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Jun 6, 2013 11:20 PM

Needs recs for Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area - fun, regional meals!

I always hate it when someone throws out a wide range question like mine so I will say first off that i did search threads but got a little overwhelmed and thought i would just ask you fine folks for suggestions.

Coming to the R-D-CH area for a few days on the way to the beach. Know it's a big area but we will make plans based on our stomachs. We are staying near Brier Creek which is pretty close to most things I think. Have been a few times before but it's been awhile.

Looking for one nice birthday meal (interesting food, full bar a plus, regional NC or southern also good) and some other can't miss more casual places for lunch and dinner. We are coming from Seattle so don't necessarily need alot of food we can get here (which is mainly Asian fusion) - that said Lucha Tigre in CH sounds pretty awesome so I wouldn't totally count it out. We also love food trucks, farmer's markets etc.

Places that i can remember we've visited and liked: Gugglehuphs, Loco Pops, Elaines, Allen and Sons, the big market at the fair grounds (go every trip), some great Indian place (white table cloths but in a strip mall?), and some great Greek place (also in a strip mall - real specific huh?).

We will definately be going to the Natural History museum one day so lunch or big breakfast near there? Also any places that have live music that are kid friendly? Or good outdoor events June 20-23rd??

A few names that seemed bandied around the lists were Mandolin, Hayes Barton Cafe, Dames, Scratch and Loaf, Merrits Grill, Lantern and Choland.


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  1. Personally I was underwhelmed by Lucha Tigre. And I'm not sure why you'd bother with the Lantern if Asian fusion is something you get a lot of.

    If you don't get much Indian, then definitely Cholanad or Vimala's are good choices. I love Elaines. Merrit's is just for BLTs, basically, and will be hard to get to this summer as the road is under construction and only open in one direction (if you really really want a BLT though, don't let that stop you). The new Greek place in Chapel Hill, Kipos, is pretty great, I think. I've been 4 times now and have enjoyed every meal.

    Not sure what days of the week the 20-23 are, but Carolina Inn has Fridays on the Porch (something like that) every Friday afternoon during the summer. I don't know if they serve food or not, but you could certainly go and have drinks and it is definitely kid friendly. Loco Pops is great, most love Allen and Sons.

    I can't speak much to the Raleigh side of of the area.

    1. Mandolin was the first thing that came to mind when you said Southern regional. Also, for really good Indian that just happens to be near Brier Creek, try Sai Krishna Bhavan.

      My current favorites on the food trucks are Chriba Chirba for juicy buns and Humble Pig for smoked wings and brisket. Check their Twitter feeds to find out where they'll be.

      If you're looking for breakfast in downtown Raleigh, try Big Ed's. That's definitely an experience and definitely kid-friendly.

      The Federal in Durham looks like a real dive, but the food is great and we've been bringing kids since they were toddlers.

      Unfortunately, there are no concerts at the art museum that weekend and I'm not sure how kid-friendly their outdoor movie that week would be.

      1 Reply
      1. re: rockycat

        Strongly second the recommendation for The Federal.

      2. Hayes Barton Café is a 50's style soda fountain/diner type place. People love the desserts. Your kids might find it fun. A few doors down is NOFO, restaurant and shop in a 2 story building. The shop has some fun things and a decent selection of regional jams, chocolates, etc.

        Parking is limited so be prepared to circle the block a bit.

        1. For your birthday meal I'd suggest Watts Grocery in Durham.

          For downtown Raleigh I'd suggest Beasley's chicken & honey. And maybe a visit to Escazu or Videri, two local bean-to-bar chocolatiers. Or grab a hot now Krispy Kreme doughnut, if you don't have that out west.

          I'd do a lunch at Daisy Cakes or Scratch, two great bakery/cafes in Durham. And Mateo Tapas for lunch or dinner, also in Durham. That city's farmers market is great too on Sat mornings, and theres usually a food truck or 3 around as well at that time.

          You can get some great Mexican food here in the Triangle. I like Taqueria La Vaquita, again in Durham.

          If you're up for a drive, head out to Saxapahaw's general store for good food in a quaint little town.

          4 Replies
          1. re: brsmith2

            I second Beasley's. It's downtown (not far from the Museum of Natural History), it's open throughout the day, it's kid-friendly, and it has a full bar. The food is all very fresh, local, and Southern. The chef/owner is well-known and talented. There is a cool vibe.There is a lot to choose from in terms of sides, veggies, bar food, comfort food (but not too much). You can share most of it. It's very reasonably priced (I think the most expensive thing on the menu is $13 -- the chicken and waffles). And if you don't like the look of it - you can go next door to the sister restaurant Chuck's and have an amazing burger.

