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The 10 Hottest New Restaurants in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill

From flash-fried local fish to rich Zimbabwean stews to a splurgy tempura omakase, these are the buzziest bites in North Carolina’s Research Triangle

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Today Eater returns to North Carolina’s Research Triangle — Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill — to focus on eight of the area’s buzziest new restaurants. Once again, food writer Andrea Weigl has kindly offered up her picks of the hottest openings of the past 12 months or so. “Restaurants are opening here that are offering something not only new to the area, but also new to the country,” says Weigl. “In the last year, we’ve seen the opening of what’s believed to be America’s only Zimbabwean restaurant (Zweli’s Kitchen), another serving a handful of pre-revolutionary Cuban dishes (Copa), and one of just a handful of dedicated tempura eateries on the East Coast (M Tempura).”

Without further ado, and in geographic order, the Eater Heatmap to the Research Triangle.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Napoli Cafe & Neapolitan Pizza

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105 E Main St
Carrboro, NC 27510

The new Napoli Cafe & Neapolitan Pizza is the food-truck-to-brick-and-mortar success story. In 2014, the Napoli food truck amassed a fanbase by churning out blistered Neapolitan pizzas from the wood-fired oven tucked inside the former delivery van. In 2017, the truck was parked in downtown Carrboro on a lot with outdoor seating. Then last fall, the owners moved the truck a few blocks away and next to a cafe in downtown Carrboro, expanding their offerings to include French and Italian wines, local craft beer, coffee and espresso, and a slate of house-made gelatos, including black pepper custard, snickerdoodle, and salted dulce de leche. As for the pizzas, you can’t go wrong with any of the seasonal specials, often built around local ingredients, like the recent leek and speck pizza with chile oil, mozzarella, and fresh goat cheese.

The leek and speck pizza at Napoli Cafe & Neapolitan Pizza
Napoli Cafe & Neapolitan Pizza / Facebook

2. Zweli's Kitchen

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4600 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd #26
Durham, NC 27707
(984) 219-7555
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Last year, Leonardo and Zweli Williams opened what they believe to be the only Zimbabwean restaurant in the United States on a busy thoroughfare west of downtown Durham. The menu at Zweli’s kitchen has won over diehard fans of African cooking as well as local lovers of Southern food, thanks to the cuisine’s crossover ingredients like collards, cornmeal, beans, and rice. No meal here is complete without the curry cabbage, chakalaka (a vegetarian bean stew), collard greens cooked with peanut butter, piri piri chicken, and boerewors (all-beef sausage). The outstanding flavors and service have turned half of Durham into regulars.

A spread of Zimbabwean food at Zweli’s Kitchen
Zweli’s / Facebook

3. Saltbox Seafood Joint

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2637 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd
Durham, NC 27707
(919) 237-3499
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The second location of a beloved Durham seafood shack has one thing the original location does not: indoor seating. Chef Ricky Moore describes himself as a bonefish evangelist spreading the gospel of lesser-known species, such as croaker, herring, spot, ribbonfish, and more. Moore opened the original to-go location in 2012, but recently added the second counter-service location with a 38-seat indoor dining room. Both locations offer shellfish or fish (filleted or not), grilled or fried, as a roll or a plate, and served with slaw, thinly sliced seasoned potatoes, or both. Keep an eye on the restaurant’s social media accounts to know when the unmissable crab grits, served only on Saturdays when blue crabs are in season (typically from June to September), are on the docket.

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4. Cucciolo Osteria

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601 W Main St suite c
Durham, NC 27701
(984) 243-8744
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Carbonara purists can rest assured — the linguini alla carbonara at Durham’s Cucciolo Osteria, located in an airy warehouse a few blocks from downtown, features only the traditional ingredients: al dente pasta, pecorino Romano, house-made guanciale, and an egg yolk. Not a lick of cream in sight. The restaurant, which does the classics well, is part of a small chain started by local entrepreneur Jimmy Kim, but this is the only American branch (its three sister restaurants are located in South Korea). Favorites include the creamed shiitake, white, and oyster mushrooms served with slices of multigrain bread for sopping; a spicy vodka tomato cream rigatoni; and the black truffle tarjarin pasta.

