I recommend all these places based on personal experience. Most were featured in my cookbook/travel guide, Chefs of the Coast: Restaurants and Recipes from the North Carolina Coast. (Send me a note at email address below if you would like an autographed copy. Free shipping.) I have updated the list based on openings and closings that took place since publication.
Seafoods play a prominent role in the menus, of course, but you will find opportunities for widely varied experiences and tastes. Several Italian, Mexican, or Latin themed places are listed. Get a feel for the place by checking the website.
Metropolis (metropolisobx.com) serves “globally inspired tapas and craft cocktails.” Soups are a specialty. Also consider Petite Crab Cakes, Jumbo Sea Scallops, Blackened Quail, and Blue Crab and Bowtie Pasta with Cajun Cream Sauce.
The Blue Point (thebluepoint.com) overlooks Currituck Sound, with expansive views of the water. One of the original “farm to table” restaurants on the coast, Chef Sam McGann has always focused on southern cooking. The interior is elegant, but not formal or stuffy. She Crab Soup, Cornmeal Fried Softshell Crabs, and Sweet Potato Ham Biscuits are standouts among the starters; Crab Cakes, Grilled Bone-in Pork Chop, and Seared Sea Scallops with lentils are especially appealing in the big plate section.
The Paper Canoe (papercanoeobx.com) is named after a historic exploration of the NC coast. The kitchen cooks much of the menu listings in a wood fired oven- Lemon-Herb Roasted Chicken, for example. Skillet Seared Scallops in puff pastry with risotto, and Center Cut Bacon-Wrapped Filet of beef bathed in cognac cream are other good examples.
At Red Sky Café (Red Sky Café) the wide-ranging menu features traditional dishes as well as Thai- and French-influenced creations, while studiously avoiding pretentiousness. Chef Wes Stepp is a champion body-shaping competitor; he also offers a “tastefully fit” menu for those seeking to maintain health and weight.
Rundown Café (rundowncafe.com) is named after a seafood soup that is traditional in Tortola. It’s a casual place; the rooftop deck and most interior seating allows views of the ocean. By all means, start with the Rundown Soup. Also consider Tuna Bites with ginger slaw and Peel and Eat Shrimp. Warm Noodle Bowls reflect Asian influences; Cold Noodle Bowls add Hawaiian. Fisherman’s Dinner is a classic fried platter with crisp coconut added to the shrimp. Plenty of sandwiches and other smaller dishes complete the menu.
Trio Restaurant and Market (obxtrio.com) is a unique concept- a wine and beer bar with casual, small plate food, combined with an upscale market. The card-operated wine sampling system provides one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon or early evening. Consider Jerk Shrimp Tacos, Salmon Toast, several cheese plates, Roasted Cauliflower, Crab Cake Sandwich, or Aged Gouda and Roast Beef Sandwich.
Kill Devil Hills:
Bad Bean Baja Grill (badbeanobx.com) serves Latin inspired cuisine in a casual, inexpensive setting that nevertheless focuses on fresh ingredients and scratch preparations. Consider Pork Belly Jalapeno Popper Egg Rolls, Coriander Seared Tuna, various taco and burrito preparations, as well as familiar burgers and sandwiches.
At Chilli Peppers Coastal Grill (chilli-peppers.com) you might find dishes growing out of cuisines from anywhere in the world, especially Central or Latin America. Concealed inside this casual place is one of the most creative and wide-ranging kitchen staff I have ever encountered. Chimmichurri Oysters are sautéed in an original sauce of the named ingredient. Cajun Chicken Bites are brined in pickle juice. Jalapeno peppers are stuffed with a cream cheese concoction that can be augmented with crabmeat or bacon. There’s also a steamed seafood bar. You can get a southern style seafood platter, but those main ingredients can be stir fried if you want to get adventurous. Pay particular attention to the various original pepper sauces conceived and executed in house- they’ve won multiple awards.
The Colington Café (colingtoncafe.com) occupies a picturesque Victorian house nestled near the sound. Wine pairings are of particular interest here. Scallops Rumaki- wrapped in bacon with a teriyaki ginger glaze, Coconut Shrimp, and She Crab Soup reflect the relationships the owners and chef maintain with local providers. Among the entrees, Shrimp and Scallop Napoleon is ladled with sherry cream sauce. Several pastas and multiple steak/beef dishes round out a sophisticated menu.
JK’s (jksrestaurant.com) is primarily a steakhouse concept, with plenty of seafoods to honor the coastal location. Oysters and Shrimp are fried in tobacco flour. Quail are grilled over mesquite coals. Baby Back Ribs get a dry rub. JK’s special is a mesquite grilled filet mignon with béarnaise sauce, joined by a skewer of shrimp. About seven other steaks complete the meat section of the menu.
Mako’s (makosobx.com) leans toward casual, with Grilled Wings, Spicy Tuna Bites, and Calamari prominently featured. But you can go upscale, too, as illustrated by Oysters Rockefeller, baked in a wood oven with applewood smoked bacon, or Lobster Mac’ and Cheese. Sandwiches, burgers, and Fish Tacos are popular. The Seafood Sampler can be broiled or deep fried. Crab Norfolk is treated with butter and Old Bay seasoning. Black Angus beef and wood oven pizzas complete a wide range of offerings.
Outer Banks Brewing Station (obbrewing.com) was one of the first brew pubs in North Caolina. The building is modeled after an Outer Banks lifesaving station. A windmill powers an electricity generator. Indian Curry Spinach soup accommodates vegan requirements and tastes good, too! Most of the current menu emphasizes casual dishes that are suitable for takeout as well as dine in.
