Downtown Raleigh Restaurants
It was a tough job eating at so many of the best downtown Raleigh restaurants, someone had to do it though!
Let me start by saying this article was damn near impossible to write. My article on the best restaurants in Raleigh was likely even easier since I had 17 restaurants to choose from. Narrowing it down to 7 of the best downtown Raleigh restaurants can change any day of the week depending on my mood or appetite. If you're looking for great food, you can't go wrong heading in the direction of Moore Square.
This article is going to give the folks who are visiting Raleigh the opportunity to try some of the best cuisines our city has to offer and if you're a local, you already know how underrated our restaurant scene is!
While we are focused on helping people find great homes for sale in Raleigh we love to write about things that interest people who may want to learn more about our great city.
One of the first things I hear from my clients who made the move to Raleigh say is 'we can't believe how great the food in Raleigh is!' Some of these folks making these statements relocated from Manhattan or San Francisco.
Without further ado, here are my picks for the best restaurants in downtown Raleigh (in no specific order)
1. Any Ashley Christensen Restaurant
Admittedly, I am cheating here ... Cheating on my diet as well as cheating on my list of limiting this article to only 7 downtown Raleigh restaurants. Ashley recently won the James Beard award for the most outstanding Chef in the United States and this is why the list of Downtown Raleigh's best restaurants kicks off with her spots! Not every city can say they are home to the most outstanding Chef in the country:
Ashley's first downtown Raleigh restaurant and one of my personal favorites. The menu is constantly changing with the seasons, though the Macaroni Au Gratin is a staple and for good reason, just look at the picture above! Accompanied by other comfort food, Poole's diner offers that true diner feels with bar seats, tables, and booths. Great wine, great food you can't go wrong with Poole's diner... just be sure to get there somewhat early because they don't take reservations!
If you're not following Poole'side Pies on Instagram, you should be! This pizza place is the product of years of studying what makes a pizza great. You will find this pizza place in our article on the best pizza in Raleigh. You can follow along as Ashley began her trip in Europe, specifically Italy, bringing her knowledge back to Raleigh to open what is already being deemed as Raleigh's best pizza place!
Beasley's Chicken and Honey
When my friends come to visit you can be sure we are doing brunch, lunch, or dinner (or maybe all three) at Beasley's Chicken and Honey at some point while they're here. This is one of the first places I take friends because there's something on the menu from everyone and the quality of chicken is A+. This is always a favorite of the friends who come to visit and sometimes they even ask to go back vs trying a new spot. The chicken and waffles are a must-try and if you don't have time to make it to Poole's diner while you're in Downtown Raleigh give the mac and cheese a try on the side!
Chucks is located next to Beasley's and is Ashley's 'Burger joint' where you will find top-quality beef with a commitment to a mouthful of flavors. Ashley, yet again finds a way to bring a fun twist to those who love a good old-fashioned burger. The menu allows folks to build their own burger or opt for other items that don't include beef. Chuck's is a great spot if you're looking for an awesome burger in downtown Raleigh.
Death and Taxes
Death and Taxes is Ashley's downtown Raleigh steak/seafood restaurant that is committed to the technique of cooking with wood fire. Lauren Ivey and Ashley Christensen team up to bring us a downtown Raleigh gem. The menu is certainly different from Ashley's other restaurants. From Oysters to steak to rabbit, this restaurant is equal parts unique and adventurous.
2. Brewery Bhavana
Brewery Bhavana was named one of the coolest new restaurants in the world in 2018 by Forbes. With only a few restaurants in the United States making the list it is great to see Brewery Bhavana receive the recognition it deserves. This is the type of restaurant people in Raleigh can't get enough of. Reservations definitely need to be made in advance, especially for primetime, though if you walk in and throw your name on the list you can enjoy some great craft beer at their bar while you're waiting. There's also a lot going on in and around Moore Square where Brewery Bhavana is located to help you kill some time while you wait for one of the world's coolest (and tastiest) restaurants!
