International Food Trail
Eat Your Way Through the International Food Trail in #JacksonvilleNC
When it comes to our international food trail, the words “will travel for food” take on a whole new meaning. Come dine with us in Jacksonville and Onslow County, North Carolina.
As the home of US Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Jacksonville boasts cultural ties from around the world. Jacksonville NC’s restaurateurs offer a variety of authentic choices and affordable price points. Many are located here in Jacksonville, and we explored spots across our county as well.
Jacksonville shares a melting pot of culinary culture and style with internationally-inspired offerings for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. We also include great coffee breaks along the way. We dare you to eat your way through these offerings.
Most of the restaurants on the trail are family-owned and operated. Several are veteran-owned. All of them are true gems. We curated this list based on service, taste, the authenticity of the menu and food, and the owners’ and chefs’ experiences cooking and serving international fare.
Traveler Tip: You may not find detailed websites or slick social media feeds prior to your visit. Some restaurants offer them; others don’t. We recommend calling ahead to confirm days and hours of operation.
If you share on social, please use our hashtag, so we can share your image, too: #InternationalFoodTrailJNC
Savor the delicious details that make each of these dining destinations a true international adventure. The “trail” is a list of stops. You can visit in any order—or you can select just one. The destinations (below) are listed alphabetically. Want to try more than one? A Google Map at the bottom shows you what restaurants are near each other. For example, Filipino Cuisine, Aji Ichiban, and R&Rs Caribbean Fusion are all in the same shopping mall.
Agave Azul Modern Mex & Cantina
1269 State Hwy 210, Sneads Ferry, NC; 910-741-0504
Open daily for lunch, dinner, and Saturday or Sunday brunch.
This restaurant serves a modern-day twist on classic Mexican flavors. Enjoy dining indoors or outside on the charming patio of this family-owned cantina. Warm chips and a tasting board of dips are a great way to start any meal.
While Sneads Ferry, about 25 minutes away from Jacksonville NC, is known as a fishing and shrimp village, we think this restaurant may put it on the map for its authentic Mexican cuisine, attentive staff and appealing decor.
Don’t miss: Cilantro Cream Enchiladas or the Poblano Burrito, the hand-crafted margaritas or the tequila list with 30+ offerings.
Aji Ichiban offers an array of Japanese dishes including Braised Pigs Feet.
You won’t find much about this tiny restaurant on the internet, but we are here to tell you, this little spot holds a world of big flavors–all of them with their roots in Okinawa, Japan. The charming Jacksonville Japanese restaurant is the result of a love story between owners Clyde and Noriko Greene. The two met in Okinawa on his first day of deployment as a Marine in 1972. Now 52 years later, they are still together serving guests the foods of her homeland.
Aji Ichiban has been in Jacksonville for 16 years. Regular diners will enjoy the traditional miso soup, dumplings, teriyaki, tempura, and sushi, too – all delicious. But we suggest you step out of the Bento box, act like a local, and order from the special Okinawan menu (if you know, you know).
Also, order the lumpia. Not a traditional Japanese dish, but keeping in the spirit of the community, this traditionally Filipino snack food is a Jacksonville favorite. With its newfound popularity in the area, Noriko thought she would try her hand and put her own spin on the classic street food. We’re happy to report delicious results and a great way to start your meal.
Don't Miss: From the regular menu, order the short ribs–thin sliced, and deliciously prepared. Then, from the Okinawan menu (which only the locals know about–and now you!), get the traditional Pork Belly Soup–this dish takes three days to prepare, and the deep rich flavors the result are warm and satisfying. And, don’t shy away from the braised pig feet. The Okinawan interpretation of the otherwise Southern American staple takes this dish to a whole new level.
The 12-Taco sampler plate and craft cocktails from El Cerro Tacos are a can't-miss combo.
El Cerro Tacos
714-10 W Corbett Ave, Swansboro, NC; 910-708-1015
Open 7 days, lunch and dinner.
El Cerro Grande has the distinction of being Jacksonville’s first Mexican restaurant. Opened in 1992 by the Ibarra family, the restaurant focuses on authentic recipes and flavors from the regions of Jalisco and Michoacán, Mexico. Expect generous portions from the nachos, sopas y ensaladas (soups & salads), fajitas and tacos to quesadillas, enchiladas, burritos, especialidades de la casa (and house specialties). All are exceptionally well done.
