Jun 12, 2023 - Food and Drink

The Triangle's 30 best restaurants, right now

Stanbury. Photo: Lucille Sherman/Axios

The Triangle's restaurant industry has felt like it's been in a constant state of change coming out of the pandemic, with old favorites closing and new spots opening at a fast clip.

Why it matters: Our vibrant culinary scene is one of our strongest assets, providing rich experiences for locals and shining a spotlight on the Triangle as our chefs rack up national awards.

The bottom line: Keeping up with the countless openings can be overwhelming. Our goal is to help you find great places to eat.

  • We dined across the Triangle, consulted industry leaders and got feedback from hundreds of readers in a mission to bring you a guide to the area's best restaurants.

No. 30: Cheeni Food Emporium

Located inside a nondescript shopping center in North Raleigh, Preeti Waas' all-day Indian cafe Cheeni is anything but plain.

  • Part-cafe, part-retail and part-teaching kitchen, Cheeni is one of the Triangle's most distinctive dining spots, operating not just as a spot to grab lunch but a gathering place for the community as well.
  • Standouts from the menu include the hariyali whole fish, lamb vindaloo and its collection of tiffin (think light-breakfast items).

Location: 1141 Falls River Ave., Raleigh

Hours: 10am-9:30pm every day but Sunday.

Cheeni Food Emporium. Photo: Brianna Crane/Axios

No. 29: Wilson's Eatery

Wilson's is the place to be most nights of the week — as evidenced by how packed the parking lot usually is — and serves pizza, burgers, beers and some of the best fries (and aioli sauce) in town.

Location: 1053 E. Whitaker Mill Rd., Raleigh

Hours: 11am-9pm daily

Wilson's Eater. Photo: Visit Raleigh

No. 28: Poole's Diner

The upscale Southern diner is at the heart of chef Ashley Christensen's food empire in downtown Raleigh. Poole's is known for its menu of upscale comfort food, especially its mouth-watering macaroni au gratin.

Be smart: To this day, Christensen is the only North Carolina chef to win the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef, considered its highest honor for chefs.

Location: 426 S. McDowell St., Raleigh

Hours: 5-10pm daily. Closed Tuesdays.

Go deeper: Read our Local Limelight interview with Christensen.

The macaroni au gratin at Poole's Diner. Photo: Visit Raleigh

No. 27: Hawthorne & Wood

Run by acclaimed chef Brandon Sharp, Chapel Hill's Hawthorne & Wood serves dishes that intricately combine ingredients from across the globe, like North Carolina shrimp served with tamarind and a miso mayonnaise.

Be smart: Sharp opened a French bistro in Chapel Hill called Bluebird last year that has also become well-regarded in its short history.

Location: 3140 Environ Way, Chapel Hill

Hours: 5-9pm daily.

No. 26: Banh's Cuisine

Banh's is a staple of Durham's 9th Street and a purveyor of great Vietnamese and Chinese food.

  • It is a hole in the wall in the best sense of the term. It still doesn't have a website and its daily specials are scrawled onto a white board.
  • Be smart: Go on a Wednesday or Saturday when Banh's offers a more extensive Vietnamese menu, including its heavenly vegetable plate.

Location: 750 9th St., Durham

Hours: 11am-8pm daily. Closed Sundays.

Go deeper: Indy Week recently wrote a great profile of the restaurant's owner Chi Banh and her family.

Banh's Cuisine. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

No. 25: Pizzeria Mercato

A Neapolitan pizzeria in downtown Carrboro from chef Gabe Barker that hues close to its name. It utilizes local vegetables and meat from farmers markets to make its delightful pies and salads.

  • The standout here is the soft and flaky crust that will have you reaching back for another slice.

Location: 408 W. Weaver St., Carrboro

Hours: 11am-2pm and 5-8:30pm, Thursday through Sunday.

The margherita pizza at Pizzeria Mercato. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

No. 24: Sam Jones BBQ

Sam Jones is as close to barbecue royalty as you can get. His grandfather was the founder of the legendary Skylight Inn BBQ in Ayden, and the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

  • If you want classic eastern-style barbecue in Raleigh, you might not find better than Sam Jones, where the hogs are still whole and smoked for nearly an entire day.