What separates Brewery Bhavana from other restaurants is its unique approach to providing more than just-food. They are also a brewery, flower shop, and book store! Additionally, Brewery Bhavana is the second restaurant from Van Nolintha and is next to his other amazing restaurant, Bida Manda.
3. Bida Manda
For a long time, this was my personal favorite restaurant in downtown Raleigh... then came Brewery Bhavana. So Bida Manda moves into second on my personal favorite list and is an absolute, hands down, must try while you're in Raleigh. This Laotian-inspired restaurant has something on the menu for everyone and will hit taste buds you didn't know you had. The Pork Belly Soup is a must-try whether you choose to split it as an appetizer or order it as your meal, it's one of the reasons people refer to Bida Manda as one of the best downtown restaurants.
4. Crawford and Son
Crawford and Son is a neighborhood restaurant located in Oakwood offering honest, straightforward food ranging from the familiar to the unexpected. There is something on the menu for everyone at Crawford and Son and you can view some of their dishes on their Instagram page here. For all of you, foodies searching for downtown Raleigh's best restaurants' Instagram pages are definitely worth checking out so you can view the atmosphere and the cuisine as well as learn a bit more about each restaurant.
5. Caffe Luna
We couldn't have a list of the best downtown Raleigh restaurants without recommending one of the best Italian restaurants, Caffe Luna!
Since 1996, Caffe Luna has been providing great food, great wine, great service, and a commitment to high-quality ingredients as well as a commitment to the downtown Raleigh food scene. In 1996, Downtown Raleigh was vastly different than it is today. Caffe Luna began as an 80-seat restaurant, growing to over 200-seats to accommodate all of the guests. The restaurant has survived the ups and downs of the last 20+ years making it a staple in the downtown Raleigh food scene.
What sets Caffe Luna apart from other restaurants is the owner, Parker Kennedy, will make you feel like family. When you visit Caffe Luna you will see first-hand how passionate Parker is about his restaurant and creating a great experience for his guests. He does it all to help his staff and guests. When you arrive you will see Parker go from host to waiter, to busboy, to owner, anything to ensure his guests are having a great experience at his restaurant. This type of passion is contagious and is part of what makes his staff so committed to great service. These are the reasons why Caffe Luna made the list of best Downtown Raleigh Restaurants.
6. The Food Halls
Downtown Raleigh offers a couple of different food halls that have something for everyone. The Transfer food hall and Morgan street food hall are two places you can't go wrong with and you have to check them out while you're in Raleigh. They are two places that really bring the Raleigh community together with great food and drinks. Whether it's breakfast at Benchwarmer's bagels, lunch at Wicked Taco, dinner at Cousin Maine's Lobster rolls, and dessert at Captain Cookie and the Milkman... There are dozens and dozens of different places to try or choose from! When you're looking for a quick bite without reservations look no further than the Downtown Raleigh food halls where the hardest decision you'll have to make is 'Where do I eat? All these places look so good!"
Above you will find a photo of the inside of Morgan Street Food Hall and below you will find a video of Transfer Food Hall. This insider look at the food halls will give you an idea of what to expect when you go and with so many great options to choose from, you can't go wrong.
7. Second Empire
Since 1997, Second Empire has opened its doors to Raleigh residents. The restaurant is far and away, the fanciest on our list of best Restaurants in Downtown Raleigh. This is the type of restaurant that combines the history of our city with great food, drink, and ambiance. Located in the elegantly restored Dodd-Hinsdale house (Circa 1879), Second Empire combines gourmet cuisine with some of Raleigh's history as well as a welcoming tavern with exposed brick. From steak to duck to seafood to great drinks, there is something at Second Empire for everyone!
When you're looking to take someone somewhere special, Second Empire is often one of the first places that come to mind. If you're visiting Raleigh and looking for a great restaurant downtown, Second Empire is located right in between the main streets of Fayetteville and Glenwood South allowing you to go in either direction if you're looking to continue the night after dinner.
