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Non-chain restaurants in the Triangle

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Started a blog (ayearwithoutchainrestaurants.blogspot.com) and am on the lookout for decent places to eat that aren't national chains. So far It's been pretty underwhelming by the food here. The strip mall restaurants are earning their strip mall status. Definitely missing NYC cuisine. However, Dos Taquitos stands out, as does Saffron in Morrisville. Wake up wired and Percolator in N. Raleigh are filling in nicely for Starbucks.

Where would you go for — italian, turkish, steak, entree salads?

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  1. http://londonfishandchips-nc.com/ great, authentic London Fish and Chips. If you are used to Captain D's for fish and chips, you might not like it but if you want the real thing give them a try.

    http://www.mythosbistro.net/index.html Great Med fusion.

    http://thefoodfactory.com/default.aspx TheFood Factory has great deli food.

    Udipi and Suchi for great Indian food on East Chatham in Cary.

    http://www.abbeyroadgrill.com/page1.htm Abby Road for great burgers

    http://www.joyceandfamilyrestaurant.com/ Great southern food in Fuquay

    http://www.skippersfish.com/Home Skippers has great fried seafood in Apex

    http://roastgrill.com/ The Roast Grill has great hot dogs

    http://www.finchrestaurant.com/ Finch's has country cooking and WiFi

    There are a ton of locally owned, good places to eat in this area.

    1 Reply
    1. re: blewgo

      Thanks. Top stuff. Will report back.

    2. Wow, you're missing out on a bounty if you haven't yet found the non-chain gems in this area. I moved out here from the Bay Area and have found the Triangle to be one of the best cities of this size in the nation for variety and quality of cuisine.

      Just a sampling:

      Panciuto - http://www.panciuto.com/menu.html

      Bin 54 - http://www.bin54restaurant.com/restau...

      La Shish - http://triangle.citysearch.com/profil...

      Bonne Soiree - http://www.newsobserver.com/1132/stor...
      Magnolia Grill - http://www.magnoliagrill.net/
      Herons - http://www.heronsrestaurant.com/

      Merlion - http://www.merlionfood.com/

      Waraji - http://www.warajirestaurant.com/

      J. Betski's - http://www.jbetskis.com/

      Vietnamese fusion
      An - http://www.ancuisines.com/

      Asian/fresh local ingredients
      Lantern - http://www.ancuisines.com/

      N. Indian
      Sitar - http://www.sitarindiapalace.net/

      S. Indian
      Udipi - http://triangle.citysearch.com/profil...

      Neomonde - http://www.neomonde.com/home/

      BTW, as of next Saturday, I'll have lived in the Triangle for exactly a year, and in that time I have not been to one chain restaurant, not even for coffee...and I eat out at least five meals a week So it can be done, easily.

      4 Replies
      1. re: mikeh

        If you are interested in NC BBQ, Allen and Son, on Hwy. 86 between Hillsborough and Chapel Hill is the best in NC, IMHO.

          1. re: batdown

            Two stores, which aren't even run by the same people any more, do not a chain make. The OP was referring to *national* chains (says so right in his post).

        1. re: mikeh

          Yeah, the only chain I ever cheat with is Cook-Out, and that's mostly because I work in RTP and sometimes I get so tied up at work that lunchtime becomes a 15-minute window at 3:00 p.m. . . .

          Truth be told, I can't even really imagine this alternate universe you're describing where it's difficult to avoid chains. Trauma for me would be moving to some godforsaken place where there are nothing *but* chains. Like Brier Creek. <shudder>

          There are a ton of excellent places in this thread. I'd also suggest making a trip to Durham to check out Federal, Piedmont, and/or Rue Cler. Or, if you want someplace that's sort of comfortingly chainlike (I bet they have an entree salad), but which isn't a chain, *and* has 60+ excellent beers on tap, check out Tyler's Taproom.

          Good luck, and I predict that within 6 months, you'll be the guy in your office who knows all the good lunch places.

          p.s. y'all, try out the new "link to a place" feature . . . makes the links far more useful . . .

