North Carolina from The Best Food and Drink in North Carolina for 2018 Gallery
The Best Food and Drink in North Carolina for 2018 Gallery
The Tar Heel State is a land of contrasts, stretching from the East Coast’s highest peak, Mount Mitchell, through the Piedmont and Coastal Plain to the shifting dunes of the Outer Banks. That same diversity shines through in the state’s cuisine (the best of which we’ve rounded up as part of our first annual guide to the best food and drink in every state), and that holds true for more than just barbecue — though some North Carolinians would probably be willing to fight you over the best way to baste a hog at a pig pickin’.
The Old North State’s wide-ranging cuisine is reflected in our list of the state’s best eats. Twelve different cities and towns are represented, from the booming craft beer scene in Asheville to the delicious yet divisive barbecue of Lexington, and from cosmopolitan tacos in newly trendy Durham to fresh seafood in Southport at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. There’s so much good food everywhere that the state’s largest city, Charlotte, only features in three of our 24 selections.
Courtesy of Scratch
Best Apple Pie: Scratch Baking, Durham
Scratch is a seasonal bakery whose menu reflects chef/owner Phoebe Lawless’ love of local sourcing and classic Southern technique. They make their popular apple crumb pie with locally sourced apples that sit under a layer of toasted oat streusel in an all-butter pastry crust. For a Cheddar Apple Pie recipe, click here.
Facebook/He's Not Here
Best Bar: He’s Not Here, Chapel Hill
He’s Not Here is a true old-school college dive bar known as “the oldest on-campus 45-year-old” — which, not coincidentally, also makes it our choice for best dive bar in the state. If you ever went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or are just a Tarheels fan, then you have probably had a 33-ounce Blue Cup — the classic $5 cup of beer — at He’s Not Here, which is located almost catty-corner from campus on Franklin Street.
There are 38 beers on tap and 35 by the bottle on offer. Chapel Hill was originally a village, and the bar’s courtyard was originally known as “the green.” It pays homage to the town’s history with bumper stickers that say “He’s Not Here — on the village green.” As for the name? There are many urban legends about its origin, but one popular story is that celebrities, such as UNC alum Michael Jordan, often frequented the bar, and folks called the bar to find them. The bartenders answered, “He’s not here.” Don’t miss the scene in the courtyard, which accommodates 1,000 rowdy college kids and hosts live bands three times each week — and where you’ll no doubt see hundreds of those iconic Carolina-blue cups.
Best Beer: Red Angel by Wicked Weed, Asheville
Aged in red wine barrels and soaked in raspberries, Wicked Weed’s sour beer Red Angel earns its name well. With a bold dried fruit flavor that matches its vibrant color, this beer is perfect for the hesitant beer drinker. Click here for five things you must eat in the town of Asheville.
Best Burger: The Dirty South Burger at Chuck's, Raleigh
The most outrageous offering at this down-home burger joint starts with a house-ground, 100 percent chuck patty that’s seared on a flat-top. You have your choice of a 5-ounce or 8-ounce patty, and we recommend going with the 5-ouncer because what comes next is delicious insanity: Smoked pork shoulder, Anson Mills red pea chili, crispy tobacco onions, roasted tomato malt vinegar slaw, Cheddar, and yellow mustard are all piled on top of the patty before being sandwiched between two halves of a bun. All the components work perfectly together thanks to the deft hand of a great chef: Ashley Christensen, who was the recipient of the 2014 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast. Find more details on Chuck’s here.
Mary T. via Yelp
Best Chinese Restaurant: Imperial Garden, Raleigh
Going strong since 1987, this classy and upscale restaurant has cooks in the kitchen who have been there since day one, and they’re turning out some spectacular Chinese food. Roast pork, hot shredded beef, Peking duck, and family-style multi-course dinners are all popular, as is outdoor seating, a rarity at a Chinese restaurant. Crowds also flock to its popular Sunday lunch buffet. Find more details on Imperial Garden here.
Wicked Weed Brewing
Best Craft Brewery: Wicked Weed Brewing, Asheville
Wicked Weed Brewing has what it calls a Funkatorium, the “East Coast’s first sour and funky beer dedicated taproom.” The Funkatorium is the perfect stop for sour beer lovers to grab a bite and discover what Wicked Weed is brewing for the season. Check out Freak of Nature, a West Coast-style double IPA brewed with a massive amount of hops, or Oblivion, a sour red ale aged in wine barrels with dates and blackberries.
