If there is such a thing as old-school barbecue, then The Pig in Chapel Hill is not it. Although their menu includes hickory-smoked (antibiotic- and hormone-free, pasture-raised) pulled pork, dry-rubbed beef brisket, and fried chicken, it also offers "country-fried tofu," BBQ tempeh, and the occasional Rocky Mountain oyster. Owned and operated by former vegan Sam Suchoff, The Pig’s offerings are as satisfying as they are eclectic. Beyond the meat (and not meat), don’t miss the deep-fried Moon Pie.
Under the ownership of chef Ashley Christensen, Raleigh’s Poole’s Diner"has returned to its diner roots." The diner originally opened downtown in 1945 under John Poole and was known as the place for pies in the state’s capital. Although its identity has evolved over the years, Christensen has successfully preserved the landmark’s history while adapting the menu to serve daily, seasonal menus. Word on the street is that they serve a mean mac and cheese.
For many, chef Andrea Reusing’s Lantern needs no introduction. The Asian cuisine-inspired restaurant with a strong priority for using North Carolina ingredients and has won widespread recognition. Chef Reusing is the winner of the 2011 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast, and the restaurant was a semifinalist for the prestigious James Beard Outstanding Restaurant award this year. The menu is variable, but stand-outs include red-cooked Chapel Hill Creamery pork shank with star anise, steamed lotus leaf rice, Edward’s ham, local mushrooms, and braised watercress.
German-born baker Claudia Kemmet-Cooper has offered "Old World" baked goods in Durham since 1998. Serving a menu ranging from breads and breakfast pastries to cakes and cookies, Guglhupf is also a beautiful two-level café with outdoor seating. Diners can stay to enjoy a meal (Sunday brunch is packed) in the café or come by for a pick-up at the separate bakery boutique entrance.
Allen & Son BBQ has been serving pulled and chopped pork with a vinegar-based sauce since 1967. The BBQ is "made fresh every morning" by owner Keith Allen. In addition to splitting the hickory wood, he smokes the meat in large pits behind the restaurant. A 15-minute drive from Chapel Hill, this restaurant provides the veritable N.C. BBQ experience (Eastern-style, that is).
Dos Taquitos continues the local and seasonal menu trend, but with a Mexican twist. For brunch, this funky restaurant and tequila bar in downtown Raleigh serves delicious panquecas de maiz: a corn cake with fresh mozzarella topped with maple syrup, sausage, and fruit. Instead of just chips and salsa, they also bring thin-sliced, lightly pickled and spiced veggies to hand-painted tables. An unexpected find among the creative tequila cocktails is their sweet tea, which (as some might argue) is the unofficial North Carolina state beverage.
Look no further than downtown Durham for iconic Southern comfort foods. Dame’s is known for what the name says, with variations of this dish ranging from caramel and cashew toppings to a whiskey crème sauce. The waffles also come in a variety of flavors, including sweet potato (North Carolina produces over 40% of the country’s supply), gingerbread, fresh blueberry, and vegan. No visit to the South would be complete without grits, of course; their spicy shrimp and chicken sausage combination would be our pick.
Named after a phonetic spelling of beaucoup, as in merci beaucoup, Bu-Ku in Raleigh takes its inspiration from "the pushcarts of street vendors in cities across the globe." From Polish to Colombian cuisine, the variety of the menu might initially make the restaurant seem as if it’s managing an identity crisis. Even still, the common "street food" denominator lends itself to tasting-size portions that are easily shared. Like the food menu, the drinks menu embraces North Carolina products with Lone Rider and Foothills Brewery beers.
Watts Grocery in Durham is a local favorite that self-brands as "an extension of chef Amy Tornquists’ home and table." Serving lunch, brunch, dinner, and late-night desserts and cocktails (10 p.m.-midnight Tuesday through Saturday), chef Tornquist spotlights local produce and products from a 200-mile radius. The menu changes with the seasons, but if it's on the menu, the fried green tomato BLT is a must.