Best Local Restaurants in the Raleigh Area

Today I thought it would be fun to create a list of my favorite local restaurants in the Raleigh area.  My husband & I have been living here for over three years now, so we’ve definitely had time to establish some favorite dining locations, & it just so happens that all of our favorite places to eat around here are locally owned & operated.  I’m not one of those people who refuses to eat at a chain restaurant, but I will admit that the vast majority of the time local places are both tastier & more interesting & often do have better service.  Additionally it just feels good to know that you’re contributing to the local economy rather than to some massive national corporation.Raleigh

As a disclaimer, I’ve obviously not had time to try EVERY restaurant in the Raleigh area.  I’m pretty sure I could live here for the rest of my life & never accomplish that feat!  And because of where we live in Raleigh this list is definitely biased towards North Raleigh.  This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list of the best dining experiences in the Triangle.  These are just my PERSONAL favorites, which all happen to be locally owned & operated.  Additionally, you will not find a single place on this list that is black tie or at all fancy because that is just not my style.  If I can’t go out to eat in jeans & a basic shirt, I’m not interested.  If that makes me lazy or redneck or whatever, I couldn’t possibly care less.

Additionally, aside from # 1, these are in no particular order.

**Click on the name for each restaurant to visit their website.

  1. India Gate (Durham)India Gate
    • This locally owned, family-run Indian restaurant off of Highway 54 in Durham is literally my favorite restaurant in the world.  I just cannot say enough about how wonderful this place is.  The food is phenomenal, the service is excellent, the decor is charming, the prices are very reasonable, & the setting is neat & clean.  My husband & I have taken several of our friends here, & they have all loved it.  One couple has even become regular diners there, just like us.  (In fact we frequently go there together.)  We even took my parents here last summer, & though they had never before eaten Indian food, they too really enjoyed it & have spoken about going back next time they’re in town.  I’ve tried several other Indian restaurants in this area (there are quite a lot to choose from), but none of them have equaled the excellence of India Gate in food, service, or value.  If you’ve never had Indian food, check out the lunch buffet (offered every day except Saturday) where the food is intentionally made a lot less spicy so that it’s more amenable to everyone.  My favorite dishes here are the butter chicken, the vegetable or chicken korma, the naan bread, the kheer (rice pudding), & the gulab jamun.  If you enjoy the buffet, be sure to pick up one of their cards where you get a stamp for every time you eat there, & then you’re tenth visit is free.  If you only take one suggestion on this list, make it this one.
  2. Greek Fiesta (multiple locations in Raleigh & Cary)greek-fiesta-at-crabtree
    • There are several casual “fast-food ish” Greek/Mediterranean restaurants in the Raleigh area, but this one is definitely my favorite.  There are quite a few locations throughout Raleigh & Cary, but I usually go to the one on Creedmoor Rd or the one at Brier Creek.  However, I’ve had good service & great food at every location I’ve ever visited.  I suggest going at lunch & getting the original gyro, which is one of the lunch specials, with fries.  One probably wouldn’t expect a Greek place to have amazing French fries, but believe me they are easily some of the best fries I’ve ever had.  The lamb/steak mixture used in the original gyro is also very delicious.  If you don’t like lamb, try the chicken pita which is also one of the lunch specials & is very good.  The kabobs are also excellent as are the hummus & baklava.  Again, my favorite location is the one on Creedmoor Rd because the staff there are especially friendly, but you can’t go wrong with any of the locations I’ve visited.
  3. Flying Biscuit Cafe (Cameron Village in Raleigh)flying biscuit
    • Ok, this one isn’t exactly local because there are definitely locations in a few other states, & I’m not sure where the restaurant originated.  However, Flying Biscuit has become such a local favorite that I feel like it has to be included on this list.  If you’re like me & don’t like crowds, definitely try to go at an “off” time & not on the weekend because this place is usually quite crowded & often has a bit of a line to get in the door.  If you do find yourself waiting, it will definitely be worth the wait.  The biscuits alone are mouth-watering.  Breakfast is served all day here, but there are lots of other options as well.  My personal favorite is “Not Your Mama’s Pimiento Cheese Sandwich.”  Served hot with turkey bacon, this thing is to-die-for delicious & big enough that you’ll probably have left-overs to enjoy later.  This is also one of the only places in Raleigh where you can drink alcohol at 7:00 in the morning . . .
  4. Sassool (Raleigh)sassool
    • Sassool is a family-run Lebanese/Mediterranean cafe & bakery located on Strickland Rd (near the intersection with Six Forks) that was previously called Neomonde.  However, the name was changed last year in honor of the woman whose recipes inspired the restaurant’s menu.  I don’t think you can go wrong with anything on the menu here, but one of my favorites is the mushroom onion pie which is basically a personal pizza made on pita bread.  The daily lunch specials (which you can find online) are always delicious, as are the baklava & the free pita bread that comes with every meal.  The website states there will be a new location in Cary soon (not sure exactly where), so be looking out for that.
  5. Backyard BBQ Pit (Durham)
