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10 Top Restaurants in the North Carolina Triangle

10 Top Restaurants in the North Carolina Triangle

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The Old North State leads the South with globally-inspired, yet locally-minded, cuisine

Diners can choose from a variety of toppings and waffles at Dame's Chicken and Waffles in Durham, NC.

In addition to being home to some of the country's fiercest sports rivalries, top tech companies, and world-class research universities, North Carolina’s Triangle region has a prolific and innovative food scene. Host to award-winning artisan chocolates and preserves, an established and growing wine, beer, and spirits community, and some of the nation’s top restaurants and chefs, the Tar Heel State promotes cultivated tastes with local homage.

Click here to see the 10 Top Restaurants in the Triangle Slideshow!

So what about this area both enables and supports this activity? According to Sean Lilly Wilson, owner and chief executive optimist of the popular Fullsteam Brewery in downtown Durham, N.C., the Triangle nurtures an "enthusiastic and educated" population. "In addition to having folks who value supporting our area, both customers and vendors here have both a worldly and local farm-driven mindset when it comes to food."

Wilson, who has made the state his home for the past 20 years, also notes that North Carolina’s food excellence is not a new development. "The rule that a restaurant in this area has to be smart and interesting in order to thrive was established way before us," he says. "We, as a community, owe so much of our successes to our predecessors who paved the way: Fearrington, Bill Neal’s Crook’s Corner, Ben and Karen Barker’s Magnolia Grill, and Scott Howell at Nana’s to name a few."

Since the state’s breweries, cafés, markets, and food-related businesses are stories in themselves, we’ve chosen to focus on the restaurants that exemplify the Triangle’s vibrant dining spirit. From global street food fusion to classic North Carolina-style barbecue (a passionately contested dish that divides the state into "west" and "east"), this region brims with culinary excellence.

The “Best Chef in the Triangle” Talks Carolina Cooking

His small walk-up counter, Saltbox Seafood Joint, quickly has become recognized as one of the top places to get fresh seafood in the Triangle. Moore has gained local and national acclaim for his use of North Carolina seafood and traditional recipes — but with modern twists.

Raised in New Bern, Moore thrives on local flavors that he now brings to his customers. “I grew up eating seafood,” he says. “I felt like if I was going to do a seafood concept, and in the context that I wanted to do it, I didn’t want it to be in a fine-dining setting.”

His food, served on trays and in paper baskets, is reminiscent of a fish-fry or road-side stand — and that’s how he wants it.

“It’s an everyday thing for these fishermen to get fish and provide this food,” he says. “I want to make it an everyday occasion to eat their food.”

Saltbox highlights the bounty of the North Carolina coast, cuisine that customers traditionally have found difficult to enjoy inland.

“Seeing that we have all of this coastline and all of these wonderful natural resources, why are they not showcased on menus?” Moore says, adding that he draws inspiration from his time in France, where globally-known recipes, like bouillabaisse, rely on locally caught seafood.

He spotlights North Carolina’s catch, even when the species are not as well-known as some frequently appearing on menus. “Flounder, shrimp, and oyster,” he says of common public perceptions and options. “Done. That is seafood.”

But by including other N.C. species on his menu — like triggerfish, mullet, or sheepshead — Moore is changing the narrative around local seafood.

“I want to diminish the terminology and reputation of ‘trash fish,’” Moore says. “Just because it isn’t mainstream doesn’t make it lesser.”

To him, “native fish” is the more appropriate term.

“I understood and knew that it was going to take time to inspire and influence people to try some different things,” Moore says. “I have a standard menu, but also a try-me kind of dish, which is literally, ‘Try this fish!’”

His small, personable locations allow more interaction with consumers, including opportunities to answer their questions about unfamiliar species and seasonality.

In response, IndyWeek readers named Moore “Best Chef in the Triangle” last June.

And what are the best chef’s personal favorites?

“I grew up eating bonefish, like croaker, spot, and star butterfish,” he says, adding that one of his beloved preparations is “fried hard.” This eastern-North Carolina cooking style includes a whole or butterflied fish, seasoned in cornmeal batter and fried in a cast iron skillet, bones and all.

“When you fry it so crispy,” he says, “it almost becomes like bacon.”

To bring coastal Carolina cooking to the broader public, Moore recently published the Saltbox Seafood Joint Cookbook.

Written with K.C. Hysmith, the book explains the basics of preparing seafood and how to make classic North Carolina recipes.

In these excerpts from Saltbox Seafood Joint Cookbook, Moore discusses North Carolina’s foodways and how they have shaped his career.

Brewery Bhavana

Ranked as one of the top 10 coolest restaurants in the world by Forbes, people travel from all over the country to try Raleigh's newest Restaurant/Brewery/Flower Garden/Library sensation, Brewery Bhavana. One of my personal favorites, you'll want to make sure your reservations are made far in enough in advance you can reserve a table. If for whatever reason you're reading this and unable to book a reservation because you're like me and wait until the last minute, here's my recommendation: Go to the restaurant before the dinner rush and see if they have room, if not, try Bida Manda (Laotion) OR Caffe Luna (Italian) which are both next door and on this list!

You may want to come into the restaurant with a gameplan or ask your server for advice as the menu can be a bit intimidating the first time you look at it. The Seafood Dumplings are my favorite appetizer, just make sure you load up on the mushroom sauce! If you're bringing children to fear not, there's something for everyone on this menu. The Lo Mein and General Tso's are some of the best I've ever had and the Nasi Goring Crab Fried Rice is likely my personal favorite!

Brewery Bhavana's story gives you insight into how the restaurant formed and the story adds to the personality of this community gathering place.

Barbecue. Barbeque. Bar-b-que. BBQ.

No matter how you spell it, we can agree on one thing: with a plate of barbecue in hand, all is right with the world.

