HOME > Chowhound > Southeast >


Looking for a couple of upscale, a couple of downscale or off-the-wall options in the Triangle

My wife and I are planning to stay in the Triangle for a couple of days for our anniversary in a few weeks. I like barbecue, "ethnic" foods, generally places with a more hole in the wall/dive type atmosphere. My wife is more into steakhouses and Italian food(red sauce). We're both NC natives, so any Italian option would merely have to be serviceable by northeastern standards. The plan is to eat at a couple of places that strongly appeal to each person.

Magnolia Grill and Watts Grocery seem to get good marks and have similar concepts. Any preference between those? Oakwood Grill also seems interesting. Do they ever do a parrilada mixta, or is it just steaks/pasta?

On the holes-in-walls...

I'm almost definitely going to try Super Wok. Other than that, I was thinking...

1. Allen and Son. Much ballyhooed, and I love barbecue, but is it up to the level of the Skylight Inn, Wilber's, and Blackbeard's? Also, do you have to order outside brown to get that mixed in? This whole OSB thing is foreign to me as an ENC native, and I wasn't aware of it when I did my Lexingon tour years ago.

2. La Vaquita. Authentic Mexican is another hobby horse of mine. Any standout items? How do the tacos compare to Los Comales or El Mexicanito in Wilson? I really only want to do this if it's amazing. El Mexicanito is my ne plus ultra for tacos, I'd rank Los Comales a notch below them. There doesn't seem to be much Triangle taco/authentic Mex talk on the board recently. I used to like Fonda y Birrieria Jalisco but have subsequently found much better in eastern NC. What about El ParaĆ­so in Durham? Is that still well thought of?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Magnolia Grill and Watts Grocery are variations on the same theme, but Magnolia Grill is a much more sophisticated rendition of that theme. Ken Barker uses more ingredients, incorporates more flavors, and is much more bold about attempting to get dozens of different flavors and textures to balance. At times, the result can be far above anything Watts Grocery could accomplish. Watts is excellent for your everyday meal using the freshest local ingredients possible. Magnolia Grill is what you'd expect to get on a special occasion. Desserts at Magnolia are unbeatable (perhaps best I've had in this country, including at the Michelin-starred places I've been). Can't go wrong with either - just a matter of what exactly you're looking for, and how much you're willing to spend.

    Allen & Son - this is my favorite BBQ in North Carolina. For what it's worth, I don't have as much experience with Eastern NC that you have, Naco, but I like it a lot more than Bum's in Ayden, Grady's in Dudley, The Pit in Raleigh, NC, and Tarheel Q in Tarheel, NC.

    La Vaquita - I could never get why people like this one more than Los Comales. I like Los Comales meat quality better (less fatty, more tender, better cut used for the carne asada and chorizo). It's also a lot more pleasant environment (clean indoors versus picnic tables under an outdoor awning in a parking lot).

    4 Replies
    1. re: mikeh

      Watts/Magnolia: I was thinking in the neighborhood of $25-30 entrees for our "nice" dinner. Does Magnolia fit that?

      A&S: Have you been to the Skylight Inn? I'd love to have a common point of reference with someone on A&S. Bum's bbq is unremarkable to me, and I haven't tried the others you mention. I need to get to Grady's, but the lure of La Cuata may prove irresistible if I'm in Dudley. Talk about your unlikely centers of gastronomy...

      1. re: Naco

        $25-30 entrees fits Magnolia Grill to the bill. I'm looking at a menu from last summer that I camera-phoned and entrees ranged from $23.95 to $28.95. Also note that apps. are around $10, and in a lot of people's opinion (including mine) the apps. often times outshine the entrees, so you might want to budget room for those too. Watts Grocery is more like $15-20 for dinner, and lunch is even cheaper (but a lot more sandwichy).