            1. re: cackalackie

              That is my #1 choice for downtown lunch. The only issue is that they don't take reservations and we have 9 people. Maybe at an off time like 11am or 4pm??

              1. re: BorntoEat

                I haven't been there during the week for lunch, so I don't know how long the wait is. When I went this past Saturday for dinner (around 6pm), we only waited about 30 minutes - and we had 6 people. They seem to turn tables over reasonably quickly. So I think you should just turn up and take your chances and be prepared if there's a bit of a wait. You are right to think about avoiding the lunch hour, perhaps. But you could just turn up anytime and ask about the wait.

                1. re: BorntoEat

                  One piece of advice. It you are tempted to get the chicken biscuit and a side or two, you (or someone in your party) may want to share the biscuit. I believe it's quite filling - although the men usually don't have an issue with this! Truly, two women (or children) could also share the chicken and waffles, if they're considering that - but also want sides.

                  And make sure you look at the menu that's behind the bar - that lists bar food or bar snacks. I love the grit fries and the shrimp. These are good to share.

            2. Brier Creek is roughly 20 minutes or so from everything.

              Merritts grill is basically a convenience store known for their BLTs.. I wouldn't go out of my way for it but if you need something semi quick. Lantern is good for a nice dinner which would be suitable for your birthday dinner but how old are your children (read.. are they picky and can they behave)? For nice dinners my picks would be Mandolin, An (but it is asian fusion), Vin Rouge, Lantern.. More higher end would be Fearrington and Herons (I guess Lantern should go here too as well as Panciuto). As has been discussed on another board, there really isn't anything iconic in the triangle that isn't also a regional thing like BBQ.

              Myself and a few others really enjoyed Kipos Greek Taverna in Chapel Hill, but it is more formal than the deli like Mediterranean Deli. If you like that sort of food and are in Raleigh, I would recommend Sitti. Also our first Laotian restaurant, Bida Manda, scores favorably with most people.

              I do not know if you get spicy Sichuan chinese food but if you don't you have SuperWok in Cary and Gourmet Kingdom in Chapel Hill/Carrboro.

              Mateo's is the go to in the area for Tapas. Food trucks are going on and you may want to look to see if there are a gathering but the rodeos are more of a head ache.

              On June 21st, my friend's vintage jazz band is playing at G2B gastro pub. They do good burgers and such. Take a look at their menu and make a reservation (for the jazz lounge) if it looks good to everyone as they will fill up. *No cover*

              Also there are almost always outdoor movies at either the NC Museum of Art, Kokabooth Theater or Southern Village (Raleigh, Cary and Chapel Hill respectively).

              Loaf is just that a small artisan bakery. In a rather small space by the Durham Farmer's Market, is Daisy Cakes. Near Fullsteam is Geer St. Garden. Near Brightleaf is Parker and Otis which may be a good lunch/brunch spot as well as Lilly's for pizza.

              22 Replies
              1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                Also second Sitti, Vin Rouge and Mateo. And Gourmet Kingdom if you're up for Asian (which I had assumed you weren't - sorry if I misread).

                Kipos is much more expensive than Med Deli, but also much better.

                Your kids would be fine at Lantern. Nothing is especially spicy there and as long as they are used to dining in restaurants they'll be fine. They have things like dumplings which are very kid friendly.

                1. re: LulusMom

                  Kids won't be in on the nice meal thanks to grandparent babysitters. But in general the kids are used to eating out at adult type places and I always have a pbj handy just in case :)
                  Love all the suggestions. Any BBQ other than Allen and sons?

                  1. re: BorntoEat

                    The Pit but it is like classed up bbq and I think I'd rather have the ribs. Well if the kids aren't coming then it is wide open. Fearrington and Herons are both dress up type places.. Herons moreso than Fearrington. You should see if there are any food related events going on during that time. Unfortunately, I'm not well aware of them right this moment.

                    1. re: BorntoEat

                      I'm not the one to ask about bbq (I don't eat red meat), so I will leave that to others to discuss (or argue). I'm under the impression it is the one most people think is best, but there is one A&S location that is supposed to be much better than the other, so you'll want to make sure you go to the right one.

                      Lucky you, having sitters! But truly, as long as your kids are used to dining out, I can't imagine anywhere in the area that wouldn't be happy to have them.

                      What are you *most* looking for for the birthday dinner? A happening place? Amazing food? Romantic? A particular kind of food? We can help you more the more information you give us.

                      1. re: LulusMom

                        Cholanad has awesome food & elegant white tablecloths and a full bar with a great wine list. I really recommend it. Kipos is also really really good and has tons of ambiance & fab upscale Greek food.
                        Vimala's has that funky Carrboro feel and she even serves bbq, kid-friendly and I think live music thursdays.

