International Food Trail

Visit the International Food Trail in Jacksonville NC

The words “Will travel for food” take on a whole new meaning when you sample and dine on international fare in Jacksonville and Onslow County, North Carolina .

As the home of US Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, our local restaurateurs boast cultural ties from around the world. Jacksonville’s international footprint offers a variety of authentic choices and affordable price points. Many are located here in Jacksonville, and we explored spots across our county as well. 

Jacksonville shares a melting pot of culinary culture and style with internationally-inspired offerings for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. We also include great coffee breaks along the way. We dare you to eat your way through these initial offerings. Follow our Facebook and Instagram  to see new additions coming later this year. 

Most of the restaurants on the trail are family-owned and -operated. Several are veteran-owned. All of them are true gems. We curated this list based on taste, the authenticity of the menu and food and the owners’ and chefs’ experiences cooking and serving international fare. 

Traveler Tip: You may not find detailed websites or slick social media feeds prior to your visit. Some restaurants offer them; others don’t. We recommend calling ahead to confirm days and hours of operation, as many service businesses in our region are experiencing staffing shortages. 

Savor the delicious details that make each of these dining destinations a true international adventure. The “trail” is a list of stops. You can visit in any order—or you can select just one. The destinations below are listed alphabetically. 

Agave Azul Modern Mex & Cantina- plate of enchiladas- Jacksonville NC Opens in new window

Agave Azul Modern Mex & Cantina
1269 State Hwy 210, Sneads Ferry, NC;   910-741-0504 
Open daily for lunch, dinner, and Saturday or Sunday brunch.
  
This restaurant serves a modern-day twist on classic Mexican flavors. Enjoy dining indoors or outside on the charming patio of this family-owned cantina. Warm chips and a tasting board of dips are a great way to start any meal.

While Sneads Ferry, about 25 minutes away from Jacksonville NC, is known as a fishing and shrimp village, we think this restaurant may put it on the map for authentic Mexican cuisine.

 Don’t miss: Cilantro Cream Enchiladas or the Poblano Burrito, the hand-crafted margaritas or the tequila list with 30+ offerings.

Almond Cakes, cinnamon donuts and server at the bakery case at El Cerro Panaderia Opens in new windowAbove: Almond Cakes, Cinnamon Donuts and the bakery case at El Cerro Panaderia

El Cerro Panaderia
521 Yopp Rd #109, Jacksonville, NC; 910-545-6250
Hours vary; may be closed on Wednesdays. 


This is the only Mexican panaderia or bakery in Jacksonville NC. Customers come in and help themselves to a revolving assortment of pan dulce (traditional Mexican sweet breads) that includes cookies, cakes, turnovers, doughnuts and bread puddings. Sweeter offerings of individually-portioned tres leche cake are available from the refrigerated case at the counter. Special occasion cakes are available with an advanced order.

 

Get here early for the very best fresh-baked selection. To-Go service only.

Don’t miss: The melt-in-your-mouth doughnuts and the crisp, flakey pineapple turnovers.

A plate of braised oxtail at Elsa's Place, and Elsa alongside her two sons Opens in new windowAbove left: Braised Oxtail at Elsa's Place. Right: Elsa and her sons.

Elsa’s Place 
610 Court Street, Jacksonville, NC; 910-346-1652
Open for lunch and dinner daily. Closed on Sundays.

This tiny, understated, shotgun dining room and kitchen may be lit by the glow of a television screen when you stop by. With an entrance at either end of the place, this unpretentious restaurant puts out big flavors with a focus on the food from owner Elsa’s homeland of Trinidad. Dinners are served with homemade sides of green beans, collards or greens, Elsa’s famous baked mac ‘n cheese, white rice or fried plantains. A kid's menu and Jamaican sodas and juices are also available.

Don’t Miss: Hot and spicy Jamaican beef patties plus hearty heaping helpings of braised goat, melt-off-the-bone oxtail, smothered pork chops, chicken curry or jerk chicken are served in styrofoam food containers. Servings are large enough to share; but you’ll want to eat every bite. It’s that good.

Cassava cake to go, an array of dishes, and fried pork belly at Filipino Cuisine in Jacksonville NC  Opens in new windowAbove L to R: Cassava cake to go; the restaurant offers a wide variety of selections from sising to sausage and stews; fried pork belly at Filipino Cuisine.