          Piedmont Restaurant
          401 Foster St, Durham, NC 27701

          Rue Cler Restaurant
          401 E Chapel Hill St, Durham, NC 27701

          The Federal
          914 W Main St, Durham, NC 27701

          Tyler's Restaurant & Taproom
          324 Blackwell St Ste 400, Durham, NC 27701

        2. Authentic Chinise - Red Palace (Raleigh, and as good as any restaurant in either Flushing or Chinatown, even better Sichuan than Spicy & Tasty), Mama Wok (Cary), Cafeteria at Grand Asia ( Cary)

          Vietnanese - Pho Cali (Ralegh)

          Korean - Chosun Ok (RTP), Vit Goal (RTP), Seoul Garden (Raleigh)

          NY-style pizza - Pizza Italia (Raleigh), Bella Italia (Wake Forest)

          Casual Italian - Gianni & Gaetano (Wakefield) but it won't be anything like you got in NY

          Jamaican - Jamaica Marketplace (Raleigh)

          Authentic Mexican - Los Cuates (Raleigh), Los Comales (Durham), Superior (Durham), and many, many others

          Thai - Thai House (Raleigh)

          Turkish - Bosphorus (Cary)

          BBQ - Holden's (Youngsville), Cooper's (Raleigh)

          Please try to get over two things. This isn't NY. Almost nowhere else is. But this area can be pretty darn good if you're willing to be open.
          Also, strip malls are the status quo around here. Just because a restaurant is in a strip mall doesn't mean it's a low end grease trap. Some of the better fine dining restaurants are in strip malls. Location isn't everything.

          Happy dining.

          1. You MUST try the New Oakwood Cafe. Mouthwatering Argentine fare, as well as Cuban (at lunch primarily) and Italian (at dinner primarily). This is a hole-in-the-wall treasurer with the most amazing creations. The Churassco steak is luscious and perfectly tenderly marinated. The tres leches cake and tiramisu will make you cry they are so divine. The empanadas and fried plantains.... oh my, I could go on and on. (Just ate there last night - they are only open Fri. and Sat. nights for dinner and lunch during the work week - and cannot wait to have the left-over sundried tomato and shrimp pasta)

            300 E Edenton St, Raleigh (adjacent to the New Bern Ave. post office) (919) 828-5994

            1. The BBQ Joint, Sandwhich and Jujubee in Chapel Hill are a few I haven't seen mentioned yet and that are worth checking out. Other than that, I think previous suggestions are great.

              Caveat: I've never had the BBQ at the BBQ Joint, but I've enjoyed the other stuff I've had there.

              2 Replies
              1. re: LulusMom

                I've never had BBQ at the BBQ joint either.

                Another great non chain place is the new Havana Grill in Cary. I had a great potato and cheese omlette, Cuban toast and cafe con leche there this morning. All that for $5 plus tax.

                Here's a link to a newspaper announcement about it:

                1. re: blewgo

                  The BBQ at the BBQ Joint is ... pretty good - and fairly consistent. I was going to write up a compare and contrast with A&S, but then scanned below and opted not to.
                  Their BBQ, however, is not the reason to go there (as above posts indicate) - it's the sides. (And, er, definitely not the atmosphere. Allen & Son, for better or worse, is dumpy in the venerable institution sort of way. As for the BBQ Joint, it may be the least thoughtfully decorated restaurant I've ever frequented.)

                  Among other CH/DUR BBQ places mentioned... While a mixed bag overall, Dillard's has a good, albeit diabetic coma inducing, carrot souffle. Plus, their sauce is fairly unique to the area (right? did I miss somebody?). The Original Q-Shack is pretty good as well, if you'd like a more Texas-oriented perspective.
                  Something I haven't seen in any of these types of threads (and there's tons of them from what I can tell, I've been on this board for, like, 2 days) is Chapel Hill's Cafe Parvaneh. Persian food, most of which is quite good. The polos are good and (to my shock) my 2 year old goes insane over the Fesenjun (walnut and pomengrate based sauce over rice). They've slipped a teeny, teeny bit over the last few years, but still highly recommended.
                  In Durham, there are a host of taquerias worth going to - some of which have already been mentioned. If you're curious, Roxboro Rd just north of I-85 has several good ones (plus Mami Nora, a really good Peruvian rotisserie) or you could hit La Vaquita near the 15-501/Durham Freeway interchange (and hit other popular food spots while you're at it - Guglhupf, Foster's Market, etc...)