Offering a simple kids menu and a host of vegetarian offerings, this is indeed a place with something for everyone.
With the success of the first restaurant, El Cerro Tacos opened in 2018. El Cerro Tacos offers a Mexican street food in a contemporary setting with continually evolving cocktail menu and margarita flights. In 2019, El Cerro Tacos 2 opened in Swansboro. The restaurants are family-owned; El Cerro Grande is owned by Miguel Leon and El Cerro Tacos is owned by his son Erik Leon.
Don’t Miss: The Cevichile, a mix of shrimp and octopus marinated and cooked in lime juice with a spark of habanero, fresh avocado to cool things down and pico de gallo and chopped fresh cucumber to create a delicious balance is a delicious way to start. Craft cocktails or mocktails are a must. If you are dining with friends, the 12-taco sampler plate satisfies a crowd and comes with an enticing presentation.
331 Western Blvd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-333-9294
Open for lunch and dinner daily.
What an amazing authentic Filipino restaurant and bakery! Enjoy counter service from a daily buffet where you can point to what you’d like to order from among the soups, stews and noodle dishes. The smarter move is to ask for what’s on the picture menu found over the buffet.
Owner/chef Josse Passion can make just about anything you’d like from classic crispy lumpia, a Filipino eggroll of sorts, to traditional sisig, a tantalizing minced pork dish made from pork belly sautéed with ginger and onions and served sizzling hot on a cast iron skillet. The traditional grilled Filipino sausages deliver fine flavor. Save room for the locally baked cassava cake for dessert. It’s a must, and you can get it to-go, too.
Don’t Miss: Before you leave, grab a package of the traditional pork-stuffed buns sold by the half dozen to enjoy for lunch or when you are on the go.
Hakata's Ramen and sushi plate.
Hakata Japanese Steakhouse Sushi Ramen
2553 Onslow Drive, Jacksonville, NC; 910-455-8180
Dinner only, open daily; hours vary by day.
Ask locals, and they will tell you the place for ramen in Jacksonville is Hakata. Bonus here is that this small family-owned restaurant also offers hibachi, a Japanese-style steakhouse service. A specially trained chef cooks the food at a table built to provide fire, heat and a view of the chef, right before your eyes.
The restaurant is divided into two rooms–one for the hibachi tables, the other for sushi and ramen. Service on both sides is on point, as is the list of sake and Japanese wine offerings. Sushi plates are beautifully decorated with sauces, often applied as whimsical, edible “artwork.”
Don’t Miss: The ramen. Added to the menu in 2020, the ramen starts with rich broths, made from scratch. They create a base for your choice of pork, beef, noodles and fresh accompaniments. Order small or large servings, each studded with your favorite proteins. For an appetizer, try the Hakata Sashimi Special with sliced fresh tuna, salmon, hamachi, and octopus served atop a bed of seaweed salad with avocado, green onion, and capelin roe (known as masago). The chef finishes it with Hakata’s special sauce.
Havana 58 Cafe
1308 Piney Green Road, Jacksonville, NC; 910-968-0002
Open early morning to mid-afternoon daily.
Start the day with this authentic Cuban coffee and Italian espresso experience. This hidden gem of a coffee shop is drive-thru only. Order at the window from the friendly baristas and wait for your coffee or espresso to enjoy on your drive to the beach or next destination. Not a coffee lover? Havana 58 also makes fruit smoothies and offers tasty “pup cups” for any four-legged friends in the car. Three Milks Cake (Tres Leche Cake), tiramisu and chocolate cake are on the menu here. Need protein? Try the Cuban Hot Dog--a cross between a Cuban sandwich and a hot dog in a bun with pickle and mustard.
Don’t Miss: The Cubano coffee is roasted on site and served as an espresso shot sweetened with a cane sugar simple syrup. For a fabulous iced coffee experience, order the non-alcoholic Espresso Martini. In that drink, the powerful Cuban roast coffee is served over ice with a dreamy mix of cream and chocolate syrup.
A Cuban Sandwich and the traditional mofongo with a Puerto Rican flag on top.
La Cocina Del Coqui Restaurant & Food Truck
175 Freedom Way in Midway Park, NC; 910-467-4848
Open Wednesday – Saturday, call for exact times.
Plan to dine-in or order take-out at this family- and veteran-owned Puerto Rican restaurant. The focus here is national pride and flavor. The place is small and seating is limited at this restaurant with a small storefront in a shopping mall. They also own a food truck. The clever name for both comes from the tiny, green Coqui frog (a species found predominantly in Puerto Rico); it’s revered by locals there.