We treat barbecue a little differently here in North Carolina. Equal parts art, tradition, religion and celebration, barbecue is something to be taken seriously, made lovingly, laughed over and shared. We eat it in restaurants, at college football tailgates, in backyards and at church picnics, washed down with sweet tea, next to family andਏriends and strangers. We’ll argue about our favorite styles and the merits of this sauce or that, but in the end it’s barbecue𠅊n essential part of North Carolina’s DNA.

Raleigh, N.C.&aposs welcome mat is always out for you.
See more safe dining and things to do, plus local travel safety info, here.

[Note: jump below to scroll through 10 of our favorite local spots for delicious &aposcue, or continue reading to whet your appetite!]

Pictured, left to right: Big Al&aposs BBQ Brew N Que The Pit

But what is North Carolina barbecue?

Here in North Carolina, barbecue comes in two forms: Eastern and Lexington styles.

In Eastern style, we cook the whole hog over wood coals, then pull the meat, maybe give it a little chop, and dress it with sauce made from pepper flakes and vinegar. Typically, Eastern style is served as a sandwich or a plated dish.

Lexington style uses only the shoulders and adds a little sweetness to that vinegar sauce by mixing in tomato paste or brown sugar. It’s choppedਊnd served on a plate. Oak is the wood of choice with Eastern-style barbecue, where Lexington mixes oak and hickory for a more complex smoky flavor.

Both styles are cooked low and slow and are seasoned simply: salt and pepper, then smoke and time does the rest. Sides are similar, too, with all the things you expect to find with barbecue: slaw, beans, collards or turnip greens, hush puppies, potatoes or potato salad, macaroniਊnd cheeseਊnd, of course, banana pudding.

And what about Raleigh?

Even with all the similarities, barbecue fans find themselves in one camp or the other, loving the refinement of Lexington style or the rustic approach of the Eastern whole hog 𠆌ue. Though each style has a strong regional foothold, Raleigh and Wake County sit in the perfect spot to draw influences from both sides of the barbecue debate. Across the county you’ll find purists who sit by their pits all night, watching coals and flipping that whole hog at the perfect time to make great barbecue. You’ll also find Lexington-lovers sprinkling seasoning over shoulders before loading them into an oak- and hickory-packed smoker.

Because Raleigh sits at a crossroads, is the state capital and sees visitors from every corner of the state and, because it’s a creative city, you see other styles, too. There are pitmasters playing with sides, adding a gourmet touch or sticking close to traditions and family recipes. There are folks adding beer to their sauce or making sauce that’s more Memphis-style than anything east of the Smoky Mountains. Some make brisket, ribs and sausages like they do in Memphis and Texas or reach deeper into the South for their take on Brunswick stew or Hoppin’ John.

But everyone, from pitmasters to food truck operators to backyard barbecue artists to diners, loves what they do, loves what they eat and pursues barbecue with a passion.

Come share that with us. Find a spot at the bar, grab a table for your friends or a couple of pounds to go, but whatever you do, join us for some barbecue.

The Best Restaurants in Raleigh & Durham, North Carolina

Just 30 miles apart, Raleigh and Durham are often mentioned in the same breath. While each has its own distinct identity, both destinations seamlessly meld Southern hospitality and creative cooking, and their restaurants reflect a deep pride in North Carolina's bountiful produce, agriculture and aquaculture.

Photo By: Keith Isaac Photography

Photo By: FoodSeen/Felicia Trujillo

Photo By: Jessica Crawford Photography

Photo By: Stacey Sprenz for Tabletop Media

Photo By: Alex Caterson/The Splinter Group

Photo By: Jessi Gladdek / Discover Durham

Photo By: Katherine Riemen

Raleigh: Hummingbird

By day, Hummingbird is a cheery, sun-flooded cafe and cozy lunch spot, serving up cups of locally roasted Joe Van Gogh coffee, destination-worthy sticky buns, and po' boys and banh mi. By night, it's a sultry cocktail bar with some of the best bar snacks in town. Chef-Owner Coleen Speaks has an impressive culinary pedigree, having honed her chops in New Orleans under Emeril Lagasse and run sought-after Raleigh catering business PoshNosh Catering, but she could also add "interior designer" to her resume. When you step into Hummingbird, it's hard to imagine that you're in a former A&P grocery warehouse (the trucker bathroom, to be exact). The space juxtaposes contemporary design elements &mdash a gorgeous white-marble bar, canary yellow barstools, a giant hummingbird mural &mdash with existing raw materials like exposed concrete and original 1950s bathroom tiling. Cocktails are served in vintage glassware collected by Speaks, and like the food, are as pretty as they are delicious. The signature hibiscus-tea-and-vodka Hummingbird Fizz makes for a perfect opener, particularly when paired with the brandied chicken liver pâté and a plate of buttery, garlicky charbroiled oysters. Don't miss the airy ricotta fritters for dessert, served with mascarpone cream and seasonal jam. And as long as you're staying for dessert, you might as well order another cocktail.

Raleigh: The Cortez Seafood & Cocktail

The Cortez feels like a tropical getaway, but more in a "beautiful shipwreck" way than a "cheesy umbrella drinks" way. Maybe it's the vivid floral wallpaper and the vintage diving helmet next to the intimate bar, which is a perfect perch for slurping North Carolina oysters served with rosé mignonette, or maybe it's the tropical-inflected cocktails, like the dark rum-based Spice of the Sea. Or perhaps its Executive Chef Oscar Diaz's cooking, which melds his Mexican-American heritage with North Carolina's coastal bounty, the combination of which seems transportive in an unexpected way. As you might expect, the menu leans heavily into seafood and changes frequently based on seasonality. Standbys include any of the ceviches, such as snapper with guacatillo sauce, heirloom peppers and cilantro, and the Gambas al Ajillo, sauteed shell-on shrimp served in a heady, garlicky sauce and served with grilled-flirting-with-burnt baguette for dipping. Don't leave any sauce behind order a side of bread and "weed butter" for mopping reinforcements, and order another cocktail while you're at it. The Cortez's sister restaurant, Jose & Sons, is also worth a visit for its Mexican-meets-Southern cooking can't-miss dishes include the barbacoa, featuring brisket braised in beer from neighboring Crank Arm Brewery, and the tamales filled with caramelized onions and braised collards.

