5 Hidden Restaurants Worth The Drive From Raleigh

5 Hidden Restaurants Worth The Drive From Raleigh

B's Barbecue in Greenville is a bit of a hike from Raleigh, but well worth the mileage. (Photo courtesy of Molly Holdeman via Facebook)

By Britteny Dee

February 26, 2024

From strip malls to gas stations, there are some undeniably delicious eats to be had in unexpected settings just outside of Raleigh’s city limits. 

Raleigh has become something of a culinary hotspot in recent years, with buzzworthy restaurants opening left and right throughout the Triangle area. Mostly located in and around downtown, these restaurants are often housed in showy spaces designed to draw in hungry passers-by. But some of the Raleigh area’s best dining establishments are quietly tucked away in the rural areas and small towns that surround the capital city. 

From small spots in strip malls to buildings with nondescript, worn-down façades, you’ll find some of North Carolina’s tastiest eats in the unlikeliest of locations. Keep reading to discover the best hidden or hard-to-find restaurants that are worth traveling outside of Raleigh proper to eat at. 

Saxapahaw General Store

1735 Saxapahaw Bethlehem Church Road, Saxapahaw

5 hidden restaurants worth the drive from Raleigh

Photo courtesy of Saxapahaw General Store via Facebook

Gourmet food at a gas station? Nope, that’s not a typo. At Saxapahaw General Store, you can sit down for a meal featuring farm-to-table menu items like grass-fed filet mignon, fresh seafood, and locally sourced specialty burgers—then shop for groceries and fill up your car with gas. 

The menu at Saxapahaw General Store is expansive, but the overarching theme that ties everything together is an emphasis on locally grown, high-quality ingredients. From shrimp and grits to a beef short rib sandwich to coconut-milk-braised pork shoulder, there’s something for everyone, including vegetarian, vegan, and/or gluten-free diets. 

The jarring juxtaposition of five-star food in a service-station atmosphere makes dining at Saxapahaw General Store a truly unique experience. While it might not look like it from the outside, this establishment is an excellent spot to tuck into a comforting breakfast, lunch, dinner, or weekend brunch. 

Mithai Indian Cafe

744-F E. Chatham St., Chatham Square, Cary

5 hidden restaurants worth the drive from Raleigh

Photo courtesy of Mithai Indian Cafe via Facebook

For those looking to satisfy their sweet tooth, a trip to Mithai Indian Cafe is in order. Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall in Cary, Mithai Indian Cafe serves up traditional Indian sweets and desserts worthy of a road trip. A variety of custards, fudges, fried pastries, and other authentic Indian treats—all free from preservatives and synthetic ingredients—make up the dessert menu. If you can’t decide on one treat, opt for an assorted artisanal dessert box. 

Confections aren’t all that’s available though—there are plenty of savory menu items, too. From shingara (a Bengali samosa) to bhel puri (a puffed rice dish with chutney and spices), plus plenty of curry dishes, there are tons of different snacks and hearty dishes to choose from.

While taste alone is enough to set Mithai Indian Cafe’s food apart, the way in which the dishes are made—“as they were before the era of mass production and adulteration,” the company’s website reads—and quality of ingredients are what make this restaurant a must-visit. 

Banu Vegan

2534 S. Roxboro St., Durham

5 hidden restaurants worth the drive from Raleigh

Photo courtesy of Banu Vegan via Facebook

The idea that you should never judge a book by its cover is especially true when it comes to restaurants like Banu Vegan in Durham. As one reviewer wrote, “from the outside it can possibly look a little rough around the edges. But inside is nice and quaint!” 

Vegans and meat-eaters alike will enjoy the eats at this small restaurant, located in a plaza near a gas station in the Hillside Park area. At the “home of conscious comfort food,” you’ll find plant-based burgers, burritos, sandwiches, sides, and desserts—all made with fresh ingredients sourced from local farmers’ markets. The Philly Fake Steak, a riff on a Philly cheesesteak, is made with soy protein, onions, peppers, lettuce, house dressing, and garlic aioli. It is a favorite among online reviewers. Other menu highlights include the jerk burrito, Skrimp po’ boy, and Mackin Cheeze.

