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Burger, fries, and corn dog from Cook Out.
Burger, fries, and corn dog from Cook Out.
Cook Out

Top 20 Restaurants Along I-95 in the Carolinas

It’s not all Cook Out, but it does include Cook Out

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Burger, fries, and corn dog from Cook Out.
| Cook Out

Holiday road trip season is here and it comes with the seasonal migration up and down Interstate 95, the longest north-south intestate in the country and America’s most-traveled highway in terms of distances driven. When it comes to finding food along the way the Carolinas are not blessed with a system of rest stops chock full of eateries like our Northern neighbors — travelers instead must roll the dice on off-ramp options. Some exits might have six or seven different fast food joints, others make you choose between a gas station Subway and, well, gas station hot dogs.

With a little bit of planning, and a willingness to drive a few more minutes away from the exit, your fast food road trip nightmares can be replaced with dreams of comfort food, local joints, and Southern institutions serving up more than just a burger and fries. We’ve compiled some of the best local options along I-95, all no more than a short drive from the interstate. Some you can pop in and grab a tasty meal to go while others might have you scheduling an extended break from the road, but all are certain to break the monotony of fast food and make your road trip just a bit more delicious.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; the latest data about the delta variant indicates that it may pose a low-to-moderate risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Oscar's Restaurant

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Breakfast, lunch, or dinner at this downtown Roanake Rapids staple offers treats for kids and adults alike. The breakfast country ham slices with eggs comes with grits, biscuits, and coffee is about as Southern a welcome as you can find, while lunch and dinner entrees like fried chicken, country style steak with gravy, and hot roast beef all come with two vegetables and hush puppies or rolls. If you roll through on Wednesday or Sunday make sure to order the chicken pastry soup, and the kids are sure to love a corn dog and fries.

country ham, eggs, and bacon.
Breakfast at Oscar’s Restaurant.
Oscar’s Restaurant

Ralph's Barbecue

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No trip south of the Virginia border would be complete without some true Carolina barbecue, even if the final destination might be Florida. Ralph’s is right off the highway in Weldon and offers sandwiches, seafood, dinner plates, and a bevy of Southern sides that do well for takeout (hello, barbecue sandwiches to go) or dine-in. The Eastern Carolina style chopped barbecue and quarter fried chicken dinner combination comes with a side of Brunswick stew and choice of two sides, as do all the dinner platters. Ralph’s coleslaw is based on a 70-year-old recipe, and other sides include collards, mac ‘n cheese, and Southern-style green beans. Desserts include banana pudding, pies, and cakes.

The Hen & The Hog

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A few miles off the highway in one of North Carolina’s most historic towns, the Hen & The Hog is perfect for road-weary travelers in search of a slightly more elevated meal. Open for lunch Tuesday - Friday and dinner Thursday - Saturday, the restaurant offers a rotating menu that pulls heavily from the surrounding Eastern Carolina farmland. Options include a pimento cheese and bacon sandwich, shrimp and grits, and a Southern-styled wedge salad with pimento cheese dressing.

Rocky Mount Mills

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The Rocky Mount Mills development (from the same folks who did Durham’s American Tobacco Campus) offers a bevy of options for all hours of the day. Early morning travelers will appreciate Books and Beans Coffee Shop (co-owned by New York Times bestselling author Etaf Rum), while a stronger hunger can be sated at one of three restaurants in the complex — Tap @ 1918, TBC West: Tacos & Taproom, and the Tipsy Tomato. Rocky Mount Mills is also home to a brewery incubator; beer lovers can grab some beer for their final destinations from one of six different breweries and bottle shops.

Parker's Barbecue

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Parkers Barbecue regularly appears on any list of the best barbecue in North Carolina, and generations of families have traveled from near and far to get some of the traditional Eastern Carolina barbecue. The menu is pretty standard, but the best deal is to opt for the family-style menu, where for a prix fixe price ($8.60 per adult, at last check, and $4.85 for kids), everyone can enjoy “All the Barbecue and Trimmings You Can Eat” along with two pieces of fried chicken per person, Brunswick stew, boiled potatoes, coleslaw, and corn sticks.

