The new Raleigh Convention Center and Downtown Raleigh Amphitheater are two key pieces for the revitalization of the downtown area. Add in Broadway theater and shows at the Progress Energy Center-Raleigh Memorial Auditorium and you've got a lot of people in the hood. Located just south of City Plaza, it's a busy area that unfortunately, doesn't have a lot of restaurant or dining options probably due to zoning limitations. Thankfully with all the fun events happening at City Plaza (Hopscotch, SparkCon), restaurants are starting to pop up within walking distance of all of the above. So where to go to eat if you don't want to do McDonalds or a hotdog cart? Well my friend, just hoof it a couple of blocks further and you'll have some great, higher end options that are off the tourist path? From simple to fancy, downtown Raleigh has got you covered!
On the pricey end of the spectrum, head over to Wilmington Street to find Ashley Christensen's acclaimed Poole's Diner! Known for it's seasonal Southern Fare, Poole's takes classic Southern comfort food and puts it on its ear. From the moment you step in and ingest the quirky horseshoe shaped bar, hipster staff and cocktail menu, you realize it's something special. There's no online menu, just a chalkboard with some of the freshest food around. I've been here for brunch and dinner and tried everything from an amazing mac n cheese au gratin, to slow-cooked Berkshire pork. Preparation is everything at Poole's and everything she puts out is tasty. The one drawback is that due to Poole's popularity, they don't take reservations and have only one dinner seating. Plan accordingly.
Moving over to Fayetteville Street, you'll find some excellent restaurants managed by the Echelon Group. Sono is a chic sushi restaurant decked out in crimson and black. With the stylish decor you know you're not in for a traditional Japanese experience but that's fine because their sushi is pretty darn good. With rolls with names like Screaming O and G-Spot, it's got a sexy rep to live up to. And Sono dishes fresh and interesting non-sushi entrees and appetizers too. I was fortunate to attend one of their Chef's dinners a while back and what an AMAZING experience! Read about it here...
Right next door to Sono is the sister restaurant, the Oxford Gastropub. But the Oxford does pub food, plus! We're talking classics like bangers and mash, fish and chips, and shrimp and grits. Inside the decor is hip and stylish, British with a large Union Jack flag on one dining room, light canopy in another. Beautiful long L-shaped bar for a cocktail or beer. This ain't your daddy's English pub! And the food? Really solid stuff, nothing mind-bending but I've done an excellent short-rib sandwich and prime rib here. The Oxford also does Chef's dinners from time to time which can be fun. Definitely a nice stop and change of pace if you're looking for something basic but in a stylish atmosphere.
Buku is another nice choice for a civilized meal. While the dining room can be a bit formal, I really enjoy their lounge and patio. The bar is long and elegant with a lovely water wall behind it. And right outside the lounge is a large covered patio which is just off of Wilmington Street enough to keep things a bit quiet. The menu is a broad swath of global street food and while some have complained about the hit or miss quality of the dishes, I think there are more hits than misses. Another great upscale choice, my full review is here.
And don't forget some other restaurants I've reviewed: Chuck's for their gourmet burgers,Beasley's for their fried chicken and honey,Bida Manda for Laotian and the wonderful Spize Cafe for their casual take on Pan-Asian fare (Thai-Vietnamese). All are within 5 blocks of City Plaza and worth the effort. Overall while I'm sure the catering is decent at the Convention Center, if you've got an expense account or are visiting for a show, there are lots of options in the core of downtown Raleigh for great eats! Or if you're at the Raleigh Amphitheater for music, City Plaza for Winterfest, the Progress Energy Center for a show, take some extra time to find a good meal. And I guarantee you it's worth the walk and effort, bon appetit!