Sprinkled along the Atlantic Coast from Nags Head down to Carolina Beach, these small dives serve up the freshest seafood—fried, steamed, and everything in between.
Salter Path, North Carolina
There's no dining room--just a small, easy-to-miss brick building with a window where you place your order. Make it the shrimp burger: fried shrimp, tartar sauce, coleslaw, and ketchup. Messy and delicious; 252-247-2588, bigoakdrivein.com.
Carolina Beach and Wilmington, North Carolina
You know you're going to have a good time when the menu arrives printed on a piece of cardboard from a beer carton. The Carolina Beach location sticks mostly to steamed seafood, all of it excellent. Oh, there's also "Surf n' Turf (Our Way)"—oysters, shrimp, or crab legs with chicken wings. The newer downtown Wilmington spinoff faithfully reproduces the original; 910-458-7380, shuckinshackoysterbar.com
Wilmington, North Carolina
Despite its resort-area location between the towns of Wilmington and Carolina Beach, Something Fishy doesn't try to lure tourists. It doesn't have a flashy sign or even a Web site. It simply goes about its business of turning out the reliably good seafood platters, fried or steamed, that keep local families coming back again and again. We especially like the milky, buttery New England clam chowder; 910-395-0909.
Nags Head, North Carolina
With its island atmosphere, large libations, and epicurean options (grilled yellowfin tuna with garlic pesto) along with the standard fried favorites, this aqua-hued restaurant is a true local favorite; 252-441-7299, tortugaslie.com.