11 Hours in East Raleigh

(By Courtney Napier)

East Raleigh is a solidly working-class, ethnically diverse community, and this is beautifully represented in its businesses and attractions. Every restaurant, park, shop, and recreation center was brought into the neighborhood through the dedication of its residents, resulting in a community with an undeniable identity. 

East Raleigh is a place that celebrates both its past and the city’s communal future.

Raleigh has blessed me with an incredible Mom Squad—a group of friends who’ve been together for years—and East Raleigh has everything we love to do together. So we start out the day with caffeine and pastries at Union Special, a bakeshop and cafe on Crabtree Boulevard. 

Once the fuel kicks in, we’re headed to Craft Habit for one of its excellent group classes. These girls are incredible crafters in their own right, making everything from origami roses made of dollar bills to intricate seasonal wreaths, but they also love to learn new ways to create beautiful things.

Next up is lunch, because crafting is serious work. There are so many amazing places to choose from, and we’re all adventurous eaters. As an homage to the old school, we decide on the Jamaican Jerk Masters. 

We each choose a different entrée and sides and spread out our bounty family-style. Curried goat, oxtails, red snapper, and more fall in a line down the center of our table. It feels like Thanksgiving because I’m sharing delicious food with women who are more like sisters than friends. Every bite, better than the last, is punctuated by hilarious stories and unabashed laughter. 

And, as black women, we take a moment to respect the business that has fought through it all to provide us this delicious meal.  

We’ve eaten too much and laughed too hard, so the only reasonable next stop is the spa. We head down Rock Quarry Road to BLC Gallery Salon & Spa for manicures and pedicures. We each pick our colors and settle into our chairs. Though the salon is full and noisy, those receiving pedicures drift off to sleep, while those of us getting manicures wait our turn. We chat about what we’re going to do for dinner, and suddenly our energy returns. 

After nearly an entire day away from our families, we decide that dinner requires our spouses by our sides. 

We meet each other at Soo Cafe off of Brentwood for Raleigh’s best Korean fried chicken. The first thing we hear when we get inside is the sweet sounds of karaoke, and we instantly decide this has to happen. We start the night with a toast to the squad, and then another round for the city that brought us together. Servers begin appearing with plates of sticky, crispy fried chicken wings, bibimbap, and japchae noodles. 

We reminisce about how the toddlers who brought us together for that first playdate are now in elementary school, and the children who didn’t exist are now growing rapidly before our eyes. Where has the time gone? We don’t know, but we do know that it’s time for one more round of shots before the first couple takes the stage. Delicious food, awful renditions of Motown hits, and the best friends a person could ever ask for. 

Celebrate good times, East Raleigh, c’mon!

Landmark: Chavis Park carousel

Where to Get a Cup of Coffee: Pine State Coffee

Where to Visit with Friends: Union Special

Where to Walk Your Dog: Lions Park

Where to Spend the Night: The Oak House (Airbnb)


Walnut Creek Wetland Center 

950 Peterson Street, 919-996-2760

Walnut Creek Wetland Center is an oasis in Southeast Raleigh. Quiet, peaceful, and ripe for exploration, it offers an exciting educational experience for children and adults alike. (It’s also a prime example of the power of collaboration between underserved communities and private and public organizations to protect and promote the beauty of the once-abused Walnut Creek basin.) You can go inside the modern and child-friendly education room for games, toys, crafts, books, or to meet the various critters that live alongside the friendly staff. And it’s all free! Don’t forget to look for colorful pieces of sea glass on your nature walk; it’s the perfect souvenir! 

Note: We’ve highlighted our pick for the best of each category below. 


Frank’s Pizza and Restaurant

2030 New Bern Avenue, 919-231-8990, frankspizzainraleigh.com

Families and hipsters overlap in this Italian eatery tucked into an eighties strip mall. You can order pasta or Italian subs, but the thin-crust pies are what makes Frank’s special. Ask long-time residents about their favorite pizza in the city, and you’ll hear Frank’s more often than not.

Jack’s Seafood & Soul Food 

1516 New Bern Avenue, 919-755-1551, facebook.com/jackseafoodandsoulfood

Down New Bern, past all of the fast-food restaurants, in a nondescript white building with a red awning off the right shoulder of the road, is an East Raleigh favorite. Jack’s serves fried seafood, chitlins, and a selection of “Soul Food Selections” like chicken gizzards, salmon cakes, and smothered pork chops that come with two veggies—candied yams, turnips, butterbeans, etc.—and hush puppies. 

