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Best Places to Eat in Raleigh for Date Night and Casual Bites

Last Updated on August 15, 2020

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There are almost too many incredible restaurants in Raleigh to name, which is why this will always be a growing list. With award-winning cuisine scattered throughout, building a guide to Oak City’s finest eats was a monumental task.

We are sure we probably didn’t hit all of your favorite Raleigh restaurants, but rest assured- we are always eating and adding! So get your stretchy pants ready for this list of some of the best places to eat in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Note: Our food guides are always expanding, so if we left something off, it’s because our stomachs are only so big! Let us know where to eat in Raleigh that’s your favorite.

This post is a part of our series on Raleigh, where we’ve covered free things to do there and more in this awesome North Carolina city.

Restaurants in Raleigh, NC (Jump to Sections)

For this post, we’ve organized restaurants by those we’d visit for dates and others that are still amazing, but better for more casual occasions.

Our map at the bottom of this post includes all of these places to get food in Raleigh, in case you’re ready to go right now.

For Date Night

These places to eat in Raleigh bring together flavors and atmosphere to qualify as perfect date night restaurants.

Jose and Sons

Website | 327 W Davie St

A quintessential Raleigh restaurant is the well-received Jose and Sons in the warehouse district. Fusing their Mexican heritage and upbringing in the American South, you’ll find the oh-so-delicious brisket quesadilla, collard green tamals, and barbacoa gouda mac and cheese at this awesome spot.

And if the food wasn’t enough to draw you in, how about a tequila and bourbon tower to start things off?

Mandolin

Website | 2519 Fairview Rd

Of all the places to eat in Raleigh NC,  Mandolin's might offer the closest sourced food.

Mandolin offers fine dining in a bistro setting and dishes with local ingredients, even sourcing from their own farm in North Raleigh. Whether you’re joining Chef Fowler for his $9 gourmet burger night or the Pan-Seared Tilefish, you’re bound to experience sophistication.

Dishes not only highlight the protein but all elements on your plate. Located in the Hayes Barton neighborhood, Mandolin is a Raleigh restaurant offering a literal fresh take on Southern food.

Poole’s Downtown Diner

Website | 426 S McDowell St

A proud Ashley Christensen restaurant, Poole’s Downtown Diner is a must-eat Raleigh restaurant whether you live here or are visiting. Utilizing local farmers and seasonal offering, Poole’s is a community effort with outstanding dishes.

You’ll probably want to make a reservation, but unfortunately Poole’s does not offer call ahead seating. Tables fill up quickly, but our recommendation is to get there at 5pm and start at the bar. And don’t miss AC’s famous macaroni au gratin!

We included Christensen’s Poole’s in our list of essential cookbooks, too!

Casual Raleigh Restaurants

41Hundred

Website | 4100 Main at North Hills St

Visit 41Hundred whether or not you're staying in North Hills.

41Hundred is located inside of the sleek Renaissance Raleigh North Hills Hotel and goes far beyond the expectations of a hotel restaurant. The casual vibe here meshes nicely with the sophisticated dishes that pair with their house-aged bourbon.

Whether you’re checking in for a night or looking for great North Hills restaurants, 41Hundred is the perfect place to start. And to keep things interesting and focused on local, the menu changes seasonally.

Beasley’s Chicken + Honey

Website | 237 S Wilmington St

Of all the Raleigh Restaurants we mention, Beasley's Chicken and Honey is probably the best-known.

I guarantee that if you drive through Downtown Raleigh and see a line of people waiting outside of a restaurant, you probably just passed Ashley Christensen’s Beasley’s Chicken + Honey. The rest of the menu doesn’t disappoint, but many people come for the exquisitely prepared Chicken and Waffles.

Of course, the rest of the menu doesn’t disappoint, as their Pot Pie attests—served in a milk gravy with a cornmeal crust. Simply put, Beasley’s is Southern chicken and grandma’s sides elevated to serve today’s foodies. But once you step inside, you’ll see that it’s not that simple here.

Chef Christensen was also in attendance at the first Chow Chow in Asheville, which we covered here.

Big Ed’s City Market

Website | 220 Wolfe St

Big Ed's was one of the first Raleigh attractions we visited and its amazing food has us coming back for more.

Quirky, kitschy, All-American, is what you’ll get at Downtown Raleigh food staple Big Ed’s Restaurant. Big Ed’s has called its City Market location “home” since 1989 and was founded in 1958. Founder Big Ed developed the recipes that the restaurant uses today while preparing meals for workers on his farm.

