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11 Hottest Restaurants in Wilmington, North Carolina

From whole snapper at Dram Yard to fancy sandwiches at Cheese Smith

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The weather is warming up and so is Wilmington’s dining scene. The city and surrounding areas not only benefit from the yearly tourism boom associated with nearby beach towns like Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach, but New Hanover and Brunswick counties are among the fastest-growing in the state in terms of permanent residents. With that growth has come a renaissance in the ILM dining scene, with a trend towards more diverse cuisine and year-round restaurants that aren’t totally dependent on tourists.

Eater Carolina’s first-ever Wilmington Heat Map will track some of the hottest new restaurants that have opened in the area within the last year. From high-end, locally sourced seafood to brewpubs with modern beach vibes, the Port City is poised to be one of the most exciting places to dine in 2022.

The map is continually updated, so if you have a favorite new spot send a note to charleston@eater.com.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Sauce'd

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224 S Water St STE 1G
Wilmington, NC 28401
(910) 399-4743
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Cocktails and french fries might not sound like a common pairing, but the high-low combo has found its following with Sauce’d, located on the downtown Riverwalk. The signature cocktails are all made with North Carolina spirits and are extremely Instagrammable — the Raspberry Beret is made with Cape Fear Distillery Vodka, Oak City Amaretto liqueur, and comes with a burstable bubble just begging for a Boomerang. Soak up all that booze with the fries, which come in three different varieties alongside 11 different dipping sauces.

2. Seabird

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1 S Front St
Wilmington, NC 28401
(910) 769-5996
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Dean Neff and Lydia Clopton’s Seabird is about to turn one year old but still remains one of the city’s must-have reservations. Now open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Seabird is an ode to coastal Carolina cooking with Neff putting an innovative spin on seafood and shellfish. Newcomers should absolutely try the swordfish schnitzel or the smoked catfish and oyster pie, and the seafood towers are a neat spin on a raw bar classic. Breakfast features pastries and biscuit sandwiches and a full coffee bar.

Fresh catches and oysters at Seabird. Baxter Miller

3. Pinpoint Restaurant

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114 Market St
Wilmington, NC 28401
(910) 769-2972
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PinPoint has been a downtown staple for years and recently welcomed Cameron Garvey as executive chef, where he has begun to put his own mark on the restaurants lauded menu. Garvey’s twist on linguine with clams sees the pasta switched to a house-made smoked paprika pappardelle in a tomato and fennel broth with littleneck clams, Benton’s bacon, and grouper collar. There’s plenty of oysters (raw and baked), a pan-fried pork chop that comes with a duck fat sauce americaine, and even a recent addition of Ukrainian deruny (potato cakes), the sales of which go to benefit World Central Kitchen’s efforts to feed Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

4. Dram Yard

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101 S 2nd St
Wilmington, NC 28401
(910) 782-2400
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The team behind Dram Yard and the accompanying Arrive Hotel (set to open later this year) recruited chef Joe Wolfson up from Charleston to reopen the restaurant after a 10-month hiatus, giving him full control of the menu and staffing. Dram Yard reopened in February with Wolfson’s brand new menu of local cuisine with Southeast Asian inspiration. The charred Brussels sprouts come with a garlic fondue, peanuts, nam jim jaew, and toasted rice. Other standouts on the menu include the uni carbonara, a whole fried snapper with a tangy tamarind sauce, and Wolfson’s signature beef tartare, held together with a beef tallow mayonnaise and served with a bright and bracing arugula salad.

5. Vientiane Kitchen

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701 Castle St
Wilmington, NC 28401
(910) 660-8789
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Located in the former Hungry Sparrow space on Castle Street, Vientiane Kitchen is one of the few Laotian restaurants in the entire state. The menu is a combination of traditional Lao dishes like larbs, Lao sausage, and tom khem (a caramelized stew of either pork leg or beef short rib), alongside fusion specials like the Lao-American-style grilled salmon and a ribeye steak with stir-fried vegetables. There are plenty of traditional Lao drinks to wash it all down and a variety of traditional Lao desserts.

