Did you know that Raleigh became the capital of North Carolina in 1792? Flash forward 225 years—that’s over two centuries!—and you’ll see the Oak City has grown tremendously since the town’s original saloons, parlors, and taverns. Today, you’ll find plenty of amazing restaurants in Raleigh, from burger sushi to traditional Laotian fare to an entire restaurant devoted to waffles.
But, while we love devouring what Raleigh’s got to offer in the present, let’s take a step back to appreciate the past. Here’s a look into 10 of Raleigh’s oldest dining establishments—that are still around and worth a visit today.
(While we only go up to 1963, we realize there are plenty of other local dining establishments that deserve to be recognized for their legacies. A few more of the Triangle’s oldest restaurants include Shorty's Famous Hot Dogs (1916) in Wake Forest; the Toot-N-Tell (1946) in Garner; Ashworth Drugs (1957) in Cary; and Jerry’s Grill (1968), Mitch’s Tavern (1974), and Irregardless Cafe (1975) in Raleigh. Know another? Send it our way!)
The oldest restaurant in Raleigh is located in the heart of downtown. Among a flurry of city residents, day-trippers, lawyers, legislators, and local politicians, The Mecca stands 88 years young, ready to welcome you in from the Southern elements. From the outside, its appearance is that of a classic diner, with a full menu to boot. Walk inside the two-story Historic Landmark, previously owned and operated by the Dombalis family for almost 90 years, and feel immersed in the restaurant’s welcoming group of regulars and heaps of delicious fried chicken. Though the landmark was just sold this year, don’t fear: its new owner promises to carry on The Mecca legacy, leaving the restaurant unchanged.
The lively 42nd St. Oyster Bar & Grill that you know and love today came from humble beginnings—it started out as a grocery store serving oysters and, in 1933 at the end of Prohibition, draft beer. Though the seafood restaurant went on a sporadic multiple-year hiatus it was re-established in 1987 and locals still include it on the list of Raleigh’s oldest restaurants, considering it one of the city’s classics.
You haven’t tried North Carolina barbecue until you’ve tried Clyde Cooper’s BBQ. Okay—that’s an exaggeration. There’s plenty of amazing barbecue in NC, but Clyde Cooper’s is on another level. With only $50 in his pocket, Clyde Cooper started Clyde Cooper’s Barbecue on January 1, 1938. After 76 years in its original Davie Street location, the barbecue joint moved around the corner to S. Wilmington. Co-owner Debbie Holt said Clyde lived to be almost 100 (who said barbecue wasn’t good for you?!) but just in case it’s not your thing, you’re in luck—Clyde’s does a mean fried chicken, as well as beef brisket dipped in au jus sauce. Pro tip: Clyde’s is cash only. So bring those dolla dolla bills, y’all.
Hot weiners! Come get your hot weiners! The Roast Grill, located downtown, serves up no-frill hot dogs, though you won’t find many of the standard ’dog condiments here (owner George Poniros won’t apologize for that). Charred on the restaurant’s original grill, these franks will leave you full and satisfied. Pro tip: cash only. Pro PRO tip: BYOT (bring your own tea)—the Roast Grill doesn’t serve it.
Know that feeling of walking into a small, unassuming breakfast spot, knowing you’re going to leave completely satisfied? That’s Watkins Grill. To many, this Raleigh classic—nooked near the intersection of Wake Forest Road, Atlantic Avenue, and Capital Boulevard—is a hidden gem, despite the fact that it’s been around for more than 70 years. Gander a mile or two outside of downtown for a solid Southern breakfast or lunch of champions. We won’t tell if you order that extra serving of hash browns. Pro tip: cash or check only.
State alums and Raleigh locals will call this spot the PR, one of the city's oldest taverns despite a near-closing in 2005. (Phew!) Visitors of this institution, docked on the outskirts of NCSU’s campus, include the likes of famous NC State athletes, coaches, Raleigh locals, and more. The Players’ Retreat has changed very little since its founding, much to its regular patrons’ delight. One thing we hope never changes: its $6.99 dine-in burger special on Wednesdays—including fries, we might add.
To get a sense of what the State Farmers’ Market Restaurant (or The Market for short) is all about, get a load of the restaurant’s URL, www.realbiscuits.com. How incredible is that? The State Farmers’ Market Restaurant is one of those places where you know your grits will be perfectly seasoned, your coffee will be served bottomless from a thick, ceramic mug, and your biscuits will be exceptionally prepared with buttermilk, just the way it’s meant to be. Since Gypsy Gilliam took over the show in 2002, both the menu and the decor of this breakfast and lunch spot has stayed the same. Plus, the restaurant is on the grounds of the actual farmers’ market, if that wasn’t obvious. It doesn’t get more farm to table than that.
Lovers of Cookout, broaden your horizons. The original Char-Grill on Hillsborough Street offers a delicious flame-grilled burger, served up with a side of french fries and nostalgia. The first Char-Grill location (there are now multiple in Raleigh, Cary, Garner, Davidson, Benson, Clayton, Fayetteville, and even the RDU airport) looks practically identical to its original structure. In fact, since its founding, not much has changed about this takeout burger joint at all—even placing your order here is a step back in time. Grab a pencil and a piece of paper, write down your order, and drop it into the chute. Order up!
When you first hear Angus Barn, you may think it’s just a cute name—until you realize, oh wait, it’s actually a barn. In-house aged steak is the name of the game at this Raleigh steakhouse, but by no means is it the only winner winner at this chicken (ahem, steak) dinner. Get a feast fit for a king at this local staple, nationally recognized for its awards and accolades and an Iron Chef America winner heading up the kitchen. Also, Chocolate Chess Pie. ’Nuff said.
The inside walls of Amedeo’s Italian Restaurant are lined floor to ceiling with NC State athletics memorabilia past and present. This simple-from-the-outside, delicious-smelling-from-the-inside Italian restaurant was started by ACC champ and NCSU alum Dick "Amedeo" DiAngelis. While the restaurant’s menu has expanded greatly (it actually started as a cheesesteak shop), its newer recipes come straight from DiAngelis’ own family. Notable visitors have included Dick Vitale, Raymond Chevalier “Bucky” Waters, Jim Valvano, Scotty McCreery, and even members of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, according to Amedeo’s website.