From both DC and SF, visiting the Cary/RTP area next weekend and am looking for all around recommendations.
Restaurants: Only plans right now are The Pit for some bbq. Anything authentic to a country/cuisine/region is preferred; generally do not like east-meets-west fusion. Casual, non stuffy atmospheres, pricing under low $20s for entrees. Any opinions on Bonne Soiree? Can't find a web site / menu.
Snacks: Love bakeries and I have tried Weaver St. Market in Chapel Hill, La Farm, and Guglhupf, enjoyed all three. Are these the best places for bread and pastries?
Beer/wine: Only know about the selection at Weaver St. Market as being more vast than normal. Are there any locally owned bars/retail shops that specialize in rare or local beers/wines? Something like City Beer Store or Toronado in SF, Rustico in VA/DC?
Bonne Soiree is great but more intimate and not in the low $20s range. It is also in Chapel Hill. Same with Crooks Corner if you want local flare and fare. There are a plethora of restaurants in downtown Raleigh, but I'll get to those in just a moment. You can get items at Southern Season in Chapel Hill as well (baked or otherwise). I don't know if I'd consider Mad Hatter's in Durham a bakery but they do have some baked goods. Also, Blue Moon in Cary does baked goods. So you are willing to come to Durham and Chapel Hill (which are not part of the park necessarily)? There are few wine stores (one or two in Durham at least). There are a few local beer makers such as Big Boss, Carolina Brewing Company.
Alright as far as restaurants go. Bonne Soiree is excellent and you'd be hard pressed to find any negative reviews on here about it. In Durham, I like Revolution but it too is pricey. You may like the Federal (some do and some don't), Rue Cler and Vin Rouge (both french or french inspired). If you are okay with sandwiches, Durham also has Toast or if you don't mind upscale Mexican then there is Dos Perros. For authentic Mexican/Latin American, you can hardly do worse than some of the Durham area tacquerias. If BBQ is your thing, I think more people would suggest Allen and Sons in Chapel Hill over the Pit though I think the latter wins in the Ribs category. Chapel Hill also has Jujube which I enjoy though that might negate your east/west fusion. Durham also has Pop's, Six Plates, Nana's (not cheap) and Rockwood Filling Station (personal pizzas). Right across the street from Rockwood is Local Yogurt (co-owned by the people of Six Plates).
Raleigh gosh what area do you want to begin... Downtown has had a small boom of new places open up such as Busy Bee Cafe, Sitti (Lebanese), Sauce, Broylan Street Brewing Station (might not be the correct name), Remedy Diner (sandwiches). If you want high end Latin American/Spanish/Mexican here, across from the Pit is Jibarra. I don't know how Blue Fin is faring nowadays, but it's been popular in the past. Poole's Diner seems to be a hit with the majority of posters too. Mo's Diner in the Moore Sq. area is good too. 18 Seabord and J. Betski (think austrian, german, poland cuisine) also garner good attention. If you are in the North Hills area, Vivace and Coquette were good in my opinion.
In between Durham/Chapel Hill and Raleigh, you have a few good options for Indian and Korean fair. There are some good Thai spots throughout the region as well. One other note, you should try Locopops for an ice pop (flavors can be anything from Mojito or Mexican Hot Chocolate to something like Strawberry Black Pepper. The one in Raleigh by NC State is a bit hard to get to due to all the traffic.
Bonne Soiree is great but I wouldn't call it "casual, non stuffy", to me it's a very elegant but formal atmosphere. In addition to the places burgeoningfoodie mentions, we think both Poole's Diner in Raleigh and Watts Grocery in Durham have a nice blend of great food and a relaxed atmosphere. If you are looking for something closer to Cary/RTP, you might give Neomonde a try, they have fantastic Middle Eastern food in a cafeteria style setup.
Guglhupf and La Farm are indeed two of the best bakeries in town. Can't think of anyplace else I would go instead.
As for beer/wine shops, have you considered going over to Durham and visiting Wine Authorities, or the Chapel Hill Wine Company? Not sure that I'd recommend local wine, but both of these shops have great selections of lesser known but tasty wines that are good values.
If you are in the RTP area, consider the following:
BabyMoon (100 Jerusalem Drive Morrisville) - This is Italian cafe close to the airport that has excellent food. Only draw back is that it is under the flight path to RDU.
Neomande Bakery and Cafe - Several locations in Cary and Raleigh - great for lunch if you are into Lebanese food.
Sitti - A more upscale restaurant in downtown Raleigh that is owned by the folks at Neomande. This is current one our favorite restaurants in Raleigh. Can order several tapas size orders in order to try out the range of delicacies.
The Barbeque Joint - Chapel Hill on Weaver Dairy Road - It is worth the trip to Chapel Hill to take in the best barbeque in the Triangle. The Pit is good and more of yuppy place for BBQ in Raleigh. BBQ Joint is a small eatery with outstanding pulled pork that comes with coleslaw and fresh in house pickles. The baked beans and fried green tomatoes were great last time we visited.
