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Downtown Wilmington Restaurants
There are a host of restaurants located in Downtown Wilmington, NC. We can recommend the following ones for three good reasons. First, the food is reliably good. Second, the prices are very fair. Third, we can almost guarantee that you won’t be disappointed if you dine in any of them.
The newest restaurant downtown is in an early 1800s-era peanut warehouse on downtown’s Wilmington’s Water Street that has long been a gathering place for food and drinks. The latest offering there is Delphina Dos: A New World Cantina.
Bask in sun and watch the river while dining on the patio out front or ponder the rustic historic architecture inside. Both options come with a Latin American menu of familiar tacos, tortas, burritos and quesadillas – with some twists – but the selection continues into entrees and brunch.
Chef Carlos Rojas brings his Cuban, Spanish and Mexican heritage to the menu. Offerings include roasted corn with garlic aioli and cotija cheese; mahi tacos with mango papaya pico and chipotle aioli; build-your-own-burritos; chilaquiles with eggs, black beans and cotija cheese; seared scallops over warm Mexican corn salad; and Shipwreck, a dish of marinated pork, steak and chicken sautéed with mushrooms, onions, poblano peppers and served with rice, black beans, plantains and melted Chihuahua cheese.
Churros, Mexican bread pudding and homemade ice cream are on the sweets list.
Wine, beer and cocktails are served. Delphina Dos features regular food and drink specials as well as live music. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday and for brunch/lunch 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Rx Restaurant on Castle at 5th Street has been a big hit since it opened. The restaurant features Southern regional foods that are prepared from local farmers and fishermen, resulting in a menu that changes daily. The restaurant’s name celebrates its location in the former Hall’s Drug Store, one of Wilmington’s oldest businesses.
Rx is open from Tuesday-Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to late and Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. till late. Brunch on the weekends at Rx Restaurant is popular since the menu features everything from omelets to quiche to apple-cinnamon pancakes to meatloaf. There surely is something for every taste.
Recent lunch offerings included pork belly served with a farm egg and stone ground cheddar grits or a fried chicken sandwich served with Rx pickles, spicy aioli and potato salad. Homemade soups have included a white sweet potato soup with ricotta, toasted pecans and brown butter crumble or a stew of cow peas and collard greens served with shaved Parmesan cheese. On the “supper” menu recently (known as dinner to Yankees) were first courses as diverse as clams, bacon, toasted garlic, shallots, white wine, herbs and crostini or gnocchi with country ham, preserved lemon and spinach.
Staples always on the menu are shrimp and grits with andouille sausage, mushrooms, fennel, garden peas and a poached egg as well as skillet fried chicken served with sweet potato mash and braised greens. Rx has a full bar. At $10, they also have one of the area’s most reasonable corkage fees.
Elijah’s is an American seafood grill and oyster bar that has been a mainstay in Historic Downtown Wilmington since 1984. It is located on Chandler’s Wharf in a building that was originally a maritime museum. Several of the paintings, ships models and nautical artifacts remain on display in the restaurant today. Elijah’s has a large deck overlooking the Cape Fear River and Riverwalk, which is a wonderful spot for people watching while enjoying lunch, drinks or dinner.
The menu at Elijah’s is extensive enough to please any diner. Of course the primary concentration is on seafood of all types, with oysters available on the half shell, steamed, fried, and Rockefeller. A Carolina bucket is comprised of steamed clams, mussels, shrimp, crab legs, sausage, new potatoes and corn on the cob. Other popular seafood items are seafood platters available either grilled or fried and shrimp stuffed with crabmeat. Landlubbers will find plenty of choices too, with New York strip steaks, vegetable linguine, sesame chicken, stuffed pork chop and filet mignon available daily with prime rib added on Friday and Saturday nights. The restaurant is open seven days a week year round. It has a full bar with all ABC permits.
Happy faces at sidewalk tables and a tall, vertical, neon sign make Front Street Brewery one of Historic Downtown Wilmington’s most recognizable places. Seems everyone flocks to this distinctive, historic building for food, fun and some of the country’s finest craft beers as well as more than 70 premium and rare bourbons (in 2014, The American Bourbon Association ranked the pub as one of the United States’ “great bourbon bars”).
Brewmaster Kevin Kozak and team produce a changing array of micro-beers, some seasonal, some aged in bourbon or wine barrels, that have garnered national attention and gold medals. Flagship beers include light Coastal Kolsch, Port City IPA and the wildly popular Dram Tree Scottish Ale. Deep red and lightly hoppy, the latter is a natural with the kitchen’s Scottish ale barbecue ribs or sweet cinnamon doughnut bites. The menu also includes Front Street’s popular pulled chicken nachos as well as burgers, sandwiches, slow-roasted brisket, Shepherd’s pie, Buffalo shrimp and a bratwurst plate. You won’t believe the low prices on daily lunch and dinner prices. Additionally, half-price appetizers are available 4 to 6 p.m. and after 10 p.m. every day.
