In this guide, the recommended Triangle restaurants may be less known and less mainstream, but they offer comfortable settings and affordable deals–and may introduce your taste buds to something new. Atmosphere is nearly as important as great-tasting food, which doesn’t have to cost a fortune if you’re armed with insider’s information on where (and when) to go.
For a unique flavor in a relaxed setting, Caribbean soul food is served cafeteria-style by an incredibly friendly staff at
Alfie’s authentic Caribbean soul restaurant in Raleigh. All entrees–vegetarian, seafood, meat–are under $10. The spicy jerk chicken is offered with rice and peas or plain rice and greens, cabbage, or salad. For the frugal-minded, lunch is a little bit cheaper than dinner. Side orders include everything from macaroni and cheese to plantains, and tasty desserts are served.
There’s no shortage of Chinese restaurants in the Triangle, but not all are affordable and feature authentic dishes. Raleigh’s Golden Dragon serves classic Chinese food with large portions and offers a special including steamed rice and steamed vegetables for about $3. You can get meals for less than $5 if you leave out the appetizers–egg rolls, fried and steamed dumplings, noodles and so on. It’s best to go during the typically slowest hours–2-4 p.m.
Serving the Triangle since 1977, Neomonde Bakery & Deli is a tucked-away secret in Raleigh. Mediterranean and Middle Eastern sandwiches are offered with choice meats, cheeses and natural ingredients, all for under $7. Sides include falafel, stuffed grape leaves, hummus, and more. Specialty pie flavors range from cheese to tomato and olive, and there’s a wide selection of salads. Meat lovers can indulge in the beef, lamb, and chicken shawarmas. Open for brunch, lunch, and dinner every day. Outdoor seating is provided. Attached to the deli, the bakery offers pita bread, baked fresh daily, and there’s a small grocery full of food from the Middle East.
Armed with paper plates and plastic knives, Bahn’s Cuisine serves fantastic Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine on Durham’s Ninth Street. Daily lunch specials include pork, tofu, and shrimp dishes as well as the famous vegetarian plate–a popular entree. The best days to go are on Wednesdays and Saturdays, when the Vietnamese specials are on the menu for $5.
At Honey’s, a 24-hour diner in Durham, breakfast and country cooking are served all day by an extraordinarily friendly staff. Country ham, waffles, fried chicken, pot roast, and chicken and dumplings–cheap comfort food abounds. Homemade desserts, such as hot fudge ice cream cake and German chocolate pie, are also served. It’s a good hangout for smokers, late-night gatherings and study sessions.
Nestled in Durham’s downtown, the newly opened Safari restaurant serves up spicy, authentic Kenyan fare, never for more than $8. There are traditional American entrees–burgers, hot dogs, fries–for the less adventurous, but their specialties are the Kenyan dishes. An order of mukimo (mashed potatoes, corn, green peas) and sukuma wiki (collard greens) makes a tangy meal for two and costs less than $5. Their breakfast is also huge (three eggs, pancakes, grits, hash browns, sausage, coffee) and unbelievably cheap at $5.49.
The Cosmic Cantina, with two locations–Perry Street in Durham and Franklin Street in Chapel Hill–is famous for its giant burritos. One of these massive veggie burritos costs $6 and can feed two people easily. The cheese quesadilla is only $2, and there are plenty of vegan options for the dairy-free diet. Ingredients are organic when available. Cosmic Cantina is great for late night meals, staying open until 4 a.m. daily, but avoid going after 2 a.m. –the post-bar crowds can create extremely long lines.
Family-operated Hector’s, a Chapel Hill tradition, is a great place to go for cheap deals and Greek food. They serve great greasy cuisine, from gyros to cheeseburgers “on a pita” (they’ll put most anything on a pita). Most burgers or sandwiches cost $4 or less. They’re open really late, but the lines are long right after the bars close. Delivery service is available, and large groups are welcome.
