The South is a fertile bed of American culture, and food is one of its proudest fields of distinction. If you’re new to the area, you may be overwhelmed by the new culinary landscape. We’re here to help. 

In North Carolina, one of the biggest bones of contention (sorry) is barbecue, almost always of the pulled-pork variety. Multiple books have been written on the subject. Some locals prefer the vinegar-based sauces more common in the eastern part of the state, while others prefer the tomato-based sauces of the western side. Whatever your preference, Allen and Son (6203 Millhouse Road, Chapel Hill) and Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue (327 South Wilmington Street, Raleigh) are local favorites that hew closely to a fairly casual tradition, and Johnson Family Barbecue (5021 Wake Forest Highway, Durham) is a respectable runner-up. For a more upscale offering, try Picnic (1647 Cole Mill Road, Durham), where you should absolutely stick around for dessert—the banana pudding will do.

If you’re not a ’cue fan, there are abundant options for fried chicken and fresh N.C. seafood all around the Triangle. Saltbox Seafood Joint (608 North Mangum Street, 2637 Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, Durham) and Saint James Seafood (806 West Main Street, Durham) are local faves on the opposite ends of the casual-upscale spectrum. On another spectrum, the sixty-year-old Chicken Hut (3019 Fayetteville Street, Durham) and star chef Scott Howell’s new DeeLuxe Chicken (1116 Broad Street, Durham) are top spots for fried-bird deliciousness in Durham. Dame’s Chicken and Waffles (832 Bass Pro Lane, Cary; coming soon to 530 Foster Street, Durham) will have you clearing your plate with its excellent, flavorful combinations (but you’ll definitely want to take a nap after).

In Raleigh, Ashley Christensen rules the roost with her restaurants Beasley’s Chicken + Honey (237 South Wilmington Street) and Poole’s Diner (426 South McDowell Street), which has a more broadly modern menu of Southern comfort food. In Chapel Hill, chef Bill Smith also offers contemporary takes on Southern classics at his renowned Crook’s Corner (610 West Franklin Street), and Mama Dip’s (408 West Rosemary Street), whose matriarch, Mildred Council, passed away earlier this year, is another longstanding Tar Heel institution that specializes in soul food. 

In the Research Triangle Park, V’s Kitchen (2945 South Miami Boulevard, Durham) also offers a “Southern with Style” menu replete with fried chicken, pork chops, collard greens, and more. On a similar tip, Raleigh’s Mecca (13 East Martin Street), which has been beloved by everybody from legislators to late-night revelers since it opened in the 1930s, boasts a menu of inexpensive, diner-adjacent options (its blackberry cobbler is an essential local food item).

If you’ve got breakfast on the brain, how about a biscuit? Throughout the Triangle, the locally owned chain Rise is a consistently solid option for the South’s favorite fluffy pastry. Biscuitville and Bojangles, both proper fast-food chains, are headquartered in Greensboro and Charlotte, respectively, and they lead the pack for quickie food with regional specializations. If you find yourself in Chapel Hill, Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen (1305 East Franklin Street) also offers an irresistible iteration.

Really, there isn’t a wrong way to eat like a Southerner. Mind your manners, tip 20 percent, invite friends and neighbors to share your table, and you’re well on your way.