Copper Penny is a Wilmington institution that was deemed worthy enough of being featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. This restaurant does pub grub extremely well along with a superb selection of craft beers. The breaded wings are insanely good, as are their blended short rib burgers, and now famous Hot Roasted Pork and 109 Chestnut Chicken sandwiches (what Fieri ate). The servers and bartenders are extremely pleasant and the service is excellent. If there weren’t already enough reasons to love the Copper Penny the restaurant participates in “Giveback Tuesday” where a portion of the sales from the “109 Chestnut” go to a worthy local organization.
Local tip: Copper Penny is consistently busy with seemingly no slow times. If you’re in downtown Wilmington head to Chestnut Street and put your name on the list before you get hangry in an hour.
Photo Courtesy of Copper Penny's Facebook Page
Remember the scene in Pulp Fiction when John Travolta is shocked that a milkshake costs $5? Well the 90’s are a distant memory and a milkshake at Kilwins costs a whopping….. $8. That said, it is quite possibly the finest milkshake known to humanity, and it should be. Kilwins specialize in fudge, chocolate covered treats, candied apples and homemade ice cream. The waffle cones are heavenly and are made fresh in house daily. Like Sirens on the rocks, passers by have no defense against the intoxicating aromas that lure them into Kilwins. Before you know it you’re $40 in and later sobbing yourself to sleep as you have just consumed the last of your stash that you promised would last at least a week.
Britt’s Donuts (Est. 1939)
Britt’s Donuts continues to sell the best donuts in town and quite possibly the entire state of North Carolina .As the saying goes,“so good you’d slap your granny for one”. When you’re the best you don’t have to yield or compromise in any way. Britt’s takes only cash, sells nothing other than one variety of donut (plain, glazed) and is only open full time from May-Sep. This Carolina Beach institution is so popular that opening and closing dates for the forthcoming season are published in the local newspaper.
Local tip: There are sometimes empty stools at the counter where you can order and avoid long lines at the register.
Cast Iron Kitchen
This restaurant is Southern and proud of it. Located in Porters Neck, Cast Iron Kitchen filled a much needed void in bringing a high quality breakfast and lunch spot to the area. Over 75% of their ingredients are sourced locally from farmers and growers in NC. Rustic decor, superb service and Chef John Petty’s contemporary take on Southern classics have proven to be a huge success for Cast Iron Kitchen. So much so that the restaurant was showcased on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives Food Network Show. The show featured the “Dirty South Biscuit” a delicious yet heart stopping concoction of chicken, sausage gravy, runny egg and muenster cheese on a light and fluffy buttermilk biscuit.
Local tip: This place gets packed especially on weekends. Call ahead seating is offered, which you will want to take advantage of to avoid a 45 minute wait. Should you get there early the bloody marys are outstanding and there are several benches outside the restaurant on which to wait.
Genki Sushi doesn’t look like much tucked away in an unassuming small strip mall near Target. First impressions can be deceiving however and Genki is in fact Wilmington’s most popular, authentic and finest sushi restaurant. Such is the commitment to excellence here that Chef Ke makes his own soy sauce, miso soup, sake and perhaps the most delicious caramel candies you’ll taste (they hand these out as a post meal treat). It is rare to average a 5 star rating over the course of almost 500 reviews on TripAdvisor but that is exactly how well regarded Genki Sushi is.
Local tip: The restaurant isn’t quite Jiro Dreams of Sushi small but it is small nevertheless. Make a reservation but don’t be more than 15 minutes late or you’ll be heading to the premade sushi section at Harris Teeter instead.
Photo courtesy of Genki's Facebook Page
A pleasant antidote to other indulgences on this list, Lovey’s Natural Foods and Cafe is the most “organic” place to eat in Wilmington and where people go to feel good about themselves. Lovey’s is a health food store near Wrightsville Beach with a small cafe in the back. This is where you’re going to find smoothies, gluten and vegetarian options, salads, wraps, shots of wheatgrass and activewear loving patrons. Lovey’s offers a la carte dining options along with a salad bar, soups and Wilmington’s only healthy warm buffet (which is actually quite good). They boast an extensive health food selection and sell a wide variety of fair trade and thoughtfully curated items.
Happy Hour Menu at Yosake
Yosake is a pan-Asian restaurant located downtown on the 2nd floor of the Roudabush building in downtown Wilmington, NC. You will find cool anime decor, exposed brick walls and great sushi at this popular spot. Happy Hour is from 5-7 Mon-Thur and 10-12 Fri-Sat. The menu features a wide variety of low priced options including firecracker shrimp, seaweed salad, soups, spring rolls and of course sushi. They also offer outstanding drink specials, curries, poke bowls and a full deluxe roll menu. The service is friendly and efficient and you will be hard pressed to find better value for money dining during the week.
Winnie’s Tavern Est.1957
Ask 10 people in Wilmington who makes the best burger in town and at least 5 will say Winnie’s Tavern. Tucked away by the port, I discovered Winnie’s about 10 years ago when i found myself feeling a little worse for wear on a Saturday. An online search for “best burgers in Wilmington” led me to Winnie’s and my life has been better since. Winnie’s still has a dive bar feel even though it was “renovated” a few years ago. It’s a small, modest restaurant with a cheery atmosphere and outstanding junk food. You have to enjoy a restaurant where a burger costs less than $10 and whose offerings include “The Trailer Park Burger” (Cajun fried green tomatoes, jalapeno pimento cheese, bacon).
Local tip: Go there often.
Taste of Italy
This unassuming Italian deli has been in business for almost 30 years. The Guarano brothers left NY with the goal of opening a restaurant on the coast and to bring their family’s original recipes with them. Taste of Italy offers delicious and reasonably priced daily specials: chicken parm, lasagne, stuffed shells and their sandwiches come with more than generous amounts of meat and toppings. The bread (from Apple Annie’s Bakery) is delightful as are the cookies and homemade desserts. They also have a decent wine selection, imported cheeses and treats from the old country like dry sausage, baccala and high quality olive oils.
Although far from a secret, Indochine consistently bangs out some of the best Thai and Indonesian food in town. Indochine regularly ranks in the top 20 restaurants in Wilmington and has won the local Encore award for best Asian restaurant 15 years in a row. In warmer months they have an outdoor area where you can enjoy the koi pond and dine in one of their unique Thai huts. The portions are plentiful (often large enough to share), the atmosphere is super, prices are reasonable and Indochine is always busy. Highlights of the menu include Tom Kha Gai, Roasted Duck with Red Curry and Mahi Mahi with Asian Fruit Salad. There are plentiful vegetarian entree options available too including Yellow Aubergine Curry and Bun Tau Xau Rau (glass noodles stir fried with vegetables, garlic and soy sauce).
Local tip: They only take reservations for parties of 8 or more so be prepared to wait for a table. They have a decent bar area where you can have a pre dinner drink while you wait.
Photo courtesy of Indochine's Facebook Page