Best Greasy Spoon

Finch’s Festaurant, 401 W. Peace St., Raleigh

Tenderloins, waffles, omelets, sausage, eggs, cheeseburgers, ham sandwiches, hot dogs, bacon-wrapped beef, ground beef, oysters, daily specials from spaghetti and chicken livers to veal and hamburger steak: Finch’s on Peace Street is Raleigh’s premier greasy spoon with unexpected perks. That is, if you count 21st-century features like free wireless Internet, a Web cam and an online menu as perks in a place where it feels as though Marty McFly could be your cook.

Best Semi-Nutritious Snack Under $4

Lilly’s Pizza, 1813 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh

That the best, cheapest salad in Oak City comes from an ex-biker bar opened by three musicians as a pizza joint in 1993 may come as a surprise to most, but it’s true: Lilly’s side salad ($2.90) is a miniature take on their house salad, loaded with greens, mushrooms, carrots, tomatoes, pecans, homemade croutons and a mouthwatering load of Monterrey Jack cheese. If you’re in the mood for more, the creamy artichoke stromboli is baked brilliance.

Best Wednesday (and Saturday) Lunch Special

Bahn’s Cuisine, 750 Ninth St., Durham

Wednesdays on Ninth Street, four out of five people are going one place: Bahn’s Cuisine (OK, we didn’t take a poll, but that’s what it seems like, anyway). Four out of five of those people order one dish (and of that we’re sure): the vegetarian special. It’s fried tofu with black bean sauce, sticky rice, steamed broccoli and those delicious little crunchy things–all nicely arranged on a paper plate, all for $5.89 (including tax). Visit Saturdays (when the broccoli is replaced with a fried spring roll) to avoid the work crowd.

Best Pimento Cheese

Rockford, 320 1/2 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh

This upstairs hideaway on Glenwood South specializes in sandwiches, salads and suds, but their pimento cheese is the real reason for love. Fresh-made and ultra-creamy, Rockford’s pimento cheese should be a staple of new Southern cuisine. And the cooks always know what they’re doing—it’s applied generously and melted just until it starts to peak out of the sandwich.

Best Place to Get Your Red On

Players Retreat, 105 Oberlin Road, Raleigh

New owner (and sometime lawyer) Gus Gusler remembers when the Skipper Bowles for governor campaign was run out of the back room at PR. Them were the days (or daze–the Skipper lost in ’72 to Jim Holshauser, and Jesse Helms snuck in that year, too). But the old place was looking pretty shabby, and empty, until Gusler bought it last year and commenced to, well, gussie it up. PR already had Wolfpack memorabilia up the wazoo, and it all remains, plus it had the excellent PeteBurgers (4 oz. or 6 oz.), to which Gusler added HDTVs, of course. And steaks. And service. Oh, and specials, e.g., $1 pints–of Bud–on Mondays. Gus also added ‘Canes mania to go with the Pack attacks. The result: Customers, lots of them, and of the widest variety. Expect a Sidney Lowe sighting soon.

Best Frozen Treat

Locopops, 2600 Hillsborough Road, Durham

The simple concept behind Locopops is brilliant: Mexican-style paletas in a rotating variety of cream- or fruit-based flavors, made from local produce and other flavors. Strawberry balsamic, anyone? How about hibiscus, cucumber with chili, black pepper cream, or apricot amoretto? Don’t worry, they also have less adventurous flavors like cookies and cream, chocolate brownie and creamy lime. That’s why people come from all over the Triangle to the little shop on Hillsborough Road. Sometimes in the summer and fall, the Locopops wagon visits rock shows and street fairs. If there’s any accounting for taste, these folks are going to be millionaires.

Best Literati Watching in Hillsborough (Afternoon)

Flying Fish, 111 N. Churton St.

Run by Flying Burrito’s Phil Campbell, this chillsboro hotspsot has its own ambiance. At almost all times, at least one patron has a book on the bestseller list or is writing a hit TV show.

Best Place to Feel Cosmopolitan

Nasher Art Museum, 2001 Campus Drive, Duke Campus, Durham

Eating on the deck of the Nasher Art Museum restaurant on the Duke campus has the feel of being in New York City or the Bay area. Great food (by caterer Sage & Swift and its chef, Amy Tornquist), beautiful scenery, and the art isn’t half bad.

