Founded as a port city in 1739, resulting in exotic foods and people arriving from around the world, it makes sense that there are amazing places to eat in Wilmington NC. Right? People continually arrived and left Wilmo, bringing fresh spices and methods and creating ever-evolving cuisines and lifestyles.
Wilmington was named a “Destination on the Rise” by TripAdvisor and voted Best Riverfront by USA Today readers in 2014. Resulting from this 275 year culinary incubator in The Port City are the following and other astounding Wilmington NC restaurants.
McCool Travel 2020 update: while restaurants are not hosting guests during the social distancing paradigm, many of the following and other great Wilmington restaurants are serving the community with carryout service. Please support them and all North Carolina restaurants as often as possible.
Note: I was hosted by Wilmington and Beaches CVB as an opportunity to explore the #COOLinary (culinary) scene and funness in Wilmington NC and share my favorite findings with the McCool Travel audience.
Amazing Places to Eat in Wilmington NC
1. PinPoint Restaurant
Named among the best new restaurants in southern US by Southern Living in 2016 and featured in The Best Things I Ever Ate in 2018, PinPoint Restaurant calls themselves “a Coastal Community Restaurant.” During my dinner, the tasty salad contained green strawberries and other ingredients I have never had in a salad. The homemade bread was delectable and my seafood entree was amazing. Save room for the incredible key lime pie and flourless brownie desserts. Chef Dean Neff operates this jewel one block from the Cape Fear River.
2. Fork N Cork
James Smith, chef/owner of Fork N Cork, appeared on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri. He started with a local food truck, The Paddy Wagon, and here does “bar food kicked up.” The Texas Bricket Poutine is magnificent. The fonduta is addicting—3 cheeses baked into a cast iron skillet with walnuts, honey, and chili flakes. A strawberry mojito works as a delectable accomplice.
The Fork n Cork was just featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives so I am happy to visit. Texas poutine, fried pickles, and fonduta.Visit Wilmington, NCVisit North Carolina
Sam Cahoon the executive chef and owner of Savorez is a Wilmington NC native, attended culinary school locally, and worked his way to his present role via several Wilmington restaurants. The seared Tuna Tostada is gorgeous, spicy, and complex and the margaritas are strong and tasty. As you can see, Savorez is popular with locals, visitors, and workers.
4. The Peppered Cupcake
Yelp users rank The Peppered Cupcake as the #1 place to eat in Wilmington NC. Not just the #1 bakery but the #1 overall restaurant. That is mighty high praise. All cupcakes are made from scratch but the philosophy here is to push the boundaries of what is considered a cupcake. The gourmet cupcakes will tantalize your palette with whatever unique and eclectic combinations the master cupcake creator envisions. True to their name, they use peppers (mmmmmm, habanero) but also horseradish, wasabi, and other savory (and sweet) ingredients you will not expect.
When doing research to create the best cupcake in the world—are they? You decide!—the owner found two main complains among cupcake aficionados. Namely they are too sweet and too dry. She did not open The Peppered Cupcake until she solved those “issues” and what a magnificent product they have. Go!
5. Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tour
Most of the above restaurants were visited as part of a food tour. Taste Carolina operates in nine NC cities, including Wilmington, Durham, and Charlotte. Food tours are a great way to sample many different dishes from several restaurants in a few hours. Also look for farmer market tours, private restaurant tours, and team building events from Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours.
6. Front Street Brewery
In addition to operating as a full bar with over 400 whiskeys and a full grill menu, Front Street Brewery offers a rotating selection of 10 craft beers. In between my Taste Carolina food tour and dinner, I popped in here for a quick flight.
I appreciated that they had two stouts, Sinful chocolate stout and the Mother Shucker oyster stout (YES, made with real oysters). Front Street Brewery was the first craft brewery in Wilmington NC and has operated at this location for 20 years. McCool Travel tip: there are now over a dozen Wilmington NC craft beer places. Try them all!
7. Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria
Chef and the Farmer in Kinston spurred a PBS show and culinary fame for Vivian Howard. Her casual pizza entry in Wilmington’s hip east side is called Benny’s Big Time (Benny Knight is her husband and partner). Unfortunately my visit to Benny’s was before they opened for the day but I was able to take the below photo of their gorgeous pizza ovens.
McCool Travel tip: call ahead, as Benny’s Big Time only takes one reservation per hour and waits are sometimes 2 to 3 hours. Wow! another McCool Travel tip: nearby Yoga Salt is the second location of Tamal Dodge‘s celebrity hot spot in Culver City.
8. Block Taco
Across the street from Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria is Block Taco, which has a clever and memorable delivery vehicle.
9. Waffle House
OK, normally I would not suggest visiting Waffle House but this was the first WH I saw that was not a stand alone building next to a hotel/motel. This Waffle House is located on Front Street.
Read about another unique Waffle House.
Where to Stay in Wilmington NC
I stayed in the brand new Embassy Suites by Hilton Wilmington Riverfront. Just a block from Front Street, attached to the convention center, the property has a lovely rooftop bar (try it!). The gorgeous 1.7 miles Riverwalk runs right along the hotel. The front desk agent was one of the friendliest persons I have encountered anywhere.
A shrimp and grits station at the Convention Center one night hit the spot.
Shrimp and grits station. SWEET!Visit Wilmington, NCVisit North Carolina
Wilmington NC seems to have a higher number of cool vacation rental properties than other similarly sized cities. If you do not stay at the lovely Embassy Suites on the Riverfront, consider the fun Airbnb Wilmington options (I like “Palm Tree House” but there are so many).
Map of Wilmington NC
For more information about things to do in Wilmington North Carolina:
- See sights from the popular television show: One Tree Hill Walking Tour
- From travel accessibility expert Cory Lee, 13 of the Most Fun Things to Do in Wilmington NC
What are your favorite Wilmington NC restaurants?