SOME NORTH CAROLINA RESTAURANTS:
Charlotte: The Fig Tree in a old house–good food, wine and service. My current favorite in Charlotte.
Barrington’s–French cuisine, small and bustling, reservations needed. Recognized as one of the better restaurants in Charlotte.
Pewter Bistro–on the second story of the building so be prepared to climb some stairs–usually rewarding place for lunch or dinner. Menu doesn’t seem to change often which can be good (for old favorites) or bad if you want something new.
Upstream in Phillips Place has seafood selections, a compatible wine list, and an interesting decor, but I don’t find their Sunday brunch worth the price.
Also in Phillips Place are The Palm, a classic steak house (I have never dined there), Dean and Deluca where I usually order a cheese plate and a flight of wines, and P.F. Chang’s for a chain Chinese restaurant with some good dishes. Dean and Deluca has limited patio seating which is good for people watching.
Bonterra–in a former church–has a small plates menu for matching with wines by the glass and full dinners. I like their starter of fried lobster tail with wild flower honey and soy reduction and sweet and sour aioli. Extensive wine list including the dessert wines.
Blue Restaurant and Sonoma are two uptown restaurants near theater, basketball arena, etc. Blue has some vegetarian choices on the menu.
Zebra Restaurant has some interesting wine choices in a more formal, clublike decor.
Sole Spanish Grill which I liked the one time I dined there has closed but for Spanish food you can consider Miro which is in the south part of Charlotte–bustling on weekends.
The restaurant scene in Charlotte changes rapidly so there are probably some new trendy places that haven’t crossed my radar yet.
Zink American Kitchen moved from uptown Charlotte to the South Park area replacing M5. M5 had one of the more spectacular restaurant interiors I’ve encountered but I understand it has been modified somewhat under the new concept. Patio dining available.
Triangle area–Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill
The French scene is expanding. In Raleigh you have St. Jacques on Falls of the Neuse Road with Provencal cuisine and a French wine list including reasonable by-the-glass selections. Modest strip shopping center setting but elegant dining inside. Authentic Provencal recipes.
Durham has Vin Rouge which is more French bistro with huge bowls of mussels, an upscale mac and cheese with ham, etc. Nice French wines by the glass.
Rue Cler in Durham is on my list to try and comes recommended by some acquaintances.
La Residence in Chapel Hill is also on my list to try.
For Italian I usually choose Il Palio, upscale restaurant in the Siena Hotel in Chapel Hill or the more casual Vivace at North Hills Shopping Center in North Raleigh. If weather is cooperating, I like to sit on the terrace at Vivace.
For tapas and locally grown produce I choose Zely and Ritz on Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh. One of the co-owners has a farm which provides many of the vegetables and proteins for the menu. Well-selected wines by the glass. Check if they have any special wine lunches or dinners going on during your time in the area. They host several “tomato dinners” each summer.
I confess that I haven’t been to An in Cary (Asian fusion cuisine under chef Andrea Reusing, James Beard Best Chef of the Southeast this year.) Still need to visit Revolution in Durham also (described as contemporary global cuisine.) Some rave about Buku in downtown Raleigh which offers “global street food.”
Poole’s Diner in downtown Raleigh is the venue for chef Ashley Christensen who wowed me at Enoteca Vin before it closed. Ashley was a finalist for James Beard Best Chef of the Southeast this year and has cooked a dinner at the James Beard House in New York.
The emphasis is Southern food.
Not fitting neatly into a category are Nana’s in Durham (one of my favorites for decor, food, wine and service), Magnolia Grill in Durham (past James Beard best chef awards) and offering local and seasonal dishes with perhaps a Southern slant, Frazier’s Wine Bar on Hillsborough Street, Raleigh, near North Carolina State campus, and Bloomsbury Bistro in Raleigh (fine dining with an eclectic menu of such entrees as wild boar, red grouper, pork osso buco, New York strip steak, ahi tuna or skillet roasted breast of chicken.) Second Empire in Raleigh has a very formal upstairs dining room and a more relaxed Tavern on the lower level. The food was very good there on my last visit. I prefer eating in the Tavern (unless it is for a formal occasion such as an anniversary remembrance or a prenuptial dinner, etc.)
There are also Greek, Mexican, Japanese, Middle Eastern, German/Polish, and Thai restaurants–some of them authentic to the cuisine, some perhaps not.
Another famous restaurant of over 50 years’ history is Angus Barn in north Raleigh–known for its steaks and its wine list. I have attended special dinners in the wine cellar.
Winston-Salem Recently had lunch at Bleu Restaurant and Bar and would like to go back again to try the dinner menu. Impressive interior.
Pinehurst/Southern Pines I eat frequently (lunch or dinner) at Elliott’s on Linden. Nice wine list and creative cocktails. Interesting menu items such as bison, Jack Daniels glazed plank salmon, etc. I enjoyed a lunch at Theo’s (Mediterranean cuisine) but have seen mixed reviews of the food and service. I will try lunch there again this summer and perhaps sit on the patio if it is not overly hot and humid.
Carolina Dining Room in Pinehurst Resort does a good job with banquets and special events and is probably pretty reliable for regular dinners as well.
Fearrington Village near Pittsboro is a whole hotel/shops/restaurant complex with very good food. The restaurant in Fearrington Inn is worth a small detour for a special evening or event.
I don’t have enough experience with Wilmington or coastal restaurants to comment and it has been several years since I was in Asheville. On that last trip to Ashville I liked Flying Frog Cafe and was very impressed by the wine list and number of Ports and dessert wines available.