Most Diet-Unfriendly but Worth the Calories Lunch for Under $4 (Not Counting Tax)

The $3.99 lunch tray at CookOut

OK, OK, enough with the tabouli and tofu … sometimes even members of the Triangle’s Birkenstock mafia want a cheeseburger or a shake at lunchtime. And for $4.27 including tax, you can have the CookOut lunch tray, with one main dish, a choice of two sides and a soda, available at CookOut drive-throughs all over the Triangle. The “fancy” shakes are a little extra, but believe us, in flavors like chocolate malt, strawberry cheesecake and watermelon, well worth it. A meal in themselves, actually.

Best Perfectly Breaded, Succulent Fried Chicken

Mama Dip’s Kitchen,
408 W. Rosemary St., Chapel Hill

Do we even have to say? Mama Dip’s, a Chapel Hill institution, takes the trophy hands down. There’s a reason the restaurant has been around so long. It’s the chicken! (But the vegetables, chicken livers and corn bread are great, too.)

Classiest Thrift Store

The Bargain Box, 401 Woodburn Road, Raleigh

Located in tony Cameron Village, the Bargain Box lives up to its name. A basement operation stuffed into one large L-shaped room, this thrift store offers plenty of nice secondhand clothes and accessories as well as household items, sporting goods, toys and knick-knacks. Neatly arranged, the Bargain Box is free of clutter and junk. You may pay a little more here for some items, but the quality is often worth it, and best of all you’re supporting the Junior League’s charity efforts.

Best Urban Flea Market

State Fairgrounds

The weekend flea market at the State Fairgrounds goes on for miles, it seems. New and old, practical and antique, you can spend all day visiting tables and sifting through junk to find lots of stuff you want and more you don’t, or something that would look just right in the corner of your living room near the window. Stay away from the puppies.

Best Country Flea Market

Buckhorn Flea Market, Efland

Sure, some of the DVDs were found to be bootlegged and the county is trying to condemn its building, but there’s no bigger and better country flea market in the Triangle than the Buckhorn Flea Market on Buckhorn Road in western Orange County off I-40/85. More than 300 vendors pack the place on weekends, with tables spilling outside and as many as 5,000 people a day shopping for just about anything from flowers to tools to cheap clothes. You can even get pony rides. It has become a shopping mainstay for the Latino community, as well, but better hurry if you want to go–the county tried to condemn the building, and now says it’s violating its zoning.

Easiest Way to Help Stop Pet Overpopulation (and Get Good Stuff Cheap)

ReTails Thrift Shop, 1608 N. Market Drive, Raleigh

Only one in nine companion animals that winds up at a shelter ever finds a permanent home. AnimalKind, a Triangle nonprofit based in Raleigh, is working to improve that number, and the organization’s secondhand store is a key tool. Bursting with gently used clothes, toys and housewares, ReTails funds “the $20 fix”—an affordable way for pet owners to prevent more litters by spaying and neutering. Shopping at ReTails guarantees fewer homeless cats and dogs, and the prices are great, too. What’s not to like?

Best Place for Really Obscure Records

CD Alley, 405 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill

“No, we don’t have that. But we can order it for you.” How many times have you heard that in a record store, some needle-neck clerk telling you he can special order that obscure album they’re missing? Sure, take your chances, but you may never see it. That is, of course, unless it’s CD Alley, a boutique store that pursues procurement of subterranean, ultra-indie releases with a zeal that makes Javert look like a donut-eating beat cop.

Best Place for Used Vinyl

Nice Price Books, around the Triangle

Nice Price Books in Chapel Hill is better for unearthing the bargain-bin treasure, but Hillsborough Street’s NPB in Raleigh is the go-to place for finding the jazz and rock essentials, from Louis Armstrong and Keith Jarrett to The Replacements and Neil Young. The prices are reasonable, and there’s a good chance you’ll discover a $100 eBay item for a few one-spots. They have books, too.

Best Corner Grocery

King’s Red & White SuperMarket, 305 E. Club Blvd., Durham

Tired of having to walk across three football fields to buy a tomato or a 12-pack of 64-ounce bottles of ketchup, spending hours in a superstore or a warehouse club? Here’s a novel idea: a charming, small corner grocery with lots of fresh, local produce (great collards, tomatoes and corn), a real butcher who cuts (and grinds) the meat fresh, and individual cans and packages of food. It’s friendly, costs less than buying the 12-packs, and you’re in and out in 10 minutes. What a concept.

