Our first trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks featured four travel writers with a long weekend to gather, explore, share information, and enjoy each other’s company. We wrote, joked, laughed and ate. Gosh, did we eat! Here are the best restaurants we’ve had the privilege of dining in in the Outer Banks.
1. Kill Devil Grill
Kill the Devil Hills
Recommended by a husband from Texas on our rainy hang-gliding attempt, there was a brief wait to be seated in this historic wagon-turned-restaurant and grill, The Kill Devil grill. Sit on the bar stools in the refurbished wagon or wait for a red vinyl seat booth and hope you’re lucky enough to have our server, Adele.
She sliced up the daily specials like the true professional she is. A tasting: the grilled mahi served on grits of cheese and topped with grilled local asparagus; the fried flounder sandwich with lettuce, tomato and homemade tartare; giant fries served with soft shell crab sandwiches; a green chili pork burrito with pineapple rice and avocado; and the special salad of the day, the Kitchen Sink Seazar, which looks like a traditional Caesar but with tomatoes, pine nuts, grilled and chilled chicken and penne pasta.
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The salmon salad had been so enjoyed by our cohort that two of us ordered it, one ordered the fried flounder sandwich and the other the southern fried chicken salad. Our salmon was the size of a serving plank and the salad was sprinkled with cucumbers, sweet corn, grape tomatoes and tossed in a basil and citrus vinaigrette (we both had the goat cheese).
Southern fried chicken kicked it up a notch with corn, bacon, potato sticks and a buttermilk garlic dressing that was so wonderful I thought I made a mistake with my choice of salmon. And then we each tried a bite of the fried flounder sandwich…
“It’s really unbelievable.”
“It tastes like chicken fingers.”
And, “I would come back for that.” We were still talking about that flounder a few hours later.
We were shocked to realize that we might still have room for dessert. It didn’t take much for Adele to tell us about it. She recites them as easily as the daily specials.
“The apple crisp served warm with vanilla ice cream, the pecan and chocolate chip pie served with whipped cream (made fresh, not too sweet), [the] strawberry shortcake or the best key lime pie you have ever tasted.
For the Strawberry Shortcake, the shortcake is a light double layer around strawberry juices and jam, topped with light whipped cream and a mint leaf. Sold! We ordered two strawberry shortcakes, a key lime pie to go (ate that night, though) and a warm apple crisp served with this ice cream in the middle. I was just uncomfortable when we left, already looking forward to a return visit.
2. Trio Restaurant & Market
Recommended by the tourist office, Trio is a great place to start your dining experiences along the Outer Banks. On the west side of the barrier islands, there is a restaurant, liquor store, and gift shop (get your painted wine glasses here). If you find yourself hungry after your flight into the region and your subsequent drive from Norfolk, your taste buds will treasure the experience.
While Trio offers soups, salads, small plates, and charcuterie, our hearty appetites were ready for handhelds and desserts. An intrepid traveler chose the delicious macaroni and cheese, served on a slate, as well as smoked garlic shrimp (with just the right amount of spice) with a delicious hot baguette.
As usual, I started with dessert first. The pistachio ice cream was obviously fresh – it’s not green and had pistachio skin.
Two of us chose the French dip, one with fresh fries, the other with salad. We both removed the mayonnaise and caramelized onions – it was just better (for us) without it. Another one of us had the crab cake sandwich. Even 4 hours later, “Mmm, that was delicious.”
The coconut cream pie, made from scratch, delicately balanced with flavorful coconut blended so well that it didn’t need the cream delicately perched on the side of the slate.
Specialty drinks include the most Instagram-friendly Lavender Earl Gray tea with the loose-leaf infuser, primarily for the vapor produced for an extended period of time.
Lavender was the flavor of the day, as the sparkling lemon lavender blueberry was pleasing to the sight, smell and taste. Abita Root Beer benefits from the use of Louisiana sugar cane (rather than high fructose corn syrup).
