Food & Drink

We find the best Triangle restaurants for 2015

Aaron Benjamin’s restaurant, Gocciolina in Durham, is the Restaurant of the Year for 2015.
Aaron Benjamin’s restaurant, Gocciolina in Durham, is the Restaurant of the Year for 2015. jhknight@newsobserver.com

Every year, as I’m rereading old reviews and previous editions of my annual Best Restaurants roundup in preparation for this year’s list, it feels like I’m looking at old family photo albums. My, what a difference a few years make.

Back in the ’90s, the local dining scene was a precocious toddler with a handful of talented young chefs and a more diverse assortment of ethnic restaurants than other regions of comparable size.

The next decade saw the region’s early promise begin to be realized in a bigger way than anyone could have predicted. In 2000, one of those talented young chefs – Ben Barker of Magnolia Grill – won the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast, the culinary world’s equivalent to an Oscar.

Then came the adolescent years. The local landscape blossomed with new culinary talent – both homegrown and, as word got out about our burgeoning dining scene, from all over the world. By 2011, the Triangle had racked up three more Beard Awards: Karen Barker of Magnolia Grill for America’s Outstanding Pastry Chef; Crook’s Corner for American Classic; and Andrea Reusing of Lantern for Best Chef in the Southeast.

Last year, Ashley Christensen, owner-chef of Poole’s Downtown Diner, brought home the region’s third Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast. In addition to being richly deserved (Poole’s is the flagship of a small empire of Christensen eating and drinking establishments, all of them first-rate), the award is a fitting recognition of Raleigh’s coming of age as an equal gastronomic partner with Durham and Chapel Hill.

In fact, I think it’s safe to say that the region as a whole has matured into adulthood. That’s not to say that the Triangle’s potential is fully realized. We’re not yet as elegant as Cousin Charleston in South Carolina, or as worldly as Auntie New Orleans. And we’re certainly not in the same league with the granddaddy of them all, New York. But when it comes time to select a birthday cake for our region’s symbolic 21 candles, we can now choose from a tantalizingly broad spectrum of options, from the corner bakery’s pig pickin’ cake to world-class pastry from a French patisserie.

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

RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR

Gocciolina

3314 Guess Road, Durham

919-973-4089

gocciolina.com

Cuisine: Italian

Prior to opening Gocciolina in June of last year, Aaron Benjamin worked for more than a decade in downtown Durham restaurants. Cooking in these restaurants, including the estimable Rue Cler and Pizzeria Toro, Benjamin was part of a downtown revival that transformed the district into one of the hottest nightlife destinations in the Triangle. As the talented chef began to think about opening his first restaurant, a downtown Durham location had to look like a can’t-miss proposition.

It took a lot of courage, then, to open Gocciolina in a nondescript strip mall in northern Durham, an area known to foodies for taquerias and little else. Benjamin had to have faith that people would seek out a little place that served authentic Italian fare (he spent a year honing his skills at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in northern Italy) in a compact, trattoria-casual setting. A place whose sign, I might add, is nearly impossible to see from the road.

Clearly, judging by a dining room that’s frequently (and on weekends, invariably) full, they’ve found it. After they’ve dined on Gocciolina’s house-made pastas (carbonara is the real deal here), charcuterie, and other temptations ranging from grilled N.C. black drum with chanterelles and wilted romaine to crispy fried eggplant with roasted beet and Gorgonzola, no doubt many become regulars. With every repeat visit, it grows more obvious that nothing should be overlooked here, from blackboard specials to a la carte sides featuring local produce to desserts.

Turns out Aaron Benjamin knew what he was doing after all. People in northern Durham have been effusive in expressing their gratitude at finally having a top-notch restaurant on their home turf. And from the looks of things, denizens of downtown – and beyond, for that matter – are finding Gocciolina well worth seeking out.

