If you've read NC Triangle Dining for any length of time, some of you might be thinking: "Great he likes this place but looks like this guy eats and likes EVERY-thing"! Which is partially but not entirely true, I'm actually a bit picky about my restaurant favorites. I do like most of the places I dine at and totally respect restauranteurs. And when I'm trying out a new restaurant, it's typically based on recommendations by friends, online reviews and local buzz. So admittedly, my opinions skew to the positive side of things because that's the way I roll and yes, I don't like wasting my money. That being said, I have to confess to not liking a handful of popular Triangle restaurants, mea culpa.
Five Star is a tough one for me, there are some really decent things about the place. Find their discrete entry-way, push open the heavy wooden door and voila! Love the multi-level space and stylish decor, perfect spot for a first date. Great lounge space, bar and their service is solid. Prices at Five Star are pretty reasonable and portion sizes decent. So what's not to like? Well to be honest with you, the food.
I've eaten at Five Star several times and try to give it a chance. Tried everything from the heatseeker shrimp, sesame beef, scallion pancakes and spring rolls. The sesame beef seemed to be mostly coating and the scallion pancakes? Way too dry and floury. Everything I've eaten seems overly sweet, battered and totally Americanized. My overall take is that I'd prefer PF Chang's to Five Star and I really don't think much of PF Changs. In the end, I think you should eat whatever you like but Five Star doesn't come close to five stars for me, it would be lucky to get two. And yet I know many in the area adore Five Star. Love the space, love the concept but yeah, the food just falls really short. But you know what? I'm sure I'll give 'em another try sometime soon...
Another Raleigh classic is Irregardless Cafe over on Morgan Street. Several people recommended this place to me when I first moved in the area so I had high expectations. What started out as a vegetarian restaurant has become more of a mixed bag of cuisines with a focus on local and sustainable. Again, I've eaten here several times and never been really impressed. Chicken marsala, ok. Shrimp and grits, ok. And I know they use great ingredients and are an institution but still... My experience has been that the entrees have always been a bit uninteresting, lacking in flavor and poorly presented, not a good combo.
Between the location, decor and mixed service, I really can't see paying the $18 - $24 price for entrees. But if you're a vegetarian, Irregardless might be a decent dining spot.
In a perfect world, Irregardless Cafe would morph into a restaurant more akin to Watts Grocery in Durham but I'm not holding my breath. The challenge with being a local institution is that it's so hard to evolve and improve when your customer's expect a certain experience and menu. Unfortunately Irregardless Cafe falls into the really middling category for me. However at their prices, I can't really recommend them. Too many better choices out there, my friend.
I really hate being disappointed with my dining dollars so even if I'm stepping into a restaurant for the first time, I've typically done my research. And when I go out to eat, I try to order food that I can't cook at home. As a decent home chef, who wants to order up a meal I could whip up myself?! Which is why I love my pizza, slow-smoked ribs, and fried goodies when I go out. And if you can't beat what I could cook at home, why should I bother?
NC Triangle Dining is about getting the most for your dining dollar. And while Five Star and Irregardless Cafe are not bad restaurants, I typically find them lacking and wouldn't really bother unless someone asked me to go. Because in the end, I'm all about the food and want you to be happy and full of bon appetit! But I'm still hoping these Raleigh favorites can pick up their foodie game, I'm not ready to give up on you yet...
511 W. Hargett Street
Raleigh, NC 27603
901 W. Morgan Street
Raleigh, NC 27603