6. The Sorrow Drowner

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19 S 10th St
Wilmington, NC 28401
(910) 769-8013
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For anyone involved in the tiki scene, the Sorrow Drowner has been perhaps the most anticipated opening of the last two years. A truly extensive offering of both signature cocktails and classic tiki drinks (more than two dozen) is complemented by a small pupu platter menu, all to be enjoyed in perhaps the most unique dining space in the city. It’s dinner theater-meets Disney-meets variety show (and indeed the space was designed by a former Disney Imagineer). Fridays and Saturdays are reservation-only dinner theater with music, standup, magic, burlesque, and more.

7. Cheese Smith

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624 S 17th St
Wilmington, NC 28401
(910) 399-3253
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After three year’s as one of Wilmington’s most beloved food truck Cheese Smith has found a permanent home in the Port City’s Cargo District. They’ve got the full menu of cheese-stuffed sandwiches like the Southern Charm (cheddar, hickory smoked pulled pork, pickled red onion, slaw) and the Brendito (cheddar, bacon, pepper jack, roasted jalapenos, pepper jam, cilantro, and chive cream cheese) along with sides like bulgogi-style Brussels sprouts and fries with toppings like parmesan, beer cheese, kimchi, and more.

8. The Green House Restaurant

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1427 Military Cutoff Rd unit 106
Wilmington, NC 28403
(910) 679-4994
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An upscale lunch and dinner menu, craft cocktails, and a global wine list define the Green House — oh, and it’s all vegan too. There’s a raw beet ravioli, creamy tahini Caesar salad, glazed lion’s mane mushroom, and a gnocchi that comes with a gingered leek pomace, preserved lemon, herbs, and carrots that have been marinated, fermented, roasted, topped. The lunch menu features items like cauliflower raw tacos, a root vegetable poutine, and BLT lettuce cups with mushroom bacon. Bakery items are also available to go.

9. Point Break NC

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7134 Market St unit 7&8
Wilmington, NC 28411
(910) 319-7398
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Located on Market Street out in Ogden, Point Break showcases “wings, wraps, and good vibes,” with those vibes definitely catering to those who just spent a morning surfing at Wrightsville Beach. There are the signature PB wings or Jamaican jerk wings — available on special for $1.00 per wing (with purchase of a beverage, 12 wings per person max). There’s also a bevy of salads, wraps, and shareables like loaded potato wedges and nachos. The Market Street location is the new dine-in spot, but it also offers a regular catering menu for those who prefer to have their post-surf chowdown at home.

10. Artisano Pizza and Gelato

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7205 Wrightsville Ave Suite 100
Wilmington, NC 28403
(910) 239-9495
Visit Website

The newest outpost of popular dessert spot Artisano (located right before the drawbridge to Wrightsville Beach) offers all of the original spots popular gelatos alongside an extensive menu of appetizers, pastas, soups, salads, and Roman-style thin crust pizzas. There is a large beer and wine menu, along with both vegan and vegetarian options throughout the menu. Pizza options run from the traditional (margherita, funghi, four-cheese) to the locally-inspired (the Wilmington comes with shrimp) and the avant-garde (an entire pizza inspired by a traditional English breakfast). The full range of the gelatos, still hand-made by the Grassi family in Turin, Italy from milk sourced from their own herd of dairy cows, is available for dessert or to take home.

11. Flying Machine at Wrightsville Beach

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530 Causeway Dr T-1
Wrightsville Beach, NC 28480
(910) 239-9474
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One of the Port City’s most popular breweries opened a new brewpub in Wrightsville Beach over the summer, transforming the former Banks Channel Pub space into a modern, airy eatery. The full range of Flying Machine’s beers are available along with an exceptional craft cocktail menu, all backed up by superb lunch and dinner menus, plus Sunday brunch. The menus span the globe, with everything from its take on fish and chips or a pastrami sandwich to fried oysters in a chili glaze, a falafel and cauliflower burger, vegan plantain enchiladas. Standouts on the popular Sunday brunch menu include a stuffed blueberry French toast, short rib hash, and a chicken biscuit with chorizo sausage gravy.