Gold Medal

An

2800 Renaissance Park Place, Cary

919-677-9229

ancuisines.com

Cuisine: contemporary Asian

Fearrington House

2000 Fearrington Village Center, Pittsboro

919-542-2121

fearringtonhouse.com

Cuisine: contemporary

Herons

100 Woodland Pond, in the Umstead Hotel & Spa, Cary

919-447-4000

theumstead.com

Cuisine: contemporary

Lantern

423 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill

919-969-8846

lanternrestaurant.com

Cuisine: Asian

Mateo

109 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham

919-530-8700

mateotapas.com

Cuisine: Spanish (tapas)

Nana’s

2514 University Drive, Durham

919-493-8545

nanasdurham.com

Cuisine: contemporary Mediterranean

One

100 Meadowmont Village Circle, Chapel Hill

919-537-8207

one-restaurant.com

Cuisine: contemporary

Panciuto

110 S. Churton St., Hillsborough

919-732-6261

panciuto.com

Cuisine: contemporary Italian

Poole’s Downtown Diner

426 S. McDowell St., Raleigh

919-832-4477

poolesdowntowndiner.com

Cuisine: American bistro

Yamazushi

4711 Hope Valley Road, Durham

919-493-7748

yamazushirestaurant.com

Cuisine: Japanese

Silver Medal

18 Seaboard

18-100 Seaboard Ave., Raleigh

919-861-4318

18seaboard.com

Cuisine: contemporary Southern, grill

Angus Barn

9401 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh

919-781-2444

angusbarn.com

Cuisine: steakhouse

Bida Manda

222 S. Blount St., Raleigh

919-829-9999

bidamanda.com

Cuisine: Laotian

Bleu Olive

1821 Hillandale Road, Durham

919-383-8502

bleuolivebistro.com

Cuisine: contemporary Mediterranean

Bloomsbury Bistro

509-101 West Whitaker Mill Road, Raleigh

919-834-9011

bloomsburybistro.com

Cuisine: contemporary

Bruno

11211 Galleria Ave., Raleigh

919-435-6640

brunoraleigh.com

Cuisine: steaks, seafood, Italian

bu.ku

110 E. Davie St., Raleigh

919-834-6963

bukuraleigh.com

Cuisine: global street food

Coquette

4351 The Circle at North Hills, Raleigh

919-789-0606

coquetteraleigh.com

Cuisine: French

Elaine’s on Franklin

454 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill

919-960-2770

elainesonfranklin.com

Cuisine: contemporary

Fairview

3001 Cameron Blvd., in the Washington Duke Inn, Durham

919-490-0999

washingtondukeinn.com

Cuisine: contemporary

Four Square

2701 Chapel Hill Road, Durham

919-401-9877

foursquarerestaurant.com

Cuisine: contemporary

Glenwood Grill

2603 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh

919-782-3102

glenwoodgrill.com

Cuisine: contemporary Southern

Guglhupf

2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham

919-401-2600

guglhupf.com

Cuisine: German

Il Palio

1505 E. Franklin St., in the Siena Hotel, Chapel Hill

919-929-4000

sienahotel.com

Cuisine: Italian

Kitchen

764 Martin Luther King Blvd., Chapel Hill

919-537-8167

kitchenchapelhill.com

Cuisine: French, contemporary

Little Hen

5160 Sunset Lake Road, Apex

919-363-0000

littlehennc.com

Cuisine: American

Mandolin

2519 Fairview Road, Raleigh

919-322-0365

mandolinraleigh.com

Cuisine: contemporary Southern

Margaux’s

8111-111 Creedmoor Road, in Brennan Station, Raleigh

919-846-9846

margauxsrestaurant.com

Cuisine: contemporary, seafood

Oakleaf

480 Hillsboro St., Pittsboro

919-533-6303

oakleafnc.com

Cuisine: contemporary

Piedmont

401-B2 Foster St., Durham

919-683-1213

piedmontrestaurant.com

Cuisine: contemporary

Saint Jacques

6112 Falls of Neuse Road, Raleigh

919-862-2770

saintjacquesfrenchcuisine.com

Cuisine: French

Second Empire

330 Hillsborough St., Raleigh

919-829-3663

second-empire.com

Cuisine: contemporary

Stanbury

938 N. Blount St., Raleigh

919-977-4321

stanburyraleigh.com

Cuisine: contemporary

Vivace

4209-115 Lassiter Mill Road, in The Alexan, Raleigh

919-787-7747

vivaceraleigh.com

Cuisine: Italian

Watts Grocery

1116 Broad St., Durham

919-416-5040

wattsgrocery.com

Cuisine: contemporary Southern

Best In Class

(by Cuisine)

