Living

These are the 10 best new restaurants of 2018, and the best of everything else

My job just keeps getting better and better. I’ve known that intuitively for several years, as I’ve found more and more new restaurants living up to their promise.

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Some of Greg Cox’s favorite restaurants from 2018 include left from top Copa, G.58 Cuisine, Swagat, Postal Fish Company and Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings & Sweets, right from top, Saint James, Cucciolo Osteria, Saltbox Seafood Joint, The Village Diner and Postmaster. 2018 News & Observer File Photos newsobserver.com

And now I can prove it mathematically. For the past three years, the average star rating of the restaurants on the Best New Restaurants list has hovered around four. This year, for the first time ever, 10 restaurants — all rated four stars or better — made the list. The fact that three of the 10 are seafood restaurants, a category that until recently has been underserved, is icing on the cake.

And that’s just the new restaurants. A return visit to Herons, eight years after my last review, earned that restaurant a rare five-star rating. Longstanding favorites Elaine’s on Franklin, Oakleaf and Sono gave convincing demonstrations of the reasons for their enduring popularity.

It all adds up to a scintillating, rapidly evolving dining scene with so many worthy contenders that the annual Best Restaurants list has outgrown a single article. So we’re splitting it into two parts. This week, Part 1 features this year’s selections for Best New Restaurants and Best in Class. We’re also including a list of past Restaurant of the Year winners for a little historical perspective.

Next week, I’ll share my picks for the crème de la crème of local restaurants in Part 2: the Gold, Silver and Bronze Medalists, and the 2019 Restaurant of the Year. (Hint: You’ll find its name somewhere on these pages.)

BEST NEW RESTAURANTS 2018

Copa

107 W. Main St., Durham

919-973-0111

copadurham.com

Cuisine: Cuban

Knowing that their first restaurant, Old Havana Sandwich Shop, would be a tough act to follow, husband-and-wife owners Robert Copa Matos and Elizabeth Turnbull aimed high with their second. Copa hit the target with a Cuban tapas menu (including a few gems inspired by a 19th century cookbook) and one of the best restaurant bars in the Triangle.

Don’t miss: queso de cabeza, platanos rellenos, croquetas, pasteles, cebolla rellena, arroz con pollo, La Diosa Negra cocktail; oh, and you can still get those excellent Cuban sandwiches at lunchtime.

Cucciolo Osteria

601 W. Main St., Suite C, Durham

984-243-8744

cucciolodurham.com

Cuisine: Italian

Authentic Roman cuisine, prepared skillfully and without compromise (those black flecks in the truffle tajarin? yup, that’s actual black truffle), has quickly earned this newcomer a place among the elite handful of best Italian restaurants in the area.

Don’t miss: butternut squash arancini, risotto al latte, tagliatelle pomodoro, linguine alla carbonara, porchetta, panna cotta.

Read Next

G.58 Cuisine

10958 Chapel Hill Road, Morrisville

919-466-8858

g58cuisine.com

Cuisine: Chinese

It’s hard to say which is more jaw-dropping: the elegant dining room with the art gallery setting, or the lavish presentations of a self-styled “contemporary approach to traditional Chinese cuisine.” Either way, it adds up to a prime destination for corporate expense account meals and celebrating special occasions.

Don’t miss: appetizer sampler, Shizitou meatball soup, lobster tail, Peking duck.

Read Next

Postal Fish Company

75 W. Salisbury St., Pittsboro

919-704-8612

postalfishcompany.com

Cuisine: seafood

POSTALFISHCO14-FE-050918-JEL
If it’s Southern comfort, Carolina style, that you’re craving, look no further than the Cedar Island Fry at Postal Fish Company in Pittsboro. Catfish, oysters and jumbo shrimp, all perfectly cooked in a light, crisp breading, are piled onto a parchment paper-lined plate with hushpuppies, house-made potato chips (a welcome twist on the usual fries) and crunchy icebox slaw. 2018 News & Observer File Photo - Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Owners James Clark and Bill Hartley take turns driving to the coast to buy seafood directly off the boats. Both are veteran chefs, and Clark’s wife, Marcey Clark, is a top-notch pastry chef. Need I say more?

