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Plates of roasted fish and oysters.
A table full of seafood favorites at Seabird.
Baxter Miller

18 Essential Restaurants in Wilmington, North Carolina

From seafood spreads to iconic doughnuts

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A table full of seafood favorites at Seabird.
| Baxter Miller

North Carolina’s 8th largest city, Wilmington, is also one of the state’s most visited. Sure the big draw might be the surrounding shores of Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach, but Wilmington packs in its fair share of visitors who visit the Battleship North Carolina, stroll the boardwalk along the Cape Fear River, and check out the historic homes downtown.

One thing visitors to the Port City and its surroundings have in common is an appetite for good food. Seafood might be the logical choice for an oceanside nibble and there is no shortage of options that run the gamut from old timey to high brow and everything in between. Diners in the mood for some Southeast Asian cuisine might themselves eating in one of the state’s most photogenic restaurants, while those with a sweet tooth can join the line for piping hot donuts straight off the boardwalk. Whatever the mood the food in Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach, and Carolina Beach is as much a reason to visit as are the beaches.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Seabird

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After taking flight in spring 2021 Seabird has quickly soared to the top of Wilmington’s restaurant scene. The creation of local fixtures Lydia Clopton and Dean Neff, the restaurant is now open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A nautically-inspired interior is the setting for Neff’s creative menu that is heavy on seafood, like the swordfish schnitzel, smoked catfish and oyster pie, and a seasonal seafood tower. The cozy bar transforms into a counter service coffee, breakfast, and lunch scene each morning with sandwiches, soups, pastries and more.

Manna sets the bar for new American cuisine in Wilmington, and it sets it high. The menu changes so constantly it’s almost futile to list dishes (who knows how long the Pig League Ball Pork, a hickory-smoked pork chop with barbecued peas, Tokyo turnips, and boiled peanut jus will last?), but rest assured that executive chef Carson Jewell is always serving up something tasty. Executive pastry chef Rebeca Edelmira Alvarado-Paredes takes care of the sweets, and between them and general manager/owner WM Mellon they’ve managed to turn Manna into one of the Port City’s must-have dinner reservations.

The Fork 'N' Cork

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An appearance on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives helped rocket the Fork ‘N’ Cork to national attention. Fieri raved about the confit duck wings, but the downtown Wilmington restaurant (which also has an outpost at Carolina Beach) has long been a favorite with locals. Two styles of poutine (classic and Texas, with smoked brisket and barbecue sauce), fried pickles, and Rattlesnake Bites (roasted jalapenos stuffed with shrimp, corn, cheese, and then deep-fried) accompany an extensive list of burgers and sandwiches.

A burger at the Fork ‘N’ Cork.
The Fork n Cork

Benny's Big Time Pizzeria

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Named after her husband Ben, Benny’s Big Time is Vivian Howard’s first (and so far only) foray into the Wilmington dining scene. Elevated red sauce Italian-American cuisine might be the easiest way to describe the food at Benny’s. The chicken parm is actually an appetizer and comes with stracciatella cheese, hot honey, pickled peppers, and sage, while the spaghetti and meatballs hews more towards the classic that everyone knows and loves. Neapolitan-style pizzas are probably the biggest draw, with options like the King Louie (pineapple jam, calabrian and serrano chilies, speck, and mint) or the Little Greenie (red sauce, garlic, red onion, Brussels sprouts, guindilla peppers, and nutritional yeast). Those in the know order the most popular pizza, the Kevin McAlister (Grayson taleggio, mozzarella, and hot honey) and add pepperoni. A large selection of homemade gelatos makes for a great ending to a meal at Benny’s.

Pizza at Benny’s
Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria/Facebook

Savorez

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Wilmington native Sam Cahoon’s downtown restaurant offers what the website calls “local fare with Latin flair.” Formerly the executive chef at Ceviche’s, Cahoon’s menu includes a entire section dedicated to salsas, shareables like BLT arepas and chicken tinga empanadas, and entrees like the caliente tuna, a blackened tuna filet served with cilantro-lime quinoa, pineapple salsa, oven-dried tomatoes, balsamic glaze, avocado, and pickled shallots. The lunch menu is heavy on tacos and tostadas, and Sunday brunch is available as well.

