We all have our guilty pleasure chain restaurants we frequent from time to time. Maybe you're the person who likes to enjoy the occasional drunken meal at Denny's at 1 am, and who am I to judge? However, the next time you're craving a Cookout tray or a slice from Mellow Mushroom stop yourself and try some of the great local alternatives these Wilmington restaurants have to offer.

1. Munchies Food Co. = Cookout

Imagine the classic Cookout burger and shake, but your shake is Seahawk Nation teal and you can wrap it up and take it on the beach in the true Wilmy fashion.

Munchies' menu features an extensive menu of deep-fried apps, "fat" sandwiches, wraps, fries, burgers, hotdogs, cheese steaks, and 20 flavors of milkshakes. Prices are cheap and hours are from noon until 3 am every day of the week, making Munchies my pick as Wilmington's best alternative to Cookout. 

2. Boca Bay RestaurantBonefish Grill

Now on the more upscale end of things, we have Boca Bay Restaurant—Seafood and Oyster Bar. Much like Bonefish Grill, Boca has a choice of seafood dishes such as soups, salads, and pastas. Unlike Bonefish, Boca also offers a sushi and oyster bar menu for the more sophisticated types among us.

The seafood boil shown in the picture above showcases the bold flavors of fresh seafood made available in coastal locations such as Wilmington. 

3. Pizzetta's Pizzeria = Mellow Mushroom

Pizzetta's impresses with an extensive selection of gourmet pizza toppings, strombolis, calzones, pastas, soups, salads, and desserts, paired with a casual atmosphere and a serious drink menu.

There's no doubt in my mind that Pizzetta's is Wilmington's answer to the cult-like success of Mellow Mushroom. Pizzetta's one-up's Mellow because they offer pies by the slice, something that Mellow could benefit from doing. 

4. The Bridge Tender = Ruth's Chris Steakhouse

Looking to impress your date with your culinary savvy and ability to dish out lots of dough? You could take your cutie to Ruth's Chris and bore them with the cliche of it all, or you could excite them by trying something new. The Bridge Tender marries southern comfort with bright, fresh seafood flavors and epitomizes Surf n' Turf with it's expertly crafted selections of seafood and masterfully cooked steaks.

The picture above features a grilled grouper dish with artichoke purée, roasted red pepper aioli, chili roasted potatoes, artichokes, cherry tomatoes, spinach, and mushroom duxelle. Yum!

5. PT's Olde Fashioned Grille = Five Guys Burgers and Fries

If you ask me, PT's has the best burger's Wilmington has to offer. PT's Olde Fashioned Grille is a local hotspot with several different locations across town and a food truck that frequents both UNCW and Cape Fear campuses.

Their black bean burger has a southwestern kick that is to die for, and for all of you omnivores out there– try it with bacon for a little something extra. Their perfectly cooked, thinly cut and salt and pepper seasoned fries earned them a spot on the "best fries in Wilmington" list. 

Pair all of that goodness with the best fresh-squeezed lemonade you'll ever taste and you've got some strong competition against national chain Five Guys

6. Wake N Bake Donuts = Dunkin' Donuts

It's hard to get tired of Wake N Bake Donuts when their off-the-wall flavor choices change from day to day. It's easy to see why Wake N Bake is a worthy competitor of Dunkin' Donuts, who also likes to push the limits of whimsical flavor and decoration combinations. I think Wake N Bake takes the cake on this one, their donuts are always more fun and they even offer vegan donuts in the morning. 

7. Grinder's Caffé = Caribou Coffee

Looking for some real local flavor? Look no further than neighborhood favorite, Grinder's Caffé. Located right next to campus, Grinder's serves great coffee and rich Wilmington culture.

The broken-in couches, live music, and friendly staff give Grinder's a homey atmosphere that really adds to the neighborhood coffee shop aesthetic. I chose Caribou Coffee as the most likely comparison to Grinder's because it offers coffee on the simpler side of the spectrum from places like Starbucks. 

So there you have it, a beginner's guide to navigating the local flavors of Wilmington's restaurants compared to big name restaurants. There are many more out there, but you'll have to give them a try the next time you're craving something new and exciting to break up the chain restaurant monotony.