It’s hard to believe that restaurants and the hospitality business were able to get through two years of the pandemic, starting in 2020. But smart thinking and survival instincts kicked in leading to more outdoor dining, menus on QR codes, drinks to go, and a heckuva lot of delivery and pre-made meals for home dining. Thankfully in 2021, we got a slight reprieve even as we continued to battle omicron. There’s light at the end of the tunnel and thankfully, restaurant construction and openings slowly picked up as the year continued on. Most of the new restaurant action was in Raleigh and Cary while things were quieter in the Bull City and Chapel Hill.
Last year (Looking back at 2020) I chose not to do a Best New Restaurants of the Year wrap-up given the harsh conditions they all endured, there really wasn’t cause to celebrate. But this year was a bit of a different story and fingers crossed for 2022! Over the past twelve months, there were quite a few new restaurants in Raleigh, Durham, Cary, and Chapel Hill that opened up and I was able to try out. So without further adieu, my Best New Restaurants of the Triangle, 2021 edition! I’ve tried to pick a good selection across the area and across price ranges. Because I’ve always believed that great food isn’t always about how much you spend.
The list below is in alphabetical order, click on the business name for a review or their website. Click on the address for a Google map. And a big congratulations to these brave restaurants, bars, and owners who launched their business in one of the most difficult years for the hospitality industry.
A funky and cool new bar tucked away in Glenwood South that is serving up some great tiki drinks! From frozen cocktails to daiquiris, pina coladas, and more, Ark Royal brings a bright and colorful flavor to the bar scene in the neighborhood. Great for a date or meeting up with friends, I’m not sure how crazy it can get on weekend evenings but it’s a great meeting spot during quieter times.
This new bar and lounge from the Hibernian Hospitality Group offers up a wonderful range of options if you’re in the Glenwood South area with friends. Hang out in the luxurious lounge, relaxing on stuffed sofas and seating, or grab a drink in their open courtyard and patio. Order up some quirky, small plates to soak up the alcohol or head on upstairs to check out their Highgarden rooftop lounge. While Botanical Lounge is certainly not without faults, it does a lot right and raises up the lounge game for the area by covering a lot of entertainment options.
The second location for the Cucciolo restaurant family, Cucciolo Terrazza amps up its Italian food game with a stellar location in North Hills, modern decor, and sublime Italian cuisine. Don’t miss their crab agnolotti or butter chicken, two simple and classic Italian dishes. Enjoy your meal at the modern bar or in the upscale dining room, it’s a beautiful space that’s great for parties and dates.
When it comes to pizza, Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn is usually considered one of the best in the country. And Di Fara Pizza Tavern (a family offshoot of the original) is doing a pie that’s pretty close in deliciousness! The difference here is that you won’t have to wait in line for 3 hours (which I’ve done in Brooklyn) and can enjoy a great craft beer with your pizza. While pricey, Di Fara Pizza Tavern may be doing the best pizza in the Triangle right now. Enjoy a whole pie vs. a slice so you can get the freshest pie, right out of the oven.
Yes, it’s way too nice to really be called a “dive bar” but Hank’s is still doing a lot of things well for downtown Cary! This modern take on a casual bar with a short food menu gives you lots of choices to kill an hour or two. From tacos to fried chicken, you can grab a cocktail or dinner at the bar, in their greenhouse lounge, or out on the sunken patio, a very cool space. And right next to Di Fara Pizza Tavern and Taipei 101 if you’re in the mood!
If you like sandwiches and hoagies, you’re going to LOVE the new Ideal’s Delicatessen in East Durham. This sandwich shop bakes its own breads (seeded rolls, focaccia, and English muffins) and serves up some great sandwiches from up north like a roast pork hoagie, cheesesteak, and much more. Just try to come early or expect a wait for this popular spot. Ideal’s should be adding a retail-grocery area very soon, can’t wait to see what they stock.
Another great, new Italian dining option in the Triangle, Osteria Georgi brought to you by Giorgio’s Hospitality group brings a more rustic and upscale sensibility to the scene. A lush and plush garden environment is the setting for great hand-made pastas and Italian classics such as shrimp scampi, risotto, bistecca, and much more. Osteria Georgi is a relaxed and higher end dining experience, perfect for special occasions and dates.
From the culinary mind of Lula’s and Fins, Chef William D’Auvray is bringing a new style of pan-Asian eats to RTP and S. Durham. Lulu Bang Bang is a modern dining room offering an expansive menu of classic dishes that have been twisted a bit for modern palates. Try out their shrimp toast, tom kha goong, and pad thai. The menu flavors run across Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and more offered in a clean, open dining space with pops of color throughout. Great for a business meal or family gathering.
The urban outpost for great, Eastern NC barbecue is finally here in Raleigh! Sam Jones of Skylight Inn barbecue royalty has landed in the Oak City and is serving up some of the best smoked pork and Southern sides in the area. Enjoy your meal in their casual dining room with a craft beer or head on out to the family-friendly patio area outside. A great spot for some delectable smoked meats before events in downtown Raleigh and at Red Hat Amphitheater.
The first East coast location of the popular Torchy’s Tacos has chosen Midtown East as its new home! Enjoy flavor-filled Tex-Mex tacos and more at this bright and bold eatery along with some damn good queso. Torchy’s does tacos in a BIG way, offering up tortillas that are stuffed with fillings and topped with powerful sauces. One or two should definitely fill you up along with some chips or maybe their street corn. Torchy’s also offers up some beer and cocktails along with a side patio if you want fresh air with your meal.
So congratulations to those who made the best new restaurants of 2021! Honorable mentions go out to Bongiorno & Son, The Merchant, Cape Fear Seafood at the Village District, Flip Side Donuts, Queeny’s, and Press Coffee, Cocktails & Crepes.
Looking forward to 2022, there’s definitely a lot on the horizon. I’m looking forward to both CowBar and the Redneck BBQ Lab opening up in North Hills. Or how about J Betski’s, Part Deux (JB’s) opening up at High Park? And I can’t wait to see Krill, Seraphine, and Emmy Squared in Durham. Along with Bluebird for French food out in Chapel Hill. Overall, the bar has been raised for all the new restaurants in the Triangle over the past year and I’m really excited to see what happens next in 2022! Because fo sho, it can’t be any more difficult than what we experienced in 2020 and 2021, bon appetit!
To keep up with all the new restaurant activity, bookmark my Coming Soon to the Triangle – New Restaurants and Bars page which will be updated throughout the year.