Raleigh: Garland

In an era when chefs have become the new rock stars, Chef-Owner Cheetie Kumar is a singular talent who is both. Before she started winning national recognition and James Beard Award semifinalist nods for her Indian- and Asian-inspired cooking at Garland, she was more likely to be applauded for her talents in local band Birds of Avalon. Though she still finds time to practice and play with her band (and tinker with the restaurant's soundtrack), these days you're more likely to find her in the kitchen creating dishes inspired by her native India and by North Carolina ingredients. To start, don't miss the crowd-favorite Cauliflower 65, composed of lightly fried florets redolent of ginger and garlic and finished in a turmeric-yogurt sauce. The menu changes seasonally, but dishes seamlessly meld Southern and Indian influences. To wit, giant, shell-on North Carolina shrimp coated with green coconut chutney is a hybrid of peel-and-eat shrimp and black pepper shrimp, and it's served with charred okra and onions, a classic combo in both cuisines. Wash it down with a Magdalena, an off-menu tamarind margarita, or head downstairs for a nightcap at Neptunes Parlour, where you can channel your inner rock star during karaoke Tuesdays. If you'd rather leave the singing to the pros, head upstairs for a show at Kings.

Raleigh: Mandolin

Mandolin is the definition of a neighborhood gem &mdash you're just as likely to venture there to cure a case of the Mondays with a burger as you are to celebrate a special occasion with a three-course dinner. The space evokes a cozy farmhouse-chic charm, the service is always on point, and Chef Sean Fowler's cooking seamlessly blends fine-dining technique with classic Southern dishes, many crafted with produce from his own farm. The mix-and-match bar specials menu is also one of the best deals in town, making a good case for stopping in often. For $15 you can pair a craft beer with dishes such as a pimento cheeseburger or pulled pork barbecue sliders, and snacks like housemade pork rinds and collard ranch, which gets a tart-funky punch from smoked, fermented collard stems. Whether you dine at the bar or in the main dining room, don't miss the gold-standard charcuterie plate, featuring staples such as a lush chicken liver pâté and head cheese served with grilled toast, grainy mustard and seasonal pickled veggies like homegrown cucamelons or okra. Other menu standouts include an off-menu, wood-fired bone-in rib eye, and the fanciest chicken and waffle in town, finished with a bacon-mushroom emulsion and a truffle honey drizzle. Whether or not you've got room left, have at least one bite of the swoon-inducing chocolate souffle, made with 70% Guatemalan chocolate from Raleigh's Videri Chocolate Factory.

Raleigh: Poole's

You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone, among City of Oak natives and transplants alike, who doesn't gush about Poole's. They're likely to first tell you about the Macaroni au Gratin, a locally famous baked mac-and-three-cheese dish that's listed as a side but is so good that people have been known to order it as an entree. Then they'll get to debating the merits of sitting at the double horseshoe bar or snagging a cozy red leather banquette, and talking about how, beyond the mac 'n' cheese, it's nearly impossible to choose what to order from the chalkboard menu. Poole's is named for the diner that once occupied the space, and while the menu may take inspiration from classic comfort foods, the contemporary spin and thoughtful ingredients are all from chef, restaurateur and James Beard Award winner Ashley Christensen. You really can't go wrong here, whether you're in the mood for, say, a tea-brined pork chop, leg-of-lamb meatloaf or even a simply dressed Bibb lettuce salad. If it's summer, don't miss the tomato pie, a wedge of tomato and cheese layers barely contained in crust. But more than the food, more than the ambiance, what makes Poole'. well, Poole's . is the hospitality. In fact, all of Christensen's restaurants give you a sense of what Southern hospitality is all about &mdasha feeling of warmth, of being taken care of. You'll find it whether you're brunching on fried chicken and biscuits at Beasley's Chicken & Honey, making a pit stop for pork-chili-topped burgers at Chuck's, splurging on wood-fired aged steaks at Death & Taxes or sipping a late-night craft cocktail at Fox Liquor Bar. It feels like home.

Raleigh: Mofu Shoppe

Sunny Lin and Sophia Woo earned a name for themselves locally with their dumplings- and pho-focused food truck, Dump Pho King Truck, but they earned a national reputation as winners of Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race with their Pho Nomenal Dumpling Truck. The pair took their winnings from the show and opened their first brick-and-mortar, Mofu Shoppe, in an industrial-chic space in downtown Raleigh. The restaurant lives up to its name &mdash fu means "fortune" in Mandarin, and "mo" is an abbreviation for "more" &mdash with a menu that marries more food, more fun and the pair's shared Taiwanese and southern American heritages. The pork and chive dumplings, tweaked from Woo's family recipe, have been on the menu since the early food truck days and are still a must-order. They're boiled and then pan-fried till golden-crisp and are served with black-vinegar-toasted-sesame and sweet-and-spicy dipping sauces. The menu changes often, but diners would revolt if it ever dropped the fish tacos, in which panko-breaded and fried flounder nuggets are nestled into soft tortillas with radish-cucumber salad and a spicy mayo drizzle, and served with a side of kimchi fried rice. Coconut-based curries are also a sure bet, like the lunchtime red curry bowl bobbing with pineapple and tofu puffs (ask for extra!), or the dinnertime green curry mussels, served with youtiao &mdash kind of like a non-sweet Taiwanese churro &mdash for dipping and mopping up the luscious broth.

