12 Hours in North Raleigh
(By Andrea Rice)
The sprawling swath of North Raleigh boasts some of the Triangle’s best nature preserves and outdoor adventures, not to mention its only salt cave. But it also has plenty of specialty shops, restaurants, and bars, too.
I begin my Sunday morning here at Sola Coffee Cafe, early enough to order a breakfast sandwich—probably a smoked salmon on a bagel—from the morning kitchen. Making sure I top off my coffee to go, I drive to the Falls Lake Trail for a quick hike. The top of the Falls Lake Dam is said to have the best views around, but I’ll save that for another day.
After a solid hour or two of moderate hiking, I hit The Butchers Market on my way back to pick up some cured meats—which I immediately snack on, of course. I then stop by Fight or Flight comics, if only for the sensory stimulation.
Speaking of which, I deprive my senses next, heading to Skin Sense for some midafternoon transcendence in the Triangle’s only salt cave—sit back, relax, enjoy, and prepare for mental flight, perhaps snoozing at some point because I just went for a hike and ate a pile of cured meat.
In my state of post-meditative bliss, I treat myself to an hour-long massage by one of the on-site bodyworkers.
Because relaxation is hard work, I’m hungry again. I drive to Zest Cafe & Home Art, where I can kill two birds with one stone. I nosh on a small plate of artichoke hummus and a slice of tomato pie before perusing the art boutique and picking up a gift for a special someone—and something for myself, too.
Happy hour is fast-approaching, so I gather a friend and make my way to Compass Rose Brewery to taste some craft brews. We sit and drink for a while, then select a few bottles to take home. But first, dinner is on the horizon, and Dante’s Italiano serves authentic Grandma-style pizza, the stuff that crispy, garlicky dreams are made of. My friend and I share the classic sixteen-incher—limited to three toppings to ensure maximum crispiness—and we each order another one to-go because we, um, accidentally ditched our partners for dinner.
Landmark: Lafayette Village
Where to Get a Cup of Coffee: Jubala
Where to Visit with Friends: Sola Coffee Cafe
Where to Walk Your Dog: Falls Lake Trail
Where to Spend the Night: Courtyard by Marriott
Capital Area Greenway System
Map available at raleighnc.gov
The Raleigh greenway system loops around East, South, and West Raleigh, too. But there are several locations in North Raleigh where it’s easy to hop on the trail on foot or bike. The Neuse River Trail is our favorite; you can ride it by bike uninterrupted for miles and miles without encountering a car, until your legs give out or you have someplace to be. Easily one of Raleigh’s finest charms, the greenway is an oasis that feels worlds away from the crazy-making of Capital Boulevard.
Note: We’ve highlighted our pick for the best of each category below.
Big Ed’s North
5009 Falls of Neuse Road, 919-747-9533, bigedsnc.com
Big Ed’s North, the sister restaurant of the original downtown eatery of the same name, showcases the same Southern cooking, featuring favorites like country ham with red-eye gravy, fried catfish, and a Cajun fried chicken biscuit.
13200 Falls of Neuse Road, 919-556-2146, dantesitaliano.com
This authentic Italian joint is intimate and cozy—only about twenty tables—so reservations are a good idea. Don’t skimp on bread; better yet, try the bruschette di cabra, focaccia-style bread served with parmigiana reggiano, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh oregano topped with warm goat cheese. Dante’s square Grandma-style pizza is ultra garlicky and baked to a crisp—and is one of North Raleigh’s best-kept secrets.
7550 Creedmoor Road, 919-676-7442, daylightdonuts.com
The early bird gets the worm at Daylight Donuts, which opens at 5:00 a.m. and closes at noon. The North Raleigh mainstay has been serving donuts—toasted coconut with chocolate frosting, please—as well as muffins, eclairs, and other treats since 1990.
Gonza Tacos Y Tequila
7713 Lead Mine Road, #39, 919-846-5478, gonzatacosytequila.com
The flagship Gonza is tucked away inside a small shopping center. Featuring contemporary Mexican dishes and a vast selection of tequilas, the atmosphere is fun, festive, and perfect for the kids—and the food is muy delicioso.
