If you’ve been wondering what our favorite downtown Raleigh restaurants are, the places we take visiting friends from out of town when they visit Raleigh, and the places we’re happy to recommend to you, let’s dive in!
While we haven’t eaten everywhere downtown, yet, we believe we’ve got a good handle on the Raleigh food scene for either breakfast, lunch and dinner. After visiting 50+ countries, traveling through 40 US states, and have now lived in Raleigh for over 10 years, we’ve had plenty of foodie experiences and love to taste what’s local to the area, as well as those places that transport us back to our favorite travel destinations!
The restaurant scene has certainly evolved since we moved here in 2004 and Raleigh’s reputation continues to grow with several award winning chefs now calling the capital of North Carolina home who have introduced new innovative restaurants, flavors and concepts to the city.
If you’re new to downtown Raleigh and are searching on your phone for the best restaurants near me, I’m confident this list will be a positive introduction to the city whether you’re looking to dine solo, a dinner spot for two, or a fun night out with friends!
Of course, keep in mind that our list is subjective to our tastes, budget and experiences, and when you drive into downtown see all parking options here.
Downtown Raleigh Restaurants
Taverna Agora Greek Kitchen (best rooftop patio)
Not only do we frequent Taverna Agora often because they have the best rooftop patio in Raleigh, but having been to Greece we love to be transported back, feel the vibes from a typical village style Greek restaurant, and indulge in delicious Greek food!
This open-air Mediterranean rooftop Oasis overlooks Hillsborough Street and is a tastefully designed, tree-shaded space with lush green vines wrapped around trellises, classic Greek Statues, and olive trees.
True to the Greek Mediterranean flavors, you’ll find traditional Greek dishes like Baklava Sticky Buns, Gyro hash, Greek Omelet, Stuffed Grapes Leaves, Baked Eggs and Pita, Moussaka, and lamb burger. And if you’re looking for cool brunch restaurants in Raleigh, it’s hard to beat the food and vibe at Taverna Agora.
Drink wise, enjoy a Greek Mule, a Greek lemonade, or our favorite, a glass of Greek wine! Beer and non-Greek wine are also on offer. Read our full review of Taverna Agora Raleigh.
Stanbury (Innovative neighborhood delight)
I never know where to start describing this place, it’s so unique, but if you’re looking for a new downtown Raleigh restaurant to try, this is one of the most interesting places to eat in Raleigh.
Our foodie friends who live nearby recommended this place forever, and we finally took the plunge, for our anniversary dinner no less in April, and we can’t stop talking about it.
Stanbury specializes in modern American cuisine and it is such a quirky and interesting space, and the food, atmosphere, and service is outstanding! It started with pre-dinner drinks under the oak tree.
The menu is eclectic and adventurous and this is the perfect place to order a bunch of shared small plates and try various dishes. But their large plates are exceptional too if you want something for yourself.
The ribeye is possibly THE best ribeye I have ever had, better than all steak houses, and the mashed potatoes are incredible – I don’t know what they do with their food, but just keep doing it.
The menu changes almost daily, with a few staple menu items, and they update it on their Instagram and Facebook accounts. I loved the open kitchen concept, there’s a great selection of beverages, plus craft cocktails.
No reservations here! We arrived close to opening time and were seated within 15-20 minutes, but they have a nice bar and space out front for pre-dinner drinks and small-plates whilst you wait!!
We know Laos food well after spending three weeks traveling through the country, and as far as the authentic food quality and ambiance at Bida Manda goes, it is hands down our favorite of the Asian restaurants in Raleigh.
Well renowned for its Laotian cuisine and showcasing the culinary traditions of Laos, Bida Manda serves a variety of Lao dishes in a beautiful space with Lao-inspired decor that always takes us back to our time exploring this Southeast Asian country.
The offerings are as authentic as we’ve had in Raleigh, and one of our most recent favorite dishes in the Triangle area can be found here, and a dish we used to eat almost daily living in Bangkok – Papaya Salad, with Crispy Dill and Lemongrass Trout.
Appetizers we love include the Crispy Rice Lettuce Wraps (hand-tossed crunchy coconut rice with fresh herbs, fried garlic, shallot crisp, peanuts, eggs, lime, and baby romaine lettuce), and the Crispy Chicken Wings (six crispy chicken wings served with a choice of three house-made sauces Panang Curry, Hot Sweet Chili, or Lao Spicy Roasted Habañero Peanut.
Another entree we keep falling back on is the Manda Amphone’s Curry with chicken (slow-cooked house coconut curry with fresh root vegetables, and jasmine rice).