Kris L. via Yelp
Best Cupcake: Simply Cakes, Cary
Simply put, Simply Cakes is simply amazing! Its from-scratch methods produce cupcakes that are pure quality in taste and appearance — and you’ll be able to tell after just one bite. For your first bite, we recommend sinking your teeth into a Raspberry Pop, a yellow cupcake filled with raspberry mousse and topped with raspberry buttercream.
Best Dive Bar: He's Not Here, Chapel Hill
in Chapel Hill has been called the perfect college dive bar, and we can see why. If you ever went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or are just a Tarheels fan, then you have probably had a 33-ounce Blue Cup — the classic $5 cup of beer here.
Best Doughnuts: Britt’s Donut Shop, Carolina Beach
From May to September, crowds flock to Britt’s for the plain glazed doughnut. The setup of Britt’s hasn’t changed since the stand opened in 1939, and neither has the single-item menu. The closely guarded recipe for this famous doughnut is nothing short of perfection: soft, gooey, buttery, and so delicious that you’ll be talking about it until you can visit again. For more information on Britt’s Donut Shop, click here.
Best Farmers Market: Durham Farmers’ Market, Durham
The Durham Farmers' Market brings people together to “celebrate the unique food and culture of downtown Durham and the farms that sustain it.” All 77 vendors at the Durham Farmers’ Market grow their produce within 70 miles of the market, and the year-round market’s loyal following is mirrored by its more than 15,000 Twitter followers.
Best Food Truck: Urban Street Grill, Greensboro
The Urban Street Grill food truck services North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad region — comprising the area around Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point — and beyond; check the truck’s website for updated schedules. The Korean-Mexican fusion results in dishes like rib-eye bulgogi or spicy pork (both with salsa roja) and ginger chicken or tofu (both with tomatillo salsa verde), served in a taco, burrito, or rice bowl with kimchi fried rice and ingredients such as sesame soy lettuce and cabbage, cilantro-and-lime-marinated onions, pickled red onions, and avocado. You can also opt for the “Bulgogi Cheese Steak,” which comes smothered in Cheddar, black sesame mayo, lettuce, cabbage, and pickled cucumber and jalapeños on a hoagie. Love the ingredients? Urban Street Grill also sells jars to take home.
Best French Fries: Kill Devil’s Frozen Custard and Beach Fries, Kill Devil Hills
The Outer Banks of North Carolina are famous for a lot of things — the views, the beach, the scene of the first airplane flight — but they’re increasingly becoming famous for the frozen custard and “beach fries” at Kill Devil’s. Both are made fresh throughout the day from the highest quality ingredients, and the fries are thick-cut, golden brown, and delicious, with not a trace of grease or sog. You should probably just go ahead and get your fries in a bucket, because you’ll never want to stop eating these.
Best Fried Chicken: Beasley's Chicken + Honey, Raleigh
Don't leave North Carolina having only eaten barbecue; the pressure-fried bird at Beasley’s Chicken & Honey is an absolute must. The combination of steaming and frying chicken kisses goodbye to all dryness, and a drizzle of honey — which chef Ashley Christensen includes as a tribute to her beekeeping father — gives this spot a personal and literally sweet touch.
Mark S. via Yelp
Best Grocery Store: Harris Teeter
North Carolina Harris Teeter stores strive to be an active part of their communities by working with local schools and food voucher systems. In fact, Harris Teeter has now donated more than $24.6 million to local schools within their respective communities.
Mama’s Ricotta Restaurant/Yelp
Best Italian Restaurant: Mama Ricotta’s, Charlotte
This Charlotte institution is a neighborhood favorite that’s renowned locally for its high-quality ingredients, attention to detail, and house-made ingredients. Its New Haven-style pizza is a standout (the one topped with Italian beef, provolone, and giardiniera is a mashup for the ages), but make sure you sample the pasta (especially the penne alla vodka, rigatoni with meat sauce, and family-recipe cheese ravioli) and entrées (including Chianti-braised short rib and old-school chicken parmesan).
Ian Maren C./Yelp
Best Mexican Restaurant: Super Taqueria, Durham
This hyper-local Mexican restaurant in Durham is best known and perhaps most loved for its tortas and its salsa bar. The tortillas are homemade and the carne asada keeps diners coming back for more. The tacos de pollo and the tacos al pastor are popular with the local patrons, as are the restaurant’s ceviche and other specialties.
