an Indian restaurant is beyond me. Perhaps there have been some bad ones, that closed? It cannot just be lack of patronage in Wilmington in the evening--that Iron Hill Brewery was packed so there is enough nighttime business to be had, and a good Indian restaurant close to the banks et al should do a booming lunch business on weekdays as well. I did not see as many Latinos in the area, but I did see a Dominican beauty parlor right downtown, so again, a little bodega selling tortas and the like for lunch would not be amiss. Instead there was some icky chain place (qDobo?) that we gave a miss. The other real problem is that lower Market Street is too deserted at night, and it shouldn't be . . .if there were lots of decent cheap ethnic eateries, ready parking, and some police presence, it could all be turned around quickly, esp with that music theater now open (which did seem to attract people). But what you really need more 20-30 somethings with more venturesome eating tastes than beef and brew--don't know why Philly, so close by, has all sorts of great ethnic eats and downtown Wilmington doesn't, esp with that cool train station and such frequent train service from all over the place, you'd think Wilmiington would be a foodie haven.

          1. re: Wanda

            Thank you for the feedback, Wanda! I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed your time and had a few good meals while here. I have to say, that it's a vicious cycle that downtown Wilmington is in. There is such a stigma to the area that people don't venture downtown and go so far as to steer visitors and others away with the warning that there is "nothing' here for them. There are actually some wonderful restaurants, featuring local people that want to revitalize the city but they can't always find the patrons to keep them going. Part of my job is to convince people to come to the downtown area and I'm continually shocked to come across people who haven't been downtown (5 miles from their work/ residence) in years. These are the same people who are often saying that "nothing" is here.

            It makes me happy to see others who have hope, so thank you for your post. We also have a wonderful new Greek restaurant, which I hope that you had the opportunity to enjoy while here, and I hear rumors that the Thai place in the Market will soon be setting up shop along the riverfront. I, for one, will do my best to support our local restaurants and music venues in hopes that their successes tempt others to follow suit.

            1. re: Wanda

              Wanda, thanks for reporting back. I too am glad that you had some good meals and that you ventured out of downtown.

              Your comments about the ability of downtown to support international (well, Indian) cuisine are well taken, and I agree with you that an Indian restaurant would most likely do a good lunch business. However, as you also noted, downtown is something of a wasteland at night, particularly the few blocks between 8th and 4th Streets. For the most part, people who eat meals out at interesting restaurants do not live downtown. There is very little foot traffic there at night, with the exception of people driving into town to go to the theaters (Grand, Playhouse, and Queen, the last of which only opened a month ago). An Indian place that succeeds at lunch would be a ghost town at dinner--the people driving in to see shows would not be eating Indian food (that is not really the demographic for the Grand or Playhouse, to say the least). And a place that has prices cheap enough to succeed with the South Asian lunch crowd could never survive on lunch business alone. The economics would not work. The South Asians don't live downtown--they live in the suburbs, and that's where the Indian restaurants are (as I mentioned in my earlier post).

              Orillas is jammed many nights of the week. It appeals to the theatergoing crowd, the space is nice, and the food is very good. Oddly, Vinoteca 902--same chef-owner--has not gotten nearly the same traction. I loved the food there but the space is unappealing and cavernous.

              Iron Hill and the other Riverfront places are packed, precisely because they are (a) fairly dull, lowest-common-denominator food, and (b) NOT downtown. People who are willing to drive in to these places are not willing to go downtown to eat, because they have gotten it into their heads that downtown Wilmington is dangerous at night. This is not 100% true, but it does feel sketchy (you said as much yourself when you felt nervous about walking down to Orillas), and it is a perception that is very hard for the city to get past. There is something of a chicken-and-egg problem there: the streets are empty, so they don't feel safe, but to get the streets full of people, they have to feel safer. I am really hoping that the opening of the Queen theater acts as a catalyst for lower Market St. With luck, it will. We still need a few more blocks to get renovated. The process started 7-8 years ago, but of course the recession did not help.

              There are Latino places, but they are in a slightly different part of town (I mentioned Tijuana Taco, and there are plenty of others on the 4th St. corridor). You just didn't walk over there, but if you had, you would have seen them. They are located where Wilmington's Latino population lives. Hard to argue with that.

              1. re: Wanda

                The dining issues in downtown Wilmington are not unknown to many urban areas in America where the population is spread out over a vast area, mass transit is weak and having a car is a must. Downtown Wilmington is a Monday to Friday, 9-5 town for the most part. Also there is the racial and economic divide. While the geographic area of Wilmington is huge, the downtown area is predominately Black (and poorer) while the wealthier White population lives more westerly and well north of downtown. The newest immigrants have been settling into areas south of Wilmington, along Kirkwood Highway.

            2. There are good ethnic places to be seen, however, I agree with travelmad that they will be difficult to enjoy without a car. Wilmington isn't that kind of city that can be navigated by foot. Downtown is a ghost town at night, Trolley Square is a good choice for nightlife but does not offer the type of cuisine you are looking for.

              1. Ethnic dining aside for a moment -- I think there's a bus that goes from downtown up Pennsylvania Ave. (Rt. 52), almost to the PA state line. If that's true, there are a few places along that stretch that aren't too bad -- Pizza by Elizabeth's in Greenville and Buckley's in Centreville are two that come to mind. But what a schlep!

                Pizza by Elizabeths
                4019 Kennett Pike, Wilmington, DE 19807

                4 Replies
                1. re: CindyJ

                  Actually there are tons of buses starting from downtown, going plenty of places in the suburbs, so you can get to lots of restaurants if you really feel determined.

