Death & Taxes
105 West Hargett Street, Raleigh, ac-restaurants.com/death-taxes
Chef Ashley Christensen’s fine-dining spot is dedicated to seasonal wood-fired cooking. Dry-aged steaks and pork chops lend themselves nicely to this preparation, but even apps and sides—grilled okra, heirloom tomatoes with charred tomato vinaigrette, and embered sweet corn with smoked butter—get the char treatment here. There’s also an excellent wine-by-the-glass list, but then again, you should just splurge for a bottle—it’s guaranteed to be something special. And even though it’s the fanciest of Christensen’s places, the vibe is still warm and welcoming.
Elaine’s on Franklin
454 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, elainesonfranklin.com
Live around here long enough—or, hell, a few weeks—and you’ll hear locals rave about Elaine’s, a Chapel Hill fine-dining standby. Chef-owner Bret Jennings has earned a loyal following for his local farm-driven menu and scratch Southern cooking. Be sure to try the Lobster Pig, basically the surf and turf of my dreams, featuring a half-lobster and roasted pork belly alongside seasonal accompaniments such as pickled corn and heirloom tomato water. Even if you can’t go all out, there’s a $35 three-course tasting menu option, and the service will still be just as warm.
100 Woodland Pond Drive, Cary, theumstead.com
Located in the five-star Umstead Hotel and Spa, Herons has the swank to match. But it’s not just fancy by association—chef Steven Devereaux Green executes beautifully plated dishes crafted with local ingredients, including produce from the restaurant’s farm. Options for spend-y dinners include a three- or four-course prix fixe and the Art Tour Menu, an eight-course tasting menu inspired by The Umstead’s art collection that begins with a ceremonial tea service. You can also get a taste of Green’s cooking for somewhat less at the Bar & Lounge, but the price tag’s still steep for everyday dining.
311 Holland Street, Durham, msushidurham.com
Imitation crab and wasabi paste need not apply. For pristine sushi, M Sushi is tops. Sit at the sushi counter, order the omakase, and surrender to chef Mike Lee’s whims—you’re in good hands, and the fish is guaranteed to be the freshest around. If you’re dining solo, opt for the Nigiri Omakase, which includes thirteen pieces of traditional-style sushi, a negi toro hand roll, and tamago. If you’re in a party of two or more, ball out with the Grand Omakase for a sampling of sashimi, crudo, nigiri sushi, and lightly cooked dishes such as squid ink pasta or foie gras paired with negi toro.
Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern
330 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh, second-empire.com
Housed in the restored historic Dodd-Hinsdale House, Second Empire gets its name from the building’s architectural style, known as second empire Victorian. This is fancy-pants dining—from the white tablecloths to the formal (yet unstuffy) service to the menu of American dishes with prices to match (such as the $39 veal chop). For an unrivaled experience, book the chef’s table to dine in the kitchen and sup on a custom menu with wine pairings created by executive chef Daniel Schurr.