The Beefmastor Inn

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Beefmastor is such a Wilson institution that, for some folks, it is the road trip destination. There is no menu, and there is often a wait, although locals have turned the waiting time into an event — part of the charm and tradition of the Beefmastor Inn is the pre-meal tailgate in the parking lot. Once inside the choice is ribeye, and only ribeye, ordered by weight, cooked according to the customer’s preference, and served with a baked potato and Texas Toast. Diners in the know will ask for a grilled onion, but that’s where the menu ends.

The Chicken Barn

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About a mile off the highway in downtown Smithfield, the Chicken Barn has served up piping hot chicken for decades. Chicken and biscuit combos, tailgate platters, and specials like fried gizzards, shrimp baskets, and a pork chop sandwich are enjoyed in the dining room or ordered through the drive through for a Southern feast on the go. Sides like mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni salad, and potato salad are available in pint or half-pint portions, and breakfast is served all day.

Mi Casita Dunn

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Mi Casita is a locally-owned chain based in Fayetteville with restaurants throughout Cumberland and Harnett Counties, though the Dunn location is closest to I-95. Affordable lunch combinations and larger entrees lean heavily on familiar Mexican staples like burritos, fajitas, tacos, and more. The chilaquiles are a speciality, and El Combo is designed for those with a big appetite — it comes with a chalupa, chile relleno or chile poblano, enchilada, beef taco, burrito, rice, and beans.

Napkins Restaurant

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Burgers and tater tots reign supreme at Napkins, the food offering at the veteran-owned Dirtbag Ales Brewery right off the highway in Hope Mills. There’s also a hot chicken sandwich or grilled chicken caesar wrap in addition to seasonally rotating specials. The frito mixto appetizer comes with cornmeal-battered fried calamari and shrimp, and a bevy of sauces are available for dipping those tots. A playground will keep the kids busy while the adults can grab some of Dirtbag’s award-winning beers to go, and there’s even a dog park for those four-legged road trippers who need a break.

Soul Food On the Go Restaurant

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Tiny St. Paul’s, North Carolina (population 2,107 in 2019) is home to one of the state’s tastiest soul food restaurants. Soul Food on the Go offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner items heavy on Southern staples like fried chicken, grits and country ham, and chicken and waffles. The dinners include options for chitterlings, pigs feet, pork chops, hamburger steaks, and more, and all come with a baked potato and one side or cornbread and two sides.

A Taste of Trelawny Jamaican Restaurant

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Just north of South of the Border is Jamaican eatery A Taste of Trelawny. Fans of island cuisine will see familiar offerings like pepper steak, oxtails, and curry goat. The jerk chicken is available as an entree or an appetizer, and the curry shrimp or brown stew fish are made to order. Combination platters like oxtail and chicken or beef and shrimp are available, and sides include plantains, steamed cabbage, and rice peas.

Cook Out

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Sure, Cook Out is a large chain with locations across the South, but it was founded in North Carolina and no Carolina road trip would be complete with a Cook Out platter and a shake. Burgers, barbecue, chicken, hot dogs, and more are available alongside sides like onion rings, hush puppies, coleslaw, mac ‘n cheese, and fries. The shakes alone are worth a stop, with dozens of different options like banana pineapple, chocolate chip cherry, and peanut butter fudge. In fact, the shakes have such a following that Joe Biden stopped by a Durham Cook Out with his granddaughter during the 2020 campaign.

Pho An Vietnamese Restaurant

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Right next to an abandoned arcade and a budget motel, find spot-on pho, bun thit nuong, and spring rolls at Ph An Vietnamese Restaurant. It’s right off the interstate in Florence, so skip the Wendy’s and go here instead. The brothy noodles are the star of kitchen, but the staff can walk you through the other offerings on the menu if you’re not in the mood for soup.

