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Best of RDU

My partner in crime and I will be spending 3 or so days in the RDU area in late May. She is in the food biz and we both are looking forward to the trip. Have read about some cool spots in Durham. Could also include Chapel Hill and Raleigh in the mix. Would like your best advice on great places for breakfast and lunch and stunners for dinner. We are both fairly serious wine drinkers as well. Also, any spots that do not fit those descriptions (know about Locopops, will drive for a perfect cookie, etc.). Looking for not to be missed places. Thanks much

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  1. The Farmers Market in Carrboro will be glorious in late May.
    Breadmen's in Chapel Hill serves great breakfast all day long.
    Do not miss Pho at 9N9 in Durham, maybe with bahn mi.
    Henry's Gelato in Cary is seriously good.
    For classic southern food done right hit the lunch or dinner buffet at Joyce and Family in Fuquay Varina. Try to stop eating before you hurt yourself.
    Since she's in the food biz she'll NEED to visit A Southern Season in Chapel Hill. I've not been since wine mgr Jay departed, but bet the wine shop will meet your need. A wonderful place to get wines, meats, cheeses & more for a picnic or hotel snacking. Their restaurant Weathervane has good by-the-glass selection & prices. Lunch on the patio would be nice that time of year.
    Hope Valley Bottle Shop is a great wine & beer shop in Durham.
    Jujube in Chapel Hill is the only west Triangle restaurant we frequent, "almost Asian", always delicious, and chef/owner Charlie can pair wine with dishes better than almost anyone - a great choice for lunch or dinner.

    4 Replies
    1. re: AreBe

      While you're in Cary checking out Henry's Gelato (which I agree is NOT to be missed), drive a short jaunt down Cary Parkway and check out La Farm Bakery. This is an awesome French bakery that does amazing breads, pastries, and some lunch items as well (sandwiches, etc.). Lionel is opening a cafe adjacent to the bakery, but I don't believe it's up and running quite yet.

      1. re: Suzy Q

        I read here last week that the La Farm cafe is now open.


        1. re: blewgo

          They are indeed open. I was concerned that the lack of internet traffic about them might mean that no one was eating there, but I was wrong. They were packed at lunch today.

      2. re: AreBe

        I second A Southern Season, I could live in that place. Save some time to wander around!

      3. Lots of threads on this board have arguments that will helpfully inform your decisions. When I travel, I like to eat what I can't get at home (molecular gastronomy, italian beef, and good russian on our last trip to Chicago, Chinese on our last trip to NYC, etc.). The best places around here, for me, express the place in unique ways. If I moved away and came back for a visit, this is what I'm eating.

        Sunrise biscuit kitchen. Every day that I'm here and that our hosts would take me.

        BBQ (see one of the 27 ongoing Allen&Sons threads for hints)
        Mexican (probably Fiesta Grill, Vacquita, or Tonali)
        Guglehupf or Parker and Otis
        Neals Deli or Sandwhich

        Obvious options for dinner (all have a strong focus on fresh, local ingredients and take great care with the food they make):
        Magnolia Grill
        Watts Grocery
        Rue Cler
        Crooks Corner (I know people on the board disagree but I love their food)

        1. I don't think there is a great breakfast place in Durham or Chapel Hill. Breadmen's is OK, good for what it is. Sorry, I don't know about Raleigh. I'll second Sandwich (still want to try Neal's) and especially Guglhupf. The cafe is great for lunch and you must try some sweet lovin' from the bakery. El Paraiso is my favorite Mexican, mostly for the food and also for its location in the hood. For high end, Four Square is my favorite. Also, Allen and Son is a no-brainer.

          1. Absolutely on Sandwhich and Loco Pops. Everyone from out of town who I've taken to Loco Pops is stunned that popsicles like this exist.