Location: 502 W. Lenoir St., Raleigh

Hours: 11am-9pm daily.

Sam Jones BBQ. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

No. 23: Guglhupf

A German bakery during the day and a biergarten at night, Guglhupf brings a unique atmosphere with its primarily-outdoor cafe space.

  • Guglhupf has built a large following for its German pastries and is one of the most sought after brunch venues in Durham.

Location: 2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham

Hours:

  • 8am-9pm Tuesday through Saturday.
  • 9am-3pm on Sunday.
Guglhupf's breezy outdoor cafe space. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

No. 22: Vin Rouge

Vin Rouge, a traditional French bistro with an intimate feel, excellent service and sizable wine list, is a go-to spot for date nights and celebrations.

Location: 2010 Hillsborough Road, Durham

Hours: 5-9pm Tuesday through Sunday, plus additional Sunday brunch hours of 10:30am-2pm.

Oysters at Vin Rouge. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

No. 21: Mateo Bar de Tapas

It was the first restaurant opened by acclaimed chef Matt Kelly in Durham, and since its opening in 2012, it's been one of downtown Durham's favorite eateries.

  • Mateo serves Spanish-style tapas dishes that often highlight Southern ingredients, like a Spanish deviled egg.

Location: 109 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham

Hours: 5-10pm Tuesday through Saturday.

Mateo Bar de Tapas. Photo: Courtesy of Discover Durham

No. 20: Standard Beer + Food

Tucked between Person and Blount Streets near Raleigh's Mordecai neighborhood, Standard is a spot where you can take the whole family, including the dog, and kick back with a local craft beer, some tater tots and tacos.

Location: 205 E. Franklin St., Raleigh

Hours:

  • 4-10pm Monday-Thursday
  • 11:30 am–11pm Friday
  • 11am–11pm Saturday and 11am–8pm Sunday.
Standard Beer + Food. Photo: Lucille Sherman/Axios

No. 19: Mandolin

Mandolin is another of the Triangle's most intimate restaurants, and another top-tier spot for raw oysters. With its Southern roots, Mandolin serves seasonal dishes sourced locally and straight from the chef Sean Fowler's garden.

Location: ​​2519 Fairview Road, Raleigh

Hours:

  • 5:30-9pm Sunday-Thursday
  • 5:30-9:30pm Friday and Saturday
  • Sunday brunch 10:30am-2:30pm
Grilled watermelon — a menu item at Mandolin last summer. Photo: Lucille Sherman/Axios

No. 18: East End Bistrot

Part of a wave of new openings by restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias, East End Bistrot brought a new, French-inspired fine-dining experience to Raleigh.

  • It's not the first French offering from Bakatsias, whose Vin Rouge has long been a beloved institution in Durham.
  • But East End finds him and chef William D'Auvray playing with a more expansive and upscale canvas, offering more cuts of steak, including a 32-ounce porterhouse, and seafood, like Dover sole and a lobster roll, and a creative cocktail menu.

Location: 2020 Progress Ct., suite 110, Raleigh

Hours: 5-9pm, Tuesday through Saturday.

East End Bistrot. Photo: Lucille Sherman/Axios

No. 17: Mothers & Sons Trattoria

An Italian eatery that's made its name off the back of its homemade pasta and excellent cocktail and wine menu. Mothers & Sons' squid ink pasta is a standout.

Location: 107 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham

Hours: 5-10pm every day except Sunday.

Photo: Mothers & Sons/Baxter Miller

No. 16: Death & Taxes

Death & Taxes has cemented itself as one of downtown Raleigh's go-to fine-dining experiences since it opened in 2015.

  • The restaurant's menu is built around a wood-fired grill that is used expertly not just on fine cuts of steak or pork shoulder but also to give vegetables a pleasant blister.

Location: 105 W. Hargett St., Raleigh

Hours: 5-9pm Monday through Saturday.

