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What's Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill like for a foodie?

We're considering a move to the Triangle - we don't eat out a lot, but the lower COL is one of our reasons for moving, which means ideally we'd be able to eat out more... We are definitely foodies in the kitchen, however. We eat local and organic as much as possible, cook almost every meal from scratch, and like to try unusual and new produce. What's the scene like out here? We're not food snobs, we just like diverse and quality meals now and then; we got a little nervous when the official Visit Raleigh website essentially has "American," "Southern,", and "BBQ" as the only categories for dining - no Japanese/Sushi, Thai, or other Asian, not even French or Italian listed...

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  1. The Visit Raleigh website is really not a food-centric resource.

    Search through this board and you will get a good idea of area options - which include all of what you did not see in the tourist website.

    The Triangle's food scene has been written up in many national publications over the past few years because the range and quality is quite good for this sized area.

    1. I'm not sure where it is you are currently living, which might make a difference in how you see the Triangle. But I can tell you that I come from a larger urban area, and travel a lot, and still think we have a pretty darned good food situation around here. Lots of local produce, products, and good restaurants too (although that doesn't seem to be your main interest).

      1. Ethnic food can be a problem around here, but if you are willing to drive 10 to 20 min. for a meal there are options. There is good Sushi, but not much non-sushi Japanese, a few good traditional Chinese Restaurants, but many of the others are terrible. And, the same goes for French and Italian. My biggest complaint about Italian that too many of them concentrate on Pizza and Pasta, or have what I call a Pizzeria menu but call themselves a Restaurant. I have not found a good Thai place or at least one that believes me when I say I want the food spicy.

        We also have some great Asian Markets in the area so getting ingredients is not a problem. Go through some of the past posts and many of your questions will be answered.

        Also if you are in town on July 21 we are having a meet up see for information

        1. A lot will depend on where you are from and what is your frame of reference. Our overall cost of living can be lower than some places, but I've found that our costs for food (both at the grocery and at restaurants) is higher than you might expect. Again, how you view that will depend on where you've lived in the past.

          What you consider acceptable travel time will also depend on your frame of reference. As a former resident of NY, I don't view a half hour travel time as a big deal. After all, it could take me 45 minutes easily to get from Bklyn to Manhattan. And if you live in North Raleigh, you may actually be closer to downtown Durham than to downtown Raleigh. Yet many people from Durham hesitate to go to Raleigh for a meal, and vice versa.

          And as someone who has watched the food scene in the Triangle for over 20 years, I can't begin to describe the improvements we've seen. We now have a multiplicity of ethnic groups whose presence has led to a previously unseen variety of new restaurants. We have world class chefs who are opening new places, fine and casual, at a scary pace. We even have an active food truck scene, despite the best efforts of some of our local officials.

          We are definitely missing some things. We can certainly improve on others. But you won't lack for choice here.

          1. I agree with the others - this area is great for foodies. There are plenty of farmer's markets for great produce, and tons of good restaurants. There's way more than just American, Southern, and BBQ down here. Indian is well represented and there's great Mexican food to be had. Plenty of restaurants focus on local & organic. The Triangle is not that big (to us) so we frequently travel to Durham and Chapel Hill, even though we live in Raleigh. I'd say come check the area out.

            1. The supermarket business around here is quite competitive: we have Kroger, Harris Teeter, Food Lion, Lowe's, Aldi, Target, Wal-Mart & rumors of Publix; Whole Foods, Fresh Market, Earth Faire, & Trader Joe's; BJ's & Sam's Warehouses. We've got Grand Asia, Patel Bros., Hispanic markets, a Polish market, a handful of butcher shops, but not as many fish markets as you might expect. A Southern Season must be seen to be believed, and while it is not what it was a few years ago it still must be seen.

              The state agriculture department operates the huge Farmers's Market in Raleigh year round, and there are seasonal markets across the Triangle.

              I don't know where you're from, but compared to where I grew up this is grocery shopping Heaven.

