Take on the Tri-City
North Carolina’s Research Triangle might be anchored by three major universities (North Carolina State University, Duke University, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) but this corner of the Piedmont offers much more than scholarly smarts; it’s got plenty of crave-worthy eats and an abundance of libations, too. Book a room, take a stroll, and grab a bite and a drink at some of our top picks in and around the Triangle. (Just be sure to check their websites as dining room openings and hours will vary.)
Ashley Christensen heads up a small fleet of downtown restaurants (seven at last count). But it all started back in 2007 when she opened Poole’s Diner, a new-age lunch counter with an ever-changing blackboard menu of comfort food rooted in regional ingredients. More than a decade later, it’s still cranking out plates like heirloom tomato pie drizzled with sherry vinaigrette and seared flounder atop succotash and fried avocado.
Scott Crawford recasts the Southern larder as art form with dishes like compressed melon carpaccio spattered with bright pops of blackberry and cherry tomato, which could double as abstract expressionism.
Garland is the cardamom and curry playground of Cheetie Kumar. The Indian-born chef explores the commonalities between Southern and pan-Asian food traditions through their many shared ingredients—think rice, okra, tomatoes, and cane sugar.
Angela Salamanca’s love letter to fresh, regional Mexican flavors includes a twenty-plus ingredient mole; at dinnertime, it cloaks grilled chicken on a plate with fried plantains and cilantro rice.
As night falls, step down a set of inconspicuous stairs below Fayetteville Street to land in the cool confines of Foundation; the hip hideaway comes with a solid whiskey selection.
Helmed by husband and wife Victor Lytvinenko and Sarah Yarborough, this shop recalls Raleigh’s history as a textile town. Stop by the 6,000-square-foot space to catch a glimpse behind the scenes.
The Guest House Raleigh is, quite literally, a home away from home. It’s set in a 1880s-era house once slated for demolition in the name of new development. Now safely relocated six blocks away, the eight-bedroom boutique hotel offers cozy digs downtown.
This Latina co-owned cafe is ideal for soaking in the local color while sipping a single-origin coffee. And the beans don’t have far to go from roast to brew: They come from Little Wave Coffee Roasters, Cocoa Cinnamon’s sister company based in Durham’s Lakewood neighborhood.
A sunny afternoon in Durham begs for a pint of Biere de Garde at Ponysaurus. And depending on the season, guests can order brats, burgers, and hot dogs along with prepared sides to host their own cook-out on a reserved grill.
Grab an after-dinner drink at this lively lounge, where Shannon Healy and staff mix up some of the most thoughtful cocktails in Durham. Upscale bar bites include beer-battered cauliflower and a burger topped with black truffle cheddar and bourbon bacon jam.
This buzzing second-story izakaya is open late with snacks, ramen, and an extensive sake list. Don’t forget about dessert: housemade green tea pound cake topped with miso caramel ice cream.
Situated in historic Brightleaf Square, Indio curates handmade goods featuring jewelry, home decor, pottery, and apothecary supplies, and also hosts workshops with local makers.
This quaint cafe is also an artisan grocery and gift shop, carrying everything from cookbooks and scented candles to local eggs and chic pantry supplies.
The Durham Hotel is a boutique experience that taps into the city’s past and present. Housed inside the landmark Home Savings Bank, the fifty three-room hotel harnesses mid-century design for a retro-modern feel. It leans on local partners for a hyper-local experience, from Counter Culture coffee delivered to the rooms to Escazu chocolates at turn-down. Head to the rooftop lounge for a birds-eye view of the city, best enjoyed with snacks from the raw bar.
A former 1960s motor lodge has been given a new life as cool-kid Unscripted Durham, the debut property of Dream Hotel Group’s new brand. The hotel’s interiors take a cue from its architecture, with retro furniture throughout. In each of the seventy-four guest rooms, bright, graphic wallpaper meets dark wood wainscoting; with bedroom furniture to match, it all harkens to the heyday of woody wagons. Still, the kitsch factor is kept in check by urban, eclectic touches like graffiti murals in the lobby and parking garage. It all feels refreshingly Durham, a historic and gritty city that’s buzzing with young, creative energy.
This James Beard “America’s Classic” restaurant has had its share of culinary fame: Chef Bill Neal is credited with cementing shrimp and grits in the mainstream culinary canon of the American South from the kitchen of Crook’s Corner. His successor, Bill Smith, revived a little-known coastal classic when he put Atlantic Beach Pie on the menu. A new generation has taken the helm now, but those menu items are mainstays, alongside a rotating roster of Southern favorites.
The Crunkleton may be located in the heart of a college town but this down-to-earth craft cocktail bar isn’t just for co-eds. Overseen by the bow-tied and bespectacled proprietor Gary Crunkleton, the bar is as much a mixology haven for updated twists on vintage cocktails as it is a haunt to swig a Miller High Life and talk all things Tar Heel.
Master baker Lionel Vatinet was in the vanguard of artisanal bread when he opened this North Carolina bakery some twenty years ago. Now, he’s baking heirloom Southern grains into French legacies through a partnership with local farmers and milling companies like Asheville’s Carolina Ground.
With a 16,000-square-foot spa, the Umstead spells luxury. The hotel’s masculine, modern design is imbued with touches of whimsy—be it from rotating regional art or the theatrical fare executive chef Steven Greene serves at the property’s Forbes Five Star restaurant, Herons.
- by Erin Byers Murray
- by Hannah Lee Leidy
- by Hannah Lee Leidy
- by Julia Miller