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Beasley’s fried chicken Bill Addison

Road-Tripping North Carolina: The 22 Must-Visit Restaurants

There’s a lot more to NC than biscuits and barbecue

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Over the last decade, charismatic North Carolina cities like Asheville and Durham have soaked up plenty of attention for their budding food scenes. So in 2015, Eater’s roving restaurant critic Bill Addison went on a five-day road trip to assess how North Carolina’s culinary scene has evolved far beyond barbecue — the state’s most famous culinary asset.

“For the food-obsessed,” Addison wrote, “I wager that no Southern road trip itinerary brings more pleasure than a west-to-east trek across North Carolina.” Along their 338-mile trek, Addison and his traveling companions consumed everything from biscuit breakfast sandwiches to Spanish tapas, elevated diner classics to crisp tea-smoked chicken with fried rice — and also discovered “an actual destination-worthy restaurant” nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Read more about that fateful trip here, and for your driving pleasure, check out the best spots from Addison’s full 25-stop NC itinerary — along with notes culled from his original trip — below:

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Biscuit Head

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This joint manifests the state’s big biscuit cravings, known as “cat heads.” Make Biscuit Head’s firm yet fluffy, large buttermilk biscuits extra large with piled-high combinations like country ham, fried green tomatoes, and cheese eggs.

Bill Addison

Cucina 24

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Brian Canipelli’s Italian cooking is simultaneously playful, gusty, and admirably effortless: Pizzas and pastas are comforting, while more adventurous diners should seriously consider the sliced lamb heart.

A post shared by Brian Canipelli (@becanipelli) on

Jacob Sessums catalyzed the new generation of local-minded restaurants when he opened Table. Among the must-order dishes: strawberries with cream and brown sugar cookies; and boiled peanut ragout, a take on a Southern classic.

Bill Addison

Nightbell

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Another Katie Button-owned establishment, Nightbell is the perfect hangout spot, offering heady cocktails and updated bar snacks with the occasional modernist fillip, like fish and chips made with skate wing.

Bill Addison

Rhubarb

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John Fleer, a chef with national accolades (and a long stint at Blackberry Farm under his belt), delivers modern Southern cooking — plates like brown ale brined cauliflower steak. Do not miss the restaurant’s selection of superb local cheese.

A post shared by Ethan Fixell (@ethanfixell) on

Cúrate

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Katie Button, an alum of the José Andrés restaurant empire, serves true-minded Spanish tapas here: Her universally appealing menu features clams steamed in cider with crumbled chorizo; ried eggplant with honey and rosemary; and a gin and tonic with mixed citrus and juniper berries.

Bill Addison

Knife & Fork

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Chef-owner Nate Allen brings foraged herbs and greens to his dishes in this small and cozy restaurant, which often requires a made-well-ahead reservation. With an emphasis of seasonal cooking, Knife & Fork has become a destination for food lovers across the nation.

Bill Addison

Lexington Barbecue

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Get plates of barbecue served sliced, chopped to a frilly texture, or (in the best option) coarsely chopped, all delivered by cheerful waitresses. The meat, lightly dressed in the vinegar sauce with a tang of ketchup, is simple yet iconic.  

Bill Addison

Allen & Son Barbeque

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With its cabin-in-the-woods charm, the restaurant showcases smoked pork shoulders. The meat, paired with chile-tinged vinegar sauce, has a textural complexity similar to whole hog.

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Crook’s Corner

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Before glancing at a menu, ask about the honeysuckle sorbet, a seasonal ritual for Crook’s longtime chef Bill Smith, and order it if the kitchen hasn’t run out. But this institution is known of course for far more than just its dessert: Its much-loved shrimp and grits have reached icon status.

Kate Medley/Eater

Lantern

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This Asian-inspired restaurant under Andrea Reusing serves classics like pork and chive dumplings alongside more experimental fare. The split personality of the space, with its shadowy Hong Kong red lights and the prim front dining room, makes the place even more charming.

A post shared by Lantern (@lanternrestaurant) on

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen

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Get the signature flavors and comfort of fried chicken biscuits quick and fast through this spot’s drive-thru window.

A post shared by Stan Lee (@secretstan) on

The ever-changing lineup of crunchy-soft doughnuts may outshine their tender, crumbly biscuits, but with options like pimento cheese and bacon, the biscuits are not to be ignored for sure.

Bill Addison

Scratch

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Pie is the lodestar at Scratch. Under Phoebe Lawless, who perfected her craft under Karen Barker of still-missed Magnolia Grill, Scratch’s sweets hit all the right rich notes.

Bill Addison

Saltbox Seafood Joint

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This seafood stand with daily-changing menu and a few umbrella-covered picnic tables in front often sells out by 2 or 3 p.m. Get some fried shrimp, scattered on a toasted roll with cabbage and fennel slaw (if it’s not sold out already).

Bill Addison

Poole's Diner

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Here, it’s the macaroni au gratin that manifests the greatness of Ashley Christensen’s first Raleigh restaurant. But don’t sleep on the rest of the nightly changing menu, which highlights ingredients with maximum Southern savor.

Bill Addison

Beasley's Chicken + Honey

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This mega-popular fried chicken emporium by Ashley Christensen brings all essential Southern charms, with dishes like green bean casserole and pimento mac and cheese. The space, as luck would have it, houses multiple Christensen concepts: Chuck’s (and its burger) and Fox Liquor Bar all also merit a visit.