Big Ed’s City Market (best Southern breakfast)
Whenever I have a friend visit Raleigh from out of town and I want to introduce them to Raleigh, and kick off the day with a classic Southern breakfast and hospitality, I take them to Big Ed’s.
You don’t get more Raleigh than this. Walking through Moore Square past the magnificent oak trees, then over the cobblestone streets in Historic City Market, and then inside for a hearty meal is an experience I never tire of myself and the perfect introduction to the City of Oaks.
At Big Ed’s, you can enjoy breakfast food like what grandma used to make, personable service, and a laid-back cafe with funky antiques hanging from the old rafters and memorabilia scattered around.
Popular items include their HUGE hot cakes, country ham, aged ribeye steak, sliced pork loin, fried catfish, freshly made hot biscuits, French toast, and double-brewed sweet tea. Read our full review of Big Eds Raleigh and why I think it’s the best breakfast in Raleigh.
Beasley’s Chicken + Honey (fried chicken, Southern food)
If you’re looking for downtown Raleigh lunch restaurants, you can’t do much better than Beasley’s, especially if you love Southern fried chicken or want to try it for the first time, it’s one of the classic Raleigh food experiences.
The moment I walk into this popular restaurant by famed local chef, Ashley Christensen, I immediately feel like I’m in the South, that this is Raleigh!
With that said, this is another of the downtown Raleigh restaurants I recommend to visiting friends from out of town to introduce them to southern comfort food and ambiance.
Popular dishes include biscuits and gravy, hot chicken eggs benedict, fried chicken on a buttermilk biscuit, and the loaded breakfast bowl. Wash it all down with a blackberry mule, a local craft beer, or a glass of wine or bubbles.
Second Empire Restaurant (special occasion)
If you have a special occasion coming up soon, look no further than Second Empire Restaurant for an incredible dining experience. They’re consistently ranked one of the best restaurants in Raleigh for fine dining.
This downtown Raleigh restaurant is a recipient of the AAA Four Diamond Award. It’s an elegant American restaurant set in a historic, circa-1879 Second Empire house that speaks to the original character of the city.
Here you can expect spectacular service and presentation, an intimate and magical ambiance, old fashioned architecture and history, and gourmet cuisine. We enjoyed a memorable anniversary dinner here.
Truly a foodie experience to savior, and popular dishes include Empire Seafood Paella, Grilled Australian Lamb Rack, Roasted Five Spice Pennsylvania Duck Breast, Grilled Chilean Verlasso Salmon, Empire Chocolate Souffle. Reservations recommended!
Crawford & Son (date night delight)
Looking for date night ideas for dinner in Raleigh as a couple? We believe Crawford & Son is the perfect date night experience for those who want an intimate setting with a little buzzy vibe.
Crawford’s style is casual yet elegant and modern with dimmed lighting, exposed brick walls, and a polished L-shaped quartz bar. It’s not too quiet that it feels awkward if you were to suddenly burst out laughing.
The namesake restaurant from Chef Scott Crawford, a five-time semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Southeast, Scott is known for creating innovative dishes that are beautifully presented.
Signature cocktails are created to pair well with the food, or choose from an eclectic list of wines. Service is warm, friendly, and attentive. There are gluten free and vegetarian options on the menu.
A casual and cozy neighborhood restaurant in the Historic Oakwood area on North Person Street (one of our favorite Raleigh streets), Crawford & Son undoubtedly serves some of the best food in Raleigh that ranges from the familiar to the unexpected. Read our full review.
Mojoe’s Burger Joint (best burgers)
Raleigh has no shortage of burger joints to choose from, and if you’re craving a tasty burger from a classic neighborhood joint you can’t go wrong at MoJoe’s in the Glenwood South Raleigh area, they’ve been serving some of the best burgers in Raleigh since 2002.
This is my favorite burger spot and quintessential old Raleigh with a diverse crowd, fun atmosphere, and tasty creations that will leave you satiated yet craving for more.
At MoJoe’s you get hand-pressed patties using 100% Sterling Silver Choice Beef and you can choose from a 6 ounce, 10 ounce, or “Hall of Fame” one pounder with 9 different styles to have your burger.
My pick is their Carnivore: 10 oz beef patty, crispy bacon, savory chili, pimento cheese, fried egg, avocado and a side of tater tots. And our eldest daughter loves their fried chicken sandwiches.
