RGHGuide

The Best Restaurants In Raleigh, North Carolina

Where to eat macaroni au gratin, North Carolina oysters, and more.
The Best Restaurants In Raleigh, North Carolina image

photo credit: Anna Barzin

To some poeple, Raleigh might seem like a second-tier city that you might confuse with neighboring Durham or Chapel Hill. It doesn’t help that our only pro sports team, the Carolina Hurricanes, doesn’t claim us outright. But there's nothing second-tier about Raleigh's restaurants.​​ With proximity to the coast and Carolina farmlands, they’re spoiled with limitless options for everything from king mackerel to juicy heirloom tomatoes. 

Whether you’re a recent transplant or just came to town for the North Carolina Museum of Art, these are all the places where you should eat and drink in Raleigh.


THE SPOTS


photo credit: Angie Mosier

American

Downtown

$$$$Perfect For:Impressing Out of TownersDinner with the ParentsDate Night

Picture a jazz lounge mixed with a dimly-lit retro diner, complete with red leather banquettes and a handwritten chalkboard menu. That’s Poole’s Diner, and it’s one of the best and most famous restaurants in Raleigh. Grab one of those booths for a double date or to impress the in-laws, and always order the gooey macaroni au gratin. The entrees really set Poole’s apart, including dishes like a roasted flounder with summer squash, cherry tomatoes, and a basil-loaded cold pistou sauce.


Vidrio’s dining room gives off strong oil tycoon vibes, with soaring ceilings, colorful blossom-shaped glass decorations, and a smaller bar overlooking the street, but this Mediterranean restaurant isn’t all show. The menu might read kind of generic—there’s roasted chicken, hangar steak, and seared salmon—but everything is expertly executed. The skillet cornbread with truffle butter will make you wonder why you ever settled for boxed, and seasonal specials like lamb tagine or baklava are worth trying if you spot them.


Practically all of Raleigh rejoiced when St. Roch reopened after a kitchen fire gutted much of their small space downtown. The New Orleans-inspired restaurant now has custom seafoam wallpaper featuring Louis Armstrong and Mississippi paddle boats on the walls, and flavorful crab and corn fettuccine and massive fluffy beignets on the menu. Come here with a big group for a Happy Hour filled with painkillers, hurricanes, and a bunch of North Carolina oysters.


photo credit: Anna Barzin

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If you’re looking to impress a date, take them to Cortez, a seafood hot spot that serves gambas al ajillo, North Carolina snapper ceviche, and shrimp criollo tacos with charred sweet peppers. The drink menu also features standouts like the Dreamcatcher cocktail with cachaca, gin, pineapple, hibiscus, and mint, and a great South America-heavy wine list. The vine-covered patio out front, which feels like somewhere you might see celebrities in LA, only adds to the romantic atmosphere.


photo credit: Anna Barzin

$$$$Perfect For:BreakfastLunchQuick Eats

If there’s one place in Raleigh to come for a quick bite or fresh baked goods, it’s Union Special. They cover the basics, like a BLT, turkey melt, or egg sandwich, without actually being basic. A grilled cheese might come with kale pesto, fontina, and pepper jelly or a BLT might sub out mayo for chow chow aioli. This place also works for a quick working lunch or some grab-and-go treats, like a chocolate croissant or a vegan thumbprint cookie. The bright, rainbow-painted space sort of reminds us of an elementary school classroom, so naturally, it’s the perfect place to doodle in your notebook and enjoy a sugary snack.


Wye Hill might have "Brewing" in the name, but this place feels more like a restaurant than anything else. You’ll find dishes like a hearty shakshuka with focaccia at brunch and a burger with fried green tomatoes and smoked gouda for dinner. The restaurant’s airy patio looking east across Raleigh’s skyline is perfect for a romantic dinner, a breezy brunch, or for just sitting outside and day drinking.


Good luck getting a Salty Chipwich Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s hard enough to get a late-night seat at this dessert and cocktail bar on weekends, but Bittersweet’s ice cream cookie sandwich is so popular that they’re limited to one per customer and typically run out. If you show up and they're gone, there’s no need to stress—the list of desserts here is long, with hits like derby pie and a spin on the childhood classic Dirt & Worms with chocolate “dirt,” edible flowers, and housemade gummy worms soaked in gin and Luxardo cherry liqueur. Come on a Wednesday or Thursday after dinner at St. Roch to have a better chance at snagging one of the tables on the sidewalk.


Raleigh’s first downtown distillery comes from the team behind Trophy Brewing and State of Beer. It’s split into several spaces, ranging from a covered upstairs patio ideal for a quieter dinner date to the street-level bar perfect for an afternoon hang with friends. Young Hearts specializes in clear spirits including one made out of agave that’s similar to a tequila and a lemongrass, lavender, and elderflower gin, but the drink menu extends beyond the spirits distilled on site, and the food is truly excellent. Small plates like roasted cauliflower with pickled beet yogurt and salmon cakes with snow peas and lemon-basil aioli are way better, and much more interesting, than your typical bar food.


With its selection of several hundred whiskeys, Dram & Draught is one of the city’s best cocktail bars. Cap any night out downtown, especially a date night at Cortez, by snagging a seat at the crowded bar to enjoy their Old Fashioned with barrel-aged bourbon, a PBR boilermaker special, or even a more elaborate cocktail like the Hellfire Club with jalapeño and Sichuan peppercorn-infused tequila. Even if you’re not drinking right now, it’s worth a stop—their spirit-free cocktails are made with as much care as the boozy ones.


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