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out of town hound seeks decent eats near NCSU, Raleigh

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hi - NY and Philadelphia chowhound here, doing some work for the week at NCSU. So, two questions: 1) easy near-campus lunches, and 2) a bit more of a radius for dinners, preferably a bit offbeat/interesting, more on the ethnic hole in the wall side than the white tablecloth one.

for #1: I see a lot of places on Hillsborough across from campus.. any suggestions? Looking for simple, ideally not too heavy/greasy lunches (though would make an exception one or two days).

For #2, I'm thinking Cooper's BBQ for one dinner, probably Raleigh Times with some local hip friends for another. I don't have a car (though friends do) and probably don't have time to go as far as Durham or Chapel Hill. What are the rumblings I read on here about good Vietnamese? Mexican? Wouldn't mind veering away from the "you're in the South, you must eat BBQ" theme, not that I have anything against good BBQ but I know the South has more diverse and interesting options as well.

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    1. There's a great indian place called Biryani Corner in the corner of GoPaks Bazaar (a convenience store). Moderately cheap, family owned, and great food. Its on the same block as I Heart New York PIzza and Jimmy Johns.

      1. Cooper's is bog standard, gas-cooked, barbecue generica. The Pit is down the street a bit and is much better. I have issues with it- the sides are so-so at best, as is the tea- but the barbecue itself is excellent.

        There used to be a pretty good Ethiopian place called Abyssinia on Avent Ferry Road. Very good yepeg wat, and they had kitfo as well. Abyssinia was kind of on the slow side, though. It's been a few years since I've been, though. Any more recent impressions from someone? IIRC there's a Vietnamese place called Da Lat in the same strip mall as Abyssinia.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Naco

          Abyssinia has a lunch buffet. I haven't tried it but I've heard good things, and it's under $10.

          Da Lat is great but I've had to almost beg for them to make the food spicy- they don't believe me when I say I want it authentic.

          Less upscale, I'm a huge fan of the hot dogs at Cloos' Coney Island right across the shopping center.

          All three places are located in the Mission Valley shopping center, for OP's sake.

          1. re: raleighboy

            The lunch buffet must be new. They didn't have that when I was going fairly regularly(2004-5, IIRC).

            1. re: Naco

              An Ethiopian lunch buffet? This seems funny to me. Do you pick up the food from the chafing dishes with injera? I'm not very familiar with the breadth of the cuisine. I've eaten at Abyssina a few times and it was pretty good. Definately filling meal.

              1. re: Tom from Raleigh

                "Do you pick up the food from the chafing dishes with injera?"

                I hadn't thought of that. It would be interested to hear the logistics of it, on second thought.

          2. re: Naco

            also worth mentioning (to myself) that Coopers isn't open for dinner anyway. The Pit was good though I would have been into a more old-school place.

            1. re: bess

              If you're looking for Old School maybe some Raleigh hounds can comment on the Mecca downtown? Still going? I'm not in the Capitol City so not so much in the know, but it's a classic. (BTW, it's not middle eastern, but classic Southern food.)

          3. There is good food in Raleigh. Here are a few spots near or not so far from NC State --

            For lunch on Hillsborough Street near NC State, there are a few chain places, best to avoid if you want local flavor. My first choice is always Mitch's Tavern, which serves tasty, reasonably priced food for lunch. Mitch's is definitely worth a visit; it served as the setting for a scene in the movie Bull Durham, so look for the photo of Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon on the back wall.

            Porter's is OK sandwich fare, but noisy. It is an outpost of a company that runs several restaurants -- Urban Food Group -- seek out North Hills, where they run a good Italian place (Vivace) and a first-class French place (Coquette).

            Otherwise on Hillsborough Street, El Rodeo is generic Tex-Mex, not bad. There are also passable but generic Chinese, red-sauce Italian, the Indian place (in the back of a convenience store), and various kinds of sandwich shops

            Further west on Hillsborough Street is Sushi Sune, run by a guy from Kyoto, very good Japanese food.

            You've gotten suggestions for Western Blvd, across campus from Hillsborough Street.
            For more adventure, head toward downtown, to Glenwood Avenue, and go left to a REALLY good locavore place (Zely & Ritz), pur favorite place in Glenwood South, also a well-reviewed high end restaurant (Solas), a good Italian place (518 West), a good seafood place (42nd Street Oyster Bar), and a bunch of other places along the way between Hillsborough Street and Peace Street (this is one of Raleigh's nightlife centers).

            If you continue down Hillsborough Street toward downtown, the choices continue to grow. Check out the Boylan Bridge Brewpub, a block south of Hillsborough Street, with 6-8 house-brewed beers on draft and a terrific view of the Raleigh skyline (such as it is).

