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Northern Banks
Considering that 90% of its business occurs in a three month Summer, and that many people coming to the ocean consider catching and cooking their own fish a cherished part of the vacation, the Outer Banks have a surprising number of good restaurants. And they're not all Seafood outlets. There is very good Barbeque, Pizza, Ice Cream, Chinese, Italian and even Australian. Restauranting on the Outer Banks is even more precarious than on the mainland. The four greatest eateries out here, the only four to achieve national top 10 ranking, are all out of business. Locals and regular guests still mourn The Tides, Pilot House (photo top right), Austin Creek Grille (right) and the original Captains Table (up on route 12 near the turn off to Kinnakeet). The short season is one cause of this. But restaurant owners point out that once a chef develops a reputation, he begins receiving offers from establishments in major cities which can pay more, and once he leaves, replacing him is almost impossible. So the list of top restaurants here changes every year.

However, the best Hatteras restaurants are excellent. They use seafood only hours from the water and the kitchens are run by people who grew up fixing and eating seafood. They use old family recipes, cook by instinct and add their own modern flair to grandma's methods.

The new rising stars on the high end are Coastal Blue, The Breakwater, and Dinky's. With great menus, chefs and a rising customer base, they are already attracting attention from critics on major newspapers, magazines and websites. It will be interesting to see if they can follow in the tradition of their now closed predecessors and join mainland icons Christiana Campbell's, Lobster Pot, Oyster House, SeaGrille, Arno's, 1620 and Seaman's Inne among the top 10 seafood restaurants in the country. Meanwhile, Dolphin Den and Diamond Shoals continue to solidify their places as the top two family restaurants on the Carolina coast. Nothing between Norfolk and Charleston touches either.

Many vacationing families eat out every meal, usually after returning from the beach and showering, so the 7- 9 pm time can be crowded, especially since these are not large restaurants. We suggest eating early in the evening.

We also suggest you avoid fried seafood. As reknowned French chef Gustou Cuisine says, "All fried food tastes alike. You're not tasting the food. You're just tasting the frying. The breading, the oil, the crust, overpower the food itself, changing its texture. This is especially true for Flounder and Scallops, but all seafood has exquisitely delicate taste which is enhanced by sauteeing, broiling or grilling but destroyed by frying."

Soups are central to coastal cooking. Chowders and bisques are a very effective way of using leftovers and have become an art form in themselves. We urge you to include a cup of the house specialty with every meal out here. Currently, the three best soups on the island are Diamond Shoals' Clam Chowder, Coastal Blue's Brie Crab Bisque, and Dolphin Den's' She Crab Soup. But every restaurant has its own specialty or Soup of the Day.

We have organized our restaurant section by villages. With gas prices rising and people trying to drive less, we suspect most visitors will look first for restaurants in their part of the island. We have included restaurants on Ocracoke and the Northern Banks for your one day sidetrips.

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