        It's too bad I was never able to make it over to Skylight Inn to offer a common point of reference for A&S. I usually found that A&S automatically came with a good mix of outside brown thrown in (much like Grady's automatically does), but if you want some extra, I'm sure they would oblige. One thing I've never noticed in A&S's 'que that Grady's offered was the crunchy/chewy pork rind browns, but that might be because of the entire shoulder v. whole hog distinction.

        1. re: mikeh

          There is no "outside brown" if you're cooking a whole hog, because the skin covers all of the meat. Hence my unfamiliarity with the whole concept. I'd never heard of it until I started reading about barbecue on the internet. There's no special/secret way to order eastern style barbecue. The whole OSB thing is completely alien to this part of the state.

          I was curious because I found Lexington style, ordered without caveats, to be a bit mild for my tastes, and given that A&S is kind of on the fault line, I wasn't sure how to order. I'll ask just to make sure, though.

          As far as skin goes, there is skin on a shoulder, but I think that adding the skin is one of those things that Lexington places look down on.

          1. re: mikeh

            Totally with mikeh on the appetizers at Magnolia. Was just there last month and made a meal of 3 of them, and was much happier than the times I've ordered an entree. DEF. get the grits souffle if you go.

      2. Can I add another idea for the hole-in-the-wall option? You might want to try The Federal, in downtown Durham. Surprisingly great food.

        17 Replies
        1. re: LulusMom

          I'll Second the Federal, and Vin Rouge, both in Durham.
          Also, in Raleigh...
          The Wild Turkey Lounge inside the Angus Barn
          Vinnie's Steak House (old school steak and Italian)
          Blinco's on Highway 70. Unique Western New York tavern food.

          1. re: Fu Dee

            Blinco's just hasn't been the same since they left Quail Corners. I feel that it's the same problem that hit Knightdale Seafood and Mama Dip's. Once these places move to "nicer" locations and no longer have that dive-y low-rent feel, the food is never quite as good. I always felt that Blinco's was more about the atmosphere than the food, however.

            Magnolia, Federal, Super Wok are all great calls. I prefer Skylight to A&S bu this is not an argument I want to start here.

            I agree with meatn3 below about Oakwood. It's fine if you're in the neighborhood and the atmosphere is nice but the Cuban food is so-so at best.

            You've gotten some great suggestions here and it would be hard to go wrong with any of them.

          2. re: LulusMom

            What kind of food does The Federal have?

            Also, for Fu Dee: what does western New York tavern food consist of?

            1. re: Naco

              The Federal: Bar food, but really really good, semi-upscale barfood. Tried to find a website for them, but no luck. They offer a risotto of the day, veggie sliders, stuff like that.

              1. re: Naco

                Beef on Weck, real Buffalo Wings, etc...The guys who own it are from Buffalo.
                It's a good "joint". Been in Raleigh for years.

                1. re: Naco

                  The braised pork sandwich at The Federal is great. Honestly I think I'd rather have that than NC BBQ. The fries there are great too.

                  1. re: LBD

                    The Federal is especially super awesome now that the smoking ban is in effect. Last night, I had one of the specials which was fried quail with blueberry balsamic reduction, brussel sprouts and grits. I love Federal.

                    1. re: ToothTooth

                      I can't wait to return now that the smoking ban is in-place. I go at least twice a month, but I expect the smoke. Looking forward to the non-smoking experience with Federal's upscale (yet affordable) bar food!

                      1. re: peetoteeto

                        Nice not to have to air out your outer layer of clothing after a trip there, huh?

                    2. re: LBD

                      Against my better judgement, but possibly because of the above comment about The Federal's braised pork sandwich subliminally bouncing around in my brain, I ordered that thing this past Sunday evening. Verdict: Cheese should never be put on top of shredded pork! EASTERN NC BBQ 4-EVER!!

                      1. re: ToothTooth

                        You can ask them to hold the cheese, they'll do it. The Federal's. pork sandwich is not BBQ, never said it was. I do wish I could find a BBQ joint that could make fries as good as The Federal (I wish Allen and Son could make edible fries) and maybe serve bread that wasn't Sunbeam, Bunny, etc.