1. Sauce'd

224 S Water St STE 1G, Wilmington, NC 28401

Cocktails and french fries might not sound like a common pairing, but the high-low combo has found its following with Sauce’d, located on the downtown Riverwalk. The signature cocktails are all made with North Carolina spirits and are extremely Instagrammable — the Raspberry Beret is made with Cape Fear Distillery Vodka, Oak City Amaretto liqueur, and comes with a burstable bubble just begging for a Boomerang. Soak up all that booze with the fries, which come in three different varieties alongside 11 different dipping sauces.

224 S Water St STE 1G
Wilmington, NC 28401

2. Seabird

1 S Front St, Wilmington, NC 28401
Fresh catches and oysters at Seabird. Baxter Miller

Dean Neff and Lydia Clopton’s Seabird is about to turn one year old but still remains one of the city’s must-have reservations. Now open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Seabird is an ode to coastal Carolina cooking with Neff putting an innovative spin on seafood and shellfish. Newcomers should absolutely try the swordfish schnitzel or the smoked catfish and oyster pie, and the seafood towers are a neat spin on a raw bar classic. Breakfast features pastries and biscuit sandwiches and a full coffee bar.

1 S Front St
Wilmington, NC 28401

3. Pinpoint Restaurant

114 Market St, Wilmington, NC 28401

PinPoint has been a downtown staple for years and recently welcomed Cameron Garvey as executive chef, where he has begun to put his own mark on the restaurants lauded menu. Garvey’s twist on linguine with clams sees the pasta switched to a house-made smoked paprika pappardelle in a tomato and fennel broth with littleneck clams, Benton’s bacon, and grouper collar. There’s plenty of oysters (raw and baked), a pan-fried pork chop that comes with a duck fat sauce americaine, and even a recent addition of Ukrainian deruny (potato cakes), the sales of which go to benefit World Central Kitchen’s efforts to feed Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

114 Market St
Wilmington, NC 28401

4. Dram Yard

101 S 2nd St, Wilmington, NC 28401

The team behind Dram Yard and the accompanying Arrive Hotel (set to open later this year) recruited chef Joe Wolfson up from Charleston to reopen the restaurant after a 10-month hiatus, giving him full control of the menu and staffing. Dram Yard reopened in February with Wolfson’s brand new menu of local cuisine with Southeast Asian inspiration. The charred Brussels sprouts come with a garlic fondue, peanuts, nam jim jaew, and toasted rice. Other standouts on the menu include the uni carbonara, a whole fried snapper with a tangy tamarind sauce, and Wolfson’s signature beef tartare, held together with a beef tallow mayonnaise and served with a bright and bracing arugula salad.

101 S 2nd St
Wilmington, NC 28401

5. Vientiane Kitchen

701 Castle St, Wilmington, NC 28401

Located in the former Hungry Sparrow space on Castle Street, Vientiane Kitchen is one of the few Laotian restaurants in the entire state. The menu is a combination of traditional Lao dishes like larbs, Lao sausage, and tom khem (a caramelized stew of either pork leg or beef short rib), alongside fusion specials like the Lao-American-style grilled salmon and a ribeye steak with stir-fried vegetables. There are plenty of traditional Lao drinks to wash it all down and a variety of traditional Lao desserts.

701 Castle St
Wilmington, NC 28401

6. The Sorrow Drowner

19 S 10th St, Wilmington, NC 28401

For anyone involved in the tiki scene, the Sorrow Drowner has been perhaps the most anticipated opening of the last two years. A truly extensive offering of both signature cocktails and classic tiki drinks (more than two dozen) is complemented by a small pupu platter menu, all to be enjoyed in perhaps the most unique dining space in the city. It’s dinner theater-meets Disney-meets variety show (and indeed the space was designed by a former Disney Imagineer). Fridays and Saturdays are reservation-only dinner theater with music, standup, magic, burlesque, and more.

