My family as spent many summers in Emerald Isle over the years and I think it is one of the best beach towns. Over the years, we have ate at many of the restaurants on the island and the below are the places that we always seem to go back to. I hope this helps with your next trip to Emerald Isle!
Rucker Johns is one of the best places to go for lunch or dinner on the island. This is a favorite of locals and visitors, so the lines tend to get a little long. That said, it's location in a shopping plaza makes it easy to walk around while you wait for a table. They serve a wide range of pub-style food and it's one of the places that we head to each year, because we know it's reliable with the kids. Menu items include: ribs, burgers, chicken fingers, shrimp and grits and much more. The kids menu is fantastic (includes kids portion of BBQ chicken and ribs).
Amos Mosquito's Restaurant
This is one of the most popular (well deserved) restaurants on the island. It's located on the northern end of the island (Atlantic Beach) and draws a crowd. Our first time there, we showed up early, right after the restaurant opened, and the wait was almost an hour. Get there early and get there hungry. The restaurant serves southern fried pork chops, lump crab cakes, ribeye, sushi, shrimp and grits and a lot more. The restaurant also has a great kids menu.
The Saltwater Grill is located on the edge of Hawkins Bay, in the town of Sawnsboro. The restaurant is on the second floor and provides indoor and outdoor seating. I love sitting outdoors during the evening and watching the sunset. The food focuses on refined local favorites. You'll be able to choice from dishes such as: she crab soup, alligator bites, bone-in pork chop, beef short ribs, crab encrusted grouper, and saltwater shrimp paella. At the end of the meal, take a moment to walk around the town. It's an absolute gem.
While Beaufort is a drive from Emerald Isle, this historic city is worth the trip. Beaufort is known worldwide as the place where Blackbeard the pirate ran his ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, aground. The waterfront city has a boardwalk which takes you past some cute shops and good food. Located on the water, the Finz Grill offers a bounty of meal options for the whole family. Finz serves burgers, wraps, seafood sandwiches, fish tacos and island chicken.
Clyde Phillips Seafood Market (or Capn Willis)
If you're looking to celebrate the fresh seafood options while on vacation by cooking in your rental, this could be a dinner option for you. Clyde's is located on a small island right before Swansboro. It has a dock where the boats pull up and unload the morning's catch. You can walk in, and pick from what was catch that day. The fishmonger can filet and scale the fish if you want, then you can take it home for dinner that night.