Raleigh, North Carolina is notable for its outstanding museums, top tier research universities, parks and green spaces, and craft beer scene. Another top draw? Its food, which rivals that of any city in the Southeast. While diners can find their fair share of Southern classics like Eastern Carolina barbecue and biscuits and gravy, the city offers something for everyone: special occasion spots, laid-back neighborhood restaurants, vegan cuisine, and internationally-inspired fare. And for a landlocked city, Raleigh has a surprisingly good number of seafood joints, whether you're craving oysters on the half shelf or a fried seafood tower.
From old school steakhouse Angus Barn to the award-winning contemporary diner Poole's, here are the 16 best restaurants in Raleigh.
Scott Crawford, five-time James Beard Foundation semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast, created the ultimate approachable neighborhood spot in Crawford & Son. Located in historic Oakwood, the intimate restaurant showcases his passion for fine dining with none of the fuss. Take the simple malted wheat balls—sprinkled with sea salt and served warm with a side of rich hickory butter—or the summer melon gazpacho, amped up a notch with a generous helping of delicate blue crab and the kick of jalapeño peppers. While the menu changes seasonally, the quality is exceptional year-round.
Garland's owner and chef Cheetie Kumar is a rock star. Literally. When she's not running her trio of downtown ventures—the other two being indie music venue KINGS and the intimate bar Neptunes Parlour—she's playing and touring as a guitarist with her band, Birds of Avalon.
The restaurant's eclectic menu draws inspiration from her native India as well as other Asian cuisines and flavors of her adopted South. Their menu changes seasonally, but you can expect shareable small plates like Szechuan-marinated local turnips and crispy rice Papdi chaat with heirloom field peas, as well as large plates such as the lemongrass brisket in coconut braise gravy.
Find a slice of the Big Apple in Raleigh at this pizzeria, owned by New York native Anthony Guerra. Build your own 18-inch pie, with your choice of white or red sauce, and toppings ranging from meatballs, sausage, and bacon to olives, peppers, and mushrooms. (Pizzas are also available by the slice). The restaurant has a selection of beer and wine by the glass as well as cocktails like Campari and soda and the Aperol spritz.
When this contemporary diner from award-winning chef Ashley Christensen opened in 2007, it was instrumental in revitalizing the city's then dormant downtown. Once a local pie shop, Poole's has retained its original double horseshoe bar and red leather banquettes, while adding more modern touches like its signature mural chalkboard menu. The food is a mix of old meets new, with contemporary spins on Southern classics that highlight seasonal ingredients. Standouts include the macaroni au gratin, made with three types of cheese, topped with sea salt, and finished in a broiler.
Pro tip: The restaurant doesn't take reservations, and queues form half an hour before it opens at 5 p.m.
As the name suggests, this family-owned Warehouse District spot is run by patriarch Jose Ibarra and his two sons, Charlie and Hector. The food melds the flavors of the elder Ibarra's native Mexico with those of the South, like braised collard green tamales and quesadillas made with local vegetables. While the bar's extensive bourbon and tequila selection is excellent, if you want to keep it booze-free, the house-made horchata is excellent.
Once a 1930s-era grocery store that peddled oysters and draft beer, 42nd Street Oyster Bar is one of the city's oldest seafood joints, with nostalgic décor to match. The exhaustive menu ranges from raw bar items like oysters on the half shell and shrimp cocktails to fried seafood towers, seafood pastas, and surf and turf platters. Try the 42nd St. Platter, which comes with Cajun butter and garlic sautéed shrimp and scallops, plus your choice of fried shrimp. The restaurant also has an extensive wine list—heavy on bold California cabernets and crisp rieslings—and offers live music on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Helmed by the Ibarra brothers of Jose & Sons, this Glenwood Avenue seafood spot seamlessly blends Mexican and American flavors. Seafood is delivered fresh from the Carolina coast each morning, so you're in for dishes like North Carolina yellowfin tuna tartare served with Sriracha mayo and fried green tomatoes. Don't sleep on the ceviches or oysters: The latter are only $1 each during happy hour, Tuesdays through Sundays.
