In keeping with Eater tradition, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, industry types, and bloggers. To kick it off in the Carolinas, Eater asked the group eight questions, ranging from the restaurants they frequented to the saddest surprises of the year. Responses are in no particular order, and readers are encouraged to leave answers in the comments.
Q. What was your best restaurant meal of 2023?
Matthew Lardie, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering North Carolina
Oooh that’s a tough one. For me it would be a tie between a jaw-dropping delicious lunch I had at Native Prime Provisions (64 Cashiers Shopping Center) in Cashiers, North Carolina, and a great date-night dinner with my husband this summer at Ilda (462 Main Street) in Sylva, North Carolina.
Melissa Howsam, editor-in-chief, Raleigh Magazine
In Raleigh, what Stanbury (938 N. Blount Street) does to “standard” ingredients on the daily is mind-bending. One bite of the grilled peaches undid my lifelong disdain for the fruit. Accessible-meets-elevated dishes on the ever-rotating farm-to-table menu play out perfectly against that garage-chic attitude and it’s a vibe. In Charleston, 167 Raw (193 King Street) shucked the competition.
Mike Ledford, photographer and Eater Carolinas contributor
Taste of the Islands (630 Skylark Drive, Charleston). It’s a toss-up between the oxtail and the goat curry with plantains, and a slice of rum cake.
Jai Jones, food writer and photographer
Honeysuckle Rose (237 Fishburne Avenue). I truly enjoyed this intimate and immersive eight-course dining experience, each with a wine pairing and an opportunity to interact with the incredibly talented team behind it all throughout the evening. It’s a dining experience that makes you want to slow down and savor it all.
Barbara Skidmore, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering South Carolina and Savannah
The Fork and Plough (1629 E. North Street, Greenville) collaboration with James Beard Award-winning chef Andrew Black during Euphoria Wine and Food took the top meal this year.
Erin Perkins, editor Eater Carolinas
There were many great meals in expected places this year, but there were two I didn’t expect. The barbecue sampler at Bobby’s BBQ (1301 N. Main Street) in Fountain Inn, South Carolina was on point, and this is coming from someone who has access to Lewis Barbecue and Scott’s BBQ in Charleston. The brisket, the sweet potato casserole, and the ribs were so satisfying. I also randomly stopped into Catrina’s Cocktails & Grill (4 Kalyns Way, Powdersville) on the drive back from the Highlands Food & Wine (great food there, too) and found some of the best tacos I’ve ever had in South Carolina.
Catherine Currin, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering the Triangle
Old reliable at Poole’s (426 S. McDowell Street, Raleigh): bibb lettuce in vinaigrette, chicken, mac and cheese.
Stephanie Burnette, Eater Carolinas contributor
Seabird (1 S. Front Street) in Wilmington. Chef Dean Neff hits a home run every time. Do you need swordfish schnitzel in your life? Yes, yes you do.
I also had a long lovely solo dinner at the bar at Bombolo (764 M.L.K. Jr. Boulevard) in Chapel Hill.
Hanna Raskin, editor and publisher of The Food Section
Since I have a Sisyphean checklist of places to try, I often end up eating less than a meal when I visit a restaurant: I need to return to Mother (244 Short Coxe Avenue) in Asheville for more than a pretzel, and figure out whether the happy hour escargot I had at Scoundrel (18 N. Main Street) in Greenville were in fact indicative of the kitchen’s proficiency. I also don’t know if pizza served through a window qualifies as a restaurant meal, so I hesitate to mention Salita (615 S. 16th Street) in Wilmington here. But what absolutely fit the bill was my solo bar dinner at Ajja (209 Bickett Boulevard) in Raleigh, where everything from the stuffed squash to posset was thoughtful and unpretentiously complex. (Also, shout out to Vern’s (41 Bogard Street, Charleston) for a lovely dinner just prior to the Yom Kippur fast: I didn’t even miss the matzoh balls.)
Chef John Fleer celebrated the tenth anniversary of his Appalachia-on-a-plate restaurant Rhubarb (7 SW Pack Square, Asheville) with former and current chef de cuisines each contributing one of six courses, all sourced from the local farmer friends he has cultivated since opening. Every course was outstanding — and paired with wine from longtime Rhubarb distributors. But my vote for Best Dish I Ate in 2023 goes to the silky, creamy, smoky catfish and oyster pie by Dean Neff, chef/owner of Seabird (1 S. Front Street) in Wilmington, which has that bowl of goodness on the menu. Worth the drive.
Eric Ginsburg, Eater Carolinas contributor, covering North Carolina
I had a few that were head and shoulders above the rest, all from newcomers — Bombolo, Ajja, Zweli’s Ekhaya, and Las Ramblas topped my list. Also honorable mention to the Heights House (308 S. Boylan Avenue, Raleigh) dinner series from Grandchamp Hospitality, which isn’t technically a “restaurant” but was the best professionally prepared meal I ate in 2023.
This year I actually spent some time in Cary and enjoyed pretty incredible food at Szechuan Mansion Hot Pot, Asali Dessert Cafe, and Colletta. I also made it to Queeny’s (321 E. Chapel Hill Street) in Durham. It’s full of vegetarian options and understated excellence that really deserves more attention. On my way through Fayetteville, I stopped at Trinidadian restaurant Dhan’s Kitchen (115 Oakridge Avenue), which I strongly recommend. And I finally made it to Oakwood Pizza Box (610 N. Person Street) in Raleigh, which is as good as everyone promised.