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Pan-seared scallops with sauteed spinach and brown butter sauce at Nags Head standby, Owens.
Owens [Official photo]

The 16 Essential Restaurants in the Outer Banks

Find raw seafood, smoky barbecue, bacon-topped doughnuts, and more along North Carolina’s band of beach towns

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Pan-seared scallops with sauteed spinach and brown butter sauce at Nags Head standby, Owens.
| Owens [Official photo]

For many in the D.C. area, vacationing in North Carolina’s Outer Banks is second nature.

The welcoming beach community draws in everyone from recent college graduates to extended families who’ve made a tradition of relaxing together by windswept milepost markers. Some choose to load up on seasonal offerings at roadside markets stocked with feisty blue crabs, plump tomatoes, and ears of crisp corn. Others let dune buggy-driving pizza delivery guys worry about taking care of dinner at homes found on secluded stretches of off road-only properties. But stepping out for a bite (or drink ) can also be fun.

Here are 16 bars, restaurants, and sweets shops in the Outer Banks’ northern beaches to keep everyone happy while away from home.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Lighthouse Bagels

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It’s no New York, but the Outer Banks has at least one decent destination for bagels. Lighthouse offers the obvious, plus bagel sandwiches stuffed with deli meat or salads. This place is a good option for an early breakfast or a post-bike ride lunch.

Bagels from Lighthouse
Lighthouse Bagels/Facebook

Big Buck's (Multiple locations)

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That saying about feeling like a kid in a candy store could easily have been coined by a regular at Big Buck’s. The local sweets shop serves over four dozen flavors of ice cream, ranging from traditional (chocolate, vanilla, rum raisin) to trendy (cookie dough, peanut butter cup, hazelnut capuccino). Still hungry? Try a nut-covered banana split, mango smoothie, coconut-chocolate chip cake, chocolate-dipped strawberries, or any of the other sugary treats offered within.

Assorted desserts at Big Buck’s.
Big Buck’s/Facebook

North Banks Restaurant & Raw Bar

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Located inside an expansive shopping center in Corolla, North Banks is kind of a hidden gem. Here, surf and turf, crab mac and cheese, fried oysters, and snow crab legs are on the menu; the setting is casual and nautically themed.

Surf and Turf from North Banks
North Banks/Facebook

Paper Canoe

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This waterfront restaurant feels like a neighborhood haunt, with locals packing into the place just as much as tourists to eat pizzas, shrimp and grits, seared steaks and daily specials. Reservations are recommended since it gets crowded quickly, though the bar can usually accommodate some walk-ins.

A saucy shrimp dish at Paper Canoe.
Paper Canoe [Official photo]

The Blue Point

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Inside, find one of Duck’s fancier dining destinations, serving eclectic dishes such as shrimp ramen bowls, grilled pork chops, and braised short ribs. But the outside Backbar is where the party’s at: find live music, a place to watch the sunset, and plenty of cocktails.

The BackBar at The Blue Point
The Blue Point/Facebook

Dockside N' Duck Seafood Market

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Most visitors to Outer Banks rent a house for their stay, so odds are they’re cooking some meals at home. A festive approach is to pick up a carryout seafood boil featuring crabs, corn, shrimp: the works. Seafood market Dockside N’ Duck offers these, along with plenty of other fish and shellfish items. Cravings, also in Duck, sells them as well.

Dockside N’ Duck in Duck
Dockside N’ Duck/Facebook

Roadside Bar & Grill

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A chill place to grab an outdoor drink in downtown Duck, the Roadside also has spicy peel-and-eat shrimp, steamed clams, and some less-expected items like pimento cheese toasts. The front porch is usually hopping; find a fun bar area behind the restaurant with outdoor games and live music during warmer months.

The front porch area of Roadside
The Roadside/Facebook

Duck Donuts (Multiple locations)

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Due to its massive expansion, Duck Donuts is now practically a household name on the East Coast these days. But it got its start in the Outer Banks, and morning crowds at the original have only grown, so show up early. Fried homemade doughnuts are topped with everything from sprinkles to flavored drizzles, with combinations like lemon-coconut and maple-bacon drawing in fans. There are some seasonal varieties, too.

Doughnuts from Duck Donuts
Duck Donuts/Facebook

Coastal Provisions Oyster Bar & Wine Cafe

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This decade-old seafood market and wine bar prides itself on serving the freshest oysters available on the East Coast; its daily offerings include local oysters, as well as specimens secured from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine. The briny beauties are served raw or steamed — or buried in the bottom of a boozy oyster shooter.

A variety of oyster shooters at Coastal Provisions.
Coastal Provisions [Official photo]

High Cotton

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This homegrown barbecue restaurant serves pulled pork that’s cooked over smoldering hickory logs, meaty ribs rubbed with tangy-sweet spice rub, juicy chicken (roasted or fried), and spice-crusted brisket. There’s also bean-studded Brunswick stew, assorted combo plates, family-style meals, and gooey chess pie for dessert — all of which is available for dine-in or carryout.

