Readers, you voted, and unlike some elections in North Carolina, your ballots even counted. The INDY's annual Best of the Triangle edition is one of the most anticipated issues of the year. Days are made. Expectations are raised. Dreams are dashed. Sorry.
This year, our staff writers and editors selected a few categories in which we are expert—which explains the numerous drinking ones—and wrote about our favorites. Sometimes our go-tos are the same as the readers' picks (or close); in other instances, we offer an informed counterpoint. For example, I'm glad you like your dentist, but mine, Dr. James Pyle in Durham, has such a good sense of humor, you laugh without the gas.
Here in the editorial department, we have it easy, waxing poetic about beer and biscuits, tattoos and congris, records and antiques (no, they are not the same.) Meanwhile, the INDY's advertising and business departments do the heavy lifting. They run the Best of contest—writing the ballots, verifying the votes, planning the parties and delivering the lovely plaques to the winners.
Speaking of parties, celebrate all the best parts of living in the Triangle at our two shindigs: The first is Saturday, June 6, at Person Street Bar, 805 N. Person St., Raleigh; the second happens Saturday, June 20, at Motorco, 723 Rigsbee Ave., Durham.
Congratulations to the winners and finalists, but don't sit on your laurels. Today's also-rans could whip your ass next year. You gotta earn it, every day. — Lisa Sorg
David Eichenberger lives and works in Raleigh. He is an illustrator, muralist and painter. His more recent work has themes of loss, servitude, loyalty, co-dependence and ancient lure of his own fabrication.
Yes, yes, Lionel Vatinet invented baking, wrote the bible of aspiring breadmakers and could probably run for and win the job as Cary's mayor. But bread has spread in Wake County, meaning you don't have to deal with La Farm's strip mall location or generally congested conditions to get a good loaf. I'm more than partial to Boulted Bread (614 W. South St., 919-999-3984, www.boultedbread.com) a downtown Raleigh shop that's built an incredible selection in less than a year. From bialys and ciabatta to croissants laden with toppings and loaves loaded with seed, they've yet to let me down. Yellow Dog (219 E. Franklin St., 984-232-0291, instagram.com/yellowdogbread) delivers a great scone (and a marvelous pop tart, but you'll have to go to the coffee shop Weekend to get it), and the walnut-and-raisin-covered sticky buns from Fuquay-Varina's Stick Boy (127 S. Main St., 919-557-2237, www.stickboyfuquay.com) are worth a quick trip down U.S. 401. —Grayson Haver Currin
Find a college town and a steady supply of beer won't be hard to locate, either. But the college crowds tend to go for the cheap stuff—the type that can be grabbed in large quantities and hustled out of Harris Teeter before the bored cashier can give their fake IDs too close of a look. If you're looking for something more refined, a handful of bars and bottle shops offer more interesting (and often higher-gravity) selections. Among these is Beer Study (106 N. Graham St., 919 240-5423, www.beerstudy.com) equal parts bottle shop and bar. Sip as you browse their beers, post up at a table indoors or chill out on their patio: There's plenty to love at this low-key spot. —Allison Hussey
There are many wonderful things about Tasty Beverage Co. (327 W. Davie St. Suite 106, 919-828-2789, www.tastybeverageco.com): the gregarious and very knowledgeable staff, the killer taproom, the proximity to Jose and Sons, the fact that you can pick up a Rochefort 10 Trappist Ale for $7—but I only have the space to talk about one. And that one is this: Tasty has an outstanding array of sour ales, those delectable, lip-puckering summertime treats. At Tasty, you can find just about every take on a sour under the sun—a wall of sours, over by the refrigerated bottles—from the Flemish-made acidic Vichtenaar to tarty Lindemans to sundry craft domestic versions to sours too sour to be drunk en masse despite their typically low ABV. If you're a sour virgin, ask for help. You'll want to start off easy.—Jeffrey C. Billman
