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Ocracoke is one of the three most isolated islands on the East Coast, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard being the other two. It is connected to the mainland by a two hour ferry, and Hatteras Island by a 30 minute ferry. One road (above) leads from the ferry down the island to the village of Ocracoke, which has the only buildings. Along the way is the 13 mile beach (right) rated number one in North America by a dozen surveys, magazines and websites, including Dr. Beach, who many consider the ultimate authority. Ocracoke is a beautiful 1800s fishing village built around America's most scenic harbor, circular Silver Lake. The village contains 10 restaurants and a converted bus (above)
Howard's Pub is at the edge of Ocracoke Village heading North. It would serve as an excellent lunch break, after you've walked around the village before you head for the beach. Howard's is a classic northern fish shack on steroids. It has a screened porch with rocking chairs, a lookout tower, rooftop deck with views of the village and beaches, and walls and ceilings adorned with license plates, caps, t shirts, pennants and other memorabilia from colleges across the country. It offers eccentric microbrews, big screen tvs, live entertainment, and a raw bar. Oh, yeah, they have food, too. And it's good. Howard's serves all the classic seafood entrees, from local fish to lobster. But they also have pizza, ribs, steaks, and the largest burgers on Ocracoke. Their fish sandwiches are worth the stop. Always order a cup of whatever their soup of the day is. Try to eat here before12 or after 1, since over the noon hour the place fills up and you may have quite a wait.
The Back Porch is the only restaurant on the island not on Route 12, but it's worth your walking a block back. Open only for dinner (5 - 10 pm), they serve outstanding sea food. You'll probably end up eating on a screened in back porch overlooking a landscaped garden under century old Live Oaks. Among appetizers, we like their Crab Beignets. Of the entrees we recommend the Crab Cakes In Red Pepper Sauce, the Seafood Platter or the Scallops. The Soup of the Day is always good. They have the island's most extensive wine list. Locals and loyal customers debate whether the restaurant under its current ownership equals what it was like under the original owners, when it was mentioned as one of the top 10 seafood restaurants on the entire east coast. Certainly there have been some changes and there's a lot more competition now, but The Back Porch is still one of the best restaurants out here.

Cafe Atlantic has been reviewed by every major newspaper in North Carolina and Virginia and other major critics as far away as the New York Times and Bon Appetit. It's open only for dinners (5 - 9 pm) and is on the right of Highway 12 as you enter Ocracoke Village. Among the appetizers, most spectacular is the Rosemary Chevre With Fig Preserve (Ocracoke fig preserves with herbed goat cheese). There are six pastas and four salads. Their dinner specialty is Baked Flounder Parmesan, although they sometimes replace that with Baked Fish Of The Day Parmesan. Whichever they're serving, this is a MUST. The Crab Cakes are considered by many fans as the best on the Carolina Coast. Their Scallops are excellent straight, sauteed in butter and white wine, but are really memorable Pesto style, with bacon, tomatoes and pesto aioli. The Seafood Kabobs are outstanding : tuna, shrimp, scallops and vegetables grilled on a skewer over open flame. A variation is Beef & Shrimp Kabob, or you can try the Grilled Seafood Platter (tuna, shrimp, scallops and clams). The children's and seniors' menu here is the best in Carolina. No hot dogs, mac & cheese or chicken tenders. Instead, they offer smaller portions of flounder, grilled chicken, beef tenderloin, shrimp, crab cake, grilled tuna, scallops or linguine, each with salad and vegetable. Save room for dessert. They concoct a homemade special daily. Closed Tuesdays. 252-928-4861.

