The Locals Guide to the Best Topsail Island Seafood

Topsail Island, North Carolina is known for its fresh, local seafood. There's nothing quite like watching your fresh catch of the day go from the boats to the markets and restaurants. In honor of the delicious fresh catch here on the island we're sharing with you this Locals' Guide to the Best Topsail Island Seafood. These places are right near your Topsail Island vacation rental, so fresh fish and seafood are always right within your reach. Enjoy! 

How to Shop for Fresh Seafood

Sometimes you may feel intimidated when shopping for fresh local seafood. What should you buy? How should it look? What do you look for in terms of freshness and quality? Here are some of the best tips when shopping and buying local seafood on Topsail Island or anywhere else. You won't have any regrets when you bring your fresh fish or seafood back to your Topsail rental for a fabulously delicious meal. Here's what you need to know. 

Whole Fish & Filets

  • Look for bright, clear eyes. The eyes are the window to a truly fresh fish, for they fade quickly into gray dullness. Dull-eyed fish may be safe to eat, but they are past their prime. 
  • Next look at the fish. Does it shine? Does it look metallic and clean? Or has it dulled or has discolored patches on it? If so, it is marginal. 
  • Smell it. A fresh fish should smell like clean water, or a touch briny or even like cucumbers. Under no circumstances should you buy a foul smelling fish. Cooking won't improve it. 
  • Look at the gills. They should be a rich red. If the fish is old, they will turn the color of faded brick.
  • Look for vibrant flesh. All fish fade as they age. If the fillet still has skin, that skin should look as pristine as the skin on an equally good whole fish–shiny and metallic. 
  • Is there liquid on the meat? If so, that liquid should be clear, not milky. Milky liquid on a fillet is the first stage of rot. 
  • If the fishmonger lets you, press the meat with your finger. It should be resilient enough so your indentation disappears. If your fingerprint remains, move on.

Live Seafood

  • The best way to choose a live fish or crab or lobster is to look for life. Is it scampering around in its tank? Swimming happily? Or is it sulking in a corner or hanging motionless and panting? If so, don’t buy it. Lobsters and crabs starve themselves in tanks and often can be almost empty inside when you crack open one that’s been imprisoned in a tank for weeks.
  • Your best bet is to make friends with the fishmonger and find out when the new shipments arrive. Plan on being there to meet it and buy then. You will be rewarded for your extra effort.
  • It's important to buy from reputable establishments. Fish and seafood markets should have high quality standards and safe handling processes.
  • Seafood needs to be kept right around the 32-degree Fahrenheit mark for optimal freshness. So be sure the fish market has adequate refrigeration and/or ice.
  • Seafood is highly perishable so it should be the last stop on your shopping trip. Avoid cross-contamination by keeping seafood separate from your other food and groceries.


  • Buy only at the finest fish markets. These are the places where turnover is so rapid you can be assured of fresh mussels, clams or oysters. You may still get a dead one, but the ratio will be far lower.
  • Scallops. Scallops are almost always sold shucked. So what you are looking for are “dry packed” scallops, meaning they are not shipped and stored in brine. Those scallops you see wallowing in milky ick? Leave them be. 
  • Shrimp. When you are near a shrimping region like Topsail Island and have access to truly magnificent fresh shrimp, by all means—buy them. Head on if possible. Why? Because head-on shrimp stay moister. These same rules apply to crayfish, too.
  • Squid or Octopus. If you can buy squid and octopus fresh, do it! They are rare treats. Like finfish, you should look first at their eyes, which should be clean and bright.
  • The Fish Market. The bottom line is that a fish shop should not stink. If it does, just turn around and leave. Fantastic fish can be had at a farmer’s market stall, a hole in the wall or in a flashy boutique, but none should smell like low tide.

You can read more about these tips and others in this article by The Spruce: Before You Buy Fish or Shellfish.

Popular Topsail Seafood Markets

Now that you know what to look for when shopping for fresh fish and seafood, here are our recommendations on some of the best and most popular Topsail Island seafood markets. You can count on quality and freshness in addition to a nice selection of what's in season during your Topsail beach vacation. If you have any questions, be sure to ask when you're shopping. Those who work at these local markets are knowledgable about the local catch and can help you. They're friendly, too!

JM'S Place Seafood & Grocery

520 N New River Dr

Surf City, North Carolina


The Shrimp Lady Seafood Market

989 Old Folkstone Rd

Sneads Ferry, North Carolina

(910) 546-8169

Surf City Crab Seafood Market

508 Roland Ave

Surf City, North Carolina

(910) 328-5004

Thomas Tackle & Seafood

14210 NC Highway 50

Holly Ridge, North Carolina 

(910) 328-4361

Best Seafood Restaurants on Topsail Island

Good food is plentiful on Topsail Island and the hardest part is deciding where to dine. With so many fresh and delicious options, you just may have to come back again and again to try some new favorites. Here are some of the best Topsail Island seafood restaurants that you and your family are sure to love. Come hungry!

The Beach Shop & Grille

701 S Anderson Blvd

Topsail Beach, NC

(910) 328-6501

Beauchaine's 211

211 S Topsail Dr

Surf City, NC

(910) 328-1888

The Bistro at Topsail  

602-B Roland Ave

Surf City, NC

(910) 328-2000

The Breezeway

636 Channel Blvd

Topsail Beach, NC

(910) 328-7751

The Crab Pot

508 Roland Ave

Surf City, NC

(910) 328-5001

Daddy' Macs Grill

108 N Shore Dr

Surf City, NC

(910) 328-5577

Inlet 790 Grill & Bar

790 New River Inlet Rd

North Topsail Beach, NC

(910) 328-0790

Mainsail Catering

108 N Shore Dr 

Surf City, NC

(910) 328-0010

Ocean's Edge

2000 New River Inlet Dr

North Topsail Beach, NC

(910) 328-0582

Quartermaster's Tavern

13741 NC Roland Ave

Surf City, NC

(910) 329-9922

SeaView Restaurant

124 Fishing Pier Lane

North Topsail Beach, NC

(910) 328-3172

Sears Landing

806 Roland Ave

Surf City, NC

(910) 328-1312

The Shuckin' Shack

13460 Hwy 50 Suite 101 

Surf City , NC

(910) 803-2037

Topsail Steamer

303 S Topsail Dr

Surf City, NC

(910) 328-2645

More Local Favorites

Check out more of our favorite Topsail, North Carolina restaurants & find your fave.

Looking for more Topsail seafood recommendations and reviews? Check out TripAdvisor's List of Best Topsail Seafood Restaurants.

What's your go-to place for fresh local Topsail Island seafood? We want to know! 

You have to be here to enjoy all of the local bounty, so go ahead and plan your next Topsail beach vacation. See you soon!

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