                        1. re: ToothTooth

                          Maybe I'm missing something here. It says braised pork right? Not BBQ Pork. Still I can't think of a time I've ever had cheese on top of chopped pork unless it's a pork sandwich in Philadelphia (I think thats what it was).

                          1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                            You mean DiNic's roast pork, broccoli rabe, and aged provelone sandwiches? Absolutely sublime and can more than give Pat's and Geno's a run for their money.

                            1. re: rockycat

                              Yeah I think so. I had it in Reading Street Terminal Market and it was a yellow counterspace.. I think... I was there for a wedding. I walked around the place and was told to get the Amish pretzels but they were closed. While walking through the Philly Steak place was closed too, but man I walked by DiNics and saw them making the sandwiches and saw the rolls of meats and stuff. I had to get one to say I at least had something that seemed quintessential Philly. It was great and sloppy and I think it was a little spicy if I remember correctly. Some people splurge on clothes and jewelry.. I splurge on food

                              1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                <I splurge on food>

                                As well you should.

                              2. re: rockycat

                                A bit off-topic but Anvil's Cheesesteaks in Cary serves up a roasted pork/provolone sandwich which I haven't tried yet. But I did see someone online raving about it and claiming it was as good as renditions in Philly, fwiw.


                                Anvil's Cheesesteaks
                                2893 Jones Franklin Rd, Raleigh, NC 27606

                    3. For hole in the wall - what about Mecca in downtown Raleigh? It's a block or 2 from the courthouse. The food is above average for diner fare and the place has charm out the wazoo. It's been there over 80 years, so they must be doing something right.


                      1. For one of the upscale meals I suggest J. Betski's. In Raleigh, close to downtown. They have eastern European food with amazing housemade sausages and peiorgies. I find their non-seafood items to be their strongest suit. They have a number of small plates too, so it is easy to try a number of items. Our most recent meal there was NYE and it was delectable.


                        Casual Lebanese at Neomonde in Raleigh - has a small grocery too. Shawarma and Mjadarah are outstanding. You can also get goodies to bring home! I prefer the Raleigh location.


                        Excellent Turkish food is at Bosphorus in Cary. On Sundays they make their own Doner - it goes fast! They serve it with a yohgurt sauce or sliced. We order both and share. It is casual too. Very good Turkish coffee and baklava.


                        I agree that the food at Federal is great, I think they have the best burger in the area. Service is often of a lesser caliber.

                        I find Watts to be a really solid nice meal. The menu doesn't seem to capture how delicious the dishes are. I have not been to Magnolia Grill...

                        I have not been impressed by Oakwood Grill. It has been alright if you are in the area, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it. Neither the Cuban or the Argentinian dishes match the caliber that I have experienced in other areas. But I am of a minority opinion on this board! If you do go be aware that they have very limited parking, so you may need to circle around a bit.


                        If you (or your sweetie) like chocolates try Escazu in Raleigh on Glenwood. It is a small shop, just south of Peace Street. Fantastic goodies!


                        Peace St. (within walking distance from the chocolate shop) has a new hole in the wall Afghan (IIRC) place which is getting great reviews:


                        Have a great anniversary!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: meatn3

                          if you are interested in j betskis for only sausages and piergoies, go there for lunch. it makes for a leisurely afternoon.

                          1. re: cervisiam

                            I'm usually interested in just about every dish on the menu - this is one place where it is hard to decide. I mentioned the sausage/pierogies specifically since they are hard to find in this area..

                            Their lunch is a great way to experience the place!

                        2. Another hold-in-the-wall kind of place is Abbey Road in Cary - definitely among the best burgers in the Triangle. And while you're in Cary, stop by La Farm Bakery for a baguette or a bite of something sweet, and also consider Henry's Gelato just up the road.