                        1. re: Rory

                          I agree with Rory on all except the wine list at Cholanad, which I think is pretty bad, to be honest. But great food.

                        2. re: LulusMom

                          For the birthday dinner I would say regional, farm to table type food is #1 in a nice setting. Something that "says" NC at its best. Nothing white-haired but we don't need a 20something type of vibe either.

                          1. re: BorntoEat

                            My vote would be for Elaine's then, but there is likely something in Raleigh to compete.

                          2. re: BorntoEat

                            Elaine's if you're in Chapel Hill, Nana's if you're in Durham. I have a slight preference for both of those over places in Raleigh / Cary, and have eaten more times at Nana's over the last couple of years.

                            We enjoyed Cholanad last weekend for lunch as we were in CH for something else. Nice atmosphere that they inherited from the place there two years ago, the one with the big honkin' whole fried fish standing up on your plate (can't remember what it was called...but why did Cholanad get rid of the cool open kitchen?). I'm not sure I'd go out of my way for it though.

                            1. re: D R C

                              Cypress. I agree with Elaine's for CH. Scratch should not be missed for brunch, great coffee and baked goods. There are better barbecue options on the way to any NC Beaches than you will find in the triangle (with the exception of Allen & Sons), so you may want to save that meal for when you leave the triangle. Big Ed's is fun, and they do a decent job with breakfast. I also like to hit high end places like Herons and Fearrington for breakfast. They're both reasonable, and the ingredients they use are top notch. I also love J. Betski's food and Beer/Wine list. Beasleys is fun, and they have awesome southern sides on top of good fried chicken. Poole's is worth a visit for their homemade Pimms Cup alone. Currently my favorite summer drink.

                                1. re: BorntoEat

                                  Elaine's would be my pick, but someone who has been to both recently would be a better judge. It's been a while since I've been to Elaine's as they're usually closed when I'm in CH, but the meals I've had in the past have been tasty and there's been no change of chef's. I've had one meal at Mandoline and it clearly was not their best night. I haven't written the restaurant off, as those I can trust have had good experiences. I do wish they had a little more on their menu. The night I went, there was 5 starters (3 salads out of five) and 6 mains.

                                  1. re: veganhater

                                    Just saw this thread resurface and wanted to respond to your post veganhater - that's exactly what put Mandolin a (small) notch below Elaine's and Nana's in my post last week. We ate there a few weeks ago and enjoyed the meal, but the menu was more limited than I'd like to see. Only one seafood entree on a Saturday night, and some comfort food items (trendy chicken & waffles, pot pie) where I'd like to see something more ambitious. I don't mind a smaller number like this, I just wanted more "wow" items.

                                    1. re: D R C

                                      Retracting my post about Elaine's. We ate there last weekend and at Nana's this weekend. Nana's was excellent as usual, not a single miss although I thought a pasta app was too salty. Probably my favorite restaurant in the area. At Elaine's, although one or two of the apps were great (avocado-tortilla-chile gazpacho), none of the entrees we had worked (milk/cream as sauce for pan roasted duck, big pile of sticky gray buckwheat 'polenta' under pork). It makes me sad because we've had some good meals there over the years.

                                      1. re: D R C

                                        That avocado-tortilla-chile gazpacho is really great (and I like the ceviche type dish they've been serving as an appetizer a lot too). I love the duck, but it is sure as heck not a summer dish. Not sure why they have it on there at this time of year, since they are usually very good about seasonality.

                            2. re: BorntoEat

                              I am not fond of the sides or desserts at A & S's...all I eat is the BBQ.

                              If you are up for a 1.5 hr. drive on Thurs -Sun. then Blackbeards BBQ & C-Food in Conetoe is great. I think the BBQ is excellent, as are the sides and other dishes.

                              1. re: meatn3

                                Plus, Blackbeards is on the way if BorntoEat is heading for the Outer Banks, and can be sort of on the way for the Morehead City area beaches.

                                1. re: mpjmph

                                  We are heading to Emerald Isle so YES any bbq or other good grub on the way would be appreciated. We are traveling on a sunday which way affect things though (in terms of places being open).

                                  1. re: BorntoEat

                                    Blackbeard's is open from 11:00 to 3:00 on Sunday, but it will add an hour to your trip to EI. You might want to consider Wilbur's BBQ in Goldsboro, which is pretty much on the way from Raleigh to EI, and has excellent 'q and is also open on Sunday.

                                    1. re: BorntoEat

                                      Then I would go to Skylight Inn (Ayden), Wilbur's (Goldsboro) and I'd stop at Chef and The Farmer (Kinston) or On The Square(?) in Tarboro.. The latter two offering sit down good food not bbq.

                                      1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                        Of those four recs, only the previously mentioned Wilbur's is open on Sunday.