            If you feel like a nice brunch, I'd recommend Rue Cler in Durham. The beignets are beautiful and the food is very good. Inexpensive but nicely chosen wines too. They also do dinner, which I love, the but menu is always short, so if you want lots of choice, it isnt' the place to go. If for nothing else, do try to stop by Magnolia Grill for a dessert one night (they also have a nicely chosen wine list). Finally, do try to stop by the farmers market in Carrboro. The first time I went I was underwhelmed because I'm from a place with a bigger market, but I've really come to appreciate it. Get a sample at the cheese stand.

            1. Good recommendations so far. I'd like to add Blu Seafood in Durham for great seafood in a stylish, relaxed setting. Also, for a fine dining stunner try Bonne Soiree in Chapel Hill and ask them to match the courses with wine. Fabulous.

              1. My family's favorite Sunday morning stop was Foster's Market in Durham.

                1. In terms of fine dining, I'd suggest Bonne Soiree in Chapel Hill, The Magnolia Grill in Durham, and Fins in Raleigh.

                  Lantern (in Chapel Hill) has received a lot of praise in the press, but I've never been satisfied with an entire meal. It's a great space, and it's well- run, but the entrees always seem boring. I would recommend going there for drinks and appetizers, though

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: albritton76

                    They REALLY need to change up their menu a bit, don't they? The Lantern used to be one of our go to places, but after 4 years of exactly the same stuff (they do seem to change the appetizers, at least a little bit) it is hard to get excited about a whole meal there.

                    1. re: LulusMom

                      Thanks much for all the advice. I currently live in the Williamsburg Va. area but have lived in ADC, Annapolis, Atlanta, Dallas, Richmond, London, Dusseldorf, etc. My Partner lives in ATL but has lived and travelled all over as well.

                  2. I love Jujube for lunch. Was there on Wednesday and had the braised pork bahn mi and it was delicious. It has a nice vibe, too. You don't say where you're coming from, so not sure whether or not to recommend the local Mexican joints. I'm a Durhamite, so the Durham bias will come through. The new Revolution in downtown Durham is truly excellent for highish-end cuisine. I was there a few nights ago with a friend and we shared a couple of apps and had a glass of wine at the bar. While the portions are kind of precious (they should be for apps), the venison carpaccio was to die for and the fois gras "BLTs" were delicious as well. The house-made parpardelle with osso bucco (my favorite pasta in the world) was divine. Okay, so we had just a bit more than a couple of apps. Maybe you could go appetizer-hopping in Durham one night, so you can check out lots of places. I love Rue Cler, though I haven't been there for brunch. I hear Vin Rouge does an excellent brunch. The Federal is fun and delicious if you want to check out a casual place. The only downside is the smoking in the bar, but the weather will be nice and you could sit outside. The best wine shop around is Wine Authorities in Durham right across the street from Nana's/Q-Shack. They do fun wine tastings on Saturdays (12-3). Well worth checking out. Nicest guys around. Okay, I know - rah rah Durham! I'm sure there are some fun places in Cary and Raleigh, but I rarely get to the big town. I'll leave those recs up to others- I've been meaning to get to J. Betski's (Polish/German) in Raleigh. I hear it's great.

                    20 Replies
                    1. re: suse

                      My critique of this critique:
                      J. Betski's is awesome. It is the best resto in the Triangle.
                      Rue Cler is limited and, I would say overrated, but no one rates this place. It should be forgotten.
                      Wine Authorities is NOT the best wine shop in the Triangle. It is pretentious and even a little "douchey." There is nothing admirable about this place. Please try Hope Valley Bottle Shop for a better, updated wine shop in Durham. Avoid Wine Authorities at all costs. My last trip in there was in January, and I'm still trying to wash it off of me.
                      The Federal is the best lunch in the state of North Carolina.

                      1. re: samhopkins

                        Wow, those are some strong opinions. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I would take them with a pound of salt. The Hope Valley Bottle Shop is nice, but what's with the WA hating? Definitely a bit on the harsh side. I would disagree that Rue Cler should be forgotten. When was the last time you were there? It has some of the best outdoor dining around. The food is fine, not earth-shattering, but if I can sit outside on a nice, warm evening and have a glass of wine and a nosh, I'm happy.