Nippy's Soul Food Restaurant

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Brother and sister duo William and Marsha Boudreaux offer classic Southern coastal soul food a few minutes east of downtown Wilmington. Inspired by the home cooking of their mother, Carrie, the menu at Nippy’s features dishes like crab rice, butter beans and okra, turkey wings, barbecue ribs, ox tails, and fish and grits. All dinners come with two sides and optional rice and gravy, although for that true home cooked meal feeling the rice and gravy is never really optional.

Indochine Restaurant

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Enter through Indochine’s front door into a moody, wood-filled bar and transition to the bright and colorful dining room before being transported to the practically jungle-like backyard, where tables are tucked into corners or perched underneath giant tropical palms. Dining at Indochine is nothing if not an experience. The lush setting is complemented by a Southeast-Asian menu focused on Thai and Vietnamese staples like chicken satay, Thai curries, and pho. Other options include bun bo hue, a spicy Vietnamese beef and noodle soup originating from central Vietnam, Cambodian-style steamed mussels, and a braised Vietnamese-style catfish. Sushi, sweets like mango sticky rice and key lime mousse, and cocktails that lean tropical are also available.

Flaming Amy's Burrito Barn

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Opened in 2000 by owners Amy and Jay Muxworthy, Flaming Amy’s is as well-known for its burritos as it is for the nearly-ubiquitous “Eat At Flaming Amy’s” bumper stickers. There are chips and queso and nacho platters, but the unique burritos are the real draw. The Bayou comes with spicy Creole jambalaya sauce, rice, beans, cheese, and a choice of grilled filling seasoned with Cajun spices, while the Philly “Phatboy” has grilled steak, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, lettuce, diced tomato, sour cream, and cheese. Heat lovers should stick with the original Flaming Amy burrito, packed with chipotle peppers, fresh jalapeños, mild green chiles, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, rice, beans, “Flaming Hot” salsa, and a choice of grilled filling. There is a second location in Carolina Beach for those not wanting to make the trek into town.

Flaming Amy’s
Flaming Amy’s/Facebook

Ida Thai Cuisine

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Ida Thai is a Carolina Beach mainstay serving up classic Thai cuisine like som tom (papaya salad), tom kha kai soup, and pad Thai. Red, green, yellow, pananag, and massaman curries are available, and the chef’s recommendations menu includes dishes such as Thai three flavor fish (a whole fried fish with sweet, sour, and spicy sauce), a roasted duck, and soft shell crabs garee. Takeout is a popular option, and it recently began offering beer and wine to go for those who want the Ida Thai experience in the comfort of their vacation rental.

Britts Donuts

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The line might appear before the smell does, but soon enough almost every visitor to Carolina Beach finds themselves queued up for a chance to grab a piping hot glazed donut from Britt’s. The shop first opened in 1939 and has been operated by the Nivens family for the past 40 years. The menu is simple — glazed donuts, plus some drinks. And that’s it. Open Friday through Sunday, the weekend line starts to form well before the 8:30am opening, but it tends to move fast. Britt’s is open until they sell out, which during the high season is a distinct possibility.

Casey’s Buffet

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“EAT PIG FEET AT CASEYS BBQ” reads hundreds, if not thousands of bumper stickers around town (and maybe around the country), and indeed, the barbecued pig feet are always on the menu at Casey’s. If that sounds a bit too adventurous, stick with the classics like pulled pork, fried chicken, catfish, chitlin’s, and more. With rotating daily specials like barbecued pork chops (Wednesdays), squash casserole (Thursdays), and deviled crab (Fridays and Saturdays between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. only), it’s hard to find a more traditionally Southern meal in Wilmington.

