Over the course of 2018, I had a lot of great meals in the Triangle! Writing a food blog means I’m usually chasing down what’s new and what’s recently opened up for my best new restaurants of the year list. Looking back, I can say that it was a good year if not great (My Best New Restaurants of 2017 list is here). There seemed to be more quick-casual and more small, chain type restaurants but what can you do? We’ve had a good run of new restaurants in the Triangle and my guess is that things may be slowing down after several VERY busy years in the area.
But that’s not to say there weren’t some pleasant surprises for me! Restaurant openings continued through the end of the year resulting in some last minute changes on my ToEat list. It still took a lot for me to cut down a long list of contenders. But here you go, my Best New Restaurants and Bars of 2018!
Click on the restaurant name for a full review with details (if one is available)
When it comes to burgers in Chapel Hill, people usually think about Al’s Burger Shack but I think Hops Burger Bar is doing some seriously good beef! Based out of Greensboro, Hops Burger Bar brings fantastic craft beer along with creative, gourmet burgers. Their smallest burger starts at 6 oz. but beyond the heft of the burger, the quality is also there in the meat, toppings and bun. Love their weekly specials and interesting sides, do not miss Hops Burger Bar if you find yourself on Franklin Street sometime soon!
Hutchins Garage opened up quietly during the summer and you could tell from the get-go, the owners knew EXACTLY what they were doing. From the cool and hip, industrial interior design to the fantastic, thin-crust pizzas, Hutchins was rockin’ things out from the start. Don’t miss their fantastically crunchy Grandma pie, delectable margherita pizza or well-curated beer list. Another great dining option in Durham’s Warehouse District and affordable to boot. A pit-stop at Hutchins Garage is always a great idea in my book!
When it comes to Japanese food in Durham, look no further then Chef Mike Lee. His newest restaurant entry, M Tempura, is a foray into uncharted territory for the Triangle: a classic Japanese tempura restaurant. Fresh produce and proteins are battered and quickly deep-fried for your dining pleasure, a simple but fantastic preparation. It’s a luxurious dinner experience but Chef Mike has also added a simpler lunch service focused on katsu and sandwiches. Expect more and better from the new M Tempura in 2019, M Restaurants has had a great track record over the years!
Given that Raleigh waited over a year for the delayed Morgan Street Food Hall, you know for sure that we were ready for its opening in the summer of 2018! And thankfully, it did not disappoint when it finally did open, offering an array of very good eating options under one roof! Love CowBar Burger, Cousins of Maine Lobster, Sassool Mediterranean and Carroll’s Kitchen and now can enjoy them with a beer or glass of vino from the central bar. Add in the large covered patio and you’ve got yourself a great, new dining option full of mouth-watering choices in downtown Raleigh!
Best of 2018 – Pizza La Stella, Cary – Opened October 2018
One of my bigger surprises for the year is the new Pizza La Stella in Cary. While I was familiar with the original Pizza La Stella in Raleigh, a new chef and new attitude was infused into the new Cary location. A menu of simpler items that are more authentic seems to be the mantra now. Nosh on a light Neapolitan pizza with a tender crust or some rich tomato-seared meatballs in an iron skillet, Pizza La Stella is bringing the I into Italian food for me! Along with a muted but stylish decor, I’m feeling that Pizza La Stella Cary is in for a good run at this busy location off Kildaire Farms Road.
Given that Seoul 116 replaced one of my favorite restaurants (more) in 2018, I had some concerns about what this restaurant would be. But I’ll tell you what, Seoul 116 has totally won me over. With a menu of eclectic and modern Korean small plates, I’ve always had great meals here along with excellent service. Try the bulkogi or spicy pork sliders along with the Korean Fried Chicken and truffle corn with cheese. Paired with a glowing Capri Sun cocktail, Seoul 116 goes for an inventive and creative take on Asian eats! And for that, I am thankful for in 2018.
As the cocktail craze continues in the Triangle, it was only a matter of time before it hit Cary! And SideBar has really amped up expectations in downtown Cary with an amazing combination of ambiance, service and superb cocktails. Co-owner Matthew Bettinger (previously at C. Grace in Raleigh) has brought his mixology skills to a sophisticated bar that combines speak-easy sensibilities in a more modern and bright location. I don’t often make special trips to visit Cary but when I do, SideBar is usually in the mix for Sunday Funday!
Best of 2018 – Sushi Mon, Raleigh – Opened December 2018
A late edition to my best of 2018 list, I was blown away by the sleek decor and excellent sushi served up at this inconspicuous Hillsborough Street location. North Carolina sourced wood tables, polished granite wall installation and a live moss wall hanging make for a beautiful and wonderfully designed space to enjoy your dinner. But it all would not work out without the exceptional talent of Chef Tom offering up fresh fish on Sushi Mon’s nigiri along with some creative toppings. Love the delicious simplicity of the space and menu, don’t miss out on Sushi Mon if you’re a fan of Japanese eats in Raleigh!
Over on Wilmington Street, you’ll find the wonderful Tonbo Ramen! Built with a classic ramen house design, you’ll find them ladling out large bowls of steaming ramen downstairs while the upstairs offers up Japanese small plates (and ramen) in a sexier setting. I prefer eating upstairs where you can choose from tonkotsu ramen, mazemen (dry ramen), chicken karaage and shrimp buns. The food at Tonbo is always flavorful and affordable which makes it a hidden gem in my mind. There may be other spots for ramen, but not many doing it as well as Tonbo.
Last up on my best of 2018 list is Vita Vite Midtown over in North Hills! I love the design and space at this very modern wine bar and I think it takes the appeal of the original Vita Vite but broadens it to a wider audience. With two bars, stellar interior design and art, wrap-around views and a nice outdoor patio, Vita Vite Midtown is a wonderful spot for a date, glass of wine with friends or girls night out!
As it is every year, it was so hard to cut this Best of 2018 list down to ten finalists. So honorable mentions go out to Cha House in Chapel Hill; COPA, Cucciolo Osteria and the Wine Feed in Durham along with Heirloom Brewshop in Raleigh. While I thought this year’s list was a bit Raleigh-heavy, I’m hoping we get more from the Bull City in 2019; Boxcar Bar and Arcade is a great start! I’m also looking forward to Transfer Co. Food Hall filling out its vendor list along with great barbeque from Sam Jones in Raleigh, Kingfisher Lounge in Durham and the Cat Tales Cat Cafe in Chapel Hill. Keep up with the latest and greatest at my web pages below. I hope you enjoyed my best new restaurants and bars list for 2018 and I hope you’re as excited as I am about what 2019 will bring to the Triangle!