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Why is there such a lack of good ethnic food in Wilmington, aside from sushi restaurants and fast-food Chinese?

Robby Nelms

With a population of about 100,000, it would seem that Wilmington has its fair share of food from all over the world. There’s dim sum from China, spring rolls from Southeast Asia, burikama from Japan, oxtail from Jamaica and many more worldly delights.

Granted, Wilmington isn’t New York, L.A., or San Francisco. In many cases, there aren’t multiple representations of a foreign cuisine. But there are three Indian restaurants within a mile of one another on College Road, numerous Mexican restaurants and shops and a thriving Greek community with a number of restaurants.

If Wilmingtonians want to cook their own exotic feasts, we have a couple of Asian markets that sell everything from sake to sushi-grade tuna. Tortillerias turn out hand-made tortillas and Hispanic tiendas sell sweet mangos and papayas. Local shoppers can buy Russian sausages and European candies at Tatyana’s European Delights. Fine meats and cheeses from Italy are no further than Wrightsville Avenue. And while these shops sell to the general public, many restaurants use these places as purveyors to add to the authenticity of their far-away flavors.

There may not be examples of every cuisine here in the Port City – we don’t have a Kenyan or Brazilian restaurant, for example.

We have, however, started a pretty good but by no means comprehensive list of local ethnic restaurants below. Feel free to add to the list in the form of comments.

The list:

Mexican: El Agave, 3803 Oleander Drive, Wilmington [Map this].

Southeast Asian: Banyan Asian Café, 5001 Market St., Wilmington [Map this].

Chinese: Double Happiness Restaurant, 4403 Wrightsville Ave., Wilmington [Map this].

Caribbean: Jamaica’s Comfort Zone, 417 S. College Road, Unit #24, Wilmington.

Indian: India Mahal Restaurant, 4610 Maple Ave., Wilmington [Map this].

Irish: The Harp, 1501 S. 3rd St., Wilmington [Map this].

Japanese/Sushi: Genki Sushi, 4724 New Centre Drive, Wilmington [Map this].

Korean: Korean BBQ Restaurant, 4102 Oleander Drive, Wilmington [Map this].

Italian: Martino’s Fine Italian Foods, 7041 Wrightsville Ave., Wilmington [Map this].

Greek: Black Sea Grill, 118 S. Front St., Wilmington [Map this].

Thai: Thai Spice, 5552 Carolina Beach Road, Wilmington [Map this].

German: German Café, 316 Nutt St., Wilmington [Map this].

French: Our Crepes and More, 3810 Oleander Drive, Wilmington [Map this].

Latin American: San Juan Café, 3314 Wrightsville Ave., Wilmington [Map this].

Asian Market: Saigon Market, 4507 Franklin Ave., Wilmington [Map this].

European Market: Tatyana’s European Delights, 125-2 S. Kerr Ave., Wilmington [Map this].

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14 Responses to “ Why is there such a lack of good ethnic food in Wilmington, aside from sushi restaurants and fast-food Chinese?”

  1. On September 27, 2010 at 3:50 pm Mary wrote:

    What I’m seeing on this list is still mostly Asian and Latin based. It’s sad when you think a small creperie is a good representation of French cuisine. While Brasserie Du Soleil is quite good as is Boule, the fact that you failed to mention those establishments makes me question your awareness of what ethnic food really is.
    Yes, we have a ton of Asian, Latin and Irish fare here in Wilmington, where are the other following ethnicities being represented:
    Argentinian, Vietnamese, Belgian, Polish, Jewish (Kosher), Turkish, Ethiopian, decent vegetarian and vegan fare, local/organic restaurants (aside from our local food co-ops) . . . etc . . .
    I can go on, but I think you get my point. I would also like to add, that just because it exists here, does not mean it is quality.

  2. On September 27, 2010 at 5:04 pm NC wrote:

    I’m not sure what you expect. Wilmington is a small city of 100,000 people. It isn’t New York, Chicago or LA. Last I checked, we live in a free market society and anyone can open a restaurant serving food of whatever ethnicity they choose. There’s a reason that over 90% of restaurants fail within the first year and there are relatively few quality ethnic restaurants in Wilmington. It’s called supply and demand in a very small market.