Best Mower Repair

Portable Outdoor Equipment, 4914-B N. Roxboro Road, Durham

If you want to get an honest, straight-talking answer to how you broke your mower or chain saw, the staff at Portable Outdoor Equipment will tell you in a friendly way about how, well, stupid you were for not checking the oil or for chain sawing a rock. They get the job done and get you out the door quick.

Best Place to Find Cheap Tires

Murray’s New and Used Tire Bargains, 1202 S. Saunders St., Raleigh

Tires are one of the eternal hassles of automobiles. They have gotten better over the years, true, but destroying one on the region’s disintegrating road system is still going to set you back 50, 70 bucks or more, assuming you buy new. Don’t be a dope. If you are one of the growing tribe of the de-monied, save your pennies and hie thee to Murray’s. These guys are friendly and cheap. Just bring them the rim or the car and they’ll have you on your way about as fast as a pit crew.

Best-Kept (and Most Affordable) Beauty Secret

Aveda Institute, 200 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill

If you’ve ever wanted a pedicure, a massage or a makeup lesson but couldn’t bring yourself to splurge on self-pampering, take a spin through the Aveda Institute. Students there are preparing for careers in the aesthetic arts, and professional-quality haircuts, nail treatments, facials and other personal services are available at about half the price of a regular day spa. The products are all-natural, too.

Best Basketball Hideaway

Powell Street court, Raleigh

Not far off of Western Boulevard in Raleigh, just as it escapes N.C. State’s bricks and slopes toward its ultimate intersection with Hillsborough Street near Cary, a lone basketball court humbly consisting of a patch of concrete and two battered goals sits quietly among a grove of trees and just above a small, idyllic pond. The court doesn’t match regulation length, and the rims will never suit the ornery. But, if you’re looking for a pick-up game in perfect surroundings, look to the right on Powell Street.

Best Place To Go Wearing Waders

Raleigh’s tunnels

True of any urbanized area and no different in Raleigh: From the legendary steam tunnels under the N.C. State campus (now secured in this post-9/11 world) to an intact tunnel leading from the old Blind Tiger bar to the Governor’s Mansion, Raleigh has a complex subterranean existence. Among the spookiest are the aqueducts that carry the stream known as Pigeon House branch: Find Edna Metz Wells where Clark Avenue turns into Peace Street, clamber down to the creek and walk in any direction. You will soon find, dark as a tomb, underground passages where you will not be able to see the end. Go during dry weather as the creek fills quickly. Bring waders and a good flashlight.

Best Climbing Trees

Magnolias on Duke’s East Campus

Near the corner of West Main Street and Buchanan Boulevard in Durham, inside the stone wall that circles Duke’s East Campus, are a couple of magnolia trees that offer a broad canopy of limbs that seem almost to have been groomed for climbing–sturdy, evenly spaced and rising high off the ground. They’re perfect for young boys and girls still getting their climbing legs (but for the sake of the trees, moms and dads should resist the impulse to join them).

Best Indoor Wall Climbing

Vertical Edge Climbing Center, 2422 U.S. 70, Durham

It’s the sport you didn’t know you had the coordination or the courage to do, but when you see those little 6-year-olds with mullets and rat-tails scurrying up walls nearly as fast as the svelte men in spandex, inspiration strikes. Strap on the harness, helmet and automatic belay (for you beginners) and get to climbin’.

Best Place to Run Around with Abandon

Raleigh: Big field at Dorothea Dix Hospital

If you live in the urban milieu, there are very few “Christina’s World,” Andrew Wyeth-type fields–you know, ones that evoke an emotional response, so vast that they provide a respite from the structured linearity of city life. The Triangle has one immediately adjacent to downtown–the far reaches of Dorothea Dix campus. Poised between the N.C. State campus and the Farmers’ Market, it is one of those things that you can live your whole life in Raleigh and never visit. Go there and savor the expanse, bring the kids and just experience it for no other reason than you can–for now. The knives are being sharpened as you read this.

Durham: Lawn seating at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park

For $5, you can watch a professional baseball game, have a picnic, and run up and roll down a grassy lawn. It’s the lawn seating at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and going to a baseball game was never as relaxing or as much exercise. And if a batter can loft the ball 398 feet, you might even go home with a free souvenir.