Bombolo 

764 MLK Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill

5 hidden restaurants worth the drive from Raleigh

Photo courtesy of Bombolo via Facebook

Bombolo has only been in operation for about a year, having opened in February 2023, but it’s already garnered a lot of attention from local foodies—so much so that it was named Carolina Eater’s 2023 Restaurant of the Year

From the outside, the small restaurant is easy to overlook, but we’re here to tell you it provides a dining experience you don’t want to miss. Bombolo is a family operation, the brainchild of Garrett Fleming (of Top Chef fame) and his sister Eleanor Lacy, who have been celebrated for creating a menu that knows no boundaries. 

The adventurous menu takes inspiration from a range of countries including Italy, Turkey, Thailand, Indonesia, France, and the American South. Small plates like NOLA BBQ shrimp sit alongside pasta dishes such as rigatoni all’amatriciana and pappardelle, duck, and veal Bolognese. Halibut khao soi shows off noodles in another form, while the fried chicken platter provides a taste of classic Southern comfort food. What we love most about Bombolo is the opportunity it provides diners to create a unique meal that satisfies whatever craving they have at the moment. 

Sister Liu’s Kitchen

5504 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., #103, Durham

Blink and you might miss Sister Liu’s Kitchen, a tiny Chinese restaurant situated in a shopping center off the I-40 interchange on Highway 501. Though small, everything on the menu is big on flavor at Sister Liu’s, including the handmade dumplings, noodle bowls, and Chinese burgers. The dumplings come in a variety of flavors—pork, beef, tofu, veggie, etc.—and earned Sister Liu’s a mention on Bon Appetit’s list of 50 Nominees for America’s Best New Restaurants in 2019.  

“We decided to get the traditional pork and cabbage dumplings, and they were sooo good! One of the best homemade dumplings I have ever had! The wrapper was chewy and soft, and the filling was so flavorful,” a customer wrote on Yelp.

Sister Liu’s Kitchen is essentially a takeout-only spot (you order on a tablet near the front door), though there are a few picnic tables on the outskirts of the parking lot you can sit at to enjoy your food onsite. That in mind, we couldn’t resist including it on this list—the dumplings are that good. For a different type of takeout, frozen dumplings are available to order by the pound. 

Bonus spot:

B’s Barbecue

751 State Road 1204, Greenville

B’s Barbecue is a bit farther from Raleigh than the rest of the restaurant’s on our list, but we promise it’s worth the extra mileage. As one of the most storied barbeque spots in North Carolina, it’s likely you might have heard of B’s already, but if you haven’t, let us explain what makes it a must-visit barbecue joint. 

Located in what was once a convenience store, B’s Barbeque was started by a husband and wife duo in the late 1970s. Now the couple’s three daughters run the place. Not much has changed since B’s opened—and that’s exactly how customers like it. From the outside, the building looks like it could be abandoned, but the lengthy line of people outside waiting to get their hands on a plate of food should indicate that it is, in fact, a fully functioning (and exceptional) eatery. 

People arrive early—as early as 6 a.m.—to pre-order their food, which can be picked up after B’s officially opens at 9 a.m. The ribs sell out fast, soon followed by other menu items like slow-cooked chicken, hand-chopped pork, green beans, slaw, and potatoes. At B’s, securing your food takes a touch of effort, which, when it pays off, is almost as satisfying as eating it. Take the time to travel and wait in line and your tastebuds will thank you.

Author

  • Britteny Dee

    Britteny has worked as a professional writer for more than a decade. She launched her career as a features writer in New York City, covering fashion, food, hospitality, and beauty. She has contributed to a variety of publications, including Bitches Who Brunch, International Business Times and Glam.

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