Raleigh: Bida Manda

If there's one dish that rivals Poole's Macaroni au Gratin as Raleigh's top must-try dish, it's the crispy pork belly soup at Bida Manda, a Laotian restaurant owned by siblings Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha. In Laos, noodle soups are a popular and hearty breakfast choice for farmers looking to fuel up for their day. Here, the crispy pork belly soup is more likely to induce a nap if you don't keep moving (so consider sharing), but the combination is irresistible: a tangle of rice noodles in a bowl of heady coconut curry broth fragrant with makrut lime leaves and galangal, topped with crispy pork belly slices and garnished with crushed peanuts, egg, lime wedges and a flurry of local fresh basil and mint. Another standout is the crispy rice lettuce wraps: Fill a lettuce cup with crunchy coconut-curry infused rice scatter with fresh mint and cilantro and toasted peanuts roll and dunk in the caramelized sweet chili sauce. The space's serene decor, from the photographs of Laotian monks to the woven wooden screen made with stripped, salvaged wood from the North Carolina mountains, makes you want to linger, so it'd be easy to lose track of time here (especially if you order the pina colada, crafted with housemade coconut cream and pineapple juice). Bida Manda's sister restaurant, Brewery Bhavana, is a must-visit too. Peruse the flower and book shop, sip one of co-owner and brewer Patrick Woodson's excellent beers (try the Till, a floral and refreshing farmhouse ale, or the Glean, a mango green peppercorn Saison), and settle in for a fancy dim sum feast &mdash don't miss the crab fried rice served inside an egg crepe shell.

Raleigh: St. Roch Fine Oysters & Bar

Chef Sunny Gerhart worked under Chef Ashley Christensen before striking out on his own, so it's no surprise that the menu is dialed-in and the hospitality warm, but the flavors are all his. The menu leans heavily on Gerhart's New Orleans roots &mdash St. Roch is named for his old neighborhood in the Big Easy &mdash with dishes such as peel-and-eat BBQ crawfish, red beans and rice, and the Wednesday-only crawfish boil. Oysters live up to their moniker and are available on the half shell (oh hey, dollar-oyster Tuesdays) or baked. Get 'em BBQ'd, with lemon, rosemary and cayenne Pimento'd, with smoked pimento cheese and jalapenos or Cracklin'd, with smoked tomato and chicharron. The bar makes a fine perch for slurping oysters and a sazerac, but for a more intimate setting, snag one of the tufted black leather booths, particularly during weekend brunch, when St. Roch seems to be a well-kept secret. That's when you'll find one of the best breakfast sandwiches in town &mdash an oversized biscuit piled with fluffy scrambled eggs, Cheddar and housemade andouille sausage &mdash plus half-price oysters on Saturday and half-price rosé on Sundays.

Raleigh: Crawford and Son

Crawford and Son bills itself as a neighborhood restaurant, and it's true that some regulars come in two or three times a week. There's something about the space itself in the early evening hours, natural light spills through the windows, illuminating the exposed-brick wall and gray quartz bar, where you might fancy a glass of wine and an appetizer. As the daylight fades, the space relaxes into a more intimate eatery, albeit one pulsating with a near palpable energy as tables fill up (and they do, so make a reservation). And then there's the food: Chef Scott Crawford serves some of the most creative, technique-driven yet deceptively simple dishes around, particularly when it comes to the raw section of the menu. Not many salads can be described as addictive, but a striking dish of raw shaved baby turnips (pictured), paired sometimes with apples and other times with radishes and capers, shows why Crawford has earned the nickname "the vegetable whisperer." The steak tartare is another standout, featuring hand-chopped rib eye folded with spicy mustard, homemade aioli, and a heavy dose of herbs and shallots, and finished with crispy pork rinds. Bookend your meal with pastry chef Krystle Swenson's warm malted wheat rolls with hickory-syrup-whipped butter and one of her inventive desserts, like a summery panna cotta with sorrel granita or a wedge of coconut cake paired with sweet-tart pawpaw sherbet.

Raleigh: A Place at the Table

A Place at the Table serves the best club sandwich in town. It's also huge &mdash but a meal here fills you up in a much deeper way. After working with people experiencing homelessness, Maggie Kane was inspired to open Raleigh's first pay-what-you-can cafe, a place where diners, regardless of their means, not only get to eat, but get to choose what they want to eat. Diners have the option to either pay the suggested price, pay half of the suggested price, or volunteer at the cafe. Those who wish to pay it forward can add a tip &mdash which helps offset the cost of a meal for someone else and contribute to a living wage for the cafe's staff &mdash or buy a $10 token to give to someone hungry for food or community. And Raleigh has responded in a big way: Since it opened in January 2018, A Place at the Table has served nearly 30,000 meals, given over 5,000 meals, racked up over 8,000 volunteer hours and received over 17,000 pay-it-forward meals, equaling over $90,000. Pull up a stool at the counter or snag one of the light-flooded window tables and settle in for chai-spiced waffles and avocado toast at breakfast. For lunch, if the massive club sandwich seems too much, perhaps opt for the sun-dried tomato and goat cheese quiche or a quinoa salad with roasted vegetables, Kane's personal favorite dish.