                          The Roast Grill in Raleigh is always a treat as well - nothing fancy, just straight-up good hot dogs.

                          1. I love the Federal. It's not really hole-in-the-wall food, but it's a kind of hole-in-the-wall place. What I love about it is that the atmosphere is chill - so is the service and I'm cool with that - but the food is consistently very good - not what you'd expect from bar food. If you end up not getting bbq elsewhere, their pork and jalapeno sandwich is delicious, if a bit too much meat for my taste. Try the Cackalacky sauce on the fries. Basically, it's just a fun place to hang out and now that the entire indoors is smoke-free even better.

                            These days I almost only stick to appetizers at the fancy pants places when I go. Magnolia Grill apps are excellent. You could always appetizer-hop. Revolution in downtown Durham has a poshy-posh atmosphere, but it's worth going for the mussels alone. They use PBR in the broth. You could walk down Main St. to the Pinhook or Whiskey for an after-dinner drink.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: suse

                              Appetizer hopping is one of our favorite casual nights out. One fave is the progression of 18 Seaboard, J. Betski's, and Krispy Kreme. Downtown Raleigh really needs a restaurant with a superlative pastry chef.

                              1. re: rockycat

                                My favorite restaurant for dessert downtown is Mo's Diner. It's one of my favorites all around, but I think they particularly distinguish themselves when it comes to dessert. If nothing else, they're guaranteed to have a fantastic bread pudding. It's at Hargett and Person, just off Moore Square.

                                Another good (and fun) downtown option is Dos Taquitos Centro, on Wilmington between Hargett and Morgan. They have really good upscale Mexican food (slightly less upscale than Jibarra), and fantastic margaritas. It's usually crowded and fun on weekends as well.

                            2. Of the places I've eaten and these are what I recommend: (the answer to OP's questions to follow)

                              Upscale - Herons (break the bank), Bonn Soiree, Four Square, Revolution

                              Midscale - Mint or Saffron for Indian, Coquette in North Hills, Taverna Nikos or Nikos Taverna. Jujube in Chapel Hill, Piedmont was fine the time we were there, Mo's Diner.

                              Lowscale (which for me winds up becoming ethnic foods) - Yum Yum in Cary for Thai (off Harrison), Pho 9n9 off Miami Blvd, Remedy Diner, SandwHich and Toast for what else.. sandwiches (could also be considered off the wall especially the first). Neomonde or Med Deli (which now makes it's own pita in house). Los Comales.

                              Hidden - Wimpy's and Only Burger (well it keeps moving though on Twitter) for burgers, Saxapahaw General Store (if you don't mind going an extra 15 mins out from Chapel Hill Carrboro.), Carmen's in Morrisville next to the Quiznos.

                              Hidden spots for me are tough as it seems all the places that are well known in the Chapel Hill/Durham area are pretty much in plain site.

                              Italian - I have enjoyed Pulcinella and Bocci in Durham and Bella Monica in Raleigh, but am itching to get to Vivace. The board tends to like Casa Carbonne and Casalinga as far as red sauce type places.

                              Now I've been to Magnolia Grill once and Watts twice for brunch and once for dinner. I really enjoyed my food at Watts better than at Magnolia though both did a fine job. There is definitely more room to breathe at Magnolia. Both I believe try to keep local with the ingredients.

                              I had Allen and Sons from a catered event at a friend's place of employment about 2 years ago. The bbq was good. I haven't had Coopers or Ole Time but I don't think they use actual wood anymore anyways. Pete's from what I had understood from a friend whose family ate there religiously. At the same time, Pete's is almost nothing but bbq right? Haven't been to Wilber in ages but love the smell when I'm passing through on my way towards Kinston or New Bern. I'd say A&S is good for this area though there was a report somewhere about some consistency issues.

