Food Faves

BY Staff

1. Best Restaurant

Casual: South Beach Grill has it all. Lunch dinner salads sandwiches soups burgers wraps shrimp and grits South Beach crab nachos for two spice rubbed tuna … really we could list the whole menu. South Beach has been consistently terrific for years. They know how to blend old favorites with new favorites and many of the waiters have been there for as long as we can remember. Sit outside on a gorgeous day look at the boats and have a memorable meal.

Upscale: Taking a well-deserved curtain call Shawn Wellersdick and Anne Stekette husband and wife proprietors of Port Land Grille are serving the finest progressive American regional cuisine on the southeast coast right here in Lumina Station. Excellent service. Outstanding wine list. Local ingredients. Fabulous specials. Everything fresh made to order and consistently wonderful. People come from far away just to eat here so reservations recommended y’all. But you knew that.

2. Best Bang For Your Buck

Nikki’s Fresh Gourmet (either Front Street at the mall or the new location on Military Cutoff) stands out for several delicious reasons. Start with the sushi. Johnny Chen is awesome. Nikki’s gives you generous portions and doesn’t charge an arm and a leg. And if someone isn’t in the mood for sushi they can have a veggie wrap or a double bacon cheeseburger while you scarf down one of Chen’s sublime creations. Everything on the menu is reasonably priced the casual décor is funky and welcoming and the food is great.

3. Best Oysters

Pick a dock … street or side. Both Dock Street Oyster Bar and Grill and Dockside will satisfy your oyster jones and then some. Dockside imports them fries and broils them and has a Po-boy sandwich that is off the charts fantastic. Dock Street (we love the downtown version) has a killer raw bar and imports their oysters fresh daily from Louisiana. It’s a tough choice. Do both that’s our advice.

4. Best Place To Take The Family For Fried Seafood

A landmark since 1946 King Neptune Restaurant has served up more than its fair share of seafood. And though trans-fatty acids and fried foods are not as popular as they once were there are times when you’ve just got to have it. So when that time arrives head to King Neptune. Their flounder and shrimp are wonderful. Or order an outstanding plate of fried grouper with grits on the side. The Neptune does take-out the way take-out should be done so a to-go order of fried shrimp is an excellent impromptu picnic dinner by the water’s edge. But the food is just one reason we love King Neptune. While the menu offers a full slate of appealing adult entrees it also reaches out to those who are the most picky about what they eat—kids. Wrightsville Beach Elementary School’s fourth and fifth grade partnered with King Neptune to create a menu that would delight even the choosiest eaters.

5. Best Place To Take Out-Of-Town Guests

As if you didn’t already know everyone in the county (including you!) takes their out-of-town company to one of the four incredible waterfront places the area has to offer: Oceanic Bluewater Bridgetender and Dockside. It’s not like we didn’t try to narrow it down. We did. But it’s a matter of individual taste. The food is great at all of these local favorites and the views … are you kidding? … drop-your-jaw spectacular in each case. A word of advice for the ladies: bring a ponytail holder if you’re dining outside on the pier at Oceanic. Authentic salt air breeze will often be part of your perfect dining experience.

6. Best Burgers

Upscale: Brasserie du Soleil’s Brasserie Burgers are small in stature but enormous when it comes to taste. Don’t worry you get four so you won’t leave hungry. Choose between Roquefort and Gruyere cheeses to top your fine quality Angus chuck burgers or have both. Who’s looking? Round out your meal with crispy pommes frites. C’est si bon.

Casual: Maybe there’s something in the water. We’re not sure. But the guys at Two Guys Grille are really creating something special every time they serve one of their hand-formed old-fashioned burgers. If you want variety in a burger they’ve got you covered like a sesame seed bun. Some of your choices include six different cheeses chili bacon slaw and more. And once again the perfect complement to a burger is fries so Two Guys gives you the choice of their now legendary sweet potato skinny or fat fries.