African

Queen of Sheba

1129-O Weaver Dairy Road, Chapel Hill

919-932-4986

queenofshebachapelhill.com

Bakery

La Farm Bakery

4248 NW Cary Parkway, Cary

919-657-0657

lafarmbakery.com

Barbecue

Hillsborough BBQ Company

236 S. Nash St., Hillsborough

919-732-4647

hillsboroughbbq.com

Burger

Chuck’s

237 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh

919-322-0126

ac-restaurants.com/chucks

Cajun/creole

Battistella’s

200 E. Martin St., Raleigh

919-803-2501

battistellas.com

Caribbean

Gregoria’s Cuban Steakhouse

2701 Hillsborough Road, Durham

919-973-2717

gregoriassteakhouse.com

Central/South American

Machu Picchu

4500-100 Falls of Neuse Road, Raleigh

919-526-7378

machupicchuperuviancuisine.com

Chinese (Szechwan)

Gourmet Kingdom

301 E. Main St., Carrboro

919-932-7222

thegourmetkingdom.com

Chinese (Taiwanese)

Taipei Café

9825-G Chapel Hill Road, Morrisville

919-380-8568

taipei-cafe.com

Coffeehouse/Cafe

Joule Coffee

223 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh

919-424-7422

ac-restaurants.com/joule

Deli

Neal’s Deli

100-C E. Main St., Carrboro

919-967-2185

nealsdeli.com

French

Vin Rouge

2010 Hillsborough Road, Durham

919-416-0466

vinrougerestaurant.com

Fusion

Jose and Sons

327-102 W. Davie St., Raleigh

919-755-0556

joseandsons.com

Cuisine: Mexican-Southern fusion

German/Central European

J. Betski’s

10-120 W. Franklin St., Raleigh

919-833-7999

jbetskis.com

Greek

Kipos

431 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill

919-425-0760

kiposgreektaverna.com

Indian

CholaNad

308 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill

800-246-5262

cholanad.com

Irish Pub

Doherty’s

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

919-388-9930 (Cary); 919-387-4100 (Apex)

dohertysirishpubnc.com

Italian

Gravy

135 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh

919-896-8513

gravyraleigh.com

Japanese

Waraji

5910 Duraleigh Road, Raleigh

919-783-1883

warajijapaneserestaurant.com

Korean

Seoul Garden

4701 Atlantic Ave., Raleigh

919-850-9984

Mexican (Contemporary)

Dos Perros

200 N. Mangum St., Durham

919-956-2750

dosperrosrestaurant.com

Mexican (Traditional)

Centro

106 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh

919-835-3593

centroraleigh.com

Middle Eastern

Sitti

137 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh

919-239-4070

sitti-raleigh.com

Pastry Shop

lucettegrace

235 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh

919-307-4950

lucettegrace.com

Pizza

Pizzeria Toro

105 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham

919-908-6936

pizzeriatoro.com

Seafood

Blu Seafood & Bar

2002 Hillsborough Road, Durham

919-286-9777

bluseafoodandbar.com

Southern

Crook’s Corner

610 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill

919-929-7643

crookscorner.com

Steakhouse

Bin 54

1201-M Raleigh Road, Chapel Hill

919-969-1155

bin54restaurant.com

Tapas

Mateo

109 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham

919-530-8700

mateotapas.com

Thai

Sawasdee

Two Raleigh locations: 6204 Glenwood Ave., 3601-107 Capital Blvd.

919-781-7599 (Glenwood Ave.); 919-878-0049 (Capital Blvd.)

sawasdeeraleigh.com

Vegetarian

The Fiction Kitchen

428 S. Dawson St., Raleigh

919-831-4177

thefictionkitchen.com

Vietnamese

Taste Vietnamese Cuisine

152 Morrisville Square Way, Morrisville

919-234-6385

facebook.com/taste.v.cuisine

Best New Restaurants

Banana Leaf

1026 Ryan Road, Cary

919-468-9958

bananaleafcary.com

Cuisine: pan-Asian (Cantonese specialty)

The Black House

5420 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham

919-403-2233

strawvalleyfoodanddrink.com

Cuisine: contemporary

Garland

14 W. Martin St., Raleigh

919-833-6886

garlandraleigh.com

Cuisine: Indian, Asian, contemporary

Gocciolina

3314 Guess Road, Durham

919-973-4089

gocciolina.com

Cuisine: Italian

Harvest 18

8128-114 Renaissance Parkway, Durham

919-316-1818

harvest18restaurant.com

Cuisine: contemporary

Plates

301 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh

919-828-0018

plateskitchen.com

Cuisine: contemporary

Pompieri Pizza

102 City Hall Plaza, Durham

919-973-1589

pompieripizza.com

Cuisine: pizzeria

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