Durham: Rose's Noodles, Dumplings & Sweets

Justin and Katie Meddis started Rose's in 2013 as a meat market and sweet shop, putting Justin's butchery skills and Katie's pastries front and center, with a small sampling of sandwiches and ramen. In 2017, they went all in on an East Asian-inspired eatery, serving up a menu of ramen, noodle dishes, dumplings, salads and sandwiches, all crafted with pasture-raised meats and sustainable, local ingredients. Justin's deft butchery skills are still put to good use, as he's responsible for breaking down whole animals such as pigs in-house. Pork bones are slowly simmered to make a deep, flavorful broth, fat is turned into lard, heads are destined for head cheese or bun fillings, and jowls are cooked and served with ramen. The ramen's rich pork broth is bolstered with mushrooms and dried fish, coupled with dashi, and finished with a small amount of garlic-infused lard, which gives the broth added depth and helps it cling to the noodles. Katie's sweets are still prominently featured it'd be criminal not to save room for dessert, particularly the seasonally inspired ice cream sandwiches. Think blueberries and cream sandwiched between lemon and gingersnap cookies, or the fan-favorite strawberry sorbet and ice cream paired with Meyer lemon cookies &mdash Katie even has a dedicated freezer of strawberries to keep up with demand throughout summer. On weekends you can snag breakfast treats like Chinese doughnuts called youtiao, served with soy milk for dunking, made either sweet with a fruit compote, or savory with pickled vegetables, chili oil and cilantro.

Durham: Saltbox Seafood Joint

Fish shacks pepper the Carolina coast, but for a modern take further inland, visit Chef Ricky Moore's Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham. Here you'll find a pared-down menu of fried North Carolina catch, including familiar choices like shrimp and flounder alongside other native species Moore is partial to the "full-flavor" fish he grew up eating in Eastern North Carolina, such as bone-in croaker, mullet or hogfish. You can order the seafood as part of a plate, heaped onto a pile of seasoned potatoes alongside zippy coleslaw, or piled onto a roll topped with 'slaw. The casual approach &mdash counter ordering, bright orange cafeteria trays, plastic baskets &mdash belies the fact that this is seafood prepared with the deft touch of a chef who built his career in fine dining. Seafood is lightly dredged, not battered, in a finely ground seasoned cornmeal flour (gluten-free diners, rejoice!), nicely spiced, then fried even tartar and cocktail sauces taste like something most places would charge extra for. Seafood shacks traditionally serve hushpuppies, fried cornmeal nuggets, and Moore puts his stamp on these, too. The result is his signature (and trademarked) Hush-Honeys, a hushpuppy-zeppole hybrid lightly glazed with honey and dusted with a savory spice rub. The original Saltbox location just outside downtown is a walk-up window with outdoor picnic table seating, so if you've got a group or it's peak summer, head to the air-conditioned location on Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard.

Durham: Mateo Bar de Tapas

You can't go wrong at any of Durham restaurateur Matt Kelly's restaurants (head to Mother & Sons for a plate of hand-rolled pasta, to Lucky's Delicatessen for the ultimate remedy for a sad desk lunch, or to St. James Seafood for pristine shellfish and expertly prepared local catch), but Mateo Bar de Tapas is the crown jewel in the Kelly empire. The very nature of a tapas restaurant and the made-for-sharing small plates make it convivial, but Mateo's atmosphere &mdash at once buzzing and intimate, cool yet inviting &mdash makes it the kind of place you'd pick for any number of occasions, such as date night, girls' night out, impressing out-of-town guests or entertaining your in-laws. The menu offers classic Spanish tapas such as patatas bravas and pan con tomate, alongside traditional dishes imbued with Southern flair, such as almejas pequenas, in which littleneck clams are served with sherry, garlic, boiled peanuts and ham, or albondigas, where pork-cheek meatballs are paired with saffron rice grits. Wash them down with a cocktail, like The State Bird, a gin and tonic made with Durham Distillery Navy-strength gin and saffron-infused tonic, or one of the sherries from the extensive list. This spot is perpetually packed, so it's best to make a reservation.

Durham: Picnic

According to Picnic's co-owner Wyatt Dickson, any barbecue restaurant must do five things right to succeed: The barbecue, sauce, coleslaw, sweet tea and banana pudding must all be on point. Dickson, along with Ryan Butler and Ben Adams, is nailing it. In North Carolina, barbecue means pork, and Picnic specializes in whole-hog barbecue. The pigs are sourced from Butler's Green Button Farm, located 10 miles down the road, slow-smoked over wood and coals in a custom-built smoker, and then pulled apart by hand. The succulent shreds are judiciously sauced with Dickson's Pig Whistle, an Eastern-meets-Western North Carolina barbecue sauce &mdash that is, vinegar-based amped up with Texas Pete hot sauce and "a little red" (typically ketchup in the western part of the state). The barbecue is served as part of a plate or on a sandwich, both of which come with excellent slaw that is neither too creamy nor too vinegary. A plate also comes with two scratch-made sides, such as mac 'n' cheese, bacon-braised collard greens and sweet potato puree topped with spiced pecan crumble. (If barbecue just isn't your thing, there's also a stellar fried chicken sandwich.) Wash it down with a glass of sweet tea &mdash the signature iced tea of the South is brewed fresh throughout the day here, and is not too cloying &mdash and be sure to save room for the banana pudding.