    • If you want the area’s best BBQ, this is absolutely the place to go.  However, it is definitely a “no frills” type of joint, which of course suits me just fine.  In addition to mouth-watering pork BBQ, the side dishes are delicious as well; I recommend the sweet potatoes or the mac & cheese.  Prices are extremely affordable as well, so basically you can’t go wrong here.
  6. Pharaoh’s Grill (North Hills in Raleigh)
    • Here’s another no frills type of joint that also serves delicious food.  Check out the mouth-watering burgers & fries for a tasty lunch or early dinner.  (They’re only open 11 am to 6 pm.)  I’ve only been to the location at North Hills, but there is also one at the Natural History Museum downtown.
  7. Lilly’s Pizza (Raleigh)
    • Continuing with the theme of no frills places, Lilly’s Pizza is definitely not for you if you’re overly concerned with perfect decor or employees who don’t have obvious piercings & tattoos.  However, if you’re willing to overlook those “faults,” this place serves some seriously delicious pizza which you really ought not miss.  One of my favorites is the Sir Walter.  I also highly recommend the pita appetizer served with hummus, mango salsa, & artichoke dip.  There is also outdoor seating where you can eat with your puppy.
  8. Ruckus  (Raleigh, Cary, & Morrisville)
    • I was introduced to Ruckus by a friend who frequents the Avent Ferry Rd location near NC State in Raleigh.  That location is definitely more of a bar that happens to serve excellent pizza whereas the Cary & Morrisville locations are more restaurants which also have bars.  I enjoy all of them, although the pizza at the Avent Ferry Rd location is my favorite.  However, the Morrisville location carries what might be my favorite beer ever, the Saranac Prism.  The Raleigh & Cary locations have outdoor seating areas which welcome dogs.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed no matter which location you choose.
  9. Despina’s Cafe (Raleigh)despinas cafe
    • This Mediterranean style cafe was opened just a few years ago in the Towne North shopping center on Creedmoor Rd in Raleigh.  The owner grew up on the island of Cyprus & uses many of the recipes she gleaned from her mother’s restaurant there.  To satisfy your sweet tooth, I recommend the unique & delicious lemon lavender scone, the apple turnover, or the lemon bars.  If you’re in the mood for an actual meal, check out the marinated chicken wrap.  There is free WiFi here which makes it a good place to study or hold a small business meeting.
  10. Al’s Burger Shack (Chapel Hill)als burger shack
    • I just discovered this place about two weeks ago when I was in Chapel Hill with a friend.  We were both in the mood for burgers so we decided to give Al’s a try based on the good Google reviews.  I got the Kenny J burger & my friend got the Melly Mel chicken sandwich, & we were both very pleased.  We also shared some sweet potato fries that were easily the best I’ve ever had.  This is definitely not a fancy place & there isn’t a lot of seating, but if you’re in the mood for a good burger, this is definitely a great place to go.
  11. Sawmill Tap Room (Raleigh)sawmill tap room
    • My husband & I first tried this place almost three years ago when we were in the first stages of looking for a house & we were out driving around eyeballing places we’d seen for sale online.  It just so happened that we stopped in the shopping center next to the Sawmill Tap Room so that I could use the bathroom.  As I walked back to the car, I couldn’t help but notice the delicious smells coming from the tap room.  We’d been planning to eat somewhere else, but we decided to give this place a try instead, & we were very glad we did.  In fact the burgers were so good that we came back again about two days later!  My favorites are the Kansas City burger & the Jackson Hole burger.  The onion rings here are also something you don’t want to miss.  Additionally, the restaurant is decorated with pictures of old movie stars, & being a fan of old movies, I find that very charming.
  12. Justin’s Grill (Raleigh)
    • I tried this place at the corner of Millbrook & Falls of Neuse Rds some time last year at the recommendation of a friend since she knows how much I love lamb gyros.  I’ve been hooked ever since, not only because the food is so delicious & well-priced, but also because of the super friendly couple who runs the place.  In addition to the lamb gyro, I also highly recommend the BBQ chicken sandwich.  For sides, the fries & pita are always good options, as is some kind of pasta salad they make which is the best pasta salad I’ve ever had.  I don’t even usually like cold pasta salads, but theirs is very unique & super delicious.
  13. Firewurst (Cary & Raleigh)firewurst
    • This local restaurant was established by two great-grandsons of a Romanian man who moved to the US in 1902, & it’s definitely worth a try.  In case you haven’t noticed, I really like good burgers.  It’s amazing that I actually have a good BMI, but of course I don’t eat them every day or even every week.  Anyway, I tried this place last year at the recommendation of some friends, & they too have excellent burgers & sweet potato fries.  I’m not into hotdogs & bratwurst, but if you are, this is definitely the place to go as that is actually their specialty.
  14. Torero’s Mexican Restaurant (Raleigh)
    • There are actually several locations for this delicious Mexican joint, but the only one I’ve tried is the one on Atlantic Ave in Raleigh.  Like many of my other favorites, this isn’t a fancy place, but the food is delicious & the service is excellent.  The portions are also enormous so I guarantee you will leave with extras to take home with you.  The salsa here is heavy on cilantro which I’ve come to really enjoy.  The menu is pretty standard as far as Mexican restaurants go, but everything we’ve ever tried has been delicious.  My favorite is the pollo a la crema.