Filipino Cuisine
331 Western Blvd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-333-9294
Open for lunch and dinner daily.

 

What an amazing authentic Filipino restaurant and bakery! Enjoy counter service from a daily buffet where you can point to what you’d like to order from among the soups, stews and noodle dishes. The smarter move is to ask for what’s on the picture menu found over the buffet. Owner/chef Josse Passion can make just about anything you’d like from classic crispy lupia, a Filipino eggroll of sorts, to traditional sising, a tantalizing minced pork dish made from pork belly sautéed with ginger and onions and served on sizzling hot on a cast iron skillet. The traditional grilled Filipino sausages deliver fine flavor. Save room for the locally baked cassava cake for dessert. It’s a must, and you can get it to-go, too.

Don’t Miss: Before you leave, grab a package of the traditional pork-stuffed buns sold by the half dozen to enjoy for lunch or when you are on the go.

Drive through window at Havana Cafe in Jacksonville NC with coffee, pastry and expresso shots to go Opens in new windowAbove L to R: At the drive-thru window, coffee and pastries, and cheers to espresso to go at Havana 58 Cafe. 

Havana 58 Cafe 
1308 Piney Green Road, Jacksonville, NC; 910-968-0002
Open early morning to mid-afternoon daily.


Start the day with this authentic Cuban coffee and Italian espresso experience. This hidden gem of a coffee shop is drive-thru only. Order at the window from the friendly baristas and wait for your coffee or espresso to enjoy on your drive to the beach or next destination. Not a coffee lover? Havana 58 also makes fruit smoothies and offers tasty “pup cups” for any four-legged friends in the car.

Don’t Miss: The Cubano coffee is roasted on site and served as an espresso shot sweetened with a cane sugar simple syrup. For a fabulous iced coffee experience, order the non-alcoholic Espresso Martini. In that drink, the powerful Cuban roast coffee is served over ice with a dreamy mix of cream and chocolate syrup.

Brunch at Liliana’s Columbian Restaurant & Bakery with Pericos, Arepa d Queso y Chorizo - omelet sty Opens in new windowAbove: Brunch at Liliana’s Colombian Restaurant & Bakery with Pericos, Arepa de Queso y Chorizo - omelet style eggs with cheesy corn arepa and Colombian chorizo sausage.

Liliana's Colombian Restaurant and Bakery
4075 Gum Branch Rd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-939-4072
Closed Sunday and Monday. Open Tuesday - Friday for lunch and dinner. Open Saturday for brunch through dinner.


Yes, there really is a Liliana. She and her mother, Aura Marie are the talent behind each of the homemade dishes on this traditional Colombian restaurant menu. You’ll find house made pastries and cakes, too. Start your meal with refreshing juices. Order with milk for a creamier beverage or skip the milk for a fruit-forward flavor.

 

Don’t Miss: The fresh baked arepas onsite or buy to take home or on the road. This Colombian cornmeal cake is made with corn and stuffed with cheese. Recently made famous by the Disney movie “Encanto,” the arepa here has become a fast favorite with guests who are just discovering it. 

Pro Tip: Order the Papa Rellena de Res, a mashed potato stuffed with ground beef and the Sancocho de Gallina, a thick and satisfying chicken stew. For Saturday morning breakfast or brunch, try the flavorful but-not-too-spicy Colombian chorizo with eggs—a satisfying way to start the day. 

Marrakesh dish

Marrakesh Mediterranean Cuisine
409 Western Blvd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-219-0029
Open daily for lunch and dinner. Hours vary.

Go to Marrakesh when the mood strikes for a Moroccan and Mediterranean vibe. The interior design here speaks to the family’s heritage, and you can watch the chefs cook in the open kitchen. Ahmad Raman started the restaurant in 2010 and the operation is now run by his sons and grandsons. 

Pro Tip: Start your meal with citrusy, spiced Za’tar Pita drizzled with olive oil. Or, share a spread of the traditional dips and salad sides. Marrakesh offers a full bar with wine list and a kids menu.