Don’t miss: peel ’n’ eat shrimp, Cedar Island Fry, anything cooked on the wood grill, and don’t skip dessert.

Read Next

Postmaster

160 E. Cedar St., Suite 100, Cary

919-378-9493

postmastercary.com

Cuisine: contemporary Southern

An inventive menu with lots of small plates and share plates for the table, a streamlined urban decor, garage doors opening onto a patio — wait, this is downtown Cary, not some hotspot in Raleigh or Durham?

Don’t miss: honeycomb oysters, cast iron chicken, gnocchi’d grits, market catch, dessert.

Read Next

Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings & Sweets

121 N. Gregson St., Durham

919-797-2233

rosesdurham.com

Cuisine: contemporary Asian, desserts

Start with an Asian-inspired menu celebrating local produce and nose-to-tail pork (owner-chef Justin Meddis was formerly a whole animal butcher). Add a drool-inducing dessert offering (wife Katie is a first-rate pastry chef). Cram them into a tiny space. It’s well worth negotiating a space in the even tinier parking lot.

Don’t miss: The menu changes frequently, but rest assured you can’t go wrong.

Read Next

Saint James

806 W. Main St., Durham

984-219-7900

saintjamesseafood.com

Cuisine: seafood

To some, just knowing that Saint James is the latest venture of Matt Kelly (whose culinary Midas touch includes Vin Rouge, Mateo and Mothers & Sons Trattoria) is enough. For those who need more convincing, a meal at Saint James should suffice in proving that it’s the best seafood restaurant in the Triangle.

Don’t miss: Take your pick of anything on the extensive menu, from voluptuous baked oysters with bone marrow to seared North Carolina flounder with crawfish butter over dirty rice. Dibs on the Nautilus seafood tower.

Read Next

Saltbox Seafood Joint

Two Durham locations: 608 N Mangum St. (walkup window only) and 2637 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd.

919-908-8970 (Mangum); 919-237-3499 (Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd.)

saltboxseafoodjoint.com

Cuisine: seafood

Fans of the original Saltbox, a takeout-only fried seafood joint (unless you count a couple of picnic tables out front), cheered when owner-chef Ricky Moore opened a second location with an expanded menu and indoor seating. You can count yours truly as one of the cheerleaders.

Don’t miss: Check the sign out front for the seasonal catch; otherwise, anything fried will do you right. And by all means, get a side of fried broccoli and an order of Moore’s signature hush honeys.

Read Next

Swagat

9549 Chapel Hill Road, Morrisville

919-378-9090

swagatnc.com

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Swagat Indian Cuisine serves a quartet of lamb chops, marinated with fresh ginger and spices before getting roasted to a juicy turn in the clay oven. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Cuisine: Indian

On the surface, there’s little to distinguish Swagat from the scores of other Indian restaurants that have cropped up all over the region in the past few years. It’s the food — classic northern Indian, prepared by an internationally acclaimed chef — that sets this place apart.

Don’t miss: cauliflower Manchurian, chicken 65, Punjabi kadhi, lobster masala, lamb vindaloo, tandoori dishes, Swagat special biryani.

Read Next

The Village Diner

600 W. King St, Hillsborough

919-245-8915

facebook.com/villagedinernc

Cuisine: Southern diner

Both figuratively and literally, this is not your father’s Southern diner. Chef Justin Bohlin, who was trained at the Culinary Institute of America, gave new life to the tired old local landmark last year, eliminating the buffet and replacing it with a menu of scratch-made updates of Southern classics.

Don’t miss: tomato soup, bibb salad with fried oysters, fried grit cakes, vegetable plate, salmon patties, fried chicken, meatloaf, banana pudding.

