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Must-Try Restaurants in Raleigh, NC

Hey all!

I am in Raleigh working for the next three months and thus have an opportunity to try the local must-eat restaurants, so to speak. where do you recommend?

I like anything from sushi to italian to good southern cooking.

thanks in advance!

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  1. raleigh only-

    J. Betski's
    The Pit
    Poole's Diner
    The Mint
    Fortune Palace
    Raleigh Times Bar

    this just scratches the surface of Raliegh. There;s a lot of interesting food in other parts of the Triangle and the surrounding area.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Tom from Raleigh

      No Fin's? I just moved back to the area so I'm not sure if it's gone down hill but Fin's used to be one of the best restaurants in Raleigh, is it not so anymore?

      1. re: Erika RollerGirl

        I racked my brain trying to think of Fin's but the name just wouldn't come to me. I consider Fin's a must-try restaurant in Raleigh.

        There's a lot of great authentic Mexican food in Raleigh. I really like
        Fonda y Birrieria Jalisco near the Super Wal Mart between Falls of Neuse and Capital. There are a number of others out there. Some say there's good Tex Mex here as well.

        In my opinion, the #1, hands-down, must try spot for someone from outside the area in Raleigh is not a restaurant at all. It's LocoPops. This place will blow your mind. There are other locations in Chapel HIll and Durham.

        1. re: Tom from Raleigh

          RE LocoPops
          I tried the Cucumber Chile yesterday, as I told my husband that we have to bring all our "tourists" here. It's my 4-year-old's favorite place for a treat!

        2. re: Tom from Raleigh

          Normally I would definitely say Jibarra, but its last day in the North Raleigh location was August 3, and the open date downtown is "Fall 2008" so if the original poster is only here three months then the poster is going to miss it.


          Definitely agree on Fin's and Locopops.

        3. Just some good general all-around places, both for good food and local color:

          Mura at North Hills
          Lilly's Pizza
          Hayes Barton Cafe
          Angus Barn (c'mon, haters, it's a Raleigh institution!)

          If you're in town over the weekends, take a drive out to Chapel Hill and visit Southern Season. It's an unbelievable foodie mecca with a great deli counter and a pretty good restaurant (Weathervane). There are also a lot of great restos in Durham and Chapel Hill - search the board here for some fairly recent threads on the area.

          Welcome and have fun!

          1 Reply
          1. re: Suzy Q

            I'm in Wilmington, not Raleigh, but we get over there pretty regularly. I have to second Suzy Q's recommendation of Vivace. It's excellent Italian. Their honey-almond gelato is one of the best things I've tasted.

          2. I'm not super-familiar with Raleigh's better restaurants, but two I like are:

            Hard Times cafe on Greenwood Ave. (they have great chili dishes, imho)
            Zely and Ritz (http://www.zelyandritz.com)

            1. In Raleigh, you got to try Porter's, Waraji, Haru, Oakwood Cafe, Bella Monica and Dos Taquitos Centro....again just scratching the surface

              1. fins! definitely and locopops (not dinner, but amazing). anything else worth going to is in Chapel Hill (Lantern) or Durham (Rue Cler)

                1. A few more to consider:

                  Taverna Agora
                  Irregardless Cafe
                  Red Dragon
                  Roast Grill
                  Tookies for Chicken Salad
                  Royal India (either Capital Blvd or Glenwood Ave)
                  Saffron - in Morrisville, not technically Raleigh but worth the few extra miles
                  Haru & Waraji I realize they were listed before but can't say enough about either!
                  Angus Barn - yes, it's an institution but IMOH you should skip the food and partake in a few cocktails and/or wine in the Wild Turkey lounge.

                  **insider tip for Waraji - be sure to ask for the Scary Jerry Roll it's not on the menu but WOW, it will keep you coming back for more!

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: chicaraleigh

                    +1 on the Wild Turkey Lounge recommendation - we never eat/drink in the dining area at AB because we like the lounge atmosphere so much more.

                    Also, be sure to hit Henry's Gelato in Cary for another sweet treat. Henry makes all the gelato on the premises and it is some seriously excellent stuff.


                    1. re: Suzy Q

                      how have I missed this joint? is it true italian gelato or "americanized" gelato?

                      1. re: chicaraleigh

                        I don't know what you mean by americanised, but Henry is an American man who learned how to make it in Italy and studied their methods extensively - or at least that's what he says.

                        1. re: chicaraleigh

                          It's Italian. Henry imported the machine from Italy and gets all of his ingredients/flavorings from an Italian supplier as well. He makes a lot of very traditional Italian flavors (stracciatella, cocoa celeste, blood orange, bacio, frutti di bosco) and also does a few more American flavors like Snickers or Oreo. I'm far from an expert, but his gelato is very similar to what I've had when traveling in Italy.

