When you think of North Carolinian cuisine, barbecue and comfort food likely come to mind. That’s true; you’ll find plenty of great Southern fare. However, if you’re visiting the state’s charming capital and find yourself choosing among the many downtown Raleigh restaurants, be prepared for an infusion of international flavors with their own local spin.
Even better? Not only will you find delicious food, but also a design-driven, locally-sourced, eco-minded, community-centered dining scene. Thoughtfulness seems to be the thread that ties together the downtown Raleigh restaurants and that’s what makes it stand out among seas of chain restaurants often found in American towns.
13 Downtown Raleigh Restaurants Worth a Visit
This design-forward cafe offers all your standard coffeehouse drinks as well as teas and sake along with Asian-inspired bites. The oat-milk latte and muffin I had were delicious, but the real standout here is the decor. The space is open, airy, bright and an inspiring environment to work or chat.
Morgan Street Food Hall
If you love food halls, a lively atmosphere and “street food” as they define their offerings, this is where you’ll want to eat. From empanadas to ramen and falafel, there’s something for everyone. Grab your food and a drink from the bar, then head out to the expansive outdoor patio on a warm night.
When you combine good deeds with good food, that’s a win in my book. Carroll’s Kitchen is a non-profit offering employment to women in crisis in downtown Raleigh. They serve up soups, sandwiches, salads—your typical daytime fare with a healthy scoop of giving back. They have two locations, one in the heart of downtown and the other at Morgan Street Food Hall.
With a garish, disco-esque mirrored entrance, it’s hard to miss Garland when you’re walking among the corporate offices and old brick buildings of downtown Raleigh. The place gets even more fun inside where James Beard Award finalist chef Cheetie Kumar fuses together Indian, Asia and Southern flavors using locally sourced ingredients.
This adorable cantina-style Mexican restaurant serves up organic, local ingredients alongside tasty margaritas and cocktails. There are plenty of vegetarian options here too, always a plus in my book as is a community-minded approach.
This modern-retro diner was the first restaurant in downtown Raleigh and the first for James Beard Award winner Ashley Christensen. If updated Southern comfort food is what you’re after (understandably so when in North Carolina) this is the place to go. Even though the name and the decor comes from the original 1945 diner, the concept is very on trend today—locally grown ingredients and an ever-changing seasonal menu.
Vegetarians and vegans, there’s plenty for you too among downtown Raleigh restaurants. I was pleasantly surprised to find veggie options on nearly every menu. But if you’re after that Southern comfort food sans meat, you’re in luck. The food at Fiction Kitchen is delicious and filling and with both vegetarian and vegan ways of preparing each entree, there’s something for everyone.
After indulging in so much comfort food, a super healthy meal is likely in order. Raleigh Raw dishes out raw, organic juices, bowls, smoothies, teas and coffees. Grab and go to eat in the park down the street or enjoy the sidewalk seating right outside.
Videri Chocolate Factory
Technically not a restaurant, but chocolate should count, no? When you’re in the mood for something sweet, head over to Videri for artisan chocolates and a sweet-filled cafe. Enjoy the garden on a sunny day and then take a self-guided tour of the chocolate making process.
Crank Arm Brewing
Also not a restaurant but worth mentioning…Crank Arm Brewing. After indulging your sweet tooth at Videri, hop (no pun intended) on over to Crank Arm for some craft beers. There’s plenty of seating in the cycling-inspired space or outside in the lawn.
A Place at the Table
Another mission-driven spot among the downtown Raleigh restaurant scene, A Place at the Table is the city’s first pay-what-you-can cafe. This means anyone who wants to eat can regardless of means. As a diner, you can support their efforts and help pay for someone else’s meal through your tip or by buying a token to give to someone in need. Bonus: the food is good too!
Part brewery, part dim sum restaurant, part book and flower shop, this place is hard to wrap your head around in the best way. That combo would be hard for anyone to pull off, but they do it oh so well. Every detail about the space is stunning and drives home their mission to support makers. No wonder reservations are hard to come by. Be sure to book well in advance.
Bida Manda is the big-sister restaurant to Brewery Bhavana. A nature-inspired Laotian restaurant isn’t the first thing you’d imagine to appear in North Carolina, but it’s clearly been well taken. If you want to test out what seems, from my experience, to be the most coveted dining experience in downtown Raleigh, make reservations well in advance.