Death & Taxes. Photo: Courtesy of AC Restaurants

No. 15: Viceroy

In part born from an Indian food truck called Tan-Durm, the British-Indian gastropub Viceroy's culture-mixing menu is captivating.

  • It toggles back and forth between excellent Indian dishes and new takes on British staples, like a curried sausage roll.

Location: 335 W. Main St., Durham

Hours: 5-10pm daily. Closed on Tuesday.

No. 14: Second Empire Restaurant & Tavern

Second Empire is where Raleighites have gone to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays and special occasions for decades.

  • Based in the historic Dodd-Hinsdale House in downtown, Second Empire is one of the city's premier white-tablecloth experiences, with superb servers and a tried-and-trusted Australian rack of lamb.

Location: 330 Hillsborough St., Raleigh

Hours: 5-10pm Tuesday through Saturday.

Second Empire. Photo: Lucille Sherman/axios

No. 13: Players' Retreat

The well-worn homebase for many of Raleigh's Wolfpack faithful, the Players' Retreat is a sports bar par excellence known as much for its company as its burgers and drinks.

  • Just pick any one of its many wooden booths for an N.C. State football game or Hurricanes Hockey game and feel the history of an institution more than 70 years old.

Location: 105 Oberlin Road, Raleigh

Hours: 11:30am-midnight, Sunday through Thursday; 11am-1am on Friday and Saturday.

No. 12: MoJoe's Burger Joint

Located at the northern end of Raleigh's Glenwood South nightlife district, MoJoe's serves the type of food that can fortify you for a night out or revive you at the end of one.

  • It's a simple spot but one where many Raleighites claim as their favorite hamburger joint.

Location: 620 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh

Hours: 11am-10pm daily.

A burger done Old Raleigh-style at MoJoe's Burger Joint. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

No. 11: Cortez Seafood and Cocktail

A vibrant space within Raleigh's Glenwood South district, Cortez' Mexican-inspired seafood brought chef Oscar Diaz a James Beard nomination.

  • Come for the ceviche and its remarkable craft cocktails.
  • Of note: Diaz recently opened a new restaurant in Durham called Little Bull.

Location: 413 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh

Hours:

  • 5–9pm Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday.
  • 5-10pm Friday and Saturday.
Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

No. 10: Angus Barn

The grandfather of the local dining scene, the Angus Barn built its loyal following over more than 60 years of finely grilled steaks and serving rare bottles from its Wild Turkey lounge and wine cellar.

  • To this day, getting a table at the Angus Barn during the Christmas season is one of the most sought after reservations in the state.
  • Go deeper: Read The News & Observer's obituary of Walter Royal, the Angus Barn's pioneering chef who died earlier this year.

Location: 9401 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh

Hours: 5pm-10pm Saturday through Monday; 4pm-9pm on Sunday

No. 9: Saltbox Seafood Joint

It would be hard to name a restaurant in the Triangle that has gotten more acclaim per square foot than the kitchen of James Beard award-winning chef Ricky Moore.

  • Moore's kitchen has won legions of fans for its celebration of the North Carolina coast since it opened in a shack in Durham in 2012.
  • The fried fish and hushpuppies flowing forth from Moore's kitchen are among the best you'll find in the country.

Go deeper: Saltbox doesn't disappoint

Location: 2637 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham

Hours: 11am-8pm Tuesday-Saturday.

Fish baskets and hush honeys at Saltbox. Photo: Emma Way/Axios

No. 8: Longleaf Swine

One of Raleigh's newest barbecue spots, Longleaf Swine almost instantly became a crowd favorite in the Historic Oakwood neighborhood when it opened last year. It's known for its whole hog barbecue, but its offerings run the gamut from brisket to pork spare ribs.

  • Longleaf really shines in the accompaniments, though, with killer collards, pimento mac and cheese and esquites.
  • Show up at lunch time and you'll run into a bevy of politicos leaving the General Assembly.

