After years of enjoying umpteen-course, gut-busting dining adventures from here to Fenwick Island, I came to realize that fun can also come in pint-sized portions, and that the secret to enjoying fine dining more enjoyably (and more affordably) is really pretty simple: 

(1) Choose a night (weeknights are best), and pick one or two AMAZING Wilmington-area restaurants. Le Cavalier at the Green Room is reliably impressive, with a visually stunning bar – let’s try that first. And Bardea Food & Drink has that clubby charm, perfect for a chill late-evening vibe. 

(2) Decline the hostess’s offer of a table and head directly to the bar area, where you’ll likely find a cushy refuge with a perfect people-watching perspective. Immerse yourself in the cool vibes and buzzy atmosphere as you chill and chat with the bartender.  

(3) Order a cocktail, and try to lean toward the adventuresome side. Choose a couple of appetizers – again, take a chance on dishes that speak of new experiences, fresh concepts. 

(4) Rinse and repeat: Head off to restaurant No. 2 with your appetite still intact, and enjoy another round of sipping and snacking. You’ll be surprised at how much you can experience – and how little you’ll spend – by liberally applying the Drinks-and-Apps technique.  

Here are a few favorite upscale spots in the city for your next to mix-and-match adventure: 

Le Cavalier: The sparkling bar is perfectly positioned for people-watching, and cocktails are works of art in themselves: Try a Green Room Old Fashioned, made with blended scotch, pinot noir reduction, orange bitters and angostura. Nibble on Steak Tartare with Castelvetrano olive tapenade and herbes d'Provence potato chips. 

The Garden room at Bardea: If you can’t find room at the bar, try this cozy refuge lying between Bardea Food & Drink and its sister restaurant, Bardea Steak. There’s an airy outdoor vibe, and the bar treats are nearly as impressive as the main menu: Try a Late Night Smash (fat-washed bourbon, mint, lemongrass, mulberry), and snack on a Wagyu Empanadas, made with cooper sharp cheese, truffles and horseradish. 

Columbus Inn: Old-school cocktail vibes are sustained here by cushy leather banquettes and a cozy, clubby decor. Surprises abound on the fun appetizer menu: The “Arrogant Cauliflower” comes dressed in blue cheese dressing, tomato, cucumber and celery. Wash it down with a Blue Agave Margherita, made with blanco tequila, triple sec, fresh lime juice and agave nectar. 

Banks Seafood Kitchen and Raw Bar: Ask for one of the waterfront tables outside if you’re seeking an intimate evening, but you’ll find more fun in the roomy bar, where you can explore the raw bar menu and enjoy a Delaware beach classic – an icy Crush made with fresh-squeezed orange, lime or grapefruit vodka. 

Bardea Garden

  • 612 North Market St.

Bardea Garden is a casual & relaxed outdoor dining destination. Guests can expect a dynamic outdoor dining room, with a mix of lounge and traditional seating surrounded by lush…

Bardea Steak

  • 608 North Market St.

Bardea Steak is a boutique steakhouse for the 21st century from James Beard semifinalist, Bardea Restaurant Group. Here you can experience rare beef breeds and unique cuts…

Columbus Inn

  • 2216 Pennsylvania Ave.

What is old is new again! Columbus Inn re-opens with Seasonal American Cuisine, an Old World wine list, and pre-prohibition cocktails. Come join us for Lunch, Brunch, or Dinner…

Banks Seafood Kitchen and Raw Bar

  • 101 S. Market St.

A name recognized for its tradition of fresh ingredients, innovative cuisine and unsurpassed service. That tradition can be found on Riverfront Wilmington at Banks’ Seafood…

Bar Reverie: This handsome new offshoot of the neighboring BBC Tavern & Grill has a sophisticated vibe and an easygoing charm that encourages lingering barside. Try the Grilled Lamb Lollipop appetizer with house-made de los Andes style chimichurri sauce, accompanied by wine chosen from Reverie’s world-class cellar, with more than 100 bottles. 

Merchant Bar: The long and spacious bar is a perfect perch for enjoying this casually minded spot. Perk up with a “Covfefe” cocktail made with bourbon, coffee, crème de cacao, mole bitters, coconut honey, cinnamon and coffee cubes. Then dig into apps: Perhaps a Tuna Crudo with avocado, macadamia nuts and crispy fried wontons; or some Short Rib Empanadas, served with ricotta cheese, chimichurri, and Colombian-style salsa. 

Tonic Seafood & Steak: An easygoing cosmopolitan vibe gives Tonic big style points, and the ambitious menu works to keep the evening lively no matter where you sit. Signature cocktails include an intriguing “Italian Cosmo” with pomegranate vodka, Aperol liqueur, cranberry and lemon. Appetizers embrace perennial classics (Cognac Cream Mussels with leeks and a truffle garlic baguette) as well as some moments of sheer fun (Crab Rangoon Deviled Eggs with crispy wontons). 

And many more: Other prime spots for barside fun in Wilmington include Kid Shelleen’s, Piccolina Toscana, Oath 84, Eclipse Bistro, Chelsea Tavern, Mikimotos, Farmer & the Cow, Iron Hill Brewery

Bar Reverie

  • 4017 Kennett Pike

Located in beautiful and historic Greenville, Delaware, a cafe by day, inspired dining by night, wine bar restaurant featuring a menu with a nod to French cuisine. Open Daily…

BBC Tavern & Grill

  • 4019 Kennett Pike

Enjoy our famous pretzels with homemade mustard, huge nachos, corn-and-crab chowder. A relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Semi private meeting/event space available for group up…

Merchant Bar

  • 426 North Market St.

An elevated gastrobar that infuses a chef-driven menu with an original hand-crafted cocktail menu focused on high-quality ingredients, aiming to bring you a unique bar and…

Tonic Seafood & Steak

  • 111 W. 11th St.

Tonic Seafood & Steak is an upscale bar and restaurant at the heart of downtown Wilmington. Our rotating menu focuses on creative cuisine dishes and unique signature cocktails…

Chelsea Tavern

  • 821 Market St.

An Urban Tavern located in the heart of Wilmington featuring 30 craft brews on tap along with a daily Cask Conditioned Specialty Beer. The Chef delivers a beer and wine friendly…

Mikimotos Asian Grill & Sushi Bar

  • 1212 Washington St.

Located on Washington Street in center city Wilmington, Delaware, we offer an upbeat atmosphere with modern Asian fare. The ideal location to enjoy the best + freshest sushi in…

Eclipse Bistro

  • 1020 N. Union St.

Our never-ending dedication to the craftsmanship of food and wine positions our restaurant as a dining hot spot.