This month, I offer a sampling of counter-service eateries, ethnic restaurants, food trucks and other bargain dining destinations.
Chai's Asian Bistro
8347 Creedmoor Road, Raleigh
In a nutshell: A spin-off of Chai's Noodle Bar & Bistro in Durham, this counter-service eatery goes for freshness and fast service rather than strict authenticity.
Try: Peking duck buns, broccoli beef, Saigon street noodle, stuffed Japanese eggplant.
903 N. Smithfield Road, Knightdale
In a nutshell: Knightdale newcomer has quickly earned a strong following with above average Tex-Mex fare, and a few surprises.
Try: empanadas, brochetas of the sea, carnitas dinner.
1231 Kildaire Farm Road, Cary
In a nutshell: Organic produce, sweet Italian fennel sausage from San Giuseppe Salami in Elon, and a crust made with local organic flour highlight the attractions of this tiny, strip mall gem.
Try: Diary of a Pizza Girl, Five Year Plan, The Big Sleep, cold cherry soup.
Martin's Curry Rice
9549 Chapel Hill Road, Morrisville
Cuisine: Asian fusion
In a nutshell: Billed as a fusion of "Japanese concept, Indian spices and Mongolian grill serving style," this counter-service shop allows you to mix ingredients and watch as they're stir-fried with the curry-inspired sauce of your choice. Then it's served over white or brown rice.
Try: Asian Persuasion, Japanese curry rice.
6089 Capital Blvd., Raleigh
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
In a nutshell: Kebabs and house-marinated shawarma made with halal meats are the star attraction, backed up by a deli case filled with fresh salads, pita dips and pastries.
Try: kebabs (beef, lamb, kofta, chicken), shawarma (beef or chicken), both available in pita wrap or platter with choice of sides.