Franklin Street Pizza & Pasta offers great, pre-made New York-style pizza. Their varied pasta choices are reasonably priced around $5, and the stuffed pizza is a more than adequate meal for the same price. With a large front window, this place is ideal for people-watching at night.
For late night sushi, Raleigh’s Sushi Blues caters to night owls, open until midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The restaurant offers a large selection of sushi, tempura, and other dishes. Appetizers range from $4-$8, while beef, chicken, seafood, and vegetarian entrees range from $9-$20. Try the bagel sushi, a unique treat.
Another buried treasure in Raleigh is CJ’s Smoked Turkey Grill, located on South Street, a few blocks from Kings Barcade . Home-cooked turkey meals (like the deep-fried turkey; don’t be afraid), vegetable sides, and the best homemade pound cakes in the Triangle make CJ’s a great lunch or dinner option. Most dinners are under $7, and there are large “family” platters, which include a 14-pound deep-fried turkey, three sides, a dozen rolls, and a half gallon of tea, for $54.99, enabling you to feed a large group. Stop by on a Friday or Saturday night after clubbing–they’re open until 3 a.m. on weekends.
Durham’s all-vegan and organic Soul Good Juice Cafe, located inside the downtown Durham YMCA, is a cheap diamond in the rough. Organic fresh fruit and vegetable juices are served along with smoothies and shakes, ranging in price from $3-$5. Their fantastic breakfast includes bagels, muffins, biscuits, and oatmeal for $1.50 or less. Lunch includes hot vegan entrees, soups, salads, and sandwiches for under $6. Check out the Saturday brunch, which is offered from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and features selections like tofu French toast and home fries. Desserts include vegan cookies and cakes.
Chapel Hill’s I Love New York Pizza, open until 3 a.m., boasts a wide variety of toppings, including barbecue chicken and primavera. The service is quick and the thin-crust, New York-style slices are huge for $2 a piece. They also serve homemade calzones, strombolis, and pizza rolls.
And if that’s not enough, there’s more:
Alfie’s, 2502 Hillsborough St., 838-1580
Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday
Bahama Breeze, 3309 Wake Forest Rd., 872-6330
Open daily for dinner. With a lively ambience, Caribbean cuisine is served from scratch. Entrees offered in large portions–ribs, paella, jerk chicken, ropa vieja. Desserts include homemade key lime pie. Check out the colorful tropical drinks like the Bahamartini.
Big Ed’s , 220 Wolfe St., 836-9909
Downtown in the city market, the longstanding Big Ed’s is a booming breakfast spot with the best grits in town. Real North Carolina hospitality complements the great local food, including country ham, pork loin, fresh sliced tomatoes, and biscuits with blackstrap molasses.
Char-Grill (four locations in Raleigh), 618 Hillsborough St., 821-7636; 3211 Edwards Mill Rd., 781-2945; 4621 Atlantic Ave., 954-9556; 9601 Strickland Rd., 845-9884
The Hillsborough Street location is the classic old-school drive-up burger joint, with shakes, turnovers, and fries…a Raleigh institution.
CJ’s Smoked Turkey Grill, 610 W. South St., 829-0404.
Dalat Oriental Restaurant, 2109 Avent Ferry Rd., Suite 110, Upper Level, Mission Valley Shopping Center, 832-7449
Unpretentious surroundings, but exquisitely prepared Vietnamese cuisine. This family-run treasure is affordable, authentic, and offers creative, heavenly dishes, as spicy (or not) as you prefer.
El Rodeo, 2400 Hillsborough St., 755-9697 and 4112 Pleasant Valley Rd., 571-1188 (Also a Chapel Hill location, on E. Franklin St.) Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner
Delicious, cheap Mexican food. It’s easy to get a meal under $10. Tasty vegetarian dishes include sincronizada — grilled tortilla sandwich stuffed with mushrooms, spinach, cheese, onions, tomatoes, chopped avocados and sliced jalapeno peppers, served with rice. Avoid going during peak dinner hours–around 6 to 8 p.m.–or you could end up waiting in a line that can extend out the door.
