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What to Order at Every James Beard-Nominated Restaurant in the Carolinas

Stop by Cúrate in Asheville or Butcher & Bee in Charleston

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North Carolina secured eight final nominations for the 2022 James Beard awards, with Cúrate garnering nominations in two categories. Who ultimately wins will be announced on Monday, June 13, but being honored as a finalist means these establishments can forever say they got the nod from the James Beard Foundation.

From Asheville to Raleigh and down to Charleston, the restaurants vary widely in their fare and price point, making it a fun list to potentially eat in succession. But a common thread is focused cuisine, with chefs passionate about staying in their lane. An emphasis on local produce also shines through, a compliment to the Carolina dining scene.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Chai Pani Asheville

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Indian street food is Chai Pani’s sweet spot, and Asheville has taken notice for more than a decade. Chef Meherwan Irani has a half dozen Beard noms and no wins. Could this be his year with Outstanding Restaurant? It’s a tough call to pick between the sweet potato, green mango, or potato fritter chaat. Matchstick okra fries are also not to be missed. Produce and proteins are procured locally for all his restaurants (including Botiwalla, Buxton Hall, and Piri Piri Nani’s Chicken).

Plates of Indian snacks
Pani puri and chaat at Chai Pani.
Chai Pani

Cúrate

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Chef Katie Button, and husband Felix Méana, were nominated in two categories for their reservation-only, Spanish concept, Cúrate: Best Chef Southeast and Outstanding Hospitality. Button is one of the Susan Luccis of the Beard awards, so it will be interesting to see if she brings the medal home to Asheville. Fried eggplant drizzled with local honey (berenjenas con miel) pairs well with shrimp sauteed with garlic and bay (gambas al ajillo).

Gambas al aijillo at Cúrate.
Cúrate

Benne On Eagle

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Benne on Eagle’s chef de cuisine is Cleophus Hethington; his background includes time with chef Ronald Hsu at Atlanta’s Lazy Betty. He’s a finalist for Emerging Chef, and widely heralded for his exploration of the African diaspora. When available, the roasted broccolini Caesar with crawfish, cornbread and a soft egg should not be missed. Hethington also has a deft hand when it comes to trout from local producer Sunburst Trout Farms.

The whole spread at Benne on Eagle.
Benne on Eagle

Leah & Louise

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Nominated for Best Chef Southeast, Greg Collier has put Charlotte on the map with the modern juke joint he runs with his wife Subrina. The menu pays homage to the Mississippi river valley foodways and its location in Camp North End makes for a fun evening out. Leah’s cabbage (named for Greg’s late sister) with its pepper honey and pork neck bisque is a memorable appetizer. The blackened catfish includes smoked catfish stew, rice grits, and candied pepper. 

Leah’s cabbage at Leah & Louise.
Leah & Louise

Butcher & Bee

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With a nod for Outstanding Restaurant, Butcher and Bee has kept Charleston at the top of the national conversation. The chef’s choice menu is a treat; it’s also nicely priced at $45 per person. For summer, there’s peach salad with local tomato, and it’s always fun to watch the kitchen fire kabobs. A chocolate layer cake with raspberry sorbet and confit strawberry is a sweet ending.

Kabobs on a red platter with hands reaching for them.
Kabobs at Butcher & Bee.
Butcher & Bee Charleston

Saltbox Seafood Joint

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The GI Bill put chef Ricky Moore through culinary school at Culinary Institute of America, and stints at Daniel and Tru cut his culinary chops, but a fast-casual second generation restaurant called Saltbox earned him a Beard nomination for Best Chef Southeast. As good at lunch as it is at dinner, Saltbox features sustainable North Carolina seafood to a new level. A spice-griddled fish sandwich is crave-worthy, served with a citrus dressed slaw. The ”hush-honeys’’ shame a typical cornbread puppy.

Plates from Saltbox Seafood Joint.
Plates from Saltbox Seafood Joint.
Baxter Miller

Alley Twenty Six

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Nominated for Best Bar Program, Alley Twenty Six’s downtown Durham location — sandwiched between a half dozen notable restaurants— attracts all types  from happy hour until close. Best known for its house tonic syrup, it presents a tang with a bit of sweetness and earthiness that takes a gin and tonic to the next level (also available for sale by the bottle). The burger and charcuterie make nice accompaniments.

Garland

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With date-night level interiors and a menu focused on both Indian and Asian flavors, Garland propelled chef Cheetie Kumar into the final round for Best Chef Southeast. A little bit tiki with hyper-informed staff, this is a place to try something new. Dayboat shrimp are topped with Tabasco mash salsa and flowering cilantro. There’s often a whole fried fish that’s sauced judiciously. The chocolate pot de creme bar is accented with candied fennel and rice cookie crumble.