The menu is pork-centric and the Cuban sandwiches here are among the best we’ve tasted. On the side, enjoy maduros (fried sweet plantains) and tostones (green fried plantains). Empanadas (pastry hand pies wrapped around meat or other ingredients) and mouth watering yucca fries pair well with many menu choices. After your meal, grab one of the Pastelitos de Guayaba (guava pastries) to go.
Don’t Miss: The Cuban Sandwiches made with Cuban bread, pernil (Puerto Rican pulled pork), ham, American Swiss, pickle and mustard. Enjoy with a classic island-bottled drink such as Malta (a lightly carbonated nonalcoholic malt beverage) or CoCo Rico, a coconut soda. The garlicky tostones and yucca fries are sure to please. Or, try an order of mofongo, the rich and flavorful classic mix of mashed plantains, fried pork skins and pulled pork.
Liliana's Colombian Restaurant and Bakery
4075 Gum Branch Rd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-939-4072
Closed Sunday and Monday. Open Tuesday - Friday for lunch and dinner. Open Saturday for brunch through dinner.
Yes, there really is a Liliana Rios. She and her mother, Aura Marie Ramirez are the talent behind each of the homemade dishes on this traditional Colombian restaurant menu. You’ll find house made pastries and cakes, too. Start your meal with refreshing juices. Order with milk for a creamier beverage or skip the milk for a fruit-forward flavor.
Don’t Miss: Try arepas baked fresh onsite. Buy a few to take home or on the road. This Colombian cornmeal cake is made with corn and stuffed with cheese. Recently made famous by the Disney movie “Encanto,” the arepa here has become a fast favorite with guests who are just discovering it.
Pro Tip: Order the Papa Rellena de Res, a mashed potato stuffed with ground beef and the Sancocho de Gallina, a thick and satisfying chicken stew. For Saturday morning breakfast or brunch, try the flavorful but-not-too-spicy Colombian chorizo with eggs—a satisfying way to start the day.
Fried green beans are a tempting treat at Mandarin Asian Bistro.
Mandarin Asian Bistro
4200 Western Blvd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-353-1501
Open 7 days for Lunch and Dinner.
Classic Chinese cuisine served in a warm and cozy setting. Terrific service, excellent food. Start with tea – hot or bobo (aka Bubble Tea) and plan to order several plates for the table to share. You’ll find bento boxes and poke bowls here as well as an extensive kids menu and vegetarian options.
Don’t miss: Try the Crispy Green Beans, deep fried in tempura batter, a delightful change of pace from fries. The Katsu Chicken is moist, tender and really quite nice. The Hibachi Chicken and Teriyaki Steak come with your choice of white or fried rice and a salad.
The arches, lamps and interior at Marrakesh Mediterranean Cuisine complements the fresh grilled meat and vegetable kabobs.
Marrakesh Mediterranean Cuisine
409 Western Blvd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-219-0029
Open daily for lunch and dinner. Hours vary.
Go to Marrakesh when the mood strikes for a Moroccan and Mediterranean vibe. The interior design here speaks to the family’s heritage, and you can watch the chefs cook in the open kitchen. Ahmad Raman started the restaurant in 2010 and the operation is now run by his sons and grandsons.
Pro Tip: Start your meal with citrusy, spiced Za’tar Pita drizzled with olive oil. Or, share a spread of the traditional dips and salad sides. Marrakesh offers a full bar with wine list and a kids menu.
Don’t miss: The made-in-house stuffed grape leaves or the kabobs (chicken, beef or lamb), served hot off the grill. Kabobs are accompanied by rice. Be sure to ask for a side of classic tabouleh salad (a lemony mix of chopped parsley, green onions, cracked wheat, tomatoes and olive oil). If you love lamb, an order of chops is a must.
Beef fajita cradled in a taco, seafood cocktail and a strawberry margarita for two at Mi Cabana Mexican Restaurant.
Mi Cabana Mexican Restaurant (three locations)
1153 Western Blvd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-346-8457
521 Yopp Road, Jacksonville, NC; 910-219-4773
135 Glade Lane, Midway Park, NC; 910-219-0606
Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Mi Cabana serves up traditional Mexican food, family-style in cheerful, Mexican-themed surroundings. It’s a perfect choice for dinner with the kids or a casual outing. Hungry? Order the fajita board presented with sizzling grilled meat of your choice, plenty of warm tortillas, rice, beans and guacamole. Feeling adventurous? Order the beef tongue tacos; these taste like exquisitely tender roast beef.