You can build your own creations (they have gluten free buns), a dozen local beers on tap, and boozie shakes! Popular sides include their tater tots, onion rings with MoJoe’s signature sauce, and their fried pickles.
One of the Restaurants in downtown Raleigh I classify as a hidden gem, Smokestack Cafe is tucked away in one of our favorite neighborhoods in Raleigh, Historic Oakwood.
Imagine an old house that’s been converted into a restaurant becoming a great little neighborhood corner eatery that’s charming with a no frills ambiance.
Here you can enjoy a unique Raleigh brunch experience either in their cozy interior, or sitting outside in their nice little outdoor shaded patio area.
Their menu changes daily (displayed on their Instagram) with some common staples and favorites such as their Signature Wings, Deviled Eggs, Aged Ribeye, Crispy Fried Pig Ears, house-smoked meats and Dirty Butter Fries (hand cut, tossed in cajun garlic butter, topped with grated parmesan).
Last time we dined for a Sunday brunch we had Mimosas for only $3. Good selection of local beers here too!
Vic’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria (great value Italian)
One of our favorite family-friendly restaurants in downtown Raleigh is Vic’s for authentic Italian cuisine and New York style pizza, plus they serve a wide variety of delicious pastas and entrees in healthy portions.
Owner Mario has been serving guests his family recipes for nearly 30 years, and in 1998 opened Vic’s in downtown’s Historic City Market. When we’re in downtown and craving affordable Italian, we head to Vic’s and enjoy sitting on the sidewalk!
Using fresh and local ingredients, choose from lunch and dinner specials that change daily. Generous size pasta portions, very reasonable prices, and a warm and familiar atmosphere loved by locals and visitors.
Popular dishes include their specialty pizzas (gluten free bases available), Penne Alla Vodka, Calzones, and the vomplimentary garlic knots.
The Pit Authentic Barbecue (for BBQ)
We have several excellent choices for BBQ restaurants in downtown Raleigh, but I’ve chosen to highlight Pit BBQ purely because I personally love their Beef Brisket and prefer beef over pork (chopped Carolina BBQ). But, their top seller is in fact their Whole-Hog Chopped Barbecue.
You can get it all here including Pit-smoked free-range pork, Texas-style brisket and other BBQ staples served up in a smart-casual setting. The Pit is one of the most popular BBQ Spots in Raleigh and they proudly serve authentic whole-hog, pit-cooked Eastern-style barbecue.
My other favorite dish is their Big Boy Burger; two house-ground brisket patties, western BBQ sauce, brisket, pulled pork, pimento cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion straws – I changed out the pulled pork for pulled turkey! The burger is phenomenal.
The Pit is more than a typical whole-in-the-wall BBQ joint you may be used to, even serving craft cocktails in a smart-casual setting with indoor and outdoor seating.
Other popular items include Southern Fried Chicken, Brunswick Stew, Heirloom Cabbage Collards, and Fried Green Tomatoes.And they serve biscuits and hush puppies with the meal.
Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing (best patio views)
For the best outdoor patio in Raleigh with amazing views of the city skyline paired with unique and creative food options and refreshing brews and cocktails, consider Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing for brunch, lunch or dinner. Yes, we bring all first-timers to Raleigh here!
The covered pergola offers shade and misters/fans to help make the North Carolina midday heat and humidity in summer more bearable, then doubles as rain protection coupled with heaters for the cooler months.
But you don’t come here just to sit under a pergola, you also get to taste some of the most interesting and diverse food we’ve eaten in Raleigh.
While it has the name “brewery” attached, don’t expect your typical pub grub or brewery food – this is more innovative, like a Gastropub (specializing in high-quality food) with an emphasis placed on North Carolina ingredients and unique twists on familiar dishes.
This is one of the best local downtown Raleigh restaurants with a welcome offering of choices for everyday carnivores to vegetarians and those seeking gluten free options. Read our full review of Wye Hill.
Gringo A Go Go (Real Mexican food)
Looking for Mexican food in Raleigh, Gringo A Go Go is one of the popular downtown restaurants with their colorful outdoor patio area and real Mexican food. It’s a place we enjoy for its lovely neighborhood atmosphere.
It’s a low-key authentic Mexican Restaurant in the heart of downtown Raleigh. A highlight being their outdoor patio surrounded by plants making for a fun place to eat and converse.
Popular menu items include the tacos, chorizo cheese dip, quesadillas, guacamole ed chilaquiles with carnitas, spinach empanadas, delicious vegetarian and vegan options, great margaritas and full bar including Mezcal. Now open for brunch.