Searching for an old school, high-end steakhouse experience? Head to Angus Barn, housed in a sprawling barn complex just outside of town. In addition to nine different cuts of steak, the menu features seafood, ribs, and vegetarian options as well as an extensive wine and premium cigar list. For a pre-dinner drink or nightcap, check out the The Wild Turkey Lounge, a cocktail den with plush leather sofas, live music, and the world's largest private collection of Wild Turkey decanters.
For Southern classics and all-day breakfast, head to this Raleigh institution. With three locations, including the original outpost at City Market, you're never far from generous portions of buttery biscuits, country ham with red-eyed gravy, hotcakes, fried catfish, and other regional fare. The sides, ranging from butter beans to turnip greens, are excellent as well.
If you're adhering to a plant-based diet but still want to enjoy Southern favorites, try The Fiction Kitchen, a vegan/vegetarian spot in downtown Raleigh. Menu highlights include the crispy fried "chicken" and waffles with arugula and maple syrup, plus Seitan brisket and a vegan pimento cheese dip. The restaurant offers plenty of lighter fare as well, including salads, soups, sandwiches, and build-your-own bowls.
No trip to North Carolina is complete without sampling its famed barbecue. Try The Pit, housed in a restored 1930s warehouse downtown, which offers plates of brisket, pulled pork, fried chicken, baby back ribs, and other smoked meats. Your order? Chopped BBQ, tender Eastern North Carolina style 'cue, doused in signature vinegar dressing. While you wait for your meal, split starters like skillet cornbread and fried pimento cheese balls or order a drink from the well-stocked bar.
Located inside a historic late 19th-century home downtown, Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern is the ultimate special occasion restaurant. The contemporary American menu has French and Southern influences, including the crispy "Pepsi-Cola" pork belly served with a savory herb crêpe and smoked trout. Fancy a splurge? Reserve the Chef's Table, which seats two to eight and includes a multi-course meal with wine pairings. For a more casual experience, try the restaurant's Tavern, an intimate cocktail lounge offering small bites and some of the city's best martinis.
This German-Polish restaurant in downtown's Seaboard Station serves up Eastern and Central European classics with fresh ingredients from local farms. For appetizers, start with the roasted beet salad with horseradish quark, or the smoked beef and pork kielbasa—a family recipe—with sauerkraut and spicy mustard. Dinner standouts include the crispy duck confit, served with a warm salad of cabbage, apple, and mustard. Don't miss desserts like the chocolate-hazelnut torte with sea salt, caramel, and crispy bacon.
Get the best of both worlds at Lee's Kitchen, which serves up Jamaican staples (jerk chicken and goat curry) along with Southern classics (fried chicken and baby back ribs) at both of its Raleigh locations. Don't skip the sides—generous portions of rice and peas, plantains, candied yams, and macaroni and cheese—as well as a large selection of Jamaican sodas. The restaurant also has a food truck, which roams the Triangle area and offers many of the same signature dishes.
Tucked away in the nondescript North Ridge Shopping Center, the intimate and elegant Saint Jacques is one of the city's hidden gems. Expect a concise menu of French classics: think bœuf bourguignon, foie gras, escargots, and duck à l'orange as well as a selection of French wines, cocktails, aperitifs, and digestifs. Don't miss the prix fixe three-course Sunday brunch, which is $35 for your choice of small plate, main course, and dessert.
In addition to its extensive collection of bourbons and whiskeys, this North Raleigh restaurant serves modern, crowd-pleasing Southern comfort food. From starters like boiled peanut hummus and pimento cheese fritters to macaroni and cheese skillets, hearty sandwiches, and large plates like shrimp and grits, there's something for everyone on the menu. Visit the on-site retail shop to purchase food, gifts, and other goods from local purveyors.