Location: 300 E. Edenton St., Raleigh

Hours:

  • Wednesday-Friday: 11am-2pm and 4-10pm or until sold out
  • Saturday-Sunday: Lunch 11am-4pm and 4-10pm or until sold out
Longleaf Swine. Photo: Lucille Sherman/Axios

No. 7: Brewery Bhavana

A light and airy space with books galore, Brewery Bhavana's great beer and delicious dim sum has continually made it one downtown's most popular spots.

Location: 218 S. Blount St., Raleigh

Hours:

  • 4-10pm Tuesday
  • 11:30am-10pm Wednesday and Thursday
  • 11:30am-11pm Friday and Saturday
  • 11:30am-9pm Sunday
Brewery Bhavana. Photo: VisitRaleigh

No. 6: Hummingbird

Hummingbird's relaxed vibe, along with its mix of classic and creative dishes, unique cocktails and great service, landed this New Orleans-inspired eatery a spot in our top 10.

  • Strong recommendation: Get the charbroiled oysters and ricotta fritters.

Location: 1053 E. Whitaker Mill Road, Suite 111, Raleigh

Hours:

  • Dinner on Wednesdays–Saturdays from 5-10pm
  • Brunch Saturday from 10am-2:45pm and Sunday from 10am-3pm.
Hummingbird's dirty martini. Photo: Lucille Sherman/Axios

No. 5: Littler

An intimate dining room with intricately crafted seasonal meals featuring local fish and vegetables — all backed by a carefully curated soundtrack playing on a turntable.

  • After closing during the pandemic, Littler's re-emergence last year was led by chef Elizabeth Murray, who relocated to Durham from the Sierra Mar restaurant in Big Sur, California.

Location: 110 E. Parrish St., Durham

Hours: 5-10pm Tuesday-Saturday.

Littler's intimate dining room is tucked off Parrish Street in downtown Durham. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

No. 4: Crawford & Son

A small neighborhood restaurant with big ambitions and an ever-changing menu of unique dishes, Crawford & Son has been the center of some of the Triangle's best cooking since renowned chef Scott Crawford opened it in 2016.

Location: 618 N. Person St., Raleigh

Hours: 5-10pm Tuesday-Saturday.

Crawford & Son. Photo: Lucille Sherman/Axios

No. 3: St. Roch Fine Oysters + Bar

This downtown Raleigh gem spotlights a variety of cajun-inspired seafood dishes and brings an atmosphere that transports you straight to New Orleans.

  • Led by chef Sunny Gerhart, a New Orleans native, the theme is not a gimmick but a delicious love letter.

Location: 223 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh

Hours:

  • 4-9pm Monday-Thursday
  • 4-10pm Friday
  • 11am-10pm Saturday
  • 11am-9pm Sunday
Sunny Gerhart of St. Roch Fine Oysters & Bar. Photo: Courtesy of Anna Routh/JNK Public Relations.

No. 2: M Sushi

The crown jewel of M Restaurants, a major player in the local food scene.

  • The sushi is of the highest quality, with much of it arriving from Japan and Korea, and each bite is an explosive adventure of taste and texture.
  • Owner Michael Lee has used the success of M Sushi as a springboard to opening six restaurants that take on different varieties of Japanese and Korean cuisines.

Locations:

Durham hours:

  • 11:30am-2pm Tuesday-Friday
  • 5-9:30pm Tuesday-Thursday
  • 5pm-10pm Friday-Saturday

Cary hours:

  • 11:30am-2pm and 5-9:30pm Monday-Thursday
  • 11:30am-2pm and 5-10pm Friday and Saturday
  • 11am-3pm Sunday
M Sushi. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

No. 1: Stanbury

Eating at the Stanbury is a community experience: It’s backyard dinner party with old friends meets fine dining.

  • Every dish, every beverage — from the bread and butter with a glass of wine to the seasonal dessert — is crafted and delivered with intention and care, and there’s a good chance you’ll get up from your table wondering if you should come back tomorrow.

Location: 938 N. Blount St., Raleigh

Hours:

  • 5-10pm Tuesday-Thursday
  • 5-11pm Friday and Saturday
Stanbury. Photo: Lucille Sherman/Axios
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