To my friends in the Triangle area, I hope you’ll give some of these great local restaurants a try.  Feel free to comment with your own favorite places to eat in this area.  If you’re not from this area but you plan to visit someday, definitely bookmark this post so you can remember to try a few of these places.

25 Things I’ve Learned By Age 25

I’ll be 26 in a few weeks, & lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I’ve learned about life in the 25 years I’ve been alive on this planet.  I’ve read a lot of articles lately with similar titles to this one, & I’ll admit I kind of hate myself for jumping on the bandwagon so to speak by writing this.  But I really do think I’ve learned some valuable lessons in my first quarter century of life, & I’d like to share some of those today.  Most of them are fairly serious, but some of them are more light-hearted & will hopefully make you laugh.  Let me be clear & say that I fail over & over in following some of these things.  Many lessons in life we have to learn over & over again because none of is perfect.  After all each & every one of us is a work in progress, & that’s as true for me as for anyone else.

These are in particular order.

  1. There is no one right path for everyone. I for one grew up with a very black & white view of the world; in other words, a world that was full of moral absolutes.  But as I’ve grown up I’ve realized how woefully inadequate such a paradigm is for a world as complicated as this one.  I’m by no means saying that I don’t believe in any sort of moral structure, but what I do mean is that most of life is really shades of grey.  Every situation is unique & different & there are very few things in life that fall under the category of “always right” or “always wrong.”  This really isn’t as scary as it may initially sound.  In fact it is just the only logical way of viewing life on this vastly complex planet.  Once you’re grasped this concept it is much easier to understand that the right path for someone else may be very different than the right path for you.  More often than not, neither of you is right or wrong, better or worse, only different.  And that is ok.Dalai lama quote
  2. Money in & of itself doesn’t bring happiness . . . but having enough to meet your needs & at least a few wants is a huge step towards finding contentment in this life. In other words, becoming a millionaire isn’t a guaranteed shot at happiness, but working hard & ensuring that you can take care of yourself & your family is most definitely a worthy goal.  Greed can & does lead to a great deal of evil in this world . . . But so does poverty . . . Consider that the most violent, dangerous areas of this country, indeed this world, are often the poorest.  This leads directly into my next point . . .
  3. Everything in moderation really is a great standard to follow in life. Now obviously there are a few exceptions to this rule, as some things really ought to be avoided altogether (like heroin, for example).  But for the vast majority of things in life moderation really is the best road to follow.  For example, despite what I believed growing up, I now understand that it is perfectly possible to drink in moderation.  (And there is no reason to think doing so is wrong.)  Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with eating ice cream or other sweets every once in a while, but doing so every day will likely not end too well.  As another example, sex is awesome, but for a number of fairly obvious reasons, it’s clearly best to limit the number of people with whom you do it.  In the end, most things in life really are best done in moderation.  Sadly our society has lost sight of this in regard to a lot of things, which is why we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic as well why we have an epidemic of college students who drink themselves to the point of oblivion every weekend.   If only we understood moderation . . .
  4. Dogs really are man’s (& woman’s) best friend. Forget diamonds or money or beer.  Dogs provide companionship & love that just can’t be beat.  I personally believe corgis are the best, but really any breed will do.  I didn’t grow up with dogs so when we first got Chaucer I couldn’t believe the difference in my mood just from having a dog around the house all the time.  They really are amazing.  I’m determined to never be without a dog again for the rest of my life.

