The Best Restaurants That Opened in 2020 in Raleigh, N.C.
It's been an enormously challenging year for restaurants (and the hospitality industry at large). Pre-COVID-19, it was widely agreed that the food scene in the City of Oaks was thriving, doing better than ever thanks to tasty endeavors from a community that's passionate about good eats and drinks. In fact, it was just one year ago that we declared 2019 was the best year ever for foodies in Raleigh, N.C., and as recently as March of this year we were celebrating the accomplishments of local chefs and restaurants.
The good news is we know that food will ultimately remain an essential part of the travel experience. Whether you're digging into a plate of Carolina barbecue, meeting new friends at a brewery taproom or completing a tasting tour of treats at a giant food hall, there's often no better way to get to know a destination than through food and drinks.
More good news? Facing adversity, several local entrepreneurs persevered in 2020, opening new businesses and welcoming guests to experience something they're passionate about. Below you'll find a roundup of the best restaurants, coffee shops and breweries that opened their doors this year. We hope you'll support them in some way—grab a meal, say hello, tell a friend (and please wear a mask and keep your distance while doing so!).
Standard Beer and Food If you love matching thoughtfully curated beer, wine or cider with delicious food—and who doesn't—the new Standard Beer and Food, opened in Oct. to much fanfare, should be on the short list for your next outing. Located among extremely good company in downtown Raleigh's Person St. business district, this newly opened neighborhood establishment, led in part by Whit Baker (brewmaster and co-founder at the award-winning Bond Brothers Beer Company), serves up seriously good beer, a gorgeous indoor dining space and a top-notch outdoor setup with plenty of room to spread out (picnic tables, a large two-sided tent and heaters to keep everyone cozy but also safe). Note: Though the kitchen is currently closed, the restaurant is keeping hungry guests more than happy by inviting local food trucks to set up shop out front.
Hightop Burgers Burgers, fries, shakes. Nothing fancy here (or so it seems). Just good old-fashioned smash burgers that will make you lose your mind. Hightop is a modern, locally owned take on a classic burger joint. Go for the burgers (smashed to order and served on a bun from nearby Union Special Bread), add some fries and finish it all off with chocolate, vanilla or strawberry shake (beer and wine available, too!). You'll be left wondering how you ever ate burgers any other way.
Otra Vez Step inside this Midwestern-inspired kitchen for fresh, vibrant flavors influenced by Mexican, American and Puerto Rican cuisine. Guests would be wise to start by sharing the elotes—a signature dish of classic grilled corn on the cob amplified with a decadent mixture of mayo, house spices, cotija cheese and a spritz of lime—which packs a punch of flavor that prepares your palette to attack the rest of the best-shared-with-others menu (although the burger topped with roasted Hatch chili is worth keeping to yourself). A visit to Otra Vez isn't complete without a cocktail or two. They offer a variety of craft cocktails that pair perfectly with every meal, from fruity margaritas, to a Mexican-inspired mule, to a “220-Year-Old Fashioned". A curated selection of draft beer, bottles, cans and wine round out the options, ensuring that everyone has something to sip on.
Prime BBQ Self-described BBQ nerd Christopher Prieto is a champion pit master, book author, barbecue judge, teacher and—of course—barbecue eating expert. And if you've missed out on his brand new 'cue restaurant just east of Raleigh in Knightdale, Prime BBQ, then it's time to fix that. Opened in April of this year as one of the area's most highly-anticipated restaurants, Prime BBQ blends Texas, North Carolina and Kansas City philosophies: source the best quality meats, keep it simple, cook it the right way and sell out every day. You'll find Prieto's award-winning brisket, ribs, pulled pork, sausages, banana pudding and more on the menu at this trip-worthy dining stop. Note: Pre-ordering is never bad idea to ensure your favorite meats and sides are available.
Bowstring Pizza and Brewyard Amazing pizza, a wide selection of cocktails, local craft brews and a large indoor/outdoor space—Bowstring Pizza and Brewyard is exactly what 2020 called for near Raleigh's Five Points neighborhood. A space is unlike any other in Raleigh—named after the “bowstring-trusse” ceilings famous in the 20s, this restaurant concept converts a 100-year-old Gulf Oil garage into a distance-friendly hangout with a large bar and plenty of tables. When the weather is nice, opt to sit outside on one of their two patios or the large grassy “brewyard," complete with picnic tables and yard games.
Daybreak Located in beautiful downtown Cary (and from the owners of the popular pub next door, Crosstown Pub & Grill), Daybreak offers a tasty breakfast and taco menu sure to satisfy taste buds (and the coffee and tea options to fuel your day). Dive in to a perfectly made omelet, fluffy pancakes or hot flaky biscuits in the morning, and order up a flight of tacos or a home fries-stuffed burrito at lunchtime. The little ones are welcome, too, and a range of vegetarian and gluten free options fill out a balanced menu of good food in a restaurant run by great people.
