HOME > Chowhound > Southeast >


Restaurant advice in downtown Raleigh

  • d

I will be in Raleigh for the first time this month, and would like to get further advice in addition to previous posts. I'm going out with someone for the first time so wanted to go a place with a good bar atmosphere as well as the food. From previous posts, 18 Seaboard, Jibarra, and Poole's Diner all sound great...just wondering if any of these also have good energy/atmosphere as well? Any other suggestions are welcome.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Poole's usually has a cool vibe in the evenings. And, they stay open pretty late. It's a small, funky place, and the bar consists of two half-moon diner type counters. I enjoy lingering there over a glass or two or three of wine and dessert. One drawback is that it's downtown, but not downtown, if that makes any sense. It's separated from the busier parts of downtown by a big vacant block. Jibarra has a nice energy on the weekends, but can feel a little quiet on weekday nights. 18 Seaboard doesn't have much of a scene, but it does have a bar, and the food is always a good deal. If you're planning to bar hop or wander from these places, 18 Seabard is pretty isolated (although around the corner from J. Betskis, home of awesome German/Polish food and drink). Jibarra is in an interesting little area with a few other bar options. Poole's is walkable to other bars from downtown, although you'll have to wander through kind of a dead zone to get there. Not a big deal, but that was my reaction upon first visit. Solas may also be worth a look on Glenwood South. They seem to have a hip scene (if anything, it might be trying too hard). The advantage is that you can wander to a wide variety of other drink and food options nearby including Tasca Brava (not hopping at all, but they have Spanish tapas and good wines), Red Room (non-Spanish "tapas," the food's acceptable, but it's not a bad place for a mixed drink) and a number of other nearby bars.

    1 Reply
    1. re: dinersaurus

      I can second the Solas recommendation. I've only gotten a selection of small plates, but everything I've had, each time I've been, has been nothing less than outstanding. Just don't wear your work boots, but I'd suggest that for Glenwood South in general.

    2. The Pit downtown is a good option, very popular, NC bbq restaurant, more upscale, great, crowded bar, good food. Sitti downtown, upscale Lebanese, very good food, great atmosphere, good bar crowd, metro-vibe. The Oxford, British gastropub, good food, good bar crowd. Sono next door for good sushi, decent bar but I never see it really crowded. However I've found that a really crowded bar in Raleigh usually means it's heavy on the college crowd. Glenwood South area tends to be very college-dominated but there are some good restaurants there. I second Tasca Brava. 18 Seaboard's excellent food but no real bar scene...kind of off the beaten path. Hope this helps!

      4 Replies
      1. re: lawyerlady

        I second all of these, especially Sitti. And, there's a number of bars nearby or in between Sitti and Oxford on foot. I haven't been wild about the food at Oxford - it's fine for barfood, but I expected better of a place billing itself as a gastropub. Avoid the cheese plate there, unless you're looking for ice cold pedestrian cheeses. Still if you're thinking bar-first, then Oxford will work. Also, the Duck and Dumpling (Chinese-ish) is a block away and has a respectable bar. It's not a wild scene, but usually has a decent crowd on the weekends in the bar area.

        Note also that the Pit is just across the street from Jibarra.

        1. re: dinersaurus

          Thank you both for this follow up. So maybe Jibarra and Pooles might be best for a Friday and Saturday night out? Solas also looked like an option, maybe even if its for drinks.

          1. re: dinersaurus

            The bar scene at Oxford is okay, and the drinks are good (albeit pricey), but I was severely underwhelmed by the food. Looked very pretty, tasted very so-so.

            The Duck and Dumpling is excellent - I've had awesome meals every time I've been there, and I can't say that about many restaurants.

            1. re: Suzy Q

              I agree about the Oxford. It's fine as long as you're not expecting much. I mean, anyone who puts Boursin on a cheese plate.....

        2. I'm partial to Raleigh Times. Sono is good too. What about 101 Lounge?

          1. Solas looks overly chic (which is fine but not my type of place). Raleigh Times Bar seems to be popular and my friends in Raleigh really like Busy Bee Cafe. I've been to Sitti and didn't think much of it but then again I'm also closer to Neomonde and Med Deli. Sono has a nice vibe and is a hip sushi joint downtown. I don't recall a bar. Also a place that is a little funky, but doesn't get mentioned a lot os Five Star. It's what I would call Asian fusion and they use to charge a few cents to use a fork. It's been awhile since I've been to anything like the Hibernian, Bogarts, etc.