Lee’s Kitchen

1100 North Raleigh Boulevard, 919-521-5957, leeskitchenjamaican.com

Located next to a Food Lion, Lee’s is one of Raleigh’s few Jamaican restaurants. Curry goat, jerk chicken, and oxtail are served with rice and peas mixed with veggies, as well as plantains. The restaurant recently added a food truck, so you’re likely to see them at one of the weekly festivals downtown.

Gateway Restaurant

2411 Crabtree Boulevard, 919-832-3020, gatewayrestaurantraleigh.com

Gateway will always have bragging rights as one of the oldest businesses in the now-updated Gateway Plaza. Since 1986, Gateway has been serving straight-up delicious Southern-diner-style dishes. From breakfast plates with fresh biscuits to pulled pork sandwiches, you won’t leave hungry or broke.

Jamaica Jerk Masters 

1909 Poole Road and 3110 New Bern Avenue, 919-231-7697, facebook.com/jerkmasters

East Raleigh is the place to go for authentic Jamaican food, and Jerk Masters is where you get it. All the classics are there: brown stew chicken, curried goat, and the crown jewel: jerk chicken. Not in the mood for a whole meal? Grab a spicy meat patty and some cocoa bread for the road. 

Oak City Fish and Chips

2822 New Birch Drive, (984) 222-9140

Oak City Fish and Chips is a hometown success story: It started as a food truck in 2015, then opened a stall in Morgan Street Food Hall in 2018. In February 2019, owner Issac B. Horton IV opened a brick-and-mortar in the heart of Southeast Raleigh. Oak City serves classic fried seafood plates: shrimp, fish fillets, scallops, oysters, and fried lobster tails. And though Oak City serves fries, get the brown sugar hush puppies. 

Soo Cafe 

2815 Brentwood Road, 919-876-1969, soocafe.food-pi.com

Soo Cafe represents East Raleigh perfectly: gritty, authentic, and diverse. This unassuming Korean restaurant was not only one of the first Korean fried chicken spots in Raleigh, but it’s still one of the best. Since it opened in 2014, it has developed a cult following. The chicken is everything you want it to be: crispy, spicy, and sweet. And if you’re a karaoke lover, don’t miss it.

Union Special Bread

2409 Crabtree Boulevard, #102, 984-200-3094

Union Special opened in August 2019 to a queue down the sidewalk. The community was ready to support Andrew Ullom, Ashley Christensen’s former pastry chef. Using high-quality, local ingredients, Ullom produces beautiful baked sweet and savory pastries, breads, and desserts. Union Special also has regular collaborations with other local chefs for some of the best weekend brunches in Raleigh. (They’re often ticketed and sell out quickly.)


Mordecai Beverage Company 

2425 Crabtree Boulevard, 919-831-9125, mordecaibev.co

After honing his skills as a homebrewer for over a decade, Andrew Christenbury opened Raleigh’s first combined brewery, taproom, and bottle shop at Gateway Plaza. With twenty-five beverages on tap, including wine, ciders, and local beers, it’s made an exciting addition to the neighborhood. 


3301 Rock Quarry Road, 919-292-0007

This new juice bar—it’s about to open as this magazine goes to press—from the owners of BLC Gallery Salon & Spa will be Southeast Raleigh’s first, providing not just juices but also smoothies and herbal teas. 

Pine State Coffee

1614 Automotive Way, pinestatecoffee.com

In February 2019, East Raleigh just got its first neighborhood coffee shop in Pine State Coffee. Owner Larz Robison’s counterculture joint roasts its own beans and creates memorable coffee beverages. 

Star Bar

1731 Trawick Road, 919-231-3535, starbarraleigh.com

Star Bar is one of the longest-running black-owned clubs in Raleigh and is the best spot to hear up-and-coming DJs and hip-hop artists. (It also serves great soul food.) Go when K97.5 broadcasts live from the club. 

Overtime Sports Pub

1030 North Rogers Lane, #149, 919-255-9556, overtimesportspub.net

Overtime is a top-notch neighborhood sports bar located in the Edgewater Place shopping center. Boasting a wide variety of beers, delicious pub food, and a friendly staff, it’s home to fan clubs for the Carolina Panthers and the Hurricanes.


Beauty Supply Outlet

1637 Ronald Street, 984-232-0211, facebook.com/pages/beauty-supply-outlet

East Raleigh has some of the best beauty supply stores in Wake County, and Beauty Supply Outlet is one of them. Here you’ll find all manner of wigs, weaves, styling tools, and accessories. You’ll also come across trendy and affordable clothes, shoes, and jewelry. It’s paradise for the person who loves to get glamorous!