Pro Tip: If you love seafood, start with the Coctel de Camarones, an oversized goblet of perfectly boiled shrimp with cilantro, onions, tomatoes and avocados bathed in a slightly spicy cocktail sauce. Cocktails and margaritas are tasty here, too. You can order a serving large enough for the table to share.
Don’t miss: $1 Taco Tuesdays (weekly)
A freshly made whoopie pie, coffee and the signature Liège Belgium Waffles at The Milk Road.
The Milk Road
4240 Gum Branch Road, Jacksonville, NC; 910-968-0650
Open daily early morning to late afternoon.
Your go-to for coffee breaks all day long, The Milk Road serves sustainably sourced, fresh roasted coffee and teas served hot and iced. Order selections straight up or as lattes or pour overs.
What lends the international flavor? The freshly made Liège Belgium Waffles. These irregularly shaped waffles are made with a thick, soft yeast dough studded with chunks of pearl sugar. In the waffle iron, the dough cooks and the chunks of sugar caramelize for an irresistibly sweet crunch in every bite. The veterans who founded this place couldn’t find the coffee or unique waffles they experienced during deployment, and this popular business was born.
The shop offers to-go service, seating inside and out on the patio or in private cabanas that look into the “Espresso Garden” on the back side of the signature black building.
Don’t Miss: The array of seasonal, fresh baked pastries and whoopie pies made with no additives or preservatives (like everything else served here).
Pro Tip: Shop the local gift items. Ask about being a member of the Milk Road subscription coffee club. You can order whole bean and ground coffee and ship it to your home.
Authentic options abound at the Miss Pho Vietnamese Restaurant.
Miss Pho Vietnamese Restaurant
1961 NC-172, Sneads Ferry, NC; 910-741-4282
Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner.
Family-owned-and-operated by Calvin Nguyen and his family, head to this restaurant in Snead’s Ferry for authentic pho (pronounced fuh), rice bowls and noodle dishes. Stop here for lunch or dinner as you begin your vacation or drive along the coast. Order at the counter for take-out or dine-in options. If you are seated at a table, a member of the Nguyen family will wheel over the piping hot bowls of broth with rice or noodles on a service cart. If you love noodles, but not the broth, try a dry noodle bowl with steaming hot rice vermicelli and fish sauce. The Pad Thai is also notable here.
ProTip: Squeeze the lime wedges that come on the side of your Pad Thai over all your food to coax the best from these Vietnamese flavors.
Don’t Miss: Try the pho here; we loved the Phò Tài with sliced rare beef served atop the rice noodle soup. We also suggest the Bún Thįt Nuóng Cha Giò or dry vermicelli with lemongrass-seasoned pork and vegetables. Looking for a little pick-me-up before or after dinner? Try an iced Vietnamese Coffee. This classic beverage delivers.
So many authentic Thai choices are offered at The Old Siam; their classic Pad Thai, shown above with tofu, comes with your choice of proteins.
The Old Siam
1215 N. Marine Blvd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-937-0099
Open daily for lunch and dinner; hours vary.
Don't let the outside of the building fool you. Inside you’ll find warm, polished wood interiors and an extensive offering of expertly prepared Thai specialties. The chef and owner, Watcharin Thaveevittayarak (affectionately known as Chef Eddie) was classically trained in Thailand. He creates magic with an array of Southeast Asian spices and a host of traditional family recipes. Start with Som Tum, served Thailand-style or Tum Lao, for a slightly salty/slightly sour and very satisfying cold green papaya salad. Then, share an order of chicken satay warmed over an open flame tableside. Dip it into a rich and creamy homemade peanut sauce.
Don’t Miss: The traditional grilled noodle dish, Pad Se Ew or classic Pad Thai, is prepared with your choice of protein. The eight-page menu shares many vegan and vegetarian options, too.
Chicken Shawarma Pita Wrap and Hummus with pitas at Olea Mediterranean Kitchen, one of two locations in NC.
Olea Mediterranean Kitchen
647 W. Corbett Ave., Swansboro, NC; 910-325-8332
Open daily for lunch and dinner. Hours vary.
