Top Triangle Restaurants 2014

The best food in Raleigh, Cary and a little bit beyond

When I first tell people I am a food blogger, the first thing that they ask me is, “What is the best restaurant in the Triangle?” That is a really tough question to answer, it’s like asking me what gift to get your mother-in-law. Everyone has different tastes and different needs. But I still like to have a list of ‘ole standbys to point people to. So it’s about time I give this some more thought and update my top ten list for the Triangle.

The last time I created my top ten list was shamefully back in 2011, and I haven’t been making many trips out by Chapel Hill or Durham in the past two years. So the majority of my picks will probably be focused on the Wake County area so I can ensure I’m giving you picks that are consistent and also have good service, not just good food and that are reasonably priced, generally below $12 an entree.

This past year I have also made great improvements to my eating habits, so I have been picking places to eat that have healthier options. Let’s start with Mediterranean food.

Best Mediterranean / Lebanese

You’ll see heavy rotation of Mediterranean and Lebanese food here, because it’s incorporates so many fresh vegetables and keeps me feeling healthy. At Neomonde my order of choice is the chicken shawarma pita lunch box special that comes with choice of two sides. I like the mujadarah (lentils and rice with caramelized onions) and a bean or lettuce salad, but I am also a sucker for the tzatziki sauce. If you order one of the platters that comes with kabobs at Neomonde (or Sassool, their sister location) you’ll get a smear of this delicious garlic cream that has a major bite to it. At Jasmin I normally get the Jasmin platter with their spit-roasted chicken, with a greek salad and hummus and pita. Neomonde always makes pitas in the oven to go with your meal, but Jasmin only sometimes does and I do prefer the pitas at Jasmin for their chewiness.

Runner up are Aladdin’s and Greek Fiesta. Aladdin’s has a really deep menu that doesn’t seem to have weak spots. I’m still dreaming about the falafel salad we had recently and the meat pie appetizer called sfiha. Greek Fiesta is fast and reliable for good kabobs and salad platters.

Best Barbecue/Soul Food

I won’t waver on my long-held belief that Dame’s Chicken and Waffles has the best meal in the Triangle, bar none. Certainly this is true in the under $20 an entree price point. Throw your diet out the window and get the best mac n cheese ever as one of your side options. That’s all you need to know.

The Pit in Durham wins my top honors here for having amazing BBQ meats and delicious sides to match that are both homey and inventive. Atmosphere is a little more upscale than your typical wood-paneled joint, so you can feel comfortable bringing out of town guests, but still have that comfy feel sitting at a big communal table. The Pit in Raleigh has similar food, but I felt that the Durham location seemed tastier to me and had more family-style eating options.

 

Ole Time BBQ must be mentioned here as a cheap favorite, literally right along the railroad tracks and neighboring a trailer park. Part of the charm is not only the homestyle food but the Southern hospitality of the staff. You’re well cared-for here.

 

Big Al’s in Wake Forest has BBQ down pat. It’s a little bit of a hike for me, but I’ve been here three times and also savored the BBQ from the catering truck that graced us at work. Everything I’ve tried here has delighted, and the amazing bar of homemade BBQ sauces gives you plentiful opportunities to customize the meal.

Best Latin / Mexican Food in Wake County

Mami Nora’s has been in my top ten since I discovered them, and the whole genre of charcoal rotisserie chicken, a few years ago. With locations now in Cary, Raleigh and Durham, it’s getting easier. Just do yourself a favor and try this flavorful but not spicy chicken with your choice of sides. And try both the yellow (creamy) and the green (spicy) sauces on the chicken and your fries. Thank me later.

 

Guasaca has been a smash hit since opening and you can see why, with lots of fully flavored meat options for stuffing into your cornmeal arepa. If you’re cutting carbs you can also get your choice of toppings (including plantains, black or pinto beans, pico de gallo, onions, cheese, etc.) on a bed of brown or white rice or lettuce. This is a quick service eatery with affordable pricing to match, so think Chipotle but with more interesting options.

 

Gonza Tacos y Tequila ranks high enough to be the location of my birthday celebration this year. I turned 35 with some delicious Mexican Flag enchiladas and a complimentary shot of something blue. They have lovely touches like a really fresh side salad option that comes with jicama and pepitas. Not just the old boring bean sludge and yellow stubby rice you normally find. I also recommend the Paloma drink at the bar. They have a location in Wake Forest and one in North Raleigh now.

Best Breakfast in the Triangle

The Triangle is seeing a lot of growth in the breakfast arena, now with a few chains expanding like Flying Biscuit, Tupelo Honey, First Watch and Another Broken Egg. But for my northern taste buds, the place I want to get breakfast (assuming it’s no-holds-barred) is the casual and family-run Barry’s Cafe in Cary. It’s a firehouse themed diner with cozy booths and breakfast all day. I’ve enjoyed hobo hash breakfasts, omelets, pancakes and eggs benedict, as well as the jalapeño bacon that’s an option. My favorite thing to order right now, though, is the country fried steak.

Tupelo Honey is one to watch, though. I’ve had amazing breakfasts at the Asheville location and am always blown away by their biscuits. I wasn’t as impressed with my Raleigh lunch but I mean to head over and revisit brunch at the new Cameron Village location.

Best Asian

SuperWok is our lunch-time obsession now, seeing that my colleagues and I have been alternating between here and one or two other local options weekly. While ordering a bento at a Chinese restaurant is strange, it’s one of the best deals out there. All said and done you’re at about $8 for the bento which comes with orange wedges, a salad with ginger dressing, and egg roll and your choice of entree plus a drink. But don’t stop there, come in for dinner or at least order the dumplings with chili oil as you appetizer and get a glimpse of the authentic dishes.

Runner up here is Captain J’s, which I’ve blogged about since I have had very interesting experiences there. The food is great, the service is unique, and you will definitely experience something new. Banana Leaf also has great food, and the best ambiance of the three, check out my reviews of these.
Soo Cafe deserves a mention for their amazing Korean Fried Chicken. They are on Capital Blvd. now so check them out when you get a chance.

Best Coffee

Sola Coffee Cafe takes my top honors for Triangle coffee shop for a few reasons. The drinks are consistently good, the interior is really comfortable and homey, and the owners are very involved, friendly, and engaged with the community. The syrups they use are homemade, and you should definitely try some of their food, including the new toasts on the menu.

Helios used to be my favorite but they have closed without warning. Jubala is also one I regularly visit, I am a sucker for their special waffles. But I’m not worried about losing Helios because a new crop of coffeeshops have opened this year. Yellow Dog, Cafe de los Muertos, Brew, and Maude’s Garden. Cocoa Cinnamon in Durham is still holding it’s own, with a really fun unique outdoor and indoor space, plus experimental and traditional coffee drinks.

Closing Thoughts

There are so many more places I wish I could name, but this is supposed to be a short list! I couldn’t keep it down to ten. Comment and let me know if you disagree or wish I had included some other places. I want to hear your favorites too. I keep going back to these places again and again.