It's been an exciting year for foodies and drinkies in the Triangle (and if you have a better word for booze-aficionados, please let us know). It seemed like every other week there was a new restaurant or bar opening up in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill or the surrounding areas that we were the MOST excited about.
While it's hard to pick favorites, these are the businesses that were buzziest when they opened, that have been well-loved since, that brought exciting new trends to the Triangle and that y'all just keep going back to for more. We recommend checking each of them off your list ASAP.
[P.S. A lot of these spots may be familiar to our Premium members, who got in early for preview parties or had $25 to spend at nearly half of the businesses on this list. Want to be that in-the-know in 2019? Get on the waitlist for Premium, or ask one of your friends who's already in for a referral.]
Food halls were arguably the Triangle's biggest food trend in 2018, with two already open in the area and two on the way (Transfer Co. in downtown Raleigh and Durham Food Hall). Morgan Street opened with a bang this summer after much anticipation, with a packed preview party for our Premium members and months of it being the busiest spot in DTR. And what's not to love when you and all your friends can go and get whatever you're craving—from burgers and pizza to Vietnamese and Mediterranean delights and everything in between.
Everybody loves a food truck rodeo, and County Fare makes the fun nonstop. Opened earlier this year in Lakewood by the owner of Black Twig Cider House, County Fare brings together a constantly-rotating roster of Triangle food trucks with a full-service beer garden featuring 30 beer taps, wine and cider—all in a massive barn with corn hole, a bocce court and endless opportunities for a good time.
The Dillon opened in downtown Raleigh's warehouse district this summer, giving us an incredible rooftop patio, delicious sushi and more (with even more to come!). Perhaps our favorite addition is the locally-owned Heirloom Brewshop, which offers a little slice of zen in the bustling downtown. Heirloom brings a lot of love and craft to everything they do, serving up coffee, tea, sake-based beverages and snacks inspired by the founders' Taiwanese and Laotian heritage. Come in to sip on a unique vacuum pot coffee, to revel in the Insta-worthy decor and to take a deep breath and add a little slowness to your day.
The Triangle really rolled into this ice cream trend this year, with multiple spots opening up to serve Thai rolled ice cream. In case you haven't heard, rolled ice cream is frozen before your eyes, allowing you to choose your flavors, mix-ins and toppings. Milk Lab seemed to be a fave of our members (maybe because Premium got $25 to spend there in October...), but other spots to snag this treat include Snow Factory in Durham and Raleigh Rolls in Morgan Street Food Hall.
Located in the former Café de los Muertos space, A Place at the Table is a unique pay-what-you-can cafe that's garnered national attention (helloooo Today Show slot). The nonprofit cafe offers a laid-back, coffee shop atmosphere with breakfast and lunch menus, and the opportunity to pay for someone else's food, or get a bite even if you can't afford it. It tastes so good to give back!
Another major trend that the Triangle hopped on in 2018 was axe throwing—basically darts on steroids or bowling with sharp objects (with beer!). Sure, it sounds a little crazy, but folks are on hand to make sure it stays totally safe. At Urban Axes you can rent a lane, grab a local brew and have a night out like no other. Raleighites, if you don't feel like driving to Durham, fear not—you can throw hatches every weekend at Epic Axes' "hatchet hall" at Southern Charred.
Everyone's sweet tooth got a little bigger this year when the popular waffle delivery service finally got a brick and mortar on Hillsborough St. Com for choose-your-own-adventure candy covered waffles, breakfast sandwiches made with waffles and ice cream waffle-wiches.
Hutchins Garage turned a renovated automative dealership into one of the hottest pizza restaurants in Durham this year. The massive restaurant dishes out delicious crispy pizzas, to-die-for Italian grandma desserts and brews to wash it all down. Plus they've got a killer outdoor seating area when the weather allows!
Alamo Drafthouse—the quirky dinner-and-a-movie theater that opened in Austin before Austin was cool—has now spread across the country and finally brought the (movie) party to Raleigh this year. Not only can you go there to see today's top films in comfy recliner chairs, you can order whatever your heart desires from the kitchen and full bar while you watch. Alamo also regularly screens throwback faves and has movie parties where you can get in on the action of cult classics, making it the perfect place to secretly Netflix and chill while you go out for a night on the town.
As the Triangle's brewery scene just continues to grow, NC's beer darling Asheville is getting in the game, starting with Hi-Wire's new Durham taproom. This exciting expansion not only brings formerly hard-to-access special releases from the circus-themed brewery, it's also got the coolest alternative to corn hole ever—soccer pool. Grab a few pints at their Golden Belt campus location, and cheers to more Asheville beer to come—Burial Beer will be moving into Transfer Co. Food Hall starting next year.