David Truluck's Fish and BBQ

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As many of the online reviews state, David Truluck’s Fish and BBQ isn’t much to look at, but it serves some of the best fried seafood, deviled crabs, and Southern sides close to Timmonsville stretch of I-26. Pick a protein and then try to decide between liver hash, fried okra, butter beans, yams, collard greens, and more.

McCabe's Bar-B-Q

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McCabe’s Bar-B-Que serves smoky pulled pork in a Carolina-style vinegar-based sauce and crispy fried chicken. Loyalists will drive out of their way to get to this little country restaurant, but if you’re already traveling I-95, it makes for an easy stop. Popular sides include collard greens, hush puppies, and dirty rice.

JK's House of Ribs

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A slab of barbecue-sauced ribs is obviously the way to go at JK’s House of Ribs. Grab a few extra napkins if you’re taking these in the car, because it can get a little messy. The green beans and hash and rice make for good pairings with the smoky ribs.

Sweatman's Barbeque

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It’s a bit of a drive from I-95 (13 miles), but it’s worth the short detour to visit Sweatman’s Barbeque. The visit is all about whole hog barbecue cooked over oak, hickory, and pecan trees. Sweatman’s serves its pork with a “secret” mustard sauce. All plates come with skins, until the restaurant runs out. Also opt for hash and rice as a side.

A pulled pork plate with coleslaw and pickles.
A pulled pork plate at Sweatman’s.
Sweatman’s BBQ

Williams Seafood

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Garlic blue crabs may not be the best food to eat while driving, so take a short stop to crack open a few claws at Williams Seafood in Walterboro. You’ll still have to eat in your car or sitting on your trunk, because there’s no chairs nor tables here. The fried fish is airy and crispy, while the Lowcountry boil is enough to feed two people.

Taqueria Rocio

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If the craving for corn tortilla tacos hits while on the road, pull over to Taqueria Rocio in Ridgeland. Locals swear by the shrimp tacos, shredded beef chimichangas, and the fresh chips and salsa. It’s a no frills Mexican restaurant with a solid selection of menu items.

Chickin Lickin

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Looking for ribs, gizzards, boiled shrimp or fried chicken? Chickin Lickin has it all. Find this weathered shack nestled between two gas stations. If it’s a nice day, take your meal outside to one of the picnic tables. The Southern menu is extensive, so there’s something for everyone.

Oscar's Restaurant

country ham, eggs, and bacon.
Breakfast at Oscar’s Restaurant.
Oscar’s Restaurant

Breakfast, lunch, or dinner at this downtown Roanake Rapids staple offers treats for kids and adults alike. The breakfast country ham slices with eggs comes with grits, biscuits, and coffee is about as Southern a welcome as you can find, while lunch and dinner entrees like fried chicken, country style steak with gravy, and hot roast beef all come with two vegetables and hush puppies or rolls. If you roll through on Wednesday or Sunday make sure to order the chicken pastry soup, and the kids are sure to love a corn dog and fries.

country ham, eggs, and bacon.
Breakfast at Oscar’s Restaurant.
Oscar’s Restaurant

Ralph's Barbecue

No trip south of the Virginia border would be complete without some true Carolina barbecue, even if the final destination might be Florida. Ralph’s is right off the highway in Weldon and offers sandwiches, seafood, dinner plates, and a bevy of Southern sides that do well for takeout (hello, barbecue sandwiches to go) or dine-in. The Eastern Carolina style chopped barbecue and quarter fried chicken dinner combination comes with a side of Brunswick stew and choice of two sides, as do all the dinner platters. Ralph’s coleslaw is based on a 70-year-old recipe, and other sides include collards, mac ‘n cheese, and Southern-style green beans. Desserts include banana pudding, pies, and cakes.

