Dig Into Elevated Ethnic Cuisine at These Delaware Restaurants

When it comes to selecting where to get your sushi on, The Small Wonder has a big list from which to choose.

Carne asada with filet mignon is a signature dish at El Camino Mexican Kitchen in Brandywine Hundred, which puts a modern spin on Latin-influenced cuisine. Photo by Becca Mathias

For food lovers in Delaware, these upscale culinary establishments put the fun in fine dining.

When Dan Butler opened Griglia Toscana in 1991, Delaware diners were accustomed to red gravy houses with huge portions, checkered tablecloths and cheap red wine. Toscana’s dining room, however, was a study in minimalist style and boasted an open kitchen, a cutting-edge feature. Meanwhile, the menu showcased pizzas with smoked duck and arugula, risotto with porcini mushrooms and veal grilled with fresh herbs.

“My experience had been in Miami, Washington, D.C., and Tampa,” recalls the Culinary Institute of America graduate. But Butler wanted to bring his talent to his hometown. Smart move—residents were hungry for change. “People were very willing to have a more upscale [Italian] experience,” he says.

“In elevated restaurants, the presentation also matters.”

Rechristened Piccolina Toscana, the Trolley Square restaurant paved the way for modern Italian-inspired eateries, including Bardea Food & Drink in downtown Wilmington and Capers & Lemons in Hockessin.

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However, the upscale urban trend isn’t limited to Italian food. For example, consider The Cultured Pearl in Rehoboth with its rooftop koi pond; Raas, an Indian restaurant in historic Lewes; and El Camino Mexican Kitchen in north Wilmington.

Admittedly, some may balk at paying more for pad Thai, chicken tikka masala or fish tacos when they can get those items at the local takeout shop. So, what takes an ethnic eatery to the next level?

Quality, for one. “All my ingredients are fresh,” maintains Gyanendra Gupta of Raas, better known to customers as “Chef GG.” “I don’t use tinned tomatoes, and the preparation is different.” For instance, he won’t make the same sauce for multiple dishes, adding a spice here or there for a curry or vindaloo. Instead, he makes each sauce for a specific style using spices from India.

In elevated restaurants, the presentation also matters. “Mexican food is so naturally colorful, and we try to present it beautifully,” says Jeff Matyger, corporate chef for Platinum Dining Group, which owns El Camino. “It’s like an artist’s palette. We focus on the technique, the textures and the flavors.”

Speaking of presentation, plates, cutlery and atmosphere influence the price point—and don’t forget the specialty glassware for an expanded program, all of which boost the tab. “If you can deliver the experience,” GG says, “you can command more.”

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Here are 13 Delaware restaurants to visit.

Agave

The new Agave on Route 1 hasn’t affected the original location’s business. People still wait for a table for the food and the mezcal and tequila selection. Crowd favorites include mahi fish tacos in a crunchy puffed shell, guacamole with pumpkin seeds and aged Gouda, and coconut cake with lime curd.

137 Second St., Lewes and 19178 Coastal Highway, Rehoboth Beach; 462-4283

Aroma Mediterranean Cuisine

Delaware is woefully short on Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine, but hopefully that’s changing. For instance, Aroma opened in 2020 in the space most remember as Stoney Lonen. Thumbs up for the three-dip appetizer—including hummus—the whole branzino and the vegetarian offerings.

208 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach; 212-2488

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Bardea Food & Drink

Yes, Bardea has pizza, meatballs, calamari and pasta on the menu, but the James Beard–nominated restaurant defies pigeonholing. You’re just as likely to find a lamb skewer with hummus, lobster taquito and Washugyu tri-tip with foie gras.

620 N. Market St., Wilmington; 426-2069

Capers & Lemons

Location, location, location! This restaurant’s site between Wilmington and Hockessin reaps the reward from both areas. But fans also come for the tasteful atmosphere, the traditional braciola and the house-made pasta.

301 Little Falls Drive, Wilmington; 256-0524

Confucius

Shawn and Danielle Xiong are doing something right. Their downtown Rehoboth establishment has been wowing patrons since 2004. Start with ginger chicken soup or spicy cold noodles. Duck—whole or half—remains the signature dish.

