Where To Eat & Drink In The Outer BanksFrom sleek new breweries in Kill Devil Hills to casual Caribbean spots in Nags Head, these are the best restaurants, cafes, and bars on North Carolina’s barrier islands.
The Outer Banks are best known for their pristine sand beaches and for being the site of the Wright brothers’ first flight, but there are also excellent restaurants along these sandbar islands off the coast of North Carolina. No matter where your trip takes you, get ready for a lot of excellent seafood and Southern cooking—whether it be a plate of shrimp and grits or a breakfast of biscuits slathered with spicy gravy. Whatever brings you to the Outer Banks, these are our favorite places to eat and drink, from classic seafood joints along the water to newer breweries and barbecue trucks.
Lighthouse Bagels is located in a nondescript shopping center in Corolla, near the northernmost tip of the Outer Banks, and it’s where you should pick up a bagel before sightseeing. You can get your bagels with a classic schmear, or order one of their hefty bagel sandwiches—the signature Southern Gentleman comes with ham, egg, swiss, tomato, onion, lettuce, and mustard. There isn’t really an indoor dining situation, but there are plenty of outdoor tables so you can enjoy your breakfast close by.
If the line at Lighthouse Bagels is out the door when you arrive, get some caffeine a few doors down at Outer Banks Coffee Co while you wait. There aren't really any food options, but there are lots of flavors for sweet lattes, as well as standard drip and espresso options. If you’re staying nearby, this is a good place to start the day before hitting the beach or taking a tour to see Corolla’s wild horses.
While Duck Donuts has quickly expanded with locations throughout the country, you should still make a stop at its original shop to enjoy a piping hot donut while overlooking the Currituck Sound. You’ll likely find a line of kids, parents, and dogs waiting outside the ordering counter, but it moves quickly and gives you some time to formulate your ideal order. The donuts are glazed and sprinkled to order, so you can make your donuts as simple or extravagant as you’d like with dozens of topping options. If designing a donut flavor profile from scratch seems overwhelming, they also have plenty of choices with pre-selected glazes, toppings, and drizzles like maple bacon and blueberry lemon.
Aqua is ideal for watching the sunset with a cocktail in hand, or a quiet dinner with your family. If you want to enjoy the patio overlooking the water during peak hours, you’ll likely have to wait a bit on the spacious lawn, but know the dining room takes reservations and still has a gorgeous view. The Bangin’ Shrimp is a must-order appetizer, but there’s really something for everybody, including a steak, chicken, or fish option. If you’re looking to take a break from all the Outer Banks seafood, the seared duck breast is deliciously tender and has a white peach barbecue sauce that adds a perfect touch of sweetness.
KILL DEVIL HILLS
When you walk into Ashley’s Espresso Parlour, you’ll be greeted by large bags of coffee beans, well-stocked fridges with rows of seltzer and kombucha, and a collection of artwork and gifts by local artists. The coffee itself is great, and there’s a fun selection of cold brew shakes that’ll simultaneously keep you caffeinated and satisfy your inner 10-year-old. They also sell pastries and bagels if you want to make this your one-stop shop before you bike along the beach or through the Wright Brothers Memorial park.
You’ll see just about everybody at Stack Em High Pancakes on a Sunday morning—from toddlers drowning their pancakes in syrup to entire wedding parties who look like they embarrassed themselves partying too hard the night before. Thankfully, the pancakes, biscuits, and other breakfast dishes at Stack Em High taste so good you won’t be able to focus on anything else, and the counter-service ordering means you don’t have to wait too long for your food. You’ll likely wait in line outside for a few minutes, but once you’re inside, you should grab an orange juice or coffee, look over the chalkboard menu, and go for the Chunky Monkey pancakes with bananas and chocolate chips or smothered hash browns with cheddar cheese and bacon. You’ll probably leave Stack Em High full and satisfied, so the best thing to have on your itinerary afterwards is a long nap, preferably under a beach umbrella or in a hammock.
There are a lot of restaurants in the Outer Banks that focus on seafood, but also do a bit of everything. Noosa Beach Grill is one of those spots, but they actually execute everything on its all-over-the-place menu well, and it’s a bit less packed than the classic joints along Croatan Highway. The shrimp and grits are rich without being too heavy or greasy, and the fish and chips are perfectly golden and salty. They really hammer in the “beach grill theme,” from the hippie van logo to the cocktails like Tropical Depression, their boozy take on a rum punch. The versatile menu and cozy indoor space mean it’s also a great backup option for lunch, dinner, or drinks if your outdoor plans get rained out.
Swells’a Brewing has just about everything you could possibly want in a seaside brewery. You’ll spot local surfers who stop by for weeknight drinks, friendly puppies running around everywhere, and you can even catch a slight view of the ocean from the outdoor deck or second-story seating area. The rotating tap list also features a wide variety of beers, but just about everything on the menu tastes great while playing cornhole on the brewery’s lawn or after enjoying a full day of water-based activities.
There are few joys in life greater than enjoying a loaded hot dog on a warm summer day, and Kill Devil Dogs delivers just that. You can go classic with a chili cheese option, but we’re big fans of their Italian dog that’s loaded up with fried potatoes, sauteed onions, and green peppers, and the Kill Devil Dog that sports spicy nacho cheese sauce and pickled jalapeños. If you want to bring the heat (or maybe just want to feel something inside), order the Cat 5 Challenge, which includes a spicy sausage rolled in Carolina reaper powder and comes topped with hot peppers and spicy brown mustard.
Fish Heads is an open-air bar located right on the Outer Banks Fishing Pier, so you can eat your tacos or coconut shrimp with a perfect view of the waves. The menu has plenty of great appetizers like Southwest egg rolls and chili cheese fries that pair excellently with their long tap list, and they also have a Happy Hour shrimp special that you should split with a group of friends. This bar is totally outdoors with just a few covered tables, so make sure to check the weather forecast before you head out, unless you want to risk getting your fries (and everything else) wet.
You’ll probably have to wait for a table at this casual Caribbean joint, as it’s a lunch and dinner favorite with both visitors and local surfers who look like they were born with sand in their hair. Thankfully, there’s a small bar and side patio where you can enjoy beach-themed drinks that help the wait go by faster. If you’re dining solo, it’s much easier to get a spot at the bar, where you can watch sports on the nearby TVs or look on as the staff preps seafood steamers. The jerk chicken is the signature plate that’s loaded up with beans, rice, and tender chicken, but you should definitely also order the island fries and the hefty fish burrito made with whatever’s fresh that day.
If you’re planning to explore the southern sections of the Outer Banks, make a stop in Rodanthe to fuel up on Filipino barbecue. The crisp and tender pork belly cebuchon is their star, but we also recommend the sticky muu yang pork spare ribs with a sweet chili sauce that’s cooked on the open grill beside Hoy Lechon’s food truck. The meal plates come with your choice of rice, pancit, or macaroni salad (get the pancit if it’s not already sold out) and it's all ideal for an ocean-side lunch before exploring the more secluded beach areas or driving down to the Ocracoke ferry. But we wouldn’t blame you if you choose to eat it immediately in Hoy Lechon’s parking lot either.