8111 Creedmoor Road, 919-846-9846, margauxsrestaurant.com
Margaux’s has been on the Raleigh scene for a quarter-century. Its menu changes frequently, but it’s consistently a fine date-night destination. If you spot the pan-fried crab cakes over polenta on the menu, order them.
2071 West Millbrook Road, 919-987-3668, modpizza.com
This fast-casual chain, which started in Seattle, makes artisanal pies look easy.
Pho Super 9
6401 Plantation Center Drive, #111, 919-878-1599, phosuper9.com
Pho Super 9 is a casual Vietnamese spot with an excellent selection of pho. Also, try the egg roll vermicelli bowl or a Vietnamese crepe.
Relish Craft Kitchen & Bourbon Bar
5625 Creedmoor Road, 919-787-1855, relishraleigh.com
There are bourbons galore at this neighborhood comfort-food spot, as well as ryes and American whiskeys. Complement your drink with pretty much anything on this Southern-inspired menu, from fried black-eyed peas to house-fried potato chips—just save room for that mac and cheese skillet.
Rise Southern Biscuits & Righteous Chicken
6325 Falls of Neuse Road, 984-200-5751, risebiscuitsdonuts.com
Rise, which started in Durham, has several locations across the Triangle and is spreading like kudzu. The menu features beautiful buttermilk biscuits made from scratch several times a day. Try the Spicy Chickaboom with “boom boom sauce,” pickled jalapeños, and onions.
Saint Jacques French Cuisine
6112 Falls of Neuse Road, saintjacquesfrenchcuisine.com
Way out in the ’burbs, Saint Jacques can go overlooked in local foodie circles. But for more than a decade, chef Serge Falcoz-Vigne’s restaurant has earned rave reviews for indulgent interpretations of French classics that draw on locally sourced ingredients.
Salt & Lime Cabo Grill
6006 Falls of Neuse Road, 919-872-2230, saltandlimecabo.com
This contemporary Mexican spot serves Baja-style fare and features not one but five different styles of guacamole, including fire-roasted tomato and goat cheese and pineapple-jalepeńo.
9650 Strickland Road, 919-847-2700, sassool.com
This family-owned restaurant serves Mediterranean food that’s as good as you’ll find anywhere in the Triangle. Get the four-item sampler and load it up with classics like hummus, baba ghanouj, stuffed grape leaves, and tabouli.
The Swahili Grill
3721 Sumner Boulevard, #100, 919-792-0135, swahiligrill.com
The first sub-Saharan African restaurant in North Raleigh, The Swahili Grill serves authentic Kenyan street food. Dishes such as grilled meat (choma) and flatbread (chapati) achieve a truly global experience. And be sure to get the full immersive experience by ordering a Tusker Lager, a popular Kenyan-brewed beer.
Vinnie’s Steakhouse and Tavern
7440 Six Forks Road, 919-847-7319, vinniessteakhouse.com
Whether you’re dressed to the nines for a big night out or seeking a more casual evening, Vinnie’s, which has a decadent white tablecloth dining room and a dark tavern, can suit your needs. The menu is the same either way.
Zest Cafe & Home Art
8831 Six Forks Road, 919-848-4792, zestcafehomeart.com
The ever-changing menu of fresh contemporary American fare at this quaint cafe never disappoints. Stop by for a small plate of artichoke hummus with marinated artichoke hearts, roasted sweet peppers, olives, and grilled flatbread, or indulge in a tomato pie with local tomatoes and manchego cheese. But whatever you order, be sure to leave room for the coconut cake.
8111 Creedmoor Road, #153, 919-615-1703, bottlemixx.com
A craft beer and wine shop in Brennan Station, BottleMixx offers regular tastings and quirky events like a beer-and-cereal pairing. Stop by after work and choose from ten craft brews on tap. Don’t leave empty-handed; there’s a wide selection of bottles and cans available for purchase.