                              La Vaquita i'd love to get to .. Carpe Durham did a post a few years back on their site about it and it seems they offer some unique things that are different than the typical taco, huarache, torta, pupusa, etc. That places like Los Comales offer. I also remember that blog mentioning Super Taqueria, Superior, El Custcatleco maybe others can weigh in on those. As far as upscale modern mex/latino, seems Tonali's and Jibarra are the trendsetters in this area. YOu are right there isn't as much talk about taquerias. I mean I'm in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area and we have a few taco trucks, Tres Amigos and a place called La Tienda Don Jose which when i first moved here got a lot of press for making their own tortillas. I wonder if anyone has been there and would like to make a comment.

                              I'm sure there are some other places I could think of but those come to mind right off the top of my head.

                              *Note maybe those restaurants are in the wrong classifications..

                              1. One off the wall option for barbeque is Clyde Cooper's in downtown Raleigh (it's on Davie Street near the Wilmington Street intersection). The place has been around for decades and is a sterling example of no frills eastern North Carolina barbeque. Every meal comes with a basket of pork rinds and hush puppies.

                                In terms of the food, I'd rather eat lunch at Clyde Cooper's than The Pit.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: rafeco


                                  With your apparent love of Mexican food, I'd recommend you take a look at Jibarra in downtown Raleigh. It's Mexican food reinterpreted. They do a sous vide goat dish that I really liked. There are also a number of taco trucks around if you keep your eyes open. In fact, if you're looking for tasty Mexican food, you have many options. Based on your posts on Mexican food in ENC, you know what to look for and what to avoid. For a culinary adventure, check out the Raleigh Swap Meet on Saturday late mornings. It's been several years since I went, but there were several vendors selling tacos and other tasty stuff to the largely Hispanic crowd.

                                  As for Indian food, Saffron is as good as I've had anywhere, provided you order off the menu. Their Bindi, which is crispy roasted okra, is mindblowing. If you're over by Cary, Cool Breeze does some interesting Indian food called chat. I don't fully understand Indian food, but it tastes good.

                                  If you can have one 'Q meal in the Triangle, I think you need to go to Allen & Son. Keith Allen gets up every day at 3 am to chop wood to stoke the fires he tends. His food is the result of passion and dedication to the traditional ways. Others may disagree, but I support the slow way.

                                  Obviously, I like Super Wok, too.

                                  Have fun in the Triangle!

                                  1. re: Tom from Raleigh

                                    Is Udupi still around? My co-workers use to recommend that a lot. Also in Cary.

                                    1. re: Tom from Raleigh

                                      Where is the Raleigh Swap Meet? Is it the flea market at Capital/Crabtree or the one on Rock Quarry? I'm ready for a field trip now!

                                      1. re: meatn3

                                        I'm talking about the Flea Market, I guess. It's been several years since i've been there, so it could be gone for all I know.

                                  2. Naco,

                                    I have a couple suggestions for you. They are all in Cary, NC. As far as upscale, I'd recommend Stonewood Tavern and Grill. They have a dim, mellow mood and great steaks. Also, right across the parking lot there is a great Hibachi/Sushi place called Ginza Japanese Steakhouse. As far as BBQ, I haven't gone to many places (I prefer to BBQ at home) but Danny's BBQ is good. There are two locations - I went to the one in Cary. It's a little "hole-in-the-wall"ish. If you like Mexican, I would recommend Los Tres Magueyes. Their food is pretty authentic and it's quite affordable. I also have an "off the wall" recommendation for you. If you like Korean food, I would recommend a local supermarket in Cary called "S-Mart". It's a small store but you can order food at the register. The cooks prepare it and call your number. You can eat in or take it to go. It really is superb Korean food. If you like spicy I recommend the Jjambbong. That's about it for me. I know others have had some great ideas as well. It's hard with so many choices out there. I hope you would be willing to try at least one of my suggestions :)

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: WorkHardEatHard

                                      I have no problem with alternative lifestyles, but eating barbecue in Cary is a little too kinky for me.