                        1. re: suse

                          I didn't know that Rue Cler had outdoor dining. By any chance do you mean Vin Rouge?

                          And for what it's worth, I totally agree with your original comments, especially your recommendation for Revolution. And, while I like HVBS, their selection is much more limited than WA.

                          1. re: anne7134

                            oops - i did get it mixed up with vin rouge. sorry about that.

                        2. re: samhopkins

                          I'm going to have to chime in and say that I love Rue Cler. Sometimes having a somewhat smaller menu ("limited") means that you have more ability to focus on what you're serving and to do a good job of it. And their menu changes fairly frequently. I've had some great meals (and one or two just ok ones) there.

                          1. re: samhopkins

                            agreed with sam on WA. x 2.
                            rue cler is by no means the most amazing restaurant, but it's pretty good on the $30 prix fixe, and brunch is excellent.
                            also second (third, whatever) Watts, Blu, and J Betski's. Strongly so for J Betski's. Would add Elaine's (strangely omitted from this thread) to the list.
                            Poole's in Raleigh is rockin, too.

                            1. re: Pigloader

                              Has anyone actually eaten at Elaine's lately? My partner and I had our first date there 10 years ago, just after the place opened. We're considering going back for our 10th anniversary, but we haven't eaten there since that first date, and we're wondering how it is. Our first date dinner was fine, but nothing really memorable about the food. Of course, we were a little preoccupied with other thoughts at the time...

                              1. re: durhamois

                                I've eaten there about 3-4 times in the last few months, and been more impressed than I was in the past (and I liked it ok in the past). I don't think they've changed chefs or anything, so not sure why I'm finding it more appealling, but I've really enjoyed my meals there. Much more than the meals I've had at Cypruss on the Hill (which is about a block away and going for the same audience).

                                1. re: durhamois

                                  I really enjoy Elaine's and think it's pretty consistently good. I think it probably doesn't get mentioned here that often because it's not as good as Bonne Soiree (although I like Elaine's more), it's not as sexy as Lantern and it's in Chapel Hill. All the cool people eat in Durham now! (I kid of course.)

                                  1. re: anne7134

                                    Oh, I'm with you, Anne. We live in Durham, and 9 times out of 10, this is where we'll go out to eat. But we thought we'd try something different on this special occasion, and it occurred to us to return to Elaine's. Thanks for the feedback, I think we're gonna try it.

                                    1. re: anne7134

                                      You're not kidding about all the cool people eating in Durham now. I said that jokingly to an old Chapel Hillian the other day and I got a death stare. Anyway, it's true. There are some fun places in Chapel HIll, but overall I prefer Durham. Then again, I'm a Durhamite. We ate at Bonne Soiree for a special occasion and it was indeed very good. Not memorable enough for me to clammor to go back there, but good. Durham rocks!

                                    2. re: durhamois

                                      I've been wanting to try Elaine's even if it's their early bird 3 course fixed price menu. I've not been to Cypress though my brief encounter with the staff when returning a lent tray didn't strike me as very friendly. I am glad that Durham is gaining recognition for eats. I daresay that some people could make their top 10 (or at least 5) places to eat in RDU just in Durham. Granted I've only been to a few places. I'm curious to know how that Eno Restaurant is going to turn out and whats going to go into the spot of AnotherThyme.

                                      1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                        I sent an email to the Eno Restaurant website over a month ago asking if they had any update about when they are opening, and I didn't get any reply.

                                        1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                          Would Crook's be recommended in this vain or is more just a nice hip joint with haute comfort food? How would you describe the vibe?