Once a staple food of hard times, the biscuit has blossomed into an iconic signifier of the South and its culinary history. At Flying Biscuit Cafe (2016 Clark Ave., Raleigh, 919-833-6924, www.flyingbiscuit.com), its limitations are few: Squeeze a fried chicken breast, a salty slab of country ham or a sausage patty between its two halves, or lay it open and drench it in sausage gravy. Got a sweet tooth? Slather it with your favorite jam, jelly or preserve. Or keep it simple and stick to classic butter. Be it politely tea-sized or as big as your head, soft, flaky, crispy, lard-based, buttermilk, on the side or as the meal's main attraction: it's tough to beat a biscuit. —Allison Hussey
There are loads of breweries in Wake County—at least 18 by my count—and no, I've not yet sampled them all, though hell if I'm not working on that. But if we're to single out one for hops-and-barley excellence, Big Boss (1249 Wicker Drive, Raleigh, 919-834-0045, bigbossbrewing.co) is as good a choice as any—both consistently good and consistently ambitious. And so, if you stop by the taproom, and you should, you can quaff the Big Boss Alt, a nice, mellow low-gravity alt with a smooth sort of almost musky bitterness, then move on to the High Roller, a floral, appropriately bitter ass-kicker of an IPA, and then the Bad Penny, a rich, caramely brown ale with just a hint of counterbalancing bitterness. Or, if you're feeling lucky, you can try to track down some of Big Boss' rarities, packaged as the Strange Cargo Series, including the absolutely stellar sours Prometheus Unbound and Saints & Sinners. No matter your choice, you won't be disappointed.—Jeffrey C. Billman
So Ashley Christensen's Chuck's sweeps the burgers-and-fries category in Wake County, huh? Has the once-invincible Char-Grill fallen to the weight of a James Beard medal? I can't argue, as people to seem to like the chuck at Chuck's (237 S. Wilmington St., 919-322-0126, www.ac-restaurants.com). Their house-made veggie patty is battered, fried and delicious. And those thick-cut fries (and sauces!) are wonderful. But don't forget MoJoe's Burger Joint (620 Glenwood Ave., 919-832-6799, www.mojoesburgerjoint.com), where you can pile toppings on the buns and on the cheap until the burger can barely stand. For an unexpected twist on the veggie burger, here's a pro tip: At The Pit (328 W. Dawson St., 919-890-4500, www.thepit-raleigh.com), have them replace the meat with the "barbecue tofu" and the jowl bacon with pimento cheese. Apply Western barbecue sauce liberally, and bless your mess. —Grayson Haver Currin
Ashley Christensen's Fox Liquor Bar (237 S. Wilmington St., 919 322-0128, www.ac-restaurants.com), beneath her Beasley's Chicken + Honey, has this annoying practice where you have to buy a $1 token to become a member—apparently to get around some probably idiotic state regulation or another—and there's a guy who stands at the entrance to make sure you have your token, and if you don't you have to pay another dollar. But whatever, good cocktails inside. I'm especially partial to the Vieux Carré, which is outstanding. Or let a bartender concoct something off-menu for you, after a brief interrogation about your liquoristic predilections. Last time I was in, my barkeep made me some sort of bourbon something or other, boozy as hell, and I would tell you what he called it if I remembered, but I don't, sorry.—Jeffrey C. Billman
Apparently it's time to get a second job. I need the extra money for thrice-weekly cocktails at Bar Virgile, the Counting House and Alley Twenty Six, the readers' pick for Best Specialty Cocktails.
As with my pets, I do not play favorites, and instead love each of these spots for its distinct personality. In the mood for a dark, cozy place cradled in wood? Bar Virgile (105 S. Mangum St., 919-973-3000, www.barvirgile.com) serves one of the best (and driest) Manhattans in the Bull City, using Wild Turkey Rye. Pair it with spiced pecans and cherries and a selection from the artisanal cheese menu. That means you can have two Manhattans.
Prefer to be on display in long windows and dwarfed by tall ceilings worthy of an aviary? The cocktails at Counting House, located inside the 21C Museum Hotel, (111 N. Corcoran St., 919-956-6760, www.21cmuseumhotels.com) are fancy schmancy, but you can still wear jeans as you down a Brown & Bitter: rye, vermouth, cardamaro (an Italian digestif infused with botanicals), cynar (a bitter liqueur) and Krupnikas, a spiced honey liqueur.
