Raleigh has broken free of its staid downtown dining reputation and now offers one of the most exciting culinary scenes in the state. Continued growth of neighborhoods outside the downtown core has meant new restaurant options beyond the Inner Beltline, while redevelopment in areas like the Warehouse District has created entirely new dining realms in the City of Oaks. From Ashley Christensen’s mini-empire to exciting strip mall finds, there is a tasty treat for everyone in Raleigh.Read More
18 Essential Restaurants in Raleigh, North Carolina
From Creole cuisine in a fun atmosphere to macaroni au gratin at a Southern institution to bibimbap at a Korean staple, there’s something for everyone close to the North Carolina State University campus
For weddings, birthdays, and business deals, customers would be hard-pressed to find a moment that hasn’t been celebrated at this Raleigh institution. Since 1960, the Angus Barn has provided generations of diners with delicious steakhouse staples like aged prime rib and filet mignon, shrimp cocktail, and creamed spinach. The restaurant boasts one of the largest wine selections in the state, and its Wild Turkey Lounge not only churns out classic cocktails but also displays what is alleged to be the largest private collection of Wild Turkey commemorative decanters in the world.
Yemen Arab Restaurant
Yemen Arab Restaurant does an excellent job of introducing diners to flavors they might not be familiar with. There are well-known Middle Eastern offerings like baba ganoush, hummus, and koftas, but also Yemeni specialties like lahem haneeth (roasted lamb in a Yemeni spice blend), zurbian dajaj (a tomatoey chicken saute), and a variety of saltahs, a Yemeni dish of vegetables and a whipped fenugreek and lamb sauce served boiling hot in a clay dish. The restaurant offers varieties with fish, chicken, and shredded lamb, and all come with fresh bread for dipping.
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Gonza Tacos y Tequila
The Hillsborough Road location of this popular, locally-owned chain serves fancy versions of classic Mexican street food like tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and more. The Lacko Taco comes with chili-braised short ribs, roasted corn, poblano salsa, and a spicy creme fraiche, while the Burrito Guapo is stuffed with grilled chicken, veggies, rice, pico de gallo, and fried plantains. It has a full bar menu, with a focus on creative tequila drinks. Gonza is also open for brunch.
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David's Dumpling & Noodle Bar
David’s Dumpling & Noodle Bar offers a mix of Vietnamese, Chinese, and Malaysian dishes for lunch, dinner, or takeout at its Hillsborough Road location. Think wonton soup; Vietnamese-style grilled lemongrass chicken and rice noodle salad; and pork and shrimp shumai. There are Chinese stir fries, plenty of vegetable dishes, and noodle soups like a Malaysian-style curry noodle soup with chicken, pork, and shrimp wontons,
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has He’s Not Here, North Carolina State has the Player’s Retreat — the PR, as it’s known by locals, has been a Raleigh institution since 1951. The classic bar food attracts both college students and alums, as well as a fair share of Raleigh’s movers and shakers. It’s got a classic wedge salad, fried potato skins, grilled steaks, and plenty of sandwiches and burgers. It also has a late-night menu for post-cram-session cravings, as well as a limited brunch menu.
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Semantic appropriateness of the word itself aside, Irregardless Cafe was serving globally inspired food before fusion cuisine was the buzzword it is today. With a heavy emphasis on vegetarian and vegan cuisine (nearly two-thirds of the menu is meat-free), the cafe has become something of a Raleigh institution. Mushroom stroganoff, teriyaki tempeh, red-wine braised short ribs, and a paella with shrimp, chicken, mussels, scallops, and lobster butter are just a few of the menu offerings. The popular Sunday brunch has vegan burritos, smoked salmon hash, asparagus omelettes, and more.
Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing
Panoramic views of downtown Raleigh coupled with craft beer, innovative cocktails, and menu items like brewhouse mussels, a Southern saltimbocca with cheese grits, and a taco wedge salad with avocado-cilantro mousse easily qualify Wye Hill as one of the newest entries to the list of iconic Raleigh restaurants. The couple behind Wye Hill, Sara Abernethy and Chris Borreson, rescued the former Boylan Bridge Brewpub space after torrential rains caused structural damage that led to the building being condemned, meaning patrons can once again enjoy one of the best urban cityscapes in the entire state while they drink and dine.
Hayes Barton Cafe & Dessertery
Classic American fare like chicken parm, tuna casserole, and filet mignon make up the savory side of this cafe’s lunch and dinner menu, but in reality Hayes-Barton is where Raleigh comes for cake. Choose from over a dozen daily offerings like red velvet cake, hummingbird cake, or banana pudding cake. There are other dessert offerings like pies and puddings, but the cakes are real show here.
The Roast Grill
Since 1940, the Roast Grill has been Raleigh’s go-to for hot dogs. In fact, when customers walk through the door on West Street (underneath the sign that reads, “Hot Weiners”), that’s about all they can order aside from chips, drinks, fries, baklava, and poundcake. The grilled hot dogs can be topped with a choice of chili, mustard, slaw, or onions. It’s the simplicity and the down-home atmosphere that have led generations of Carolinians to return year after year.