Read Next

PREVIOUS RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR WINNERS

2007: Bonne Soirée, Chapel Hill

2008: Fins, Raleigh

2009: Lantern, Chapel Hill

2010: Herons, Cary

2011: Bella Mia, Cary

2012: Magnolia Grill, Durham

2013: Oakleaf, Pittsboro (now Carrboro) and Yamazushi, Durham

2014: One, Chapel Hill

2015: Gocciolina, Durham

2016: Death & Taxes, Raleigh

2017: The Durham, Durham

2018: Crawford and Son, Raleigh

BEST IN CLASS (BY CUISINE)

Bakery

Boulted Bread

614 W. South St., Raleigh

919-999-3984, boultedbread.com

IMG_BOULTED-FE-JEL_4_1_U68IUOSB_L235268749
Boulted Bread in Raleigh

Bar (Serving Food)

Alley Twenty Six

320 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham

984-439-2278, alleytwentysix.com

Barbecue

Hillsborough BBQ Co.

236 S. Nash St., Hillsborough

919-732-4647, hillsboroughbbq.com

Breakfast

True Flavors Diner

5410 NC Hwy. 55, Suite AJ, Durham (A second location is opening this year at 2022 Chapel Hill Road, Durham, in the former The Lakewood restaurant.)

919-316-7978, trueflavorsnc.com

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Bartender Shannon Healy prepares the Alley Cocktail made up of Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, Dry Vermouth, Cynar, Luxardo Maraschino and celery bitters at Alley Twenty Six in Durham. 2017 News & Observer File Photo - Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Brewpub

Trophy Brewing + Pizza

827 W. Morgan St., Raleigh

919-803-4849, trophybrewing.com

Burger

Hops Burger Bar

140 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill

984-234-3298, hopsburgerbar.com

Cajun/Creole

La Place

111 N. Churton St., Hillsborough

919-245-0041, laplacehillsborough.com

Chinese (Cantonese)

Shanghai

3433 Hillsborough Road, Durham

919-383-7581, shanghaidurham.com

Chinese (Szechwan)

Szechuan Garden

10285 Chapel Hill Road, Suite 300, Morrisville

919-468-6878, szechuangardennc.com

Chinese (Taiwanese)

Taipei 101

121 E. Chatham St., Cary

919-388-5885, facebook.com/carytaipei101

Coffeehouse/Cafe

Cocoa Cinnamon

Three locations in Durham; see website.

cocoacinnamon.com

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Cocoa Cinnamon carries a variety of coffee and teas. News & Observer File Photo - Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Cuban

COPA

107 W. Main St., Durham

919-973-0111, copadurham.com

Deli

Lucky’s Delicatessen

105 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham

919-864-8841, luckysdelinc.com

Dessert

Bittersweet

16 E. Martin St., Raleigh

919-977-3829, bittersweetraleigh.com

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COPA’s presentation of Queso de Cabeza includes the Cuban-style pork terrine served with toast, cornichons pickles, and olives. 2018 News & Observer File Photo - Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Diner

Grub

1200 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham

919-973-3636, grubdurham.com

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The Roast Turkey is served with smoked gouda, bacon, avocado, leaf lettuce, red onion, tomato and garlic mayo on a kaiser at Luckyâs Delicatessen in downtown Durham. 2016 News & Observer File Photo - Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Ethiopian

Goorsha

910 W. Main St., Diurham

919-588-4660, goorshadurham.com

Food Truck

Mr. A’s Beignets

squaredoughnuts.com, twitter.com/mrasbeignets

French

Vin Rouge

2010 Hillsborough Road, Durham

919-416-0466, vinrougerestaurant.com

Fusion

Luna Rotisserie & Empanadas

112 W. Main St., Durham

984-439-8702, lunarotisserie.com

Greek

Kipos

431 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill

919-425-0760, kiposchapelhill.com

Indian/Pakistani

Swagat

9549 Chapel Hill Road, Morrisville

919-378-9090, swagatnc.com

Indian (Southern)