Casual Mediterranean and Greek-inspired sandwiches, platters and sides make Olea the perfect stop for lunch or a take-home dinner as you travel near the waterfront and charming shops in Swansboro NC. Olea offers a kids menu and wine and beer list. Order ahead and pick up at the drive-up window or dine indoors or on the storefront patio. Inside, order at the counter and the staff brings the meal to your table. Pick up their souvlaki (marinated cubed meats and veggies) platter and grill back at the hotel by the pool or at your rental.
Don’t Miss: The light and creamy hummus with chickpeas, olive oil and warm pita. You won’t go wrong with any of the made-to-order wraps or platters from shawarma (meat cut into strips, stacked and roasted over a rotisserie or spit) to souvlaki. Be sure to include the tabouleh as one of your side dishes.
Ice Cream Shop Paleteria Deya
224 Brynn Marr Rd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-333-0538
Open daily; hours vary.
This spot speaks to the kid in all of us. Homemade Mexican ice cream, handcrafted popsicles and traditional Mexican snack foods promise flavor and adventure. Everything in this family-run Mexican ice cream parlor is made from scratch with all-natural ingredients—no corn syrup and no preservatives. The owners fill the freezers with a colorful, flavor-popping assortment of 43 choices of popsicles and 24 ice cream flavors.
Pro Tip: When it comes to savory snacks, all options are made-to-order. Want a unique smoothie? Order the popular sweet/sour/spicy/salty Mangonada, a frozen mango smoothie, traditionally seasoned with sweet, spicy chamoy (a sauce made with chilies, hibiscus and dried apricots) and tamarind paste.
Don’t Miss: The Mexican favorite, esquites or Mexican street corn, boiled, cut from the cob and served in a cup layered with mayo, crumbled Mexican queso, lime juice and chili powder.
Paris Bahn Mi (a hybrid Vietnamese and French sandwich)
Paris Bahn Mi Café and Bakery
103 Western Blvd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-333-9289
7 days a week for coffee & tea, pastries, lunch or dinner.
Stop here for Vietnamese coffee drinks and boba or bubble tea, French-inspired pastries and several varieties of the classic Bahn Mi Sandwich. Paris Bahn Mi Café and Bakery is a national chain, but the Jacksonville location remains locally owned and operated and delivers high-quality food in a fast-food style. In a hurry? Hit the drive thru and order from your car.
When the country of Vietnam was a part of French Indochina in the mid to late 19th century, the French baguette was introduced and quickly became a part of the culture. Cooks filled the French baguettes with their choice of meat, pickled carrots, seasonings (think cilantro, chiles, green onion, and the chef’s choice of sauce) to make a portable sandwich. That was the beginning of Bahn Mi. This restaurant offers their versions on your choice of baguettes, croissants or rolls.
For those in search of an “instagrammable” dining moment, the cafe offers several varieties of the very trendy K-Dog. These Korean-style, batter-dipped hot dogs are rolled in batter and finished with a fun, eclectic assortment of toppings. We recommend the half and half dog: half hot dog, half cheese, dipped in a classic batter and rolled in crushed, hot CheetosⓇ.
Don’t Miss: The Special Combination Bahn Mi on a classic roll. Try any of the serve-yourself French pastries (you can pick your favorites from bins in the center of the restaurant); almond cream-filled pastries were our favorite. Also, the lychee boba paired the right sweet finish between bites of the jalapeno-laced Bahn Mi Baguette.
At Pho 7: Pho topped with fresh sprouts, basil, and jalapenos and stir-fried chicken on a bed of crispy noodles.
423 Yopp Rd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-577-0188
Open daily for lunch and dinner; hours vary.
This casual Vietnamese, family-friendly dining spot is tucked into an unassuming shopping center west of downtown before you cross the New River. It’s a natural first stop if you’re coming in from Raleigh, NC. Go here for a quick lunch or simple dinner. Matcha, Thai tea, honeydew, watermelon, kiwi, lychee, dragon fruit (and more) inspire a wide assortment of milk teas, tapioca teas (also known as bubble teas) and fruity tea refreshers to start or accompany your meal.
Pro Tip: The restaurant’s namesake dish, Pho (a brothy Vietnamese noodle soup) is seasoned with lime, jalapeno, Vietnamese basil, cilantro and bean sprouts. If desired, stir in traditional condiments from your table such as hoisin and chili sauce. Pho is pronounced “fuh.” Order any of the Vietnamese noodle dishes here.