  3. On September 27, 2010 at 5:44 pm Serje wrote:

    Cafe Brava is starting to carry more South African wares.

  4. On September 27, 2010 at 6:39 pm Mary wrote:

    Do you think that just because we aren’t NY, Chicago or L.A. that we don’t deserve to have quality ethnic food. Being in a relatively small city does not excuse that fact. I can attest to being in other small cities that have quite a variety, so using that reason as an excuse does not fly with me. You say there is a reason 90% of restaurants fail and it’s called supply and demand . . . I’m trying to understand if by saying that you are blaming the people of Wilmington for not having mature enough palettes? If so, I couldn’t disagree more.
    You also talk about free market society and supply and demand but nothing you said made sense aside from providing non-related facts and supposed reasons.

  5. On September 27, 2010 at 9:25 pm Indigo wrote:

    Let’s not forget Indochine. The food is predominately Thai and Vietnamese. They offer fresh ingredients, also many vegetarian and gluten-free options. The owner is from Vietnam.

  6. On September 28, 2010 at 2:09 am Brian Ross wrote:

    There’s been a small explosion of Indian restraunts all within a mile of each other on College Rd. I’ve tried all three:
    India Mahal 4610 Maple Ave
    Family owned and family style service. Buffet for lunch is great. I’ve never had a bad meal and the service is friendly and casual. Kid friendly! My 4 yoa niece played with some children that often are found hiding in office room once.

    Tandoori Bites 1620 S College Rd
    Virtually the same menu as India Mahal. Their food was good, but didn’t have the same soul and flavor as India Mahals. It didn’t help that our waitress knew virtually nothing about the cuisine – although the restraunt was only open for a week. Opened a few months ago.

    Curry Valley 1410 S College Rd.
    The most unique Indian menu I’ve ever seen in North Carolina (and I’ve been to numerous in the Raleigh/Cary where Indian is ubiquitous). The food is definitely cooked well although their Tandoori cooked stuff can get be a tad blackened and some of the flavors could be developed more. Then again its only been open a week or two.

    Of the three, I prefer India Mahal as they deliver and have a buffet. I will return to Curry Valley though as they have a lot of food I’ve never heard of or tried. They serve goat as well, which appeals to me. The user making note of the lack of good vegan/vegetarian rest. should definitely consider these three as great meat-free fare. Indian and vegetarian cuisine are nearly synonymous in some circles.

    If you want Vietnamese the best place to go that I can think of is Thai Spice. My parents both served in Vietnam and swear by their food as the most authentic they’ve had in years. Its not pure Vietnamese, but its as close as you can get since Jessamine Thai & Sushi. Mai Tai also has some dishes along with Banyan and Indochine. I would dare say that Vietnamese is highly represented in Wilmington, NC. Just no vastly pure Vietnamese restraunt since Jessamine closed.

    Some cultures missed:
    Korean: Wasabi Sushi 417 S College Rd # 26
    Kind of a mish-mash of Korean and Japanese. The staff or more appropriately at times owners are very friendly. Sometimes when I was the only customer they would bring me out free stuff to try or invite me to have a meal with them. About the only place I’ve seen things like Bibimbop on the menu.

    Greek: 5629 Oleander Dr # 116
    Fairly high priced for what you get, the food is pretty good and authentic greek. It is definitely out-dated and I’ve only been there once, but it was busy.

    Nagila Cafe – As far as I know they were the only Kosher restraunt in Wilmington and they are closed. I’m sure the owner will resurface with a new Kosher/Moroccan offering in the future.

    El Guajiro 1015 S Kerr Ave
    People used to rave about this one. Never been myself, not sure if its still around. Very much a hole in a wall from what I’ve been told.

    Boleros Cafe 4724 New Centre Drive
    Great Cuban food, but I haven’t been to it in a while. Heard rumors it went downhill and possibly closed as well.

    Brasserie Du Soleil Lumina Station 1908 Eastwood Rd

    Asian Fusion:
    There’s tons of Sushi places now between Nikki’s, Sake, YoSake, and even Hibachi Bistro – but my favorite Asian fusion places are definitely:

    Indochine 7 Wayne Dr
    Never had a bad meal and they draw from all over Asia. A lot of Thai and Vietnamese dishes here as well.