                                      1. re: Naco

                                        I have to disagree with Danny's and Los Tres. Having worked in Morrisville and that area.

                                        I've been to Danny's.. I wouldn't waste my time or with the place Smokey's BBQ Shack in Morrisville (though I guess their ribs are okay).

                                        Los Tres Magueyes - same TexMex as any place else (http://www.lostresmagueyes.com/


                                        If you like Indian and are near NC State, there use to be a small place I think called Biryani House in a convenience store there. They use to be good but not sure if they still are.

                                        There is a Neomonde in the same area of Cary/Morrisville as Smokey's BBQ Shack though.

                                        1. re: burgeoningfoodie


                                          I've heard a lot of good things about Smokey's although never tried it. Like I said, I didn't go to the Danny's in Morrisville, but in Cary. What BBQ place around would you recommend, if any? Los Tres...I can see what you're saying but I'm a fan of TexMex I guess because I thought it was good. Not great....but didn't hurt the pocketbook, either =)

                                          Do you know where one can get a REALLY good Gyro??

                                          1. re: WorkHardEatHard

                                            If you want good BBQ in the Triangle, go to Allen and Son, on Hwy. 86 just a couple of miles north of I-40 between CH and Hillsborough.

                                            1. re: WorkHardEatHard


                                              I think from what I've read and my own experiences the Triangle BBQ joints would be

                                              Allen and Son in Chapel Hill
                                              Backyard BBQ Pit on Hwy 55 in Durham
                                              Clyde Coopers
                                              Ole Time

                                              I know they serve either Bullocks or Dillards at the ballgames but I've never been to the actual restaurants.

                                              Define a really good Gyro? I usually get a Gyro platter which are the elements of the Gyro just not rolled up as a sandwhich. When I worked in Morrisville, a co worker stated that she really like the Gyro's at Greek Fiesta in the Outlet Center there. Most of the last few Mediterranean stops have been at Med Deli in Chapel Hill (Franklin St.) but that is both due to convenience and variety. Maybe a Baba Ghannouj outlet in the triangle does a good job? I can't recall if I had Gyro at Neomonde but I know I had their Falafel.

                                              I'm not anti TexMex but I also have a hard time distinguishing one joint from the other as they all seem the same. It's almost like americanized chinese food to a degree... at least to me anyways.

                                              1. re: WorkHardEatHard

                                                Danny's is "Florida-style" BBQ...whatever that is....

                                                1. re: grubhub

                                                  I think it's made up. As far as I know the only BBQ Styles that are prevalent in the continental U.S. off the top of my head are NC, Texas, KC, SC and Tennessee.

                                                2. re: WorkHardEatHard

                                                  Hands down, my favorite Gyro in Durham is from Mediterra Grill on Erwin Rd. The gyro meat is tender, flavorful, really outstanding. It's never been dry or tough and it's a great value. I can't recommend this place enough. If you're not in a gyro mood, their lamb shish is to die for.

                                              2. re: Naco


                                                I'm not sure where you're going with that...anyway, OK =)

                                            2. What about Edelweiss Cafe for a hidden spot? They are in downtown Raleigh I believe. How about Maximillians in Cary? Or Rey's on the high paying area also in Cary.

                                              1. Also Village Kebob seems to be getting good buzz in Raleigh

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                                  Naco - 2 other suggestions in Durham.

                                                  Tonali - very good upscale Mexican.

                                                  Metro 8 - Great Argentine steak house on 9th street in Durham.

                                                  Metro 8
                                                  746 9th St, Durham, NC 27705

                                                  Tonali Restaurant
                                                  3642 Shannon Rd Ste 1, Durham, NC 27707

                                                  1. re: steveindurham3

                                                    Anyone got a link for Tonali's? Yelp leads me to www.tonalirestaurant.com but this link appears to be bad.