The Pony Island is the longest continuously running restaurant on Ocracoke. We were eating here when the streets were still sand and people still lived over on Portsmouth. They're one of the few outlets open for all three meals, and one of the last still serving Fish Roe & Eggs, once the standard Outer Banks breakfast. Actually, the Pony Island and Diamond Shoals are the two best breakfast restaurants on the Carolina Coast. The Pony's Omelettes, Pancakes, French Toast, Hushpuppies, Hash Browns and English Muffin Medleys are unsurpassed. Lunch is a parade of salads and sandwiches, but it's dinners where the Pony gets serious. First, they make you a deal : Go catch and clean your own fish and they'll cook it. If you'd rather spend the day at the beach, they offer 12 seafood entrees, three pasta dinners, five major league dinner sandwiches, and two MUSTS among the appetizers : their Clam Chowder and Ocracoke Crab Balls, an old island tradition mostly abandoned by the other restaurants. The Pony is still a great restaurant. Our only complaint is one of their great traditions which they chose to abandon three years ago : Yaupon Tea. We looked forward all year to drinking Yaupon Tea at the Pony every Summer. Yaupon is a bush which grows only on Hatteras and Ocracoke. Its leaves make the world's greatest tea, a beverage the locals learned about from the Hatterask Indiana and drank for 300 years. We still buy a few bags of it over at Albert Styron's Store and make our own back home, but we think The Pony should restore the tradition and put Yaupon Tea back on its menu.
Captain Ben's is next door to The Pony Island Motel. It's a nautically themed restaurant which is most famous on the island for its prime rib. They offer three styles of prime rib : a 12 oz. New York Strip, a 12 oz. Captain's Cut, or a 24 oz. Admiral's Cut. There are 11 seafood entrees, each of which includes a cup of soup and vegetable. The Soup of the Day is usually pretty good. There are six salads and seven pastas, of which our favorite is the Shrimp, Basil and Tomato (the tomatoes are sun ripened, and the whole mix is tossed with linguine in olive oil and garlic sauce). If all you want is a sandwich, we suggest the Deluxe Crabcake Sandwich. Lunch includes wraps, a Backfin Crab Platter, Philly Cheesesteak, 10 kinds of burgers, and Summer Lime Chicken.
The Pelican hides in such a jungle of Live Oaks, bushes, flowers and vines that you have to pay attention to even find it. Then, if you go at the wrong time, you'll have to wait an hour for a table. They have 10 indoor tables and 10 outdoor wooden spools turned on end in a cramped courtyard. On nice weather afternoons they like to shut down the indoor portion and herd everyone into the courtyard, except, of course, that there is not nearly enough seating. One week, we stopped by five days in a row and never could get a seat. So why put up with all this trouble? The food. Once you get a table, you MUST order a cup of the She Crab Soup. This is the best soup on the island, and one of the four best on the Carolina Coast. There's also a good Clam Chowder, a Seafood Salad (vegetables, shrimp, scallops, fish, and greens), a Spicy Stuffed Shrimp Platter (shrimp stuffed with cream cheese and jalapenos, wrapped in bacon, then grilled), and the Grilled Fish Of The Day. If you drop by for lunch looking for a sandwich, we suggest the Blue Swiss Burger (half a pound of Black Angus ground beef, topped with melted Swiss cheese and crumpled Bleau). Vegans will be happy for the Veggie Burger. They do have Quesadillas and BBQ, and there are specials each day. In the heart of downtown on Route 12 across from the Post Office.
The Jolly Roger is the island's only waterfront restaurant, with decks right on the harbor . They have an eclectic menu, with a strong touch of Mexican and even Homemade Chili. We like their Fish Tacos (grilled mahi, lettuce, tomatoes, rice, beans and homemade salsa---no coleslaw), Quesadillas, Fajitas, Wraps, and various Basket Dinners, especially the Scallop Boat. There are Pita Pockets, Pulled Pork Barbeque, Beer Battered Onion Rings, Sweet Potato French Fries, and Philly Cheese Steak. Although this is absolutely a family restaurant, Dad will enjoy several unique local beers (Skip Jack, Longboard Lager, and Jolly Roger Aloe. They even have a Sunset Drink Menu, which offers Brigantine, Harbor Sunset and Mango Breeze. Eating here while watching sailboats, yachts, fishing boats and ferries coming and going is a Summer delight.
The Flying Melon offers an eclectic menu with touches of New Orleans, Savannah and Charleston. This exotic approach begins with the appetizers, of which our favorites are the Jalapeno Chile Popcorn, Home Smoked Fish With Boursin Cheese, and Dim Sum. They always offer a unique Soup of the Day. There are several interesting salads, of which the Mixed Greens (Fuji apples, raisens, goat cheese, balsamic vinaigrette) and Spinach Salad (with caramelized onions, feta cheese, tomatos, cucumbers, calamata olives and honey lemon vinaigrette) are the best. Among entrees, we like the Crawfish Cakes in Red Pepper Coulis and Filet of Grouper Stuffed With Crabmeat. This is a simple one page menu, allowing the kitchen to focus on a few items and do them very well.
Jason's is a lunch and dinner outlet near the edge of town. They have all the usual seafood items, but their Jamaican Jerked Chicken or Shrimp (sauteed with red and green peppers, onions, pineapple and spicy seasoning) are their best entrees. There are six pasta dishes, five salads, five subs, seven sandwiches, three wraps, and three pizzas. Actually, they do a pretty good job with their pizzas. They have their own crust trimming machine, spread ther ingredients in front of you, and bake it in plain view. No parts of it are brought in, frozen or premade. There's a kids menu and thorough drink list.

Mango Loco's is locally known more for its music than its food. The menu is a mix of seafood, Mexican and Caribbean. The music features groups like Moussa, Fingernails on the Blackboard, Coyote and The Sol Creech Band. Owners and managers keep revolving (and as we type this it's for sale again), and each time the restaurant closes and reopens, but for some reason the name and the menu stay pretty much the same. The famous Caribbean Seafood Chowder is one of Ocracoke's finest soups, and the Spinach Cheese Enchiladas are as good as you'll find at any major Mexican restaurant back on the mainland. There's a Tuna and Goat Cheese Empanada we haven't found elsewhere, and we eat a lot of Mexican food. Many of these items are traditional Mexican or Caribbean but Mango Loco's adds its own sauces for a unique Ocracoke taste. On nights they have music, the crowd comes early and stays late.

The Creekside is a heavily shaded lunchtime patio on Route 12 two blocks from the harbor. They do offer four full dinner entrees (shrimp, crab cakes, oysters and a mixed seafood platter), but the menu is geared toward the lunch crowd. Among the appetizers, we like the Bruschetta (tomatoes, olives, garlic and basil), and Greek Salad (greens, peppercinis, olives, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, onions, feta cheese, herb dressing). There are seven Wraps, three burgers, six salads, five seafood sandwiches (the Oysterburger is especially good), and three unique burgers.
One of the island's great stories of the decade is the rescuing of the Ocracoke Seafood Corporation. Once a local tradition, it fell on hard times and closed back in 2003. For two years the building sat there. The disaster in that closure was that without their only local processing plant, the 33 local commercial fishermen had no place to sell their catches. So they took matters in their own hands, banded together, incorporated, applied for and won a federal grant, bought the processing plant, restored it to operating condition, and reopened it. Now, once again, you can buy locally caught seafood to take back to your cottage or campsite and sautee or grill for dinner. Their menu depends on whatever the fishermen bring in that day. Today, school groups come by for tours of the fish processing. For many kids from mainland cities, it is their first time seeing where fish actually come from. And 33 Ocracoke families are back to supporting themselves in their time honored profession.
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