Food at Casey’s
Casey’s Buffet/Facebook

Chef Keith Rhodes’s ode to the seafood of the Cape Fear Coast has been one of Wilmington’s most-lauded restaurants since opening in 2006. The menu is certainly seafood focused, with dishes like Cajun-crusted North Carolina oysters, seared Ahi tuna (with coconut-saffron risotto, baby spinach, oyster mushrooms, and a sesame buerre blanc), and a fried seafood platter that comes with the catch of the day plus jumbo shrimp and local oysters. The fish-averse can choose from the “Land Offerings” (steak, duck, ribs), although the shrimp and grits with Benton’s bacon might be hard to turn down.

Seafood at Catch
Catch Restaurant/Wilmington

The Green House Restaurant

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The Green House is Wilmington’s first, and so far only, restaurant dedicated to high-end vegan cuisine. The seasonally-changing menu highlights the region’s plant-based bounty with dishes like chilled corn soup with sumac popcorn, Marsh Hen Mills creamed grits with roasted carrots, and a plant-based green chorizo with roasted mushroom tamale. Weekend brunch features an abbreviated menu of classic dishes like the BLT and biscuit sandwich reimagined as vegan options.

True Blue Butcher and Table

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Looking for thick-cut pork chops, dry-aged steaks, or pecan-smoked chicken? But also, Szechuan eggplant, beef satay with crispy Brussels sprouts, and a bowl of Tonkotsu-style ramen big enough for two people? Toss in a high-end butcher counter and a small selection of gourmet grocery items and True Blue Butcher and Table suddenly transcends the idea of a simple steakhouse. The Military Cutoff location is the original, but there is also True Blue Butcher & Barrel (a more relaxed menu with a whiskey bar concept) in the South Front Street District and True Blue Butcher & Baker in Hampstead (a full-service butcher shop and bakery). Both the Table and Barrel locations also serve lunch and brunch.

Ceviche's

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Ceviche’s serves up Panamanian staples in a rambling, beach-shack-esque spot just north of the Wrightsville Beach drawbridge. As the name implies there are a variety of different ceviches to choose from including langoustine de coco (langoustine tails in a citrus and coconut milk marinade with ginger, red bell pepper, red onion, avocado, and cilantro) and the mango mahi (with jalapeno, red onion, red bell pepper, cilantro, and their house-made hot sauce). A variety of tapas and empanadas are ideal for sharing, and larger plates like grilled sea bass, ropa vieja, and Panamanian paella are available alongside daily specials, cocktails, beer, and wine.

South Beach Grill

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Sun-soaked beachgoers and locals head to Wrightsville Beach’s South Beach Grill for locally-sourced seafood, sandwiches, and more. The Lowcountry seafood mac ‘n cheese comes with shrimp and local crab in a spicy Cajun cheese sauce, while the scallop Maison-boro (a nod to nearby Masonboro Island) is served with bacon jam and pecan gremolata. For lunch, there is a selection of sandwiches, salads, burgers, and appetizers, along with classic Calabash-style fried seafood platters.

Calabash-style seafood at South Beach Grill.
South Beach Grill

Trolly Stop

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Since 1976, beach-goers and locals alike have been lining up at Trolly Stop in Wrightsville Beach for one (or more) of their iconic hotdogs. Customers pick a style of dog, the beef and pork “Traditional Southern Dog”, the all beef “Northern Dog”, the smoked turkey dog, the veggie dog, or a smoked pork sausage, before deciding on toppings. The Surfer Dog comes topped with mustard, cheese, and bacon bits, while the Mexican Dog has salsa, cheese, onions, jalapenos, and two strips of bacon. Out-of-staters should probably go for the true North Carolina experience and order the Carolina Dog with deli mustard, chili, and coleslaw.

Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill

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The folks behind the Live.Eat.Surf restaurant group operate five Baja-Cali-Mexican-style restaurants in the area, but Tower 7 is easily the most iconic. Located just steps from the sand in Wrightsville Beach, the restaurant offers a range of tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and more. Customers can try the San Felipe tacos, filled with Dos Equis-battered fried cod and topped with salsa fresca, shaved cabbage, avocado, cotija cheese, and a yogurt Ranch dressing, or opt for the Tower 7 burrito, stuffed with black beans, Mexican rice, guacamole, salsa fresca, cheese, sour cream, and cilantro along with a choice of a variety of meats or veggies (hello yellow fin tuna). Wash everything down with one of their many margarita varieties and head back out to the beach.