                          1. re: Suzy Q

                            well....looks like I'm driving to Cary for lunch today!! thank you for the lead, I've not heard of Henry's before

                            1. re: chicaraleigh

                              Enjoy! I'm a big fan (obviously) and Henry is a super guy. FYI, he also has a second location in Southern Pines and is going to be opening in the new Lafayette Village shopping center in North Raleigh.

                              1. re: Suzy Q

                                you were absolutely right! rivaled any that I have had in Italy. Thanks again for the tip!

                            2. re: Suzy Q

                              "I'm far from an expert, but his gelato is very similar to what I've had when traveling in Italy."
                              Yes - that's what I was trying to say!

                              1. re: cackalackie

                                We went tonight and I had the Snickers - soooo good - and hubby had biscotto, a new flavor. Man I live way too close to that place for my own good.

                              2. re: Suzy Q

                                A La Mode just opened in downtown Wake Forest across from the gazebo-- they also sells his gelato. Its fabulous.

                          2. re: chicaraleigh

                            For the most part, yeah. But Irregardless? C'mon! Maybe once upon a time when you couldn't get vegetarian food anywhere else in the area, but there are outstanding vegetarian choices at every good restaurant these days. I've never had a meal at Irregardless that even approached the quality of a so-so lunch counter.

                            Which one is Red Dragon and where is it? The name doesn't seem familiar.

                            Did anyone mention Big Ed's at City Market? Ideal for a gut-busting, no need to eat again today, good ol' Southern breakfast. Lunch isn't half bad, either. Closed on Sundays, unfortunately.

                            I don't know if it's a "must try," but if you like Korean food Seoul Garden on Atlantic and Millbrook is good. Their bento box lunches are a decent value and their full menu is well executed.

                            If you're able to get out to Durham, there are a few places I would absolutely consider must tries over there. There's an active parallel thread on that subject going on now. And get thee to Magnolia Grill. I'm in the camp that does believe they're all that and a bag of chips.

                            1. re: rockycat

                              hey Rocky Cat.......don't disagree that there are probably better places than Irregardless but I still consider it to be an institution......jmo

                              Red Dragon is on Fairview next door to EVOO off of Oberlin

                          3. Red Dragon is good, but Jade Garden on Hillsborough is better.

                            I am astonished that Zely and Ritz only got one mention here. It doesn't get much more local that Z+R. They work with Coon Rock Farm and use as much local food as they can. The menu rotates regularly so it's never boring for those of us who try to eat there once a week. And the best part has to be the cocktails. Jay, the bartender, uses diverse and interesting ingredients to make unusual cocktails. Mulberry collins, anyone? The prices are reasonable. I usually get two starters for my entree and it's more than enough. I love this place. In fact I had dinner there last night. I had a huge bowl of gazpacho, a roasted beet and feta salad, and a chocolate mousse/almond cake for dessert. To drink I had a Blueberry Azulito and an esspresso martini. I was completely stuffed. My bill....$37. How can you argue with that?

                            You really do have to try Zely and Ritz on Glenwood South. It's totally a hidden gem.

                            1. Meh I went to Fins with my family but it was nothing special. The entrees were good sized and well-presented but they didn't taste that great. I made the mistake of ordering a cheesecake for dessert which was the usual defrosted sauced piece of blah. But we had a vegetarian in our group for whom they created a special entree, which was nice of them.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: fallingup

                                I work at Fins Restaurant in downtown Raleigh, and I know that we have never even served cheesecake since moving downtown. I think you might be confusing us with another restaurant. Maybe the unrelated Fins out near the beach? I know there are both positive and negative comments about Fins, as there are for every restaurant, but I just don't want to see any misinformation floating around this board. We haven't served cheesecake, nor do we serve any frozen deserts as everything in the restaurant is made from scratch.

                                1. re: restaurant worker

                                  Our last meal at Fins in Feb was outstanding. The table of 6 agreed it was the best we have had in a long while, including our yearly trip to Charleston when we dine at the finest around.

                                  We are headed there Friday night for our anniversary. It was our first choice of ALL triangle fine restaurants.

                                  1. re: restaurant worker

                                    I ate there a LONG time ago. Like at least 2 years.

                                2. Ditto Zely & Ritz and Poole's.

                                  Add Enoteca Vin (Glenwood South), Riviera (downtown), and Humble Pie (downtown). Some folks REALLY like Bloomsbury Bistro and Glenwood Grill.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: jnwall

                                    Humble Pie is an institution in this town! Bloomsbury is really great, but I'd skip Glenwood Grill. I'd rather have 115 Midtowne.

                                    Glad to hear you liked Z+R.

                                    1. re: jnwall

                                      I'd forgotten all about Riviera. I've heard it panned over and over, but we've been twice and had a fantastic meal both times. Good rec!