7. Best Dessert

Brasserie du Soleil is doing something outrageously cool for those of us who want something sweet to end the meal but can’t eat a full-size dessert. Twelve delicious desserts – including Crème Brulee Espresso Mousse Boston Cream Pie Strawberry Shortcake and Pot de Crème — are served in 3 ounce shot glasses for $2.50 each. Order one or try a few. It’s incredibly fun awfully smart and truly delicious! But … and it’s a big but … when nothing but chocolate cake will do Chelsea’s that swell wine bar on the corner of Front and Market serves a chocolate raspberry ganache-glazed torte made by LuLu that will melt your brain. Everyone thinks they make the best chocolate cake but LuLu really does. You can find it only at Chelsea’s downtown and it’s worth the trip.

8. Best New Restaurant

Max’s Prime Steakhouse in Lumina Station is hands down our new favorite place. We could tell you it’s an easy rival to Ruth’s Chris or Don Shula’s but instead we’ll tell you a little story to prove our point. We took a friend of ours visiting from Kansas City (the steak capital of the solar system) to Max’s because they were in the mood for steak. We ordered the grilled romaine salad the au gratin potatoes and the asparagus and sautéed spinach which like all the sides at Max’s are excellent and meant to share. Then we ordered the 14-ounce prime petite rib-eye and Kansas City ordered the 20-ounce Kansas City strip. Our Midwest visitor flipped for Max’s totally flipped as in “Toto I think we’re back in Kansas.” You’ll flip too.

9. Best Place To Go Salty and Sandy

Sometimes you’re at the beach all salty and sandy and your stomach connects to your brain and shouts “Fish taco now!” On those occasions — and really it’s probably every day all summer — we here at WBM mosey on down to Tower 7. In our humble opinion these are the only fish tacos on the planet and salty sandy folks are always welcome there.

10. “Most Missed” Snack

Whatever happened to the Honey Bars at Lovey’s? Remember? The ones individually wrapped and found in the refrigerator? Refrigeration was necessary because on a hot day they would soften up and get gooey—but it was a delicious sticky honey-like gooeyness that kept you licking your fingers so you wouldn’t waste any. They had a buttery shortbread crust topped with a pale gold honey filling of fudge-like consistency filled with lots and lots of walnuts and extreme honey flavor. Maybe if we ask them … really really nicely … they’ll bring them back and everyone will be happy again. Pretty-please?

11. Best Food To Take To The Beach

This is a complete no-brainer. A dog from the Trolley Stop and a shake from Kohl’s. There’s no way we can narrow down which dog or what flavor shake and the truth is it doesn’t matter. The words best-thing-you’ve-ever-tasted-at-the-beach will cross your mind no matter what you order. These are both local classics packed at lunch and busy all day. There’s a world of difference between an ice cream shake and a custard shake. Kohl’s custard shakes rule the universe.

12. Best Local Flavor

Jerry’s has been one of the coolest restaurants in town since it opened in December 1993 and began serving their ultra-fresh menu of continental cuisine with a spotlight on local seafood. For the last eight years Chef Jason Godwin has been preparing unique nightly specials to complement the menu and there are regular customers who simply say “Let Jason do his thing.” In fact it’s the roomful of regular customers that help define Jerry’s local flavor. Many nights it’s like a who’s who in the dining room. Like us most of them would be hard-pressed to choose a single favorite meal but the bacon-wrapped scallops will drop your jaw.

13. Best Sandwich (and Wrap)

It’s a tricky business this best sandwich category. Extremely hard to choose. We literally had to eat sandwiches at fun restaurants all over town on a continual basis lunch after lunch after lunch until we were finally able to narrow it down to Two Guys Grille grilled cheese. Their three cheese creation is a dream-on-bread. Three delicious cheeses (cheddar swiss and provolone) and a heaping load of bacon and tomato on toasty sourdough combine for a grown-up grilled cheese that hasn’t lost any of its fun. Finish your meal off with fat skinny or sweet potato fries for a taste sensation you’ll want to return to again and again. We’ll see you there tomorrow unless you have a craving for a wrap.