Farmer’s Market Restaurant, 1240 Farmers Market Dr., 833-7973
Hearty breakfasts and lunches made from farm fresh ingredients. Their ostrich steaks are similar to a filet mignon, without the price tag.
Golden Dragon, 2402 Hillsborough St., 834-2626
Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday.
Humble Pie, 317 S. Harrington St., 829-9222
Humble Pie’s revamped menu is full of tapas, most of which are priced under $10. If you’re hungry, though, you’ll be spending more. The food is excellent, and the kitchen is open ’til 2 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Irregardless Cafe, 901 W. Morgan St., 833-9920
Open for lunch, Tuesday-Friday; dinner, Tuesday-Saturday; Sunday brunch
Lilly’s Pizza,1813 Glenwood Ave, 833-0226; and 4800 Grove Barton Rd. in North Raleigh, 785-0043
The best pizza in Raleigh, if not the whole Triangle. Energetic, entertaining staff and eclectic toppings.
MoJoe’s, 620 Glenwood Ave., 832-6799
Burgers, veggie burgers, barbecue, and jalapeno poppers, conveniently located at Peace and Glenwood. Cheap and open late, with outdoor seating.
Moonlight Pizza Company, 615 W. Morgan St., 755-9133
Featuring pick-up and delivery, Moonlight has pizzas with over 50 toppings, as well as calzones, strombolis, and salads.
Neomonde Bakery & Deli, 3817 Beryl Rd., Raleigh, 828-1628 and 10235 Chapel Hill Rd., Morrisville, 466-8100.
The Roast Grill, 7 S. West St., 832-8292
Hot dogs straight from heaven. Owned for decades by the same Greek family, this tiny little restaurant serves Coke in glass bottles, blackened hot dogs (or not, if you specify), and homemade pound cake and baklava to die for. Often crowded for lunch, so get there before 11:30 a.m.
Rockford, 3201/2 Glenwood Ave., 833-3495.
Great sandwiches and veggie burgers; open til 2 a.m. Wed.-Sat.
Solomon’s Restaurant, 7321 Six Forks Rd., 844-4977
Family-owned and operated, this friendly spot has some of the best, brightest flavors of Middle Eastern cuisine in the Triangle. Everything is homemade from family recipes, with outstanding tabbouleh and falafel.
Sushi Blues, 301 Glenwood Ave., 664-8061.
The Village Deli, 500 Daniel St., Cameron Village, 828-1428
Open for lunch daily. Open for dinner Monday to Saturday.
Bahn’s Cuisine, 750 Ninth St., 286-5073
Biscuit King, 816 Ninth St., 286-2153
Open for breakfast and lunch. Inexpensive, classic, and adjacent to White Star Laundry. Great home-cooking. Do your laundry while eating a biscuit.
Blue Corn Cafe, 716B Ninth St., 286-9600
Authentic collection of different Latin American cuisines, including Cuban, Mexican, and Puerto Rican dishes. Made fresh daily from the finest ingredients. Try the picadillo Cuban dish. Creative flavors, generous portions, and reasonable prices. For cheaper entrees, go during lunch.
Bread & Kabob, 1013 W. Main St., 956-5559. Open for lunch and dinner, Monday-Saturday
Family-owned Bread & Kabob serves warm and filling Afghan cuisine, buffet-style. Their hand-cut beef, lamb, and chicken Afghan kabobs are grilled with rice and vegetables. Cheap prices for generous portions of food–one serving can translate into two meals if you play your cards right.
Bullock’s Bar B Cue, 3330 Quebec Dr., 383-3211
If pulled pork, tangy slaw, and sweet tea comprise a great lunch for you, Bullock’s is the place. Vegetarians will run in terror, but if you’re not afraid of pork, this is some damn fine North Carolina barbecue.