57 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-3848

Cultured Pearl

Susan Wood broke new ground in 1993 by opening a sushi restaurant at the beach when even D.C. diners were skittish about raw fish. Wood persevered with the help of husband Rob, who oversees the kitchen. Banish the thought of frozen tuna and salmon blocks—the common ingredients in supermarket sushi. The chefs break down the whole fish on-site. Try the photo-worthy sashimi flower trio or a fun edamame bar selection, which includes the Eastern Shore (Old Bay, garlic and lemon).

301 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach; 227-8493

Del Pez Mexican Gastropub

The Wilmington Riverfront restaurant’s prices are on par with Mexican chains, but the selections are far from ordinary. For instance, the raw bar includes a tuna roll with a spicy serrano-chili fish broth and taco offerings include octopus, short rib and Texas barbecued pork.

400 Justison St., Wilmington; 691-7974

El Camino Mexican Kitchen

Platinum Dining Group’s first Mexican concept reveals the company’s attention to detail. The modern atmosphere includes clean black-and-white accents and rustic mushroom cap–shaped pendant lights. Recommended items: shrimp a la diabla, fajitas with 16-spice chicken and addictive Mexican meatballs.

3559 Silverside Road, Wilmington; 543-4245

Carne asada with filet mignon is a signature dish at El Camino Mexican Kitchen in Brandywine Hundred, which puts a modern spin on Latin-influenced cuisine.
Carne asada with filet mignon is a signature dish at El Camino Mexican Kitchen in Brandywine Hundred, which puts a modern spin on Latin-influenced cuisine. Photo by Becca Mathias

Mikimotos

When the late Darius Mansoory opened Mikimotos in 2000, he met the demand for upscale sushi and hip cocktails. The décor was contemporary, and none of that changed after Big Fish Restaurant Group purchased Mansoory’s restaurant portfolio.

1212 Washington St., Wilmington; 656-8638

Piccolina Toscana

Owner Dan Butler has tweaked the name and the décor a few times since 1991, but tortellini with ground mortadella ham and ricotta in a sun-dried tomato cream sauce has been on the menu since the start.

1412 N. Dupont St., Wilmington; 654-8001

Raas, which offers Indian cuisine, resides in a Lewes Queen Anne. British influence is evident in the menu’s high tea.
Raas, which offers Indian cuisine, resides in a Lewes Queen Anne. British influence is evident in the menu’s high tea. Photo by Maria Deforrest

Raas

You wouldn’t expect to find an Indian restaurant in a building with Queen Anne architecture. Given the Brits once occupied India, however, it’s not a stretch. The attractive wallpapered dining room is an elegant backdrop for Chef GG’s cuisine. Try the swordfish tikka skewers, any of the whole fish selections and tandoori salmon made with sushi-grade fish.

210 Savannah Road, Lewes; 644-1747

Raas in Lewes uses Indian fare as a launchpad for refined dishes such as whole branzino with ginger-orange sauce.
Raas in Lewes uses Indian fare as a launchpad for refined dishes such as whole branzino with ginger-orange sauce. Photo by Maria Deforrest

Stingray Sushi Bar + Asian Grill

Darius Mansoory initially opened Stingray to fuse Latin and Asian cuisine. Although current owner Big Fish Restaurant Group dropped “Latino” from the name, you’ll still find such dishes as tuna tostadas and duck quesadillas. The popular Hairy Mexican is a staple at Stingray and Mikimotos.

59 Lake Ave., Rehoboth Beach; 227-6476

Ubon Thai Kitchen & Bar

Norrawit “Wit” Milburn—aka the “Thai Guy”—stepped up to the plate when his father, Buddy, died in 2018, leaving the family restaurant without a leader. Milburn, who also owns Kapow, has put his imprint on Ubon with a dining room makeover and menu additions. Must-try dishes include Thai Guy wings, tamarind duck and the Hawaiian-style huli huli bowl.

936 Justison St., Wilmington; 656-1706

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