Irregardless Cafe (farm-to-table experience)
A Raleigh staple since 1975, Irregardless is one of the longest-running Raleigh restaurants and a true farm-to-table experience offering not only excellent vegetarian food in Raleigh and vegan options, but also meat and seafood dishes – something for everyone!
Come to one of the most popular downtown Raleigh restaurants for brunch or dinner and enjoy the warm and fun atmosphere, artsy and eclectic decor, live music and home-cooked innovative meals (and good portions).
Brunch favorites include tofu scramble, asparagus omelet, vegan pancakes, Smoked salmon hash, Strawberry Waffles, Brisket sandwich, and Shrimp & grits!
We’re fans because it also offers meat and seafood dishes (and a kids menu) so there’s something here for everyone. Vegetarians, this a great place to go with your meat eating friends!
Anise Pho (for great Pho, of course)
Having spent 6 weeks traveling through Vietnam, we miss eating authentic Vietnamese cuisine, especially Pho (Vietnamese Noodle Soup) and whilst Anise Pho is not quite up to that standard it’s the best Pho in downtown Raleigh we’ve had so far.
The restaurant is small and we chose to sit outside on the sidewalk along Glenwood Ave, and the buzzing street atmosphere and balmy evening did take us back to those Vietnam days.
On the menu you can choose from Vietnamese classics like Pho, Banh Mi, Spring rolls, and their peanut sauce was a hit. We found the Pho to be flavorful and the portions large, and the service friendly and fast.
Char-Grill (burgers and nostalgia)
It doesn’t get more old school Raleigh than Char-Grill, a local fast-food chain that’s been serving charcoal-grilled burgers fresh off the grill in their iconic downtown Raleigh location since 1959.
Take a trip down memory lane at this fun burger joint with a true old fashioned feel – just placing your order is a part of the experience as you fill out a paper order sheet with a pencil and wait while your food is cooked to order.
When I think about no-frills Raleigh restaurants to grab a quick burger with the kids, Char-Grill is a great option and besides the burgers, our kids are also big fans of their shakes and fries!
My suggestion, start with their famous ½ Hamburger Steak Sandwich: a thick, juicy burger with lettuce, tomato, cheese, served on a sesame seed bun. The Char Grill menu might be simple, but simple is often best!
Whiskey Kitchen (great lamb burger AND, well, whiskey)
Another of our favorite places to eat in Raleigh for its outdoor patio, tasty Southern American food, and extensive Whiskey list is the appropriately named, Whiskey Kitchen.
One of our favorite bars in Raleigh also does excellent and inventive Southern food in a fantastic location on the edge of the ever evolving Warehouse District (across from Nash Square).
Part whiskey bar, part Southern kitchen that features a beautiful open space and hip venue with over 300 whiskies and craft cocktails with a repurposed industrial feel and an inviting decor and atmosphere.
Inside are tables, couches and bar seats – you can’t miss the impressive mural behind the bar, and there’s a garage door that opens in the summer and the outside patio is fabulous in the warmer months.
Food wise, my pick is the lamb burger and fried brussels, also consider the crispy broccoli, fried chicken sandwich, shrimp n’ grits, pork chop. This is a fun place for couples, or with a group of friends.
In case you don’t know, our home country of Australia has a sizable Lebanese population and we’ve eaten a lot of Lebanese food over the years and are grateful we have Sitti in downtown.
This popular Middle Eastern restaurant serves up modern versions of authentic Lebanese dishes made fresh in house daily. There’s an upbeat atmosphere with communal tables or your own space, and an antique Art Deco bar with Lebanese liquors, beer and wine, plus French wines and local craft beers.
You can expect really good Middle Eastern food including hot mezze (kibbeh), house-baked flatbreads, chicken/lamb/beef shawarma, falafel, and house-made flatbreads. There’s something on the menu for everyone, including vegetarian options and a kids menu.
Gravy (Italian courtyard experience)
Another of the Italian restaurants in downtown Raleigh we like to frequent is Gravy.
Next door to Sitti, and no, this is not a biscuits and gravy joint, ‘gravy’ refers to Italian pasta sauce and Gravy is one of the best restaurants in downtown for great pasta dishes and other Italian delights.
A warm and inviting space with a super cozy courtyard (our choice when the weather is right, they serve Authentic and traditional Italian-American dishes and prepare their signature gravy (hearty tomato sauce) fresh daily.
There’s a focus on using seasonal ingredients, putting a modern twist on classic dishes, and providing a warm, friendly and comfortable atmosphere. Gluten free options available, and they make all of their pasta in house too!