And finally, embrace the city's urban grit alongside one of downtown Durham's loveliest alleys, one that has inspired model shoots and selfies. It's summer, so order a Hurricane at Alley Twenty Six, 320 E. Chapel Hill St., 919-213-1267, www.alleytwentysix.com) sit outside and enjoy the foot traffic at this gritty cut-through. Or relax at the bar and ask your friendly 'tender for a Cape Fear Sbagliato: dry vermouth, white rum, NC kiwi syrup (yes, there are kiwi farmers here) and a hint of lime & soda. —Lisa Sorg
Recent arrivals to the Bull City may not know that once upon a time a Starbucks was downtown at the American Tobacco Campus. It closed, and was replaced by Saladelia, which, unlike SB, somehow figured out how to sell breakfast and lunch to the hundreds of people streaming through the ATC each day.
Given that SB got little love from the Bull City, it's no surprise that Durham readers picked Cocoa Cinnamon (420 W. Geer St., 919-697-8990, www.cocoacinnamon.com) as the winner of Best Coffee Shop. In addition to the requirements of serving a fine cup of free-trade coffee in a funky atmosphere—slouch on a couch with your mug and a book—CC has a strong community and social justice component. The employees earn a living wage, for example, and no one is required to yell your order as if it were a McDonald's. More good news for CC fans: It's adding a second shop on Hillsborough Road.
I also partake of caffeine at Beyu Caffé, (335 W. Main St., 919-683-1058, www.beyucaffe.com), particularly during my afternoon slump, when I order an Americano to carry me until 5 or 7 or beyond, depending on whether City Council is meeting that night. —Lisa Sorg
Face it. That middle school dance you treasure so much was 20 years ago. No one asks for your ID at the bar. And you're past due for a prostate exam. Yet here you are, reading Captain America like it's a love letter from a childhood crush. You're ashamed, we know. Maybe that's why most comic shops look like your mom's basement: dusty, musty and hopelessly disorganized. It's as if most comic stores don't want to be noticed, and neither do you when you're poring through back issues of Howard the Duck. It's about time some comic stores—and you—got a little self-esteem.
Chapel Hill Comics, a downtown mainstay (316 W. Franklin St., 919-967-4439, www.chapelhillcomics.com), glistens like a shiny toy. It's impeccably organized, appealing to younger fans, casual fans and those unnamed die-hards who sometimes wear costumes. Chances are, if you're looking for a mint copy of Robin's first appearance in pants, rather than those unfortunate emerald bloomers, you'll find it here. Along the way, you can peruse a small used book section (because it hurts to pay $30 for a comic book collection), scroll through back issues and pick up the latest Captain America. Maybe afterwards, like me, you can grab a beer from a nearby bar like The Crunkleton. Because you're old enough for that. —Billy Ball
Let's be real about this: Old Havana (310 E. Main St., Durham, 919-667-9525, www.oldhavanaeats.com) pretty much won by default. That's not to say it's not good—it might not hold up in Hialeah, and it's not nearly as good as my Miami Cuban mother-in-law's cooking, but it's fine for the Triangle, which suffers from a dearth of quality Cuban cuisine. I'm not just talking about the sandwich, but also succulent lechon asada and smack-my-ass café con leche and to-die-for congri and empanadas and yucca and quesitos and all the rest. We simply don't have enough of it. Hell, Raleigh doesn't even have one legit Cuban restaurant, which. So for now, my wife and I trek to Durham, where Old Havana will suffice.—Jeffrey C. Billman
Few Best Of categories are as subjective as the ones involving probing and prodding (and that includes Best Place to Buy Erotic Gifts). In the case of the dentist, I must admit I was initially startled by Dr. James Pyle, my tooth sherpa for nearly nine years. He's 6 feet, 100, or something like that, and when he towered over me as I lay in the chair, I thought, "How is he going to fill that back molar when he has hands the size of catcher's mitts?" But yet he does, painlessly, professionally and with good humor.