                                      1. re: geecka

                                        Riviera closed down a week or so ago...

                                    2. i put in my votes for:

                                      hayes barton (if you go, def. get cake)
                                      18 seaboard
                                      humble pie

                                      my fave sushi--tokyo house
                                      my fave bbq--ole time bbq

                                      if you like ice cream, it's worth a trip to maple view dairy in hillsborough and porter farms in willow springs. both make homemade and it's yum.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: lawyerlady

                                        For ice cream out of Raleigh proper try Sunny Skys in Angier. All homemade and off the wall flavors. I see no reason to try the Cold Sweat (Habenero flavored)

                                      2. Agree wholeheartedly with:

                                        Zely & Ritz
                                        Enoteca Vin
                                        Bloomsbury Bistro
                                        18 Seaboard

                                        Would add:
                                        Bistro 607
                                        Clyde Cooper's BBQ
                                        Duck n Dumpling
                                        Piedmont--in Durham--worth the drive
                                        Watts Grocery--in Durham--again

                                        The list is endless, isn't it?

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: sabrosina

                                          Ooooh, I forgot about the Duck & Dumpling. That place is yummy.

                                          I do have to disagree with you on ShabaShabu, though. I keep trying that place hoping I'll like it and that it'll improve...but no luck. The food's mediocre, IMHO, and every time I've been the service has been completely indifferent. I can get better sushi and better Thai (with better service) at too many other places in town to keep going back.

                                          1. re: Suzy Q

                                            Where for sushi? We haven't had really good sushi in the two years we've been here until last week at ShabuShabu. If there's better to be had, we need to know. (Mura was okay and there's a little place on Old Falls that we've tried and liked, but nothing that wowed us yet.)

                                              1. re: rockycat

                                                Just ate there (again) tonight. I had the single best piece of yellowtail I have ever eaten in decades of sushi consumption. I feel I'm insulting it even calling it the same thing as the yellowtail I've had elsewhere. The salmon was exquisite tonight as well. I still enjoy their tamago as a dessert sushi, as it is quite sweet. I just wish I could find sawagani somewhere. Seems to be a lost cause in the Triangle.

                                            1. re: Suzy Q

                                              good call I was just about to chime in with Duck & Dumpling

                                              also I am surprised I haven't see enoteca vin on any list

                                          2. I'm a former chef, and my wife and I just ate at The Mint and had the best meal ever. Okay--two 5 star restaurants ranked better on food (barely) BUT, with the service and genius food, The Mint is now our favorite restaurant. It's an hour away, but worth the drive every time.

                                            If you haven't been to The Mint, you must. Order the Chef's Tasting. We were blown away and can't wait to go back!

                                            1. Yes to:
                                              18 Seaboard
                                              Bloomsbury Bistro
                                              Angus Barn
                                              Saint Jaques
                                              Tosca Brava (where Bistro 607 used to be)

                                              Riviera has closed
                                              but a new restaurant called Sitti has opened up next door. It looks interesting.

                                              1. it sounds like the original poster is no longer in raleigh but i have to mention fleming's. i know it is a chain, a fact which i'm not fond of, but i recently ate here and the experience was delightful. the service was impeccable. there were actually cloth tablecloths on the tables and the waiters repeatedly used crumbers. the food was delicious and though expensive, a very good value. i would highly recommend this restaurant. i also recently ate at the mint and wasn't as impressed. the food was certainly good but not outstanding for its reputation and price. i also recently ate at fins, especially since it was recently written up in bon appetit, and i enjoyed the meal very much though i wouldn't call it outstanding. i had the pike, which is supposedly not more than 48 hours old. i somewhat subscribe to the slow food movement, but i'm torn, as i do like the availability of different foods. i would say my favorite fine restaurant locally is 18 seaboard as the food was both aesthetically pleasing and tasted wonderful. i tried the oxford yesterday and thought the appetizers were very good, the caesar salad is a bit of work, and the entree is mediocre. skipped dessert as it sounded boring. i wasn't crazy about mura, so i wasn't expecting much. have yet to try saint jacques and coquette. looking forward to that. also sitti.

                                                1. My vote for best in Raleigh area is J. Betski's hands down. Everyone should try them at least once. The menu changes seasonally and I go every time they change.

                                                  Tip: They make the Lemoncello in house and it's divine!

                                                  1. You were recommended to go to Betzki's ... we are there yesterday ... the food was good, but I really resented was their cheap servings of wine ... we had 4 glasses of white wine between 2 people ... they opened the bottle and we noted that after 4 glasses there was still over 1 glass of wine in the bottle. I hate getting ripped off like that. We also noted that another guest was given visibly more wine than what we had received.
                                                    Although the food was good, not outstanding, we will never go back.