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Unique and quirky finds Raleigh, Durham & Chapel Hill

Hi All,
Manhattan foodie here. Traveling to the area for two nights, two full days and staying at the Cameron Park Inn. Love little nooks, ethnic eats, and local must finds.
If anyone has some suggestions, for any meal (other than breakfast), drinks or snacks, I'd love to hear. Sorry for the late post. (Not looking for super pricey but mid level price ranges are fine).
Thanks in advance for any feedback.

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  1. I bring all my out of town visitors to Loco Pops. It is a local company doing Mexican style frozen treats. The flavors change frequently and there are some fantastic combination's.
    They now have a location in each of the areas you mention, plus one in Hillsborough I think.

    http://www.newsobserver.com/105/story...

    http://www.ilovelocopops.com/

    1. Try this:

      http://travel.nytimes.com/2009/06/14/...

      If you are interested in trying NC style bbq, definitely go to Allen and Son, on Highway 86 between Chapel Hill and Hillsborough, just off I-40. Also, the intersection of Highways 54 and 55 in Durham contains an amazing variety of ethnic restaurants...korean, indian, etc.

      1. Check out some places on Taco Row (N. Roxboro Rd. in Durham). There you'll find a huge concentration of Latin American fare. Get deliciously salty Peruvian roasted chicken, sweet crispy plantains, with rice & beans at Mami Nora's (just off Roxboro, 302 Davidson Ave.). Don't forget to order a tall glass of house made chicha morada to wash it down. Just across Roxboro Rd, you will find some excellent carne asada tacos at Los Comales. For some good tamales, try La Vaquita (2700 Chapel Hill Rd, Durham). For Thai, check out Twisted Noodles on University Drive.

        2 Replies
        1. re: durhamois

          My usual items at Los Comales are the pastor and the pupusas. They've got one of the best pupusas I've found.

          1. re: Naco

            The pupusas at the corner of Roxboro and Infinity Road are great as well.

        2. Here are 2:

          Oakwood Grill in Oakwood (Raleigh) has a unique Argentinian/ Cuban/ Italian menu and when it's not too busy, it feels like you are eating in Noberto's living room. The whole family pitches in.

          Roast Grill downtown Raleigh just serves hotdogs and they refuse to serve you ketchup. And as their web site says:
          NO Ketchup
          NO Cheese
          NO Mayo
          NO Kraut
          NO Relish
          NO Fries
          NO Chips
          NO Coffee
          NO Hot-tea
          NO Iced-tea
          NO Sweet-tea
          NO Visa-MC-Debits

          Trying to think of more...

          2 Replies
          1. re: TerryG

            I simply must go to the Oakwood Grill. When is a good time to go? How is it on Friday night? Thanks....

            1. re: cackalackie

              Actually it's the Oakwood Cafe and it's only open for dinner
              Thursday-Friday-Saturday 6:00pm-10:00pm. Lunch is M-F 11 am - 3 pm

              I haven't been in a while. I suspect it may be pretty busy on Fridays --especially when there is lots of activity downtown like First Fridays.
              Check their website at http://oakwoodcaferaleigh.com/

          2. Lots of folks will swear by Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill for southern influenced eats. I've been looking into places that have a storied past like Mecca in Raleigh (don't know anything about food). Some people really like Poole's Diner in Raleigh. Taco Row (as mentioned) is good for latin american street food (pupusa, huarache, torta etc). A lot of people like busy bee cafe and Raleigh Times (though the latter is mostly known for a good burger) both are in Raleigh. I like Watts Grocery in Durham and Jujube in Chapel Hill. I'm not sure what mid level price is exactly. I could rattle off a few other places. It is rare (to me) that people ask for the nooks and gems of an area.

            5 Replies
            1. re: burgeoningfoodie

              About the Raleigh Times. It's a great bar with a real pub feel and a good beer selection. And it has one of the best bar menus in town - not just the burger! I recommend the pork nachos (featuring real bbq from The Pit), the shrimp burger, and the fried pickles (the best I've ever had - although the portions need to be bigger. The only thing we've ever had to eat there that we didn't like was the calamari. It's too sweet (maple).

              1. re: cackalackie

                Their food is really good. Their Cuban is better than any of the Cuban/Latin restaurants in the area that I have tried.

                1. re: meatn3

                  For Cuban, Carmen's was pretty good over by the old Morrisville Outlet mall. Though I remember the service being a little slow. Has far as places that are hidden.. Tavola Rossa behind Crabtree is definitely hidden.. though it has been awhile since I've been there and don't recall whether the food is that great or not...

                  Also now that I've thought about it.. Hayes Barton Cafe/Dessertery seems like novel (or novelty) of an idea.. same with NOFO and well albeit a bit more expensive the Bloomsbury Bistro. In Durham the equivialent to NOFO would either be Toast or Parker and Otis (moreso on the latter from the descriptions I've read).