Don’t Miss: The Xào (stir fry) comes with soft noodles, crisp noodles or white rice. We loved the crispy rice noodle option. The chef cleverly fries noodles into a nest that surrounds stir-fried veggies and your choice of proteins. It is almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
Satisfying creations are served daily at the Plaza Del Mariachi Tequila Bar.
Plaza Del Mariachi Tequila Bar
101 Parkwood Drive, Jacksonville, NC; 910-333-9640
Dine indoors or outside on the colorful patio. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Jalisco, Mexico comes to Jacksonville, NC with this family-friendly Mexican restaurant and Tequila Bar. The traditionally decorated interiors with Mexican tiles, wide tables and traditional art offers enough space for a family dinner as well as smaller, private spaces for date nights. This authentic family-owned Mexican restaurant offers something for everyone.
Check out the Ceviche and Guacamole Bar where your chunky fresh guac is made to order, And if you love Tequila, ask for the long list of special pours and flights to taste.
In between the appetizers and the cocktails, check out the Platos Del Chef or signature chef platters for main course platters: Try Enchiladas Bandera, grilled chicken enchiladas topped with red salsa, cheese sauce and green salsa. OR, savor savor ACP Trio (their play on Arroz con Pollo) with chicken, steak, shrimp, peppers, onion and cheese over rice. Most chef platters come in lunch or dinner serving portions. You’ll also find the trending Carne Asada Fries as a starter; an order is enough for a meal. Tacos, Burritos and Fajitas round out the menu.
Don’t miss: The made to order guacamole really is well done and exceptionally fresh. The guac and an order of freshly fried chips sets the tone for a strong evening. A trio of tacos with sides of salsa, alongside a little something from the bar, instantly satisfies.
Pollos Tete ordered a custom-made oven for their rotisserie chicken that uses both wood and charcoal. Yucca fries and salad come with the half chicken plate, here. Try the flan for dessert.
222 Brynn Marr Rd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-333-0696
Open daily for lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday.
This small, family-owned casual dining spot is THE place for Peruvian/Bolivian-style rotisserie chicken–and they’ll treat you like family. Just look at their reviews. Cooked over charcoal, the chicken comes in whole, half or quarter chicken portions. Sides of tender, tempting fried yuca, (think French fries, but cut thick and more interesting) and a fresh salad complete the meal. You can order South American chicken, fish and rice platters, salad and sandwiches, too. Drink options include an assortment of traditional South American bottled and canned sodas.
Pro Tip: The chicken comes with homemade sauces: Mild Yellow Sauce and Green Hot Sauce. Try them both; they’re perfect with the fried yuca, too.
Don’t Miss: Order the homemade flan for dessert. It is spot on.
Caribbean flavors are fresh and palate-pleasing at R&R's Caribbean Fusion.
R&Rs Caribbean Fusion
331 Western Blvd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-238-2280
Open Sunday – Friday, lunch and early dinner. Delivery, take-out, dine in.
Just opened in 2023, this Caribbean fusion restaurant celebrates the flavors of Spain, the West Indies and the Dominican Republic. Guests are greeted by a bank of flags hanging from the ceiling as they walk into the restaurant. Owners Rosemary and Rahain, who are known to friends as “Ra,” are the “R&R” behind the name. This counter service, buffet-style spot, is inspired by the cuisine of the couple’s homelands. She is from the Dominican Republic, and his family hails from St. Croix and Puerto Rico.
The notion of fusion cuisine here results in big, bold flavors, some of it spicy, some of it not. Also be sure to check out the variety of classic Caribbean beverages, such as Ting and Jamaican Irish Moss; they come in single serving bottles and cans.
Don’t miss: You’ll love the plantains and the mac and cheese, the stewed Spanish-style chicken and the curry; you’ll find notable oxtail here, too. Take good care not to pass up your choice of a homemade veggie, beef or curried chicken patty wrapped in the fresh baked cocoa bread.
Eva Gao, owner of Sake Asian Fusion will expertly craft sushi specialities..
Sake Asian Fusion
461 Western Blvd, Jacksonville, NC; 910-938-9666
7 days, lunch and dinner.
Bamboo Asian House
918 W Corbett Ave, Swansboro, NC; 910-325-7873
7 days, lunch and dinner.