Compass Rose Brewery
3201 Northside Drive, #101, 919-875-5683, compassrosebrewery.com
Compass Rose is situated in an industrial park area that is, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. It’s worth finding, though. The taproom has more than fifty-five hundred square feet of space to accommodate beer lovers of all kinds. There are usually about eight to ten beers on tap that are brewed on-site.
8450 Honeycutt Road, 919-758-8330, jubalacoffee.com
A little cosmopolitan but in no way pretentious, Jubala is dedicated to the craft of the perfect brew, serving the coveted Counter Culture beans. Pair your Madagascar vanilla latte with the liege waffle, and order the ingredients—apple cinnamon, chocolate chip, banana, blueberry—stuffed inside or piled on top.
Lynnwood Brewing Concern
1053 East Whitaker Mill Road, 919-424-7533, lynnwoodgrill.com/lynnwood-brewing-concern
At LBC, you’ll find award-winning craft beer brewed in the warehouse and a chalkboard telling you what’s on tap. The outdoor patio and greenspace are perfect for games, kids, and picnics, and food trucks are regularly on site.
The Pickled Onion
10750 Wakefield Commons Drive, 919-848-4161, thepickledonionrestaurant.com
Forty big-screen TVs make The Pickled Onion an ideal spot to catch the big game—which you can do every Sunday during football season—or to grab a beer with your buddies after work. The diverse pub-style fare includes late-night eats, and The Pickled Onion is open 365 days a year—worth keeping in mind when your in-laws are in town for the holidays.
Sola Coffee Cafe
7705 Lead Mine Road, 919-803-8983, solacoffee.com
This family-owned cafe serves Counter Culture beans to pair with a pastry or sandwich, as well as other nibbles. There’s a slew of healthy options here, pleasantly disguised as tasty, satisfying fare. Sola offers several local craft beers on tap, too.
The Butchers Market
5045 Falls of Neuse Road, 919-809-8914, thebutchersmarkets.com
This father-and-son team runs an impressive butchery. From quail to wild boar, elk and buffalo to rattlesnake meat, this is your go-to to get gamey.
Fight or Flight Comics
6675 Falls of Neuse Road, 984-242-0039, fightorflightcomics.com
Fight or Flight has an eclectic mix of comics curated by its super knowledgeable owners. They’re also incredibly helpful and willing to answer your questions. They’ve been known to dig into the troves of stacks in the back room in search of whatever you’re looking for.
Knotti by Nature Salon
7317 Louisburg Road, 919-845-4888, knottibynature.com
Located in a converted ranch home, this highly rated (and cleverly named) salon has been in business for a decade. The owners have created a salon renowned for their loc work, braiding, and other natural hairstyling. They also provide waxing and nail services.
8450 Honeycutt Road, 919-714-7447, lafayettevillageraleigh.com
Despite its cheeky faux-French theme, several of this quaint shopping center’s gems are worth a visit, including Crafty Beer Shop, especially when followed by a trip to Orrman’s Cheese. Round that out with a visit to Southern Craft Butchers and The Chocolate Boutique. Or hit up the rustic-chic Driftwood Southern Kitchen, which puts a modern spin on Southern classics with seasonal and locally sourced ingredients.
The MOM Lounge
5959 Triangle Town Boulevard, 919-605-6344, momredefined.com
Mom-preneuer Gerrikka Bunche founded The MOM Lounge, a boutique and coworking space in Triangle Towne Center. From handmade greeting cards to trendy clothing to stylish handbags, all of the products in the MOM Lounge represent local business owners who are also mothers and are hand-selected by Bunche herself. Bunche also created a cozy lounge space in the back for busy moms to stop and take some time for themselves; it doubles as a place to network with other creative and driven parents.
5017 Falls of Neuse Road, 919-706-5142, rocketfizz.com
A kaleidoscope of sweet treats as far as the eye can see will make just about anyone feel like a kid in a candy store in this glucose-spiking paradise. Wash down lollipops, bonbons, s’mores, and mud pies with a handcrafted bacon-flavored or blue raspberry soda—and prepare for a major crash.
