Whether it’s a day at the beach, a pool party or a backyard barbecue, there’s one thing all the best summer activities have in common: good eats. In North Carolina, there’s no shortage of mouthwatering food to enjoy.
NORTH CAROLINA—Craving a food-focused adventure? Our North Carolina summer food bucket list is sure to hit the spot.
From unique takes on North Carolina classics to tried-and-true dishes that have been satisfying customers for decades, our roundup of delicious eats will keep your taste buds busy all summer long. Keep reading to discover the tastiest summer treats the Tar Heel State has to offer.
Fried Green Tomato Burger
Fried green tomatoes are a common menu item across the South, but Sunny Point Café in West Asheville has turned the popular appetizer into the star of the show. Its fried green tomato burger features two fried green tomatoes, melted cheese, fresh greens, red pepper aioli, and bacon.
Note: The fried green tomato burger isn’t a regular menu item; it’s one of the restaurant’s burger specials, served only on Tuesday nights. Follow Sunny Point Café on social media for updates on the week’s specials.
Sunny Point Café, 626 Haywood Road, Asheville
The sonker is a dessert that’s hard to define—the filling and crust can vary depending on who’s making it and even the origin of the name is hotly debated—but it’s basically a cross between a cobbler and a deep-dish pie. The New York Times described it as “a soupy baked fruit dessert.” It’s a Surry County staple that you likely won’t find outside of North Carolina, but within the Mt. Airy area, it’s about as famous as a dessert can be.
Surry County hosts the annual Sonker Festival—which takes place every October and claims on its website that Surry County is “the only place where this delicacy is made.” The county is also home to all eight stops on the Sonker Trail featuring eight restaurants that serve the unique baked good, all within 40 minutes of each other in the following towns: Elkin, Mount Airy, Dobson, and the Village of Rockford. At one of those stops, the Rockford General Store, sonker varieties include strawberry, blueberry, blackberry, peach, apple, cherry and sweet potato. A trip to the old-fashioned general store is a treat in itself, and indulging in a sonker—available by the bowl or entire pan—is a must.
Rockford General Store, 5174 Rockford Road, Dobson
Pimento cheese might have originated in New York, but it’s so widely used in popular dishes across North Carolina that one wouldn’t blame you for thinking it originated in the Tar Heel State. Burgers here are often topped with pimento cheese, a delicious trend that started back in 1952 at truck-stop-turned-eatery Miller’s Restaurant in Mocksville, a town of around 6,000 people along I-40 between Statesville and Winston-Salem. Whether you’ve never had a pimento cheeseburger or you’ve indulged in plenty, you must experience the original at Miller’s Restaurant.
Miller’s Restaurant, 710 Wilkesboro St., Mocksville
Cheerwine and Cook Out, two iconic North Carolina institutions, collaborated to create the ultimate summer treat. The Cheerwine float is made with Cheerwine’s cherry-flavored soda—invented in Salisbury in 1917—and vanilla soft serve. It’s the tastiest way to beat the summer heat.
Cook Out, 73 locations in North Carolina
Cheerwine Shave Ice
For a slightly healthier but equally delicious Cheerwine-flavored treat, check out Waves Shave Ice. This food truck serves up artisanal shave ice, making its own syrups by hand from real fruit. Flavors range from dragon fruit to pineapple to, of course, Cheerwine. Based in the Raleigh suburb of Holly Springs, the truck can often be found in the Triangle but sometimes makes the trek to the Triad.
It’s not summer in the South without seafood, and there’s no better seafood spread than The Penthouse at Fin & Fino. This dish is an impressive tower featuring 14 oysters, 14 North Carolina shrimp, crab cocktail fingers, seafood salad, scallop crudo, and two butter-poached lobster tails. You better bring your appetite—and some friends—when crossing this one off your bucket list.
Fin & Fino, 135 Levine Avenue of the Arts, Suite #100, Charlotte
Fried Fish Reuben Wrap
When it comes to fried fish, it’s a wrap—a reuben wrap that is. The Shark Shack, located on the Crystal Coast’s Atlantic Beach, has taken a food synonymous with Southern summers and put a deliciously unique twist on it. The Fried Fish Reuben Wrap is made with sauerkraut, homemade Thousand Island dressing, melted Swiss cheese, fried fish bites, lettuce, and tomato. This local family-owned eatery is just blocks from the beach, so you can easily grab your wrap to go and enjoy it with an ocean view.
The Shark Shack, 100 S. Durham Ave., Atlantic Beach
Endless Fried Fish
If classic fried fish is more your style, head to Jay’s Seafood Restaurant in Albemarle for endless fried fish. This rustic restaurant opened in 1967 and is a favorite among locals and Albemarle visitors alike thanks to its friendly atmosphere and all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. The restaurant has won the Best Seafood and Best Buffet categories in The Stanly News and Press’ Readers’ Choice Awards multiple times. Come hungry, leave happy.
Jay’s Seafood Restaurant, 40439 Stony Gap Road, Albemarle
Satisfy your sweet tooth with a dessert like no other at Stoke, located in Charlotte’s Center City. While The Doughnut may have a basic name, it is anything but: a one-pound bun filled with a homemade mixture of pastry cream and sweet whipped cream that oozes from the top, only to be further topped with a Heath Bar crumble. This colossal confectionery is perfect for sharing, so bring some hungry friends to help you devour it.
Stoke, 100 W. Trade St., Charlotte
Double D’s Double Affogato
Forget food trucks; in Asheville, it’s all about the double-decker bus. Double D’s Coffee and Desserts is a big red bus that arrived in the U.S. from London in the 1970s and was transformed into a coffee shop in 1999. The local landmark serves up a range of coffee drinks, both hot and iced, as well as teas, smoothies, milkshakes, and baked goods. While you really can’t go wrong with any menu item, we suggest Double D’s Double Affogato. Combining a dose of caffeine and dessert, this delicious drink features two shots of espresso over a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Double D’s Coffee and Desserts, 41 Biltmore Ave., Asheville
Hot Chix Tacos
The idea for Hot Chix Hotcakes and Chicken came about when co-founder James wondered what it would be like to enjoy the sweet and savory combination of chicken and waffles sans fork and knife. Thus, Hot Chix Tacos were born. Each “taco” features a fried chicken tenderloin wrapped in a fluffy pancake served with your choice of sauce and eaten “taco style.” Don’t forget to order a side of tater tots.
While the Durham-based food truck can often be in the Triangle area, the website states that the team is “definitely open to traveling for the right events.”
Flight of Eggs
You’d expect to see flights of beer at a brewery, but flights of eggs? That’s exactly what’s on offer at Bright Penny Brewing in Mebane. Co-founder Jason Brand recreated his grandma’s deviled egg recipe and modernized it, coming up with nearly a dozen different varieties. The Flight of Eggs comes with the choice of three recipes, which range from the more traditional Doreen’s (dill weed, dill relish, and paprika) to options like Edith’s, topped with Angus steak, horseradish aioli, caramelized onion, and fresh arugula.
Bright Penny Brewing, 107 N 7th St., Mebane
Korean Corn Dog
Corn dogs are a classic summer treat, and now North Carolinians can enjoy a unique version of them thanks to goldenKdog, Raleigh’s first Korean corn dog food truck.
Korean corn dogs tend to be sweeter than the American variety because they’re usually rolled in sugar after frying the batter. At goldenKdog, these snacks on a stick are coated with panko breadcrumbs or potato cubes before being deep fried. One flavor even comes rolled in crushed Takis chips.
goldenKdog, location varies (check Instagram for the current schedule and locations)