Smoked ribs and sides at High Cotton.
Sky Y./Yelp

Black Pelican

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This historic beachfront restaurant — in its previous life, the building housed a lifeguard station — can get as dressy or relaxed as visiting diners would like. Customers seated in the nautically themed dining room are welcome to dig into ahi tuna, bacon-wrapped scallops, and blue cheese-crusted NY strip, while those watching the sun go down from the enclosed patio are likely to favor steamed clams, crab-topped pizzas, and frosty pints of Bud Light.

A surf-and-turf pairing of NY strip and seared rockfish at Black Pelican.
Black Pelican/Facebook

Stack'em High (Multiple locations)

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This local chain of daytime eateries has been squashing arguments about what’s for breakfast while at the beach for over 30 years. While it built its reputation as a pancake house, the restaurant now serves breakfast favorites ranging from Belgian waffles and Greek omelets layered with gyro meat to seasoned clams cooked with shredded potatoes and onions (clamhash, anyone?).

Assorted breakfast offerings at Stack‘em High.
Stack‘em High/Facebook

Outer Banks Brewing Station

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This award-winning local brewery typically features a dozen rotating drafts, mixing in its hoppy IPAs and distinctive oyster shell-spiked stouts with regional ciders and funky imports. Dining options range from hot pretzels to peel-and-eat shrimp. There’s also a jazz brunch on Sundays, and live music throughout the week.

A range of draft beers at Outer Banks Brewing Station.
Outer Banks Brewing Station/Facebook

Kill Devil Grill

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This diner-esque destination serves fine fish sandwiches, beer can shrimp, a crispy fried chicken dinner, plus everything from Key lime pie to cheesesteak egg rolls (better than they sound). Service is friendly and familiar.

Spicy peel-and-eat shrimp and cold beer at the come-as-you-are Kill Devil Grill.
Kill Devil Grill/Facebook

Tortugas’ Lie

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This long-standing bar puts its stamp on beach dining by highlighting Caribbean fare such as conch fritters, coconut-crusted fried chicken, chile-glazed shrimp kebabs featuring pineapple and mixed peppers, and jerk-spiced pork chops. Locals are also served sushi one night a week during the off-season.  

Fish tacos at Tortugas’ Lie.
Tortugas’ Lie/Facebook

This family-run restaurant has provided local diners with a mix of regional seafood dishes and modern American cooking for over 70 years. House specialties include sauteed jumbo lump crab cakes; shrimp sauteed with peppers and onions and layered over mascarpone grits; and zesty, crawfish-packed gumbo.

A shellfish-stocked bouillabaisse at Owens.
Owens [Official photo]

Lighthouse Bagels

Bagels from Lighthouse
Lighthouse Bagels/Facebook

It’s no New York, but the Outer Banks has at least one decent destination for bagels. Lighthouse offers the obvious, plus bagel sandwiches stuffed with deli meat or salads. This place is a good option for an early breakfast or a post-bike ride lunch.

Bagels from Lighthouse
Lighthouse Bagels/Facebook

Big Buck's (Multiple locations)

Assorted desserts at Big Buck’s.
Big Buck’s/Facebook

That saying about feeling like a kid in a candy store could easily have been coined by a regular at Big Buck’s. The local sweets shop serves over four dozen flavors of ice cream, ranging from traditional (chocolate, vanilla, rum raisin) to trendy (cookie dough, peanut butter cup, hazelnut capuccino). Still hungry? Try a nut-covered banana split, mango smoothie, coconut-chocolate chip cake, chocolate-dipped strawberries, or any of the other sugary treats offered within.

Assorted desserts at Big Buck’s.
Big Buck’s/Facebook

North Banks Restaurant & Raw Bar

Surf and Turf from North Banks
North Banks/Facebook

Located inside an expansive shopping center in Corolla, North Banks is kind of a hidden gem. Here, surf and turf, crab mac and cheese, fried oysters, and snow crab legs are on the menu; the setting is casual and nautically themed.

Surf and Turf from North Banks
North Banks/Facebook

Paper Canoe

A saucy shrimp dish at Paper Canoe.
Paper Canoe [Official photo]

This waterfront restaurant feels like a neighborhood haunt, with locals packing into the place just as much as tourists to eat pizzas, shrimp and grits, seared steaks and daily specials. Reservations are recommended since it gets crowded quickly, though the bar can usually accommodate some walk-ins.

A saucy shrimp dish at Paper Canoe.
Paper Canoe [Official photo]

The Blue Point

The BackBar at The Blue Point
The Blue Point/Facebook

Inside, find one of Duck’s fancier dining destinations, serving eclectic dishes such as shrimp ramen bowls, grilled pork chops, and braised short ribs. But the outside Backbar is where the party’s at: find live music, a place to watch the sunset, and plenty of cocktails.

