Bida Manda Laotian Restaurant and Bar
22 South Blount Street, Raleigh, 919-829-9999, bidamanda.com
Brewery Bhavana may be the one making national headlines—and with good reason—but our hearts belong to Bida Manda, Vanvisa and Vansana Nolintha’s original restaurant. Bida Manda specializes in Laotian cuisine, but what might seem foreign manages to be both ultra-cool and approachable. Don’t miss the signature crispy pork belly soup in a rich, milky coconut curry broth and the crispy rice lettuce wraps. The green papaya salad is to die for—get it extra spicy—and the pad Thai, as cliché as it might seem to order, is the best in Raleigh. Didn’t make a reservation? Have one of forty beers on tap next door at Brewery Bhavana while you wait.
Crawford and Son
618 North Person Street, Raleigh, 919-307-4647, crawfordandsonrestaurant.com
Despite its all-star staff and a menu that reflects Scott Crawford’s impressive culinary pedigree, this Person Street joint strikes a balance between casual and fancy. Anything from the “raw” section is a sure bet, but don’t miss the gold-standard beef tartare, and be sure to save room for one of pastry chef Krystle Swenson’s clever desserts. Can’t get a table? Put your name in and grab a drink around the corner at Jolie, Crawford’s recently opened French bistro, while you wait.
4 West Martin Street, Raleigh, 919-833-6386, garlandraleigh.com
James Beard Award semifinalist chef Cheetie Kumar’s Garland shares space with the live music venue Kings—co-owned by her husband, Paul Siler—which makes sense given Kumar’s musical past as a guitarist for the rock band Birds of Avalon (Siler is also a member). The self-taught cook has earned national praise for her contemporary spins on Indian and Asian cuisine. Sure, you can find tandoori chicken in lots of places, but you won’t find it garnished with chicken skin pappadum and served with Punjabi-style house-made pickles on any other menu in town. Start with the pakora chaat, a bird’s nest of veggies crisped up in a spicy chickpea batter served with chaat masala, tamarind, and cilantro-mint chutneys, and a side of raita for good measure.
3314 Guess Road, Durham, 919-973-4089, gocciolina.com
Gocciolina isn’t stuffy or pretentious, but it is very good, consistently rated the best Italian restaurant in the Triangle. Chef Aaron Benjamin’s house-made pastas—don’t miss the Carbonara with house-cured pork belly, pecorino, egg, and loads of black pepper, or the spaghetti all’amatriciana with country bacon, chili flakes, zesty tomato, and pecorino—are as good as you’ll find anywhere, but start with any of the antipasti. For just $9, you can open your meal with three small plates—say, meatballs, spicy chickpeas, and crispy fried eggplant with Boxcarr robiola. Save room for desserts like the chocolate almond torte or tiramisu cannoli.
423 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, 919-969-8846, lanternrestaurant.com
This Chapel Hill fixture, helmed by James Beard Award-winning chef Andrea Reusing, seamlessly imbues North Carolina ingredients with Asian-inspired fare such as pea shoot and scallion dumplings, crispy local okra with hot tomato chutney, and tea-smoked, pasture-raised chicken served with pork and shrimp fried rice and kale. Sit in the dining room of the modern storefront space or grab a seat under a red lantern in the cozy bar. There’s also a beautiful back garden that’s ideal for sipping an inventive seasonal cocktail.
Mateo Bar de Tapas
109 West Chapel Hill Street, Durham, 919-530-8700, mateotapas.com
Chef Matt Kelly’s flagship restaurant, Mateo, is always packed, but there’s no better spot around for cocktails and tapas. Order the boquerones, pickled Spanish white anchovies served with potato chips, and choose from six different types of jamon like iberico or serrano, with a side of patatas bravas, which are as good as any you’ll find in Barcelona. (Kelly’s excellent seafood restaurant, the nearby Saint James, would also be on this list were it not temporarily closed following a tragic gas explosion in April 2019 that killed two people and injured twenty-five more.)
311 Holland Street, Durham, 919-908-9266, msushidurham.com
M Sushi is the best sushi spot in Durham—and perhaps the best in the Triangle. Chef-owner Michael Lee will put on a grand omakase show for you at the sushi bar, slicing and dicing a curated selection of the freshest cuts he’s got. The nigiri and sashimi will practically melt in your mouth like butter—especially the uni. What more could you want?
111 Seaboard Avenue, #118, Raleigh, 919-977-1247, papashogun.com
Papa Shogun is the Triangle’s only restaurant for Itameshi, a fusion of Japanese and Italian that began surfacing in Japan toward the end of the nineteenth century. For his first solo venture, chef-owner Tom Cuomo, a transplant from New York City whose impressive culinary background includes wd-50 and Carbone, features whimsical small plates such as beets Siciliana with shiso salsa or yaki onigiri, fried rice patties oozing mozzarella and roasted red peppers. Fresh-pulled mozzarella with kombu garlic bread and udon vongole are excellent choices for sharing—as are most dishes—but you’ll want to slurp every drop of the smoked tonkotsu broth in the standout carbonara ramen yourself.
200 East Martin Street, Raleigh, 919-977-3043, royaleraleigh.com
Oh God, the burger—served on a lightly toasted Boulted Bread English muffin with melted gruyere and au poivre aioli, the genius creation of chef and co-owner Jeff Seizer (a member of the Stanbury Four). Just don’t ask for ketchup; it’s unnecessary. But you’ll start with the burrata, an ooey-gooey delight with baked heirloom tomatoes and pistou, served with (more Boulted Bread) toast points. Or the mushroom tartine featuring local ’shrooms accompanied by ricotta and toasted almonds. Both raw and fried oysters on the half-shell are available, and you can add caviar. There’s a gritty elegance to this French-American bistro, and often a rotation of hip-hop bumping over the speakers.
938 North Blount Street, Raleigh, 919-977-4321, stanburyraleigh.com
Chef Drew Maykuth offers an ambitious and constantly evolving assortment of small plates—and large plates, too, for those who prefer not to share. The roasted bone marrow achieves pure excellence, and the crispy pig will only disappoint if you take the dish’s name too literally. There’s not a ton of vegetarian dishes here, but a couple of standout vegetable plates are usually available, like roasted beets with citrus, chopped hazelnuts, mint, and a dollop of cream. Always get the cheese plate, and always stay for dessert.
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