3. Sal’s New York Pizza
Kill the Devil Hills
Recommended by Michael, our hang gliding instructor from Kitty Hawk Kites, we knew Sal’s New York Pizza was a locals favorite hole in the wall from the moment we walked through the door. With just six tables and double the number of bar stools, this bar and restaurant offered a surprising number of dishes, from real New York-style pizza to a bowl of do-it-yourself pasta.
The “bar pizza” changed daily, with real Hawaiian pineapple available during our stay. Custom made without cheese, the crust was so thin that one writer could finish a 14-inch pie without difficulty.
Other favorites included the eggplant parmesan – a massive slice that filled the plate – and the make-your-own pasta with penne noodles, marinara sauce and your choice of meats.
The owner greeted us as newcomers, not realizing we were travel writers. Turns out there’s no “Sal” there – they bought the joint with the name attached – but they really are from New York. Poughkeepsie, to be exact, and my competitors in high school sports competitions. Small world.
4. Avenue Grid and Merchandise
Along the seafront, the avenue grid offers a great selection of healthy items which we enjoyed immensely. Starting with the edamame hummus platter, filled with bell peppers, carrots, radishes and cucumbers, it was hands down the most delicious dish of the day.
Our favorite drink here was the lavender lemonade, with a nod to the restaurant’s eco-consciousness for not offering straws with every drink. The boneless fried chicken with salad was delicious.
The Grille Burger was really juicy, especially with a bonus piece of bacon.
The maple pecan fried chicken breast was huge – “like a really big chicken!” — and deserving of a box to take away long before it’s time to go.
The catch of the day fish tacos were a taco, which I was unfamiliar with, but they were offered grilled, blackened or fried and were very tasty. They were served with their coleslaw and a choice of three condiments on corn tortillas to keep you going on a gluten-free day.
5. At Sam & Omie
The locals loved it At Sam & Omie for breakfast so much since 1937 that there is often a 45 minute to hour wait. Their specialty is their “Omie-lette”, and one member of our group enjoyed their sausage, onion and cheese Omie-lette. Another had traditional buttermilk pancakes and bacon. A third enjoyed the egg breakfast with hash browns. It was my turn for an upside down day, as I had an order of hash browns with the chocolate peanut butter pie. Served with chocolate syrup and whipped cream, it’s a sweet way to start the day.
6. Orange Blossom Bakery and Coffee
Buxton, Hatteras Island
Our recommended riding instructor Orange Blossom as the place to be on Hatteras Island. Home of the “Apple Uglies”, this local bakery makes apple and mango “Uglies”, donuts, pastries, bread, croissants, cookies, bacon, sausages, salsa and eggs .
The Apple Ugly is like a giant cinnamon roll with an apple pie-like center. It’s high in cinnamon and super sweet, so hot coffee is a good leaf… taste it before adding sugar to your coffee! We entered behind a long line of women ordering two to seven Apple Uglies at a time. We ordered two, two fried pies (one apple, one cherry), juice and coffee.
7. Diamond Shoals Restaurant
Buxton, Hatteras Island
Recommended by the tourist office, Diamond Banks Restaurant was the perfect stop for a great meal after horseback riding and the lighthouse tour. Large portions and prompt service (ask for Suzy!) help big appetites. Yet they’re so popular that they’ll run out of several favorite meals, or the daily intake, early in the day. This was the case for us when we asked for the crispy rice wrapped prawns. We enjoyed the homemade hush puppies, not as spicy as usual, and a bit more breaded, we disagreed on whether they were sweeter or less sweet than usual. Delicious.
I chose the tacos from the catch of the day, made with grouper. The fish was an inch wide and as long as the tortilla it was served in. The accompanying salsa and lettuce added a nice crunchy texture. The grouper sandwich with fries surprised me – groupers are light, white fish.
The mahi wrap with fries was delicious and filling.
The mahi with regular fries and mango salsa was refreshing. They originally came with sweet potato waffle fries that tasted like they had been dipped in cinnamon sugar but happily opted for their regular fries for the member of my party who didn’t need of all this sweetness.
That said, there’s a lot more to do in the Outer Banks than eat. The 200-mile stretch of barrier islands is dotted with unique towns and landmarks. Here is more for your OBX stay: