50+ Essential Places To Eat In Raleigh, NC (inside the beltline)

Looking for the best places to eat in Raleigh, North Carolina? Look no further, we’ve got you covered no matter your food of choice!

best places to eat in raleigh nc
CowBar, Morgan Street Food Hall

Since first moving to Raleigh in 2004, the Raleigh food scene has exploded and just gets better and continues to gain in prominence compared to other Southern foodie cities like Charleston, Nashville and Atlanta. 

The downtown Raleigh area is also thriving and is our favorite area to eat, drink and play, and this post is going to focus on the best restaurants in Raleigh inside the beltline.

When you visit Raleigh, or are living in Raleigh like us, downtown is where you’ll find innovative new restaurants, old school staples, community food halls, hopping breweries, and the best coffee shops.

Down below we have recommendations on the top places to eat in Raleigh broken up into categories; old school Raleigh, Southern, pizzas, burgers, BBQ, seafood, Italian, vegetarian, fine dining, breweries, bakeries, sweet tooth and more.

NOTE: because it’s July 2020 and we are in the middle of Covid, Raleigh restaurants are currently under phase 2 guidelines meaning 50% capacity, some are only doing curbside, and some are temporarily closed. Check each website mentioned below for up to date info.

P. S. some of my photos are Pre-Covid.

With that being said, there are so many good places to eat in Raleigh, and here is your Raleigh bucket list for culinary delight.

Old School Raleigh

Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant

Pancakes at Big Ed's City Market, Raleigh, NC
Photo credit: Big Ed’s

Looking for the best breakfast in Raleigh, Southern style? Look no further than Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant in the historic City Market near Moore Square.

Founded in 1958, at Big Ed’s you will get a taste of real Southern comfort and hospitality in a 170-seat restaurant.

What you can expect:

Food like what grandma used to make. Home cooked Southern breakfast and lunch plates in a laid-back cafe with funky antiques hanging from the old rafters. 

This is old Raleigh charm, personable and attentive service, Southern hospitality at its finest. 

Popular items:

Their huge hot cakes. They have a “hot cake challenge” – if you eat it in 45-minutes or less you get a free t-shirt! Also country ham and biscuits to die for, the sweet tea, the peach cobbler. 

One of the classic downtown Raleigh restaurants perfect for everyone! 

Hayes Barton Cafe & Dessertery

Hayes Barton Cafe & Dessertery, Raleigh, NC
Photo Credit: Hayes Barton Cafe

A classic Raleigh staple located in the historic Five Points neighborhood. Hayes Barton is still locally owned and one of the must eat places in Raleigh – loyal fans flock here for their HUGE and delicious cakes!

This cafe is a real throwback to a classic diner including photos of old celebrities and world war II soldiers and sailors.

What you can expect:

Great comfort food and amazing desserts. A feeling like you’re stepping back in time. A cozy 50’s diner with a fun, friendly ambiance and quaint neighborhood feel. 

Popular items:

Their massive CAKES  – each slice a mountain of decadence and big enough to share with 2 – 4 people. The chicken pot pie is highly regarded, so is the meatloaf. The specials. The milkshakes!

Reservations recommended for dinner – you need to have 4 or more people to reserve a table. 

A must go when visiting Raleigh.

The Mecca

Mecca Restaurant, Raleigh
Photo Credit: The Mecca

Talking of old school Raleigh, The Mecca is the oldest of the restaurants in Raleigh and was founded by Greek immigrants in 1930.

With classic décor and a comfortably familiar menu, this family-owned mainstay serving Southern comfort food is a local institution. 

What you can expect:

Historic setting that oozes nostalgia with red stools along a long counter, a black and white checkered floor, and heavy wooden booths. 

It’s a quaint little diner with polite service and large servings of inexpensive traditional Southern favorites for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Popular items:

Fried chicken with collards, rice and gravy. Fried catfish with coleslaw. Chopped BBQ plate. Double-decker club sandwich. The Garry Dorn burger (a veal cutlet sandwich). The Greek salad.

This is a classic downtown hangout to experience “Raleigh of Old”. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time here. A must eat once of the Raleigh restaurants!

The Players Retreat 

The Players Retreat, Raleigh
Photo credit: FoodSeen.com

The Players Retreat, or PR as the locals call it, is one of the storied sports bars in Raleigh and a true landmark. Established in 1951, it’s the oldest continuously operating tavern between Atlanta and Washington D.C.

Located in a prime location right near NC State University’s north campus off Hillsborough st, this place is a tradition with NC State students and alumni, but you’ll also find an eclectic mix of people.

What you can expect:

The kind of local neighborhood bar I like to find when we travel. Old school sports bar with booths and bar stools, tables on the sidewalk, pool tables and lots of TV screens for sports. 

A focus on hamburgers and sandwiches, lots of great craft beers (local and from afar) and a bar boasting the largest collection of single malts in North Carolina. 

Popular items:

Bernie and Hawaiian Burgers (all meat is ground in house and made fresh daily). Turkey club, chicken parmesan sub, fried oysters, cheese fries, potato skins and buffalo wings. Oh, and the scotch selection! 

Player Retreat is a fun place to come with a group of friends, unwind after work or hang out at night. 

State Farmers Market Restaurant

For another good old country breakfast place in Raleigh downtown, head to the State Farmers Market Restaurant which was originally opened by Jackie Watkins, son of “Big Ed” Watkins, founder of Big Ed’s – do you see a theme here! 

What you can expect:

Smorgasbord of choices of traditional Southern breakfast and lunch favorites – large portions at a good price. 

A bright space with indoor and outdoor tables with checkered vinyl tablecloths, waitstaff in overalls, and you’re just steps away from the permanent farmers market.

Popular items:

Real fluffy buttermilk biscuits, huge chocolate chip pancakes, country fried steak, bacon

Just like Big Ed’s this is like being at grandma’s. Gets especially busy on the weekends – get up early to beat the crowds. 

Uniquely Raleigh

The Places, Food, & Experiences that make Raleigh stand out.

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Southern / American

Parkside Restaurant

Parkside Restaurant, Raleigh
Chicken & Waffle Sandwich. Photo by Parkside

Located across from historic Nash Square and on the edge of the Warehouse District is Parkside, a retro-industrial restaurant serving traditional American comfort food the locals love!

What you can expect:

Delicious and filling Southern dishes, variety of choices to suit all taste buds, and prices hard to beat for the quality.

There’s character and charm, from the warm red brick and reclaimed barn wood clad bar, to the personable service. 

And you can wash your meal down with one of the 25+ draft beers or one of their nice cocktails!

Popular items: 

Lunch: Chicken and Waffle Sandwich. Dinner: Prime Rib. Also heard their burger is really good, and check out their popular brunch menu. 

Capital Club 16

Capital Club 16  - one of the best brunch spots in Raleigh NC
Farmer’s Market Veggie Rice Bowl

Well known as one of the best brunch in Raleigh and their European-inspired cuisine, Capital Club 16 is located conveniently downtown in a Depression-era landmark building.

Serving up traditional American fare, it might be small in size but big on character and charm.

What you can expect:

Traditional and creative dishes featuring seasonal and local ingredients, a German flair, and  good vegetarian options.

An inviting space full of charm, relaxing atmosphere and personable service, and lots of natural lighting. Rotating German and local draft beers and really good cocktails. 

Popular items: 

Their brunch, period. Curryworst appetizer. Farmhouse Cheese Board. Club burger. Bavarian Sausage Platter. Schnitzel sandwich. Farmer’s Market Veggie Rice Bowl.

Great choice for lunch or dinner downtown. And an idyllic brunch experience!

Glenwood Grill

Glenwood Grille, Raleigh
Photo credit: Glenwood Grill

If you are in Raleigh and looking for some Southern coastal cooking and fresh seafood, the Glenwood Grill is very popular with the locals and a bit of a hidden gem in that it”s not in the heart of downtown.

From the outside it doesn’t look like much, being in the back of a shopping plaza, but inside the ambience is better against a sleek backdrop. 

What you can expect: 

A small but cozy restaurant, consistently outstanding food, service and atmosphere.

And as they like to say, “Low country Southern style food in the heart of Raleigh” that originates from Charleston and the coastal Carolina’s. Extensive drink list.

Popular items:

Charleston She Crab Soup, Shrimp and scallops and grits. Crispy Catfish, The salmon. The desserts. 

Perfect spot for a date night or business lunch.

Poole’s Diner

Pooles Diner
Macaroni au gratin. Photo credit: Poole’s

Ashley Christensen’s first Raleigh restaurant, Poole’s has become a well-known modern diner with retro-chic charm serving seasonal comfort food, cocktails and house desserts. 

The Macaroni au gratin (pictured above) is one of the most famous dishes in Raleigh.

What you can expect:

Small menu written on a chalkboard with classic American seasonal comfort foods. Informal, cool, good vibe and atmosphere.

Cool bar reminiscent of an old soda fountain. Locally sourced farm-to-table offerings. Popular brunch Saturday and Sunday. 

Popular items: 

Macaroni au gratin (their take on mc n cheese). Rotating menu with new imaginative options daily. 

No reservations, first-come, first-served. A popular spot for locals and those visiting Raleigh.

Whiskey Kitchen

Whiskey Kitchen, Raleigh
Fried chicken sandwich / lamb burger

One of our favorite bars in Raleigh that also does excellent and inventive Southern food in a great location on the edge of the Warehouse District across from Nash Square.

Whiskey Kitchen is part whiskey bar, part Southern kitchen that features a beautiful open space and hip venue with over 300 whiskies and craft cocktails.

What you can expect:

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. 

There’s a garage door that opens in the summer and the outside patio is great and super popular in the warmer months, and heated lamps for the chilly weather. 

Large selection of whiskeys, try a whiskey flight, but also great beer options, wine and cocktails.

Popular items:

Pickle jar, fried brussels, crispy broccoli, fried chicken sandwich, lamb burger, shrimp n’ grits pork BBQ sandwich, banana pudding

Fun place for couples or with a group of friends.

Beasley’s Chicken + Honey

Beasley's Chicken & Honey
Photo credit: Beasley’s

Every time we drive or walk past Beasley’s Chicken + Honey there’s usually a line up out the door. That has to tell you something. 

Yep, it’s one of the most popular downtown Raleigh restaurants by famed Ashley Christensen, and is a great place for brunch, lunch, and dinner.

What you can expect:

Well, fried chicken of course, but also biscuits and gravy, sandwiches, bar snacks, desserts, beer, wine, and champagne.

Popular items:

Fried quarter chicken, chicken biscuits, fried chicken and waffles, pimento cheese and fried bologna starters, their southern sides.

A cool place to introduce a friend to southern food.

Pizzas

Oakwood Pizza Box 

oakwood pizza
Photo credit: Oakwood Pizza

Is this the best pizza in Raleigh? Locals in the know and re-locators from New York will direct you to Oakwood Pizza Box who recommend their pizza over any other in Raleigh.

It’s so good, they say, that their pepperoni pizza is like Grimaldi’s of Brooklyn, NY. 

What you can expect:

Real New York-style pizza, it’s run by a New York native.

A simple menu with three basic pizza pies; cheese, square, white, each 18″ in diameter, and you can build on those with extra ingredients, at $2 each. Or, you can order just a slice of pizza heaven.

Small and cozy with atmosphere. There’s some booths, high-top tables and a counter/bar.

Popular items:

The homemade sauce. Their sausage, plus all the variety of toppings you can add. Their combo special: 18″ pizza + 6 pack of beer. Decent salad. Good beer and wine offerings. 

Lilly’s Pizza

Lilly's Pizza - one of the best pizzas in Raleigh, NC
The Buddha Pizza

Fantastic local pizza joint located off of Glenwood Avenue in Historic Five Points, Lilly’s serves up delicious pizzas using only the most natural, local, and organic foods available.

Their dough contains only 100% Certified Organic and Kosher stone-milled, whole-wheat, flour from Lindley Mills, Graham, NC. 

What you can expect:  

Thick crust. Cozy and unique atmosphere. Organic ingredients. 

For carnivores, enjoy select cuts of the finest meats available. Vegetarian and vegan diets are in luck with their large amount of healthy vegetables on the menu. 

Terrific gluten free bases and vegetarian options! Large selection of great salads.

Popular items:

Dante’s Inferno, Super Duper, The Buddha, The Gus. 

Frank’s Pizza & Italian Restaurant

If you’re living in Raleigh, or visiting, pay a visit to Frank’s Pizza. Family owned and operated, this pizza joint has been one of Southeast Raleigh’s best known secrets for more than 30 years serving up some of the best authentic pizzas in the city.

Located conveniently off New Bern Rd in a strip mall, this not-so-fancy family-style pizza place is a hidden gem and cherished among the locals.

What you can expect:

Specialty pizzas using homemade thin crust baked to perfection, NY style. Fresh ingredients, the cheese is gooey, amazing tomato sauce, big slices, old wood decor, family atmosphere, welcoming staff. 

Also serves pastas and Italian specialties, sandwiches, salads. Kids menu. 

Popular items:

Rio Ranch. Pepperoni pizza. The meatballs. Steak and cheese hoagie . Even the wings. 

Poole’side Pies

Ashley Christensen’s take on Neapolitan-style pizza, Poole’side Pies is right next door to Poole’s Diner. 

Neapolitan style means a thin crust that’s a little flimsy in the middle. The pies here consistently rank as the best Neapolitan style pizzas in Raleigh.

What you can expect:

The interior theme is swimming pool-inspired (hence the name) like the lanes on the floor, the neon sign. It’s bright and cheery with music playing. 

Exceptional service and pizzas big enough to share. No gluten free pizza bases. No separate kids menu. 

Popular items:

The Duke Tomato pizza, pork fennel sausage pizza, the margherita, buttermilk basil dipping sauce, pickle juice Caesar salad.

Trophy Brewing & Pizza

Trophy Brewing & Pizza, Raleigh, NC

Who doesn’t like a pizza and beer combo? So for a good slice of pizza washed down with some of the best craft beers in Raleigh, it’s hard to go past Trophy Brewing & Pizza.

Locally owned and located right on the edge of downtown on W. Morgan St. and within an easy walk of the popular Warehouse and Glenwood South Districts, this place has a real neighborhood feel. 

What you can expect:

Thin crust and creative, specialty pizzas with delightful combinations of flavors of sauce, cheese, and bread. 

Build your own pizza options, generous sized salads, their owned brewed beer, plus cocktails and wine.

Limited indoor seating with most of their seating outdoors on their cozy patio (heated in winter), and a low-key vibe.

Popular items:

The Daredevil (spicy), lamb sausage & we found it on a pizza. 

Consider getting small pizzas to share on your first visit to taste test a few. But if you’re really hungry, go a large! 

Barbecue

The Pit Barbecue, Raleigh
Photo credit: The Pit BBQ

The Pit Authentic Barbecue

As mentioned, North Carolina is a BBQ state and you might have to loosen your belt at The Pit, who proudly serves authentic whole-hog, pit-cooked Eastern-style barbecue.

Pus all the traditional Southern sides from collards to coleslaw. 

What you can expect:

Smart-casual setting, enjoyable atmosphere, clean and comfortable environment, fast and friendly service in a great Warehouse District location! 

Popular items:

Beef Brisket, Baby Back Ribs, Southern Fried Chicken, Pimento Cheese Balls, Heirloom Cabbage Collards.

They serve biscuits and hushpuppies with the meal. Prices are fair, and there’s a good beer list. Definitely one of the best BBQ restaurants in Raleigh

Clyde Cooper’s BBQ

BBQ is a tradition in North Carolina, and if BBQ is your thing Clyde Cooper’s, which opened in 1938, is one of the longest-running barbecue restaurants in NC and beloved by locals.

And If something has been around since 1938, they must be doing something right. 

What you can expect:

A downtown Raleigh staple in a square room with counter seats, booths and tables. A casual and relaxed atmosphere. Good size portions for the money. 

Popular items: 

Brisket, ribs, pulled pork, fried chicken.

They say it’s the best BBQ in downtown Raleigh for the price. Come taste a Raleigh staple for yourself

Burgers

Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar

Bad Daddys' Burgers in Raleigh, NC
Photo credit: Bad Daddy’s

Crave the best burger in Raleigh with attitude? Bad Daddy’s has MASSIVE and tasty burgers with gourmet toppings and hand-cut fries, amazing fried pickles, cool decor and friendly staff. 

Yeah it’s a chain, but at least it originates from NC (Charlotte) and Bad Daddy’s commit to sourcing local and fresh ingredients whenever possible.

What you can expect:

Huge burgers. Hand cut fries with a special house bbq sauce that is to die for. Or sweet potato fries.

Great non-meat options too, And gluten-free buns or sturdy lettuce wraps. Plus a good selection of local North Carolina beers. Drink specials. Family-friendly (cheap kids menu). 

Popular items:

Bacon cheeseburger on steroids. Build your own burgers (so many ingredients to choose from). Fried pickles. Build your own salads!

MoJoe’s Burger Joint

Craving a burger? Head to MoJoe’s, a classic neighborhood burger joint serving some of the best burgers in Raleigh.

This is quintessential old Raleigh. Come here for a diverse crowd, fun atmosphere, and nice patio area for year round seating. 

What you can expect:

Hand made patties. Choose from a 6 ounce, 10 ounce, or “Hall of Fame” one pounder. (GF buns available).

12 local beers and a kids menu.

Popular items:

Ranchero Burger. Build your own burger (plenty of options and combinations). Bean Burger. Fried pickles.Their ranch for dipping fries or chips.

Char-Grill

Char-Grill Burgers, Raleigh, NC

It doesn’t get more Raleigh than Char-grill – think local version of Shake Shack. Char Grill is a local fast-food chain that’s been serving charcoal-grilled burgers fresh off the grill since 1959.

It’s one of our go-to places to eat in Raleigh to grab a quick burger, and our kids love their shakes and fries!

What you can expect:

Taking a trip down memory lane at a fun burger joint with a true old fashioned feel. 

Just placing your order is a part of the experience – you fill out a paper order sheet with a pencil and wait while your food is cooked to order. 

Popular items:

Burgers, hot dogs, fries and shakes. It’s that simple folks. The menu might be simple, but simple is often best!

P.S. It does get crowded around lunch time – great for late night munchies too.

Other top places to eat in Raleigh that sell great burgers: Mama Crow’s and CowBar (see food hall section, Royale, The Station, Parkside Restaurant, Mandolin, The Players Retreat.

Vegetarian / Vegan

Fiction Kitchen

The Fiction Kitchen, Raleigh
Photo credit: Fiction Kitchen

Vegans, vegetarians and food-curious omnivores, if you’re searching for vegetarian restaurants in Raleigh don’t miss Fiction Kitchen.

It’s one of the best restaurants in Raleigh downtown, period. Always packed with locals and visitors in the know, it’s that popular! 

What you can expect:

Thoughtfully prepared vegan and vegetarian cuisine from a 100% vegetarian kitchen. High quality local ingredients, a colorful and flavorful menu. 

Funky decor, the experience, and quality service!

Popular items:

Vegan BBQ, Crispy Fried Chicken and Waffles. Actually, everything! 

No reservations, fills up quickly, but worth the wait. 

Irregardless Cafe

Irregardless Cafe, Raleigh, NC

We love Irregardless. Could also go in the ‘old school Raleigh’ category as it’s been a Raleigh staple for decades being established in 1975 as the city’s first vegetarian restaurant.

But, it also offers meat and seafood dishes and a kids menu, something for everyone – there’s a strong sense of bringing the whole community to the table here!

So for all you vegetarians/vegans out there, this a great place to go with your meat eating friends!

What you can expect:

Healthy and innovative meals and good portions. A warm and fun atmosphere. Artsy and eclectic decor is quite interesting.

Attentive, knowledgeable and friendly staff. And the live music in the background that’s not too loud adds ambience. There’s also a cool little bar tucked away in the back.

Popular items:

One of the most popular brunch spots in Raleigh. The complimentary bread and scones. Vegan Nachos. Vegan desserts – the cheesecake is awesome. Poblano pepper dish. 

Boss of Vegan

If you’ve stopped eating meat, but still crave fast food, locally owned Boss of Vegan can fulfill those fast food cravings.   

And if your go to comfort food is a burger, they do delicious Vegan burgers!

What you can expect:

Great vegan burgers, fresh cut potato chips seasoned, wonderful owners and friendly staff.

No dine in options. You order your food to pick it up. It can be a bit tough to find (behind the UPS facility on S. Wilmington St) but directions are provided once you order, and you can text or call. 

Popular items:

Their burgers. The Boss Sauce. The chips. The Lemonade.   

  • Address: 2161 S Wilmington Street, Raleigh, NC                 
  • Website: Bossofvegan.com

Fine Dining

Second Empire Restaurant & Tavern

second empire restaurant raleigh
Photo credit: Second Empire

For an incredible dining experience, look no further than Second Empire Restaurant & Tavern, 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. 

What you can expect:

Spectacular service and presentation, intimate and magical ambiance, old fashioned architecture and history, and gourmet cuisine. 

There’s the main dining room upstairs, then a more-casual tavern and bar downstairs that still feels classy. Truly a foodie experience for a special occasion. 

Popular items:

Empire Seafood Paella, Grilled Australian Lamb Rack, Roasted Five Spice Pennsylvania Duck Breast, Grilled Chilean Verlasso Salmon, Empire Chocolate Souffle.

Reservations recommended. 

Death & Taxes

Looking for other fine dining restaurants in Raleigh? Death and Taxes is located in an elegant building in downtown Raleigh that was once a mortuary and a tax office (hence the name).

This restaurant features an open kitchen with an emphasis on wood-fired fare with Southern ingredients from chef Ashley Christensen (a James Beard Award winning local chef). 

What you can expect:

Intimacy, a beautifully elegant and comfortable space without being too loud, and impeccable service. Incredible food and extensive wine and drink list. 

Popular items:

Roasted Oysters, North Carolina fish, Grilled Octopus.

Absolutely one of the best restaurants in Raleigh for a date night. Reservations recommended. 

Crawford & Son

A casual and cozy neighborhood restaurant in Historic Oakwood, Crawford & Son serves some of the best food in Raleigh that ranges from the familiar to the unexpected.

Known as one of the best restaurants in Raleigh NC for outstanding service, ambiance, food presentation, and craft cocktails.

What you can expect:

Thoughtful menu, attentive service, delicious food with creative flair and attention to detail, nice ambiance, fun cocktails.

Popular items:

Warm Malted Wheat Rolls. Beef Short Rib. Peaches Cobbler. 

Definitely one of the best Raleigh restaurants downtown.

Breweries & Bars

There are plenty of awesome breweries in Raleigh (and bars), and whilst they all have great beer, not many of them serve great food.

Here is a select few.

Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing

WyE Hill Kitchen & Brewing, Raleigh, NC

Come for their refreshing brews and unique and creative food options, and then stay for the incredible views of the downtown Raleigh skyline. 

Besides the drinks, Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing is our favorite brewery to eat at. Their food is next level and some of the best we’ve eaten in the city. 

What you can expect:

Delicious and innovative meals with a healthy twist, an amazing outdoor patio area (covered) with spectacular elevated views of downtown.

Refreshing craft beers, signature cocktails, wine. Casual fun atmosphere perfect for a group of friends or a date.

There’s also indoor seating, lounge area, plus a bar. Wonderful owners and courteous staff. 

Popular items:

Roasted Beet Hummus, Deviled Eggs, their Burgers (made with a premium blend of chuck and short rib), Virtual Insanity IPA. Vegan options and kids menu.

The Raleigh Times

Raleigh Times Bar

A timeless watering hole named after the former newspaper that occupied this 100 year old building, The Raleigh Times has multiple levels and an open rooftop.

Probably the most famous of bars in Raleigh – even Obama had a campaign beer here – they serve up quality American pub grub.

What you can expect:

Historic building vibes and memorabilia, quality bar food, good burgers – they make their patties from scratch, great sandwiches. 

Great selection of local craft beers and Belgian beers. 

Popular items: 

The Raleigh Times Burger (made with the highest quality chuck ground in-house every day, the Nachos, Far East Reuben, fried Pickles, Cobb salad. 

Quality breakfast options too (great pancakes and French toast). 

Seafood

42nd St. Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill

If you love seafood, atmosphere, and good service this is a Raleigh landmark.

The 42nd St. Oyster Bar has been a Southern Seafood tradition since 1931 and is one of the most popular and famous places to eat in Raleigh downtown.

What you can expect:

Classic charm (white table clothes, checkerboard floors, metal bar stool chairs around the oyster bar) at a landmark seafood restaurant and raw bar dating back to 1931. 

Oyster bar with great oysters. Plus ried seafood, fun atmosphere and exceptional service. 

Really good Bloody Mary’s. NC draft beers. Live music on Fridays and Saturdays. Good choices for non-seafood eaters. 

Popular items:

Pimento Cheese Oysters. Baked Crab Artichoke Dip. Buffalo Shrimp & Grits. Clam Chouder. The complimentary Hushpuppies. The desserts. 

Jack’s Seafood & Soul Food Restaurant

Looks rundown and like a no-frills hole-in-the wall type restaurant, but Jack’s Seafood & Soul Food has been serving fried seafood and soul food to happy locals and visitors for years.

What you can expect:

They specialize in delicious and reasonably-priced fried seafood and good old Southern country cooking. Simple menu but to the point. 

Food is made-to-order. Large portions and good prices. Call in your order for expedited service.