                  1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                    Re Tavola Rossa, we were there recently and the server told us they were going to close shortly (forget the exact date) and come back as a tavern / sports bar kind of place. I always found the food okay--not great but good. The real draw was the lack of crowds--2 hour wait at all the mall restaurants vs. no wait at Tavola Rossa. I hope they do well with their new plan. Hopefully for them it will draw more business.

                    1. re: Guilty Gourmand

                      That is sad to hear as if there is one thing this area does NOT need it's another sports bar/tavern. Too bad there isn't something more creative that they could do to become a hidden gem.

            2. As a Manhattan foodie, I'm working under the assumption that there's probably not a lot of ethnic food in this area that will wow you. (Not that its bad, but NYC has some of the world's best.) Same goes for fine dining. So, I'm trying to think of things that are unique to the Triangle with a local flavor. With that in mind, I'll echo the suggestions for Allen & Sons (the one in Chapel Hill not Pittsboro - they are different) for Eastern NC style BBQ (purists will sniff that it's not whole hog - but shoulder, still it's a good place for the local flavor). I've never been disappointed with the Pit in Raleigh, although its a bit fancy for a BBQ joint. If you don't mind the heresy, they have a list of thoughtfully chosen wines that pair well with BBQ. Allen & Sons, on the other hand, is more rustic (and also a 25 min drive from where you're staying). Also, go get some Locopops for a snack. They have a shop on Hillsborough St. in Raleigh. You might enjoy J. Betskis in Raleigh just north of the downtown area. It's a casual upscale German/Polish restaurant. They have the best periogies ever. I also like Crooks Corner in Chapel Hill for brunch. To me, it embodies a lot of the Chapel Hill funky/southern/hippy vibe. For a late night bite and drinks try Pooles near downtown Raleigh. They're good for dinner too, but I like the vibe later in the evening. It's a rehabed diner and still has the half-moon diner counters.

              8 Replies
              1. re: dinersaurus

                I don't think it is fare to even try and compare NY with this area based on the sheer number of different restaurants in NYC compared to the whole Triangle region. Nevermind the amount of various ethnic communities living through out that area (or that have influenced it over time) too. Are J. Betski's pierogies better than Halgo's the little polish supermarket in Durham? People in the Carrboro/Chapel Hill area seem to like Glass Half Full but I wouldn't call it ethnic and the same with Neal's Deli across the street. They do a mean Corned Beef and good Pastrami as well and actually serve it with a Half Sour spear instead of the overused Dill pickle. I don't know if Acme is any good anymore but I hear they have one of the better brunches in town. While not ethnic nor cheap, the Lantern is highly recommended though I've never been myself and I don't know fi it is still being offered but Elaine's on Franklin was having a fixed price menu. If you like Indian and are in Chapel Hill, try Mint, but do make reservations as they can get crowded.

                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                  I agree that NYC would have better ethnic food then the Triangle, except for Mexican. Some of the best authentic mexican can be had on north roxboro, or even better at Fonda in raleigh.

                  1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                    I found the post by dinersaurus to be well thought and very applicable to the Op's request. It did not strike me as a comparison between the Triangle and NYC, simply sharing some of the options that are more unique to this area.

                    1. re: meatn3

                      I did not mean my post as a comparison, but as an indication that from my experiences in both the Triangle and NYC some of our authentic Mexican options are unique, and should not be missed.

                      1. re: chazzer

                        I was responding to burgeoningfoodie...whose post seemed to feel an unfair comparison between the areas.

                        I read (and agreed) with your comments in the spirit you intended! I too feel that the OP is searching for local flavor, great examples of things s/he can't get regularly. (Or I may just be interpreting it that way since that is my focus when traveling!)

                      2. re: meatn3

                        Thank you. I was not comparing the two - just trying to point out things that someone from Manhattan wouldn't find in abundance in their own backyard.

                      3. re: burgeoningfoodie

                        Note to self... fair and fare are homophones :-p Also I wanted to add that there is a girth of places like Pho 9n9 that while aren't necessarily excellent all around do excel in some things that you could find in NY. I like Saffron for Indian (though Mint in Chapel Hill is good too) and I believe the chef at Saffron was from the NY restaurant Tamarind.

                        1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                          "Girth" of places? One might add to one's girth at 9N9 but I suspect you meant "dearth." Is today anti-grammarian day? :-p

                    2. Great off-the-beaten-path ambiance and sandwiches!

                      -----
                      Sandwich
                      431 W Franklin St # 16, Chapel Hill, NC

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: sweetpeachesalways

                        Hidden place but a bit over priced to me.

                        1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                          Just to answer your pierogie comment. Betski's makes them fresh and Halgo flies them in frozen. No comparison.....