Beasley’s fried chicken Bill Addison

Stanbury

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This gastro-glam pub features daily-rotating menu: A recent visit offered a heaping bowl of crawfish, and no-joke selection of cocktails and wines.

Bill Addison

Wilber's Barbecue

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The kitchen turns out praiseworthy barbecue, but during one visit, the off-the-menu order of leftover ribs was even more commendable.

Bill Addison

The Chef & the Farmer

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Vivian Howard from PBS’s A Chef’s Life has turned Kinston into a pilgrimage site for fans and food lovers. Howard’s restaurant, featuring Italian-inflected dishes like rice-crusted catfish with risotto, is the ideal stop after visiting the area’s barbecue icons.

Bill Addison

Skylight Inn

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This place is the apotheosis of whole-hog barbecue with its overnight-roasted, hickory-and-oak-smoked pigs. The spicy, tangy sauce takes the pulled meat to the next level; consider the “whole hog tray,” served with cornpone, among the must-eat barbecue dishes in America.

Bill Addison

Bum’s

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Another North Carolina barbecue favorite — thanks to a pulled pork that’s almost rope-like in texture — its silky-chewy collard greens are as famous as its meat. 

Bill Addison

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Biscuit Head

Bill Addison

This joint manifests the state’s big biscuit cravings, known as “cat heads.” Make Biscuit Head’s firm yet fluffy, large buttermilk biscuits extra large with piled-high combinations like country ham, fried green tomatoes, and cheese eggs.

Bill Addison

Cucina 24

Brian Canipelli’s Italian cooking is simultaneously playful, gusty, and admirably effortless: Pizzas and pastas are comforting, while more adventurous diners should seriously consider the sliced lamb heart.

A post shared by Brian Canipelli (@becanipelli) on

Table

Bill Addison

Jacob Sessums catalyzed the new generation of local-minded restaurants when he opened Table. Among the must-order dishes: strawberries with cream and brown sugar cookies; and boiled peanut ragout, a take on a Southern classic.

Bill Addison

Nightbell

Bill Addison

Another Katie Button-owned establishment, Nightbell is the perfect hangout spot, offering heady cocktails and updated bar snacks with the occasional modernist fillip, like fish and chips made with skate wing.

Bill Addison

Rhubarb

John Fleer, a chef with national accolades (and a long stint at Blackberry Farm under his belt), delivers modern Southern cooking — plates like brown ale brined cauliflower steak. Do not miss the restaurant’s selection of superb local cheese.

A post shared by Ethan Fixell (@ethanfixell) on

Cúrate

Bill Addison

Katie Button, an alum of the José Andrés restaurant empire, serves true-minded Spanish tapas here: Her universally appealing menu features clams steamed in cider with crumbled chorizo; ried eggplant with honey and rosemary; and a gin and tonic with mixed citrus and juniper berries.

Bill Addison

Knife & Fork

Bill Addison

Chef-owner Nate Allen brings foraged herbs and greens to his dishes in this small and cozy restaurant, which often requires a made-well-ahead reservation. With an emphasis of seasonal cooking, Knife & Fork has become a destination for food lovers across the nation.

Bill Addison

Lexington Barbecue

Bill Addison

Get plates of barbecue served sliced, chopped to a frilly texture, or (in the best option) coarsely chopped, all delivered by cheerful waitresses. The meat, lightly dressed in the vinegar sauce with a tang of ketchup, is simple yet iconic.  

Bill Addison

Allen & Son Barbeque

With its cabin-in-the-woods charm, the restaurant showcases smoked pork shoulders. The meat, paired with chile-tinged vinegar sauce, has a textural complexity similar to whole hog.

A post shared by Mira (@gofindmira) on

Crook’s Corner

Kate Medley/Eater

Before glancing at a menu, ask about the honeysuckle sorbet, a seasonal ritual for Crook’s longtime chef Bill Smith, and order it if the kitchen hasn’t run out. But this institution is known of course for far more than just its dessert: Its much-loved shrimp and grits have reached icon status.

Kate Medley/Eater

Lantern

This Asian-inspired restaurant under Andrea Reusing serves classics like pork and chive dumplings alongside more experimental fare. The split personality of the space, with its shadowy Hong Kong red lights and the prim front dining room, makes the place even more charming.

A post shared by Lantern (@lanternrestaurant) on

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen

Get the signature flavors and comfort of fried chicken biscuits quick and fast through this spot’s drive-thru window.

A post shared by Stan Lee (@secretstan) on

Rise

Bill Addison

The ever-changing lineup of crunchy-soft doughnuts may outshine their tender, crumbly biscuits, but with options like pimento cheese and bacon, the biscuits are not to be ignored for sure.

Bill Addison

Scratch

Bill Addison

Pie is the lodestar at Scratch. Under Phoebe Lawless, who perfected her craft under Karen Barker of still-missed Magnolia Grill, Scratch’s sweets hit all the right rich notes.

Bill Addison

Saltbox Seafood Joint

Bill Addison

This seafood stand with daily-changing menu and a few umbrella-covered picnic tables in front often sells out by 2 or 3 p.m. Get some fried shrimp, scattered on a toasted roll with cabbage and fennel slaw (if it’s not sold out already).

Bill Addison

Related Maps

Poole's Diner

Bill Addison

Here, it’s the macaroni au gratin that manifests the greatness of Ashley Christensen’s first Raleigh restaurant. But don’t sleep on the rest of the nightly changing menu, which highlights ingredients with maximum Southern savor.

Bill Addison

Beasley's Chicken + Honey