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Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, has become a popular city in recent years — even ranking as the second-best place to live in the U.S. In addition to its abundant scenic spaces (the city is close to green parks, beaches and mountains) and a thriving job market, Raleigh is also a culinary destination, where some of America's most creative talents have built award-winning dining experiences alongside family-owned establishments that bring cuisines from around the world to the City of Oaks. Though there are far too many exceptional eateries in Raleigh to include in this guide, we've distilled the list down to seven of our favorite spots for any craving, occasion and price point.
Known as one of the only true French restaurants in Raleigh, Saint Jacques is a fine dining establishment located in an unassuming strip mall in the city’s North Ridge neighborhood. Since 2004, the restaurant has paid homage to French culinary traditions with an extensive food and wine menu that features classics such as torchon de foie gras, boeuf bourguignon and raviole du daphine au basilic, as well as a breadth of cheeses, desserts and digestifs — all the while working closely with North Carolina farmers to source the freshest local produce for its ingredients. It’s ranked one of the Top 100 restaurants in the U.S. on OpenTable.com.
Located in the tree-lined heart of Downtown Raleigh at the Dodd-Hinsdale House (a gorgeous Victorian property built in the late 1800s), Second Empire is a combined restaurant and tavern that boasts a rotating menu by Chef Daniel Schurr and his imaginative takes on seasonal produce. In its upstairs dining room — which is the perfect upscale space for date nights and special occasions — you can enjoy a long list of courses that range from sauteed veal sweetbreads and Atlantic monkfish to ancho chili braised lamb risotto, buckwheat-and-cornmeal calamari, and pork belly with rutabaga puree, all paired with the restaurant’s award-winning wine list (Second Empire has won the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence every year since 1999). For drinks and casual get-togethers, there's no need to make a reservation — simply try the establishment’s downstairs tavern and atrium for a relaxed vibe.
For more than 40 years, Snoopy’s has been a local family-owned favorite, where residents can get their fix of Eastern North Carolina hot dogs (a regional specialty that's served with mustard, onion, and chili in a steamed bun). But the menu doesn't stop there. Snoopy's also serves cheeseburgers, sandwiches, and fries. Almost every item on the menu is under $10, and its renowned rapid service makes the spot a neighborhood go-to for cheap, quick eats. Founded in 1978, when Raleigh native Steve Webb transformed an old gas station into a roadside grill, Snoopy’s now operates two locations in the city with sit-down and drive-through options, and is still recognizable by its tuxedo-wearing hot dog mascot, Mr. Snoopy.
Raleigh doesn’t have a plethora of options for lovers of authentic Chinese cuisine, but Chuan Cafe on New Bern Avenue serves unflinching Szechuan dishes in a neighborhood that’s typically known for its Southern comfort and Italian eateries. With plenty of choices that range from dim sum and small plates — including your classic scallion pancakes, buns, dumplings, and cold noodles — to staples such as Hunan chicken, cumin lamb, Mongolian beef, and mapo tofu, Chuan is the perfect sit-down spot for Szechuan and pan-Asian flavors in a cozy, light-filled setting. (Note: Szechuan dishes tend to be on the spicier side, but Chuan Cafe offers plenty of options for every palette.)
Named after founder Mounir Saleh’s mother Cecilia (nicknamed “Sassool”), this Mediterranean restaurant in Raleigh takes the family’s time-honored recipes from a small village in Lebanon and presents them in an authentic, flavorful, no-fuss way. Featuring a menu that spans platters and pizzettes (baked in a gas-fired dome oven that forms the centerpiece of the restaurant) as well as sandwiches and sides, Sassool is a must-visit for Raleigh residents and visitors alike who have a hankering for Mediterranean food. (Not hungry in the moment? Sassool also offers a market section that has a wide-ranging selection of specialty groceries.)
Located in the same 1906 building where The Raleigh Times (now defunct) was housed until 1989, The Raleigh Times Bar is a newspaper-themed destination right in the heart of Downtown Raleigh. It opened in 2006 after owner Greg Hatem, a former photojournalist, spent two years doing a full renovation of the space, stripping it down to the studs and rebuilding it beam by beam. Since then, the venue has undergone two more renovations to include second-floor seating and a rooftop patio. Walking into the restaurant and bar, you’ll find old newspaper clippings and images plastered on the walls, as well as historic artifacts from 20th century on display. The menu consists of standard bar fare (nachos, tacos, quesadillas, and wings, among others) in addition to a smattering of entrees that include salmon fried rice, kale salad, shrimp and grits, and battered cod.
- Price Range: $
- 3600 Junction Blvd, Raleigh, NC 27603
- (919) 661-5676
Locals know this hole in the wall (which just reopened in a brand-new location) as one of the most authentic taquerias in the Triangle area, and flock here for affordable, flavorful tacos. Though it doesn’t have a website or Instagram presence, Taqueria El Toro has its own word-of-mouth buzz, with a line that stretches out the door on its busiest days. There are options for every appetite, including safe bets such as carne asada, chicken and el pastor as well as tripa, lengua, suadero and menudo.
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