Customers are treated to some of the most delicious red-eye gravy, all-you-can-eat fluffy and buttery biscuits, blackstrap molasses, and more Southern classics that stick to your ribs. There’s nothing like a farm-fresh breakfast and Big Ed’s makes sure even Raleigh’s city folk can enjoy some down-home cooking.

Char-Grill

Website | Multiple Raleigh locations

Char-Grill might be home of the best burger in Raleigh.

It doesn’t get more Raleigh than Char-grill. Since 1959, Char-Grill has been filling burger orders over hot charcoal. It’s one of our favorite places to grab a couple of burgers and shakes for a car picnic!

The menu might be simple, but the food remains delicious. And sometimes (every time?), you just need a juicy cheeseburger without all the frills.

When you arrive, fill out a paper order sheet and wait while your food is all cooked to order. Regardless of what you write down, make sure you tick off milkshake!

Cortez

Website | 413 Glenwood Ave

Cortez will impress visitors with impeccable presentation and exquisite flavors.

If you want something Mexican-inspired with exceptional seafood and small plates, you must seek out the one and only Cortez. The flavors and freshness from this James Beard Semi-Finalist are just part of the story.

Their menu combines locally sourced seafood, ingredients from farmer’s markets, and family traditions. Come for oyster happy hour (dollar oysters, y’all!) and the refreshing yellowtail ceviche!

Driftwood Cantina

Menu | 8460 Honeycutt Rd #112

With beautiful colorful décor and vibrant dishes, Driftwood Cantina is one of our favorite restaurants in Raleigh. Serving elevated tacos in handmade tortillas, you can’t go wrong with any of their menu items. Did we mention that their craft cocktail game is 110% on point too?

Fresh ingredients and locally owned, Driftwood Cantina also gives back to the community. For every order of salsa sold, $1 goes to the Interfaith Food Shuttle which helps to eliminate food insecurity in Raleigh.

We’re not done with Lafayette Village by any stretch but just wanted to share our homage to that foodie paradise with you.

The Fiction Kitchen

Website | 428 S Dawson St

The Fiction Kitchen's vegetarian and vegan selection make this spot one of the best in the city.

Eastern Carolina native Chef Caroline Morrison serves up the most incredible vegetarian and vegan food in the entire state of North Carolina at the Fiction Kitchen. Her famed meatless smoked barbecue landed her in Food and Wine and 100 percent gets the approval of the NC BBQ fanatics behind this site.

The bright neon green building and funky decor add more flavor to the already delicious meatless options coming out the window. Start off with a tasting plate of housemade vegan nut cheese and tempeh pâté, order at least one plate of pulled “pork,” and round out the night with a slice of decadent vegan cheesecake.

Hummingbird

Website | 1053 E Whitaker Mill Rd Suite 111

Brunch at Hummingbird is one of our favorite things to do in Raleigh NC.

Café by day and small plates and artisanal cocktails by night, Hummingbird is a seemingly small* but fierce establishment, just like its namesake. Hummingbird serves a variety of elegant dishes in a retro environment.

Here, you can sip on a gorgeous cocktail with a hint of rosewater, slurp Chef Coleen’s charbroiled oysters, or licking bourbon caramel from your sticky bun off your fingers.

Also, while the dining room appears to be small, there is additional seating in the back and patio!

MOFU Shoppe

Website | 321 S Blount St

Fusion isn't always our favorite but MOFU Shoppe convinced us they belong among the best restaurants in Raleigh.

MOFU Shoppe stands out among the rest of the restaurants in Raleigh to us. From the funky and quirky sculptures outside of the building to the warm and inviting seating area, this isn’t your typical Asian restaurant.

The fusion restaurant first made it on the scene as a food truck, and even (spoiler alert!) won the sixth season of Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race.” Today, their space is a remodeled car dealership, which means on warm afternoons you’ll notice the garage doors open looking out on Blount Street.

It’s hard for me to say this because typically I wouldn’t recommend a vegetable as a must-order when at a restaurant, but the Brussel sprouts at MOFU Shoppe are so incredibly crispy and sweet that they are worth ordering all by themselves.

Going even further, there’s nothing on this menu that isn’t absolutely incredible. Handmade dumpling, deliciously deep flavored broths, and perfectly crisp Asian styled wings—get them all and thank us later.

We also visited MOFU Shoppe, Transfer Co Food Fall, and a few more spots during our Taste Carolina Food Tour in Raleigh.

Morgan Street Food Hall

Website | 411 Morgan St

Morgan Street Food Hall is a hub of so many wonderful Raleigh restaurants.