Honorable Mentions Downtown Raleigh Restaurants
The Fiction Kitchen
A vegetarian-inspired restaurant with a commitment to fresh ingredients and in a great location. There is limited seating at Fiction Kitchen and it is a first come first serve affair, so you'll want to either head to dinner a bit on the early or later side to avoid having to wait to be seated! Although the restaurant is all-vegetarian and vegan, there is something for everyone!
City Market Sushi
City Market Sushi is exactly what you would have guessed, a sushi restaurant located in Downtown's City Market. City Market sushi is a bit different than other sushi restaurants and it's the type of different you can taste. City Market Sushi is easy to love thanks to their commitment to fresh fish and locally sourced ingredients providing Raleigh with some of the best Sushi in town. If there was any sort of drawback it's that there is no BOGO option here like there is at some other downtown Raleigh sushi restaurants so be prepared to spend a little extra for the top-of-the-line quality!
Garland is an Indian and Asian cuisine inspired by a southern spirit and flare. The seasonally driven menu includes locally sourced ingredients influenced by flavors from India, Asia, and the South. The menu is extensive with a number of innovative creations that are truly unique to the taste buds. Garland is one of the best downtown Raleigh restaurants for a reason and one we feel comfortable you will enjoy!
Jose and Sons
Jose and Sons is a great spot for a meal no matter the time of day. Whether you're waking up on a weekend looking for a great brunch spot or planning a night out on the town, Jose and Sons have something for everyone. A Mexican restaurant with some southern flair, Jose, and Sons provides two unique combinations to provide some of Raleigh's best food. This Downtown Raleigh restaurant is sure to please anyone who enjoys Mexican and is looking for a little taste of local flavors to accompany the dish!
42nd Street Oyster Bar
42nd Street Oyster Bar is a staple in Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, and has been around since 1987 long before most of these restaurants opened their doors in Downtown Raleigh. 42nd Street Oyster Bar combines some of Raleigh's freshest seafood dishes along with steak, chicken, and pasta dishes mixed in, truly providing something everyone in the family can enjoy! The menu is loaded with fan-favorite dishes making it nearly impossible to choose just one (and I'm not saying you have to choose just one, I've been known to choose 2). If you do decide to visit 42nd Street Oyster Bar while in Downtown Raleigh you may find yourself back there again real soon!
Final thoughts on the best restaurants in Downtown Raleigh:
This list was nearly impossible to create and I'd love for folks to jump in and write about their personal favorites in the comments section below! There are truly so many great restaurants in downtown Raleigh, some of which I have not been to, yet! Depending on your mood, where you are located, and what your night plans are you may even end up at some of the restaurants on Glenwood South not mentioned in this article or on Fayetteville (located next to Moore Square). In addition to the best restaurants, we have also written about the best coffee shops in Raleigh and the best places to grab brunch.
The first person I asked before writing this article was my trusted foodie friend and client, Casey Craig "If someone visiting Raleigh could only try three restaurants which ones would you recommend" and her initial response back to me, "This is hard! Downtown Raleigh has an undeniably great food scene. It is one of my favorite things about living here and I love showcasing the best of the best when friends come to visit. Narrowing this down to just a few is difficult! I'd have to say Brewery Bhavana, Bida Manda, Poole's, Crawford and Sons are the first ones I'd recommend"
Casey went on to tell me "On my recent trip to San Francisco I was speaking with a long-time bay area resident who told me that he had just visited Raleigh and he could not believe how awesome the food and drink scene is."
If you take anything away from this article, take this - Raleigh's food scene is one of the city's best-kept secrets!
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Hi there! I'm Ryan Fitzgerald, a REALTOR in Raleigh-Durham, NC and the owner of Raleigh Realty. Chances are you and I share a similar passion, Real Estate! I also have a passion for building businesses, working out, inspiring others, technology, sports, and people. Connect with me on Facebook and Instagram!