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Apr 25, 2007 01:16 PM

Report on Raleigh?

I'm about to embark on a few months long trip to Raleigh, and as I've never been there I'm looking for some background on what the area has to offer for food. The only friend I have that's been there described it as "sleepy", which worries me a little. I'll be on travel/expense account the whole time, so I'm looking for everyone's "the best" list with some feedback. I don't want to come back and find out I missed out on some good places. Any feedback is appreciated!

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  1. Fins in downtown Raleigh..Great food and wonderful decor in the new location in the progress energy building downtown.

    1. Raleigh has some fine eating places but to truely get the best the area has to offer you will need to venture out to the other parts of the Triangle. Do searches on "Triangle," "Durham," Chapel Hill," and "Cary" for threads on best places to eat around here.

      1. As mentioned by bbqme, there are many different areas to explore and the Triangle has had good participation on this board. If you start using the search feature, you'll find many good recommendations.

        To try to help with the big picture, here's a high level view that will probably spur a lot of controversy and dissention in this thread!

        Raleigh as the state capitol gets a big influx of government workers and visitors during the day, but does not have a big nightlife scene. That might be part of what spurred the "sleepy" comment. Some of the restaurants often mentioned on this board that are in Raleigh proper include: Second Empire, Enoteca Vin, Frazier's, Porter's Tavern, Mo's Diner, Cafe Luna, Duck & Dumpling, Waraji. Fins (mentioned above) is a new transplant into the city center.

        You didn't say where you're coming from, but if it's a big metropolitan foodie city you will be surprised by how early many of the places close. Don't necessarily plan on eating after the theater.

        Cary is a big residential community directly abutting Raleigh. It has more ethnic restaurants, with Indian particularly well represented. Some restaurants that you can search for on the board include: Lotus Leaf Cafe (Vietnamese fusion), Udipi (Indian and sometimes called Udupi), Rio (Brazilian churrascaria), An.

        Morrisville is only starting to grow into a residential area with its own identity. It is between Raleigh/Cary and Durham and features the airport. It is starting to get new restaurants. Check out reports on Saffron on the boards.

        Durham has had something of an image problem over the years. Downtown fell into disrepair and was difficult to navigate, without many foodie places of note. They are in a big phase of urban renovation now. But there are several very high end restaurants scattered hither and yon that are known for some of the best food in the Triangle. Check out reports on Magnolia Grill, Nana's, Four Square, Tonali. Durham has lots of high quality, low-cost, zero-ambience Mexican places as well.

        Chapel Hill is a university town with one main drag clustering quite a few restaurants on a "Restaurant Row" kind of setup. You can look for user comments on places like Elaine's on Franklin, Lantern, Il Palio.

        The Triangle (as with all of NC) has plenty of barbeque places, all of which spark fierce debate between loyalists. Barbeque is a specific food descriptor here, meaning chopped pork, usually served with a vinegar-based sauce.

        The restaurant names mentioned are in no way complete and exhaustive. But this should give you a way to organize your searching. You can branch out from there.

        1. I agree with what everyone has said above and would add Locopops in either Durham or Chapel Hill as not to be missed. It is on my must visit list for visitors and no one has complained yet! The popsicles won't break the bank but grabing a popsicle and then heading up the street to Duke Gardens is just about the best way to spend a saturday afternoon I have found.

          I would also add the following restaurants to the list: Piedmont, Rue Cler, and Jujube

          10 Replies
          1. re: jean9

            Thanks for the feedback thus far; this was exactly what I was looking for. I wasn't too familiar with the difference between Raleigh/Durham/CH nor where to start, and I find the CH search tool to be less than wonderful unless I want to see an unsorted list going back 5 years. Anyone have an opinion on the #1 in the area? From what I read, it sounds like the Second Empire, though the chef at Magnolia Grill seems fairly well decorated.

            1. re: TheRoy

              Everything in the Triangle is within thirty minutes so if you're from a bigger city, then all of the Triangle is convenient. Locals often won't cross the border between Raleigh and Durham/Chapel HIll because they think it's too far.

              If you're on an expense account and you want someplace "nice", then I would recommend:

              Magnolia Grill: Great southern influenced food with modest atmosphere. Reasonably priced.

              Four Square: Fine dining in a renovated mansion.

              Lantern: Excellent Asian influenced cuisine in a hip atmosphere with immaculate ingredients. Reasonably priced.

              Fins: Fine dining with incredible respect for fresh seafood ingredients. Perfect sashimi. New location downtown is beautiful.

              Nana's: Italian/southern influenced. Has a reputation for being incredible or average depending on the night.

              Piedmont: Great new upstart with slight Italian slant and seasonal local ingredients. Reasonably priced.

              Elaine's on Franklin: Nouvelle southern with a fairly adventurous wine list.

              Second Empire has been hit or miss.

              Frazier's: Typical upscale with consistant quality. Reasonably priced.

