Raleigh, North Carolina, is quickly making a name for itself as a foodie destination. Undergoing rapid growth, exceptionally wonderful restaurants now abound. In addition to downtown, Glenwood Avenue and the trendy Warehouse District are on the rise as particularly great food districts.
Raleigh’s culinary scene is filled with star power. With a number of award-winning and celebrity chefs bringing their excellence and entrepreneurship to the City of Oaks, it’s no wonder that Raleigh is quickly becoming a favorite destination of people who enjoy authentic cuisine in chic, quirky, and historic locations around the city. It seems that there are fabulous restaurants on every street — too many to mention. Here are just a few of our favorites.
1. Mulino Italian Kitchen & Bar
Located in the historic Melrose Knitting Mill, Mulino is as authentically Italian as they come. The restaurant holds to the philosophical and fundamental tenants of Italian cuisine: great ingredients, great techniques, and authentic recipes.
Mulino serves dishes that span Italy’s vast culinary landscape and tastes. They make all their pizza dough and pasta in house, from scratch, with local and organic flour and eggs. The Margherita pizza is amazing, as is the Agnello, a red wine-braised lamb shank with saffron risotto. We also recommend the seared scallop fonduta: scallops and Parmigiano crema with Umbrian black truffle.
Be it a romantic date night inside or pizza and wine outside on the light-strung patio next to the shimmering pool, Mulino is where it’s at.
Pro Tip: Open for dinner only, online reservations are encouraged at Mulino.
2. Wye Hill Brewing
Formerly the Boylan Bridge Brewpub, Wye Hill Brewing offers an idyllic covered patio with some of the best panoramic views of downtown Raleigh. The innovative menu is complimented by their signature craft beer and innovative cocktails. With dishes like Everything Brussels, fried brussels sprouts with fromage blanc, maple mustard, dill, and everything seasoning, Wye Hill has earned a place on the list of iconic Raleigh restaurants. Oh, and the fries — best ever!
Wye Hill is open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week, and brunch on the weekends.
Pro Tip: Wye Hill is on, well… a hill. Parking is down the street. People with limited mobility may want to be dropped off curbside on Boylan Street.
3. St. Roch
St. Roch Owner and Chef Sunny Gerhart hails from Louisiana, and he brings his Southern flair with him to downtown Raleigh. Though trained under Ashley Christensen of Poole’s fame, Gerhart is his own man and a master chef in his own right.
St. Roch has a warm, gothic cathedral vibe with plenty of seating. The dinner-only menu includes New Orleans classics, such as crawfish hushpuppies, gumbo, alligator bolognese, and of course, plenty of oysters. Whichever dish you choose, start your meal with the watermelon and ricotta salad and end it with fresh beignets covered in warm bourbon caramel sauce. You won’t be sorry. A special weekend brunch menu features a Cajun breakfast complete with beignets and boudin balls, and a standout fried oyster hotcake.
Pro Tip: St. Roch is located downtown on Wilmington Street. Parking on the street is hard to find during peak hours. A city parking garage is an easy walk right around the corner.
4. Caffe Luna
Located in a majestic historic building in downtown Raleigh, Caffé Luna is well known for serving Italian cuisine with a Tuscan focus. It is a seriously cute, comfy restaurant with several dining areas. It felt like we were guests for dinner at someone’s house.
Caffe Luna has one of the best reputations in Raleigh. There are over 30 dishes on the menu, including seafood and a wide selection of Italian dishes. The cavatelli pasta is made by hand, and they use Southern-grown cavatelli beans for their delicious sauce. Caffe Luna also has a reputation for its service and family atmosphere. We wholeheartedly agree!
5. 42nd St. Oyster Bar
You just have to visit 42nd St. Oyster Bar, a restaurant institution in Raleigh since 1931. The dining area is large and open, made warm with dark wood accents, a large bar area, and an open kitchen. It is also a lot of fun. There are several great options on the menu, including the raw oysters — of which there are multiple choices — Manhattan clam chowder, shrimp and grits, and crab cakes.
42nd St. Oyster Bar is committed to serving high-quality food and drinks and sourcing local products. With the motto “Seafood Any Fresher Would Still Be in the Ocean,” you have a lot to live up to, and 42nd St. Oyster Bar does! The restaurant also has live music on weekends.
6. Sullivan’s Steakhouse
Located on Glenwood Avenue in a renovated creamery building, Sullivan’s should satisfy anyone’s craving for a great steak. This steak and seafood house consistently shows up on best restaurants lists, so they must be doing something right. With the look and feel of an old-world steakhouse, the restaurant does not disappoint in any aspect.
Sullivan’s menu covers a lot of the classics, including filet mignon, lobster, burgers, soups, and salads. The side dishes are equally impressive and include baked potato, macaroni and cheese, king crab, gnocchi, and much more
Pro Tips: Don’t let the “steakhouse” name keep you away. They have a great vegetarian menu. Reservations are recommended.
7. Crawford & Son
This casual restaurant is in the Historic Oakwood District and is perfect for foodies. Owner and Chef Scott Crawford is a five-time James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast. The menu is limited but exciting. The straightforward, honest food selections are delectable. Start your meal with sweet potato soup or confit pork belly. Entrees include seared swordfish, caramelized butternut squash, and roasted pork chops. Crawford & Son also offers fantastic wine selections to pair perfectly with any dish.
Pro Tip: Reservations are preferred and parking may be limited in this popular, historic neighborhood.
8. Fiction Kitchen
It might be difficult to find amazing vegan/vegetarian restaurants, but Fiction Kitchen in Raleigh’s Warehouse District certainly fills the bill. It is 100 percent vegan and is regarded as one of the best restaurants in Raleigh.
Fiction Kitchen offers sharable plates and table sides, and the main menu includes a Southern-style plate with Eastern-style barbecue, Southern fried chicken, or Nashville hot chicken (all vegan, of course). Another popular dish is the mushroom risotto.
There’s also a full bar menu with signature craft cocktails, beer, and wine.
Pro Tip: Fiction Kitchen is only open for dinner Wednesday–Saturday. Plan accordingly.
9. Brewery Bhavana
Brewery Bhavana has to be one of the most fantastic concepts for a restaurant around. It calls itself a dim-sum restaurant, but it is so much more. It also has its own brewery with 20+ craft brews on tap, a bookstore, and a flower shop! Yes, you read that right. Apparently, it’s a concept that caught on as it earned a spot on Bon Appetit’s 2017 list of America’s Best New Restaurants.
The menu is wonderful and offers tons of options. Some favorites are seafood dumplings, rice congee, edamame ginger dumplings, duck egg rolls, and stir-fried green beans. The most popular dim sum is char siu bao stuffed with Cantonese barbeque pork and served with house dumpling sauce. We ended up sharing many of the dishes, and it worked well.
Brewery Bhavana is located in the historic Moore Square Park in downtown Raleigh. It is open for lunch and dinner.
Pro Tip: I have to say I’d go back just for the ambiance (and the char siu bao). The ethereal atmosphere makes you want to linger. You can even just browse in the flower and book shops under skylights and by fig trees!
Poole’s is an institution in the downtown Raleigh dining scene. In 2007, Ashley Christensen, the acclaimed James Beard award–winner for Outstanding Chef in the Country, opened Poole’s. With her outstanding success, she went on to open several more restaurants. But her twist on comfort food at Poole’s remains a local favorite. Seasonal, locally sourced dishes change weekly, and sometimes daily. If you are a mac and cheese fan, the house macaroni au gratin has a following all its own.
Pro Tip: Reservations for dinner are highly suggested and can be made online. Parking validation is offered.