                                        2. re: durhamois

                                          Went to Elaine's tonight and it was a really spectacular dinner. I started with the fois gras (with roast pear and nuts and some sort of vanilla). It was the best I've had in the area in 5 years. They didn't have any of the usual wines by the glass that go with fois available, so I got a glass of champagne to go with it. Fit just fine. My main was pan fried flounder with lobster, roasted potatoes and spinach in sauce americaine (sp?). I had to ask what this sauce was; basically some sort of thin cream/wine sauce. Very tasty. Had a glass of french chardonnay with it. Really a lovely meal. Not inexpensive though. But for an occasion, I do think this place is doing really well these days. I went to Magnolia Grill last week, and have to say (lightening about to strike) that I enjoyed this meal more. But that may have something to do with my not eating pork, which is kind of hard to stay away from at MG. And I have to say, both the grits souffle and the coconut cake at MG were just as good as ever. I've had a good food week!

                                          1. re: LulusMom

                                            Wow, LulusMom, you and I would be such compatible dining companions. (Btw, Whole Foods now carries beef bacon!) We have reservations at Elaine's tomorrow night. I'm looking forward to it. I also ate at MG in the past few weeks, and it was okay, but nothing to write home about. The grits were indeed nice. But three of the dishes we ordered were so salty they were on the verge of being unpalatable. And I am such a devoté of salt that it can hardly be exaggerated. I have 7 or 8 types of salt in my cupboard as we speak. So if it's oversalted for me, it would be for anyone. The menu at Elaine's looks good, but a little predictable. I'll let you know if we have any nice surprises.

                                            1. re: durhamois

                                              Fantastic, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Last time I was there, btw, I got the duck confit. The duck was melt in your mouth tender. But if you're not a fan of star anise, best to avoid. I like this spice in small doses, but this was a little heavy handed. Still, I ate every bite because it was just so ... tender and luscious.

                                              Holy cow (sorry!) about the beef bacon. I've never heard of such a thing. You've must made my husband very happy.

                                              Again, hope you havea great meal.

                                              1. re: durhamois

                                                Nervous about the fact that you haven't posted about your meal. Hope I didn't steer you wrong ...

                                                1. re: LulusMom

                                                  Sorry, it's just been a bit of a hectic weekend! We had a meal that I found very good. Not great, but very good. There was a "guest sommelier" as part of the restaurant's 10th anniversary festivities. A number of wines that their menu does not ordinarily make available by the glass were, and at pretty reasonable prices. We opted for 4 first courses, instead of doing firsts and seconds. There was a curried squash soup, cornbread dusted fried oysters, a fois gras appetizer, and beef carpaccio. The carpaccio was the only item of the four that I didn't think much of. The beef was sliced a bit thick, there was no sauce, and while it did have some sort of olive gremolata, it didn't have much flavor, and there wasn't very much of it. The soup was terrific. And they had free "tapas" (just a selection of basically 3 amuse bouches) available at the bar, and our waiter was kind enough to bring one of each over to our table. There was a chilled cucumber gazpacho that was out of this world. It was I think my favorite thing of the night, and it was a freebee. We had good service, very respectable bread, and the atmosphere was nice, as were the wines. Overall it was good, but I don't think I would normally make a special trip to Chapel Hill to eat there. It was very nice for sentimental reasons, and I was glad we went. Thanks for all the input!

                                              2. re: LulusMom

                                                I have always been so pleased with Elaine's fois gras. If I recall correctly, Bret Jennings interned at Taillevent for a short time and learned their foie gras techniques.

                                      2. Penguins Sno Kones: Take I-40 in Raleigh, get off on the "70 / 401" exit for Garner, keep on 401, about 1-2 miles on the loft. On the way you'll drive by Larry's Southern Kitchen on Tryon Road which has a traditional southern AYCE buffet.

                                        Smithfield: 70E to Smithfield, T.R on business 301. 1 block south of where Bus.70 and Bus.301 meet is Hills of Sno, Sno Kones. Mr. Hill is a fanatic and makes all his syrups from scratch with distilled water and flavor essences collected from around the world.

                                        Both of these places serve a vast variety of flavors and are the best and only Gulf-style sno cones around. Hills of Sno gets the nod, but they're a bit further away. The good news is that if you go all the way to Smithfield you can also get fresh fried chicken at the Chicken Barn, and Millies is across the street, which has real southern hot dogs, burgers, and greens'n'jowls...

