Swansboro may be small in population (3,200) and size (less than 3 square miles) but this coastal community in North Carolina is big on charm and delicious places to enjoy a meal or beverage on the waterfront.
Known as “the friendly city by the sea,” Swansboro has amazing options for dining. Whether you’re in the mood for a huge burger, deli sandwich, fruit fritters, filets or seafood you’ll find it here in pubs and fine dining restaurants.
Here are my selections for best restaurants in Swansboro, NC. Don’t forget to wave to Elvis as you pass down Front Street.
I loved Riverside Steak & Seafood before I even stepped inside because it’s in an old house. I love older homes and for years living in a Craftsman bungalow built in 1918, so have a particular fondness for homes of that era. This home was built by the Russell family in 1915 on a hill in Swansboro and renovated into a restaurant in 1998.
But there were plenty more reasons to love this fine dining restaurant. The food was amazing and so beautifully presented.
Let’s start with the bread the server brought to the table. I have such vivid memories of going out to dinner as a child and my mom saying every single time, “Don’t fill up on bread.” Of course my brothers and I would pounce on the breadbasket like four year olds at an Easter egg hunt, pull out the warm puffs of white rolls and stick huge gobs of hard butter on them and jam them whole into our mouths before grabbing another. And it was real butter, not like the yucky margarine we had at home.
These days I am rarely tempted by bread baskets as about 90% of restaurants serve flavorless, tasteless bread. But I always take a bite just to make sure I won’t suffer from bread FOMO.
I’m happy to report Riverside is in the elite 10% as the server brought a basket of savory, delicious, delectable sweet potato muffins. My mother’s words came back to me and stopped me from devouring the whole basket. But I could have.
Apparently the recipe is a secret, but some fans created one they think is close, which they call Emerald Isle Sweet Potato Muffins. I may have to give this recipe a try, slathered with my own creamy butter.
Riverside specializes in steaks and local North Carolina seafood. I figure I can get steaks a lot of places so I usually opt for seafood when given a chance to have fish local fresh, which you can find in several restaurants in coastal Swansboro, NC.
Our table started with some seafood nachos, blackened shrimp with sun-dried tomatoes and black bean relish, baked with three cheeses and served with guacamole and chipotle salsa.
These weren’t your usual dumped-in-a-pile nachos. They were presented individually and looked like little works of art. We took a few seconds to admire them before quickly devouring them.
With choices like grilled mahi, yellowfin tuna, grouper Pico and salmon Oscar (with crabmeat, hollandaise and asparagus) it was a tough choice for me. But I went with the lobster ravioli served on a sun-dried tomato and pine nut pesto cream sauce tossed with scallops, shrimp and basil – so delicious. The pasta and steak entrees looked really good as well. It’s hard to go wrong here with whatever you order.
Mississippi Mud Pie and nightly dessert specials are available to round out your meal. Or you can always eat another sweet potato muffin if you have room.
Riverside has children’s platters that include chicken tenders (my son’s sole source of protein for seven years), grilled cheese, spaghetti and shrimp.
You’ll also find a large list of craft, imported and domestic beers, and several wines available by the glass.
Riverside Steak & Seafood is open for dinner nightly. 506 W. Corbett Ave., Swansboro, NC, (910) 326-8847
When you see the brightly colored decorations in the windows, a statue of Elvis playing the guitar in the doorway and a line of casually dressed people waiting to get in, you may have some idea what you’re in for.
Then I stepped inside and it looked like an Elvis shrine had exploded. Elvis was in the house. On the walls. And even standing in a corner of the lady’s room.
As I entered the tiny red-walled bathroom I saw Cardboard Elvis in the corner. I touched him and he spoke to me. I forget his exact words, but it was a bit unnerving to then partially undress while he continued to look at me with that trademark smirk that had induced many a lady to swoon.
The eclectic décor of the small diner includes other ‘50s icons like James Dean, Lucy, Betty Boop and Marilyn Monroe. And of course there’s a jukebox.
Yana’s serves breakfast and lunch and you can find the usual items – egg dishes, pancakes, French fries, onion rings, milk shakes, burgers, sandwiches and Coke floats. Nothing on the menu was over $10.
One specialty is the homemade fruit fritters, made with four types of fruit: apples, bananas, strawberries and peach, depending on the season. We were there for breakfast and ordered some of each kind. They came piled on a red plate topped with whipped cream and a cherry. Decadence on a plate.
Another treat is when you spot the proprietor, a stately woman named Evelyn Moore, who has been running Yana’s since 1983, and also goes by the name Yana Mama.
She told us her love of Elvis developed when she went to his concert in Charlotte, which is close to her hometown. Yana was her great-grandmother’s name and she uses her fritter recipe.
If you’re inspired to incorporate a little ‘50s décor in your life, step next door to Yana Mama’s Memorabilia Shop at 117 Front Street. You know you need that Lone Ranger lunch box.
While the food may not be the healthiest, the atmosphere and going to the bathroom with Elvis made it one of my favorite places to eat in Swansboro, NC.
Yana’s Restaurant is open daily from 7:00 a.m. to. 2:00 p.m. 119 Front Street, Swansboro, NC, 28584, (910) 326-5501
We started one morning with weekend brunch at The Boro, right on Front Street. Choices included omelets and dishes like Hangover Express with two fried eggs, sausage gravy and buttermilk biscuits. I opted for the Fit as a Fiddle, an egg white scramble, goat cheese and spinach on an English muffin.