Popular items:

Fried catfish plate. Fried okra, Fried chicken. Shrimp burgers. Sweet potato pie. The Lemonade

  • Address: 5416 Rock Quarry Rd
  • Website

Italian

Cafe Luna

Cafe Luna, Raleigh
Photo credit: Cafe Luna

Looking for delicious Italian restaurants in Raleigh? Cafe Luna has been serving Tuscan-accented Italian fare in an airy, art-filled space since 1996.

It’s not just the authentic cuisine that will transport you to Italy, but also the original artwork hanging on the walls.

What you can expect:

Excellent Italian food with quality ingredients and generous portions, friendly atmosphere, wonderful service and owners. 

Great wine selection. Complimentary bread with nice olive oil for dipping.Reasonably priced. Fantastic location downtown, 

Popular items:

Pretty much everything on the menu is well prepared and flavorful. The pasta dishes (GF options), The Lasagne, The Veal, Calamari Fritti, The Cheesecake. 

Dinner reservations recommended on weekends. Great spot for a date, business meeting, or family dinner. 

Gravy

Gravy Italian Restaurant in Raleigh, NC

We didn’t pay any attention to Gravy initially because we had no idea that ‘gravy’ refers to Italian pasta sauce. We thought it was another meat based/Southern restaurant. 

Turns out, Gravy is one of the best Italian restaurants in Raleigh downtown, and it’s a warm and inviting place with a super cozy courtyard in a prime location!

What you can expect:

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. 

Popular items:

Risotto balls, the lasagne, the gnocchi, Tagliatelle Bolognese, chicken parmigiana, eggplant pie, Tuscany red wine,

Vic’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria

Local and family-owned by real Italians, Vic’s serves authentic Italian cuisine and New York style pizza and 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 Raleigh’s Historic City Market.

What you can expect:

Wide array of choices using fresh and local ingredients. Lunch and dinner specials that change daily. Generous size pasta portions. 

A family-friendly restaurant and a warm and familiar atmosphere loved by locals and visitors. Friendly and efficient service.

Popular items:

Their specialty pizzas. Penne Alla Vodka. Calzones. Complimentary garlic knots.

Mexican

Centro

Centro Mexican Restaurant, Raleigh
Photo credit: Centro

Modern Mexican food right in the heart of downtown Raleigh, Centro utilizes organic and local ingredients in flavorful ways in an energetic setting.

What you can expect:

Original and creative options at reasonable prices. Craft tequila cocktails. Funky little place with a laid back Mexican vibe and atmosphere. Friendly and courteous staff.

Popular items:

You can’t can’t go wrong with any of their tacos. Excellent salsa. The torta. The habanero house made hot sauce. Their vast lunch menu with many items under $10. Saturday brunch. 

Reservations recommended for dinner on weekends. 

La Santa Modern Mexican Food

One of the most popular and best Mexican restaurants in Raleigh located in the lively Glenwood South District.

La Santa serves up authentic and traditional tasting Mexican food with a fun modern spin. Fresh, flavorful and filling. 

What you can expect:

Fun atmosphere and vibe with interesting and colorful decor. Friendly and helpful service, and music that keeps the mood light and energetic. 

All specials $7 on Monday – Friday from 11:00am – 2:30pm       

Popular items:

Their signature burrito (Burrito Momia – a burrito wrapped with bacon). The guacamole. The ceviche. Queso on the side. Great chips and salsa. Many different margaritas made with fresh fruit.

They also have a dedicated vegan menu.

Fun spot to eat with friends or your partner!

Asian 

Garland

Garland, Raleigh
Photo credit: Garland

Trendy Garland is an Asian fusion restaurant heavily-influenced by Indian flavors with locally sourced ingredients leading to creative dishes in a casual yet funky space.

Garland is the creation of Cheetie Kumar, a semifinalist for a James Beard Award and a rockstar guitarist/musician.

There’s plenty of options for vegetarians and meat-eaters, plus seasonal cocktails that also have pan-asian twist. 

What you can expect:

A casual dining experience in a comfortable yet funky space with eclectic furnishings – check out the pennies on the bathroom floor.

Imaginative food. Diverse selection of shared plates and entrees. Locally sourced ingredients and a seasonally driven menu. Many gluten free options. 

Popular items:

Moroccan Hummus, Tofu Rice Bowl, Tandoori Chicken Kabobs, Pork Rice Bowl, Chicken 65 & Cauliflower 65, Corn Cake & Greens. 

Great location downtown sandwiched between other local favorites Kings (funky bar and music venue) and Neptune’s (underground bar). 

Sushi O

One of the top recommended sushi restaurants in Raleigh is Sushi O conveniently located in the Glenwood South District. 

Whilst they also serve curries, noodles, soups, and salads, they make excellent sushi. 

What you can expect:

Something for everyone. Large choice of specialty rolls with amazing flavors plus a menu with Japanese, Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese options. . 

Outstanding presentation, fun atmosphere with music, excellent service, good sake and great mojitos. 

Popular items:

Sushi Bar lunch specials, Crazy Salmon Roll, Spicy Tuna Tigress Roll, Cucumber Special Roll. . Vegetarian Rolls. Bento Box. Miso soup.

Sushi Mon

Sushi Mon, Raleigh
Photo credit: Sushi Mon

Looking for some of the best sushi in Raleigh? The owner (and one of the Chefs) at Sushi Mon has worked at top sushi places in San Francisco and Vegas and this is an “above average” sushi bar, not BOGO sushi, in fact some call it a premium or fine dining sushi bar.