In that case (and isn’t that the case as often as not?) we’ll hold a table for you on the patio at South Beach Grill where we’d strongly advise you to order The Neptune Wrap a dazzlingly delicious combination of grilled chicken fresh spinach artichoke hearts fire-roasted red bell peppers feta cheese and basil pesto. You’re starving now aren’t you? Sorry about that.

14. Best place to be seen

People of all ages want to be seen but not necessarily at the same places so this year we offer our award to a variety of cool places for a variety of crowds.

20s: Jerry Allen’s beckons Wrightsville Beach residents for many reasons – good food good drinks and good sports. Surfers and young professionals alike drop in to the sports bar for the $3 menu on Monday Wednesday Friday and Sunday when the menu is offered at a happily affordable reduced rate. Late at night it becomes a place of revelry but is still small enough to snag a table and chat with friends.

30s: YoSake in Downtown Wilmington has emerged as the new local hot spot for 30-somethings with its unique Tokyo-inpired interior and great pan-Asian fair. The food will get you in the door. The atmosphere will keep you there!

40s: Savannah’s Oak Room — The Oak Room Bar is a great getaway all year-round. Tuesday and Thursday nights are especially electric but every night the Oak Room offers excellent specials and appetizers as well as their complete menu. Sports play on the large screen TVs and the feel is upscale but not stuffy.

50s: Boca Bay — Generally speaking the 50-somethings are looking for a bit of sophistication to accompany their beverage of choice. Boca Bay has sophistication to spare starting with their drive-up valet parking and continuing on through their lively atmosphere handsome decor and terrific menu including Tapas and sushi. On Thursday nights there’s live jazz in the lounge and starting in June there’s live music on the patio on Sunday nights as well.

15. Best Good Food Fast

All of us from time to time have the need for speed where food is concerned—who wants to go hungry because there isn’t a restaurant with a wait as short as your lunch hour? Not you right? Not us either. Instead of pounding down a microscopic microwave meal or a dinky cereal bar try David’s Deli where you’ll not only have time for a tasty lunch but time left over to chat with the familiar faces you’ll undoubtedly see at this longtime local favorite. Just remember that you still have to go back to work!

16. Best Place to be on Friday Afternoon

A beach town always seems to have an “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” attitude and nowhere is that more apparent than at Dockside on a sunny Friday afternoon.

17. Best Tres Chic

The swank and modish Zooi Euro Bistro in The Forum is the hippest place in town a contemporary European bistro with a blend of tastefully done cuisines from France Italy Spain Belgium Austria Germany and the Mediterranean. There’s a sleek main dining room an ultra-cool sofa bar and a romantic patio. With unique architecture modern food and an upscale design Zooi Euro Bistro is the new place to vogue.

18. Best Ice Cream

Boombalatti’s. No question. With other ice cream joints charging nearly $5 a pop it’s nice to walk out with both ice cream and change in hand. Boombalatti’s homemade shop features the most unique flavors in town — changing just about daily — from Banana with toasted coconut to Funfetti and Peppermint Stick. They even have a wildly popular (and unbelievably delicious) sampler for those of us who can’t make up our minds. Plus they use all natural ingredients and make the stuff right there in the store! Check them out in their new digs at the Forum. Here’s a warning though: Prepare to be addicted.

19. Best seafood with flair

Savannah’s of Wrightsville Beach is our current king. Located in The Landing on Wrightsville Beach the menu features Crab Stuffed Salmon Pan Seared Grouper Shrimp Scampi Flounder with Backfin Crabmeat and their renowned Pawley’s Platter which offers a choice of three delicious lightly breaded and fried dishes including flounder shrimp oysters or scallops. Add their fabulous nightly chef specials and you’ll find out fast what all the fuss is about.

20. Best Wings

Some restaurants are based entirely around wings and they do a great job smothering them in a menagerie of hot sweet and spicy sauces. No complaints on our end. But quietly tucked into a side street at Mayfaire Community Center lies Anntony’s Caribbean Café and some of the best wings we’ve ever eaten. Anntony’s uses a top-secret unique blend of Caribbean herbs and spices to bring out an unexpected flavor that’s not so wild but definitely the best.

