Casey in front of some Raleigh, NC street art
Travel

A Travel Guide for Raleigh, NC

We had a year filled with international weddings (in England and Bogotá) and home buying in 2017. That meant 2018 was a bit of a rebuilding year financially. And we got our puppy, Gimli so we didn’t do any traveling. To bring in 2019 I was dying to go somewhere since we both had some time off. Our destination needed to be somewhere we could drive to and take Gimli. After spending some quality time bouncing between Google Maps and Airbnb I decided on Raleigh, North Carolina. This post is all about what we did (read: where we ate) in Raleigh without Gimli. For pup friendly activities, check this post for everything we did with Gimli boy.

The Mecca Restaurant

If you read nothing else in this list, read this: Y’all, this was the best mac and cheese I’ve ever eaten. And I know my way around some mac and cheese. Mind blowingly good stuff here.

We went into The Mecca on a whim for dinner our first night in Raleigh. I hadn’t read about it or picked it out from a list anywhere. In addition to freakin’ phenomenal mac & cheese, their pulled pork was excellent and the gouda grits were so amazing they caused us to come back for breakfast. The shepherd’s pie was full of things I don’t eat (like onions), but Mr. PC crushed it and raved about it later. The Mecca has an old school no frills diner feel, and has been run by the same family since they opened in 1930.

For my first meal in 2019 (not counting the pizza I was devouring somewhere around midnight) we went to breakfast here before leaving Raleigh. The grits at breakfast were not gouda filled like they were at dinner but still tasty. The biscuits that came with our breakfasts might be the best I’ve ever had. I say might because I need to do a side by side comparison with the Grits Grill to be completely sure. Either way, really damn good biscuit.

So to summarize, the best carbs I ate in Raleigh were at this restaurant. Go here. And on your way home swing by Richmond and bring me some.

The Capitol & Duke Center

Because we were in Raleigh the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s, The Capitol and the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts were festively decorated. After that first carb laden meal at The Mecca, we strolled up and down Fayetteville St. to walk off our dinner. Well like 4 bites of dinner. Still, no regrets. Looking up and down Fayetteville St. at night you can see these buildings on opposite ends of the street. The Capitol was pretty cool to meander around. I’m not sure if the Duke center hadn’t been decorated if we would have make a point to stop there.

Plates Neighborhood Kitchen

We did Sunday Brunch here. Plates was quite busy, so we sat at the bar. They take reservations, but we hadn’t made one. The decor was quaint, with lots of plates on the back wall. I got the breakfast burrito; I can’t turn down chorizo. Mr. PC got the steak and eggs special. I thought his home fries were better than my grits. Both of us had no issues clearing our plates though. And downing our accompanying mimosas. Their brunch menu changes but the couple I’ve seen have delicious dishes on them.

Videri Chocolate Factory

Even if you buy nothing, (yeah, right) Videri Chocolate smells amazing and is worth a sniff. The front of the shop is where you can buy chocolate bars and confections, as well as chocolate and coffee drinks from their cafe. Towards the back, there’s a self guided tour with giant viewing windows into the production of chocolate from cocoa beans. I enjoyed taking a few minutes to read about the production process. After some small samples, we got a set of their 3 standard chocolate bars, a pink peppercorn bar, and a 4 pack of bonbons. When we got back home each of our moms got a bar, and we ate the rest. All of it was delightful and rich, without being heavy. Be advised, this is not a cheap endeavor, but it’s not often you get to support a local chocolate shop that makes chocolate from start to finish.

Crank Arm

Instead of getting coffee or hot chocolate at Videri we went to neighboring Crank Arm Brewing for some flights. Their decor is very bike themed, and the flight boards are shaped like gears. Their Whitewall Wheat (Gold at 2018 Great American Beer Festival!) is always available and super drinkable. We also enjoyed Holy Spokes, which is a seasonal habanero smoked porter that packed some heat, but was balanced with smoothness from Videri cocoa nibs. They have a relaxed atmosphere and are in a cool neighborhood.