The Hen & The Hog

A few miles off the highway in one of North Carolina’s most historic towns, the Hen & The Hog is perfect for road-weary travelers in search of a slightly more elevated meal. Open for lunch Tuesday - Friday and dinner Thursday - Saturday, the restaurant offers a rotating menu that pulls heavily from the surrounding Eastern Carolina farmland. Options include a pimento cheese and bacon sandwich, shrimp and grits, and a Southern-styled wedge salad with pimento cheese dressing.

Rocky Mount Mills

The Rocky Mount Mills development (from the same folks who did Durham’s American Tobacco Campus) offers a bevy of options for all hours of the day. Early morning travelers will appreciate Books and Beans Coffee Shop (co-owned by New York Times bestselling author Etaf Rum), while a stronger hunger can be sated at one of three restaurants in the complex — Tap @ 1918, TBC West: Tacos & Taproom, and the Tipsy Tomato. Rocky Mount Mills is also home to a brewery incubator; beer lovers can grab some beer for their final destinations from one of six different breweries and bottle shops.

Parker's Barbecue

Parkers Barbecue regularly appears on any list of the best barbecue in North Carolina, and generations of families have traveled from near and far to get some of the traditional Eastern Carolina barbecue. The menu is pretty standard, but the best deal is to opt for the family-style menu, where for a prix fixe price ($8.60 per adult, at last check, and $4.85 for kids), everyone can enjoy “All the Barbecue and Trimmings You Can Eat” along with two pieces of fried chicken per person, Brunswick stew, boiled potatoes, coleslaw, and corn sticks.

The Beefmastor Inn

Beefmastor is such a Wilson institution that, for some folks, it is the road trip destination. There is no menu, and there is often a wait, although locals have turned the waiting time into an event — part of the charm and tradition of the Beefmastor Inn is the pre-meal tailgate in the parking lot. Once inside the choice is ribeye, and only ribeye, ordered by weight, cooked according to the customer’s preference, and served with a baked potato and Texas Toast. Diners in the know will ask for a grilled onion, but that’s where the menu ends.

The Chicken Barn

About a mile off the highway in downtown Smithfield, the Chicken Barn has served up piping hot chicken for decades. Chicken and biscuit combos, tailgate platters, and specials like fried gizzards, shrimp baskets, and a pork chop sandwich are enjoyed in the dining room or ordered through the drive through for a Southern feast on the go. Sides like mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni salad, and potato salad are available in pint or half-pint portions, and breakfast is served all day.

Mi Casita Dunn

Mi Casita is a locally-owned chain based in Fayetteville with restaurants throughout Cumberland and Harnett Counties, though the Dunn location is closest to I-95. Affordable lunch combinations and larger entrees lean heavily on familiar Mexican staples like burritos, fajitas, tacos, and more. The chilaquiles are a speciality, and El Combo is designed for those with a big appetite — it comes with a chalupa, chile relleno or chile poblano, enchilada, beef taco, burrito, rice, and beans.

Napkins Restaurant

Burgers and tater tots reign supreme at Napkins, the food offering at the veteran-owned Dirtbag Ales Brewery right off the highway in Hope Mills. There’s also a hot chicken sandwich or grilled chicken caesar wrap in addition to seasonally rotating specials. The frito mixto appetizer comes with cornmeal-battered fried calamari and shrimp, and a bevy of sauces are available for dipping those tots. A playground will keep the kids busy while the adults can grab some of Dirtbag’s award-winning beers to go, and there’s even a dog park for those four-legged road trippers who need a break.

Soul Food On the Go Restaurant

Tiny St. Paul’s, North Carolina (population 2,107 in 2019) is home to one of the state’s tastiest soul food restaurants. Soul Food on the Go offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner items heavy on Southern staples like fried chicken, grits and country ham, and chicken and waffles. The dinners include options for chitterlings, pigs feet, pork chops, hamburger steaks, and more, and all come with a baked potato and one side or cornbread and two sides.