21. Best Ethnic

Indochine hands down. Beautiful Asian décor excellent attentive service out-of-this-world Thai and Vietmanese food. Wherever you live it’s worth the drive. They’ve got a big parking lot outside and arguably the best ethnic food in all of the Cape Fear region inside. Hint: Start off in the garden out back for the full experience.

Gotta-have-it dish? The Pad Thai. It’s available with tofu pork chicken beef or squid too. How good is it? Drop whatever you’re doing and get some that’s how good.

22. Best Brunch

Artisan Market and Café serves a brilliant brunch on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  It’s a can’t-go-wrong menu with specialties like “Crunchy” French Toast made with challah egg bread Classic Eggs Benedict Shrimp and Grits and for that spicy someone at your table the Black Bean Breakfast Burrito. Always available are the Omelet of the Day Blueberry pancakes and great sides. And coffee lovers rejoice! Artisan brews locally roasted Kaldi Gourmet Coffee Roasters beans some of the freshest beans around. Artisan’s got great sandwiches too but don’t worry if you can’t decide between brunch and lunch you can order either between 11 and 2.

23. Best coffee and morning paper place

This one’s easy. Café-Del-Mar. We can’t think of a place that better epitomizes the live-to-surf surf-to-live lifestyle Wrightsville Beach offers. Known as “Ace’s place” to the locals Café-Del-Mar opens early on summer mornings for the sunrise surfers and has the perfect breakfast for those on the go. Don’t think it’s only a stop-in sort of place though. They have wireless Internet and sofas looking out at the downtown area too. From the fresh house brew to the muffins and mocha shakes you can’t go wrong here.

24. Best Restaurant Redux

What was formerly Fish House Grill has been beautifully redone as Airlie Seafood Company and everybody including us is ecstatic. The new décor makes for a more casually sophisticated atmosphere while still incorporating some of the old Fish House charm. The menu is primarily comprised of fresh seafood prepared daily and the modern menu offers an abundant variety of different sauces and flavors that will make your mouth sing.

25. Best Pimento Cheese (hey plenty of people love pimento cheese!)

For those who do it’s a sure bet you’ve discovered the fluffy creamy spread that NOFO is famous for either on a sandwich or in a take-home container. NOFO’s pimento spread is what’s the word perfect. A rising contender though is the take-home jalapeño pimento spread at the newly opened Fresh Market. Try both. Decide for yourself.

26. Best Food Downtown Period

Sometimes after a romantic walk along the Cape Fear River only a very special meal will do. That’s when to eat at Deluxe. It’s a beautiful restaurant with a modern American menu and the food is off the charts spectacular. But it ain’t cheap y’all. Deluxe is pricey. Worth the dough though for when it has to be nothing short of an amazing dining experience.

27. Best Sushi

Sushi’s big and getting bigger every day. We tried to choose and we can’t. We give up. Bento Box in the Forum is amazing with sushi creations you won’t find anywhere else. We are also wild about Johnny Chen’s sushi from Nikki’s on Military Cutoff. YoSake downtown (Nikki’s too) are both first class. So is Genki. You can’t go wrong around here. Pick up your chopsticks warm up your wasabe and dig in.

28. Best Business Lunch

While there are several spots to take that important prospect or customer there is very little argument as to where to meet for the best business lunch. First choice among savvy movers and shakers is Port City Chop House. The atmosphere is extremely conducive to a successful lunch (as in where’s that contract I’ll sign it now) and the food or service never disappoints.

29. When It’s Really Late And Only Pizza Will Do

You have no choice but to cross the bridge and order a slice at Vito’s Pizzeria on Wrightsville Beach. If you’re already at the beach ride your bike walk or crawl if you have to because Vito’s has great pizza calzones and salads and is open until … drum roll please … 3 a.m.! As they say at Vito’s they can put just about anything on a pizza.

30. Best Board Specials

Okay we could give Sweet and Savory 30 Food Fave awards all by themselves but instead we’ll just tell you that you get fabulous food at a fair price in a casually cool atmosphere and the board specials change every day. And you know what? They’re always great.