Over on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, you’ll find it usually teaming with NC State students along with a smattering of cheap eats type restaurants, great for a student’s budget. And every now and then you’ll find better restaurants such as the old H-Street Kitchen. But even with all this foot traffic, keeping a restaurant open in this neighborhood can be tough going so when I saw the “Closed for Renovations” sign at H-Street, you get alarm bells ringing in your head. And no surprise but H-Street Kitchen was to be no more and instead, a new concept, La Stella Wood Fired would be taking its place. As sister restaurant to Pizza La Stella, La Stella Wood-Fired is taking those some great pizza ovens but going for a more expansive menu tuned for the Raleigh crowd. And a recent media visit to this new restaurant and gastropub was pretty impressive leaving me optimistic about the future of food on Hillsborough Street. La Stella Wood Fired is one of the best restaurant options for the NC State crowd, here’s what to expect if you visit!
Head on to 2401 Hillsborough Street and La Stella Wood Fired will be easy to spot, just look for the large white movie marquee! Inside, the space hasn’t changed drastically from before but it is improved. There are a handful of additional televisions mounted overhead for the big game and the upstairs has been opened up. There are no longer any private rooms, the second floor works now as a lounge area with stuffed chairs and two small patios, very nice. Two beautiful red wood-fired ovens take center-stage in the open kitchen. La Stella Wood Fired’s goal is to produce their entire menu from those ovens so they are certainly the stars of the kitchen.
Our small group is seated at a long communal table by the kitchen so we get a great look at these crimson, bad-boys! We meet up with owner Rudy Theale, Chef Matt Kepp and manager, Travis before we get the preview started. The menu for tonight covers a broad array of delicious eats from that oven ranging from wings, mac n cheese, pizza, fish, short rib and even dessert! We’re started off with some tri-colored nachos covered in melty cheddar queso, jalapenos and crema. Smoked chicken adds a bit more savory to this tasty starter!
Next up are some delicious oven-roasted wings ranging from Jamaican Me Crazy (Jerk), Calabrian Ginger and Mexi-Madness (with corn). I was pretty pressed with all three, they all displayed a bit of char while still keeping the meat, tender and succulent. Chef Matt definitely likes to play with his food in a good way and keeps things pretty creative with his flavor combinations. He definitely has an interest in some Tex-Mex spiciness for the menu.
As we’re finishing up the wings, three bubbling hot cast-iron skillets are brought to the table showcasing La Stella Wood Fired’s mac n cheese and pimiento pub fries! A perfect use of that super, hot 800+ degree oven, the mac n cheese is beautifully browned and looks so tempting. The piggie mac is covered in cheddar and parmesan cheese along with some bacon and bread crumbs, yum! And the classic pimento mac n cheese has a beautiful crust, digging in you uncover creamy cheesy pasta and more.
We move on the meats and fish, Chef Matt treats us with some roasted short rib and trout fresh out of the oven. I’m a huge fan of the sinewy, beefy short rib! It’s soft but nicely seared for some chewy texture and shows off some char from the oven. Paired with some lovely fire-kissed brussels sprouts (honey-mustard) and you’ve got yourself a meal. I also sneak a bite of the bourbon butter pork chop which is tender and perfectly cooked.
I’m pretty much ready to tap out at this point but owner Rudy is a wonderful host and now we’re getting a preview of La Stella Wood Fired’s pizzas and puccia (sandwiches). The Bianco, Picante Elote and Hottie Hawaiian all show of nicely charred crusts and delicious toppings. La Stella Wood Fired does a thinner crust pizza with non-traditional toppings but they are well put together. And the puccia sandwiches look really interesting but I’m pretty much stuffed to the gills at this point to try them.
But of course, who can resist a sweet and happy ending? Our meal finishes with the Smores and Brownie Explosion desserts, skillet cookie sundaes. Nicely done and your sweet tooth will thank you if you order these desserts for your dinner! I’m only able to take a couple of bites to taste these desserts but enjoy it immensely. It’s hard to beat warm brownie and cookie topped with soft, cool ice cream eh?
Our group is pretty much ready to pass out in a food coma on the spot but a huge thanks to Rudy and Chef Matt for hosting this expansive and wonderful preview meal. I’m pretty impressed with what they’re doing here at La Stella Wood Fired. They are definitely stretching the capabilities of those Italian wood-fired ovens and putting out some excellent and satisfying food for the NC State and Raleigh crowd. And everything is quite reasonably priced in the $6 to $15 range for all this tastiness. So if you’re in the hood or a student at State, don’t miss out on La Stella Wood Fired! They’ve got some delicious eats and a beautiful space, perfect for catching the big game or a casual meal with friends. Just make sure your parents pick up the tab… 🙂
2420 Hillsborough Street
Raleigh, NC 27607