Worth a Drive
Whet your appetite on the ride over: These top-ranked restaurants need to be on every foodie’s bucket list.
This landmark Chapel Hill restaurant has been drawing crowds ever since Chef Bill Neal and Gene Hamer opened it in 1982. (The James Beard Foundation named it one of America’s Classics in 2011.) After 10 years, Chef Neal turned the helm over to Chef Bill Smith, who led the restaurant until January when Chef Justin Burdett of Local Provisions fame in Asheville stepped into the role. Chef Burdett is following the tradition of seasonal summer selections, like his Peach and Tomato Salad.
This one is putting Mebane on the map, with everything made to order, in-house. Chef Bob Compton is making a name for himself and the restaurant with his contemporary interpretations of Southern classics, such as the Southern Asian Dumplings with pork belly, leeks, celery, garlic, pimento cheese, and North Carolina barbecue sauce. You can’t beat this multicultural take on cuisine.
Farms & Café
Graham / Saxapahaw area
Savor the rural meandering to get here; this one’s a winner. And when they say local, they mean seriously local: Like from their own 400-acre farm with its seven species of livestock. It would be hard to choose between lunch or dinner, so maybe start with Sunday brunch, where you might try the Chorizo & Cheddar Grit Cake with cilantro and lime cream sauce, the farm’s own pan-seared chicken breast, and two sunny eggs. Or ditch any semblance of diet and go for the Blueberry French Toast, made with Chicken Bridge Bakery bread (Pittsboro’s local favorite) and topped with fruit compote, served with sausage patties and eggs.
Anyone who remembers the Triangle’s first James Beard award–winning restaurant, Magnolia Grill in Durham, will want to fast track over to Pizzeria Mercato. Karen and Ben Barker closed Magnolia Grill in 2012 and moved their restaurant expertise down the road to Carrboro, opening this “Italy meets the South” pizzeria with their son Gabe. (Chef Gabe spent five years cooking hot spots in San Francisco before coming home to do this.) You’ll find seasonally focused pizza toppings, often inspired by the Carrboro Farmers Market across the street.
Mateo Bar de Tapas
Chef Matthew Kelly has taken his Spanish tapas bar to national acclaim, and elevated the Bull City’s ranking as a foodie destination in the process. His Southern inflection on Spanish cuisine is unparalleled, but he’s also made news with the restaurant’s expansive list of Spanish wines and what is reportedly one of the largest selections of sherry to be found anywhere.
Vicious Fishes Brewery
Didn’t see this town coming to the foodie destination list, yet here it is—thanks to Vicious Fishes Brewery opening a gastropub helmed by executive chef Ryan Miller. Chef Miller returns to his North Carolina roots after honing his skills in New York City’s famed Momofuku group. Everything is prepared fresh in-house, and you’ll find their signature ales on draft as well as incorporated into a number of dishes, like the Beer-Brined/Cured Pickles and Ale-Braised Roast Beef Sandwich.