Seabird

After taking flight in spring 2021 Seabird has quickly soared to the top of Wilmington’s restaurant scene. The creation of local fixtures Lydia Clopton and Dean Neff, the restaurant is now open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A nautically-inspired interior is the setting for Neff’s creative menu that is heavy on seafood, like the swordfish schnitzel, smoked catfish and oyster pie, and a seasonal seafood tower. The cozy bar transforms into a counter service coffee, breakfast, and lunch scene each morning with sandwiches, soups, pastries and more.

Manna

Manna sets the bar for new American cuisine in Wilmington, and it sets it high. The menu changes so constantly it’s almost futile to list dishes (who knows how long the Pig League Ball Pork, a hickory-smoked pork chop with barbecued peas, Tokyo turnips, and boiled peanut jus will last?), but rest assured that executive chef Carson Jewell is always serving up something tasty. Executive pastry chef Rebeca Edelmira Alvarado-Paredes takes care of the sweets, and between them and general manager/owner WM Mellon they’ve managed to turn Manna into one of the Port City’s must-have dinner reservations.

The Fork 'N' Cork

A burger at the Fork ‘N’ Cork.
The Fork n Cork

An appearance on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives helped rocket the Fork ‘N’ Cork to national attention. Fieri raved about the confit duck wings, but the downtown Wilmington restaurant (which also has an outpost at Carolina Beach) has long been a favorite with locals. Two styles of poutine (classic and Texas, with smoked brisket and barbecue sauce), fried pickles, and Rattlesnake Bites (roasted jalapenos stuffed with shrimp, corn, cheese, and then deep-fried) accompany an extensive list of burgers and sandwiches.

A burger at the Fork ‘N’ Cork.
The Fork n Cork

Benny's Big Time Pizzeria

Pizza at Benny’s
Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria/Facebook

Named after her husband Ben, Benny’s Big Time is Vivian Howard’s first (and so far only) foray into the Wilmington dining scene. Elevated red sauce Italian-American cuisine might be the easiest way to describe the food at Benny’s. The chicken parm is actually an appetizer and comes with stracciatella cheese, hot honey, pickled peppers, and sage, while the spaghetti and meatballs hews more towards the classic that everyone knows and loves. Neapolitan-style pizzas are probably the biggest draw, with options like the King Louie (pineapple jam, calabrian and serrano chilies, speck, and mint) or the Little Greenie (red sauce, garlic, red onion, Brussels sprouts, guindilla peppers, and nutritional yeast). Those in the know order the most popular pizza, the Kevin McAlister (Grayson taleggio, mozzarella, and hot honey) and add pepperoni. A large selection of homemade gelatos makes for a great ending to a meal at Benny’s.

Pizza at Benny’s
Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria/Facebook

Savorez

Wilmington native Sam Cahoon’s downtown restaurant offers what the website calls “local fare with Latin flair.” Formerly the executive chef at Ceviche’s, Cahoon’s menu includes a entire section dedicated to salsas, shareables like BLT arepas and chicken tinga empanadas, and entrees like the caliente tuna, a blackened tuna filet served with cilantro-lime quinoa, pineapple salsa, oven-dried tomatoes, balsamic glaze, avocado, and pickled shallots. The lunch menu is heavy on tacos and tostadas, and Sunday brunch is available as well.

Nippy's Soul Food Restaurant

Brother and sister duo William and Marsha Boudreaux offer classic Southern coastal soul food a few minutes east of downtown Wilmington. Inspired by the home cooking of their mother, Carrie, the menu at Nippy’s features dishes like crab rice, butter beans and okra, turkey wings, barbecue ribs, ox tails, and fish and grits. All dinners come with two sides and optional rice and gravy, although for that true home cooked meal feeling the rice and gravy is never really optional.