A Taste of Trelawny Jamaican Restaurant

Just north of South of the Border is Jamaican eatery A Taste of Trelawny. Fans of island cuisine will see familiar offerings like pepper steak, oxtails, and curry goat. The jerk chicken is available as an entree or an appetizer, and the curry shrimp or brown stew fish are made to order. Combination platters like oxtail and chicken or beef and shrimp are available, and sides include plantains, steamed cabbage, and rice peas.

Cook Out

Sure, Cook Out is a large chain with locations across the South, but it was founded in North Carolina and no Carolina road trip would be complete with a Cook Out platter and a shake. Burgers, barbecue, chicken, hot dogs, and more are available alongside sides like onion rings, hush puppies, coleslaw, mac ‘n cheese, and fries. The shakes alone are worth a stop, with dozens of different options like banana pineapple, chocolate chip cherry, and peanut butter fudge. In fact, the shakes have such a following that Joe Biden stopped by a Durham Cook Out with his granddaughter during the 2020 campaign.

Pho An Vietnamese Restaurant

Right next to an abandoned arcade and a budget motel, find spot-on pho, bun thit nuong, and spring rolls at Ph An Vietnamese Restaurant. It’s right off the interstate in Florence, so skip the Wendy’s and go here instead. The brothy noodles are the star of kitchen, but the staff can walk you through the other offerings on the menu if you’re not in the mood for soup.

David Truluck's Fish and BBQ

As many of the online reviews state, David Truluck’s Fish and BBQ isn’t much to look at, but it serves some of the best fried seafood, deviled crabs, and Southern sides close to Timmonsville stretch of I-26. Pick a protein and then try to decide between liver hash, fried okra, butter beans, yams, collard greens, and more.

McCabe's Bar-B-Q

McCabe’s Bar-B-Que serves smoky pulled pork in a Carolina-style vinegar-based sauce and crispy fried chicken. Loyalists will drive out of their way to get to this little country restaurant, but if you’re already traveling I-95, it makes for an easy stop. Popular sides include collard greens, hush puppies, and dirty rice.

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JK's House of Ribs

A slab of barbecue-sauced ribs is obviously the way to go at JK’s House of Ribs. Grab a few extra napkins if you’re taking these in the car, because it can get a little messy. The green beans and hash and rice make for good pairings with the smoky ribs.

Sweatman's Barbeque

A pulled pork plate with coleslaw and pickles.
A pulled pork plate at Sweatman’s.
Sweatman’s BBQ

It’s a bit of a drive from I-95 (13 miles), but it’s worth the short detour to visit Sweatman’s Barbeque. The visit is all about whole hog barbecue cooked over oak, hickory, and pecan trees. Sweatman’s serves its pork with a “secret” mustard sauce. All plates come with skins, until the restaurant runs out. Also opt for hash and rice as a side.

A pulled pork plate with coleslaw and pickles.
A pulled pork plate at Sweatman’s.
Sweatman’s BBQ

Williams Seafood

Garlic blue crabs may not be the best food to eat while driving, so take a short stop to crack open a few claws at Williams Seafood in Walterboro. You’ll still have to eat in your car or sitting on your trunk, because there’s no chairs nor tables here. The fried fish is airy and crispy, while the Lowcountry boil is enough to feed two people.

Taqueria Rocio

If the craving for corn tortilla tacos hits while on the road, pull over to Taqueria Rocio in Ridgeland. Locals swear by the shrimp tacos, shredded beef chimichangas, and the fresh chips and salsa. It’s a no frills Mexican restaurant with a solid selection of menu items.

Chickin Lickin

Looking for ribs, gizzards, boiled shrimp or fried chicken? Chickin Lickin has it all. Find this weathered shack nestled between two gas stations. If it’s a nice day, take your meal outside to one of the picnic tables. The Southern menu is extensive, so there’s something for everyone.

Related Maps