              2. You must also try Porter's, Frazier's, Vivace, Hi 5, Carmen's, Bocci, Tonali, Metro 8....lots of great places in the triangle.....

                1. Personal taste can be everything, as we all know. I think Coopers and Holdens are the only decent bbq restaurants left in the Triangle.

                  The last 3 times I ate at Allen&Son north of Chapel Hill soured me on it pretty much permanently. Greasy, fatty, gristly bbq, that tasted of fake "smoke", poor quality side items, and tasteless desserts.

                  I haven't been to Allen&Son south of Chapel Hill now in about 4 years. Maybe it is better than the last time I ate there as well.

                  I grew up in this area during the 60s. Good bbq used to be in every other town in Eastern NC 40 years ago.

                  Caveat Emptor: I can't stand "western", "lexington", or any beef bbq anywhere. I am an old dyed in the wool redneck who likes it the way it used to be, and not likely to change anytime soon. Just so you know where I'm coming from.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: fussycouple

                    Hey, I have a novel idea: let's not derail this thread into another argument about Allen & Son. Anybody who wants to recap all of the existing arguments can use the search function, or if they're feeling frisky, they can start a whole new thread with Allen & Son [sucks|rocks] as the subject & then take 18 quick steps back to avoid the blast radius.

                    For the OP, who is from The North & is trying to undertake an experiment in non-chain dining, the esoterica of Real NC BBQ may be a lot to assimilate all at once. I would probably agree with the poster above who suggested the BBQ Joint, as it's possible to get tasty "normal" food for the family while still dabbling in what is generally pretty-good eastern-NC-style Q.

                    If the OP discovers an affinity for the BBQ Joint Q, then they can come asking for more recommendations (or, again, the search function . . . or Bob Garner's book).

                    I do have to make one comment: "fake smoke?" That's a cheap shot, dude, especially when you know it to be inaccurate.

                    1. re: rossgrady

                      rossgrady, I salute you as a voice of reason!

                      1. re: rossgrady

                        rock and roll, ross... that was a blast worthy of praise, my friend. as far as answering the question:
                        Vietnamese, esp. pho: 9N9 on Miami Blvd. in Durham (in a strip mall, no less...)
                        Eclectic Fine Dining: http://www.chowhound.com/places/1071
                        Elaine's On Franklin
                        Agree with Piedmont and Rue Cler recs, as well as the Durham Taqueria recs
                        a wierd one: http://www.chowhound.com/places/1072
                        Cinelli's Pizza : The Grandma's pizza is totally rockin. Everything else is horrible. literally. I don't get it... I guess Grandma didn't teach her kids how to cook.
                        Excellent Mexican, NOT taqueria style (which is excellent in its own right, but not always what you want): http://www.chowhound.com/places/1073
                        Fiesta Grill try the whole fish and the caldo siete mares,,, excellent.

                        Elaine's On Franklin
                        454 W. Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27516

                        Cinelli's Pizza
                        607 Broad St, Durham, NC 27705

                        Fiesta Grill
                        3307 Nc Highway 54 W, Chapel Hill, NC 27516

                        1. re: rossgrady

                          You can, in fact, purchase a product called "liquid smoke" and it does taste fake to me though supposedly made from real smoke. I was at Allen & Son a few weeks ago and while good there was something too smoky going on and now I know what--thank you. BBQ joint has an honest respect for the pig but is not Eastern NC BBQ. I grew up with my dad cooking whole hogs in the backyard for his restaurants--ala Bob Melton's.

                          1. re: realjuel

                            just to be clear, A&S does not use "fake smoke" or "liquid smoke"

                        2. re: fussycouple

                          Have you tried Dillard's in Durham?

                        3. I know it's hard coming from NYC to see the number of local joints hidden around the Triangle. You trip over them all the time in NYC; visiting friends recently, I had the most amazing take-out from a Turkish hole-in-the-wall that so outpaced Tallulah's (which is ok, and many people seem to love).

                          That being said, discovering the cuisine around here has been fun too. I don't think I've been to a chain at all since I moved here a few years ago, not even for coffee (unless you count local businesses with two locations, like Tyler's or Weaver St). Folks here have already listed so many good ones (and ones that I need to check out!). But if you missed it, I'd also recommend the "Best of the Triangle" issue of the Independent Weekly, specifically the article on ethnic food in Chapel Hill/Carrboro: http://www.indyweek.com/gyrobase/Cont....