Cucciolo Osteria
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5. COPA

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107 W Main St
Durham, NC 27701
(919) 973-0111
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In 2011, owners Roberto Copa Matos and Elizabeth Turnbull opened the Old Havana Sandwich Shop in downtown Durham and quickly earned a reputation for sublime versions of classic Cuban cooking. A few years later they hosted a dinner series called the “The Lost Dishes of Cuba,” inspired by a 19th-century Cuban cookbook filled with recipes, techniques, and ingredients little seen on the island after the Cuban revolution. Last spring, the couple closed Old Havana and opened Copa a few blocks away, offering well-executed Cuban staples as well as some of those so-called “lost dishes,” like butifarra a lo Cubano (sausages made with cinnamon, anise, and clove over saffron yogurt), and plátanos rellenos (plantains stuffed with savory pork picadillo and fried in house-rendered lard).

Croquetas at Copa
Copa / Facebook

6. M Tempura

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111 Orange St
Durham, NC 27701
(919) 748-3874
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M Tempura is the latest offering from the M restaurant group, which also owns M Kokko and M Sushi. Here, the delicate art of Japanese frying is on display, with a light, crispy coating that lets the ingredient within shine, whether it is okra, soft shell shrimp, or sea bass. One of only three tempura specialists on the East Coast, the restaurant is open for lunch as well as dinner, when prix fixe options include a basic tempura meal for $29, a traditional-style omakase for $43, and the “M” omakase for $79, which includes lobster, Argentine pink prawns, A5 wagyu beef, and black truffle-stuffed Italian cheese curds.

7. Papa Shogun

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111 Seaboard Ave #118
Raleigh, NC 27604
(919) 977-1247
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The menu at Papa Shogun takes inspiration from two seemingly disparate cuisines: Italian and Japanese. Chef Tom Cuomo, whose resume includes stints at Carbone, Parm, and the now-closed WD-50, is behind the fusion fare — think: shiso salsa verde and miso almonds atop a Sicilian beet salad, minestrone with soba noodles, garlic bread seasoned with kombu and served with fresh mozzarella, and kombu gnocchi with charred oyster mushrooms.

8. Locals Oyster Bar

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500 E Davie St
Raleigh, NC 27601
(919) 594-1459
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The Triangle, which is made up of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, is no stranger to the food hall trend. One of two in downtown Raleigh is the Transfer Co. Food Hall, a former bus garage that is now home to a number purveyors and restaurants. A favorite among them is Locals Oyster Bar, a partnership between a favorite downtown watering hole, Person Street Bar, and Locals Seafood, a company that brings in fresh seafood from the coast at least four times a week to sell retail and wholesale. Manning the kitchen is Eric Montagne, former chef at Boiler Room Oyster Bar in Kinston, North Carolina. The menu is what you’d expect: peel-and-eat shrimp, fish and chips using whatever is freshest, North Carolina oysters on the half-shell, fried shrimp and oyster rolls, as well as one or two surprises like oyster poutine, with fried oysters and oyster gravy atop fries.

A blue crab roll at Locals Oyster Bar
Locals Oyster Bar / Facebook

9. Wilson's Eatery

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1053 E Whitaker Mill Rd
Raleigh, NC 27604
(919) 977-5442
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Wilson’s Eatery is the latest destination at Dock 1053, an 185,000-square-foot former A&P Grocery Store distribution center north of downtown Raleigh that has been converted into office, retail, and manufacturing spaces. The sister restaurant to fellow Dock 1053 Tenant Lynnwood Brewing Concern, Wilson’s and its menu are in the hands of chef Jason Tomaszewski, who worked for nine years at Poole’s Diner, the anchor restaurant of two-time James Beard award-winning chef Ashley Christensen. The counter service restaurant offers a mix of snacks, sandwiches, and flatbreads to go with that pint of Lynnwood gose, pilsner, or IPA. Must tastes include perfectly seasoned fries, pimento cheese and pork cracklins, and the carnitas torta with loaded with braised pork, ham, avocado, black bean spread, and more. For those who don’t drink beer, there are house-made sodas in flavors like black cherry, lemon lime, blood orange and root beer. 

Wilson’s Eatery
Wilson’s Eatery/Facebook

10. Bodega Tapas, Wine, and Rum

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110 S White St
Wake Forest, NC 27587
(984) 235-4187
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A tapas and wine bar is nothing new, but add rum to the mix and you get Bodega, a new restaurant in downtown Wake Forest that is worth the 30-minute drive north from downtown Raleigh. The menu follows the standard Spanish tapas format with small shareable  plates, including nods to traditional staples like grilled octopus and shrimp cooked with guajillo chile and a toasted garlic vinaigrette. Given that rum shares top billing, the menu has whiffs of Caribbean flavors too, like the empanadas filled with Cuban picadillo and sweet plantains. Wash it all down with sangria, one of more than 40 wines by the glass, or a rum cocktail from the playful list that includes riffs on classic concoctions (an Old Fashioned with a 23-year-old Ron Zacapa rum instead of bourbon or rye) as well as unique creations (the Jungle Bird with Gosling’s Black Seal rum, Campari, lime, pineapple, and golden syrup).