These sister restaurants in Jacksonville and neighboring Swansboro are owned by two best friends, Eva Gao and Kitty Ding. Both restaurants focus on exquisite sushi with efficient teams working behind the counter that guests can see and admire. Each of these restaurants has a special place in the heart of locals and visitors alike for their Chinese specialties, too. The best tip we can offer for either place, particularly in the busy summer season: Make reservations.
Don’t miss: The specialty sushi at both of these restaurants is top shelf. At Sake Asian Fusion, the Japanese Nachos with a crisp tempura seaweed base, topped with spicy tuna, a special sauce and crunchy tempura bits on top should definitely be ordered. At Bamboo Asian House, Angry Bird sushi, the General Tso Chicken and the Crispy Beef are long-time, crowd-pleasing favorites.
Warm edamame makes the perfect appetizer at Wasabi Japanese Sushi & Cuisine.
Wasabi Japanese Sushi & Cuisine
472 Western Blvd, Jacksonville, NC: 910-353-8886
Open for lunch and dinner, 7 days a week.
New York sushi and style lands in Jacksonville at this small, family-owned-and-operated sushi bar and restaurant. The young and enthusiastic team at Wasabi, led by brother and sister Lee Li and Jessie Zheng, celebrated 10 years in Jacksonville in April 2023.
This popular sushi spot has thrived and with good reason. Flavor and style here are spot on.
Start with sake or Japanese wine, if you’d like; or try the Honey Iced Green Tea or the Asian iced coffee, both made in house and from scratch. While the teriyaki and tempura, noodles, fried rice and Japanese curry are all delicious, sushi and sashimi are the name of the game here.
Sit at a table or if you are lucky, score a seat at the tiny sushi bar and watch the chefs work their magic.
Don’t miss: For starters, order the warm edamame–it comes spicy or not; the crisp seaweed salad or the Age Dashi Tofu. When it comes to sushi, you can’t miss. If you love a spectacular presentation and great flavor, order the Wasabi Sushi Cake. This unique presentation illuminates the fresh made lobster salad layered with avocado, and topped with tuna, salmon, yellowtail, eel and four kinds of tobiko all served with colorful soybean papers on the side.
The Braised oxtail with rice and sides (right) is a specialty at the West Indian Kitchen.
West Indian Kitchen
93 Western Blvd., Suite F, Jacksonville, NC; 910-968-0069
Open for lunch and early dinner (to 7PM) Open Tuesday - Saturday, dine-in or take-out.
From the beloved Jacksonville, NC food truck of the same name comes West Indian Kitchen. Owned by Lucia (called “Mama” by all who know her) and William Stridiron, this is the place to go for serious comfort food–and an equally comforting visit with Mama in this tucked away oasis with green and white wallpaper and gold accents.
This restaurant setting with botanical-themed wallpaper offers a mix of incredibly well done Puerto Rican, Jamaican and Caribbean food. The restaurant (and the previous food truck) is named in honor of a restaurant Mama’s mother-in-law owned back in the Islands.
On the menu at today’s West Indian Kitchen is Mama’s curried and jerk chicken, curried goat, melt-in-your-mouth braised oxtails, classic plantains, empanadas and a host of wonderful sides.
Don’t miss: Time to chat with Mama. The woman has an incredible history. She’s a retired police officer and former security detail for the wife of the governor of the Virgin Islands. She loves to cook, and it shows. Don’t pass on the collard greens; we could have eaten bowls full. Mama’s Oxtail is top notch. If soursop slushies are on the daily menu, just answer, “Yes!” Go for the food, stay for the experience and good vibes when you depart.
Map Your Culinary Mission
Reviews and photos by Heidi Billotto
About Heidi Billotto: Visit Jacksonville NC asked Carolina's local food advocate and travel writer Heidi Billotto to serve as a consultant and objective set of taste buds as we vetted our international food trail offerings. Passionate about consuming local food and drink wherever she goes, Heidi traveled to each of the restaurants featured on our trail. A food writer and media personality, Heidi Billotto has been a James Beard restaurant and cookbook judge. Find her food-centric and travel segments on TV stations in Raleigh and Charlotte, NC. Heidi created and hosts the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association’s annual NC Chef Showdown, an event which promotes chefs across the state. Read more from Heidi at HeidiBillottoFood.com.
More to come! In the coming months, we’ll be adding destinations to the trail. Do you know of an authentic, international restaurant that serves high quality food made by people who have deep experience in that cultural tradition? Email us.