What you can expect:

Two large bars (liquor or sushi) you can sit at, or dining tables as well – sit at the sushi bar and watch their culinary talents at work.

And with fresh, authentic, and delicious sushi using the best ingredients, coupled with courteous and fast service, Sushi Mon is gaining a growing reputation as one of the best sushi restaurants in Raleigh. 

Popular items:

The Nigiri Omakase, Sashimi plate, their Nigiri menu, the Truffle Tuna Roll, the Ultimate Shrimp & Scallop.

Being relatively new, you could call this place a hidden gem located near NC State’s North Campus off Hillsborough. 

Mediterranean

Taverna Agora Greek Kitchen & Bar

Taverna Agora Greek Kitchen - one of the best places to eat in Raleigh, NC
Grecian Grill – Photo by Taverna Agora

For an authentic Greek dining experience that will remind you of your trips to Greece, head to Taverna Agora Greek Kitchen & Bar.

Get among the atmosphere and vibe on the lovely rooftop and enjoy hand-crafted cocktails, lunch and dinner, or Sunday brunch. 

What you can expect:

Greek and Mediterranean dishes, a Casual and inviting atmosphere, courteous and knowledgeable staff.

And one of the best upstairs patio settings in Raleigh for a relaxed view of the city. 

Popular items:

Flambéed Saganaki, Chicken Mykonos, Grecian Grill (meant for a family to share, a mix of Grilled Chicken, Gyro, Meatballs Keftedes, and herb-marinated Lamb Chops). 

Plus the Sunday brunch menu. 

Neomonde Mediterranean

Neomonde Mediterranean, Raleigh
Photo credit: Neomonde

Lovers of Lebanese and Mediterranean food know where to go in Raleigh, and that’s Neomonde.

This cafe that serves Lebanese light fare, fresh breads and other Mediterranean dishes has been a staple for Raleigh locals for years who crave authentic Middle Eastern food.

What you can expect:

Tasty organic and locally sourced food and plenty of gluten free and vegan/vegetarian options. 

Everything is made fresh, large portions, reasonable prices, fast service, personable staff and friendly owners. 

Popular items:

The fresh pita and hummus, the shish kabobs, lots of healthy salads. They also have a great tea selection, and selection of vegan and gluten free products.

There’s also a little Lebanese store attached to buy your favorites to bring home.

Neomonde is a must if you’re craving some good Mediterranean food! 

Sitti

This popular Middle Eastern restaurant serves up modern versions of authentic Lebanese dishes in an airy room with a communal table and art deco bar. 

Located on the corner of Wilmington and Hargett streets in downtown, Sitti’s cuisine is made fresh in house daily, 

What you can expect:

Really good Middle Eastern food, with something on the menu for everyone, including vegetarian options and kids menu.

An antique Art Deco bar with Lebanese liquors, beer and wine, plus French wines and local craft beers. An upbeat atmosphere.

Popular items:

Great pita’s and dip, hot mezze (kibbeh), house-baked flatbreads, chicken/lamb/beef shawarma, falafel, house-made flatbreads.

Food Halls

Morgan Street Food Hall

Morgan Street Food Hall, Raleigh

We love the concept of a food hall. Similar to a food court with all the choices in one spot, but with higher quality food and ambiance.

Morgan Street Food Hall is located in the thriving Warehouse District and the first of its kind in Raleigh, a 22,000 square feet of space inside a repurposed warehouse.

What you can expect:

20 different food concepts showcasing local eateries housed in food stalls or free standing kiosks. Lively atmosphere and a popular place for the community to hang out. 

Fantastic spot for families or groups of friends with different food tastes. 

Popular vendors:

CowBar Burger, Oak City Fish & Chips, Curry in a Hurry, Oak City Fish and Chips. See all vendors here.

Mimosa weekends: $15 champagne buckets. 

Transfer Co. Food Hall

Transfer Co. Food Hall

Housed in the historic Carolina Coach Garage and Shops, Transfer Co. Food Hall is the other of the two food halls in downtown Raleigh.

There’s 50,000+ square feet of renovated warehouse space that’s now home to 12 vendors and a place for the community to gather through food.

What you can expect:

A cool neighborhood vibe in an old warehouse building refitted in modern industrial chic. Inside is bright and open, cozy upper level space, and an outdoor patio.

Nice variety of food choices including burgers, seafood, Asian, Italian, Mexican, Bagels, Beer and Wine.

Popular Vendors:

Benchwarmers Bagels, Mama Crow’s Burgers, Captain Cookie & The Milkman. See all vendors here

Bakeries

Boulted Bread

Boulted Bread is one of the best places to eat in Raleigh, NC
Morning Bun / Chocolate Croissants

Bread and pastry lovers listen up. Boulted Bread is that chic local neighborhood bakery you’ve been craving that features pastries and loaves of bread made with local, organic grains.

This bakery is a real locals favorite, serving craft bread and pastries ranging from flaky croissants and sweet, fruit-filled tarts to savory breakfast quiches.

What you can expect:

Phenomenal artisan bread and sweet and savory pastries created in a bright, rustic bakery that’s small in size but big on quality and run by wonderful people. 