              Tasca Brava: Authentic tapas and Spanish cuisine. Service is slow, but the food is perfect.

              Bin 54: Nice modern steakhouse. Incredible side dishes.

              1. re: tablewines

                I would add Vin to your list, havenot been there for the new menu but everything in the past has been great.

                1. re: chazzer

                  I went to Vin just last weekend and loved it. Had a wild mushroom risotto with seared scallops. Wonderful. And service at a very high level. Highly recommended.

              2. re: TheRoy

                I have had some of the best desserts in my life at the Magnolia Grill (Durham) though recently I haven't been as wowed as in the past. Lantern (Chapel Hill) has gotten a lot of national buzz lately and I have heard that it is hard to get into because of that, though if you set up a reservation now for a month from now I don't think you will have a problem.
                The opinion I have gotten of Second Empire (Raleigh) is that it can be good but for the price you are better off looking elsewhere (Fins and Vin are both in Raleigh) It is an older restaurant and I think still very popular with older locals, maybe for as much its standing in the community as its actual food... if that makes sense?

                Word of warning, if you are staying in Raleigh and want to get out to either Chapel Hill or Durham for dinner it is a bit of a drive ranging from 20 to 40 minutes or more depending on where you are going, construction etc (it once took me an hour and a half to get to Chapel Hill for a concert but that was because of a basketball game). Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get there... it is far more enjoyable to enjoy a cocktail before dinner and wait for your table then to have to rush before you loose the table!!

                1. re: jean9

                  Lantern doesn't take reservations (unless there is a new policy). But if you go on a weeknight you shouldn't have to wait long - and there is a very nice bar in the back of the restaurant to wait in - we usually end up just eating at the first-come-first-served tables in the bar. If you are travelling and eating alone, I definitely recommend eating at the bar at Lantern.

                  1. re: dubedo

                    My bad, I thought I had read that they took reservations. Oh well I guess that is good news.

                    1. re: jean9

                      The Lantern is now taking a very few reservations each night. You have to call pretty far in advance (especially for a small size party). But we had a great meal there a couple of weeks back (it was mid-week, we went fairly early and it was quiet).

                      1. re: LulusMom

                        "Raleigh as the state capitol gets a big influx of government workers and visitors during the day, but does not have a big nightlife scene. That might be part of what spurred the "sleepy" comment"

                        I call total BS on the not having a big nightlife scene. Obviously you have not been out..from Glenwood South area, to stuff around Moore Square, and just scattered about--we have a tight music and dining scene. You just need to talk to folks once you get here-and not just the folks in your office who might just stop off at Applebee's on the way home.

                        Definitely pick up a copy of the free local weekly, the Independent ( when you get here

                        1. re: LulusMom

                          We got a reservation when we ate there a few weeks back so they do take reservations.

              3. I would add Bloomsbury Bistro to the list---seasonal menu, quite creative, always enjoyable. Agree that Second Empire is not on "the best" list for me.
                Friends have highly recommended Bonne Soiree in Chapel Hill also though I have not driven over there yet. The evening weekday drive from Raleigh to Chapel Hill can be horrendous.

                15 Replies
                1. re: boonemom

                  The EVENING weekday drive from Raleigh to Durham or Chapel Hill will only be 20-30 minutes. I find it hilarious how folks in Raleigh act like Durham and Chapel Hill are hundreds of miles away. The ONLY times that is a tough drive are (1) if there is a basketball game at Carolina, (2) if there is a football game at Carolina, and (3) if the road is closed to one lane for construction.

                  Now, the MORNING drive from Raleigh to Durham or Chapel Hill IS horrendous.

                  RE: Raleigh being a "sleepy" town. Yes, Raleigh has come a LONG way in the pas 10 years. The downtown scene has improved dramatically in the past year with the opening of Fayetteville Street. However, it still pales in comparison to many downtown areas. Glenwood South is happening but I don't really consider that "downtown."

                  1. re: jsb23nc

                    Or there is an accident or bad weather. I don't think "boonemom" was saying it is an insurmountable drive just that it can be a long one.

                    For TheRoy, the drive from Raleigh towards Durham/ CH is generally bad in the morning because of traffic to Reasearch Triangle Park (RTP) and the traffic from Durham/ CH to Raleigh is generally bad at night for the same reason. This is because for the most part, all traffic is on one highway (40).

                    As for Raleigh having a nightlife scene, things here are improving but dining in Raleigh, in my opinion, is still pretty far behind what can be found in either Durham or Chapel Hill. Glenwood South, Moore Square, North Hills and the re-opened Fayetteville Street all have bustling restaurants and bars (Glenwood South has the most) but the quality of food can be pretty iffy. Raleigh tends to have restaurant groups running multiple restaurants in different areas that sometimes are really good (Porter's, Frasiers etc) and sometimes mediocre in terms of food. Also I don't think this approach allows for as many hands-on chefs who are making really exciting, regional food, something the members of this board tend to gravitate towards. The restaurants that have been mentioned above fall mostly within this category.

