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What's a good alternative to the Magnolia Grill?

So, we heard that Magnolia Grill has closed. Our company has an office in RTP and, during our infrequent trips there (we're in California), that's where we'd always try to go for dinner. So where should our new go-to place be?


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  1. Although I have not been to either, there was a recent Chowhound post about how the two most similar restaurants to Magnolia Grill (run by former MG chef de cuisines) are Nana's in Durham and Elaine's on Franklin in Chapel Hill.



    From Elaine's website: Barker, a James Beard Foundation Best Chef in the Southeast awardee, describes Jennings as “a culinary genius” and expresses his pride that Elaine’s On Franklin is still carrying on Magnolia Grill traditions while allowing Jennings’ own personality to shine through. “I wish Elaine’s were open on Monday (when Magnolia Grill is closed) so my wife Karen and I would have a place to go out in Chapel Hill, ” says Barker.

    Of course, no one did it like Magnolia Grill, so this effort might be akin to finding a replacement for Michael Jordan or something.

    If you want something a bit different but with a very high level of execution and flavor, Panciuto in Hillsborough is one of the few Italian places in this country that reminds me of my meals in Italy at hole-in-the-wall family places. Farm-to-table, Southern-influenced Italian. It's similar to Cotogna in San Francisco, but with a Southern lens instead of a Californian one.


    1. I think Mikeh's response is spot on, and I strongly second his recommendation of Panciuto. I would add that Lantern (in Chapel Hill) is generally regarding as one of the best restaurants in the area and placed once or twice in the former Gourmet magazine's top 50 restaurants in the country, but the food is quite different than what was offered at Mag. Grill. If you want to stick in Durham and/or with a more similar style of cuisine, Four Square or Watts Grocery are possibilities.

      2 Replies
      1. re: brsmith2

        I agree Nana's is a worthy successor to Mag Grill. I prefer Lantern to Elaine's. Both are in Chapel Hill, across the street from each other. I'd also recommend Poole's Diner in Raleigh as one of the best in the area.

        1. re: Tom from Raleigh

          I like Poole's but it would be a bad place for a business dinner, but the food is good and it has an interesting vibe.

          I have not been but Mandolin in Raleigh has been getting good reviews


      2. All good suggestions so far but Elaine's and Nana's to me are the places that feel the most like MG. I'm still bummed Cypress On The Hill didn't make it, it was also similar.

        1. My vote goes to Four Square. I've enjoyed my meals there more than at Nana's. And as far as the ambiance and dining experience goes, Four Square exceeds Magnolia Grill, which was cramped and loud.

          3 Replies
          1. re: bbqme

            I forgot about them. We preferred Four Square over Mag Grill as well.

              1. re: SittingOnAMtnTop

                My vote is for Four Square. Like Tom, we preferred it over Magnolia Grill.

          2. My vote goes to Elaine's. It has a very similar atmosphere, although quieter and a bit more romantic, but still somewhat casual, and also has great food.

            1. I don't want to sound like I'm poo pooing on this thread but want a clarifying statement. Are the posts trying to find something comparable to MG? I mean is the thought of going to another place going to be I like this but MG did XYZ better or differently? If so then I think that needs to stop. There is a reason why MG created the air around it it did. If the thought is more like.. MG was always our special occasion dinner spot and now we have to find a new one. Well thats another story and may take some trial and (tasty) error.

              18 Replies
              1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                I think maybe the objective of the posts is something of a middle ground between the dynamics you suggest. My recommendations were driven by suggesting a genre of cuisine similar to Magnolia Grill within the realm of fine dining - meaning farm-to-table, exceptional ingredients, complex flavors without too much emphasis placed on the intricacies of the platings or the seamlessness of the atmosphere, while still being squarely special occasion. I think many of the recommendations, such as Elaine's, Nana's, Four Square and Panciuto, fit that billing quite well. It's not so much a replication of MG as a consistently-similar approach to cuisine. As the OP is coming from California, I assumed he wanted something adhering to this same approach that in part is uniquely Southern and uniquely "Carolina", as I'm sure they have many special occasion places in California that approach things well but differently.