Durham: Dashi

The concept for Dashi began when Billy and Kelli Cotter hosted a pop-up at The Cookery, a culinary incubator owned by Rochelle Johnson and Nick Hawthorne-Johnson. When the fervor for reservations caused The Cookery's website to crash, it became clear that Durhamites had an insatiable appetite for Japanese fare. The foursome created Dashi, a two-level restaurant with a bustling ramen shop on the ground floor and an izakaya, or Japanese pub, upstairs. Wherever you choose to dine, you'll want a bowl of ramen to slurp. Sit at the ramen counter downstairs for a glimpse of the action, or settle into one of the cozy tables along the Japanese manga-adorned walls. Broth is the foundation of a good bowl of ramen &mdash dashi is the name of the Japanese mother broth &mdash and you can't go wrong here, whether you opt for the milky, porky tonkotsu, soy-based shoyu, funky-spicy kimchi, punchy miso or shio (sea salt). At dinner, head upstairs to the denlike izakaya for small plates that marry North Carolina flavors and ingredients with Japanese techniques, like spicy peanuts boiled in soy sauce, mirin and ginger. There's also an excellent assortment of yakimono &mdash skewered meats and vegetables such as miso eggplant, bacon-wrapped mochi and chicken heart &mdash alongside snacks such as spicy miso chicken wings and curried beef tendons fried into puffy crackers. Wash it all down with a highball of Japanese whiskey, lemon and soda water or a seasonal frozen chuhai, a boozy slushie made with shochu and fruit juice. The Cotters' other restaurant, Toast, is a perennially popular spot for perfectly pressed panini.

Durham: Alley Twenty Six

Triangle restaurant veteran and bartender extraordinaire Shannon Healy created Alley Twenty Six to showcase not only his love of classic cocktails, but also their ability to pair with food. And not just any bar food, but a seasonal menu of snacks and small plates overseen by Executive Chef Carrie Schleiffer, who honed her chops in New York City before landing in the Bull City. Think North Carolina burrata with duck prosciutto and figs, seared tuna toast with watermelon and spicy crushed peanuts, or cornmeal-crusted fried oysters (pictured). Naturally, there's a gourmet burger, which makes up one part of Alley Twenty Six's most-classic pairing. The Alley Burger features a chuck-brisket patty topped with bourbon bacon jam, chipotle aioli and black truffle cheddar &mdash and, if you really want to gild the lily, foie gras. The fatty, salty masterpiece meets its match in The Alley Cocktail, a riff on a dry Manhattan, which gets its spicy backbone from Wild Turkey 101 bourbon, salinity from dry vermouth, depth and funk from Luxardo maraschino liqueur, and subtle cola notes and a bittersweet finish from Cynar, an Italian herbal liqueur. The bar staff is equally adept at mixing up classics &mdash like a gold-standard pina colada or a gin and tonic made with Durham Distillery's Navy-strength gin and Alley Twenty Six's own tonic &mdash and at serving seasonal libations or custom requests. Though it's not on the menu anymore, you can still ask for the Mexican Herbalist, a margarita with a kick in which a blend of Reposado and house-infused jalapeno hibiscus tequila mingles with ginger syrup and a dash of habanero vinegar to refreshing, spicy effect.

Durham: Pizzeria Toro

Anyone can put pizzeria in the name of their restaurant, but you know it's going to be good pizza when you can smell it before you even taste it. A Wood Stone pizza oven anchors the Pizzeria Toro space, emitting an intoxicating aroma of dough baking and charring. Here, the pizza dough is crafted from a blend of soft and high-gluten flours to yield a crust that lands somewhere between Neapolitan and New York-style pizza. Snag a seat at the end of the communal table closest to the mouth of the oven and watch it work its magic to blister the crust to crisp-chewy perfection. Order at least one of each of the "red" and "white" pies, such as the classic margherita topped with stretchy rounds of buffalo mozzarella or the heady chanterelle mushroom and garlic combo with milky fior di latte mozzarella, respectively. Round out your order with small plates like the fan-favorite suppli al telefono, fried mozzarella-stuffed rice balls that owe their deep flavor to the saffron and Parmesan stock-infused risotto. Owner Gray Brooks' other two restaurants are also downtown Durham favorites. Stop by modern diner Jack Tar for fluffy pancakes, Szechuan peppercorn hot chicken, or a nightcap at The Colonel's Daughter, a hidden bar inside Jack Tar, or reserve a table at the enchanting Littler, whose beautiful, starry-night-lit space and small plates seem tailor-made for date night.

Durham: Copa

Copa started off as a humble sandwich shop and cafe called Old Havana, and though you can still find an excellent Cubano (both the sandwich and the coffee) during the day, dinner is when the real magic happens. Copa &mdash owned by husband-wife team Elizabeth Turnbull and Roberto Copa Matos &mdash is the first farm-to-table Cuban restaurant in the country, and much of the produce comes from their own Hillsborough farm, Terra Sacra. Order vegetales, ensalda de Verano or arroz de verano to sample dishes featuring whatever veggies have been recently plucked from the earth, such as fresh black beans, black-eyed peas or sweet potatoes. Copa is also the only restaurant in the country making dishes inspired by 18th-century Cuban recipes, created according to a lost manuscript called Nuevo Manual, which Copa Matos discovered and helped republish. For example, Ropa Vieja a la Americana is a far cry from the ropa vieja (literally "old clothes") Cubans recognize as their signature dish of braised, shredded beef in heavy tomato sauce &mdash here, grass-fed beef chuck is slowly cooked with white wine, mint, fresh herbs and a light tomato sauce until it's pull-apart tender, then served atop housemade cassava flatbreads (pictured). For Turnbull's part, in addition to managing communications and dabbling in pastry, she's responsible for the excellent cocktail program. The classic Cuban mojito is a sure bet, crafted with rum, lime juice and farm-fresh hierba buena, a fragrant but mild-mannered mint. For a dose of after-dinner drama, opt for La Diosa Negra, a rum and coffee-liqueur tipple that's infused with cigar smoke and served tableside with a swirl of smoke and a tobacco leaf garnish.