First of all, do NOT call Morgan Street Food Hall a “food court” because it is so much more than that. No, this is a place for the community to come together and dine. Morgan Street packs some of the best local restaurants into its brick and mortar location with indoor seating and a kickass outdoor patio.

Here, you can dine on delicious buttery rolls from Shark Tank alums Cousins Maine Lobster, dig into home-style cooking from Iyla’s Southern Kitchen, enjoy freshly prepared Mediterranean from Sassool, or eat the best-fried seafood from Oak City Fish and Chips. It’s more than a collection of eateries. Morgan Street Food Hall is a true cross-meal experience.

Papa Shogun

Website | 111 Seaboard Ave #118

Japan meets Italy at this amazing Raleigh restaurant.

Papa Shogun in Seaboard Station is definitely one of the most unique restaurants in Raleigh. Here, Japanese and Italian cuisine meet to form an unlikely menu pairing. Chef Tom Cuomo mixes fresh pulled mozzarella with Japanese flavors in his Kombu Garlic Bread with shiso and togarashi seasoning.

Another favorite is the Kombu Gnocchi, which floats like a cloud above mushroom dashi. Yaki Onigiri was a personal favorite of mine while living in Asia, but Papa Shogun’s addition of roasted peppers and fresh mozzarella to the rice balls and Italian red sauce accompaniment takes it to a whole new level.

Pressed by Spanglish

Website | 10630 Durant Rd #104

Spanglish is the answer to best Puerto Rican food in Raleigh.

You’ll come away from Spanglish with a full belly and a happy heart. This is honestly the best way to experience Puerto Rican food ala casual. Starting as a food truck, Spanglish now has two brick and mortar locations including their North Raleigh restaurant.

One of the most traditional dishes you’ll find at Spanglish’s is Mofongo, which mixes crushed plantains and a delicious broth. Served with juicy pork, maduros, and avocados, it’s an excellent reason why Spanglish made our list of incredible places to eat in Raleigh!

Raleigh Beer Garden

Website | 614 Glenwood Ave

Not only do they offer a huge beer selection, but Raleigh Beer Garden is certainly one of the city's best restaurants.

With the Guinness World Record for the most unique beers on tap, Raleigh Beer Garden is a definite must-visit Raleigh restaurant. With so much talk about their beer (psst. 200 of those taps come from North Carolina), you might think there’s no room for food.

If you are looking for where to eat in Raleigh that also has awesome brews, Raleigh Beer Garden is your spot! Whether you pair Maple Bourbon Bacon with your Porter or indulge with a Smoked Brisket Sandwich, Raleigh Beer Garden has you covered. Three floors plus a stellar outdoor section means there’s plenty of space for everyone to gather together and bond over amazing brews and bites!

Salt and Lime Cabo Grill

Website | 6006 Falls of Neuse Rd

Grab a taste of sunshine and sea life from the California-influenced Salt and Lime Cabo Grill. Tacos, five types of freshly prepared guacamole, and crave-able queso are just a few of the things served up here.

Supporting local farmers and using the freshest ingredients is key to bringing the best of Baja cuisine in Raleigh. And of course, you’re going to need a fresh house-made margarita to complete the total vibe!

so.ca

Website | 2130 Clark Ave

so.ca—literally derived from South of the tropic of Cancer—features dishes from everywhere below this geographical line. The name also comes from the Peruvian word for sugarcane. That means the dishes are just oh-so-sweet!

Located in Cameron Village, so.ca’s delicious international flavors are perfect for those searching for gluten-free restaurants in Raleigh. From an outstanding brunch to a popular dinner service, over 20 countries are represented on the menu.

The menu is great to mix and share, which definitely makes the environment great for getting together with a group of friends to catch up. Many of the recipes come directly from Chef Eli Rodriguez’s Salvadorian family recipes and mix with his many years as an experienced professional chef.

Sola Coffee Cafe

Website | 7705 Lead Mine Rd

Sola Coffee Cafe is a challenger for title of best breakfast in Raleigh.

Solas is everything you want in a café. For starters, they serve quality local fresh coffee, but there’s also a toast menu that will make you go insane and plenty of #instaworthy corners and murals. Whether you’re stopping by to catch up with a friend over a Chicken & Pesto sandwich or splitting a bag of their hot mini doughnuts, Solas is a foodie must-stop Raleigh restaurant to fuel up.

Don’t forget to take a selfie with the “I believe in Raleigh” mural.

STIR

Website | 4242 Six Forks Rd Ste 100

Local ingredients are a big deal at STIR, one of our favorite restaurants in Raleigh.