                          1. There's an excellent restaurant called Jibarra Modern Mexican that does traditional Mexican with a modern flair... the place definately gives off a big city vibe and has an upscale decor. I know it's local because the owner was telling me that they are the same family that owns some of the local El Rodeo restaurants in the area. And, it is located in a strip mall lol.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: cyc_85

                              Jibarra is more form than function IMO. The restaurant is nice and the service is good but the food is medioce, espeically for the price. The menu is rather limited and hasn't changed in a long while. Tonali in Durham is far better value for upscale Mexican food.

                              1. re: bbqme

                                I've been to Tonali once, I wouldn't exactly consider it upscale but I did enjoy the meal. The menu was very small however (4 or 5 entrees i believe?), so I'd consider there's to be more limited. The dishes I've had at Jibarra have been very good for my taste, especially since some dishes remind me of traditional Mexican (I am from Mexican descent). The server mentioned that the family brought a chef from Mexico that had been trained at Akelarre in Spain which apparently is one of the top avant-garde restaurants over there so I was excited to hear about this place's potential.

                                1. re: cyc_85

                                  I use the term upscale in the relative sense-- compared to Tex-Mex (e.g. El Rodeo) or tacquerias Tonali and Jibarra is upscale in ingredients used an preparation techniques used. Tonali's menu is limited in a given week but it changes every week or every few weeks. This to me is a sign of creativity on the part of the chef. Jibarra, from what I can tell, has a fixed menu, which indicates that the chef, however highly qualified he may be, is on cruise control. The chef at Tonali is also from Mexico and was the sous chef at highly regarded Four Square restaurant before venturing out on his own. Lastly, my wife is of Mexican descent and we have eaten in some of the best restos in Mexico City and Merida, so we are familiar with authentic Mexican cuisine.

                            2. http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/r...

                              Check out this link on raleigh/durham in food & wine. No, the area is not New York City - but what is? I love love love NYC and the fact that I could go to a new place every day if I wanted to, but you'll find plenty of good food here.
                              Check out Locopops for gourmet popsicles - okay they now have a couple of locations but it's just silly to consider a local joint with more than one location a chain.
                              Had a good "cob salad" at the Q-shack tonight. Went down nicely with a little live music and a draught beer. Check out City Beverage - funky atmosphere - good crab cakes. Durham rocks.

                              1. Cooper's and Holden's are the best BBQ in the Raleigh area. Hands down. Locally O&O.

                                For steaks, a jewel of a place not frequently mentioned here is Jimmy V's at MacGregor Village in Cary.

                                Breakfast: Big Ed's in Raleigh and Johnson's in Youngsville.

                                Hot Dogs: Roast Grill in Raleigh.'

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: goodeatsinadive

                                  Some of my favorite non-chain recs that I don't believe have been listed here:

                                  The Lotus Leaf in Cary for Viet/French
                                  Bloomsbury Bistro, Lilly's, and Hayes Barton in Five Points
                                  Mura at North Hills (sushi)
                                  Poppyseed Market in North Raleigh

                                  I'm sure I'll think of more, but that's a good start!

                                2. Travel down 15-501 to Pittsboro, and there are 2 places worth visiting.

                                  The first, S&T Soda Shop, owned by Gene and Vickie Oldham and their two sons, is in a renovated drug store. Their homemade chicken salad is excellent, this coming from someone who doesn't normally eat chicken salad... They also do a great skirt steak as well.
                                  Ice cream is their mainstay, and although it's Hershey's they can do outstanding things with it.

                                  The second is Virlie's Grill, which was purchased a little over a year ago by Chris and Megan Pratt. Formerly called the Scoreboard, it is now a smoke-free enviroment. Truly a "Locals joint" everything there is home made. Breakfast is an event unto it's own and shouldn't be missed. Chris' soups are outstanding, he does a great slow-roasted prime rib, and Friday nights are hand cut steak nights (grilled out back). Has an every day blue plate special that normally hits the mark. If you go in, tell Chris you're visiting. He'll definitely chat you up...

                                  I hope both of these places are what you're looking for . Chances are good you'll probably be back more than once.