              1. So don't move to Raleigh. Move to Cary and be equidistant from all points. Okay thats not really a good idea. Suffice to say if you want a decent meal you may have to travel for it since this area is a metropolitan area but it is spread out unlike places like NY and DC AND we don't have intercity public transportation worth talking about like those cities. Regardless, for almost any major food type, you will find at the very lease a decent representation. What I mean by that is that it may not be a fancy place and so you may have great lebanese at a place that is a deli.. or your dim sum place may not have the traditional carts but the food will still be good. The biggest problem with our area is any lack of diversity when a new restaurant opens or twist on tradition. For instance, durham is getting a few new restaurants but they are bbq restaurants or a pizza place. I don't care if its local but please make it unique or come up with something different to that type of cuisine.. instead of sushi.. have a ramen shop.. Don't confuse that statement with the area not being diverse.. We have Thai, Indian, Greek, lebanese, french, southern, some vietnamese, some singapore.. Most of the Italian in this area is the generic Italian (Antipasti, pasti, al forno, dessert) places with uninspiring repetitive menus. I had the same sorta complain with restaurants in the area all offering creme brulee like it was the bees knees... no imagination. That being said the places that are worth their salt will get repeated mention on here and most of the places that are expensive are worth their salt from what I can tell. Additionally, we ARE The South so expect that to have an influence on many places.

                I would look into Indyweek's food section and listings if they still have it in order. It may give a broader representation of the area.

                1. The triangle has a great farm-to-table scene, and I recently read in Southern Living that Durham is an up and coming foodie mecca with a vibrant food truck community!

                  1. > We eat local and organic as much as possible,
                    > cook almost every meal from scratch, and like
                    > to try unusual and new produce.

                    For organic unusual and new you will want to go to the Durham and Carrboro farmers markets; the Raleigh market is a little like the Visit Raleigh website :-) good Southern summer produce like field peas okra and squash but only one producer with organic produce and one with Asian greens. Whole Foods has a number of stores here. Worst case you can drive up to DC and back in a day now and then :-).

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: D R C

                      Oh dear, you'd drive to DC and back in a day? You have a stronger constitution than I do. I think that much time on 95 would make me nuts. That said, it is an easy weekend away. Shortest we've managed it just over 4 hours one way. Longest has been about 5 and a half (bad traffic).

                      But totally agree with you that the farmers markets in Durham and Carrboro are very good. Anyone eating farm to fork is not going to have a problem on this side of the Triangle.

                    2. Thanks, all! I I had browsed around the board a bit, and looked on yelp and some other sites, but there was so little mention of the food on the major tourism websites that we got a little nervous...

                      We're coming from LA, so Asian is obviously huge here, but so are commute times, so 30 mins for a good meal is a Tuesday. =) We're looking forward to our exploratory visit in the fall, and will probably be back here before then for restaurant recs!

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: thursday

                        Well there are LOADS of Cali transplants and one of my best friends is from Bakersfield (not LA but close enough). You might bemoan the Asian here comparatively speaking, but then comparing is the major mistake to be made. You can get to (almost) anything that you'd want in 30 minutes or less depending on the time. The fall will limit what you see at market and maybe whats on some of the menus, but still it should be worth while. How long (I may have missed it) are you going to be here in fall?

                        Depending on when you come this way, you may want to look into checking out the TerraVita festival in Chapel Hill's Southern Village. I've not been but a lot of people have heard it is nice food and wine event.

                        1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                          I live in Chapel Hill/Carrboro and we absolutely love everything about except the property taxes (which are among the highest in the state). My wife shops at the Farmer's Market twice a week and we eat really well.

                          One thing to be aware of is the other side of the lower cost of living - lower salaries generally. Salaries are lower in the Southeast than they are in other parts of the country. If you transfer, some companies will adjust for that, but others don't.

                        2. re: thursday

                          LA as in Los Angeles...Ummmm, get ready for culture shock (just sayin')!

                          1. re: thursday

                            I moved here (North Raleigh) from LA and have been very happy with the ethnic restaurants available - Cary and Morrisville have fantastic authentic Indian, Chinese (Super Wok), and Ethiopian, as well as some solid sushi choices. The fine dining locally sourced, farm-centric places have been popping up more recently as well. I haven't found a good grass-fed steak house but that's okay, I can cook my farmer's market grass-fed beef myself so I'm not feeling too left out. Plus, there's always more options in Durham and Chapel Hill. If I had to do it over, I'd probably move to Carrboro rather than Raleigh but that's because I would prefer a bit more hippie-ish liberal crowd than the typical Raleighite. This area is booming though and the food scene just keeps getting better and better.