Pyle is from California, and infuses his Broad Street office with some kinda groovy surfer vibe that is shared by the cheerful crew of dental hygienists and Ann, who runs the front desk. Maybe it's the laughing gas? (818 Broad St., Durham, 919-286-9667, www.jpyledds.com.) —Lisa Sorg
Maybe you've got a rough work schedule that's not the standard 9-to-5. Maybe you're a student pulling an all-nighter. Maybe you made some questionable decisions and you're drunk, it's 2 a.m., the bars and their respective kitchens are closed. Either way, you're hungry, and your options are probably limited to suspicious, greasy chains like Dominos or Cook-Out. Fortunately, Cosmic Cantina exists (1920 Perry St., 919-286-1875, www.cosmiccantina.com). Stumble up the creaky stairs painted with lines from T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and compose your own love song about Cosmic's wide selection of reasonably priced (and vegetarian-friendly) fare that won't tear up your tummy. —Allison Hussey
Bars come and go so I don't often get too excited when a new one opens. It's best not to become overly attached to it because an "Out of Business" sign can turn up on the door at any moment. Occasionally though, one breaks through to my obsidian-encased heart. It was love at first sip for me and Bittersweet in downtown Raleigh 16 E. Martin St., 919-977-3829, www.bittersweetraleigh.com). In Chapel Hill, it was an equally fast swoon for The Baxter (108 N. Graham St., 919-869-7486, www.baxterarcade.com), winner of best new business in Orange or Chatham County. Named after the Fantastic Four's headquarters, it appeals to my inner geek. Dozens of vintage arcade games and pinball machines line the sides of the rectangular space. A Fiona Staples-autographed piece of art proudly hangs near the front. Comics memorabilia ranging from action figures to plushies to toys decorate shelving behind the bar. And the bar, oh, the bar. The top features hundreds of colorful panels from comics, painstakingly collaged by one of the Baxter's four co-owners. You could easily spend an hour sipping a drink and reading the bartop. So load up on quarters and go hang, for there's no better place for a geek heart to beat. —Curt Fields
Fact: My dogs are cuter than yours, and I love them more than you love your sperm vermin. Fact: My standards for dog care are thus exceptionally high. Fact: At Dogtopia, where they go for daycare, they always leave with broad smiles and hanging tongues and wagging tails, then go home and pass right out, having those adorable dreams where they half-bark at imaginary squirrels, which is basically everything you want from a doggie daycare. (Well, everything except cheaper: $57 a day for two little puppies!) Dogtopia's overnight boarding includes daycare, which means your furry child won't be cooped up in a dumb kennel all day while you're on your Caribbean cruise. (4708 Hargrove Road, Raleigh, 919-521-8083; 507 James Jackson Ave., Cary, 919-651-9581, dogdaycare.com) — Jeffrey C. Billman
Sure, the original Lilly's (1813 Glenwood Ave., 919-833-0226, www.lillyspizza.com) still makes a delicious pizza, with a perfect crust, a sprawling ingredients list and inventive combinations daring to dazzle palates tired of mere pepperoni. But the place is so popular that waiting in line for a pie often feels like an invitation to go play in Five Points traffic, while ordering by phone means you don't mind hearing a busy signal and frantically redialing, like you're trying to win some radio station's contest in the '90s. Try another pie: the recent menu at Moonlight Pizza Company (615 W. Morgan St., 919-755-9133, www.moonlightpizza.com) is strong (ask for your pizza well done!), while, just down the street, Trophy (827 W. Morgan St., 919-803-4849, www.trophybrewing.com) is slinging some truly excellent ideas, like the cheddar-heavy "Grilled Cheese." Randy's is great (Various locations, www.randys-pizza.com). Frank's massive Sicilian is a commitment to excellence and indulgence (2030 New Bern Ave., Longview Shopping Center, 919-231-8990, www.frankspizzainraleigh.com). And the personal pies at Tazza Kitchen (432 Woodburn Road, 919-835-9463, www.tazzakitchen.com) range from simple to extravagant. Don't worry: Lilly's will still be there. —Grayson Haver Currin