            1. I think I'm the only person who isn't a Busy Bee fan. I don't eat beef or pork generally, which really limited my menu options. Howerver, I decided to try a chicken pear sandwith. Wholly unimaginative, with some of the worst overcooked chicken ever slapped on a very large bun with a few pear slices. I ate just a few bites and gave up. Our waiter never even asked if the food was OK. Lots of other good eats close, so I haven't bothered to go back.

              4 Replies
              1. re: BullCityChow

                That is the best thing about that area. Is you can walk less than a mile and find something great. Dos Taquitos, Mo's Diner, Raleigh Times, Duck and Dumpling (which I've never been to), Cafe Luna, Tir Na Nog.. I'm someone hoping BBC lasts only because the chef was the one that made the Mint sound like an imaginative place. I know he isn't doing the same stuff there, but I figure he must have some cooking chops. It could have been an off night, but I'm sure the limited menu for non beef/pork eaters isn't going to help just in general.

                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                  BBC also did an awesome job restoring the building. Here's hoping the food improves.

                  Duck and Dumpling has decent food, but the portions are, by most accounts, tiny. If ONLY there were good chinese or thai food downtown, I'd be a happy camper. Indian we now have, though...

                  1. re: BullCityChow

                    How is that new Indian place? Isnt it only open at certain times? Yeah I mean a great Dim Sum place (I'm thinking bigger city places with the Lazy Susan tables) would rock in DT raleigh. It would be even better or stand out more if it wasn't a restaurant bar, but a little more authentic and upscale (not high priced) but better offerings than typical places. DimSum would work well for people in a hurry or who don't really want to eat heavy but still want to eat a wide assortment of things amongst people (if they are going to a performance or going bar hopping later). Heck at this point any more polished ethnic inclusions would be good (esp. Asian or African). More of a metropolitan feel and melting pot of culture.

                    1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                      Yes - Dim Sum would be fabulous!!
                      The Indian Place was only open for lunch - I think they've expanded to dinner (but they weren't open the only night I've tried to go). For lunch, it's all buffet (dinner has a menu). The buffet selections are decent, and I've found the food to be pretty good, but there tends to be not much selection if you go later in the day. Sort of hit and miss. The owner has gone out of his way to be accommodating, though - and I give them extra points for that. It's one of my need a quick take out lunch spots.

              2. Good bar food and happy hour atmosphere- Raleigh Times
                Breakfast - Big Ed's
                Dinner- J. Betski's, Duck and Dumpling
                Avoid- Glenwoood South...all of it
                Most overrated- The Pit...mediocre BBQ, overpriced and geared toward visitors and those not intimately familiar with the real ENC BBQ experience.
                Meh- 18 Seaboard. Overpriced and J. Betskis is right there.
                Also meh- Red Room. I wasn't thrilled with the food, but if they still have 1/2 priced tapas on Monday night it's sort of worth it to go.

                14 Replies
                1. re: mightyquinn

                  Wouldn't the Red Room be Glenwood South?

                  1. re: mightyquinn

                    I agree w/your assessment of The Pit- barely mediocre 'Q, indifferent service, way overpriced. A perfect recipe for a tourist trap. Locals are tired of the place.

                    1. re: jiminea

                      this may be true, but dvive also wants a place with a good bar scene and the bar at the pit is packed. i think it also depends what age range is in your party. if you are 30+ and you want live music/dancing, you might also want to try amra's on glenwood south (no food here). Solas on Glenwood South has good food. If it were warm, I'd recommend the rooftop. I know I said to avoid Glenwood South but I do have to recommend Sullivan's. It's your basic steakhouse but the food is really good (especially drinks and desserts) and they have a very lively bar scene for the 30+ crowd. Raleigh Times always has a lot of people, but in my experience, it too gets a heavy college crowd. What do you like to eat? Fins is a really good seafood restaurant, not sure of the bar scene though. If you are here for Sunday brunch, I highly recommend Tir na nog which is also downtown. Anyway, let us know what you decide to do and how you like it! Have fun!

                      1. re: lawyerlady

                        thanks, LL. we're in our mid-30's so not looking for a place over run with those crazy college kids. :-) she was psyched when i brought up Jibarra because she's never been there. maybe Sitti on Saturday night because she's a fan.

                        1. re: dvive

                          How about Vivace or Bloomsbury Bistro though neither is directly in downtown? J Betski' seems to be popular as well and near 18 Seaboard.

                    2. re: mightyquinn

                      The comment on The Pit is right on the mark. Although OK, better BBQ can be found for much less $$$.

