Raleigh Food Experiences – 9 Classic Southern Dishes to Try

New to Raleigh and living in North Carolina? One of the best ways to get a real sense for the place is through its food. Whilst the Raleigh food scene continues to evolve and there’s not much we can’t eat here, you haven’t really lived in Raleigh until you’ve tried one of these classic Southern dishes!

BBQ at Clyde Cooper's
BBQ at Clyde Cooper’s

It can be said that the food scene in Raleigh is now rivaling other Southern food cities like Charleston, Atlanta and Nashville. And we are lucky to have a growing list of creative chefs in town, even James Beard award winning chefs, and it’s one of the many reasons we love living in Raleigh!

Not only for the food in Raleigh though, Durham is just 30-minutes up interstate 40 and has been called “the tastiest town in the South”. And of course nearby Chapel Hill is not lacking in great Southern food experiences.

And although the industry is still in tough times due to you know what, it seems like there are endless places to eat in Raleigh with an exciting mix of traditional Southern food and global flavors.

Now, knowing Southern food like we do, you might not want to overindulge in these dishes if you are watching your waistline. Most are very hearty and filling, and I wouldn’t classify them as superfoods!

Fried chicken & waffle sandwich, Parkside Restaurant
Fried chicken & waffle sandwich from Parkside Restaurant

Below are the classic Raleigh food experiences to try when taste testing your way around the city, and where to eat them. Besides Raleigh restaurants, you could also taste these dishes at a food hall or from a food truck

And of course, we love getting your own suggestions via our Instagram account and from our email community.

Many of these Southern foods we didn’t like at first, but we have learned to acquire the taste. Southerners have been eating this way forever. Now it’s your turn. 

Barbecue

Ole Time BBQ
Ole Time BBQ

North Carolina is a barbecue state, and they take their barbecue seriously. Barbecue, BBQ, or ‘cue is eaten in restaurants, at college football tailgates, in backyards, and is an essential part of this state’s DNA.

They do it a little differently here though compared to other BBQ hot spots like Kansas City, Memphis and Texas. Here in North Carolina, barbecue comes in two forms: Eastern and Lexington styles. Because we are in Raleigh, we’re going to talk about Eastern style BBQ!

In Eastern style, they slow cook the whole hog over hot coals, then pull the meat, maybe give it a little chop, and dress it with vinegar base sauce. Carolina BBQ is commonly referred to as pulled pork. And with a big pig industry, really good ribs here too!

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Good ribs at Sam Jones BBQ

Typically, Eastern style is served as a sandwich or a plated dish. Plus with all the traditional Southern sides, or fixin’s as they call them!

Places for good bbq in Raleigh include:

Read More – Where to eat the best BBQ in Raleigh

Video: Check out Clyde Cooper’s BBQ

Southern Fried Chicken

Fried chicken sandwich at Beasley's Chicken + Honey in downtown Raleigh
Fried chicken sandwich at Beasley’s Chicken + Honey

They’re always frying things in the South, and Southern-fried chicken is a locals favorite. 

Known simply as fried chicken, and in southern fried chicken the chicken is soaked in buttermilk, then coated in seasoned flour and a dish consisting of chicken pieces and either pan-fried, deep fried, pressure fried, or air fried.

The breading adds a crisp coating or crust to the exterior of the chicken while retaining juices in the meat.

Our eldest daughter loves fried chicken sandwiches, and most Raleigh restaurants have a version of their own, with creative spins on it. For example, Tonbo Ramen in downtown Raleigh does a Japanese Fried Chicken, a twist on this famous dish!

Parkside Restaurant
Chicken & waffle sandwich at Parkside Restaurant in the Warehouse District

Or, how about fried chicken and waffles? Where they put fried chicken on top of a Belgium waffle, usually served with a side of honey or maple syrup.

Popular places for fried chicken:

Grits (Shrimp & Grits)

Shrimp & Grits
Shrimp & Grits

For us, grits can be very hit and miss, and if you’re not familiar with grits, it is basically a corn-based dish, a porridge made from boiled cornmeal and best associated with a Southern breakfast.

If we are going to have grits, we’re going to have it with shrimp as growing up by the ocean in Australia we love our shrimp (well, prawns to us downunder), and shrimp and grits is VERY Southern!

You can get this dish in many of the best restaurants in Raleigh. Popular places include:

Biscuits

Biscuit at Jubala coffee
Yummy biscuits at Jubala coffee with egg, bacon & cheese

When we used to think of biscuits we’d think of cookies which is what we call them back in Australia, and it took us a while to get our head around that. 

My first experience with eating biscuits in Raleigh was in 2004 at Bojangles with sausage and white gravy which was kinda weird for us (we are used to brown gravy and have it with things like fries). And I’m like, what is this white slop, and the biscuit was way too dry! 