Vita Vite downtown has been a long-time wino fave, and this year they cheered to their second location in North Hills. Get ready to clink glasses in a swanky space featuring soaring ceilings, two bars, inspiring art and plenty of cozy nooks for having the perfect night.
Hellooooo #sandwichutopia. Eastcut Sandwich Bar opened this year bringing us the ultimate upscale deli vibes to the University Drive area. Hurry in for towering sandwiches, boozy slushies and other adult bevs plus regular oyster parties in their incredible patio space.
City Market Sushi opened its Korean-focused sister restaurant on N. West Street to a lot of buzz—after all, there aren't a lot of places in Raleigh where you can get bibimbap quite this good. With its rustic-chic aesthetic and eclectic small plates menu, it's no wonder Seoul 116 has been popular for diners looking for something a little different. Oh, and the boozy Capri Suns don't hurt either.
It's worth noting that Chapel Hill actually got on the food hall game first with the opening of Blue Dogwood Public Market. This spot features a collection of 12+ local food vendors, a bar with beer, wine and cider, plus a variety of community events throughout the year—all under one roof!
Junction West joined the Warehouse District late in the fall, and not a moment too soon for folks to enjoy their gorgeous outdoor area overlooking DTR before the weather got too cold. Besides their stunning aesthetic, Junction West has a bar featuring NC brews, wine and a couple featured cocktails, making it the perfect addition downtown for happy hour with your besties or a post-dinner nightcap.
Although we sadly lost Old Havana Sandwich Shop this year, we got a new Cuban gem from the same owners—COPA. This is the nation's first farm-to-table Cuban restaurant, highlighting forgotten dishes from the country alongside old faves, plus pre-prohibition era cocktails FTW. Bring friends and get ready to share in this little slice of Cuba on Main.
Lynwood Brewing Concern has been a longtime popular watering hole, but food options were always limited to whatever truck they had parked outside that day. No longer! LBC has opened their own restaurant across the parking lot, where you can get the best of both worlds. Order Lynwood Brewery's award-winning beer, grab some top-notch bar food and have yourself a grand old time.
This spot was a late-in-the-year addition but has quickly become popular with the RTP crowd for its craft coffee, clean minimalist vibes, completely gluten-free menu (like some OMG avo toast and charcuterie boards) and chill opportunity for afternoon imbibing with their wine and beer offerings.
Fig is serving up coffee, craft cocktails, and tapas in Raleigh's Oakwood neighborhood. Come for the food and libations, stay for the massive patio and rustic-modern vibe!
Raleigh wine shop and bar, The Wine Feed opened their second location this year, bringing the wine pros to Bull City. The space includes an expanded bar, a comfy wine lounge and plenty of experts to help you find your next favorite bottle to take home. Cheers!
While we tend to stay away from promoting major chains, this Taco Bell featuring boozy slushies opened with such a bang on Hillsborough street that it was hard to ignore. If you do want to stay totally local, get your kicks at Barrel Culture Brewing, where they serve up a rotating selection of boozy slushes made from their barrel-aged sours and fruit, and even some chocolately ones made from their stouts! But hey, if you just want Taco Bell, no judgment.
Neomonde has been a longtime Raleigh staple for fresh, delicious Mediterranean food, and this year Durham got its turn! Neomonde opened at the base of Unscripted, giving the downtown crowd a stellar new lunch spot. Come in for sumptuous salads, juicy grilled meat, fresh-baked bread and the creamiest hummus around.
Dog lovers of Durham rejoice! The Bull City's first pup-focused bar opened this year in BB&T Plaza, quickly topping the ranks of some of the best places Triangle-ites can go out with their puppers. Customers (human and K-9) can stop by for dog treats and toys, craft brews, adoption events and more!
Vida Dulce opened in Cary just in time for summer, giving us a new kind of icy treat to get excited for. Vida Dulce makes traditional Mexican paletas—basially beautiful popsicles in wild flavors—along with aguas frescas, ice cream and more.
Like us, Saint & Co. doesn't mess around when it comes to bread. This coffee shop and bakery is serving up pastries, bread, open-faced sandwiches and Neapolitan-style pizza made with local flour, natural fermentation, and more. We'll never say no to more lovingly-crafted carbs in our lives.
This popular chain for fresh Latin American cuisine and juicy cocktails landed in North Hills this year to much excitement. When there's tons of fresh-fruit margs and taco options galore in a light-filled space, what's not to love?