                  The bus is neither convenient nor quick though, so unless you are really feeling desperate to get out of downtown, I would not bother. There are certainly enough acceptable restaurants to eat at downtown for a few days. If you are here for longer, rent a car.

                  1. re: travelmad478

                    Thank you all so much for your tips. I am thinking we will take the bus to New Castle, because I want to see New Castle (we have some free time to go places), but I'm not sure I'd take the bus really far (i.e. into the suburbs) for food unless there is something to see nearby. I don't think we'll be there long enough to take the SEPTA into Philly, but you never know. I was just hoping for some decent ethnic eats within walking distance of the hotel. Not necesssarily at night--lunchtime is fine too. I think we'll probably go to Orilla and El Diablo. I see there is also a Thai place on the riverfront--is that any good? And no one has commented on Evelyns. If you have other reasonable places to recommend downtown, please let me know. They don't HAVE to be ethnic, just interesting and not too expensive. Thanks again.

                    1. re: Wanda

                      The Thai place is in the Riverfront Market, which closes at 6 PM. This market is a good place to go for lunch (again, a bit of a hike from downtown, but not out of the question). All of the restaurants are just take-out counters, and there are tables you can sit at. The market is quite popular for lunch, but it closes when the office buildings around it close. There is some tasty food to be had, but it's not anything to go out of your way for.

                      As far as Evelyn's, to be honest I had never heard of it until you mentioned it. I see that it is very convenient, but looking at the two Yelp reviews and the menu on their website, I'm not inspired to rush over there.

                      If you are headed west out of downtown, you can also try Juliana's Kitchen (Peruvian), which I do recommend. It is at 1828 W. 11th St., another 25-30 minute walk from downtown (or take the bus down Pennsylvania Ave.) There is a thread about it here:

                      1. re: Wanda

                        I've only been to Evelyn's once, but really liked it - I had a great fried fish sandwich and took home pieces of carrot cake and red velvet cheesecake (both were amazing). The service was great. I'll be going more often once it warms up a bit and I can walk there from my office for lunch. I have co-workers who go there all the time.

                  2. Historic New Castle is a neat area to see, especially in the spring. I hear good things about a place there called Prince on Delaware. There is also the Farmers Market which is definitely good for people watching and perusing. I love the Pennsylvania Dutch baked goods there.

                    I agree that Orillas is a great choice to eat, I especially love their flatbreads. My friends who are avid beer drinkers really like Chelsea Tavern for their vast selections, that may be a good place to check out.

                    I also didnt even think about the bus being able to take you onto Maryland Avenue, that would be a short ride to India Palace. My alltime fave, I rant and rave about that every chance I get.


                    7 Replies
                    1. re: in bocca

                      I wrote a review of Prince on Delaware earlier this year: Really liked it. If you are in Old New Castle, it is definitely a great choice.

                      1. re: in bocca

                        Yes, yes, yes on India Palace! My wife has been going there for 20 years, I am a more recent convert. We love the food so much we hired India Palace to provide the food for our rehearsal dinner in June. Definitely worth a bus ride (Route 5 for Maryland Ave., I think -- although it's totally worth a taxi ride).

                        We went to Prince on Delaware for dinner on Saturday, overall a good but uneven experience -- I'll add a fuller review to travelmad's link below.

                        And I'll second Juliana's Kitchen. If you follow the link travelmad provided, I have a review in there.

                        And Tijuana Taco Shop, we like them a lot too. Come to think of it, travelmad recommends a lot of the places my wife and I love. I think the Route 4 bus can get you to the Taco Shop (or very close) from Rodney Square, but I don't think it runs past 8 p.m.

                        1. re: c.w.

                          You could also use Take Out Taxi to get some food delivered to your hotel. I think the website is - not saying any of it is spectacular but they do have a few ethnic options on there.

                          1. re: Ariadanz

                            Thanks, everyone. I just found out that the hotel has a free shuttle too, though it won't always be free, I gather it would take us to restaurants if it is. So if there are any good ethnic or other inexpensive interesting selections in under 3 or so miles of downtown (definitely not more than 5 miles) that you want to add to your recommendations, feel free. We like ethnic, central Asian best, but good, interesting food of all kinds, if not too expensive--no pizza, burgers, brewpubs, not very big on plain fish. Also, is there a really good ice cream or gelato place downtown or near it? Just wondering. . . .

                            1. re: Wanda

                              The suggestions you've already gotten are exactly what you're asking for now. There is no gelato nearby, but there is decent ice cream near downtown in Trolley Square (I forget the name of the place but it is also a deli and easy to find). That said, I would not expect anything much, just a decent place to get ice cream. The best ice cream in the area is either Woodside Creamery (in Hockessin and closed until spring anyway) or Bruster's (several suburban locations, all well over 5 miles away).

                              I think you are not really getting the point here that Wilmington is a very small place and cannot/does not support a thriving base of ethnic restaurants. The suburbs--more than 3 miles away--have some, but you need a car for that.

                              1. re: travelmad478

                                The Trolley Square ice cream parlor is Temptations - I haven't been there since they did the incongruous transformation into a deli. You can find Woodside Creamery ice cream at Sweet Lucy's on Concord Pike, about 3 or 4 miles from downtown.

                                1. re: MrRuffles

                                  Temptations carries Bassett's ice cream, last I checked. And it's down a few storefronts from El Diablo, which has excellent burritos with some interesting options.

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