From the freshest possible seafood to donuts straight out of the boiling oil, Carolina Beach, North Carolina, offers a vast array of culinary options for locals and visitors to this strip of land known as Pleasure Island. A few have become traditions, while others are gleaming and new. One is in a former Presbyterian church, and another is in a renovated residence built in 1916. All are waiting to be enjoyed.
Jack Mackerel's Island Grill is hugely popular with locals and visitors
Jack Mackerel’s Island Grill is technically on Kure Beach, but locals barely know where one beach ends and another begins. With an island decor and a menu full of fresh grilled steaks and seafood, hungry diners flock to Jack Mackerel’s seven days a week from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Calabash platters are wildly popular in which diners may choose two or more types of seafood and either broiled or fried. The platters also come with French fries and slaw. Smaller calabash platters are offered at lunch time that are less expensive. The combination of scallops and oysters was exceptional.
As with all of the eateries on Carolina Beach, biodegradable straws are available by request only.
Stoked overlooks the water
Stoked has had a shiny new makeover and is located perfectly to take advantage of inland water views. Seating is available indoors or outdoors, and Stoked is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner and brunch on Sundays. The appetizers are delicious, such as steak quesadillas and deviled eggs, and make a great light lunch. Raw oysters and jumbo shrimp are just the right preludes for the steaks, chops, chicken and fish entrees, but bring a group of friends and help yourself to the shellfish combo tower. It is a sight to behold. The build-your-own salad is also a popular choice.
Michael's Seafood Restaurant for award-winning upscale dining
Michael’s has been open since 1998 and is an extremely popular choice for lunch or dinner seven days a week. The preparations at Michael’s appeal to those making healthy choices with plenty of steamed, grilled and oven roasted options served with risotto and a fresh vegetable of the day. You’ll be glad if you start your meal with a cup or bowl of their award-winning chowder. Flatbreads and pasta dishes are also featured on the menu, and green mussels might capture your imagination, along with blue fin crab dip and sashimi tuna.
Fishy Fishy Cafe is worth the ferry ride to Southport
If you are a fan of Nicholas Sparks novels, then Carolina Beach and a ferry ride to Southport need to be on your must-do list. Fishy Fishy Cafe was in the middle of the action when “Safe Haven” was filmed nearby. Once you eat there, you’ll understand why members of the cast and crew found their way to the same tables where you’re sitting. Stop by the Visitors Center and pick up a map of all the filming locations in this charming seaside community.
If the weather permits, you will certainly want to sit outside to soak up the atmosphere of boats coming and going and the sound of shore birds. Seafood is the natural highlight of the menu at Fishy Fishy Cafe, but you will also find chicken, burgers and salads. The soft shell crab sandwich seems to fit the vibe of the place particularly well.
Havana's feels like home
Havana’s will have you feeling like you’re walking into someone’s home for dinner, because it was, in fact, first built as a home in 1916. The interesting architectural features of the time period along with the beautiful food presentations will contribute to a visually and gastronomically pleasing experience. Open seven days a week for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, you’ll find seafood, steak, chicken, pork, pasta and duck entrees, and be sure to save room for the Hot Rum Bananas Foster for Two. That dessert would make any meal a special occasion.
The grounds surrounding Havana’s are lovely and are a great place to enjoy the live music provided every Wednesday and Sunday.
Elijah's is near great shops in Wilmington
Wilmington, North Carolina, a short drive across the bridge from Carolina Beach, is full of historic homes, attractive shops, a riverwalk beside the Cafe Fear River, and, of course, great food. You will likely want to spend a few hours exploring it while you are staying in Carolina Beach.
Elijah’s has a view of the river and is near many important attractions of Wilmington. The property where the restaurant sits once belonged to Colonel F. W. Kerchner, who encountered both John Brown and Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. Before Elijah’s opened as a restaurant, the building was a maritime museum and many artifacts have been incorporated into the decor.
Elijah’s provides fine dining in a casual setting. As with many of the restaurants in such close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, seafood is the star of the menu, but those who don’t enjoy seafood can find plenty of tasty choices as well. From personal experience, I can say that the fish tacos are a delightful choice at lunch time.
The Deck House has divine cuisine in a former church
Formerly the Carolina Beach Presbyterian Church, the Deck House retained its familiar exterior, openness inside and high ceilings. The seafood selections are the typical ones you expect in the area with a few surprises, such as lobster, crab legs, flounder, grouper and calamari. Baby back ribs are a welcome sight to many, as are the hand cut steaks, filet mignon and the angus burger. I ordered the scallops platter with garlic mashed potatoes and loved every bite.
The Deck House is open for dinner every night except Monday.
Kate's Pancake House does breakfast very well
Kate’s Pancake House is open seven days a week from 6:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Although there are several dozen sandwich and salad choices on the menu that are served from 11:00 a.m., Kate’s is primarily a breakfast place. There are more than 15 varieties of pancakes from which to choose, along with expected breakfast items found in the South, such as eggs, biscuits, bacon and sausage. The selections of omelets, waffles and French toast are also impressive.
Because of Kate’s extreme popularity, you can expect to wait for a table to become available, but once you’re seated, the service is friendly and attentive. As an added bonus, the prices are reasonable.
Britt's Donuts for a must-try treat
The donuts at Britt’s on the Boardwalk in Carolina Beach are sweet, seasonal traditions and treats that have become synonymous with a trip to this part of Pleasure Island. Hungry donut lovers line up at the counter early, and the donuts come out of the grease hot and fresh. There’s only one variety on the menu – glazed, so don’t look for chocolate, sprinkled or jelly in the middle. Just tell the person at the counter how many you want and wait until your hot sugary treats are ready. They offer soft drinks, milk and coffee, but that’s it. Just donuts. But, not just ANY donuts. These are award-winning donuts.
Go in the summertime. Britt’s is only open in the high season.
Eating enhances a stay on Carolina Beach
Playing in the waves, sunbathing, shopping and learning about marine life in the area are all part of the normal activities on Carolina Beach, but eating great food is essential for a full experience. Fresh seafood is available and abundant, but other dishes are also ready for those who prefer steak, chicken, salads and Southern comfort foods. These nine suggestions are probably the most popular, but you are certain to discover others during your visit to this beautiful stretch of sand between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cafe Fear River.
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