Indochine Restaurant

Enter through Indochine’s front door into a moody, wood-filled bar and transition to the bright and colorful dining room before being transported to the practically jungle-like backyard, where tables are tucked into corners or perched underneath giant tropical palms. Dining at Indochine is nothing if not an experience. The lush setting is complemented by a Southeast-Asian menu focused on Thai and Vietnamese staples like chicken satay, Thai curries, and pho. Other options include bun bo hue, a spicy Vietnamese beef and noodle soup originating from central Vietnam, Cambodian-style steamed mussels, and a braised Vietnamese-style catfish. Sushi, sweets like mango sticky rice and key lime mousse, and cocktails that lean tropical are also available.

Flaming Amy's Burrito Barn

Flaming Amy’s
Flaming Amy’s/Facebook

Opened in 2000 by owners Amy and Jay Muxworthy, Flaming Amy’s is as well-known for its burritos as it is for the nearly-ubiquitous “Eat At Flaming Amy’s” bumper stickers. There are chips and queso and nacho platters, but the unique burritos are the real draw. The Bayou comes with spicy Creole jambalaya sauce, rice, beans, cheese, and a choice of grilled filling seasoned with Cajun spices, while the Philly “Phatboy” has grilled steak, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, lettuce, diced tomato, sour cream, and cheese. Heat lovers should stick with the original Flaming Amy burrito, packed with chipotle peppers, fresh jalapeños, mild green chiles, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, rice, beans, “Flaming Hot” salsa, and a choice of grilled filling. There is a second location in Carolina Beach for those not wanting to make the trek into town.

Flaming Amy’s
Flaming Amy’s/Facebook

Ida Thai Cuisine

Ida Thai is a Carolina Beach mainstay serving up classic Thai cuisine like som tom (papaya salad), tom kha kai soup, and pad Thai. Red, green, yellow, pananag, and massaman curries are available, and the chef’s recommendations menu includes dishes such as Thai three flavor fish (a whole fried fish with sweet, sour, and spicy sauce), a roasted duck, and soft shell crabs garee. Takeout is a popular option, and it recently began offering beer and wine to go for those who want the Ida Thai experience in the comfort of their vacation rental.

Britts Donuts

The line might appear before the smell does, but soon enough almost every visitor to Carolina Beach finds themselves queued up for a chance to grab a piping hot glazed donut from Britt’s. The shop first opened in 1939 and has been operated by the Nivens family for the past 40 years. The menu is simple — glazed donuts, plus some drinks. And that’s it. Open Friday through Sunday, the weekend line starts to form well before the 8:30am opening, but it tends to move fast. Britt’s is open until they sell out, which during the high season is a distinct possibility.

Casey’s Buffet

Food at Casey’s
Casey’s Buffet/Facebook

“EAT PIG FEET AT CASEYS BBQ” reads hundreds, if not thousands of bumper stickers around town (and maybe around the country), and indeed, the barbecued pig feet are always on the menu at Casey’s. If that sounds a bit too adventurous, stick with the classics like pulled pork, fried chicken, catfish, chitlin’s, and more. With rotating daily specials like barbecued pork chops (Wednesdays), squash casserole (Thursdays), and deviled crab (Fridays and Saturdays between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. only), it’s hard to find a more traditionally Southern meal in Wilmington.

Food at Casey’s
Casey’s Buffet/Facebook

Catch

Seafood at Catch
Catch Restaurant/Wilmington

Chef Keith Rhodes’s ode to the seafood of the Cape Fear Coast has been one of Wilmington’s most-lauded restaurants since opening in 2006. The menu is certainly seafood focused, with dishes like Cajun-crusted North Carolina oysters, seared Ahi tuna (with coconut-saffron risotto, baby spinach, oyster mushrooms, and a sesame buerre blanc), and a fried seafood platter that comes with the catch of the day plus jumbo shrimp and local oysters. The fish-averse can choose from the “Land Offerings” (steak, duck, ribs), although the shrimp and grits with Benton’s bacon might be hard to turn down.