The BackBar at The Blue Point
The Blue Point/Facebook

Dockside N' Duck Seafood Market

Dockside N’ Duck in Duck
Dockside N’ Duck/Facebook

Most visitors to Outer Banks rent a house for their stay, so odds are they’re cooking some meals at home. A festive approach is to pick up a carryout seafood boil featuring crabs, corn, shrimp: the works. Seafood market Dockside N’ Duck offers these, along with plenty of other fish and shellfish items. Cravings, also in Duck, sells them as well.

Dockside N’ Duck in Duck
Dockside N’ Duck/Facebook

Roadside Bar & Grill

The front porch area of Roadside
The Roadside/Facebook

A chill place to grab an outdoor drink in downtown Duck, the Roadside also has spicy peel-and-eat shrimp, steamed clams, and some less-expected items like pimento cheese toasts. The front porch is usually hopping; find a fun bar area behind the restaurant with outdoor games and live music during warmer months.

The front porch area of Roadside
The Roadside/Facebook

Duck Donuts (Multiple locations)

Doughnuts from Duck Donuts
Duck Donuts/Facebook

Due to its massive expansion, Duck Donuts is now practically a household name on the East Coast these days. But it got its start in the Outer Banks, and morning crowds at the original have only grown, so show up early. Fried homemade doughnuts are topped with everything from sprinkles to flavored drizzles, with combinations like lemon-coconut and maple-bacon drawing in fans. There are some seasonal varieties, too.

Doughnuts from Duck Donuts
Duck Donuts/Facebook

Coastal Provisions Oyster Bar & Wine Cafe

A variety of oyster shooters at Coastal Provisions.
Coastal Provisions [Official photo]

This decade-old seafood market and wine bar prides itself on serving the freshest oysters available on the East Coast; its daily offerings include local oysters, as well as specimens secured from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine. The briny beauties are served raw or steamed — or buried in the bottom of a boozy oyster shooter.

A variety of oyster shooters at Coastal Provisions.
Coastal Provisions [Official photo]

High Cotton

Smoked ribs and sides at High Cotton.
Sky Y./Yelp

This homegrown barbecue restaurant serves pulled pork that’s cooked over smoldering hickory logs, meaty ribs rubbed with tangy-sweet spice rub, juicy chicken (roasted or fried), and spice-crusted brisket. There’s also bean-studded Brunswick stew, assorted combo plates, family-style meals, and gooey chess pie for dessert — all of which is available for dine-in or carryout.

Smoked ribs and sides at High Cotton.
Sky Y./Yelp

Black Pelican

A surf-and-turf pairing of NY strip and seared rockfish at Black Pelican.
Black Pelican/Facebook

This historic beachfront restaurant — in its previous life, the building housed a lifeguard station — can get as dressy or relaxed as visiting diners would like. Customers seated in the nautically themed dining room are welcome to dig into ahi tuna, bacon-wrapped scallops, and blue cheese-crusted NY strip, while those watching the sun go down from the enclosed patio are likely to favor steamed clams, crab-topped pizzas, and frosty pints of Bud Light.

A surf-and-turf pairing of NY strip and seared rockfish at Black Pelican.
Black Pelican/Facebook

Stack'em High (Multiple locations)

Assorted breakfast offerings at Stack‘em High.
Stack‘em High/Facebook

This local chain of daytime eateries has been squashing arguments about what’s for breakfast while at the beach for over 30 years. While it built its reputation as a pancake house, the restaurant now serves breakfast favorites ranging from Belgian waffles and Greek omelets layered with gyro meat to seasoned clams cooked with shredded potatoes and onions (clamhash, anyone?).

Assorted breakfast offerings at Stack‘em High.
Stack‘em High/Facebook

Outer Banks Brewing Station

A range of draft beers at Outer Banks Brewing Station.
Outer Banks Brewing Station/Facebook

This award-winning local brewery typically features a dozen rotating drafts, mixing in its hoppy IPAs and distinctive oyster shell-spiked stouts with regional ciders and funky imports. Dining options range from hot pretzels to peel-and-eat shrimp. There’s also a jazz brunch on Sundays, and live music throughout the week.

A range of draft beers at Outer Banks Brewing Station.
Outer Banks Brewing Station/Facebook

Kill Devil Grill

Spicy peel-and-eat shrimp and cold beer at the come-as-you-are Kill Devil Grill.
Kill Devil Grill/Facebook

This diner-esque destination serves fine fish sandwiches, beer can shrimp, a crispy fried chicken dinner, plus everything from Key lime pie to cheesesteak egg rolls (better than they sound). Service is friendly and familiar.

Spicy peel-and-eat shrimp and cold beer at the come-as-you-are Kill Devil Grill.
Kill Devil Grill/Facebook

Tortugas’ Lie

Fish tacos at Tortugas’ Lie.
Tortugas’ Lie/Facebook

This long-standing bar puts its stamp on beach dining by highlighting Caribbean fare such as conch fritters, coconut-crusted fried chicken, chile-glazed shrimp kebabs featuring pineapple and mixed peppers, and jerk-spiced pork chops. Locals are also served sushi one night a week during the off-season.