Popular items:

The Morning Bun. Chocolate Croissants. Nordic Rye Bread. And the staff favorite is the Baguette.

Union Special 

Union Special is a popular full service bakeshop and café in the renovated Gateway Plaza off Capital Blvd.

They produce bread, sweet and savory pastries, cookies, and cafe fare.

What you can expect:

It’s a bakery but so much more! A evolving cafe menu serving breakfast and lunch, creative sandwiches, vegan options, a kids menu, coffee and even beer. 

Most dishes are made from scratch. All the flours sourced exclusively from Lindley Mills in Graham, NC

Popular items:

Their top quality daily breads. The Union Egg Sandwich, Blue Corn Cookie, Vegan Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Cookie.

Yellow Dog Bread Company

Yellow Dog Bread Company is a coffee shop and bakery specializing in handmade artisan breads and southern influenced pastries. 

What you can expect:

A small and local neighborhood bakery with fresh baked bread daily, croissants, rolls, sandwiches, cookies, cakes and coffee.

A cute seating area to meet with friends.

Popular items:

Their bread. Almond croissants. Cranberry pecan scone. Sticky buns. Maple bacon scones. Crostinis. Chocolate chip scone. Homemade pop tarts. Iced chai vanilla latte.

Sweet Tooth

The Cupcake Shoppe Bakery

cupcake shoppe raleigh nc
Pretty in Pink – Photo by Cupcake Shoppe

Cozy and stylish light filled cafe bakery whipping up bespoke cakes & cupcakes using fresh, high end, local ingredients.  

They’ve been baking from scratch each morning for over 10 years and whilst their specialty is cupcakes, they also boast a full espresso bar, breakfast pastries, croissants, and muffins.

What you can expect:

Wide variety of cupcakes including a weekly special and gluten free/vegan options, plus cookies, bars, brownies, seasonal ice cream sandwiches, homemade marshmallows. 

They proudly serve locally roasted Joe Van Gogh coffee and espresso that you can enjoy on their patio.

Popular items:

Pretty in Pink (signature fresh strawberry cupcake with strawberry buttercream!) it’s to die for. Also the Brown Betty, Big Red. Their gluten free cupcakes are delicious too.

Lucettegrace

Lucette Grace, one of the best places to eat in Raleigh for a sweet tooth.

When you are downtown in the Fayetteville Street area and craving some great macarons or a one of a kind pastry, Lucettegrace is a contemporary patisserie located near the Convention Center. 

What you can expect:

French inspired desserts. Delicious sweet and savory baked goods. Solid lunch options (soup/sandwiches/salads).

Bright and clean space with large windows that look out into the street. Their menu changes frequently, so don’t just visit once!

Popular items:

Macarons (huge variety of flavors) our kids enjoyed the Good hot chocolate. 

Bittersweet

If you enjoy 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.

What you can expect:

Fun atmosphere, nostalgic decor, music playing. All of the desserts are made in-house, many to choose from – none dairy-free.

Excellent cocktails, desserts and service. Not a big place so fills up quickly, especially on weekend nights.

Popular items:

Derby Pie, S’mores Sundae, Salty Chipwich Ice Cream Sandwich, the cocktails. 

Videri Chocolate Factory

Videri Chocolate Factory, Raleigh, NC

Ok chocolates lovers, it’s time to rejoice! Come check out the Videri Chocolate Factory and retail space and sample yummy chocolate.

Also now selling soft serve ice cream. And the attached cafe Black & White is a full espresso bar serving up great coffees (how about a mocha made with their chocolate!) 

What you can expect:

A behind the scenes look at the chocolate-making process from start to finish. Top notch service from knowledgeable staff. 

Rich, high quality chocolate, hand-made chocolate with many choices, vegan options, allergy friendly. They source organic and fair trade ingredients. 

Popular items:

Bonbons, all the chocolate bars, Hot Cocoa. 

Great location in the Warehouse District next to Crank Arm Brewing and across from Pit BBQ.

Two Roosters Ice Cream

Two Roosters Ice Cream, Raleigh, North Carolina

Two Roosters was founded by a NC State University alum. Initially roaming the streets of Raleigh in a turquoise 1965 Ford truck, it was such a hit they opened brick-and-mortar locations in 2017.

Located on Person St near Oakwood and Mordecai, their handcrafted ice cream features seasonal and permanent flavors – often inspired by local events and restaurants.

What you can expect:

Unusual creations with quality ingredients. A cute small space, often a life out the door. 

Popular items

Earl Grey Lemon Cookie Dough, Blackberry Hibiscus. Coffee Bourbon.

I hope this post helped you discover some great places to eat in Raleigh? 

With so many delicious and creative Raleigh restaurants to choose from, we know you won’t leave the City of Oaks with an empty stomach, and your taste buds satisfied.

We’ll be updating this post over time as we try new restaurants. Stay tuned! 

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2 thoughts on “50+ Essential Places To Eat In Raleigh, NC (inside the beltline)”

    1. Hi Tony, as you can see it’s already a LONG list and I can’t mention every place. The majority of the places we have been, otherwise they’ve been highly recommended by friends or other locals. What do you love about the Rockford? Favorite dishes? Thanks for the heads up, we’ll be adding to this overtime.

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