Let me just say, I’ve more than acquired the taste for a good fluffy biscuit (not at Bojangles), and especially one loaded with bacon, egg and pimento cheese. But you can be as creative as you want with fillings!

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Good biscuits at Big Ed’s Restaurant

So what is a biscuit? Basically a flour-based baked food product filled with savory ingredients. Similar to what we would call a scone, but a bit fluffier and airier.

You could say they are the real Southern comfort food and the bread of the South.

Popular places:

Hush Puppies

Hush puppies at Ole Time BBQ, Raleigh
Hush puppies at Ole Time BBQ

Hush puppies are another Southern specialty, and they are very common to be served with barbecue or seafood. We’ve had some good one’s, and some not so good. 

What are they exactly? A small, savoury, deep-fried round ball made from cornmeal-based batter. A lot of people like them with a spicy dipping sauce, or hot honey dipping sauce to sweeten them up. Or simply a tartar or cocktail sauce.

We did hear a story, or an assumption or myth, that they were created in South Carolina when they would roll up bits of corn meal to feed to the dogs at cookouts to hush the puppies. Let us know in the comments if this is true? 

Local favorite places to get them include:

Country Ham

Country ham goes well with eggs, grits, and a biscuit
Country ham goes well with eggs, grits, and a biscuit

In case you don’t know, North Carolina is a big hog farming state, so products like ham, bacon and pork are easily available and popular. 

So yet another classic Southern tradition is country ham that is aged, smoked, dried and cured to perfection, and heavily salted. I do love my salt, and the ham, especially for breakfast with eggs and bacon! 

Try it for breakfast (or anytime) at:

Collard Greens

The Pit BBQ, Raleigh
Collard greens at The Pit BBQ

Alright, if you like your greens, collard greens could be what you’re looking for. Again, this dish is another staple side dish in Southern cooking!

Collards are members of the cabbage family, and there’s many ways to cook them. But the best-known way to do it in the South is low and slow in a stockpot (or slow cooker) with plenty of bold, smoky ingredients to amp up the flavor.

Traditionally, Southern collard greens are made with pork. Also add a teaspoon of smoked paprika to the broth, and apple cider vinegar, and a tablespoon of sugar.

Collard Greens at Ole Time BBQ
Collard greens at Ole Time BBQ

If you like your greens on the spicy side, add a tablespoon of red pepper flakes. We give them a thumbs up. Just don’t expect good ones at our place on Thanksgiving!!

Try them at:

Mac & Cheese

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Famous Macaroni Au Gratin. Photo by Poole’s Diner

One of our youngest daughters favorite dishes is the good old Mac and cheese. Well, it does depend on what day it is, she’s a fussy eater! 

This is a dish of cooked macaroni pasta and a cheese sauce, most commonly cheddar. Popular as a side with barbecue, or as a full entrée – like the famous Mac & Cheese dish in Raleigh called macaroni au gratin by famed local chef Ashley Christensen at her first Raleigh restaurant, Poole’s Diner, who makes some of the best food in Raleigh.

Try it at:

Fried Green Tomatoes

fried green tomatoes
Image by DepositPhotos

A trendy southern side dish featuring unripe tomatoes washed in egg and buttermilk, coated in cornmeal and fried. Does that sound healthy to you? Maybe not healthy, but for some it is very tasty!

Not a huge fan of this dish and haven’t indulged in it often, maybe I just need to know the best places to eat it, like these places listed below.

Try them at:

Sweet Potato Pie

Sweet potato pie
Image by Slice Pie Company

Here’s a fun fact. Did you know that North Carolina is the leading producer of sweet potatoes in the USA?

This is a traditional dessert, originating in the South, often served during Thanksgiving and Christmas in place of pumpkin pie.

I must say, I do love sweet potato fries, except when they pile the sugar on top, for me sweet potatoes are sweet enough already. And whilst I do prefer a pecan or pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie is not bad either! 

Try it from:

There you have it, a list of Southern classic dishes you need to try next time you eat out. And as you can probably tell, some of the best food places in Raleigh mentioned above serve up several of the dishes on the list

Now it’s your turn. What dish have I missed? What Raleigh food or Southern dishes do you suggest newcomers try. And where should they get it? 

Please share your favorite Raleigh restaurants to indulge in these classic dishes?

2 thoughts on “Raleigh Food Experiences – 9 Classic Southern Dishes to Try”

  1. OMG! Y’all out did yourselves here! It’s all yummy-licious! I’ll be dreaming about our return trip and sampling many of your great suggestions????
    Have a great weekend and enjoy the snow ❄️ y’all!

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