A monthly roundup of ethnic eats, counter service chow and other tasty bargains.
223 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh
In a nutshell: When Poole’s Diner owner/chef Ashley Christensen opens a coffeehouse, it comes as no surprise that its caffeinated brews raise the bar. The bonus comes in the form of breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch menus, which live up to the same high standard with – depending on when you drop in – everything from house-baked pastries (croissants come out of the oven on the hour) to porchetta Benedict to olive oil-poached albacore tuna on sourdough. Throw in a chalkboard that lists dinner specials available after 5 p.m. (Painted Hills beef brisket meatloaf, anyone?), and you’ve got a best-in-class bargain regardless of the time of day.
973 E. Broad St., Fuquay-Varina
In a nutshell: Who says Durham gets all the great taquerias? This little family-run counter-service eatery tucked into a strip mall can hang with the best of them. Besides authentic tacos (generously filled, with more than a dozen meat options and a well-stocked salsa bar), La Taqueria offers a varied sampling of Mexican fare from quesadillas on handmade tortillas to traditional entree plates. On Saturdays and Sundays, a selection of meal-in-a-bowl soups including posole, caldo de res and the seafood extravaganza siete mares makes deciding even more of a challenge.
3901-163 Capital Blvd., Raleigh
In a nutshell: Banh mi, Vietnamese sandwiches featuring your choice of traditional meat filling (I’m partial to the barbecue pork) garnished with lightly pickled vegetables on a baguette, are in themselves enough of a reason to seek out this North Raleigh hidden gem. You’ll also want to try the delicate made-to-order sour pork spring rolls. If you’re looking for a more filling meal, the modest menu offers variations on traditional rice and vermicelli dishes, as well as the beef noodle soup pho. And did I mention that the banh mi are only $3.75?
The Pizza Dude
1763 W. Williams St., Apex
In a nutshell: Don’t let the name fool you. “The Pizza Dude” may have a California ring to it, but this strip mall shop takes its cue from the opposite coast. Featuring a textbook-thin New York-style crust – crisp on the bottom but pliable enough to fold – pies are available whole or by the slice. You’ll find all the usual toppings, as well as combinations ranging from Hawaiian to Ultimate White. The menu also offers subs, wings and a few pasta dishes, but you already know what you’re here for. You’ll have the lunch special: two slices and a fountain drink for $5.99.