Popular dishes include Risotto balls, the Lasagne, the Gnocchi, Tagliatelle Bolognese, Chicken Parmigiana, Eggplant pie, all washed down with Tuscany red wine,
City Market Sushi
We love City Market for its casual restaurants like the aforementioned Big Ed’s and Vic’s Italian, but if you’re seeking a slightly upscale Sushi restaurant in the heart of downtown Raleigh, put City Market Sushi on your list.
It might be small, but the ambiance is on point with black and white decor, decorative art adorning the walls, overhead lamps providing warm lighting, and modern wooden tables and chairs creating an intimate space perfect for a date night or dinner with friends.
On the menu are creative sushi rolls, sushi plates, nigiri & sashimi and great bento box options for lunch.
The Sushi is fresh, the flavors well-balanced (the tuna melts in your mouth), and the rolls have a lot of filling. Other popular dishes include the Soft Shell Crab Sliders, Squid Salad, Pork belly, and Shrimp tempura.
Prices are a little on the high side for a Sushi restaurant, but the quality and presentation is there. Reservations recommended for Fridays and Saturdays.
Bittersweet (best dessert bar)
We love the concept of a dessert bar, a place where you can get bourbon with your pie, champagne with your cake, or Irish whiskey in your coffee.
Bittersweet serves up delicious desserts, coffee and cocktails and a fun atmosphere with nostalgic decor and cool tunes playing.
All of the desserts are made in-house and some popular options include Pumpkin creme brulee, Derby Pie, S’mores Sundae, and Salty Chipwich Ice Cream Sandwich. And the cocktails are excellent.
Not a big place inside with a few tables on the sidewalk so it fills up quickly, especially on weekend nights.
Jubala Coffee (best biscuits)
Yes, Jubala is a specialty coffee shop first and foremost, but I love their biscuits for breakfast and they pair so well with one of the best lattes in the city!
I didn’t grow up in the South and I’m no expert when it comes to biscuits and it took me a while to embrace them, but I’ve since acquired the taste and get what all the fuss is about.
I’m yet to try all the biscuit joints, but so far the biscuits at Jubala are the best I’ve had – Their biscuits come with a bit of brown crunch on top and fluffy and moist on the inside. They have quality fillings, but the biscuit is the highlight for me.
My favorite is their fried egg + pimento cheese + bacon. Doo your taste buds a favor and go see for yourself, I guarantee you’ll at least love their coffees, and they have one of my favorite Raleigh sandwiches.
Not a biscuit fan? Our kids love their banana nutella waffles. They order them every time we visit. We used to order them one to share, but now they are getting older we get them one each.
I also love the location on Hillsborough St underneath the cool Aloft Hotel. They have both indoor and outdoor seating. Outdoors undercover and out on the sidewalk.
We love sitting out on the sidewalk and watching the world go by up and down Hillsborough and look up at the iconic NC State University bell tower.
Benchwarmers Bagels (the locals favorite bagel spot)
Not a restaurant I know, but hey, it’s about food and if you’re looking for bagels in downtown Benchwarmers is one of the most popular bagel shops in Raleigh and the best in the downtown area.
Benchwarmers use a wood-fired oven, heirloom grains, extended fermentation, and fresh-milled, pre-fermented 100% organic flour to make their modern bagels.
They have 6 styles of bagels including the usual classics and some unique cream cheese spreads including pimento cheese, Maitre d’hotel (herby + lemon), Carolina reaper (spicey), pecan butterscotch, and a cashew (vegan).
Their bagels don’t contain any dairy or egg, and if you’re looking for a tasty bagel and coffee option don’t sleep on this spot for breakfast in Raleigh – one of the founder’s is the owner of Jubala Coffee, so good coffee here too!
- Hours: Tue-Fri 7am-2pm, Sat & Sun 8am-2pm
- Address: 500 E Davie St STE 107, Raleigh
- Website: BenchwarmersBagels.com
Now that we’ve shared our favorite downtown Raleigh restaurants (so far), what is one of your recommended Raleigh restaurants that you suggest we dine at next, and why?
We’ll be dining at many more restaurants in downtown Raleigh in the near future such as Cortez, Vidrio, 42nd Street Oyster Bar, and Mulino Italian Kitchen to name a few and the best way to see our updates is by joining our VIP email tribe.
More Raleigh tips:
- 10 great coffee shops in downtown Raleigh
- 20 local Raleigh breweries for a great pint
- 13 best breakfast in Raleigh spots