                      1. re: Bluemold

                        I found teh PIT over rated and over Priced. BBQ for people who are afriad to go into a real BBQ joint. While not the most authentic of venues Holy Smokes off 401 in raleigh has lately been my BBQ place of choice.

                        1. re: countgrog

                          While I would agree that the Pit is kinda pricey for what you get, the food is second to none in the area (as far as Q goes). Unfortunately, TOGO is the only way I'm willing to eat it. I really wish they had a second, kinda dirty/dingy entrance near the loading dock that was for TOGO orders only.

                          1. re: wb247

                            Can't let this statement 'the food is second to none in the area (as far as Q goes)' go unchallenged. Cooper's and Holy Smokes both blow The Pit away if you're talking about food- if you you want high-priced BBQ in a faux 'Food Channel' atmosphere, by all means 'HIT THE PIT'.

                            1. re: jiminea

                              How does the Pit cook their pig? Now I think their ribs are probably better than what you'll get at most places in the Triangle, but their bbq is not.

                              1. re: jiminea

                                I've never been to Holy Smokes, so I'll have to check it out, but I prefer the food at the Pit to that at Cooper's. Cooper's just doesn't do it for me. I never said anything about liking the atmosphere at the Pit. It's a huge turnoff. I have to really want the food to even go there for takeout - dining in once was more than enough for me. I also said that I agree that it's pricey. But how you can say that their food is not as good as any other Q place in the area is astounding to say the least.

                                1. re: wb247

                                  If by area you mean downtown Raleigh than yes it is one of the best and I'm not saying it's not a top bbq place in the Triangle, I'm saying for me that their better at their Ribs than the bbq and that other places in the Triangle do a better job at Q. Though let it be known, I've rarely turned away a plate of bbq (that is to say I've never been to a place where the bbq was just plain god awful).. maybe I'm just not picky enough.

                                  It's all opinion based. I wasn't sure if you were addressing both of us or more jiminea.

                                  1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                    From what I understand, it's cooked over hardwood coals (oak and hickory specifically). I mean Raleigh proper, certainly downtown. Cooking Q is certainly a craft and can easily be turned into mush or rawhide by someone who doesn't know what they're doing or trying to do too much of it (see once-great places in Wilson/Rocky Mount).

                              2. re: wb247

                                I like that idea as well. Just before Christmas I called to place a to- go order of just chopped pork because I wanted to take some with me to visit relatives (transplanted Eastern NC folk) in Charlotte. I was told they were too busy to sell by the pound--and i was only talking about a couple of pounds--but they would be glad to sell me plates or sandwiches to go. I asked how being busy meant they could take time to package up multiple servings of bbq and two sides and cornbread etc. versus just serving up some cue. Didn't get a response to that. Sort of left a sour taste in my mouth. . . .

                        2. Downtown Raleigh, I like the Remedy Diner. It is a smaller restaurant that offers a laid back atmosphere. Last time I was there they had a bloody mary special and I ordered vegan sloppy joe. I am not even vegetarian and it was delish!

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: waitress

                            The Veggie Meatball sub there is great too.

                            1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                              I'll second this one! I think they make their own veggie meatballs, and they're the best I've ever had!

                          2. Me too, I need feedback too. I'm coming for a conference and we only have one or two days that don't have a "catered" meal involved. I'm worried about those and have vision's of rubber chicken dinners. But at least one of the dinners is a "Night at the Museum" so it can't be too bad. So if I only have one or two days to dine downtown, with no car, where should I go? Coming from Texas I'm really curious about NC BBQ but don't want to go to a tourist trap. I know all 'bout those from our own experience here. Poole's sounded very interesting. I am traveling with others who are not as adventurous as I am and we are government employees so the sky is NOT the limit when it comes to cost.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: aggiecat

                              If you want to sample NC BBQ, you have to check out Clyde Cooper's. It's downtown and it's cheap (6 or 7 bucks). It is also very traditional and is no way a tourist trap. Most of its patrons are people who work downtown or residents of the local retirement home. It's at the corner of Davie and Wilmington.

                              1. re: rafeco

                                Just know that if you go to Clyde's they don't cook over wood anymore to some people that is super important. Unfortunately you can't walk to J. Betski's. Check out the Moore's Square area and look at Mo's Diner it's a blue/purple house on one corner. It is pretty good and maybe a little more upscale (as far as attire) than Poole's but business casual should be fine. Fin's which is near Fayetteville St is also good.