19 S 10th St
Wilmington, NC 28401

7. Cheese Smith

624 S 17th St, Wilmington, NC 28401

After three year’s as one of Wilmington’s most beloved food truck Cheese Smith has found a permanent home in the Port City’s Cargo District. They’ve got the full menu of cheese-stuffed sandwiches like the Southern Charm (cheddar, hickory smoked pulled pork, pickled red onion, slaw) and the Brendito (cheddar, bacon, pepper jack, roasted jalapenos, pepper jam, cilantro, and chive cream cheese) along with sides like bulgogi-style Brussels sprouts and fries with toppings like parmesan, beer cheese, kimchi, and more.

624 S 17th St
Wilmington, NC 28401

8. The Green House Restaurant

1427 Military Cutoff Rd unit 106, Wilmington, NC 28403

An upscale lunch and dinner menu, craft cocktails, and a global wine list define the Green House — oh, and it’s all vegan too. There’s a raw beet ravioli, creamy tahini Caesar salad, glazed lion’s mane mushroom, and a gnocchi that comes with a gingered leek pomace, preserved lemon, herbs, and carrots that have been marinated, fermented, roasted, topped. The lunch menu features items like cauliflower raw tacos, a root vegetable poutine, and BLT lettuce cups with mushroom bacon. Bakery items are also available to go.

1427 Military Cutoff Rd unit 106
Wilmington, NC 28403

9. Point Break NC

7134 Market St unit 7&8, Wilmington, NC 28411

Located on Market Street out in Ogden, Point Break showcases “wings, wraps, and good vibes,” with those vibes definitely catering to those who just spent a morning surfing at Wrightsville Beach. There are the signature PB wings or Jamaican jerk wings — available on special for $1.00 per wing (with purchase of a beverage, 12 wings per person max). There’s also a bevy of salads, wraps, and shareables like loaded potato wedges and nachos. The Market Street location is the new dine-in spot, but it also offers a regular catering menu for those who prefer to have their post-surf chowdown at home.

7134 Market St unit 7&8
Wilmington, NC 28411

10. Artisano Pizza and Gelato

7205 Wrightsville Ave Suite 100, Wilmington, NC 28403

The newest outpost of popular dessert spot Artisano (located right before the drawbridge to Wrightsville Beach) offers all of the original spots popular gelatos alongside an extensive menu of appetizers, pastas, soups, salads, and Roman-style thin crust pizzas. There is a large beer and wine menu, along with both vegan and vegetarian options throughout the menu. Pizza options run from the traditional (margherita, funghi, four-cheese) to the locally-inspired (the Wilmington comes with shrimp) and the avant-garde (an entire pizza inspired by a traditional English breakfast). The full range of the gelatos, still hand-made by the Grassi family in Turin, Italy from milk sourced from their own herd of dairy cows, is available for dessert or to take home.

7205 Wrightsville Ave Suite 100
Wilmington, NC 28403

11. Flying Machine at Wrightsville Beach

530 Causeway Dr T-1, Wrightsville Beach, NC 28480

One of the Port City’s most popular breweries opened a new brewpub in Wrightsville Beach over the summer, transforming the former Banks Channel Pub space into a modern, airy eatery. The full range of Flying Machine’s beers are available along with an exceptional craft cocktail menu, all backed up by superb lunch and dinner menus, plus Sunday brunch. The menus span the globe, with everything from its take on fish and chips or a pastrami sandwich to fried oysters in a chili glaze, a falafel and cauliflower burger, vegan plantain enchiladas. Standouts on the popular Sunday brunch menu include a stuffed blueberry French toast, short rib hash, and a chicken biscuit with chorizo sausage gravy.

530 Causeway Dr T-1
Wrightsville Beach, NC 28480

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