    Me cuddling with our adorable Welsh corgi, Chaucer  :)

    Me cuddling with our adorable Welsh corgi, Chaucer 🙂

  5. When you hand someone cash, make sure that the bills are in order from greatest to least (greatest on bottom, least on top) & that all the bills are facing in the same direction (faces up, bills not upside down).  This is just the proper way to handle cash.    If you don’t do it this way the OCD & mildly OCD people of this world, like me, will want to smack you.
  6. Approach everything with an open mind. Sometimes the things you dread the most in life will turn out to be the things you love the most.  And sometimes the things you think you’ll love end up being dull, boring, or just plain miserable.  For example, I can’t tell you how much I dreaded working night shift.  But over three years later I now love it.  I probably won’t want to do it for another 30 years (because it is hard), but for right now it’s perfect for me.  I also went into nursing school thinking I wanted to be an OB nurse because it sounded fun & happy . . . Then I got to OB clinical & realized I was bored & disinterested . . . Instead I found that I loved geriatrics & hospice, things I always thought I’d hate.  Go figure.
  7. When someone is suffering, the best thing you can do is just be there for them. As tempting as it may be, don’t offer advice (unless specifically asked), & don’t try to make the suffering person see the positive side of everything.  Doing so just implies that you are making light of their suffering.  All any of us ever really wants (& needs) to hear when we’re really suffering is just that someone cares & understands that what we’re experiencing is really hard for us.  That’s it.  I’ve been amazed time & time again at how positively people (patients as well as friends & family) respond to a few simple words such as “I’m so sorry you’re going through this right now.  I know it must be really difficult for you.”
  8. Nothing in life is perfect all the time. You will fight with your best friend sometimes.  Your husband (or wife) will sometimes make you irrationally angry.  Your job will sometimes frustrate you so much that you will want to quit.  Your kids may make you question why you ever had them.  There will be days when in fact you question your very existence.  At the end of it all, we just have to find the people & things worth suffering for, the ones who make the bad days worth enduring.  I hope this doesn’t sound excessively pessimistic because I don’t mean it that way.  I’m just being realistic & admitting that life is never perfect.  The sooner we realize that, the sooner we’ll stop being disappointed over the fact that our lives aren’t the fairy tale we think they ought to be.  And we’ll start to understand that the grass really isn’t greener on the other side of the fence.  It’s greenest where you work the hardest & appreciate it the most.
  9. Don’t marry someone who isn’t your best friend. After all, with whom else would you want to spend the rest of your life?  Relationships aren’t half as complicated as most people make them out to be.  Which leads directly into my next point . . .marriage best friend
  10. If a man really loves you, you’ll know it. If he doesn’t, you’ll always be wondering.  (Thank you, James M. Sama, for this wonderful quote.)  Actions really do speak louder than words.  Anyone with enough money can buy you flowers or take you out for a fancy dinner.  But if he doesn’t support your dreams & goals, challenge you to be the best version of yourself, spend time with you even when you’re not at your best, & be there for you during all the best & worst moments of your life, then you need to move on to someone who will.  If a man really likes you & is interested, he WILL call you.  He WILL make specific plans to see you.  And he WILL respond to your texts.  This is really just common sense.  (By the way, I believe all of these things also hold true with the genders reversed.)
  11. Go to as many concerts as you can. I’m not suggesting you spend every penny of your savings on this, but you seriously should not miss out on the ones that are really important to you.  If they’re cheap &/or you can afford it, go to a few with friends even if the bands don’t interest you that much.  You never know when you will discover a new favorite band that you’d never heard of before.  It’s definitely happened to me.  And the only concerts I’ve ever regretted are the ones I’ve missed out on attending.

    eric church concert

    I’m going to see Eric Church for a third time next month . . . And I can’t wait!