                    There are some great music venues spread throughout all three cities and you can find out all about them from the Indy as mentioned above.

                    J Betskis (Raleigh) is a nice german/polish restaurant that opened reacently and is quite good. I would add that to the list.

                    1. re: jean9

                      I second that J Betski's rec. I forgot to put them on my list. Great stuff there!

                      1. re: jean9

                        Sorry, but I've gotta call BS on this generalization about Raleigh as well.

                        I can't eat city tendencies or general approaches. I can eat at specific restaurants and Raleigh has more than few very good ones.

                        Like anywhere, especially a city that's growing, there are many less good ones.

                        It's just not very useful to try and characterize an entire city. It is useful to highlight specific places that you do and don't like. Boards like this exist precisely so we can sort out the better from the lessor. Let's call out both kinds. The better will thrive, the lessor will either improve or be replaced.

                        1. re: FuzzyT

                          Good feedback, everyone!

                          I was able to go through some old posts and piece together the idea of the dining scene in Raleigh. Since I'm going to be there so long, I'll expand the question: what can you tell me about specialty shops and markets? I'm interested in where in town you can get the best: cheese/beef/game/poultry/fish/shellfish/produce/etc...

                          I also love to shop in Asian markets, is there anywhere to pick up Asian ingredients? I usually go to Ranch 99 and Mitsuwa (chains) where I am, if that helps.

                          Once again, any and all feedback is appreciated!

                          1. re: TheRoy

                            Probably best to head to Cary. There you would find Fresh Market, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's for your gourmet needs and Grand Asia market and "Little India" in Chatham Square for your Chinese and Indian ingredients.

                            If you drive out to Chapel Hill, we have Southern Season a large gourmet, specialty shop, and Weaver St. Market in Carrboro (a locally owned favorite with a great bakery)- in addition to Whole Foods and Trader Joe's in coming this fall.

                            1. re: bbqme

                              If you make it to Southern Season during June you'll hit their annual inventory clearance sale. Some truly excellent bargains, some less so, and some stuff that will make you say, "Wha?" Lots of fun and frequently some good samples.

                              1. re: bbqme

                                Why go to Cary for Whole Foods or Fresh Market? These both have successful and well stocked locations in Raleigh. There are a lot of little specialty shops in Cameron Village that you should check out while in Cameron Village.

                                Capitol City Grocery at Seaboard Station has just relaunched. Haven't been by yet, but it sounds interesting. While there, hit the wine store and garden shops. And take a look into J. Betski's, 18 Seaboard and the Sunflower's sandwich shop.

                                Grand Asia is unique to the area, and not far from Raleigh, but there are many good smaller Asian Groceries located throughout the city. What neighborhood are you in?

                                For fresh seafood, Whole Foods is pretty good. A good smaller provider of local seafood is Earp's.

                                Conti's Italian Market in Mordecai is also worth a visit.

                                1. re: FuzzyT

                                  Adding some Places links in support of above...

                                  Whole Foods Market
                                  3540 Wade Ave, Raleigh, NC 27607

                                  Grand Asia Market
                                  1253 Buck Jones Rd, Raleigh, NC 27606

                                  Earp's Seafood Market
                                  1414 S Saunders St, Raleigh, NC 27603

                                  Conti's Italian Market
                                  618 N Person St, Raleigh, NC 27604

                                  1. re: FuzzyT

                                    IS capital city open yet? i havent heard that it is reopened yet.

                                    1. re: ERGGGGG

                                      I had read that they had reopened, but I haven't been by. If I get the chance, I'll swing by there this weekend and take a look.

                                      1. re: ERGGGGG

                                        I didn't get by there this weekend, but the retail roundup column in Sat's N&O reported that they were opening on that day.

                                      2. re: FuzzyT

                                        I dropped in very briefly Sun. at closing time, so did not get a very in depth look. Major change seemed to be the addition of a hot bar & a salad bar at the deli entrance. Both had been cleared so no info on items offered. The non perishables looked very similar in selection as before. Were still a few holes, mostly with empty space in the frozen cases. Staff friendly & smiling. Local offerings in produce. Both brands of coffee (bulk beans) offered are local companies.

                                    2. re: TheRoy

                                      For Asian you gotta try Grand Asia in Cary on Buck Jones Rd just south of I-40. Lots of produce I don't recognize. Great selection & prices on herbs & spices. Fish market smells tho...

                                      Great produce at the NC State Farmers Mkt on Lake Wheeler Rd just north of I-40.

                                      We buy some cheeses at Trader Joes in Cary, some at Kroger on Hwy 64 in Apex where the "cheese lady" will just shove samples in your mouth, and some at Southern Season in Chapel Hill.

                                      A neighbor loves a seafood place on S Saunders St, but we've never been.

                                      1. re: AreBe

                                        That seafood place on S Saunders St has got to be Earp's.