6 Food Hot Spots in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill

6 Food Hot Spots in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill

Crook's Corner, in Chapel Hill, is most known for its shrimp and grits, but the desserts are legendary as well

Vivian Howard is a North Carolina native, chef and owner of two popular restaurants in Kinston, and is the star of PBS’ A Chef’s Life. She's also released an award-winning cookbook,  Deep Run Roots, inspired by the traditions of her home state, and is preparing to open a new restaurant in Wilmington. Lucky for us, she made time for this Visit North Carolina series on several of her favorite places, insider tips and essential experiences when you're visiting.

The Triangle, known for its hub of college campuses, civic operations and cutting-edge research, is also home to some of North Carolina’s most-acclaimed restaurants. The best way to experience the extensive culinary options is to set aside a full weekend to indulge.

To help form an itinerary, we asked Chef Vivian Howard for her restaurant recommendations. From casual bakeries filled with exquisite pastries to intimate dining rooms for a romantic evening out, her lineup packs a lot of flavor into a delectable weekend.

Saturday

Breakfast/Brunch: Scratch |Durham
Named by multiple national outlets as a foodie destination, Durham comprises a host of fabulous restaurants, breweries, bars, coffee shops, food trucks and bakeries. Scratch bakery – located in downtown Durham, surrounded by well-respected eateries and hotels, and only a quarter-mile from Durham Performing Arts Center – serves breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch in addition to its pastry delights. Owner Phoebe Lawless grew up in Appalachia and brings that regional respect for sustainability to her baking. The chalkboard menu changes with the seasons, but flaky biscuits, piecrusts and breads are consistent staples. Make sure your order includes a slice of Shaker lemon pie or a doughnut muffin or both.

Lunch: Snoopy’s Hot Dogs & More |Raleigh
In business since 1978, this casual Raleigh spot is an icon known for its hot dogs and its marquee, which may tell you what’s on special or give you an extra laugh for the day with a humorous saying. The original location on Wake Forest Road serves customers through a walk-up window (today, there are four Raleigh locations). In the 1980s, Snoopy’s was the only restaurant around that was open after midnight. The classic order is a hot dog (or two) with mustard, onions and chili, and crinkle-cut fries. Other popular menu items include cheeseburgers, homemade chicken salad and onion rings. If you happen to catch Mr. Snoopy, the restaurant’s tuxedo-wearing hot dog mascot, make sure to snap a picture with him.

Dinner: Bida Manda |Raleigh
Bida Manda sits on Moore Square in downtown Raleigh, about three blocks from the State Capitol and a half-mile from the museums of history and natural sciences. The Laotian restaurant is run by a brother-and-sister team who place a strong emphasis on family heritage. The name Bida Manda means father and mother in Sanskrit; photos of the siblings’ parents show up in the décor. The restaurant has an intimate feel with soft lighting and wooden sticks enveloping the space, which were hand tied by friends of the owners. The menu reflects the Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and French influences on Laotian cuisine. Start with a craft cocktail, then move on to the pork belly soup or pho, both of which are go-to dishes, and finish with macaroons.

Bida Manda restaurant in Raleigh

Bida Manda draws inspiration from the Asian country of Laos

Sunday

Brunch: Crook’s Corner Cafe & Bar |Chapel Hill
Given the America’s Classics Award by the James Beard Foundation in 2011, this restaurant on the western edge of Chapel Hill, just before tipping into Carrboro, is a local – and national – legend. The eclectic exterior is nearly as famous as the menu: a pink pig on a pole marks the Franklin Street entrance, and hubcaps hanging on a fence guide you to the front door. Follow the old fishermen’s tradition of shrimp and grits for breakfast; the dish is perhaps the most well-known item on the menu. Bill Smith, an Eastern North Carolina native, has run the kitchen here since 1993. He’s known for his use of fresh, local ingredients and his appreciation for Southern culinary traditions. Save room for the banana pudding. Many customers say Smith’s meringue-topped version is one of the region’s best.

Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill

The New York Times described Crook's Corner as "sacred ground for Southern foodies"

Lunch: Pizzeria Mercato | Carrboro
Carrboro is Chapel Hill’s smaller, earthier neighbor. Pizzeria Mercato, approaching its first birthday this winter, is located across the street from the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, a nationally known market with a long history of commitment to the community. The restaurant pays homage to the market with its name and its efforts to maintain a seasonal menu and source ingredients from local purveyors. Chef Gabe Barker – son of James Beard Award-winners Ben and Karen Barker, former proprietors of Magnolia Grill in Durham – offers Neapolitan-style pizzas with a crisp yet chewy crust and an impressive antipasti lineup. Barker learned the pizza trade at West Coast stalwart Pizzeria Delfina.

Pizzeria Mercato

Pizzeria Mercato opened in 2016 after its owner moved from San Francisco back to his hometown of Carrboro

Dinner/Food for the Road: Weaver Street Market |Carrboro
No visit to Carrboro is complete without a stop at Weaver Street Market. Located in the middle of Carrboro, on the same plot of land as Carr Mill Mall, home to shops and galleries, the market is as much a social hub as a grocery store. The community-owned co-op specializes in sustainably produced, primarily local products. Expect to find a large selection of craft beer; sauces, coffee, chocolates and other specialty foods; and cheese, milk, butter and ice cream all from North Carolina companies. The market contains a hot bar, salad bar and grab-and-go case with sandwiches and soups, so you don’t have to think about preparing dinner when you arrive home.

Leah Hughes, a freelance journalist in Denton and native of Randolph County, enjoys writing stories about treasured places. See more of her work at leahchughes.com.

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