Beasley’s Chicken + Honey

There was a lot of hype about Beasley’s Chicken + Honey online, and it was slammed every time we passed it walking into downtown from our Airbnb. We stopped in for dinner one night and ordered a Benton’s Old Fashioned and a Gold Rush, both of which are bourbon based drinks. The Gold Rush was right up my alley with lemon & honey. The Benton’s Old Fashioned was quite smokey and also up my alley. I like bourbon 🙂

I knew that all I really wanted to eat was carbs, so I just went for it and ordered 3 sides: mac & cheese, whipped potatoes, and biscuits. The biscuits were very good, but glazed on top with honey (I’m more savory than sweet). The mac & cheese has pimentos, and the potatoes are topped with an onion gravy. All 3 options satisfied my carb desires. Mr. PC got the chicken and waffles and was quite pleased. He reported that the fried chicken was lightly breaded and cooked well. I’m unclear if this spot is worth the hype. Don’t get me wrong, I totally crushed my plate of carbs, but I didn’t quite get why this place was so packed. Maybe I should have gotten some chicken.

State Farmers Market

We hit the farmers market one morning to see what it was all about. While there weren’t near as many vendors as there was room for, we were still impressed with things we found. I would definitely hit the market up any time of the year, but especially in warmer months. This is a great spot to shop for gifts and things to bring home. I was disappointed that Market Imports was closed (we came on New Years Eve). However, we still came home with salsa, baked goods, coffee beans, jam, and NC style BBQ sauce.

In addition to all of the shopping, there’s a couple of spots to eat. We had a “light” breakfast at the State Farmers’ Market Restaurant even though we had lunch reservations shortly after. We ordered a ham biscuit, side of home fries, and a biscuit and gravy. Turns out “a biscuit” means 2. And your food order is served with biscuits just like restaurants serve bread with dinner. These biscuits come pretty close to The Mecca’s. Had they been served room temperature, rather than after being in a warmer they might have beaten The Mecca. Warmers change biscuit texture. We still ate a lot more than we intended because everything was so good.

Bida Manda

Even though Raleigh is more known for its Southern comfort food, how often do you get a chance to eat Laotian food? I may never get to visit Laos and there aren’t many Laotian restaurants around. Growing up I made assumptions about how food would taste before trying it, and then I would refuse to eat new things. That habit still lingers with me, and I have to work to counteract it. Pickled ginger is my most recent conquest, and it was delicious with the house made lemongrass sausage! Our mains, pho Lao and cashew ginger chicken, were just as delightful. Beyond the food, the service and atmosphere at Bida Manda were excellent, and I appreciate the experience we had here.

Dechen Collections

After we had eaten entirely too much at the Farmers Market and Bida Manda, we waddled around City Market and went into Dechen Collections. Full of Tibetan jewelry, masks, singing bowls, and flags, this shop boasts many gift ideas for yourself or someone else. There’s also a collection of natural soaps and candles made by Dechen. Even though I only bought myself an amethyst ring, it made me happy to wander through such a unique shop. This shop is on the same street as a great pet store we found. Take a look at this post for that and other dog-friendly Raleigh ideas.

Raleigh Times

Walking by on New Year’s Eve, we noticed the rooftop patio at The Raleigh Times and that’s what drew us in for one last drink of 2018. The people watching on New Year’s Eve is always an interesting experience, and that was even better with an aerial view. I can’t speak for the food or cocktails and Raleigh Times, since we each got a beer, but their rooftop makes them worth considering. We saw the ferris wheel that was set up for First Night Raleigh, but we made our way back to the Airbnb before midnight. Gimli had never witnessed fireworks, and we didn’t want him to be distraught. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the acorn in the daytime, and didn’t feel the need to see it drop.

I thoroughly enjoyed our time eating comfort food and downing beers in Raleigh. Anything we missed that we can catch on our next trip through?

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