                This is why suggestions such as Heron's, Revolution, and Fearrington House don't quite fit, because while good and interesting, is not the same type of conceptualization as the "farm-to-table Carolina-style" type of place does. Further afield from the Triangle, I would recommend Chef and the Farmer in Kinston, NC, Knife and Fork in Spruce Pine, NC, or FIG in Charleston, SC as other restaurants that no one would confuse for Magnolia Grill but that offer equally good culinary experiences within the same philosophical approach. I would have recommended Cypress on the Hill in Chapel Hill, NC (if it were still open), that while despite Chef Alex Gallis adding an asian-influenced approach to his farm-to-table southern style, and thus a different palate experience from MG, was still within the same genre of cuisine that is unique to this region.

                1. re: mikeh

                  OP here. (And I'm a she, not a he.) mikeh and burgeoningfoodie bring up interesting points. My first thought was that the comment "MG was always our special occasion dinner spot and now we have to find a new one." summed things up pretty well. But I like mikeh's thoughts on the "consistently-similar approach to cuisine" and and a place that is "is uniquely Southern and uniquely "Carolina". From reading this, I think I would be most likely to go to Panciuto, Elaine's, or Four Square.

                  Someone from our office will be going out there in August so she'll be the first to try out one or more of these suggestions. (Unfortunately, I have no idea when I might get out there again.)

                  But the funny thing about Magnolia Grill is that I first read about it in a Bon Appetit magazine I bought at the airport coming back from a trip to RTP. I told others about it and several people got to eat there before I finally did!

                  Thanks for all of your input.

                  1. re: mikeh

                    mikeh, I always enjoy reading your posts, and I think this one is brilliant. I think you've captured at least what most of us *think* the OP has in mind. There may be restaurants that we want to go to more on a lazy Saturday night, or a busy Wed. evening, or when we're craving something different, but there is something special about the places that you mention that have been suggested, and something very NC. Thanks for putting it so well.

                    1. re: mikeh

                      I never ate at Cypress on the Hill though did have some interactions with their kitchen. I thought they had a very nose in the air attitude and something about that whole place left a figurative bad taste in my mouth. Elaines while pricey has the art on the wall going for it but please.. they are all about the artsy plating at least in my experiences. I'm not saying the food isn't good, but I think better for the same money is to be had elsewhere. I will say I'm glad they offer an early bird fixed price menu which was different than what most people are doing. I can not speak to the other 3 mentioned as I haven't been there yet.

                      1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                        I'd be thrilled to hear about the places that serve food better than Elaine's in the area. Please give me some ideas, because we're always looking for new places to add to our date night list. I haven't really found anything except maybe the Lantern that does it as much for me. I love Vin Rouge, go there often, and find it the most comfortable place, but I think the food at Elaine's is just a notch above. Rue Cler can be wonderful, but it can also be a catastrophe in terms of service, running out of/changing ingredients, etc. Kitchen is good but not in the same league as Elaine's (at least to me). I've been to Nana's twice and each time I'd have one great dish and one just so-so dish. I loved the service at One, but the night I went the food was just ok (this is likely mostly my fault - pretty much everything had some sort of red meat, even the seafood dishes, so I had to ask for those without, and I think that never gives one the true idea of what the chef is going for).

                        1. re: LulusMom

                          I may have not typed correctly. I didn't mean to say that Elaines wasn't making great food but they are definitely about how artsy fartsy their plating can be from my memory. Just heard from a good friend that really like Nana's the other night as they celebrated their anniversary. I have not been to ONE in about a year but will go back when the time is right.

                          The folks at Rose's Meats and Sweets look like they might do some nice stuff for the community. While not a restaurant, they do put on dinners and are still getting established and if I remember, their bios had some good references in it.