Durham: M Sushi

With wooden beams, exposed brick and a custom wooden sushi counter, M Sushi's vibe is simple, minimalist and natural &mdash perfect for letting Chef-Owner Michael Lee's understated but mighty culinary talents shine. Lee discovered his passion for sushi in the mid-'90s while working in a Japanese sushi restaurant part time during college. He dropped out of college to focus on sushi and cooking full-time and has been perfecting his craft ever since. And Durham (and the entire Triangle) is all the richer for it. At dinner, opt for the light omakase, or chef's choice, which features sushi crafted with seasonal seafood, each piece designed to highlight the fish's textures and flavors. The restaurant receives three or four overnight shipments from Japan, including Japanese kinmadai (golden eye snapper), fresh scallops from Hokkaido and wild mackerel, as well as local tuna and flounder, Alaskan sockeye salmon, and spot prawns and sea urchin from Santa Barbara, California. From the small-plates menu, don't miss the flash-fried sushi rice topped with tuna tartare, masago (capelin roe) and cured baby octopus. Lee's other Durham restaurants are must-visits too, including M Kokko next door (try the fried chicken sandwich or the Korean fried chicken), and M Tempura for omakase tempura by night and donkatsu lunch sets by day.

Durham: The Durham

The Durham is best described as an American restaurant, but James Beard Award-winning chef Andrea Reusing's influences skew more old American than new. She cites Mark Twain's ode to American flavors &mdash fresh butter, Maryland crab, and ripe tomatoes from the garden &mdash as inspiration, and so her seasonal menus reflect an abundance of ingredients from North Carolina farmers, fishermen and artisans. The restaurant, located in the lobby of The Durham Hotel, is open all day, transitioning from a light-flooded daytime cafe tailor-made for a quick bite, coffee meetings or a working lunch to a glittering dinner spot, where you'll find luxe signature dishes such as dry-aged, bone-in rib eye served with a roasted marrow bone or North Carolina baked oysters topped with Champagne sabayon and caviar. There's also a rooftop bar that boasts sweeping views of downtown Durham as well as offering a stellar raw bar and small-plates menu. Don't miss the carrot dog, a hickory-smoked carrot topped with green tomato chow-chow and sweet onion relish, which pairs well with the Spirit Hunter, a tequila, Aperol, jalapeno and grapefruit bitters tipple that tempers the carrot dog's sweet-smoky flavors. If you find yourself in Chapel Hill, Reusing's Lantern is a must-visit. Get the salt-and-pepper shrimp, which are fried till the shells are crispy as a potato chip &mdash and just as addictive.


Clyde Cooper's Barbecue

If you were planning to scan this guide just to find the word “barbecue,” we made it easy for you by putting Clyde Cooper’s first. When you want Carolina-style, vinegar-based pork barbecue, this Raleigh spot is where you should get it. It’s one of the oldest barbecue spots in the state (it opened in 1938) and both the slow-roasted pork shoulder and baby-back ribs can rival any other barbecue in the Triangle. They also make fried chicken and brisket, along with all the usual sides.

Brewery Bhavana

An all-in-one craft brewery, flower shop, bookstore, and dim sum restaurant sounds like something made up by a bot created to generate restaurant ideas. Actually, though, all of that comes together to make of the best places in Raleigh. Brewery Bhavana’s Chinese menu is made up of dim sum and larger plates, with a few high-end ingredients thrown in like scallion pancakes with bone marrow, and shrimp and pork shumai with caviar (despite this, prices are still reasonable). Head here with another person to stand at the long bar and drink a few of their 40 house-brewed beers on tap, or bring a group to the bustling but not deafeningly loud dining room.

Poole's Diner

Technically, Poole’s is a diner. Really though, it’s more like a cross between the cleanest diner you’ve ever seen and a dark Manhattan bar from the Mad Men era. The red leather banquettes and barstools make it feel more appropriate for a nice dinner with someone you like, and dishes like watermelon salad and risotto make it clear that it’s not the place to come in your classic diner uniform of pajamas for a hungover breakfast. Get the macaroni au gratin, but other than that, the chalkboard menu changes daily and is always full of things we want to eat. Just make sure you don’t overlook the vegetables - they never taste overly healthy and are usually some of the most creative dishes here.


The perfect one-two punch for dinner and drinks isn’t always easy to find, but Garland manages to pull off the best - and possibly only - one-two-three punch in Raleigh. You could spend an entire night here between the restaurant, club downstairs, and music venue on top. Focus on the dishes with both Indian and Southern touches like fried chicken thighs with turmeric-yogurt sauce, coconut-poached shrimp with fried tapioca, and spiced lamb shank osso bucco with channa dal, while staring at the gallery wall of mostly bright red paintings that you’ll want to recreate at home. Dinner here is the perfect start, middle, or end to your (incredibly convenient) night.

Lonerider Brewing Company

Maybe you have a long layover, your flight got majorly delayed, or your ticket says 8 pm not am. Regardless, if you’re at or near RDU and don’t want to hole up at A&W after spending $18 on water and a bag of almonds, consider calling a car for very short drive to Lonerider. Order a beer in the small, relatively dark indoor bar, then head straight out to the sprawling lawn with plenty of covered picnic tables. There are usually some food trucks too in case you’re considering “accidentally” missing your flight.

Sorry&mdashlooks like you screwed up that email address

Crawford and Son

Like pairing a ball gown with a leather jacket or drinking Champagne at a tailgate, Crawford and Sons toes the line between fancy and cool. You’ll eat Southern-inspired food that’s topped with edible flowers and more thoughtfully put together than a NASA launch, but then you’ll see bathroom walls covered in wallpaper that looks like a tattoo artist’s practice sheet. It may seem disjointed, but once you try some of the food, like chicken confit with creamed corn and pork cheeks with cheese grits, you’ll realize it all works perfectly well. Weekend reservations are basically required, but there are usually a few bar seats available - even if you just want to stop by for desserts like peaches and cream pie, which we fully endorse.