Cosmic Cantina, upstairs 1920 Perry St., 286-1875
Don’s Dogs, 906 W. Chapel Hill St., 682-1440
Great little hot dog stand that now features veggie dogs with veggie chili. Quick, cheap, and filling.
Elmo’s Diner, 776 Ninth St., 416-3823.
One of the more popular diners in the area, with daily lunch specials, and breakfast specials until 9 a.m. weekdays.
Honey’s, 2700 Guess Rd., at I-85, 477-2181
Pizza Palace, 2002 Hillsborough Rd., 286-0281. Open for lunch and dinner: Monday to Saturday
Family-owned, located off Ninth Street, and the oldest Italian restaurant in Durham, established in 1965. Cheap beer and delicious garlic bread. Delivery available.
Pop’s, 810 W. Peabody St., 956-7677
Most items on the menu are expensive, but the antipasto plate is a perfect light meal, featuring a huge bulb of roasted garlic, fresh mozzarella, olives, red peppers, hummus and pita, and Pop’s famous salty roasted almonds. Sit at the bar, order a couple beers, and you’ve got dinner for two for about $16.
Rick’s Diner, 4015 University Dr., 419-0907
Basic diner fare, featuring amazingly affordable breakfasts and homemade desserts, all tucked away in a strip mall across from that giant pit of rubble that used to be South Square Mall. Great sweet tea and shaded outdoor tables.
Safari Cuisine Restaurant, 101 E. Chapel Hill St., 956-6460/616-6362
Saladelia Cafe, 4201 University Dr., 489-5776
Healthy, delicious, affordable. Perfectly seasoned Mediterranean cuisine, combining Greek, Lebanese, and vegetarian influences. Espresso and cappuccino bar, fabulous desserts.
Soul Good Juice Cafe, 215 Morgan St./YMCA Building (Entrance on Foster St.), 680-4324
411 West, 411 W. Franklin St., 967-2782
Upscale Italian fare, mostly expensive, but if you’re looking for a meal for several people to share, a Caesar salad, a pizza, and a few beers can pan out rather inexpensively for all involved.
Acme, 110 E. Main St., Carrboro, 929-2263
Rather pricey during the week, but probably Carrboro’s best Sunday brunch, with fresh, local ingredients, a menu that changes monthly, and a fantastic variety of Bloody Marys (some with tequila and hot peppers). A little more expensive than some of the other places on this list, but not more than $12 for coffee, a meal, and one of those Bloody Marys.
Burrito Bunker, 161-1/2 E. Franklin St., behind Sutton’s Drug Store, 932-9010
Ultra-cheap burritos, with spicy homemade salsa, great vegan fare, and service from a staff comprised of local musicians.
Cosmic Cantina, 128 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 960-3955
Elmo’s Diner, Carr Mill Mall, Carrboro, 929-2909
One of the more popular diners in the area, with daily lunch specials, and breakfast specials until 9 a.m. weekdays.
Franklin Street Pizza & Pasta,163 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 933-5277
Hector’s, 201-A E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 942-9420
I Love NY Pizza,106 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 968-4224
Owen’s 501 Diner,1500 N. Fordham Blvd., 933-3505
One of the cheapest breakfasts in town, with extra spicy hash browns, strong coffee, and some great eggs Benedict. Bar opens early enough to serve mimosas and Bloody Marys.
Pepper’s Pizza,127 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 967-7766
New York-style pizza by the slice–$2 a piece (with homemade sauce and dough), strombolis, and calzones. Pepper’s offers more than 20 toppings including smoked chicken, barbecue pork, and mandarin orange. You’re almost guaranteed to hear Guns ‘N Roses if you eat there often enough.
Time Out Chicken, 133 W. Franklin St., 929-2425
24-hour biscuits, fried chicken, mac and cheese, okra, and other grease-laden fare. It’s perfect drunk food, but eat cautiously–too much before bed can actually magnify a hangover.
Listings compiled by Finn Cohen, Diane Cordova and Lincoln Hancock. ,