Grilled octopus at Bodega
Bodega Tapas, Wine, and Rum/Facebook

1. Napoli Cafe & Neapolitan Pizza

105 E Main St, Carrboro, NC 27510
The leek and speck pizza at Napoli Cafe & Neapolitan Pizza
Napoli Cafe & Neapolitan Pizza / Facebook

The new Napoli Cafe & Neapolitan Pizza is the food-truck-to-brick-and-mortar success story. In 2014, the Napoli food truck amassed a fanbase by churning out blistered Neapolitan pizzas from the wood-fired oven tucked inside the former delivery van. In 2017, the truck was parked in downtown Carrboro on a lot with outdoor seating. Then last fall, the owners moved the truck a few blocks away and next to a cafe in downtown Carrboro, expanding their offerings to include French and Italian wines, local craft beer, coffee and espresso, and a slate of house-made gelatos, including black pepper custard, snickerdoodle, and salted dulce de leche. As for the pizzas, you can’t go wrong with any of the seasonal specials, often built around local ingredients, like the recent leek and speck pizza with chile oil, mozzarella, and fresh goat cheese.

105 E Main St
Carrboro, NC 27510

2. Zweli's Kitchen

4600 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd #26, Durham, NC 27707
A spread of Zimbabwean food at Zweli’s Kitchen
Zweli’s / Facebook

Last year, Leonardo and Zweli Williams opened what they believe to be the only Zimbabwean restaurant in the United States on a busy thoroughfare west of downtown Durham. The menu at Zweli’s kitchen has won over diehard fans of African cooking as well as local lovers of Southern food, thanks to the cuisine’s crossover ingredients like collards, cornmeal, beans, and rice. No meal here is complete without the curry cabbage, chakalaka (a vegetarian bean stew), collard greens cooked with peanut butter, piri piri chicken, and boerewors (all-beef sausage). The outstanding flavors and service have turned half of Durham into regulars.

4600 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd #26
Durham, NC 27707

3. Saltbox Seafood Joint

2637 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd, Durham, NC 27707
Saltbox Seafood
Saltbox Seafood official

The second location of a beloved Durham seafood shack has one thing the original location does not: indoor seating. Chef Ricky Moore describes himself as a bonefish evangelist spreading the gospel of lesser-known species, such as croaker, herring, spot, ribbonfish, and more. Moore opened the original to-go location in 2012, but recently added the second counter-service location with a 38-seat indoor dining room. Both locations offer shellfish or fish (filleted or not), grilled or fried, as a roll or a plate, and served with slaw, thinly sliced seasoned potatoes, or both. Keep an eye on the restaurant’s social media accounts to know when the unmissable crab grits, served only on Saturdays when blue crabs are in season (typically from June to September), are on the docket.

2637 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd
Durham, NC 27707

4. Cucciolo Osteria

601 W Main St suite c, Durham, NC 27701
Cucciolo Osteria
Cucciolo Osteria official

Carbonara purists can rest assured — the linguini alla carbonara at Durham’s Cucciolo Osteria, located in an airy warehouse a few blocks from downtown, features only the traditional ingredients: al dente pasta, pecorino Romano, house-made guanciale, and an egg yolk. Not a lick of cream in sight. The restaurant, which does the classics well, is part of a small chain started by local entrepreneur Jimmy Kim, but this is the only American branch (its three sister restaurants are located in South Korea). Favorites include the creamed shiitake, white, and oyster mushrooms served with slices of multigrain bread for sopping; a spicy vodka tomato cream rigatoni; and the black truffle tarjarin pasta.

601 W Main St suite c
Durham, NC 27701

5. COPA

107 W Main St, Durham, NC 27701
Croquetas at Copa
Copa / Facebook

In 2011, owners Roberto Copa Matos and Elizabeth Turnbull opened the Old Havana Sandwich Shop in downtown Durham and quickly earned a reputation for sublime versions of classic Cuban cooking. A few years later they hosted a dinner series called the “The Lost Dishes of Cuba,” inspired by a 19th-century Cuban cookbook filled with recipes, techniques, and ingredients little seen on the island after the Cuban revolution. Last spring, the couple closed Old Havana and opened Copa a few blocks away, offering well-executed Cuban staples as well as some of those so-called “lost dishes,” like butifarra a lo Cubano (sausages made with cinnamon, anise, and clove over saffron yogurt), and plátanos rellenos (plantains stuffed with savory pork picadillo and fried in house-rendered lard).