CholaNad Restaurant and Bar

308 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill

800-246-5262, cholanad.com

Italian

Cucciolo Osteria

601 W. Main St., Suite C, Durham

984-243-8744, cucciolodurham.com

Japanese

M Sushi

311 Holland St., Durham

919-908-9266, msushidurham.com

Korean

Golden Pig

815 W. Chatham St., Cary

919-650-2720, facebook.com/goldenpigcary

Lebanese

Sitti

137 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh

919-239-4070, sitti-raleigh.com

SITTI1.WKD.032709.JEL.JPG_04-03-2009
Pan-seared sea bass with shittake mushrooms, tomato broth, garlic confit and white truffle polenta is served at Sitti in downtown Raleigh. News & Observer File Photo - Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Mexican (Contemporary)

Centro

106 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh

919-835-3593, centroraleigh.com

Mexican (Taqueria)

Taqueria El Toro

3601 Junction Blvd., Raleigh

919-661-5676, taqueriaeltororaleigh.com

Mexican (Traditional)

Tacos y Mariscos Vallarta

3177 Capital Blvd., Raleigh

919-790-2696, Facebook

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Baked goods on display at lucettegrace, a modern patisserie on Salisbury Street in downtown Raleigh. 2014 News & Observer File Photo - Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Pastries

lucettegrace

235 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh

919-307-4950, lucettegrace.com

Peruvian

Mi Peru

4015 University Drive, Durham

919-401-6432, miperupci.com

Pizza

Pizzeria Mercato

408 W. Weaver St., Carrboro

919-967-2277, pizzeriamercatonc.com

Pub (Irish)

Doherty’s

Two locations: 1979 High House Road, Cary; 5490 Apex Peakway, Apex

919-388-9930 (Cary); 919-387-4100 (Apex), dohertysirishpubnc.com

PIZZERIAMERCATO2-FE-_2_1_KPAF1VDM_L289730084
Toppings are “a mix of classics and combinations that change with the market and the chef’s inspiration” live up to the high standard of the crust at Pizzeria Mercato in Carrboro. 2017 News & Observer File Photo - Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Pub (sports)

The Players’ Retreat

105 Oberlin Road, Raleigh

919-755-9589, playersretreat.net

Pub (not Irish, not sports)

First Street Tavern

115 First St., Clayton

919-780-2815, firststreettavern.com

Sandwich

Neal’s Deli

100 E. Main St., Suite C, Carrboro

919-967-2185, nealsdeli.com

Seafood

Saint James

806 W. Main St., Durham

984-219-7900, saintjamesseafood.com

Southern

Angie’s

1340 W. Garner Road, Garner

919-661-6707, angiesrestaurant.com

Steakhouse

Bin Fifty-Four

1201-M Raleigh Road, Chapel Hill

919-969-1155, bin54chapelhill.com

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A burger “all the way” from The Players Retreat in Raleigh is served with a 2003 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon. News & Observer File Photo - Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Thai

Thai @Main Street

317 W. Main St., Durham

919-219-7444, thaiatmainstnc.com

Turkish

Talulla’s

456 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill

919-933-1177, talullas.com

Vegetarian

The Fiction Kitchen

428 S. Dawson St., Raleigh

919-831-4177, thefictionkitchen.com

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Crispy fried “chicken” and waffles, topped with arugula and agave is a vegan pleaser at Fiction Kitchen in Raleigh. The restaurant is 100% vegetarian with a large and varied vegan menu. 2014 News & Observer File Photo - Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Vietnamese

Mekong

2121 T.W. Alexander Drive, Morrisville

919-251-8426, mekong-triangle.com

Wine Bar (serving food)

Vinos Finos

8450 Honeycutt Road, Suite 110, Raleigh

919-747-9233, vinosfinosypicadas.com

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