    Banyan Asian Cafe 5001 Market St
    Although some people don’t like it. I’ve never had a bad meal. They have Cambodian and Vietnamese dishes as well as the normal fare.

    Lovey’s Natural Foods 1319 Military Cutoff Road
    Never eaten there myself. Sometime tried to tell me Nofo was organic as well, but I don’t buy that one bit from what I’ve heard about their menu.

  7. On September 28, 2010 at 8:53 am Serje wrote:

    @NC The restaurant failure rate you cited is incorrect. That myth has been perpetuated for years with no data supporting it. It’s actually closer to 60% over a 3 year period, but that also includes name changes and profitable closures.


  8. On September 28, 2010 at 11:51 am ilm native wrote:

    To whom are you complaining? If you would like to open a restaurant featuring one of these types of cuisine, go for it! “NC” made a good point: the reason we don’t have these restaurants is that either nobody has tried to open one, or that they tried, and the restaurant didn’t make it. What do you think that the Star News, or the city, can do to change this? Are you suggesting some sort of conspiracy?

  9. On September 28, 2010 at 11:54 am Sam wrote:

    Still seeing a lot of Asian/Latin influenced food . . . Thanks Brian for the reviews of the Indian restaurants. Would love to see an amazing Jewish deli, and when I say deli, I don’t just mean sandwiches etc . . . Please reference this menu:

  10. On September 28, 2010 at 6:34 pm Mary wrote:

    Dear “ILM Native”,
    I am not complaining or thinking Star News and/or the City can do anything to change this. I am mostly making an observation and was wondering what people’s thoughts were on the subject. Are you equating stating fact with complaining?
    Agreed, the reason we do not have these restaurants is because no one has opened one or that it didn’t succeed in the local market . . . big DUH to that fact ILM Native. My question is: WHY? Why do these restaurants not succeed or exist here? Seems to me people most people would rather go to a “fine dining” experience at “Applebee’s” (no offense to fans of said restaurant, just using it as an example) than try something new and different.
    As to your comment of opening a restaurant featuring the cuisine as to which I speak, I say you provide me with the capital to do so and I absolutely will. In response to you alluding to me thinking it’s a conspiracy, I say go watch more movies and realize I was just stating a fairly true observation and was looking for opinions. I was not directly insulting your taste in food or insulting the place where you apparently grew up. Please don’t take things so personally.
    Sincerely Yours,

  11. On September 28, 2010 at 10:05 pm Susan wrote:

    I’m calling this “Mary’s” bluff. What city the same size, in fact, what city under 250,000, can you name with a bigger variety of ethnic choices over a number of years? Any moment’s profile isn’t accurate because of the constant ebb and flow in that business.

    Of course supply and demand enter into the success rate, as well as business management skills or the lack of them, and a number of other factors.

    What on earth do you mean when you say we “deserve” more choices? From whom do you think we deserve this – the great restaurant rationers in the sky? We don’t “deserve” anything in the way of restaurants – someone has the idea for one and opens it, and we either eat there enough to keep it open or we don’t. I’ve been here nearly 40 years, and have also lived in nine other states coast to coast, in cities big and small, and in two other countries during that time. I remain amazed at the number and variety of restaurants in this area now. If it’s not enough for some of our newer arrivals, they may feel free to relocate from whence they arrived – or, as one of the other commenters suggested, open their own place to fill one of the many voids we have.

  12. On September 29, 2010 at 9:09 am Jeesh wrote:

    Sam, you are not in NY anymore. Just like the poster above you said, if you want to see one of these restaurants/deli in the area, open one up.

  13. On September 29, 2010 at 10:33 am Sam wrote:

    Jeesh it has nothing to do with being in NY or anywhere else, seriously, I was just using that menu as an example and could have chosen a menu from anywhere else. Are you suggesting that you have to be in a big city for Jewish food? By saying what you said it sure sounds like it. If that’s the case than that’s a whole other conversation and you should look deep inside yourself and be ashamed.

  14. On October 5, 2010 at 8:22 am laff wrote:

    There is a wonderful new French crepe business in the post office area of Oleander Drive (where the previous “Schlotzy Deli” was located). VERY yummy savory AND sweet crepes!

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