107 W Main St
Durham, NC 27701

6. M Tempura

111 Orange St, Durham, NC 27701

M Tempura is the latest offering from the M restaurant group, which also owns M Kokko and M Sushi. Here, the delicate art of Japanese frying is on display, with a light, crispy coating that lets the ingredient within shine, whether it is okra, soft shell shrimp, or sea bass. One of only three tempura specialists on the East Coast, the restaurant is open for lunch as well as dinner, when prix fixe options include a basic tempura meal for $29, a traditional-style omakase for $43, and the “M” omakase for $79, which includes lobster, Argentine pink prawns, A5 wagyu beef, and black truffle-stuffed Italian cheese curds.

111 Orange St
Durham, NC 27701

7. Papa Shogun

111 Seaboard Ave #118, Raleigh, NC 27604

The menu at Papa Shogun takes inspiration from two seemingly disparate cuisines: Italian and Japanese. Chef Tom Cuomo, whose resume includes stints at Carbone, Parm, and the now-closed WD-50, is behind the fusion fare — think: shiso salsa verde and miso almonds atop a Sicilian beet salad, minestrone with soba noodles, garlic bread seasoned with kombu and served with fresh mozzarella, and kombu gnocchi with charred oyster mushrooms.

111 Seaboard Ave #118
Raleigh, NC 27604

8. Locals Oyster Bar

500 E Davie St, Raleigh, NC 27601
A blue crab roll at Locals Oyster Bar
Locals Oyster Bar / Facebook

The Triangle, which is made up of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, is no stranger to the food hall trend. One of two in downtown Raleigh is the Transfer Co. Food Hall, a former bus garage that is now home to a number purveyors and restaurants. A favorite among them is Locals Oyster Bar, a partnership between a favorite downtown watering hole, Person Street Bar, and Locals Seafood, a company that brings in fresh seafood from the coast at least four times a week to sell retail and wholesale. Manning the kitchen is Eric Montagne, former chef at Boiler Room Oyster Bar in Kinston, North Carolina. The menu is what you’d expect: peel-and-eat shrimp, fish and chips using whatever is freshest, North Carolina oysters on the half-shell, fried shrimp and oyster rolls, as well as one or two surprises like oyster poutine, with fried oysters and oyster gravy atop fries.

500 E Davie St
Raleigh, NC 27601

9. Wilson's Eatery

1053 E Whitaker Mill Rd, Raleigh, NC 27604
Wilson’s Eatery
Wilson’s Eatery/Facebook

Wilson’s Eatery is the latest destination at Dock 1053, an 185,000-square-foot former A&P Grocery Store distribution center north of downtown Raleigh that has been converted into office, retail, and manufacturing spaces. The sister restaurant to fellow Dock 1053 Tenant Lynnwood Brewing Concern, Wilson’s and its menu are in the hands of chef Jason Tomaszewski, who worked for nine years at Poole’s Diner, the anchor restaurant of two-time James Beard award-winning chef Ashley Christensen. The counter service restaurant offers a mix of snacks, sandwiches, and flatbreads to go with that pint of Lynnwood gose, pilsner, or IPA. Must tastes include perfectly seasoned fries, pimento cheese and pork cracklins, and the carnitas torta with loaded with braised pork, ham, avocado, black bean spread, and more. For those who don’t drink beer, there are house-made sodas in flavors like black cherry, lemon lime, blood orange and root beer. 

1053 E Whitaker Mill Rd
Raleigh, NC 27604

10. Bodega Tapas, Wine, and Rum

110 S White St, Wake Forest, NC 27587
Grilled octopus at Bodega
Bodega Tapas, Wine, and Rum/Facebook

A tapas and wine bar is nothing new, but add rum to the mix and you get Bodega, a new restaurant in downtown Wake Forest that is worth the 30-minute drive north from downtown Raleigh. The menu follows the standard Spanish tapas format with small shareable  plates, including nods to traditional staples like grilled octopus and shrimp cooked with guajillo chile and a toasted garlic vinaigrette. Given that rum shares top billing, the menu has whiffs of Caribbean flavors too, like the empanadas filled with Cuban picadillo and sweet plantains. Wash it all down with sangria, one of more than 40 wines by the glass, or a rum cocktail from the playful list that includes riffs on classic concoctions (an Old Fashioned with a 23-year-old Ron Zacapa rum instead of bourbon or rye) as well as unique creations (the Jungle Bird with Gosling’s Black Seal rum, Campari, lime, pineapple, and golden syrup).

110 S White St
Wake Forest, NC 27587

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