This may go down as one of my favorite posts to date. In case you didn’t know, I love to eat and try new food. Growing up, I didn’t understand the difference between chain restaurants and locally owned restaurants. It wasn’t until I was in college that I began to really enjoy food and decided to try different things. I used to feel so swanky trying out a new restaurant with new to me dishes. North Carolina has some outstanding restaurants with some outstanding chefs, and some are included here on my list. But some of these are also my favorites from growing up.
Here is my list of the must-eat places in North Carolina in no particular order.
Poole’s Diner, Raleigh
I didn’t intentionally mean to put Poole’s as my first pick, but whenever anyone asks me my favorite restaurant, this is always the first one I list. Every. Single. Time. I’ve raved and raved about the service at Poole’s, the food at Poole’s, but I think that my favorite description I give people about Poole’s is that my incredibly picky husband has never once said “It could have been better if…” like he has done at every other restaurant we’ve ever eaten at.
My recommendations: pimiento cheese appetizer, watermelon & feta salad, roasted chicken, the Royale, soft shell crab, and always… always share the mac & cheese.
Buxton Hall BBQ, Asheville
I never in a million years expected to walk into a restaurant in western North Carolina and find eastern North Carolina style BBQ that was this good. And bonus points that this restaurant serves rose. I mean, rose with bbq? I couldn’t describe a better way to summarize myself in a meal.
My recommendations: hushpuppies, chopped BBQ sandwich, fried chicken sandwich, and fries.
Mateo bar de tapas, Durham
I definitely think Mateo is my all time favorite girls’ night spot. The small plates are perfect for trying “safe” dishes, but also to step outside of your comfort zone and try things that you maybe aren’t sure about. That’s what we did when I went here with some of my favorite girls and it did not disappoint. Bonus points for the interiors and the atmosphere. Hands down one of my favorite meals to date.
My recommendations: chicharrones, quesos, pollo frito, queso frito y huevo, and ask the server for their recommendations. You won’t be disappointed!
a Tavola! Market Cafe, Greenville
When I lived in Greenville during college, I went to a Tavola! every Friday night. Heck, this is where we ate after my college graduation ceremony. Now, every time I visit Greenville, I force my bff Hillary, my parents, whomever I’m with really, to eat here with me. This is still one of my favorite restaurants. It’s a casual place with a great wine list (this is the first place I ever had prosecco and the brand will ALWAYS be my favorite) and a laid back atmosphere.
My recommendations: the crab dip appetizer, seafood bisque, shrimp po’ boy, and any of the pizzas.
Beaufort Grocery, Beaufort
Beaufort Grocery was my first real taste of an upscale deli. It’s the perfect place for lunching with friends, but also, there are great meals to pick up and take home for later. It’s a beautiful interior on a quaint street in Beaufort, NC.
My recommendations: hot gorgonzola & spinach dip, the queen’s club, Charles’ cranky crab sandwich, gougeres, and shrimp and scallops for dinner.
Back Porch Restaurant, Ocracoke
It’s not a secret that Ocracoke Island is one of my favorite places. There are some great restaurants that have been on the island since I was a little girl, but Back Porch is a true gem there. It stands out with unique dishes and pairings, and has an upscale dining room, and a more relaxed bar. Please don’t let my description of upscale dining on Ocracoke fool you, though. It’s still Ocracoke, and it’s still laid back.
My recommendations: crab beignets, spicy pimiento cheese, shrimp empanadas, bourbon pecan chicken, back porch crab cakes, pork belly & littleneck clam ramen bowl.
Parker’s BBQ, Greenville & Wilson
Man oh man. Picking another barbeque place was difficult for this list, but I wanted to go with my original favorite. Parker’s has three locations in eastern North Carolina. DG isn’t a huge eastern North Carolina barbeque fan, but he loves this one. We always stop and get barbeque to take back to Raleigh with us from here. P.S. They ship! It’s DELICIOUS and you should try it!
My recommendations: macaroni & cheese, chopped barbeque, hush puppies, sweet tea.
Down on Main Street, Washington
I made all my friends drive from Greenville to Washington to eat at this restaurant for my 19th birthday. You can’t beat the house made ranch dressing, homemade chips, and the view of the river from the patio, or the view of the street from the window seats. It’s definitely laid back, but when I was in college, my BFF Amanda and I worked at a store, and we ate lunch here every Saturday.
My recommendations: homemade chips with ranch dressing, cheese fries, crab cake sandwich, and shrimp burger.
The Freez, Scotland Neck
Y’all, when I was little, all I ever wanted to eat was fried chicken & fried okra. Every Saturday, my parents and I drove over to my grandparents farm and this is where we had lunch. And that’s what I got. Whenever I drove through on my way back to college, I stopped for a burger (or two), fried okra, and a chocolate milkshake. They make their chocolate milkshakes with chocolate ice cream and chocolate syrup and I’ve never had one better. If you’re ever driving through, stop and try one.
My recommendations: sweet tea, fried okra, chicken strips, cheese burgers, fried chicken, chocolate milkshake.
The Boiler Room, Kinston
This is a recent addition from our trip to Kinston. As mentioned before, DG isn’t easily impressed by food, but when I asked him to list out his favorite restaurants in North Carolina (he only had 2 y’all), he told me at dinner he added this one to his list. It’s a great burger and oyster bar that’s pretty typical to the style restaurants I ate at, but these burgers are delicious and I had one with fried oysters, and I could have eaten my weight in the fried oysters.
My recommendations: pimiento cheese appetizer, surf & turf burger, fries.
Hen and the Hog, Halifax
When I heard that Halifax, NC was getting a farm-to-fork restaurant, I almost fell out of my chair. Halifax is about 15 minutes from where I grew up, and used to have cute shops and a thriving little downtown, but it has slowly gone down hill over the years. Both their lunch and dinner menus are outstanding, but for non-adventurous food eaters (hey Mom, Dad, DG), I think lunch is a better pick. It’s also a great time to check out Historic Halifax and part of the revitalization that the owner of the restaurant is doing there.
My lunch recommendations: chicken & waffles, shrimp & grits, tomato pie in the summer, and a dessert. I don’t even have a favorite because I liked every one I tried.
My dinner recommendations: any of the shrimp or chicken dishes, and if they have sweet potato ice cream that night… get it.
Bida Manda, Raleigh
My first experience with Laotian food was a delicious one. I am obsessed with the menu, the service, and the interior of this restaurant. Bida Manda is a gem in Moore Square and I recommend it for a date night or a night out with girl friends.
My recommendations: The pad Thai with shrimp or ask the server for their favorite dishes. We weren’t disappointed with their suggestions!
I had a hard time narrowing down restaurants, but these are truly my favorite restaurants and places that I have consistently had great meals. These are all at varying levels of price points and elegance, but I hope you’ll give them a try and let me know what you think!
Have a great weekend!