2010 best restaurants in the Triangle

In a tough year, the dining scene took some hits. Yet Herons found a way to shine.

CorrespondentJanuary 15, 2010 

Even if you view the world from a glass-half-full perspective, there's no denying it: 2009 wasn't exactly a banner year. The financial roller coaster that began in 2008 continued last year, spilling frightening numbers of businesses over the side as it careened along its rickety track. Not surprisingly, the notoriously risky restaurant business contributed more than its share of victims. Locally, venerable institutions Anotherthyme, Joe's Place and Simpson's were among the many casualties.

By the end of the year, though, we were beginning to see a glimmer of light at the end of the Wild Mouse tunnel. The pace of restaurant closings appeared to slow down, and a number of promising new restaurants opened their doors. Some of the area's most experienced and savvy restaurateurs, among them Greg Hatem, Niall Hanley and Giorgios Bakatsias, expanded their restaurant empires.

Though the local dining scene undeniably took a hit in 2009, it was a stellar year from a quality standpoint. A record-setting nine new restaurants earned an N&O rating of four stars or better last year. You'll find them on this year's Top 10 Newcomers list (along with Busy Bee Café, which came oh-so-close to the four-star standard).

Three restaurants - Coquette, Cypress on the Hill and Chef & the Farmer - achieved a near-perfect rating of 4-1/2 stars. Herons soared over them all, earning the first five-star rating since the one-to-five-star rating system was implemented in 2007 - and along with it, selection as this year's Restaurant of the Year.

So here's a toast to this year's winners. Whether you choose to toast with champagne at a Top 25 selection, a draft microbrew at one of the Top 10 Newcomers, or sweet tea at a Best Bargains selection, you can be sure that your glass will be more than half full.

Note: You can find my full reviews of these (and hundreds more) restaurants at events.triangle.com/restaurants.

Top 25 Restaurant of the Year

Herons
100 Woodland Pond, in the Umstead Hotel & Spa, Cary
447-4200
www.heronsrestaurant.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Herons' sumptuous contemporary setting lived up to management's "world class" billing the day the restaurant opened in the deluxe Umstead Hotel & Spa in January 2007. Service fell short of the mark, though, and the food could be hit or miss. Three years, three chefs and a rigorous wait staff training regimen later, Herons has finally shed its fledgling status and taken flight. The newly polished and warmly welcoming dining room staff raise the bar for service in the Triangle. And executive chef Scott Crawford, who came to Herons last year after earning national recognition at luxury resorts in Georgia and South Carolina, has quickly earned a place among North Carolina's culinary elite. Let's hope he likes his new home.

18 Seaboard
18 Seaboard Ave., Raleigh
861-4318
www.18seaboard.com
Cuisine: contemporary Southern, grill

Bloomsbury Bistro
509-101 W. Whitaker Mill Road, at Five Points, Raleigh.
834-9011
www.bloomsburybistro.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Bonne Soirée
431-10 W. Franklin St., in The Courtyard, Chapel Hill
928-8388
Cuisine: French

Elaine's on Franklin
454 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill
960-2770
www.elainesonfranklin.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Fairview
3001 Cameron Blvd., in the Washington Duke Inn, Durham
490-0999
www.washingtondukeinn.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Fearrington House
2000 Fearrington Village Center, Pittsboro
542-2121
www.fearringtonhouse.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Four Square
2701 Chapel Hill Road, Durham
401-9877
www.foursquarerestaurant.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Frazier's
2418 Hillsborough St., Raleigh
828-6699
www.fraziersbistro.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Il Palio
1505 E. Franklin St., in the Siena Hotel, Chapel Hill
918-2545
www.sienahotel.com
Cuisine: Italian

J. Betski's
10-120 W. Franklin St., Raleigh
833-7999
www.jbetskis.com
Cuisine: German, Polish

Lantern
423 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill
969-8846
www.lanternrestaurant.com
Cuisine: pan-Asian

Magnolia Grill
1002 Ninth St., Durham
286-3609
www.magnoliagrill.net
Cuisine: contemporary Southern

Margaux's
8111-111 Creedmoor Road, in Brennan Station, Raleigh
846-9846
www.margauxsrestaurant.com
Cuisine: contemporary, seafood

Maximillians
8314 Chapel Hill Road, Cary
465-2455
www.maximilliansgrill.com
Cuisine: contemporary Asian, Mediterranean, Southwestern

Nana's
2514 University Drive, Durham
493-8545
www.nanasdurham.com
Cuisine: contemporary Mediterranean

Panciuto
110 S. Churton St., Hillsborough
732-6261
www.panciuto.com
Cuisine: Italian

Poole's Downtown Diner
426 S. McDowell St., Raleigh
832-4477
www.poolesdowntowndiner.com
Cuisine: American bistro

Saint Jacques
6112 Falls of Neuse Road, Raleigh
862-2770
www.saintjacquesfrenchcuisine.com
Cuisine: French

Second Empire
330 Hillsborough St., Raleigh
829-3663
www.second-empire.com
Cuisine: contemporary

Vin Rouge
2010 Hillsborough Road, Durham
416-0406
www.vinrougerestaurant.com
Cuisine: French

Vivace
4209 Lassiter Mill Road, in The Alexan, Raleigh
787-7747
www.vivaceraleigh.com
Cuisine: Italian

Watts Grocery
1116 Broad St., Durham
416-5040
www.wattsgrocery.com
Cuisine: contemporary Southern

Zely & Ritz
301 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh
828-0018
www.zelyandritz.com
Cuisine: tapas

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