Don’t miss:  The made-in-house stuffed grape leaves or the kabobs (chicken, beef or lamb), served hot off the grill. Kabobs are accompanied by rice. Be sure to ask for a side of classic tabouleh salad (a lemony mix of chopped parsley, green onions, cracked wheat, tomatoes and olive oil). If you love lamb, an order of chops is a must.

MiCabana-SeafoodCocktail


Mi Cabana Mexican Restaurant (three locations)

1153 Western Blvd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-346-8457
521 Yopp Road, Jacksonville, NC; 910-219-4773
135 Glade Lane, Midway Park, NC; 910-219-0606
Open daily for lunch and dinner

Mi Cabana serves up traditional Mexican food, family-style in Mexican-themed surroundings. It’s a perfect choice for dinner with the kids or a casual outing. Hungry? Order the fajita board presented with sizzling grilled meat of your choice, plenty of warm tortillas, rice, beans and guacamole. 

 

Pro Tip: If you love seafood, start with the Coctel de Camarones, an oversized goblet of perfectly boiled shrimp with cilantro, onions, tomatoes and avocados bathed in a slightly spicy cocktail sauce. Cocktails and margaritas are tasty here, too. You can order a serving large enough for the table to share.

Don’t miss: $1 Taco Tuesdays (weekly)

MilkRoad-Macaroon

The Milk Road
4240 Gum Branch Road, Jacksonville, NC; 910-968-0650
Open daily early morning to late afternoon


Your go-to for coffee breaks all day long, The Milk Road serves sustainably sourced, fresh roasted coffee and teas served hot and iced. Order selections straight up or as lattes or pour overs. 

 

What lends the international flavor? The freshly made Liège Belgium Waffles. These irregularly shaped waffles are made with a thick, soft yeast dough studded with chunks of pearl sugar. In the waffle iron, the dough cooks and the chunks of sugar caramelize for an irresistibly sweet crunch in every bite. The veterans who founded this place couldn’t find the coffee or unique waffles they experienced during deployment, and this popular business was born. 

 

The shop offers to-go service, seating inside and out on the patio or in private cabanas that look into the “Espresso Garden” on the back side of the signature black building.

 

Don’t Miss: The array of seasonal fresh baked pastries made with no additives or preservatives (like everything else served here).

Pro Tip: Shop the local gift items. Ask about being a member of the Milk Road subscription coffee club. You can order whole bean and ground coffee and ship it to your home. 

OldSiam-TofuPadThai

The Old Siam  
1215 N. Marine Blvd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-937-0099
Open daily for lunch and dinner; hours vary. 

Trust us. Don't let the outside of the building fool you. Inside you’ll find warm, polished wood  interiors and an extensive offering of expertly prepared Thai specialties. The chef and owner, Watcharin Thaveevittayarak  (affectionately known as Chef Eddie) was classically trained in Thailand. He creates magic with an array of Southeast Asian spices and a host of traditional family recipes. Start with Som Tum, served Thailand-style or Tum Lao, for a slightly salty/slightly sour and very satisfying cold green papaya salad. Then, share an order of chicken satay warmed over an open flame tableside. Dip it into a rich and creamy homemade peanut sauce.

Don’t Miss: The traditional grilled noodle dish, Pad Se Ew or classic Pad Thai, is prepared with your choice of protein. The eight-page menu shares many vegan and vegetarian options, too. 

Olea-Hummus

Olea Mediterranean Kitchen 

647 W. Corbett Ave.,  Swansboro, NC; 910-325-8332
Open daily for lunch and dinner. Hours vary. 

Casual Mediterranean and Greek-inspired sandwiches, platters and sides make Olea the perfect stop for lunch or a take-home dinner as you travel near the waterfront and charming shops in Swansboro NC.  Olea offers a kids menu and wine and beer list. Order ahead and pick up at the drive-up window or dine indoors or on the storefront patio. Inside, order at the counter and the staff brings the meal to your table. Pick up their souvlaki (marinated cubed meats and veggies) platter and grill back at the hotel by the pool or at your rental.

Don’t Miss: The light and creamy hummus with chickpeas, olive oil and warm pita. You won’t go wrong with any of the made-to-order wraps or platters from shwarma (meat cut into strips, stacked and roasted over a rotisserie or spit) to souvlaki. Be sure to include the tabouleh as one of your side dishes.

