1. When you visit Corner Bistro (North Wilmington, 477-1778), you’ll likely rub elbows with co-owner Mickey Donatello and your Talleyville neighbors while nibbling from the cheese and charcuterie plate.
2. On the other side of Brandywine Hundred, Bellefonte Café (Bellefonte, 761-9175) is a funky place to meet friends for brunch, coffee or a beer. Fans gather to hear live music on weekends.
3. Happy neighborhood haunts like Stanley’s Tavern (North Wilmington, 475-1887) have character. Built in the 1920s, the tavern was purchased by Stanley Minikowski in 1947. (His shaved imported ham on rye bread is still on the menu.) Stanley’s was among the first to offer chicken wings. The place now goes through 86,000 pounds a year.
4. It’s been 35 years since Kid Shelleen’s (Wilmington, 658-4600) hit the scene, and it still packs them in for burgers, drinks and, when the weather is fair, lively good times on the deck.
5. The Deer Park Tavern (Newark, 369-9414) is another longtime establishment with personality. It was built in 1851 on the site of St. Patrick’s Inn, which Edgar Allen Poe visited before it burned down. The tavern was a seedy yet beloved dive for the college crowd before Bob and Sandy Ashby bought it. Using a vintage postcard, Bob Ashby returned The Deer Park to its Victorian glory days.
6. The Ashby family has built a successful business on providing comfortable places for diners to mix and mingle. They also own McGlynns Pub (Pike Creek, 738-7814; Glasgow, 834-6661; and Dover, 674-0144).
7. Son Brian owns 8th & Union Kitchen (Wilmington, 654-9780), a gastropub in Little Italy with an Asian flair and plentiful gluten-free options. Ashby reconfigured the existing space to create a convivial bar with reclaimed wood accents.
8. At BBC Tavern and Grill (Greenville, 655-3785), locals come nearly every Thursday night to support their favorite guest bartender at weekly fundraisers. Afterward, they stay for a burger, a crab cake or a taco. There’s a special snack menu for night owls.
9. Mercedes cars and Ford pickups coexist harmoniously in the parking lot at Buckley’s Tavern (Centreville, 656-9776), a tradition that continues with newish owners and a renovation. Chef Tom Hannum, formerly of the Hotel du Pont, liberally sprinkles the menu with comfort food, including chicken potpie and meatloaf sandwiches.
10. Chef Donnie Merrill’s Skipjack (Newark, 456-1800) has created a warm environment for regulars and newcomers, whether they nosh at the horseshoe-shaped bar or in the dining room. Merrill, formerly of Krazy Kat’s, maintains high standards for the kitchen, which turns out smoked venison-jalapeno sausage and wild salmon with goat cheese-pesto risotto.
11. At Jessop’s Tavern in historic New Castle in a 300-year-old building (New Castle, 322-6111), tourists order Hutspot Dutch pot roast and New Sweden meatloaf. But since locals opened the Colonial-themed tavern, townies meet there regularly.
12. Metro Pub & Grill (Middletown, 37-METRO) has only been open a short time, but chef Patrick D’Amico knows what his neighbors need. Metro Pub is a low-key place for exceptional cuisine, artisan cocktails and craft beer. Try the 6-ounce Wood Street burger, made with venison, pulled pork and candied bacon.
13–14. Wesley College students and government workers hobnob over two-patty burgers at the Grey Fox Grille & Public House (Dover, 734-1234), which occupies W.T. Smithers’ old space. College classmates and theater-goers at the Schwartz Center for the Arts head to 33 West (Dover, 735-9822), which marries the friendliness of a pub with the creativity of an American bistro. The restaurant also hosts live music acts.
15. Dover-area native Dennis Forbes of Cool Springs Fish Bar and his daughter, Desiree DiAntonio, own Restaurant 55 (Dover, 535-8102), which showcases products from local vendors such as T.A. Farms and Fifer Orchards. Take the locals’ advice and get a burger.
16. In coastal Sussex County, locals have long loved Striper Bites (Lewes, 645-4657). Sit at the bar and order the signature club sandwich, made with blackened mahi mahi, bacon and Caesar dressing.
17. The collegial bar and lounge at the Columbus Inn is a Wilmington classic. The crowd can be happy hour-sized all night. You’re headed there for classic cocktails—Manhattans and martinis—as well as a signature “new classic” such as a clementine honey gimlet (Wilmington, 571-1492).