Looking back at 2019, I can say that it’s been a VERY busy year. With a lot of restaurant openings in November and December, it took a bit of time to squeeze in the visits necessary to pick this year’s list. I tracked over 60 restaurants and bars over the course of 2019 to come up with this final list of 12 newcomers that I think will have long-term success and popularity in the Triangle. So without further adieu, my Best New Restaurants and Bars for 2019, thanks for your patience!
Click on the restaurant name for a full review with details (if one is available)
When the Dillon building first opened up in Raleigh, I was expecting some over-priced, froofy options here but thankfully, that hasn’t been the case. Barcelona Wine Bar is a top-notch tapas restaurant that manages to keep prices reasonable even given its prime, corner real estate. While the menu changes pretty regularly, you can’t go wrong with the jamon croquetas, patatas brava or steak options. The addition of brunch makes Barcelona Wine Bar even better and it has quickly become a Go To restaurant in Raleigh when I want an excellent meal.
While I’ve always been a huge fan of Boxcar in Raleigh, I have to say that Boxcar Durham has really upped the arcade-bar game. With a much larger space, gravel patio near the old Durham Bulls baseball park and pizza, it’s an upgrade across the board for entertainment, location and food. The ability to wander around with a bit more space makes a huge difference in terms of comfort for customers. And a great mix of old-school arcade games, modern games and classic pinball tables means there’s something for everyone. So kudos, Boxcar Durham! They seem to be getting better with age with location #3.
Best of 2019 – Hawthorne & Wood – Opened April 2019
This quiet little restaurant opened up just outside of downtown Chapel Hill and it’s doing a lot of things right. While the dining room is more traditional, offering up space between the tables and a quieter ambiance, the menu is quite inventive and takes some chances with favorites like the General Tso’s cauliflower and their popular 2 x 2 burger. A comfortable dining space with great service makes Hawthorne & Wood a hip neighborhood restaurant that uplifts American seasonal cuisine while still keeping things approachable.
You know the food scene in the Triangle is getting some recognition when we start getting chefs moving into the area to cook. And Chef Katsuji Tanabe of Top Chef fame has done just that in 2019, opening up the lively High Horse in City Market, late in the year. Its hip and sexy space is accentuated by crackling wood fires in the back, serving up some delicious grilled eats. And there’s a lot of creativity here in the desserts, such as the Chosen One served up with unicorn farts (cotton candy). The High Horse is definitely doing things differently and worth a visit wherever you live in the Triangle.
Best of 2019 – Jolie – Opened August 2019
Chef Scott Crawford has been on a bit of roll lately, opening up Jolie in homage to his daughter, next to his well-acclaimed Crawford and Son restaurant. Serving up elegant French bistro fare, a seat at Jolie can be tough so certainly take advantage of the seating at the bar and up on the patio. While a surprise thunderstorm interrupted my visit, the care and attention put into the gougeres pastries and seared beef cheeks make me confident of putting Jolie on my list of Best 2019 restaurants after just one visit. I’m already looking forward to see what he can do in his upcoming steakhouse planned for the Fenton development in Cary.
Best of 2019 – Kingfisher Bar – Opened July 2019
While Durham is a lot smaller than Raleigh, it typically punches above its weight class on the foodie scene. The Kingfisher Bar is Durham’s first underground speak-easy and offers up some great fruit-forward cocktails but ups the game with exquisite porcelainware and private rooms. This cool spot underneath the Durham hotel is a fun getaway from the hustle and bustle of downtown Durham to imbibe in some top-notch cocktails along with some small snacks.
Best of 2019 – Ko*an – Opened November 2019
It’s great to see the old An space updated and re-opened as the new pan-Asian Ko*an restaurant. While the spelling may be bit confusing, the upscale and prodigious space inside has been simply transformed into a zen-like space offering up tweaked Asian-fusion cuisine that maintains traditional flavors. While the menu is quite pricey, I see Ko*an as a good option for business meetings and special celebrations. Look forward to trying the omakase (chef’s choice) menu sometime soon.
Sometimes as good as a place is, I wish it were further away from me to keep my waistline down and Layered Croissanterie falls into that category. Its stellar croissants and croissant-based pastries are some of the best I’ve ever had and their creative flavors are constantly pulling me back in. While the space is simply decorated and casual, you can do breakfast or lunch here with sweet or savory pastries. The fact that it’s so close to home just kills me and I’m guessing the patrons of the pilates studio next door would agree!
I’ve always been a huge fan of Chef Mike Lee’s restaurants and M Pocha is no different. What I really like is the broader pan-Asian options he’s bringing to the menu offering up many delicious options to diners. While seating here is limited and mostly communal, it’s a delicious concept that’s affordably priced for the Bull City. Must do’s are the nasi goreng, meat plate and bacon dumplings, common dishes that have been elevated at M Pocha.
Poole’side Pies was one of the more highly acclaimed new restaurants for 2019 given Chef Ashley Christensen’s culinary pedigree. And while I was blown away by the decor and design inside, as a pizza aficionado I was concerned about the pizza crust during my first visit. But I think adjustments have been made and the pizza while untraditional for Neapolitan-style pies, is quite good. You’ll get the usual excellent eats and service here at Poole’side but pay a bit more for the ambiance and location in downtown Raleigh. Curious to see what additions are made on the menu for 2020.
While North Hills is usually not an area I hang out in as a food lover, the new Rosewater Kitchen + Bar has slowly convinced me to make the trek over. Offering up interesting Continental small plates and great service, the two dining areas each have a very different feel but great ambiance overall. Cozy French cafe on one side with a garden setting in the other, you’ll get some phenomenal food regardless of which area you’re sitting in. From roasted meats to mac n cheese and baked French toast, there are plenty of menu options to keep you happy. An impressive first offering in Raleigh from the Durham-based Giorgios restaurant group!
While a lot of attention is paid to Morgan Street Food Hall, I usually prefer dining at Transfer Co. Food Hall given its more local (less touristy) feel. While Transfer Co. may have opened up in 2018, the space was finally fully filled out with vendors in 2019 including great options like Burial Beer, Dank Burritos and Alimentari on the Left Bank. There’s definitely a lot of great dining choices at Transfer Co. including anchor tenant, Locals Seafood which mans the popular beer bar in the center. Looking forward to what Longleaf Swine brings to the foodie game here at Transfer Co. in 2020.
Wrapping up the year, honorable mentions go out to Apero, Coronato Pizza, and Union Special for their openings this year! Love what you’re doing and where you’re going, I had some tough decisions to make. I’m looking forward to 2020, and while we know there’s certainly going to be a lot of NC barbeque coming to the area, I imagine there will be quite a few new restaurants in work-live developments under construction in Raleigh. I’m also hoping that there will be some more restaurant activity in the Bull City but am concerned that Raleigh may see some turbulence given its rapid growth in 2018 and 2019. But we shall see! I don’t have a real crystal ball and will try to keep up with all the deliciousness coming to the Triangle in 2020 so let’s wait and see, peace out gentle readers!