Sitting and sipping is just fine. Order a beer sampler, take advantage of the $1.99 mug of the day or take your favorite beer home in a growler or in one of Front Street Brewery’s beer-laced cooking sauces.
The bourbon selection is among Front Street Brewery’s more than 275 spirits. Rare bourbon tastings and beer dinners are just some of the special events. Front Street Brewery stages events for charity, too. Free brewery tours and free beer tastings happen daily.
Front Street Brewery is open 11:30 a.m. to midnight every day, and the kitchen never closes. The brew pub’s lovely Beam Room upstairs is perfect for private parties, receptions and business meetings.
Aubriana’s is another of Historic Downtown Wilmington’s fine dining restaurants. Aubriana’s has a brand new chef, but one who is familiar to Wilmingtonians who appreciate fine food. Chef Tyson Amick, who helped Marc’s on Market be recognized as one of Wilmington’s top restaurants. The new chef has just settled in so the seasonal menu is evolving. Since the owners of Aubriana’s are passionate about serving excellent food and the chef has proven his talents elsewhere, the future is bright here.
One of the items that will remain on the appetizer menu at Aubriana’s are the lollipop lamb chops, a favorite for good reason with so many of Aubriana’s regular diners.
Other appetizers include shrimp, crab and corn chowder with fingerling potatoes, applewood bacon and a petit buttermilk biscuit; cornmeal fried calamari with house made dill pickles served with white cheddar-peppercorn dressing and a blue lump crab tart with bay spiced crust, fresh mozzarella, creamy citrus custard and chili-garlic greens. Entrees include a chargrilled filet mignon served with layered potatoes, asparagus, horseradish creme fraiche and fried vidalia onions or North Carolina Rainbow trout with creamed fresh corn, baby green beans, stewed blackberries and toasted country ham vinaigrette.
Aubriana’s has a full bar (try a schrubb cocktail) and a wine list that earned a 2012 Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator. The restaurant is open Tuesday-Saturday from 5:00 p.m. till close.
Follow the locals to Chops Deli, a restaurant with a loyal following on Front Street in downtown Wilmington, next door to the post office. Creative and traditional sandwiches stack Boar’s Head meats and cheeses and fresh veggies on locally baked breads. In spring and fall, the kitchen team heads to the farmers market for produce.
Stacks range from classic Reubens and turkey on whole wheat to signature sandwiches inspired by port cities the staff selects from a big world map on the wall. Sometimes, they pair culture with cuisine, as in the Marseille, featuring maple-glazed chicken, brie, spring mix, tomato, and Cajun remoulade on a toasted baguette. Other times, cities just provide a cool moniker, as in the Malmo with housemade pimento cheese, black forest ham, maple-glazed chicken, tomato, red onion and Cajun remoulade on multi-grain bread.
Cooks here are creative. The variety of daily soups are made fresh and change daily. They usually includes the wildly popular broccoli cheese soup, but the menu might also list Cheesesteak Stew, Turkey Tomato Basil or Spicy Cheesy Southwest Veggie. The daily macaroni and cheese special could be Eight Cheese Mac and Cheese or Roast Beef Mac and Cheese. Imagination dictates cheesecakes, too, maybe Carrot Cake Cheesecake, Candied Bacon Cheesecake or coconut cheesecake with curried pineapple topping.
This is a deli that cares. Biodegradable disposables and recycling bins help protect the environment. Art and products by Wilmington residents are often for sale here. North Carolina beers are on the menu.
Chops downtown is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday-Tuesday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. Other locations are near Wrightsville Beach and in Wilmington’s Monkey Junction area.
Manna is a restaurant that many consider particularly aptly named since they offer food of outstanding quality. Located on Princess Street between Front and Second, Manna is beautifully decorated, tastefully appointed and serves food using local ingredients of outstanding quality when they are available.
Outstanding appetizers, among many, are the beets around the bush, a beet terrine with local arugula, apples, chevre mousse, pistachio and sherry molasses vinaigrette or homard simpson, comprised of house made ravioli of poached Maine lobster and cauliflower mousse, brandied leeks and fennel, brown butter and ginger lobster veloute. Bread and butter is an item you’ll want to order since the bread is made in house and is accompanied by wonderful, infused home churned butter.
Just some of the delicious entrees – obviously named by a clever writer – include ewe-phemism, coffee spiced lamb loin, roasted local root vegetable with a pinot noir Amarenata cherry glace or out of the friar pan and into the fire, braised local monkfish in “Big Jim” red chile sauce, turnips, sweet potatoes, mussels and red cabbage. Manna’s menu changes often depending on what great ingredients are locally available. If these items are not available, just try anything on the menu. You’ll undoubtedly be glad you did.
Manna also has an outstanding pastry chef. If you are a person who swoons over great desserts, be prepared: if you don’t swoon here, have someone check your pulse to be sure your heart is beating.
Cocktails at Manna are earning outstanding reviews, and clients appreciate the quality of the service too. Reservations are a very good idea and are required most weekends, although one could do worse than to enjoy sitting at the bar while waiting patiently for a table. Manna is open daily for dinner at 5:00 p.m. each day except Monday, closing at 10:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at 11:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Manna is available to cater events for special occasions.