I am a member in good standing at Triangle Rock Club, and it's one of my favorite places to go these days. But that's your best place for adrenaline? Hanging from an inspected rope in an air-conditioned room with a safety staff nearby? No matter how high the walls are, that's a little soft. Given the area's largely abandoned industrial infrastructure, there are plenty of craggy buildings and towers to conquer without approved ropes and harnesses but with added adrenaline. And one of them—which sits just beside Raleigh's warehouse district, where it's one of the skylines most distinctive features—is about as much fun as you can have in the city for free. (102 Pheasant Wood Court, Morrisville, 919-463-7625; 6022 Duraleigh Road, Raleigh, 919-803-5534, www.trianglerockclub.com) —Grayson Haver Currin
Of course Schoolkids takes it (various locations, www.schoolkids.com). Schoolkids turned 40 last year, opened a new space with a bar and, in March, expanded to two stores by commandeering Durham's old Offbeat space. But Schoolkids isn't the Triangle's best record store as much as the Triangle's general-interest, household-name shop. From the music-selection expansion of Nice Price Books (3106 Hillsborough St., Raleigh) and the hardcore-and-metal den of Sorry State (317 W. Morgan St., 919-977-4704, www.sorrystaterecords.com) to the experimental and electronic fare at All Day (112A E. Main St., Carrboro, 919-537-8322) and the stuffed bins of Bull City (2600 Hillsborough Road, Durham, 919-286-9640), the area is the benefactor of a record store renaissance, where the most interesting spots have the richest niches. —Grayson Haver Currin
A few years ago, a close friend tried to get me to join his casual-dining campaign. There weren't enough good sandwiches in Raleigh, and someone needed to step up and demand them. I didn't enlist, but apparently local kitchens caught wind of the discontent. Now, not only can you savor the incredible Under the Volcano and Tempeh Tantrum at the Remedy Diner (137 E. Hargett St., 919-835-3553, www.theremedydiner.com) but there's a grilled goat cheese dream at lucettegrace (235 S. Salisbury St., 919-307-4950, www.lucettegrace.com) and an incredible stack of vegetables and cheese at Beasley's Chicken + Honey (237 S. Wilmington St., 919-322-0217, www.ac-restaurants.com). And at Capital Club 16 (16 W. Martin St., 919-747-9345, www.capitalclub16.com) ask for the Garden Sandwich with pimento cheese. —Grayson Haver Currin
It's always been my policy not to order food that I can make at home. Given my rudimentary cooking knowledge, I don't think that's too much to ask. Naturally, breakfast can be the most suspect. No problem at ACME's Sunday brunch (110 E. Main St., Carrboro, 919-929-2263, www.acmecarrboro.com). There's no damn way I can make that pinto bean and grilled cactus empanada or that chipotle hollandaise sauce. Best leave it to the experts. And while, for most, ACME's Tuesday dinner special ($12 per entree, even the really, really good ones) is the big draw, you're making a grave error by not visiting the Carrboro landmark on Sunday. All of the usual brunch players are here: eggs benedict, biscuits and gravy, waffles. But look to the rest of this ever-shifting menu for the clever twists we've come to expect from ACME, a restaurant that dresses up Southern favorites in glad rags. I'm talking about the green chile grits, crab Florentine omelet and malted, ricotta doughnuts. And, of course, you can never go wrong with their homemade fried chicken. —Billy Ball
Tattoos are forever, but memory isn't.
I got my third tattoo ... well, I think it was around 2003. I know I was in my mid-early-20s. After returning to Chapel Hill from a long train-and-hostel tour of Europe, I was getting my writing hustle going during 12-hour double shifts in the projection booth at the Timberlyne movie theater. I had an apartment in Kingswood with my best friend, AK, who wanted a tattoo. So I drove him to Dogstar in Durham, where I had gotten all of mine—in its old streetfront spot on Ninth, before it moved to Golden Belt (807 E. Main St., 919-682-0000, www.dogstartattoo.com).
I'd had visions of a circuit diagram tattoo for a while, and since we happened to be building a theremin, I had one handy. Dogstar owner Kathryn Moore inked the tat. It took her longer to evenly wrap the stencil of arrows and boxes around my right forearm than to tattoo it. It's a great conversation piece. I can't tell you how many times I've explained the theremin. But what I really liked was the pattern itself—its clean lines and energetic angles, its immaculate order.