Two Roads Tavern (tworoadstavern.com) is a casual restaurant-bar. The menu features salads, oysters in a variety of preparations, hand-pattied burgers, seafood entrees, and a variety of sandwiches. I have been following Chef Brad Price for years, and although I have not eaten here myself, I feel confident in my recommendation based on his work in the past at other locations.
Lost Colony Café & Brewery (lostcolonybrewery.com) is another brew pub concept, operating since the mid-1990s in downtown Manteo. Beers have earned multiple awards. Their popular Crab Dip is served with a large pretzel. Cheesy Fried are loaded with bacon. Multiple salads cater to the lighter side. Shrimp and Grits, Oyster or Shrimp Boat, and Fish and Chips earn praise, as do the Latin influenced enchiladas and quesadillas.
The ambience at Ortega’z (ortegaz.com) is like “throwing a party every night.” The atmosphere is casual, the food mostly Southwestern. Pork Nachos, Chili Rubbed Wings, and Roasted Pork Taquitos could start things off. Sample from a selection of street tacos for adventure. For more formal entrees, Grilled Seafood Trio is topped with fresh grilled pineapple. Shrimp and Chorizo Alfredo is a creamy rich pasta dish. Chicken is marinated overnight in bourbon and apples, then smoked in house.
Stripers Bar & Grille (stripersbarandgrille.com) chef-owner Alfredo Landazuri came to the Outer Banks after formal culinary training in Peru. Every seat has a view of Roanoke Sound. Although the menu includes Latin dishes, diners will find plenty of familiar choices as well, such as Crab Dip and Buffalo Shrimp, in addition to Chicken Cheese Nachos. Lobster Bisque, Cream of Crab, and Caramelized Onion are enticing soups. You can bring your own caught fish and arrange for the kitchen to cook it for you. Menu seafoods include Rockfish with house-made wasabi aioli, Shrimp and Grits, and Fried Flounder with house cut fries and homemade slaw.
Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café (lonecedarcafe.com) is a large, waterfront property that does an amazing job of maintaining quality, fresh ingredients. Seafoods come from local boats, poultry and vegetables from area farm partners. The Basnight family has a long history on the Outer Banks. Friday nights bring special menus and Sundays feature sushi. On the regular menu, Jumbo Lump She Crab Soup, Bacon Wrapped Scallops with homemade pepper jelly, and Crisp Pork Belly lead the starters. Burgers, sandwiches, and light fare are provided as well. From the main courses, Sea Scallops can be broiled or fried; Combination Platters include shrimp, scallops, and fresh catch fish; Prime Rib is slow roasted; and Chicken Breasts get a parmesan crust.
Johanna’s Café Lachine (cafelachine.com) serves sandwiches on fresh baked breads, plus homemade soups and pastries, as well as salads. If you are looking for specialty coffees, this is the place! A few samples, from the hot side of the menu: Avocado Toast with eggs, Portobello Stack on croissant with spinach; Blackened Tuna on brioche bun; and Scallop Po’Boy on garlic toasted hoagie with remoulade sauce.
Mulligan’s Raw Bar & Grille (mulligansobx.com) had been serving Carolina coastal cuisine for over 20 years. Local publications have named their burger “Best on the Beach.” The Crab Stack combines lump crabmeat with corn and avocado, plus smoked goat cheese, all stacked between two fried green tomatoes. Buffalo Shrimp come with ranch dressing. Coconut Shrimp are fried crisp, served with honey jalapeno sauce. Entrees include seafood platters, fried or boiled; Sea Scallops with caramelized onion and bacon jam; and the ever popular Mulligan’s Meat Loaf.
Sugar Creek Seafood Restaurant (sugarcreekseafood.com) overlooks the sound, providing an exceptional water view from just about any seat. Fried Green Tomatoes, Buffalo Oysters, Fried Onion Rings, and Calamari with marinara sauce lead the way. Flounder, Scallops, Shrimp, and Crab Cakes can be fried or broiled, ordered as single entrees or in various combinations. Pasta Primavera, Seafood Pasta, and Shrimp Scampi are popular. Various beef and steak dishes include Prime Rib, slow roasted. Blackened Chicken Breasts are augmented with Key Lime sour cream.
The Inn on Pamlico Sound is a rustic elegant boutique property. Café Pamlico (innonpamlicosound.com) is the restaurant, perched on a ridge that provides wide ranging views of the sound. Breakfast and dinner are served. On the evening menu, starters include Curry Mussels, flavored with Thai basil; Fried Green Tomato Stack with blackened shrimp; a vegetable Summer Risotto with balsamic reduction; and Brussels Sprouts with bacon. Duck Confit is one of the sophisticated entrees. Scallops Carbonara rest in cream sauce with bacon and sweet peas. Meatloaf blends beef and veal. Tuna is served over Thai noodles.
At the Back Porch (backporchocracoke.com), you can sit on the screened in porch or inside. Consider starting with Poke, sashimi grade tuna tossed with ginger and sesame sauce. Other options include Shrimp Empanadas with chimichurri sauce, Korean Style Pork Brisket Tacos, Crab Cakes with lemon caper sauce, and homemade Pimiento Cheese on fried crostini. Fire Grilled Steak and Vegetable Salad and Beet Salad with herbed goat cheese could serve as intermediate courses or entrees. They have a Seafood Platter, of course. But other entrees are often unique and intriguing: Bourbon Pecan Chicken, Filet Mignon with Roquefort butter and mushroom ragu, Fish Filet with Vietnamese lime sauce, or several vegetable or grain bowls.