One of Wilmington’s most well-known chefs is Keith Rhodes. He’s been nominated for a James Beard award. Many people know his north Wilmington Catch contemporary seafood restaurant, a celebrity favorite, but Rhodes highlights his passion for Asian food at Phun Seafood Bar.
Indo Chinese food inspired the chef years ago, and he especially savors Vietnamese recipes. In the thin sliver of a slot that is Phun, a range of Asian fusion food is served. Pork belly stuffs puffy Peking duck pancakes for “pork bao buns.” A Red Curry Bento Box contains seared N.C. catfish, Thai eggplant and lotus root curry, papaya salad and a fried-to-order pork wonton. Warming noodle bowls might riff off Thai tom yum soup or Mexican cochinita pibil. Short ribs enrich a rice noodle, ginger, yu choy, shitake and cilantro stir-fry.
The idea here is to have fun and share. Food is served on two long bars and bar tables. Orange walls conjure images of sunsets in exotic places. A huge fish tank colors the main bar, which is anchored by a happy elephant statue. Beer and wine are served.
Find Phun on Princess Street, between Front and Second Streets. The restaurant is open for lunch Monday-Friday and for dinner Wednesday-Saturday, but call ahead for dinner hours, as those are subject to change.
At 138 South Front Street you’ll find Little Dipper, Wilmington’s first restaurant offering numerous types of fondue. For example, there are five different cheese fondues on the menu, with variations within those five. Cheddar ale fondue, a blend of sharp cheddar and emmenthaler cheese melted in a beer base, offers a choice of beers as mixtures, each producing its own distinctive taste. Stella Artois is light in color and flavor, Yuengling produces a medium body and nutty flavor while Guinness imparts a full-flavored dark beer taste.
Several salads and numerous vegetarian dishes are available to meet the dietary wishes of vegans. Other options include beef, chicken, pork and several seafood entrees and those who are totally undecided can mix and match.
Try to save room for dessert since chocolate fondues are delicious and popular for good reason.
The restaurant has a full bar and is open Tuesday through Sunday at 5:00 p.m. Little Dipper has an extensive wine list and several special drinks. Try the chocolate martini. It is delicious.
Little Dipper offers specials several nights a week with half-price bottles of wine on Sunday and a four course, bargain prix fixe menu on Thursday.
The Pilot House opened in 1978 and was the first restaurant in Chandler’s Wharf, which had just been restored. Only salads and sandwiches, dispensed from a service window to customers who sat in an outdoor dining area, were served since an on-site kitchen was not added until 1988.
The restaurant specializes in Southern regional cuisine and all dishes are made from scratch with fresh ingredients and fish and fowl that is native to the area. Everything from “down home cooking” to Cajun to traditional southern fare with a contemporary flair is offered. Two examples illustrate the diversity of menu choices at lunch. A fried green tomato sandwich with goat cheese, roasted red pepper and mixed greens on sourdough bread is one while another is chicken breast sautéed in olive oil, Marsala wine and garlic, with mushrooms, shallots and sage served over linguine. Crunchy pan fried catfish served with collard greens, grits and red-eye gravy represents a traditional southern choice.
Both the chicken breast and catfish are on the dinner menu as well, as are a tremendous choice of other dishes. Everything from a 9-oz. filet mignon to fried seafood platters to crabcakes served with vegetables, rice pilaf and beurre blanc, to Louisiana hot and spicy shrimp are just some of the items offered. The restaurant has a full bar menu with all ABC permits and is open for lunch, drinks and dinner seven days throughout the year. The restaurant and deck is available for weddings and other special events. With several private rooms and deck spaces, events from 30 to 300 can be accommodated easily and with style.
If you’re craving a USDA Prime steak, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, located in the Hilton Wilmington Riverside, serves only prime meats in all the best cuts of steak, including filet, strip, ribeye, t-bone, and a porterhouse, which is prepared for two.
Lamb, pork or veal chops and seafood, including a huge three-pound live Maine lobster, is on the extensive menu too, as is a wide choice of side dishes, including nine vegetables dishes, potatoes prepared eight ways, and seven salads. If you are really, really hungry, you’ll also find a vast assortment of appetizers, an extensive, award winning wine list, numerous beers, a full bar and delicious desserts. The comfortable lounge, with a special menu featuring several appetizers and small plates, opens at 3:00 p.m. daily with dinner beginning at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday and at 5:00 p.m. all other days.
When you’re ready for a little pick-me-up to keep you going, stop in to one of Wilmington’s favorite places. Kilwin’s Chocolates and Ice Cream, located on Market Street between Water and Front Streets, has great ice cream, which you can have in a cup, regular cone or waffle cone that is made on site.
You’ll also find creamy homemade fudge that many consider the best anywhere. Hand-dipped chocolates in all varieties also are available. Why not take some to enjoy later also?