In 2000 or 2001, I got my second tattoo. It's on my right shoulder blade: a masked man, dressed all in black, giving an elegant, sinister bow. His name is Grendel. He comes not from Beowulf, but from comic books by Matt Wagner. Wagner's Grendel is a sort of malevolent agent roaming through the ages—a rogue element in history's design.
I was into darkness at the time. The gaily colored, wash-out hair dye I liked in my late-teens had given way to onyx-black drug-store dye, which I turned out to be violently allergic to. My scalp broke out in seeping sores, which I called, with gallows humor, "the head rot." It lasted for what seemed like months. My girlfriend at the time said it changed me forever.
I know exactly when I got my first tattoo, on my right bicep. It was 1999, and I was 19. I know because the dates "1979" and "1999" bookend the graffiti-style initials "JFH." Jeffrey Frederick Hiltz, a high-school friend of mine, had died in a car crash in February. Jeff was the first of my friends to die, and we suddenly saw that we were mortal, though we behaved as if we weren't. We made his name a monument to the transition with tattoos we drew ourselves. It was the definitive end of my childhood.
Though my tattoos were chosen without a master plan, I can now see a sequence in them: first death, then chaos and, finally, order. By the time I got the circuit diagram, I had shaved my head and let my old blond hair grow in, and my head rot had cleared up. My writing was getting more career-y. Some long wave had finally broken, letting me out on a new shore, as the next wave already gathered in the distance.
Though it's been at least 10 years since I got my third tattoo, I still don't feel the scheme is complete. I've had some on my mind—semi-transparent layers of clockwork, an exploded diagram, or maybe something softer, on the left side of my body, for balance. In any case, I know it will map a pattern I won't be able to see until much later, and I think when it's time, I'll find myself at Dogstar again. —Brian Howe
Dos Perros, with its vegan enchiladas (200 N. Mangum St., 919-956-2750, www.dosperrosrestauant.com) and the Refectory Café, with its vegan dal and muffins (2726 Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, 919-908-6798, www.therefectorycafe.com) both deserve their props for this category.
But let's not forget about Ninth Street Bakery (136 W. Chapel Hill St., 919-286-0303, www.ninthstbakery.com) which has introduced many vegan items to its menu: savory handpies, hummus sandwich topped with red pepper, cucumber and red onion; and the falafel with tahini on the side. NSB also serves a vegan brunch, plus I like its choice of in-house music—Michael Jackson and the Donkeys can occupy the same sonic space. —Lisa Sorg
Good news for those of us who don't eat animals (or the stuff animals make): The Fiction Kitchen (428 S. Dawson St., 919-831-4177, www.thefictionkitchen.com) is a world-class vegetarian and vegan haven, not only able to mimic the meats you've left behind like barbecue and fried chicken but also able to create intriguing items that make you wonder why you ever bothered with meat, anyway. Better news for vegetarians and vegans, though: There are enough of us and our allies now where most restaurants have considered our business and created dishes better than a pan of beans or a saucer of mushrooms to feed us. Neomonde remains a favorite, and Capital Club 16 has some choice options. But my staple? Ask for the off-menu vegan plate at Poole's (426 S. McDowell St., 919-832-4477). —Grayson Haver Currin
Let's be real. Looking over some of the winners makes you wonder if Chicago-voting rules were in effect. But there's no questioning the legitimacy of Father & Son taking honors in Vintage, Consignment and Furniture areas. With a space that winds up stairs and into multiple side rooms, Father & Son (107 W. Hargett St., 919-832-3030) is part maze, part scavenger hunt and all fun. You don't go there to find a specific item. You go to let items find you. Wander through, look behind things, patiently shuffle and sift through collections, and eventually a purchase will reveal itself. It may be a commemorative Star Wars plate featuring the pod race (a steal at 75 cents) or it may be a breathtakingly cool Art Deco dresser for several hundred dollars. Even if you buy nothing, the number of "Oh wow, look at this" moments in a single afternoon will make the visit worthwhile. Father & Son actually gives meaning to the otherwise empty phrase "shopping experience." —Curt Fields