You can also opt for sweet or savory crepes, which led me down memory lane to when I used to love the crepes at a restaurant called Magic Pan. They seem to have a thing about fritters in Swansboro, NC – not that I’m complaining. We enjoyed a few at The Boro, ensuring we met double our daily sugar intake before noon.
While our schedule didn’t allow us to have dinner here, we definitely caught the late-night vibe one night after dinner as we strolled down Front Street. Dozens of people were lounging outside on the patio enjoying live music as we walked by, pausing to take in the scene. You’ll know you’re there when you see the swan statue out front. The Boro features live music on Fridays and posts its schedule on its Facebook page.
Owners Randy and Nancy Swanson were high school sweethearts. Their first restaurant was Icehouse Waterfront Restaurant, which has been closed for repairs from Hurricane Florence, which hit the area hard in 2018. The popular restaurant, sadly, suffered extensive damage, but they are working hard on its restoration and reopening.
They opened Boro in 2010 in a former duck decoy shop as a casual fine dining restaurant. The emphasis is on small tapas-style plates and guests rave about items like hot crab dip, stuffed flounder, ahi tuna, fried chicken, mahi tacos and shrimp dishes.
You’ll find chef’s features like grilled red snapper, parmesan peppercorn grouper and blackened snapper. Sides include cauliflower mash, bacon roasted Brussels sprouts and cole slaw.
The Boro has a rotating selection of 12 craft draft beers and a wine list of more than 130 selections that recently earned the restaurant a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its assortment and “thematic match to the menu in both price and style.”
There’s a children’s menu with the usuals – chicken tenders, pasta, fried shrimp and hot dogs, served with a drink and fries.
It is open for lunch and dinner every day and serves brunch on Saturday and Sunday. 109 Front Street, Swansboro, NC, (910) 325-0502
You can’t miss the Church Street Irish Pub & Deli as it takes up a big chunk of Church Street near the waterfront. Enter at the bar area and you’ll see a warren of small dark-paneled cozy rooms, just like the pubs in Ireland and every other Irish pub you’ve ever visited. I love that warm, clubby feeling – an indication you’re in for a good time and hearty fare.
This is the place to come for huge sandwiches made with Boar’s Head meat, salads, hot dogs and burgers made with Angus beef. This menu presented a hard choice for me. The cranberry walnut salad with crumbled goat cheese and Boar’s Head bacon, the ½ pound pimento bacon burger or the tidewater sandwich with chicken salad, bacon and sliced avocado? You can’t go wrong here if you’re into pub food like I am.
The wide selection on the menu makes it a great choice for groups, and there is a kid’s menu, including a peanut butter and banana sandwich. A tribute to Elvis perhaps?
And you can’t have an Irish pub without beer, right? You’ll find a selection of draft beers, including three from Ireland, and several imported microbrew bottles. One of the pub’s specialties is the Mike’s Black Eye, a pint of Guinness with a shot of espresso from the espresso bar. Drink if you dare.
Wine lovers like me aren’t neglected here. I’ve been to several pubs where the selection of wine is either none, or red or white. I’m not too proud to confess that when the option is none, I’ve been known to pout a bit. Just ask my beer-loving husband, who has a similar reaction when all he can find is light beer. Church Street has a few dozen red and white selections, available by the glass or bottle.
The dessert selection includes milkshakes and a popular caramel apple pie with vanilla ice cream.
Church Street got its start in 1993 as Church Street Coffee Co. The deli was added in 1997 and the pub in 2005. Why stop there? In 2011 the five-suite Church Street Inn was added.
Church Street is closed Mondays; hours for other days vary. 105 W Church Street, Swansboro, NC, (910) 326-7572
You can’t get much closer to the water than Saltwater Grill, located in a three-story house. We dined on the second floor, which has an inviting deck. Unfortunately it suffered hurricane damage and was undergoing repair at the time of our visit. It has since reopened, much to the delight of Saltwater’s loyal patrons.
When the weather is nice, Saltwater may offer dining on the dock or for a special occasion, along the waterfront.
As you may have guessed from its name, Saltwater specializes in fresh seafood with items like bacon wrapped scallops, saku tuna, she crab soup and crab-encrusted grouper.
Meat-lovers can get their fix here as well. How about candied applewood bacon served with grilled cinnamon apples as a starter? Follow that with Thai steak salad, Angus beef filet or beef short ribs. And you’ll also find a selection of pastas, chicken and beef dishes. Finish the meal with a delicious slice of key lime pie.
Chef Martin Berndt is a local who has lived around the world as his father is a three-star general. He moved back to the states in 1995.
Saltwater hosts live music and Friday night dock parties on its waterfront stage. Check the Facebook page for events and specials, such as two-for-one entrees.
Saltwater Grill is open daily for lunch and dinner. 99 W Church St, Swansboro, NC, (910) 326-7300.
Restaurants near Swansboro, NC
Swansboro is small, so you don’t have to drive far to leave its limits. Here are some other restaurants just a short distance away, also in Onslow County.
The Kettle Diner
Jacksonville, North Carolina
Cheap prices, good food and friendly servers. Kettle Diner has everything you want in a diner experience.
Beulaville, North Carolina
This family-owned business includes a gift shop, event space, farm and restaurant. People flock here for their family-style dinners of all-you-can eat fried chicken and sides.
For more information on what to do in Swansboro and the rest of Onslow County, visit Only in Onslow.
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– Jan Schroder, Editor in chief