                          1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                            I attended Rose's whole hog class a few weeks ago at the Cookery. In fact I just finished breakfast made with the homemade bacon from that class.

                            I have to agree with BF that they will be a great contribution to our community and would not be surprised that within a few years they will be one of the leaders in the local farm to table movement.

                            1. re: chazzer

                              When are they opening? Hopefully they will be our version of the Chop Shop Butchery in Asheville.

                              1. re: bbqme

                                I think they are still looking for a location but you can follow them on face book


                              2. re: chazzer

                                They have another class coming up soon and I think another demo this weekend at South Durham Farmer's Market (where Papa Mojo's is).

                      2. re: burgeoningfoodie

                        Just to add another to the mix. One Restaurant in Meadowmont has Sean McCarthy as exec chef, who worked with Ben Barker for a year and a half. We've eaten there a few times, including a very fine wine dinner. Personally, and of course this is a matter of taste, I've found Shane Ingram's Four Square often serving misconceived dishes, especially main courses. To me, the saucing is too forward and in conflict with the ingredients, as if proclaiming "look at all I am doing here!" MG's "not afraid of flavor" was the antithesis of this kind of effusion. I'm very pleased that at ONE, McCarthy has managed to do something very special. And the room is wonderful. The website is

                        And Fearrington is too distant in conception to merit comparison to MG.

                        1. re: walras

                          I haven't been since Shane left it in Sean's hands I always did like the interior though.

                          1. re: walras

                            Looking at the menu online, Chef McCarthy certainly has taken things up a notch. I see plenty of "look at all I am doing here" as well...I mean, steak with mustard ice cream?!

                            1. re: bbqme

                              There are very few daring restaurants in the area. One is One.

                              1. re: Tom from Raleigh

                                Had lunch there last Saturday. The watermelon gazpacho was really delicious, so complex. It had sweet, heat, Indian spices (from his time with Floyd Cardoz), crunch from pepitos, sour punch of small grapefruit sections, just a lot going on and it all worked well together. And for $5 for a big bowl a spectacular bargain. The buccatini with black truffle cream and guanciale was tasty but boy was it rich! My wife enjoyed her flat iron steak.

                                We were shocked to see it completely empty when we arrived around 1PM on Sat. However, another 4-5 other dining groups came in while we were there. Maybe it's the location but this place deserves more patronage-- even at lunch. Look forward to trying dinner soon.

                                1. re: bbqme

                                  I thought the G2B chef also had a stint with Cardoz. Anyways, good to hear that things are changing for the better. The problems with One and G2B is that they are hidden off the main road so it isn't something that will hit most peoples minds unless they go plenty. Rather, some restaurants are near a busy road so people drive past the sign all the time and that sticks in their head.

                                2. re: Tom from Raleigh

                                  Since I praised it here (based on past meals), I thought it responsible to go back for a mid-week dinner. It was really special. The apps, like sashimi, like oysters, were fascinating. The mains included a half grilled lobster which it seems half the diners were ordering. I had the grilled fish with grilled octopus and various. The surprise though was the "Tasting Menu" at $30 for three courses, two choices per course of app, main, and dessert. That's $30, and it is not necessary that the whole table order it! One choice for the main was a lamb shank with papparadelle!

                                  Service was fine, with well-intentioned glitches (missing bread and butter) made right with good heart quickly. A moderate number of diners, about 1/3 of the tables filled at 7PM.
                                  One don't thus withdraw my praise, though One is, as Tom from Raleigh said, "daring". It's not MG. It could not be. But I'll keep going back as long as the food is this good, and imaginative. $110 total for 2 apps, two mains, one dessert, and four glasses of wine seems in order. Easily.

                                  1. re: walras

                                    To help the case for ONE over in Meadowmont. Here are some recent photos done by a local professional photographer.


                          2. You could also check out Fearrington Village.