Papa Mojo's Roadhouse (5410 NC Highway 55; south of I-40 in Durham) - Superb cajun/creole with live entertainment in the evenings.
Dos Taquitos (Raleigh - Creedmoor Rd north of Crabtree Valley Mall. Not your typical mexican restaurant. Not Tex-Mex. Definite South American twist. Outdoor dining, if the weather is nice. The daily special is usually outstanding.
Pooles Diner - (426 South McDowell Street) Very close to the Pit. But a world apart. Local food at its best. Not fancy, but the food is outrageous. If you are willing to spend a little extra, you should try this establishment by chef Ashley Christensen. Her mac and cheese is incredible. I'd have it with a glass of red wine.
Hayes Barton Cafe and Dessertery - 2000 Fairview Rd in Raleigh - A throw back to the 50s. Outstanding comfort food. Save room for dessert.
Some other great restaurants that are above your price range, but worth the trip.
Duck and Dumpling - Raleigh; inventive Chinese restaurant.
Piedmont - Downtown Durham - excellent local cuisine
Watts Grocery - Durham - not a grocery store. Excellent southern cuisine
Lantern - Chapel Hill --- some would same that this is asian fusion. I call it great food in Chapel Hill
Rue Cler - French Bistro in downtown Durham - fix-pric menu
Bonne Soiree - have heard great things, but have not visited yet.
Quick recap of where I made it:
http://www.sweetribs.com/ (durham location
)Tried the chopped pork, ribs, dark chicken, collards, brunswick stew, and mac & cheese. In a nutshell I thought the pork and collards were great; ribs and chicken too dry; brunswick stew too sweet.
Saffron - Had a lunch buffet. Seemed a bit smaller in selection than most Indian buffets I am used to. Really liked that naan was brought to the table instead of kept in a steamer tray. Thought the food was fine, but the mango mousse dessert was terrible. Tasted like a weird Cool Whip.
The Pit -
Spare ribs and baby back ribs were my favorite, with a preference for the fattier spare ribs. Preferred chopped pork more than pulled. Chicken here was very good, much better than Backyard's (as was their mac & cheese). Brisket was fine. Creamed corn was a bit too sweet for my corn tastes, but I really enjoyed the candied yams and fried okra. Creamed corn was better smeared on their biscuits with some of the vinegar sauce to contrast. Pumpkin bread dessert with cinnamon ice cream, pecans, and cranberries was great; also enjoyed the banana pudding. Had some excellent NC beers there too. The brewery name escapes me now, but heir current Hefeweizen, Trippel, and Porter.
Pumpkin bread, pumpkin bread pudding, and pumpkin tart were all great. Raspberry/blackberry scone was not good, short on sugar, salt and butter. Almond croissant was average. Creme brulee french toast was disappointing, the driest french toast I've had.
Chapel Hill quick hits: Time-out's chicken & cheddar biscuit and sweet potato pie were two of my favorites the whole weekend. Sugarland bakery's gelato was very good (pear & mascarpone, passionfruit; pumpkin pie was a little flat). Locopops was pretty interesting, the mojito and banana horchata flavors tasted true to their names. Cosmic cantina was way overpriced, but flavors okay.
It seems overall that you faired better than not. I've yet to eat at the Backyard BBQ and both locations are in Durham so I'm not sure which one you hit exactly.
Saffron I've enjoyed each time I'm there and true that dessert isn't my favorite (I like Jalub), it does help cool me off. The one thing I can never figure out with Indian restaurants is what you do with the Anise/Mint combination. Do you chew and swallow? Chew and spit it out? To me it's like breath mint tobacco.. Just a funny aside on that point.
I've been to The Pit twice (don't get to Raleigh much). I've had the pulled pork and the ribs. The ribs I think are their signature item, but the pork was good. Definitely not the best pure BBQ place in the Triangle area. One of the nights I went was when they filmed Man Vs. Food and I had at least 7 plates of pulled pork (it was all you can eat special). I guess I was just stockpiling as I wasn't sure when I'd have bbq again. I don't remember their brisket though I had it the first time I was there as part of a combo. The only brewery's I can think of are Big Boss, Broylan Street, Carolina Brewery, and Duck Rabbit.
I've lived in Chapel Hill for roughly 3 years and have yet to get the cheddar/chicken biscuit at Time Out. Sugarland's gelato is pretty good and they now offer it in Southern Seasons. Locopops is well known for interesting flavors that somehow work together and Cosmic is usually touted for being the cheap burrito joint for hungry college kids.
Probably too late for your trip. But for the future, consider Bella Monica (near Rex Hospital) and Glenwood Grill (corner of Oberlin/Glenwood) in Raleigh.
Bella Monica Restaurant
3121 Edwards Mill Rd, Raleigh, NC 27612
2603-151 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27608
20 Dyer St, Glenwood, AL 36034