Fresh oysters, delicious craft cocktails, and artisanal ice are what set STIR apart from other Raleigh restaurants. Newly opened in North Hills, STIR invites foodies to experience what a difference artisanal ice makes in a drink.

Hand-cut using purified water, mixologists use the freshest ingredients and creative inspiration to make every sip an experience. The menu at STIR demonstrates the same kind of focus on detail, sourcing ingredients from farms and vendors within 100 miles of Raleigh and every bite is made from scratch each day.

Tonbo Ramen

Website | 211 S Wilmington St

Get ready to slurp some delicious, piping-hot noodles at Tonbo Ramen! The ramen is made from scratch in this downtown Raleigh restaurant, filling the place with warm aromas!

You know it’s good when it takes over 20 hours to prepare the broth. As self-professed ramen freaks, we absolutely give Tonbo our stamp of approval.

With an intimate setting and an upstairs Izakaya bar, Tonbo creates an inviting atmosphere for conversation enjoyed over delightful bites. Oh, and you can always ask for Kae-dama (extra noodles) if you run out!

Transfer Co Food Hall

Website | 500 E Davie St

Searching for the best breakfast in Raleigh NC is tough but Benchwarmers Bagels might have the answer.

Inside of the historic Carolina Coach Garage and Shop, Transfer Co Food Hall houses a fantastic collection of vendors and restaurants. You can stroll through, grab a Dank Burrito, and swig on some Burial Beer.

At Transfer, you also have a chance to slurp on fresh NC seafood at Locals Oyster Bar and get your dunk on at Captain Cookie & The Milkman. Stop by in the early morning for a bagel from Benchwarmers, which is the love child of Raleigh’s famed Jubala Coffee and Boulted Bread.

Whiskey Kitchen

Website | 201 W Martin St

Whiskey flights and elevated Southern-inspired bites are exactly what you’ll find inside the casual-yet-sophisticated Whiskey Kitchen. Choose from over 400 specialty whiskeys and sip with friends while sitting outside on the patio.

If you’re a newbie to whiskey, stop by between 7:00 and 9:00 pm on Tuesdays for complimentary whiskey tastings. And if you want to sample, whiskey flights are $10 on Wednesdays.

We mentioned Whiskey Kitchen and a few more of these Raleigh restaurants in our day date guide to the city!

Zanyu Noodles

Website | 8450 Honeycutt Rd Unit 112

If you're looking for restaurants in Raleigh's Lafayette Village, start with Zanyu Noodles.

Zanyu Noodles packs spice, flavor, and love into Chef Michael Bongiorno’s dishes that take me back to our travels through Southeast Asia. Located in the foodie heaven of Lafayette Village, Zanyu is a casual noodle bar serving dishes from Japan, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Bongiorno spent 15 years as an executive chef for Hyatt International cooking and learning across the globe, including extensive time in Asia. Dig into any of the noodle dishes (especially Khao Soi), but don’t miss out on their amazing Pork Belly Buns with marinated cucumbers.

What are Your Favorite Raleigh Restaurants?

Again, a very special thanks to the amazing people who helped us with this Raleigh restaurant guide. Please click through to their sites and read their amazing stories and guides. We hope that this was helpful to guide you to where to eat in Raleigh!

Since Raleigh’s burgeoning food scene is always growing, we have plenty of work cut out for us. It’s going to be fun adding to this list of must-eat restaurants in Raleigh. As we do that, don’t worry because we’ll be sharing what we find with you.

What are your favorite restaurants in Raleigh? And if you’ve never eaten there,  among the places to eat that we mentioned, where would you go first?

Raleigh Restaurant Map

Our map includes the location of all these restaurants. You can select each one for more info, including directions.

More Things to Do in Raleigh

5 thoughts on “Best Places to Eat in Raleigh for Date Night and Casual Bites

    • Carl Hedinger says:

      Thank you, Ashley! Definitely going to keep those two in mind as we expand our efforts. Have a wonderful day!

  1. Jason Cooper says:

    Lovely list. Definitely missing out on some of the more quality spots around town. The best restaurant in town for excellent food and impeccable service is surely Second Empire Restaurant & Tavern. One of the longest running restaurants still standing. Daniel Schurr’s food and presentation is beyond anything you will ever eat on the east coast. I will proudly say this is the best restaurant in town!

    • Carl Hedinger says:

      Thanks, Jason. Will definitely keep these in mind as we continue to grow this list of awesome restaurants in Raleigh!

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