1. Barbecue at Clyde Cooper’s
Barbecue is a religion in North Carolina, with factions and wars breaking throughout the state’s history. North Carolina is known for both Lexington and Eastern styles of barbecue. Lexington barbecue only uses the pork shoulder and relies on a red, sauce-based style seasoned with ketchup, vinegar and pepper for flavor. It’s common to the central and western parts of the state. And Eastern Style is vinegar and pepper-based barbecue that cooks everything on a pig from the “rooter to the tooter.”
The only place to really eat barbecue in Raleigh is Clyde Cooper’s Barbeque. Established in 1938, Clyde Cooper’s is a city and state treasure serving “Carolina-Style Barbeque.” Top lean pork shoulders and hams are slow-cooked “until they are meltingly tender, mixed with a splash of our own tasty Barbeque sauce.” This place really is belly-rubbing, finger-licking, lip-smacking good.
2. Sunday Brunch at Brig’s or Irregardless Cafe
We Raleigh-ites take our “Sunday Funday” seriously. We like our Sunday Brunch fried, smothered, scrambled, over-easy and gluten-free.
Brig’s Restaurants, which has five locations in Raleigh and the surrounding areas, is known for its award-winning benedicts. The dish is served on a toasted English muffin, topped with two poached, fresh eggs and Hollandaise sauce. Specialty toppings range from blue crab and steamed shrimp (Coastal Benedict) to creamed spinach and feta cheese (Florentine Benedict). Benedicts are served with fresh fruit, home fries or grits. Another Brig’s specialty is golden waffles topped with whipped cream and strawberries.
If you like a little music with your farm to table brunch, Irregardless Café is the place. Brunch options range from a variety of frittatas and omelets to banana walnut pancakes and huevos rancheros. Many of the herbs and seasonal vegetables and fruits come from the restaurant’s “Well Fed Community Garden.”
Irregardless Café also features live music at Sunday Brunch and every evening. More than 200 musicians representing an eclectic mix of Jazz – Latin, New Orleans, Swing, Cuban – Bluegrass, R & B, Fusion, Soul and World Music have graced the stage.
3. Mac-N-Cheese at Poole’s or Busy Bee
Mac-N-Cheese is the new North Carolina Barbecue. Raging, passionate debates have spanned for months about which place serves the best plate of it.
Pound-for-pound, the mac-n-cheese served at Poole’s Downtown Diner is a favorite of many Raleigh residents. Poole’s is one of seven local restaurants owned by Celebrity Chef Ashley Christensen. While the restaurant has a number of specialties, usually written on the chalkboard menu perched on the wall, the Truffle mac-n-cheese is a perennial favorite. Maybe it’s something about the blend of gruyere, white cheddar and Parmesan cheeses hugging the macaroni noodles or the texture of the crust that makes even the most rain-soaked moments of life suddenly feel brighter.
Busy Bee Café’s small plate mac-n-cheese is also a popular favorite with the locals, especially if you’re looking for something solid to soak up the alcohol in the restaurant’s beers and expert craft cocktails.
4. Laotian at Bida Manda
There is only one place in Raleigh to get authentic, Laotian food – Bida Manda. Before describing Bida Manda’s crisp pork belly soup, green papaya salad or pad thai, a Raleigh foodie will always have a catch in his or her throat, as if trying to conjure the memory of spicy lime sauce, coconut curry or stir-fried rice noodles.
Owned by siblings Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha, Bida Manda’s menu is based on family recipes marinated with French cooking techniques. Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese cooking are also a part of the food experience. And at the bar, try the Piña Coladas made with a fresh coconut cream.
5. Afternoon Tea at the Umstead
Unlike Atlanta or Richmond, Raleigh is a southern city that doesn’t make too much of itself. That’s what makes Afternoon Tea at the Umstead Hotel and Spa such an experience. By reservation only, high tea enthusiasts can nibble on: Prosciutto & Fig Cucumber, Cream Cheese Rotisserie Chicken Salad, Pimento Cheese Profiterole, and Smoked Salmon Vol au Vent finger sandwiches. As well as warm, buttermilk scones served with Devonshire cream and fruit preserves and some seasonal pastries.
Teas include: Himalayan Darjeeling, Earl Grey, Pomegranate Acai, Orchid Oolong, Sencha, Green Tea Passion and Silver Jasmine.
Afternoon Tea at the Umstead is no stuffy, granny affair. It is served in the hotel’s elegant but relaxed lounge and enhanced by a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture. A harpist provides an enchanting and mellow soundtrack to the tea experience. And the cost is just $32.
Later, you can walk off your finger sandwiches and sweets on the leafy, lush grounds of the Umstead Hotel and Spa and drink in the natural beauty that makes Raleigh unique.