Deleteria-MangoPopIce Cream Shop   Paleteria Deya  

224 Brynn Marr Rd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-333-0538
Open daily; hours vary. 

This spot speaks to the kid in all of us. Homemade Mexican ice cream, hand-crafted popsicles and traditional Mexican snack foods promise flavor and adventure. Everything in this family-run Mexican ice cream parlor is made from scratch with all-natural ingredients—no corn syrup and no preservatives. The owners fill the freezers with a colorful, flavor-popping assortment of 43 choices of popsicles and 24 ice cream flavors.


Pro Tip: When it comes to savory snacks, all options are made-to-order. Want a unique smoothie? Order the popular sweet/sour/spicy/salty Mangonada, a frozen mango smoothie, traditionally seasoned with  sweet, spicy chamoy (a sauce made with chilies, hibiscus and dried apricots) and tamarind paste. 

Don’t Miss: The Mexican favorite, esquites or Mexican street corn, boiled, cut from the cob and served in a cup layered with mayo, crumbled Mexican queso, lime juice and chili powder.

Phos7CrispyNoodlePho 7 

423 Yopp Rd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-577-0188
Open daily for lunch and dinner; hours vary. 

 

This casual Vietnamese, family-friendly dining spot is tucked into an unassuming shopping center west of downtown before you cross the New River. It’s a natural first stop if you’re coming in from Raleigh, NC. Go here for a quick lunch or simple dinner. Matcha, Thai tea, honeydew, watermelon, kiwi, lychee, dragon fruit (and more) inspire a wide assortment of milk teas, bubble teas and fruity tea refreshers to start or accompany your meal.

 

Pro Tip: The restaurant’s namesake dish, Pho (a brothy Vietnamese noodle soup) is seasoned with lime, jalapeno, Vietnamese basil, cilantro and bean sprouts. If desired, stir in traditional condiments from your table such as hoisin and chili sauce. Pho is pronounced “fuh.” Order any of the Vietnamese noodle dishes here.

 

Don’t Miss: The Xào (stir-fried) crispy rice noodle entrees. The chef cleverly fries noodles into a nest that surrounds stir-fried veggies and your choice of proteins. It is almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

Pollos Tete 

222 Brynn Marr Rd., Jacksonville, NC; 910-333-0696
Open daily for lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday. 

Pollos-flan

This small, family-owned casual dining spot is THE place for Peruvian rotisserie-style chicken–and they’ll treat you like family. Just look at the reviews. Cooked over charcoal, the chicken comes whole or in half or quarter chicken portions. Sides of tender, tempting fried yucca, (think French fries, but cut thick and more interesting) and a fresh salad complete the meal. You can order South American chicken, fish and rice platters, salad and sandwiches, too. Drink options include an assortment of traditional South American bottled and canned sodas. 


Pro Tip: The chicken comes with a trio of homemade sauces: Mild Yellow Sauce, Green Hot Sauce and Ranch Dressing. Try them all; they’re perfect with the fried yucca, too.  

Don’t Miss: Order the homemade flan for dessert. It is spot on.

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Visit Jacksonville NC asked Carolinas local food advocate and travel writer Heidi Billotto to serve as a consultant and objective set of taste buds as we vetted our international food trail offerings. Always passionate about eating and drinking local NC/SC food and drink, Heidi traveled independently to each of the restaurants featured on our trail. 

In the coming months, we’ll be adding destinations to the trail. Do you know of an authentic, international restaurant that serves high quality food made by people who have trained and worked in that tradition?  Email us


Story and photos by Heidi Billotto 

A freelance writer and media personality, Heidi Billotto has been a James Beard restaurant and cookbook judge. In that role, she evaluated the best chefs, restaurants and written work from across the Southeast for the “Oscars” of the food world. Today, she shares regular television segments on travel and food with stations in Raleigh and Charlotte, NC. Heidi hosts the GotToBeNC Cooking Stage at the North Carolina State Fair and the Western North Carolina State Fair. The stages feature chefs, restaurants and local products from across the state. 


Heidi is the creator and host of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association’s annual Chef Showdown, a statewide culinary and mixology competition, now in its sixth season. A working member of the press since the mid 1980s, Heidi manages cooking classes and her online culinary website and e-newsletter at HeidiBillottoCooks.com