Fierce Boutique 

2 N Pettigrew Street, Suite C, 919-670-0081, facebook.com/fierceboutique7313

Sequins? Check. Neons? Check. Bold prints? Check. Fierce Boutique is the place to shop for the person who wants to stand out and dress their inner diva. Owner Love Small has a keen eye for the trendiest looks and high-quality local products. And Fierce Boutique throws some epic events, so always check the IG.

Craft Habit Raleigh

2423 Crabtree Boulevard, 984-200-4530

Craft Habit is a high-quality craft supply store and workshop in Gateway Plaza. Not only can you find the newest and best supplies, but it also hosts birthday parties, private crafting events, summer and track-out camps, and classes. You can even reserve time on the state-of-the-art crafting equipment. Think of it as a co-crafting space and boutique crafting shop. 


BLC Gallery Salon & Spa

3301 Rock Quarry Road, 919-758-5051, blcgallery.com

Whether you’re looking to get your nails done, get your locs tightened, or get a relaxing massage, BLC is the place to get pampered. In business since 2011, BLC’s goal is not only to deliver high-quality services, but to do it in a family-friendly atmosphere. Though there are lots of salons in the area, few have the variety of services that BLC provides, including a master barber, hair braiders, certified massage therapists, and nail technicians. Don’t forget to pick out something from the curated products to continue your self-care at home.

Buffaloe Road Athletic Park and Aquatic Center

5900 Buffaloe Road, 919-996-5600

Buffaloe Road became a dream area to raise a family after the Buffaloe Road Athletic Park added its state-of-the-art Aquatic Center in 2012. This indoor water park has everything you want: lap pools, a waterslide, poolside basketball hoops, a lazy river, a water vortex, a toddler-sized “tot area,” and “bubble benches” equipped with massage jets. Admission for Raleigh residents is $3 for children up to twelve and $6 for adults up to fifty-five (the senior rate is $5). 

Brass Tap and Billiards

3316 Capital Boulevard, 919-876-2382, brasstapbilliards.com

In operation for more than a generation, Brass Tap is your friendly neighborhood pool hall in every sense of the phrase. After you play pool, you can try your hand at darts, or settle in and watch the game on one of the big-screen TVs. 

Historic Oak View Park

4028 Carya Drive, 919-250-1013, wakegov.com/parks/oakview

Williams-Wyatt-Poole Farm, now called Historic Oak View Park, is a family-friendly destination to experience Raleigh’s complex history. Originally one of the largest cotton plantations in Wake County, Historic Oak View was worked by generations of enslaved people, and then by sharecroppers after Emancipation, before being bought by the city in 1984. Here, families learn how farms like Oak View operated and how they adapted over time, while also petting farm animals (Oak View is famous for its goats) and making crafts. 

John Chavis Memorial Park 

505 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, 919-831-6989

East Raleigh’s almost-thirty-acre urban park includes a community center, an Allan Herschell Carousel, sports fields, and a playground, and it’s connected to the Capital Area Greenway. Named for the nineteenth-century free black preacher and Revolutionary War vet John Chavis, the park hosts community meetings, events, and is a gathering space for the neighborhood. 

Lions Park

516 Dennis Avenue, 919-996-4726

Lions Park is one of Raleigh’s biggest community parks. Largely ignored by the city during its thirty-year lifetime, the community not only rallied in 2010 to propose massive updates to its facilities, but then volunteered to install them. Lions Park has many features common to Raleigh’s parks, including a community center and gym, as well as playsets for kids. But what makes Lions Park unique is the Capital City BMX track that shares the property. 

Southeast Raleigh YMCA

1436 Rock Quarry Road, 919-359-9622

The Southeast Raleigh YMCA is a collaborative effort with Southeast Raleigh Promise, the YMCA, and Wake County Public Schools to invest in the people of the community. The state-of-the-art facility has a colorful and inviting exterior and a great pool area. The programming includes group fitness classes, daytime childcare and after-school care, and regular community-wide events. 

Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek 

3801 Rock Quarry Road, 919-831-6400, walnutcreekamphitheatre.com

In a no-man’s land outside the Beltline way southeast of downtown is this twenty-thousand-person venue where lots of top-selling acts play when they come through town. 

Comment on FINDER at backtalk@indyweek.com. 

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.