The Fiction Kitchen
Fiction Kitchen serves thoughtfully crafted vegetarian and vegan cuisine from a 100 percent vegetarian kitchen in downtown Raleigh. Lion’s mane mushroom dip (in the style of crab dip), the North Carolina peanut noodle bowl, and the crispy fried chicken and waffles (made with mock chicken) have helped make Fiction Kitchen one of the state’s most popular meatless restaurants.
Ashley Christensen’s downtown Raleigh footprint may be large, but Poole’s Diner was her first restaurant and remains the heart and soul of her mini-empire. Think superbly executed comfort foods like roast chicken or cider-braised pork shank, along with sides like beluga lentils with melted leeks or herb-scented potato puree. The macaroni au gratin, Christensen’s take on mac and cheese, has earned a cult following.
St. Roch Fine Oysters + Bar
Chef Sonny Gerhart’s St. Roch reopened after surviving the one-two punch of the pandemic followed by a kitchen fire. The renovated space has a New Orleans gothic cathedral vibe, and Gerhart once again leans on his Louisiana roots for a menu that includes crawfish hushpuppies, alligator bolognese, and of course, plenty of oysters. The signature Tchoupitoulas Street Special comes with 18 freshly shucked oysters, a quarter pound of North Carolina peel ‘n eat shrimp, blue crab claws, and a myriad of fixings. An innovative cocktail list and plenty of seafood-friendly wines are available. The weekend brunch menu features biscuit sandwiches, a Cajun breakfast complete with beignets and boudin balls, and a standout fried oyster hotcake that sees freshly fried oysters atop a fluffy pancake with chili crisp, spicy Creole cane syrup, and whipped ricotta.
Big Ed's City Market Restaurant
Since 1989, Big Ed’s has been a staple of downtown’s City Market district, serving breakfast and lunch to generations of Raleigh workers, politicians, and fans of classic Southern home cooking. There’s always a daily blue plate special, and lunch dishes like Big Ed’s meatloaf and the chicken pastry are favorites, but its the all-day breakfast that usually drives traffic. Country ham with red eye gravy, hot cakes (with or without meat), and scrambled eggs with brains are just a few of the historic Southern breakfast plates on offer.
Stanbury is a perennial Raleigh favorite for it’s cozy, hip atmosphere and ever-changing eclectic menu. Past offerings have included mushroom bisque, a grilled ribeye steak, and roasted beets with whipped goat cheese — but there’s also an octopus tostada, General Tso’s sweetbreads, and a crispy pig head. Considering that the cocktail and wine menu is as eclectic as the food, no two visits to Stanbury are the same.
Crawford and Son
Five-time James Beard Award Semifinalist Scott Crawford set out on his own in 2016 with the first of what will soon be three restaurants, Crawford and Son. The menu features rotating elevated American classics. Recent dishes include a chilled eggplant soup with smoked trout and preserved lemon, almonds, and tarragon, a roasted pork chop with farro and summer squash, and a sweet tea sundae with local peaches, brown butter, and a pecan crumble for dessert. Cocktails, wine, and beer are available, as well as unique non-alcoholic cocktails.
Union Special’s menu and its entire ethos are built on baking damn good bread. It’s part-morning coffee shop, part-take-away bakery, and part-sandwich joint. Grab a coffee in the early hours and a fresh-baked loaf of bread to take home for later, or stay and have a breakfast of biscuits with charred-onion sausage gravy and pickled peppers. Lunchtime offers American deli favorites like grilled cheeses, turkey melts, and BLTs — all with flavors one might expect in a high-end restaurant. (Union Special recently opened a second location on Fayetteville Street as well.)
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Raleigh’s go-to for Korean barbecue, Seoul Garden also has a sister location in Cary. Pork and beef bulgogi, galbi, and shrimp gui can be found on the barbecue menu, alongside favorites like kimchi jigae, bibimbap, and three different types of jungol meant for sharing. Lunchtime diners can choose from menu classics or opt for the lunch-only banchan boxes, but an order of the combination soondubu (soft tofu soup with beef, baby clams, and shrimp) always pleases.
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Cheeni Indian Food Emporium
With its recent selection as Eater’s 2022 North Carolina Restaurant of the Year, Cheeni and chef-owner Preeti Waas have continued to impress diners across the state. Waas’s unique blend of Indian comfort food with American cafe-style service offers bites not seen in most other Indian restaurants in the area. The Bombay sandwich features buttered white sandwich bread spread with cilantro-mint chutney and stuffed full of salted cucumbers and tomatoes, while dinner features items like a hariyali whole fish cooked in a tandoor, Bengali roast chicken, and a South Indian style vegetable korma. Don’t miss the specialty beverages either.
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