Good Day Good Night Serving a plant-forward menu with the addition of high-quality proteins, Good Day Good Night—located at the hip new Origin Hotel in downtown Raleigh—boasts locally sourced ingredients, a fully stocked bar with classic and signature cocktails and the rotating "dirt list," featuring the freshest produce to come in the door that day. Be sure to save room for their artistically crafted desserts incorporating their daily delivery of fresh ingredients.
The Optimist If you're going to open a coffee shop during a global pandemic, what more appropriate name to give it than The Optimist? This tastefully appointed coffee shop located between Raleigh's Mordecai and Oakwood neighborhoods is warm and welcoming. According to husband and wife co-owners, Robyn Buchholz and Andrew Ward, the shop concept was created with “family, passion and love in mind.” The Optimist serves up the best local coffee, pastries and baked goods that Raleigh has to offer. Local partners include Black & White Coffee Roasters, Layered Croissanterie and Michael's English Muffins. Grab a cup of joe and make yourself at home inside or on the small but super cute patio, or—if you have a pup in tow—skip just a few feet away to one of the area's most popular dog parks.
Idle Hour Coffee A wonderful way to brighten your day, Idle Hour's late summer opening in Raleigh arrived like an early Christmas gift to coffee lovers in the City of Oaks. Serving up fresh hot coffees and teas with paninis, sandwiches and other scrumptious small bites, you'll also find evidence of the owners' Vietnamese heritage as you browse the menu (a Vietnamese dark roast coffee and a bahn mi? Yes, please!). If you have an idle hour to spare and a hankering for a hot coffee, check it out!
Iris Coffee Lab Set in a modern, minimalist space, the newly-opened Iris Coffee Lab is an art-forward coffee shop located in downtown Raleigh's Glenwood South district (and the menu features a sure-to-please variety of coffee drinks). An iced green tea? You got it. A mocha made with chocolate from Videri Chocolate Factory? Absolutely. Espresso using Black & White Coffee Roasters? Yes!
Purr Cup Cafe If you love cats and coffee as much as we do, this is the place for you. Purr Cup Cafe's mission is to create a haven for cat lovers to enjoy a quality beverage or locally made treat in the company of adoptable cats looking for love and forever homes. Who can't get behind that? The shop is divided into two areas: the cafe, where you can order fresh coffee drinks and snacks surrounded by tables and chairs, and the cat lounge, with relaxed seating in a cozy room full of adorable, adoptable cats! Note: The concept is a hit—in just a few short months, more than 20 cats have been adopted (and countless coffees have been consumed!).
Norse Brewing Company Located in the heart of downtown Wake Forest, Norse Brewing Company features new craft beer releases on tap, great Scandinavian food with a Southern twist and always a hearty Norse welcome! Tap into your inner Viking while enjoying their Norse craft brews, cider, mead, wine and a variety of Valhalla cocktails, and know that you won't leave hungry after a meal from this kitchen. Dive into burgers and sandwiches as well as dinner items that include pork tenderloin, pub steak and cedar plank salmon. There's a menu for the little Vikings, too, so be sure to bring them along for the adventure. Ver heill ok sæll! (Be happy and healthy!).
Bearded Bee Brewing Brand new in downtown Wendell, Bearded Bee Brewing is on a mission to support honeybees and local beekeepers, create a place for the community to gather and brew awesome beer using local ingredients—and husband-and-wife team Derek and Keri Ayscue are doing just that. The beer menu includes a wide variety of brew styles and the knowledgeable owners and staff can help you choose the right one(s) for your palate. Perusing the beer list will also put a smile on your face with monikers like Swarm Warning Saison, Pine Pollen Pilsner and Shaken Not Stung Session IPA. The building alone is worth the 20-25-minute drive from downtown Raleigh. Stepping into a renovated, century-old livery and stable, guests are greeted by high ceilings, gorgeous wood rafters, exposed brick walls and beehive-inspired lights. This is truly a great spot to gather with loved ones and enjoy a delicious craft brew (and local food trucks, too!).
Di Fara Pizza Tavern Cary Legendary New York pizza shop—opened by Domenico De Marco in 1965—plans to open just their third location (and first outside of Brooklyn) in downtown Cary very soon. Follow the restaurant on Facebook to stay up to date!
Note: We ask that you please explore responsibly—wear a mask when not eating at your table, wash your hands, wait six feet apart from others and don't forget kindness. If you're traveling to Raleigh, N.C., you may want to check out this list of Count On Me NC-certified hotels. Count On Me NC is a public health initiative that specifically trains hospitality businesses to help keep both guests and staff safe from COVID-19. The program also asks guests to pledge that they'll do their part to follow safety guidelines as well.
Attractions, museums and historic sites are also open with enhanced safety guidelines in place, and the great outdoors are still great—you're invited to hike and bike miles and miles of greenways, step off the beaten path to discover the stand-still beauty of nature and a whole lot in between.