                                        Wine Authorities is a great wine shop for the $5 to $50 range (which they target).

                                        Chapel Hill is home to A Southern Season, which is a no-miss and unique place. They have: a coffee and tea department, a bakery, a cheese shop, daily hot and cold "deli" counter, deli meat department, chocolate department, specialties, a great wine department (for anywhere), flowers, etc. Among all this, they have a wide variety of local products (cheeses, the coffee roasters, chocolates and confections, etc). Well worth visiting.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: fussycouple

                                          I was very exicted about the Penguins name, but alas it is actually Pelican's SnoBalls - New Orleans Style Shaved Ice located at 5715 fayettevile Rd. (Hwy 401) in Raleigh at 401 Par Golf. Thye also have locations in North Raleigh and Apex, and a website at http://www.pelicanssnoballs.com

                                        2. J. Betski's is amazing for dinner. They make a lot of things in house (limoncello, sausages, quark, etc).
                                          If you're up for it, the Farmer's Market Restaurant in Raleigh is a nice breakfast, but I enjoy the character watching as much as the food which is definitely has a Southern bend to it.
                                          Mythos in Cary is delicious, but be sure to sit outside. The inside decor leaves much to be desired.
                                          It might be earlier than your travel dates; however Celebrity Dairy does the great Sunday dinners once a month and in May it is the 18th.

                                          1. Durham has great weekend brunch options... my current favorite is Watts Grocery, but there's also Piedmont and Rue Cler downtown that are a little fancier. Vin Rouge has a nice brunch too, but not many seats so I've only been in once.

                                            Piedmont at dinner has some fantastic local cheeses to pair with your meal
                                            Toast (downtown durham) has great Italian sandwiches for lunch

                                            All these places have thorough websites for your planning.

                                            1. In Durham:

                                              I second the recommendations for Magnolia Grill, Watts Grocery, Piedmont, and Vin Rouge. Excellent brunches or lunches (and dinners) to be had at any of the last three in that list, and at Rue Cler. Vin Rouge does have a gorgeous patio if the weather is nice. I like the Federal or Toast for lunch. Haven't been to Nana's, but dinner there is supposed to be good. I also liked Tonali a lot for upscale Mexican.

                                              In Chapel Hill:

                                              Lantern is very good for dinner. Bonne Soiree is supposedly amazing, but I haven't been.

                                              In Raleigh:

                                              I'd suggest Poole's for either brunch or dinner. Fins or J Betski's for dinner. You might try Hayes Barton, not for dinner, but for a huge piece of cake. Also for dessert, check out Escazu Chocolates. For breakfast, Big Ed's.


                                              I would not skip Allen&Son, in Hillsborough, for BBQ - it rules.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: brsmith2

                                                Thanks all for your input. Thought I would give a little feedback. We had lunch the day we arrived at the Sienna (our hotel). It was simple and well prepared. By the way, love the hotel. Had drinks the first night at Elaine's on Franklin. The staff were very friendly and kept feeding samples of the Tapas while pouring our wine. Then dinner at Lantern. Enjoyed it. Good food, great service. Breakfast at the Sienna was perfect for us (included in the price, simple light, fresh). Spent the morning at A southern Season. What a fabulous place. Could have spent the day there. Had lunch with a friend at the old drugstore (in the old town) in Cary. Cool old lunch counter reminded me of my home town. Had pastry and coffee at LaFarm which was good. Had dinner the second (last night) at Bon Soiree and found it splendid. Food and wine were just terrific and the owners were delightful. The Chef was formerly with Jean Louis at the Watergate and then late Jean Louis Paladin was a family friend, so that was a pleasant connection. I would highly recommend Bon Soiree. I have spent multiples of our tab in other places for a lesser experience. Had dumplings the following day at JuJube and thought the food and the vibe were really good. Thanks again. We had a great little trip.