Stevens Book Shop
6700 Old Wake Forest Road, 919-872-5995, stevensbooks.com
You could spend an entire day at Stevens Book Shop, so don’t stop by if you have somewhere to be. With thirty-nine thousand square feet of space and several hundred thousand used books—and comics, video games, DVDs, and audiobooks—the wealth of information here is almost frighteningly vast.
2200 East Millbrook Road, #122, 919-332-3021, tajisalon.com
Serving the community for nearly two decades, Taji Salon is not just a beauty shop but a movement and an institution. The salon also has its own handmade products.
TLC for Bikes
8480 Honeycutt Road, #126, 919-324-4966, tlcforbikes.com
The folks at this bike shop will lend you their ear about all things biking, offering tips for novices and pros alike. There’s no need to be intimidated if you’re a newbie, since these folks are known for their customer service. TLC sells clothing, accessories, and, of course, bikes, and provides maintenance for your trusty steed.
6320 Capital Boulevard, 984-200-0186, ultimatecomics.com
There’s a reason Ultimate keeps growing—it’s an excellent resource for comics fans. New releases, back issues, collectibles: Ultimate can scratch any itch a comic geek might have.
The Vintage Village
9300 Durant Road, 919-844-2652
If antiquing is your thing—or your visiting aunt’s thing—you should probably swing out to The Vintage Village on Saturday morning. Since 2005, the Village has been an oft-overlooked North Raleigh gem, a small community of antique shops selling all kinds of weird stuff.
3311 Capital Boulevard, 919-872-1688, raleigh.adventurelanding.com
For adults and kids alike, spend a day of adventure playing laser tag or miniature golf, or blow off some steam driving go-karts or swinging in the batting cages.
Buffaloe Lanes North
5900 Oak Forest Drive, 919-876-5681, buffaloelanes.com
These family-friendly lanes—sorry, no alcohol—are about as old-school as it gets. You come here for the love of bowling, and maybe to relive the nostalgia of your youth. If you grew up in North Raleigh, Buffaloe Lanes was a regular high school hang.
Durant Nature Preserve
8305 Camp Durant Road, 919-870-2871, raleighnc.gov
The city-owned preserve boasts five miles of verdant hiking trails as well as a few dedicated mountain-biking trails. The big open field is the perfect setting for a game of ultimate frisbee. There’s also a sand volleyball court and a number of picnic zones for a friendly barbecue. Go hiking around sunrise or sunset, and you might encounter deer.
Falls Lake Dam
11405 Falls of Neuse Road, Wake Forest
Both sides of Falls Dam are so picturesque that you might forget for a moment that you’re still in Raleigh. The address says Wake Forest, but that’s a technicality because Wakefield, a Raleigh neighborhood, is north of the dam itself. You can fish, kayak, hike, run, and bike in and around the water here. The top of the dam might be the best location around for sunset viewing.
Millbrook Exchange Park
1905 Spring Forest Road, 919-996-4156, raleighnc.gov
Built in 1971, this city park has become a recreation destination for North Raleigh residents. With basketball and tennis courts, two playgrounds, a pool, and a community center with fitness equipment, there are endless activities available to get your fitness on. There are also several large fields for softball and kickball, as well as a popular dog park.
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre
7713 Lead Mine Road, #51, 919-866-0228, nract.org
NRACT is a small community theater tucked away in a strip mall. It presents several live plays a year and also offers a variety of theater classes for kids and even adults, proving that you’re never too old to realize your dream of being onstage.
6801 Falls of Neuse Road, #130, 919-870-0700, skinsense.com
Sensory deprivation chambers are all the rage in New York City and Los Angeles, but North Raleigh has something unique all its own. Skin Sense has the only Himalayan salt cave in the Triangle, where you feel like you’re being transported to outer space for the duration of your meditative experience. You can also choose from any number of spa treatments. Reserve the mudroom with a friend and slather each other in different types of clay.
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