            Further down the street on the left is Second Empire, a first-class high-end restaurant. On the other side of Hillsborough Street and a couple of blocks south look for Wicked Smile, a tapas place, very good. When you get to downtown, look for Poole's Diner for the best food in Raleigh (in my opinion), near the Civic Center. Also the Empire food group, which includes the Pit (BBQ), Sitthi (Lebanese), Gravy (Italian), Duck and Dumpling (Asian), and the Raleigh Times (a good bar). And a bunch more, too.

            Enjoy your visit, and your culinary journey.

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

            Mitch's Tavern
            2426 Hillsborough St, Raleigh, NC 27607

            12 Replies
            1. re: jnwall

              Wow, jnwall, you named just about every place I would have! I would also add J. Betski's, off Peace and Glenwood. You can't go wrong with their German/Polish sausage and the pierogis are always great.

              1. re: jmtd

                I think there are some good tips in this thread. I'll add two more:

                Locopops for gourmet popsicles that are really worth your time, especially in the heat of summer. On the same block, is a dive bar called the Player's Retreat. I've only tried their burger, but it was a darn good burger. I thought it was quite a bit better than Porter's, which is nearby. They have an above average beer selection as well. In the future, there's supposed to be a noodle shop on the same block serving ramen and dumplings...

                1. re: Tom from Raleigh

                  Is the noodle shop going to be the place owned by the former chef at Duck and Dumpling? If so, three cheers!

                  1. re: BullCityChow

                    BullCity - if you're talking about the former Red Hot and Blue space, then yes, this is going to be David Mao's place. I think its a ways off from opening yet. Any updates are appreciated as I would love to find more good places for ramen.

                    1. re: dinersaurus

                      I drove past there yesterday and there was something going on inside. It looked like there were people sitting at the bar, as if it could have been training or something....

                      1. re: cackalackie

                        Oooo. That sounds promising. I may have to swing by this evening and peek inside. Guess it's not as far off as I had heard. Awesome.

                  2. re: Tom from Raleigh

                    I would second the recommendation of LocoPops, but not Player's Retreat. I used to enjoy eating there years ago, but a few months ago my wife and I had burgers there and it was the worst mean out I can remember, maybe ever. The burger was just terrible. Bad bun, bad patty, bad condiments. Ugh. My wife's was terrible, too.

                    I was shocked and disappointed.

                2. re: jnwall

                  I thought Wicked Smile closed ages ago. Wasn't it where Five Star is now?

                  -----
                  Five Star Restaurant
                  511 W Hargett St, Raleigh, NC 27603

                  1. re: jnwall

                    great suggestions! I'll pass them on to my new-to-town friend since there is no way I'll get to all of them. much appreciated.

                    had a good time at Raleigh Times and the Pit so far.. I love Reverie near campus, though admittedly more for atmosphere than food per se (though my sandwich was good.. it wasn't made there).

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

                    1. re: bess

                      My bad -- The place i was thinking of is Humble Pie, the tapas place south of Hillsborough Street, in the Warehouse District, near The Pit. Not Wicked Smile.

                      I forgot a really good Mexican place downtown, Dos Taquitos Centro, across the street from Gravy and Sitti.

                      Also just off Hillsborough Street going west is Neomonde, a Middle Eastern deli and restaurant.

                      You've got lots of choices. Enjoy your visit.

                      -----
                      Sitti
                      137 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh, NC 27601

                    2. re: jnwall

                      I agree with most of your suggestions but must come down emphatically against 42nd street. If you are just going for the oysters that's fine, but if you are expecting to eat anything else off the menu there are plenty of other, much better options. In recent years I've been there a couple times- when someone else did the deciding on where to go. Each time I've been underwhelmed and in one case disgusted enough to not finish my meal.

                      Other gems of Glenwood South:
                      Zely + Ritz, but you already gave them their due.

                      Helios Cafe: Best known as a coffee shop (Counter Culture beans), Helios just took on the former executive chef of Coquette. He re-did their menu focusing on local and organic ingredients. Most dishes are available as a small, tapas sized plates or a larger size. I'm working my way through the menu, but the frenched green beans were delicious and so were the cod stuffed piquillo peppers. Very inexpensive: $4-11. And on First Friday, they grill out on the patio- last month they had a japon-dog, a hot dog with nori and daikon. Much of the produce and greens come from their garden which is only a short walk from the restaurant.

                      Must mentions in Downtown:
                      Poole's: An old lunch counter, it is now a high end restaurant whose menu changes daily and is available only on the large chalkboards that line the walls. The single most famous dish here is the Mac and Cheese, which is made fresh daily with a constantly changing assortment of cheeses.

                      Sitti: A fine dining take on a local, Lebanese favorite. Everything I've had here has been well spiced and flavorful. Standouts are the hot shrimp appetizer, the pita (some of the best I've ever had, so soft inside), and the Ashta- a banana, milk pudding and phillo concoction, drizzled with honey that is to die for.

                      -----
                      Sitti
                      137 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh, NC 27601