                                                    Tonali Restaurant
                                                    3642 Shannon Rd Ste 1, Durham, NC 27707

                                                2. Hey Naco, I'll toss out some of my thoughts but they're probably dupes of this very long thread below...

                                                  * Toast in Durham is absolutely great and inexpensive for panini, crostini, etc. Great bang for the buck...

                                                  * Pops in Durham, very nice Italian trattoria they've got a fantastic brie/granny smith apple pizza, delish!

                                                  * Bella Mia pizza in Cary, maybe the only place in the Triangle for neapolitan pizza

                                                  * Jibarra for nuevo latino, they do a great brunch with near unlimited mimosas/BM's

                                                  * Raleigh Times for great bar food, esp. cheesy fries, salami/brie sandwich and BM's

                                                  * The Rockford in Raleigh, casual sandwich spot, seasonal sides, cute space. Good bang for the buck

                                                  * 35 Restaurant in Cary for very good Szechuan food, spicy, oily but tasty in limited amounts

                                                  * Pooles Diner in Raleigh for very good Southern seasonal, no printed menu available, no reservations taken

                                                  I think everyone has got you covered for BBQ but A&S in Chapel Hill is a MUST-do and Coopers in Raleigh is fun...

                                                  Jibarra Restaurant
                                                  7420 6 Forks Rd, Raleigh, NC 27615

                                                  Raleigh Times Bar
                                                  14 E Hargett St, Raleigh, NC 27601

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: RonboNC

                                                    Don't see the website for Tonali but you can find info on google about them.

                                                    Tonali Restaurant
                                                    3642 Shannon Rd Ste 1, Durham, NC 27707

                                                    1. re: steveindurham3

                                                      Yes, but what I want is *their* web site, not another site with info about them. Does it exist?

                                                      1. re: d.v

                                                        I seem to remember that they didn't have one.

                                                        1. re: LulusMom

                                                          They used to have one at the link posted above, but at some point they stopped using it. So, no web site.

                                                  2. Since your original post mentioned you'd be visiting this area back in January, this is probably a little late, LOL. Next time you're in Cary, though, and are interested in a "hole in the wall" type authentic Mexican restaurant, you definitely need to try Pancho Villas on East Chatham Street (in Chatham Square). My favorites are their sopes with steak, and their fried plantains are to die for. Check out Greg Cox's review at http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/05/0....

                                                    1. I'll add my two cents on hole in the wall Mexican, specifically taquerias. First is Rancho Grande (1401 SE Maynard, in the shopping center at the corner of Maynard and Chapel Hill Road). CHEEEEEAAAP and tasty pretty much sums it up. They have some interesting things on their toppings bar, and they also seem to have entrees (including handmade tamales), but we always get the tacos.

                                                      Secondly, is Taqueria El Toro in south Raleigh (435 Chapanoke Road). This place is packed at lunch with construction and landscape guys, so you know it's the real deal.

                                                      Another couple of interesting spots in Cary that I would recommend to locals and visitors alike:

                                                      *Bella Mia: legit NY style pizza--upscale for pizza. definitely worth checking out
                                                      *Unaabi: antastic afghan food--think kebabs, rice and lots of aromatic spices. Great Value. Wonderfully attentive service. it's in a former pizza hut, but they have transformed the inside
                                                      *Udupi: vegetarian south indian. go for the dosas for taste and a "wow" factor when it arrives at the table

                                                      Taqueria El Toro
                                                      435 Chapanoke Rd, Raleigh, NC 27603

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: passiflora45

                                                        SHOCKED no one suggested Saxapahaw General Store. That's some of the best food cooked in Triangle kitchens these days, an absolute must for a tourist from anywhere. It's the best in real NC food these days: local, original, affordable, and makeshift. Go.

                                                        General Store Cafe
                                                        39 West St, Pittsboro, NC 27312

                                                        1. re: Victus Populi

                                                          It's a revived thread...I think Saxapahaw is just a little past the boundary of what comes to mind for Triangle. Just depends on your starting point! The food at the CH group eat there was very nice though!