Chai Pani Asheville

Plates of Indian snacks
Pani puri and chaat at Chai Pani.
Chai Pani

Indian street food is Chai Pani’s sweet spot, and Asheville has taken notice for more than a decade. Chef Meherwan Irani has a half dozen Beard noms and no wins. Could this be his year with Outstanding Restaurant? It’s a tough call to pick between the sweet potato, green mango, or potato fritter chaat. Matchstick okra fries are also not to be missed. Produce and proteins are procured locally for all his restaurants (including Botiwalla, Buxton Hall, and Piri Piri Nani’s Chicken).

Plates of Indian snacks
Pani puri and chaat at Chai Pani.
Chai Pani

Cúrate

Gambas al aijillo at Cúrate.
Cúrate

Chef Katie Button, and husband Felix Méana, were nominated in two categories for their reservation-only, Spanish concept, Cúrate: Best Chef Southeast and Outstanding Hospitality. Button is one of the Susan Luccis of the Beard awards, so it will be interesting to see if she brings the medal home to Asheville. Fried eggplant drizzled with local honey (berenjenas con miel) pairs well with shrimp sauteed with garlic and bay (gambas al ajillo).

Gambas al aijillo at Cúrate.
Cúrate

Benne On Eagle

The whole spread at Benne on Eagle.
Benne on Eagle

Benne on Eagle’s chef de cuisine is Cleophus Hethington; his background includes time with chef Ronald Hsu at Atlanta’s Lazy Betty. He’s a finalist for Emerging Chef, and widely heralded for his exploration of the African diaspora. When available, the roasted broccolini Caesar with crawfish, cornbread and a soft egg should not be missed. Hethington also has a deft hand when it comes to trout from local producer Sunburst Trout Farms.

The whole spread at Benne on Eagle.
Benne on Eagle

Leah & Louise

Leah’s cabbage at Leah & Louise.
Leah & Louise

Nominated for Best Chef Southeast, Greg Collier has put Charlotte on the map with the modern juke joint he runs with his wife Subrina. The menu pays homage to the Mississippi river valley foodways and its location in Camp North End makes for a fun evening out. Leah’s cabbage (named for Greg’s late sister) with its pepper honey and pork neck bisque is a memorable appetizer. The blackened catfish includes smoked catfish stew, rice grits, and candied pepper. 

Leah’s cabbage at Leah & Louise.
Leah & Louise

Butcher & Bee

Kabobs on a red platter with hands reaching for them.
Kabobs at Butcher & Bee.
Butcher & Bee Charleston

With a nod for Outstanding Restaurant, Butcher and Bee has kept Charleston at the top of the national conversation. The chef’s choice menu is a treat; it’s also nicely priced at $45 per person. For summer, there’s peach salad with local tomato, and it’s always fun to watch the kitchen fire kabobs. A chocolate layer cake with raspberry sorbet and confit strawberry is a sweet ending.

Kabobs on a red platter with hands reaching for them.
Kabobs at Butcher & Bee.
Butcher & Bee Charleston

Saltbox Seafood Joint

Plates from Saltbox Seafood Joint.
Plates from Saltbox Seafood Joint.
Baxter Miller

The GI Bill put chef Ricky Moore through culinary school at Culinary Institute of America, and stints at Daniel and Tru cut his culinary chops, but a fast-casual second generation restaurant called Saltbox earned him a Beard nomination for Best Chef Southeast. As good at lunch as it is at dinner, Saltbox features sustainable North Carolina seafood to a new level. A spice-griddled fish sandwich is crave-worthy, served with a citrus dressed slaw. The ”hush-honeys’’ shame a typical cornbread puppy.

Plates from Saltbox Seafood Joint.
Plates from Saltbox Seafood Joint.
Baxter Miller

Alley Twenty Six

Nominated for Best Bar Program, Alley Twenty Six’s downtown Durham location — sandwiched between a half dozen notable restaurants— attracts all types  from happy hour until close. Best known for its house tonic syrup, it presents a tang with a bit of sweetness and earthiness that takes a gin and tonic to the next level (also available for sale by the bottle). The burger and charcuterie make nice accompaniments.

Garland

With date-night level interiors and a menu focused on both Indian and Asian flavors, Garland propelled chef Cheetie Kumar into the final round for Best Chef Southeast. A little bit tiki with hyper-informed staff, this is a place to try something new. Dayboat shrimp are topped with Tabasco mash salsa and flowering cilantro. There’s often a whole fried fish that’s sauced judiciously. The chocolate pot de creme bar is accented with candied fennel and rice cookie crumble.

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