Longest (Mostly) Traffic-Free Bike Ride

American Tobacco Trail

The American Tobacco Trail is as much a cultural asset to the Triangle as the BTI Center and the American Dance Festival. The former railroad right-of-way runs nearly 10 miles in Durham County, starting across from the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and running south all the way to I-40, with only a handful of road crossings as it passes through neighborhoods, woods and country homes. One day it will cross over I-40 and connect to about four miles that’s opened deep in rural Wake County, and eventually will span 100 miles and three counties. Now, if only Chatham County can come up with the money to build its part to connect Durham and Wake.

Best Place to Get Close to the Action

Raleigh: Doak Field, N.C. State

Baseball is the thinking man or woman’s sport, and is best seen at close range. That prospect is splendidly available to one and all any afternoon or evening in the spring when the N.C. State Wolfpack team is at home in its small jewel of a park. After a recent, $6 million renovation, Doak seats 2,200 fans in comfort, at $6 apiece or less, and for that you can watch some of the best college baseball played anywhere in the country. College baseball? Yes, and around here it’s every bit as good as the basketball–and way better than the football.

Chapel Hill: Boshamer Stadium, UNC

A charming baseball jewel with old metal gates on the outside and (this year) ACC Player of the Year Andrew Miller, touted as a top pick in the major league draft.

Best Critter Watching

Museum of Life & Science, 433 Murray Ave., Durham

Wolves, tarantulas, ducks, donkeys, spring peeper frogs, black bears, butterflies, dinosaurs (replicas, that is) and … lemurs! It’s hard to name all the critters on display at the Museum of Life & Science in Durham, where the habitats–especially the butterfly house and the newly opened Explore the Wild wetlands exhibit–are almost as cool as the creatures themselves.

Best Unhyped College Basketball


The Triangle is famous for its college basketball, and for most that brings to mind only the ACC. But there’s the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, 12 historically black colleges and universities with three Triangle members–N.C. Central University, Shaw University and St. Augustine’s University. The gyms are smaller, the tickets are cheaper, and the game is as fast and as exciting as their celebrated neighbors, and you’ll likely see future stars like Earl Monroe and Rick Mahorn. Last year’s NCAA Division II national champion was CIAA member Virginia Union, and this year the Panthers lost in the finals.

Best Quaint Mill Town with a Surrealist Chain Saw Sculptor


Bynum, an old mill town on the Haw River just off U.S. 15-501 between Chapel Hill and Pittsboro, is an odd mix of old-timers, young artists and real estate speculators. But perhaps the oddest–and most magical–thing in Bynum is the home of chain saw sculptor Clyde Jones, whose wooden critters grace galleries and museums around the country. His home is a work of art in itself–giant paintings of penguins and watermelons and crawfish on all sides–and surrounding it is a menagerie of hundreds of his wooden animals, cut mostly from old cedar and adorned with bathroom spigots, wooden spools and old Coca-Cola caps. There are dogs, giraffes, pigs and some animals not quite identifiable, some painted in day-glo colors, some left alone, many fading in the Carolina sun. But the ensemble effect is beautiful and surreal–and the best thing about it is that Clyde loves children more than anything (he does lots of school demonstrations) and is happy for them to run and climb all over them. “Now don y’all worry, you cain’t break nothing,” he’s liable to say to children as parents unfamiliar with the rules try to keep them from touching the art, some pieces of which sell in galleries for hundreds of dollars or more. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see Clyde. He used to give the critters to children, and now rarely sells them to anyone–there’s a famous story of Mikhail Baryshnikov insisting on buying one and Clyde saying he didn’t care who he was, it wasn’t for sale (to him).

Best Mill Town in the Middle of the City

Oriental Street, Durham

Just off Trinity Avenue in Old North Durham is Oriental Street, one block long and parallel to the railroad tracks, a mill town in the middle of the city. It’s an intact row of 1905 mill houses on both sides with big front porches right up on the street, built by the Pearl Cotton Mills across the tracks (later bought by the Erwin Cotton Mills, now the site of condos for a Duke diet center). Walking through it is like taking a trip back in time.

Most Environmentally Conscious Delivery Truck (that Smells Like French Fries)

Larry’s Beans

The moment you see it, you know it’s not just another delivery van. The old Ford school bus used by Larry’s Beans in Raleigh to deliver its Fair Trade coffee looks more like something out of Ken Kesey than the Wake County schools’ transportation yard, all green and blue with slogans painted on the side like “Smell my veggie fumes.” Larry Larson and Kevin Bobal, owners of Larry’s Beans, had a second fuel tank added and fill it (for free) with used vegetable oil from restaurants all over town (the grease from Chinese restaurants is especially good, they say). Then it hits the road three times a week making deliveries, reducing America’s crude oil dependency and leaving a happy trail of french fry fumes behind.