  12. Read as much as you can. There is no better way to broaden your horizons & open your mind.  And there is no better way to escape from the humdrum of daily life.  Reading will make you smarter, more articulate, & more well-rounded.  Just do it.
  13. On a related note, be suspicious of anyone who doesn’t read at least a little bit for pleasure or who isn’t passionate about at least one kind of music. There is just something seriously wrong with these people.  If nothing else, they are incredibly boring.  Sorry, I’m not sorry.
  14. If you don’t like how your life is going, start making different choices. As adults there is no one else we can blame for our own mistakes or circumstances.  No, we can’t control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we react to it.
  15. Do the best you can with what you have where you are. (Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt, for that brilliant quote.)  I built my senior salutatorian speech around this quote, & I find it just as relevant now as I did seven years ago.  We’re all born into different circumstances & it goes without saying that some of us are given unfair advantages & disadvantages to start out with in life.  But if we make the best of what we have, it’s amazing how far we can go, no matter how meager our beginnings may be.teddy roosevelt
  16. Life isn’t fair. The sooner we come to terms with this, the sooner we can make peace with the injustices of life & work to make the world a better place.  We will never understand the reason some things happen, but that doesn’t change the fact that they happen.  For example, young people suffering from terminal illnesses is horrible & completely unfair.  But if we spend our time obsessing over the unfairness of it, we’ll never be able to help these people.  I volunteer with hospice because I know that people are suffering & dying whether I’m involved or not.  But I enjoy working with people & their families at the end of life, & if I can do even a few small things to make the process more bearable, I’m happy to do it.
  17. The best music is rarely on the radio. Go to YouTube & play around for a while.  Go to live concerts & discover new bands.  If you want to listen to something more interesting than songs about incessant partying, drinking, & dating, you have to work for it (sadly).
  18. The best food in the entire world is Indian food. Curry is the answer to all boring recipes.  Just try it.  (If you’re in the Raleigh-Durham area, try India Gate in Durham.  The lunch buffet is heavenly, & the price & service can’t be beat either.)indian_food
  19. Whatever physical “faults” you’re most self-conscious about, the rest of the world probably doesn’t even notice them. Seriously, we are all our own worst critics.  No one is paying half as much attention to your big forehead, crooked nose, or acne as you are.
  20. Never pretend to be something or someone you’re not to make someone else like you. If you’re being fake, you will inevitably be found out & it will never work anyway.  If someone doesn’t appreciate you for who are really are, you don’t need them in your life anyway.
  21. High school is barely a blip on the radar in the course of your lifetime. (Thank goodness!)  Seriously, the cool kids in high school are rarely all that cool past high school.  Who you were in high school won’t, or certainly shouldn’t, define who you are afterward.  If the high point of your life was high school, your life is really sad.  Trust me, real life isn’t half as bad as everyone says.
  22. Emotions are just emotions. There is no bigger waste of time than feeling guilty over being angry or sad or experiencing some other “negative” emotion over something.  Quite often these emotions are just natural human reactions to events in our lives.  The only thing that really matters is how we handle & respond to these emotions.avoidance
  23. We are all hypocrites. No matter what we believe or don’t believe, we are all hypocrites sometimes.  It’s ok.  None of us is perfect.  The important thing is to keep trying & to stay humble.
  24. Never judge people based on superficial things such as dress, tattoos, piercings, or accent. Or at least don’t be so indecent as to dismiss people entirely based on these kinds of superficial things.  In doing so, you will often miss out on the true nature of the person.  However, as unfair as it is, we do need to be aware that the vast majority of the world does judge others based on these things.  I’m not saying we should change these things about ourselves to appease others.  I just think we all need to be aware of the fact that, for better or worse, our outer appearance & demeanor are the first things people notice about us.
  25. The only thing we can really be certain of in life is that it is uncertain. And the only thing that never changes is that life is always changing.  I talked about this on here a few weeks ago.  This doesn’t have to be depressing.  We just need to realize that we’re never promised tomorrow.  And we’re certainly never promised a tomorrow that looks anything like our past or the present.  Thus we need to appreciate all the little things in life & make the most of every opportunity & experience that comes our way.  Life is far too short to do anything but have as much fun & do as much good as we possibly can.change quote gb shaw