A Smaller Town with Big City Flavor
The Port City is coming into its own as a destination for foodies. While fresh seafood is a given, the farm-to-table and locavore movements have had influence as well, with chefs earning stars, accolades and assorted kudos. In fact, Yelp recently released a list of top ten small towns with big flavor and Wilmington made the list!
Eager to test that ranking? Downtown Wilmington is the place to start. Any list must begin with manna, the first and only restaurant in Wilmington to receive the prestigious AAA Four Diamond Award, for four consecutive years. From their creative mixologists getting things started to the executive pastry chef serving a sweet finish, the menu reflects Chef Carson Jewell’s creativity and fearlessness with every plate.
Not far from manna is Seabird which pairs locally sourced, in-season seafood with creative vegetable dishes made from the freshest local produce. Seabird is led by Chef Dean Neff, a James Beard Best Chef Southeast semi-finalist.
A few doors away is Pinpoint, where Neff was an original partner. Pinpoint is known for a menu that changes daily and a selection of local raw oysters on the half shell and fresh seasonal dishes.
Other downtown destinations to try: Circa 1922, with a full menu from land and sea; Fork n Cork, A Guy Fieri fav for creative burgers; Dram Yard, which drew chef Joe Wolfson from Charleston with his unique Southeast Asian flare; and Savorez, which recently earned "the best new restaurant to try in North Carolina" by BuzzFeed.
If you have a taste for ethnic cuisine, visit Quanto Basta and Tarantelli’s for authentic Italian; Caprice Bistro for traditional French; or the Basics, for southern cooking with a modern interpretation. Southern cooking is ethnic, right?
Just two miles from downtown you’ll find Indochine. Long a favorite of Wilmington locals, this reliable and acclaimed Thai and Vietnamese restaurant has an outstanding menu that is equaled by its authentic ambiance. The garden, with its lotus pond, is the stuff of dreams.
Further up Market Street, you’ll encounter Wilmington’s own celebrity chef, Keith Rhodes, who appeared on Bravo TV’s "Top Chef." Chef Rhodes has also been nominated by the James Beard Foundation as a finalist for Best Chef: Southeast. His restaurant, Catch, is a must-visit for its modern seafood cuisine and international flair. Vouching for that is international food vlogger Mark Wiens, who produced an hour-long video, one of the longest on his channel, about Wilmington seafood and Chef Rhodes. In a week, it had 1 million-plus views. Watch it here!
South of downtown, you’ll encounter Wilmington’s South Front District, with Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria. This is PBS Chef Vivian Howard’s first foray into the Wilmington dining scene. Benny’s is right around the corner from Second Glass, a seasonally driven wine-focused restaurant with southern and French influences. Mariposa Tapas Bar and True Blue Butcher and Barrel round out the dining options. Pre-game at Satellite Bar & Lounge or the New Anthem Beer Project.
Head a little further south along the Cape Fear River to the Riverlights community with its own dining scene. Smoke on the Water is a favorite local venue featuring a mix of seafood, smoked and signature BBQ recipes with a New Orleans flair and unbeatable sunset views over the river. Nearby, find Girls with Dough, a flatbread pizza and pasta eatery and the Getaway Café, for simple but inspired breakfast and lunch dishes.
Wilmington also recently celebrated the opening of its first fine-dining vegan eatery, The Green House. Here plant-based dishes center around modern American cuisine with a Southern flare, and ingredients from its on-premises greenhouse.
Further toward Wrightsville Beach, favorites are Port Land Grille and Brasserie de Soleil, both located in the charming shopping and dining atmosphere of Lumina Station; Ceviche’s, a local favorite serving what it sounds like; and Jerry’s, a fine dining restaurant, tucked in an unassuming strip center.
Seeking water views of the ocean or its tributaries? Grab a table at Bluewater Grill or the Bridge Tender along the Intracoastal, or at the Oceanic, where seats on its extended pier over the Atlantic, make for great people, pelican and surfer dude viewing.
Can’t decide? Wilmington has that covered too. Join the Taste Carolina tour. You’ll sample an eclectic assortment of downtown restaurants, enjoy food and drink, meet the city’s best chefs and learn more about why the Port City is becoming a food lovers destination.
Or, enjoy the Tasting History Tour, a guided walk through the streets of Carolina Beach with tastings at the most popular restaurants of Pleasure Island.
Indeed, Wilmington is fast becoming a foodie paradise anywhere you turn. And, that is to save its brewery and distillery scene for another day. So much to eat and drink, in this merry little town!