The Fearrington House Restaurant
Most Expensive Restaurant: Fearrington House Restaurant, Fearrington
Open since 1980 inside the AAA Five Diamond-rated, Relais and Châteaux-operated Fearrington House Inn, Fearrington House Restaurant offers four different menus: a three-course ($95, plus $75 for wines), a four-course ($115, plus $85 for wines), an eight-course vegetarian chef’s tasting ($125, plus $105 for wines), and an eight-course tasting for $150, plus $105 for wines.
Yelp/ Nikki W.
Best Pasta Dish: Penne Alla Vodka at Mama Ricotta’s, Charlotte
Mama Ricotta’s pizzas and other dishes help make it the best Italian restaurant in the state, but make sure you sample the pasta, especially the penne alla vodka. The penne is cooked to a perfect al dente, and it’s sauced with a spicy tomato cream sauce made with pepper vodka. Some sautéed pancetta completes the dish. Find more details on Mama Ricotta’s here.
Best Pizza: Pizzeria Omaggio, Charlotte
“Omaggio” is Italian for “homage,” and everything this restaurant does is an homage to its Italian roots. The restaurant itself is modeled after authentic Italian pizza restaurants, the ingredients are as fresh as can be, and pizzas are cooked in a blazing hot oven. There’s a massive variety of pizzas on offer, including 13 “classic” pizzas (for example the Calabrese, with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, homemade Italian sausage, pepperoni, pecorino Romano, and olive oil) and eight white pizzas (including the Pera Gorgonzola, with whole milk mozzarella, gorgonzola, and sliced pears). If you’d prefer to decorate your own pie, you can choose from 30 different toppings, including homemade Italian sausage or meatballs, San Daniele prosciutto, basil pesto, and goat cheese.
Best Ribs: The Pit, Raleigh
Don’t let the simple name fool you — this is one special place. Legendary pitmaster Ed Mitchell founded The Pit in 2007, and although he’s no longer a part of the venture, it’s still imbued with his famous touch. They source pigs in-state, all raised using free-range farming practices, and the proof is in the pudding — or the ribs, if you will. They have whole and half racks of baby back ribs, but you should really order the Carolina-style ribs because, as its menu cheers, they have “more bone, more fat, more flavor!”
Best Sandwich: Chopped BBQ at Lexington Barbecue, Lexington
Best Sandwich: Chopped BBQ at Lexington Barbecue, Lexington
It’s all about the pork when it comes to “Lexington-style” North Carolina barbecue, and though countless restaurants are serving their take on smoked pork shoulder sandwiches, none quite compare to Lexington Barbecue, going strong since 1962. You can order yours sliced or chopped (we prefer chopped), but make sure you don’t skimp on the slaw, a tangy mix of cabbage, vinegar, and pepper. It’s a smoky, porky, perfect expression of a beloved regional barbecue style.
Best Seafood Shack: Yacht Provision Company, Southport
Located along a shipping channel and first established in 1993, the Yacht Provision Company serves a top-notch grouper salad sandwich and fresh steamed shrimp, both of which are ideally washed down with some craft beer. While you're eating, sit back and watch the sun set at the mouth of Cape Fear.
Yelp/ Celeste C.
Best Soup: Matzo Ball Soup at Lucky’s Delicatessen, Durham
Three-time James Beard Award semifinalist Matt Kelly has turned his attention to Italian- and Jewish-inspired comfort food at his newest restaurant, with astonishing results. The broth is rich and deeply flavored, and the matzo balls are light but hearty, made with some serious skill.
Yelp/ Emily H
Best Steakhouse: Angus Barn, Raleigh
This sprawling compound is home to two event spaces, two lounges, private dining rooms, one of the country’s largest wine cellars, and a classy restaurant serving the best steaks in the state. Steaks are dry-aged and include a 42-ounce bone-in tomahawk rib-eye, chateaubriand, prime rib, and a 15-ounce New York strip; add-ons include Oscar (crab, asparagus, and hollandaise), blue cheese and balsamic glaze, and sautéed onions. All steaks are served with your choice of soup, salad, and potato, and as many menu items as possible are sourced from local North Carolina farms. Find more details on Angus Barn here.
Thomas R. via Yelp
Best Tacos: Barbacoa at Tacos La Vaquita, Durham
Since the turn of the millennium, Durham has experienced a boom in the size of its Hispanic community, and helping to give the city’s new residents a taste of home is Tacos La Vaquita. There’s a whole lot to love about the menu, but make sure to order the barbacoa taco. It’s composed of flavored beef with chopped onions, cilantro, radish, and green or red sauce, all rolled into a handmade corn tortilla. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2018.