Thanks to the bountiful sea and many bays and rivers, along with farm-to-table vegetables and more, many restaurants along the North Carolina coast feature food that’s true to its environs – from steaming-hot hush puppies to just-steamed blue crabs to fresh fish caught that morning.
Here are some tasty picks starting on the Outer Banks and heading down the coast to Calabash.
1 Owens’ Restaurant
1 Owens’ RestaurantNags HeadSee on map
Originally opened in 1946, Owens’ is literally a slice of Outer Banks history. The Hatteras-style clam chowder makes for a great appetizer, while entrees include Carolina Bouillabaisse, Seafood Outer Banks and Miss O’s Crab Cakes. After homemade dessert, history buffs will enjoy the collection of local maritime artifacts.
Tasty alternative in Nags Head: Basnight’s Lone Cedar Cafe.
2 Howard’s Pub & Raw Bar
2 Howard’s Pub & Raw BarOcracokeSee on map
The Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry takes visitors to Ocracoke Island. Discover Howard’s Pub & Raw Bar Restaurant, which features a rooftop deck with rocking chairs and wide views of the island. In addition to the large menu of fresh local seafood, enjoy made-to-order burgers and steaks, a drink menu with nearly 200 beers and live music. The restaurant is open from mid-March to late fall.
Tasty alternative in Ocracoke: Back Porch Restaurant.
3 PersimmonsNew BernSee on map
Start off your al fresco dinner with tequila shrimp, cornmeal-fried calamari or charred octopus salad. Entrees include casual comforts such as crab cakes, fish tacos or a shrimp roll, or elevate your choice and go for salmon and grits or seared tuna. The stunning Neuse River views and specialty cocktails complete the entire experience.
4 Front Street Grill at Stillwater
4 Front Street Grill at StillwaterBeaufortSee on map
Sporting coastal food with Southern soul in a renovated Topsail marine boathouse, Front Street Grill at Stillwater is perfect for a casual night out. Grab a Painkiller from the Rhum Bar – dark rum, orange juice, pineapple, cream of coconut and fresh nutmeg – and grab a seat on the soft cushions on the lower deck while you watch the boats come in from the lookout.
5 Sears Landing
5 Sears LandingSurf CitySee on map
Find a seemingly endless list of seafood options at this relaxed waterfront spot: coconut cream crab soup, West Indies seafood rolls, blue crab fritters, wild caught mahi mahi, scallops, shrimp or oyster po’boys, grilled yellowfish tuna – you get the idea. If you happen to be enjoying the Intracoastal Waterway by boat, dock up here for a fresh breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Tasty alternative in Surf City: Topsail Steamer.
6 CatchWilmingtonSee on map
Down on the Cape Fear Coast, Wilmington and its nearby beaches beckon with several top restaurants serving up the local catch. Catch serves up modern seafood cuisine just outside historic downtown and features the fresh seafood creations of Top Chef contestant and James Beard nominee Keith Rhodes.
7 OceanicWrightsville BeachSee on map
Wrightsville Beach’s Oceanic at the Crystal Pier has a seafood-dominated menu, outdoor dining and expansive ocean views. In fact, this beachfront restaurant is the only restaurant in Wrightsville Beach that’s situated on the Atlantic Ocean – talk about dinner and a show.
8 Provision Company
8 Provision CompanySouthportSee on map
Those arriving in Southport by land or sea head straight to Provision Company. This waterfront favorite usually has a line before ordering at the counter and grabbing self-service drinks while awaiting freshly prepared fare. Provision Co. favorites include seafood chowder, steamed shrimp, crab cakes and a great grouper salad sandwich.
9 Captain Nance's Seafood Restaurant
9 Captain Nance's Seafood RestaurantCalabashSee on map
On North Carolina’s southeastern coast is Calabash, the picturesque fishing village that calls itself the “Seafood Capital of the World.” And of all the restaurants you'll find here, Captain Nance's is particularly beloved. Order the seafood platter – or the Taste of Calabash – for a true introduction to this special style of seafood: lightly breaded, fried to perfection and typically served with hush puppies.