316 West Geer Street, Durham, facebook.com/accordionclubdurham
Get: Frito pie
Ever since Accordion opened in 2017, one of the low-key Geer Street spot’s hallmarks—and one of the bar’s handful of food offerings—has been the Frito pie, a Southwestern import that is not a pie but rather a Fritos bag (yes, the corn chips) cut down the side and loaded with pork chili (made with Hatch peppers), cheese sauce, onions, and sour cream. Can you think of a better late-night match for a shot of whiskey and a beer? (Not recommended for first dates.)
The Cardinal Bar
713 North West Street, Raleigh, facebook.com/TheCardinalBar
Get: Hot dogs
The Cardinal Bar is not a restaurant. It’s a bar. (You have to have a membership to get in.) But it does have a very specific food menu: hot dogs. “It’s like Office Tavern and The Roast Grill on steroids,” an owner told The News & Observer when it opened in 2016, referring to the since-shuttered Glenwood South dive and the hot-dog institution. The Cardinal steams the dogs in beer and serves them in a bun brushed with mayo. Unlike The Roast Grill, ketchup is allowed.
111 North Corcoran Street, Durham, countinghousenc.com
Get: Grilled cheese
When you’ve got time to kill—whether on an overcast afternoon or a toward the end of a Friday night (food is served until 1:00 a.m.)—wander by the 21c Museum Hotel’s ground-floor restaurant and order a house cocktail and the grilled cheese sandwich. It’s not as ordinary as it seems, loaded with Grafton cheddar and tomato chutney. If nature calls, the transparent bathroom stalls are upstairs. Please lock the door.
415 East Chapel Hill Street, Durham, dashiramen.com
Dashi is known for ramen, but there’s more to it than that. You can also head upstairs to the izakaya, sample sake or Japanese whisky, and order small plates—fried tempura, for example, or comfort food like lamb buns. But you shouldn’t miss the edamame, with sea salt and togarashi, well-spiced, hot off the grill, and perfect for munching.
914 West Main Street, Durham, thefederal.net
The best thing about The Fed is its simplicity. It’s easy, inexpensive, and consistently good. The cocktails do the trick, the beer selection is terrific, but the nachos—this insane portion of tortilla chips stacked with loads of sour cream and pico de gallo and melted cheese, which is actually half the size it used to be but could still feed an army of drunk undergrads—are a necessity.
Local 22 Kitchen and Bar
2200 West Main Street, Durham, local22durham.com
Get: Hush puppies
Local 22 sometimes gets overlooked amid the crush of Durham’s restaurant scene, but there are plenty of tasty hangover helpers on the brunch menu, and the cast-iron pimento cheese is a damn marvel (though it will put you in a food coma). Whenever you’re there, check the chalkboard for the cast-iron hush puppies of the day, which could be something like jalapeño pepper, or red pepper, broccolini, and parmesan, or something else entirely, but will always be delicious.
403 West Rosemary Street, Chapel Hill, thenorthsidedistrict.com
Get: Wu Tang slider
Northside’s bar food marries low and highbrow, barroom and gourmet. And there’s no better example of that than the Wu Tang slider—seared pork belly that sticks out from a small bun (branded with the Wu Tang Clan’s logo, because why not?), with sesame slaw, pickles, scallions, and chili oil piled on top, forming some kind of delectable juice. They’re only four bucks apiece.
The Oak, Kitchen & Bourbon Bar
4035 Lake Boone Trail, Raleigh, jmrkitchens.com/oak
Get: The tots
The Oak has a ton of bourbons, including somewhat obscure varieties, so for the brown-liquor connoisseur, it’s worth the trip even if you don’t plan on eating an entire meal. (There’s perfectly good bar seating.) Regardless, do yourself a favor and get the tots. Yes, tater tots are quintessential bar food. But The Oak’s tots are different: They’re bigger—so big, you’ll at first wonder if they screwed up your order—and stuffed with roasted bell and jalapeño peppers, then served with a peppercorn dipping sauce and an option for cheese and/or bacon.
219 Hood Street, Durham, ponysaurusbrewing.com
Get: Snack Attack
The Snack Attack isn’t a food, but a menu—a range of bar snacks found inside Ponysaurus’s East Durham taproom, ranging from sweet to salty, all for just $1 per plentiful scoop, the perfect accompaniment to a Saturday afternoon spent lounging in the sun and sipping on a Rye Pale Ale. You’ve got options: Capital Crunch, which mixes salty peanuts, honey roasted peanuts, cheese crackers, pretzels, and Cajun hot corn sticks; The Big Cheese, with nacho peanuts, cheese crackers, cheese wicks, and so on; crispy fried okra; wasabi-covered peanuts; and, if you (or your kids) have a sweet tooth, Swedish fish or malted milk balls.
331 West Main Street, Durham, viceroydurham.com
Get: Bhaji with chaat
Viceroy has some British fare, but it leans heavily on its Indian roots, having been born from an Indian food truck. For a quick snack—either as an appetizer or while you’re sipping a Mumbai Mule at the bar—order the bhaji (mixed-vegetable fritters, a popular snack served in several variations on different parts of the subcontinent) and add chaat (a chickpea masala with tomato, onion, yogurt, and chutney).