401 Foster St., Durham; 919-683-1213 or piedmontrestaurant.com.
It was big news last year when Andy Magowan (and Abby Pearce) left Federal, Durham’s popular gastropub, to join forces with Drew Brown, formerly of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Las Vegas. The result of their collaboration is the wildly successful Piedmont, serving an ever-changing selection of Italian- and French-inspired dishes, like roasted duck breast with fig risotto and house-made pâ°té with house-pickled vegetables. The cheese selection and wine list are consistently first-rate.
2) Bonne Soirée
431 W. Franklin St., suite 10, Chapel Hill; 919-928-8388.
At this small, year-old restaurant, chef-owner Chip Smith (an alumnus of the Inn at Little Washington in Washington, VA, and Jean-Louis at the Watergate in Washington, DC) serves Provençal-inspired cuisine with a Southern inflection. Regional favorites like Carolina potatoes, Virginia ham and collard greens are incorporated into what is otherwise a very traditional Gallic menu. Smith’s wife and co-owner, Tina Vaughn, gives terrific wine-pairing advice.
3) J. Betski’s
10 W. Franklin St., suite 120, Raleigh; 919-833-7999 or jbetskis.com.
This Raleigh newcomer focuses on the overlooked cuisines of Germany and Poland; chef Todd Whitney does a remarkable job of showcasing the varied and nuanced flavors. Standout dishes include a roasted beet salad with toasted-pumpkinseed oil and horseradish Quark (a soft, fresh cheese popular in Germany and Austria) and seared scallops flavored with a goulash vinaigrette. Luckily the menu is not so haute that it forsakes staples like kielbasa and pierogies, the latter of which are often served in brown butter laced with crunchy bread crumbs.
4) The Raleigh Times Bar
14 E. Hargett St., Raleigh; 919-833-0999 or raleightimesbar.com.
Sometimes, even the most adventurous eaters crave the pared-down pleasures of a simple salad or sandwich made with care. This bar, named for a defunct local newspaper, delivers just that. Until 2 a.m. every night, it’s the place to go for a Reuben with house-cured corned beef, battered and fried dill pickles, and a wrap filled with pimento cheese, arugula and roasted tomatoes.
3642 Shannon Rd., suite 1, Durham; 919-489-8000.
At first glance, chef Andre Macias’s journey from the acclaimed Four Square Restaurant to this no-frills spot in a strip mall may look like a downward career trajectory. But this move was no demotion: Formerly sous chef at Four Square, Macias now calls the shots at Tonali, and from the look of his often-changing Mexican menu, he’s well suited for the top job. Expertly executed Mexican staples (fish tacos, shrimp fajitas, corn salads) and modest prices (most entrées are less than $20) ensure a packed house on most nights.
1201-L Raleigh Rd., Glen Lennox Shopping Center, Chapel Hill; 919-960-0555 or jujuberestaurant.com.
This restaurant’s popular Jujube “Bolognese,” rice noodles tossed with a hoisin-based sauce and braised pork, embodies Charlie Deal’s maverick brand of borderless cooking. His creative menu sets aside claims of authenticity for dishes that blend Vietnamese, Chinese and American flavors. Favorites include lemongrass-perfumed hanger steak and romaine hearts served with tea-smoked bacon and roasted Asian pears.
2514 University Dr., Durham; 919-493-8545 or nanasdurham.com.
Chef-owner Scott Howell opened this Durham favorite 15 years ago, and it continues to lure locals, visitors and luminaries (Faye Dunaway, Robert Rauschenberg, members of the Saudi royal family) with its inimitable blend of Italian and Southern cooking. The prosciutto-wrapped duck breast and gnocchi paired with hickory-smoked white shrimp and snow peas are both must-tries.
8) Magnolia Grill
1002 Ninth St., Durham; 919-286-3609 or magnoliagrill.net.
Ben and Karen Barker have run this landmark restaurant for more than 20 years, preparing innovative dishes rooted in the quintessential flavors of the South. Ben loves to cook with bourbon, sorghum, local shrimp and, best of all, country ham (added inventively to a salad of grilled nectarines and blue cheese). Karen, who handles dessert, creates sophisticated takes on classic sweets like chess pie and butterscotch pudding.
9) Allen & Son
6203 Millhouse Rd., Chapel Hill; 919-942-7576.
At the venerable barbecue joint Allen & Son, the exemplary pork is smoked slowly over hickory wood, chopped and mixed with just enough tangy vinegar-based sauce. The sides are incredible too: sweet coleslaw, golden-brown hush puppies and barely battered but exceptionally crunchy fried okra.
10) Enoteca Vin
410 Glenwood Ave., suite 350, Raleigh; 919-834-3070.
Possibly the perfect wine bar. Vin’s self-taught chef, Ashley Christensen, prepares an ever-changing array of simple and exhilarating dishes that riff on American, French and Mediterranean traditions. Co-owner and sommelier Chrish Peel has compiled an eclectic wine list (available in small, medium and large pours and bottles) that is a perfect match for Christensen’s cooking.
1116 Broad St., Durham; 919-416-5040 or wattsgrocery.com.
Early this fall, local chef Amy Tornquist (who, with her husband, runs the excellent catering company Sage & Swift) will bring her special brand of locally inspired cooking to this casual Broad Street spot.
Wine Bars / Snack Stops
2600 Hillsborough Rd. and 117 Market St., Durham; 431 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill; 919-286-3500 or ilovelocopops.com.
When Summer Bicknell opened her first paletas (Mexican popsicles) shop in Durham two years ago, locals went wild for the traditional Mexican flavors, such as mango-chile and tamarind, as well as the unusual hybrids like honeydew-lavender and chocolate-rosemary. Earlier this year, Bicknell and her business partner, Connie Semans, opened another shop in Chapel Hill and a third in downtown Durham.
106 S. Greensboro St., Carrboro; 919-794-4107.
Several months back, two former wine distributors, Jim Wald and Mickey Maloney, turned this industrial building in downtown Carrboro, half a mile or so from Chapel Hill, into a space that’s part wine shop, part restaurant. Chef Rob Piccirilli serves international small plates to go with the rotating international wine-by-the-glass selection.
3) Caffé Driade
1215-A E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill; 919-942-2333 or caffedriade.com.
The area’s serious coffee culture is on display at this Chapel Hill café. Almost everyone consumes their pastries and coffee (made with beans from local roaster Carrboro Coffee Company) on the pretty, tree-filled patio.
1) The Fearrington House Country Inn
2000 Fearrington Village Center, Pittsboro; doubles from $240 per night; 919-542-2121 or fearrington.com.
At the Fearrington House, on an old dairy farm just outside of Chapel Hill, rooms are outfitted with antiques, classic chintzes and working fireplaces. Outside are gorgeous gardens; black-and-white “Oreo” cows roam the property.
2) The Umstead Hotel and Spa
100 Woodland Pond, Cary; doubles from $299 per night; 866-877-4141 or theumstead.com.
This lavish new hotel on 12 acres in Cary, North Carolina, just outside of Raleigh, has luxurious rooms (many of which overlook the nearby lake), a 14,000-square-foot spa, an excellent on-site restaurant (Herons) and access to the Prestonwood Country Club for PGA Tour-quality golf.