Seafood at Catch
Catch Restaurant/Wilmington

The Green House Restaurant

The Green House is Wilmington’s first, and so far only, restaurant dedicated to high-end vegan cuisine. The seasonally-changing menu highlights the region’s plant-based bounty with dishes like chilled corn soup with sumac popcorn, Marsh Hen Mills creamed grits with roasted carrots, and a plant-based green chorizo with roasted mushroom tamale. Weekend brunch features an abbreviated menu of classic dishes like the BLT and biscuit sandwich reimagined as vegan options.

True Blue Butcher and Table

Looking for thick-cut pork chops, dry-aged steaks, or pecan-smoked chicken? But also, Szechuan eggplant, beef satay with crispy Brussels sprouts, and a bowl of Tonkotsu-style ramen big enough for two people? Toss in a high-end butcher counter and a small selection of gourmet grocery items and True Blue Butcher and Table suddenly transcends the idea of a simple steakhouse. The Military Cutoff location is the original, but there is also True Blue Butcher & Barrel (a more relaxed menu with a whiskey bar concept) in the South Front Street District and True Blue Butcher & Baker in Hampstead (a full-service butcher shop and bakery). Both the Table and Barrel locations also serve lunch and brunch.

Ceviche's

Ceviche’s serves up Panamanian staples in a rambling, beach-shack-esque spot just north of the Wrightsville Beach drawbridge. As the name implies there are a variety of different ceviches to choose from including langoustine de coco (langoustine tails in a citrus and coconut milk marinade with ginger, red bell pepper, red onion, avocado, and cilantro) and the mango mahi (with jalapeno, red onion, red bell pepper, cilantro, and their house-made hot sauce). A variety of tapas and empanadas are ideal for sharing, and larger plates like grilled sea bass, ropa vieja, and Panamanian paella are available alongside daily specials, cocktails, beer, and wine.

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South Beach Grill

Calabash-style seafood at South Beach Grill.
South Beach Grill

Sun-soaked beachgoers and locals head to Wrightsville Beach’s South Beach Grill for locally-sourced seafood, sandwiches, and more. The Lowcountry seafood mac ‘n cheese comes with shrimp and local crab in a spicy Cajun cheese sauce, while the scallop Maison-boro (a nod to nearby Masonboro Island) is served with bacon jam and pecan gremolata. For lunch, there is a selection of sandwiches, salads, burgers, and appetizers, along with classic Calabash-style fried seafood platters.

Calabash-style seafood at South Beach Grill.
South Beach Grill

Trolly Stop

Since 1976, beach-goers and locals alike have been lining up at Trolly Stop in Wrightsville Beach for one (or more) of their iconic hotdogs. Customers pick a style of dog, the beef and pork “Traditional Southern Dog”, the all beef “Northern Dog”, the smoked turkey dog, the veggie dog, or a smoked pork sausage, before deciding on toppings. The Surfer Dog comes topped with mustard, cheese, and bacon bits, while the Mexican Dog has salsa, cheese, onions, jalapenos, and two strips of bacon. Out-of-staters should probably go for the true North Carolina experience and order the Carolina Dog with deli mustard, chili, and coleslaw.

Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill

The folks behind the Live.Eat.Surf restaurant group operate five Baja-Cali-Mexican-style restaurants in the area, but Tower 7 is easily the most iconic. Located just steps from the sand in Wrightsville Beach, the restaurant offers a range of tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and more. Customers can try the San Felipe tacos, filled with Dos Equis-battered fried cod and topped with salsa fresca, shaved cabbage, avocado, cotija cheese, and a yogurt Ranch dressing, or opt for the Tower 7 burrito, stuffed with black beans, Mexican rice, guacamole, salsa fresca, cheese, sour cream, and cilantro along with a choice of a variety of meats or veggies (hello yellow fin tuna). Wash everything down with one of their many margarita varieties and head back out to the beach.

Related Maps