                                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                  Here is a link to the R-Line map:


                                  It's a free bus that links all the downtown locations. The northeast-most stop on this map is Seaboard Station, where J Betzki's and 18 Seaboard are located.

                            2. I don't see what the big deal is with the prices at The Pit. Their online menu lists a dinner plate with two sides at $11.99, and a lunch plate is $7.99. At Blackbeard's in Conetoe, a large bbq plate will run you around $8.50 with two sides. A large tray at Pete Jones in Ayden is...$5.50 I believe, with just cornbread and slaw for sides. Are the portions unusually small or something?

                              11 Replies
                                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                  Kind of hard to get a sense of from zoomed in photos.

                                2. re: Naco

                                  The portions are decent sized. Most of the people I have been with at The Pit have had enough leftover to bring home.

                                  The building had housed a steak house prior to The Pit. The decor is still basically the same - a bit fancier than your usual BBQ place.

                                  I've read reports that The Pit raises their own pigs, free range and organic. Can't find a good link to it at the moment. There is also a full bar - again something that doesn't usually go with BBQ. And a well trained waitstaff. In my mind I feel that I'm getting my dollars worth there.
                                  Yes, I can find cheaper BBQ. But the extras that go into this place make the price seem reasonable to me.

                                  I like their 'que. I like their "country" sides better than their "city" sides. Are they the best? I know better than to even think about answering that one! Do they put out a tasty, satisfying meal? I think so!

                                  1. re: meatn3

                                    I like the Pit too. I know that I should only enjoy some backwoods place that's missing half its roof and is run by a toothless hillbilly that reeks of moonshine, but I like having the option of a nice cocktail or glass of wine with some Q. And, I like that I don't have to drive far from the heart of Raleigh to get it. To my untrained palatte, having tried Allen & Son's, Coopers, the Pit, Wilburs in Goldsburo and a few others east of 95 that I can't recall at the moment, I have to say, I enjoyed them all about equally. Perhaps I'm just too dim to pick up all the nuances of flavor, but they're all pretty good. The only factor I've noticed is the consistency of places, and the Pit seems to be consistently good. If you're all dressed up for a night out on the town, but you really want some Q, the Pit fits the bill. Also, the prices aren't that high, unless you compare with Coopers, which is dirt cheap. But, if you're only charging a nickel for a plate, some things are going to slip through the cracks (which I'd rather not think about - note, don't use the bathroom at Coopers, ever).

                                    1. re: dinersaurus

                                      I'm not anti-Pit at all. I had a 3 combo plate the first time there with my gf and her parents who are from NY. Her dad is a rib man and loved them and I enjoyed what I had but to me the brisket and definitely the ribs stood out more than the Q. Now when man vs. food was there, they had a special with all you can eat BBQ and sides. So I wasn't about to turn my nose up at that.. Let's just say I had my share and I think scared the waiter and I'm not a big person. I also don't get Q more than once every couple of months so it's like a treat.

                                      1. re: dinersaurus

                                        The whole "run down shack" thing that people seem to crave is just stupid when it comes to NC bbq. Most barbecue places in North Carolina are just not like that.

                                        1. re: Naco

                                          Agreed. And, having grown up in a backwoods area, eating at nothing but shacks and run down places (that's all we had) for my first 18 years, that sort of thing is vastly, vastly overrated.

                                          1. re: dinersaurus

                                            I wouldn't go that far. I'm a big fan of dives and holes in the wall. I just don't think that proletarian appeal is some kind of sine qua non for barbecue.

                                            1. re: Naco

                                              I'll agree with that. The thing that makes most of the dives I love so special is not just the unique physical nature of the place but the fact that they usually are baked up by a proprietor that throws himself or herself into the business 100% and has real passion for what they are doing and The Pit has tons of that in Ed Mitchell.

                                      2. re: meatn3

                                        "I've read reports that The Pit raises their own pigs, free range and organic. Can't find a good link to it at the moment. "

                                        That's always been a hobby horse of Mitchell's, at any rate.

                                      3. re: Naco

                                        I feel like the portions are pretty average for a Q restaurant. You can make 2 satisfying meals out of it, if you choose. I guess that it's just that people expect prices to be within 20-30 cents of other Q places in the neighborhood, and they're not. You pay a little extra for the atmosphere and the reputation of the pitmaster. You're expected to tip the waitstaff more than a dollar a person (That statement is not an intent to derail the thread, please nobody take it as bait). And Q prices in general aren't what they used to be because places seem to be using better meat than they used to use. At least that's my impression.