Best Study Spot

Global Village Organic Coffee, 2428 Hillsborough St., Raleigh

These folks must compete with Raleigh’s growing coffeehouse market, but the great selection of fair trade coffee and the staff’s laid-back attitudes make this the perfect study spot that’s just a crosswalk away from N.C. State. Progressives are always welcome at Global Village, a fine meeting spot for planning the nonviolent revolution.

Best Coffee Shop to Sit in All Day

Cup A Joe, 3100 Hillsborough St., Raleigh

Hillsborough Street’s Cup A Joe is a prime spot for a day of relaxation or scholastic activity with just enough interruptions to keep things interesting. The long-standing spot used to be a strip club, but now it comes complete with enough itinerant kooks and downtown movers and shakers to fill a day of people watching. Tuck yourself in a corner with your books, or make a new friend. And if you need inspiration, Nice Price Books–infinite enjoyment in used records, books, comics and magazines–is two doors down. Oh, and there’s the Crowbar: six shots of chocolate, three shots of espresso, ice and whipped cream.

Best Spot to Make Friends with the Homeless

Moore Square Park, Raleigh

In the heart of downtown (near City Market and the Capital Area Transit bus hub), Moore Square is where the haves can get to know the have-nots. Despite the best efforts of some Raleigh politicians to get the homeless out of Moore Square, the folks who call the streets home have prevailed. During the day, stop by and introduce yourself to the friendly folks who hang out at Moore Square. Better yet, bring some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to share and get to know the least of these. Saturday afternoons bring the largest turnout for the free meals served by volunteer groups. One good deed you can do: Share the free minutes on your cell phone.

Best D.A.

Johnston County Assistant District Attorney Ann Kirby

In January, Kirby, the daughter of a Methodist minister, had to prosecute the Aero 14, the folks who were arrested for trespass at the Johnston County Airport during a November 2005 anti-torture protest. Kirby, who won a District Court conviction, didn’t have any hard feelings when the defendants appealed. Just prior to an April 12 appearance in Johnston County Superior Court, Kirby, no longer prosecuting the case, met some of the Aero defendants on the courthouse steps and unbuttoned her blouse to reveal a bright orange “Stop Torture Now” T-shirt under her formal court clothes. Kirby flashed the group one more time in the courtroom before court commenced, giving everybody a welcomed stress breaker.

Most Inspiring Racewalker

Ole Holsti

Holsti, a Duke political science professor emeritus, is known for his writing and his walking; he does lots of both. On April 17, Holsti, 72, of Chapel Hill, racewalked the Boston Marathon, finishing in 12,032th place with a time of 5 hours, 45 minutes, 2 seconds. In March, Holsti’s latest book, Making American Foreign Policy (Routledge) was published. Holsti, a longtime member of the Carolina Godiva Track Club who logs about 60 miles of training per week, is a big advocate of running and diplomacy. The son of the first Finnish ambassador to the League of Nations, Holsti describes himself as an internationalist who would like to see the United States do a better job of cooperating with the rest of the world. Running and racewalking, he says, satisfies his “craving to get some kind of exercise.” And “it helps me keep my sanity.”

Best Guerilla Artists

Joe McTaggert and Roger Ehrlich

When it comes to mixing politics and art, you can’t beat the team of Garner’s Joe McTaggert and Cary’s Roger Ehrlich. The two have spent the last few years turning salvaged campaign yard signs into antiwar pop art by flipping them over and painting a new, more radical message on the other side. Ehrlich, founder of Public Assembly, has hit antiwar demos from NYC to D.C. to the School of the Americas, always driving his brightly painted Peace Truck, replete with a larger-than-life message. Despite breakdowns and constant hassles from police, the McTaggert-Ehrlich team has prevailed. Once at the peace action, they unload various art props and welcome excited kids (and adults) to paint peace messages on umbrellas, which Ehrlich calls “peace parasols.” To learn more about Public Assembly, call 380-8380 or visit

Wicked Witch of the East … Campus

CNN’s Nancy Grace

She trashed Durham, Duke and the South, all in a sweeps week effort to keep the lacrosse story’s tangents alive.

Best Place to See Michael Jordan

Duke Golf Course

These days, His Airness would rather drive and putt than drive and dunk.