La Farm Bakery

Even though it’s a 25-minute drive from downtown, La Farm Bakery in Cary is worth finding an excuse to go to the area, whether it’s for the North Carolina Museum of Art or a hike in nearby William B. Umstead State Park. This French bakery has scones, cookies, pastries, and a white chocolate baguette that definitely counts as bread, not dessert. There are also sandwiches like the Croque Madame, or the grilled cheese made with three cheeses and mornay sauce. Finding a seat can sometimes be a pain, but tables turn quickly despite the fact that no one ever wants to leave here.

Transfer Co. Food Hall

Your friend thinks eating in a campus dining hall might be fun. Instead of getting stuck listening to a 19-year-old talk about how the TA they’re in love with is out to get them, go to Transfer Co. Food Hall instead. The dozens of plants and fresh flower arrangements keep this place from feeling like a cafeteria and it’s a great way to try a bunch of local spots all at once. There’s Benchwarmers for wood-fired bagel sandwiches, Chhote’s for Indian street food, Bul Box for Korean-inspired rice bowls, and many others. You can also grab a drink at the bar and take it anywhere in the food hall, or to one of the tables outside.

Trophy Brewing & Pizza

There are three Trophy locations - one hosts food trucks, another has a bar food menu - but when you want arguably the best pizza in Raleigh, head to the third location on Morgan. You can choose a specialty pie like the Local Celebrity (corn base, fontina, tomato, cheerwine-braised brisket, and jalapeno pesto) or The Indoor Kid (garlic herb cream sauce, spinach, artichokes, provolone, and parmesan), or make your own. Regardless of what you choose, it’ll go perfectly with one of their beers on tap.

The Roast Grill

When people aren’t getting heated about sports and different shades of blue here, they’re usually arguing over where to find the best food - from barbecue to biscuits to hot dogs. For the latter, instead of getting caught in the middle of a Char Grill vs. Snoopy’s debate, just head to our favorite, Roast Grill. The hot dogs are served “burnt,” which really means perfectly crispy on the outside. Be warned, there’s a ban on ketchup, mayo, and relish, so unless you smuggle some in (which frankly, we’ve never tried but aren’t above), you’ll choose between mustard, chopped onions, and chili. There are no fries or other sides either, but you should look at that as the perfect excuse to just eat another hot dog or two.


In 2011, owners Roberto Copa Matos and Elizabeth Turnbull opened the Old Havana Sandwich Shop in downtown Durham and quickly earned a reputation for sublime versions of classic Cuban cooking. A few years later they hosted a dinner series called the “The Lost Dishes of Cuba,” inspired by a 19th-century Cuban cookbook filled with recipes, techniques, and ingredients little seen on the island after the Cuban revolution. Last spring, the couple closed Old Havana and opened Copa a few blocks away, offering well-executed Cuban staples as well as some of those so-called “lost dishes,” like butifarra a lo Cubano (sausages made with cinnamon, anise, and clove over saffron yogurt), and plátanos rellenos (plantains stuffed with savory pork picadillo and fried in house-rendered lard).

North Carolina Lemon Pie (Cook’s Country)

We just got back from vacationing in the beautiful North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s breathtaking! We drove 2500 miles round trip in a little vintage British convertible – a lot of those miles in the rain – and had a great time. In homage to North Carolina, I’m making this sweet, tangy, salty-crusted North Carolina Lemon Pie.

The day after we got home, Cook’s Country had a show on North Carolina recipes, including this lemon pie and delicious-looking Nashville Hot Chicken. Someday I’ll make that hot chicken, but today it’s gotta be the lemon pie.

They make it look so easy on the show. Throw the crackers, butter, and corn syrup in the food processor, then pulse and press into the pie pan. Stir together the rest of the ingredients and pour it in the baked crust, then bake again till jiggly-firm.

They forget to show the part where you’re counting out and weighing saltines, zesting and squeezing the lemons, and separating the eggs. Oh, and the part where I got lemon juice in the cut on my little finger. Ouch. Wish I had a little sous chef like they do.

The lemon filling for this pie is the best lemon pie filling I’ve ever had. Just a touch tarter than sweet, creamy from the addition of heavy cream, and altogether divine.

The crust is very unusual, which is one of the reasons I wanted to make it. It’s made with saltines (I know, right?) and is crunchy, a little salty and goes perfectly with the filling. It’s not your normal graham crackery-tasting crust – it’s very good! Next time I’ll make the crust a little thinner on the bottom, though.

Oh, and don’t forget that layer of whipped cream on the top either (next time I’ll double that).

Update: After two days in the refrigerator, we decided the pie is at it’s best. The crust absorbed some of that wonderful lemon filling and softened. Bret doesn’t particularly like lemon stuff and he’s eating this up!

7. The Chocolate Fetish

Equal parts art museum and chocolatier, the Chocolate Fetish features a tantalizing display of sweet treats, truffles and confections to tempt your taste buds. The long-time owners of the shop create all the recipes, and their artisan daughter molds and crafts the chocolates into truly inspired creations. While all the candy is tasty, the truffles are truly spectacular. Pick up a box to bring home to a friend and grab one (or two or three) for yourself.

Executive Chef Salary in North Carolina

How much does an Executive Chef make in North Carolina? The average Executive Chef salary in North Carolina is $67,918 as of April 27, 2021, but the range typically falls between $57,877 and $82,123. Salary ranges can vary widely depending on the city and many other important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, the number of years you have spent in your profession.

Percentile Salary Location Last Updated
10th Percentile Executive Chef Salary $48,734 NC April 27, 2021
25th Percentile Executive Chef Salary $57,877 NC April 27, 2021
50th Percentile Executive Chef Salary $67,918 NC April 27, 2021
75th Percentile Executive Chef Salary $82,123 NC April 27, 2021
90th Percentile Executive Chef Salary $95,056 NC April 27, 2021

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Biltmore Company - Asheville, NC

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