As is true of so many coastal towns, Wilmington's best dining spots are at the beaches or on its fringes, and many of them specialize in seafood.

Sooner or later, you're bound to hear the name Calabash, especially if you love seafood. This tiny town of 150 residents, 35 miles south of Wilmington on U.S. 17, is renowned for its bounty of seafood restaurants -- about 30 of them within 1 square mile, vying with one another to serve the biggest and best platter of seafood at the lowest price. Calabash restaurants use family recipes handed down from generation to generation.

We head to a tiny little place called Calabash Seafood Hut, 1125 River Rd. (tel. 910/579-6723). The line of customers waiting for a table often stretches around the corner. The fried shrimp, fresh fish, and hush puppies are the best in the area. Portions are really big, and, in the words of one patron, "the sweet tea is to die for." Platters range from $12 to $14. The bigger restaurants along the waterfront are also good, but avoid the all-you-can-eat buffets and order fresh from the a la carte menu instead.

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