Wine & Dine | Local Color

Wine & Dine

OK, we had to fudge it a bit, here. The Magnolia Grill is not 20 years old, a few shy. But our readers didn't know and they picked it as Durham's best established restaurant.

The top vote getter in the best restaurant category was Angus Barn, which mopped up quite a few categories, followed by Magnolia and Chapel Hill's Crook's Corner.

One interesting note in the Vietnamese category: Both honorable mentions—Cafe Cyclo and Green Papaya—reference films by Vietnamese filmmaker Tran Anh Hung. Sounds like a good excuse for take out and a movie.

Oh, and massive television advertising campaigns work by the way: Olive Garden won best Italian, and low-carb winners by far were Subway and Hardee's (!) Next year, we're checking for Rocky Mount postmarks.

Best Established Restaurant
Raleigh: Angus Barn
Durham: Magnolia Grill
Chapel Hill/Carrboro: Crook's Corner

Best New Restaurant: Green Tango
Honorable Mention: The Cheesecake Factory

Best Low Carb Meal: Subway
Honorable Mention: Hardee's, Sweet Tomatoes

Best Vegetarian Meal: The Irregardless Cafe
Honorable Mention: Weaver Street Market, Sage Cafe, Moe's Southwest Grill

Best Take Out: Cook Out
Honorable Mention: Char Grill, Steak Out

Best Quick Lunch: Panera
Honorable Mention: The Cosmic Cantina, Green Tango

Best Place to Take Your Parents: Angus Barn
Honorable Mention: Magnolia Grill, Porter's Tavern

Best Place to Take Your Kids: Elmo's
Honorable Mention: Chuck E. Cheese's

Best Coffeehouse: Cup A Joe
Honorable Mention: Starbucks, The Third Place

Best Wait Staff: 518 West Italian Cafe
Honorable Mention: Bloomsbury Bistro, Bandido's

Best Place for Romance: Enoteca Vin
Honorable Mention: Nina's Ristorante, Lantern

Best Restaurant with Live Music: Irregardless Cafe
Honorable Mention: Cappers Restaurant & Tavern

Best Restaurant When Someone Else is Paying: Sullivan's Steak House
Honorable Mention: Angus Barn

Best Outdoor Dining/Patio: Mellow Mushroom
Honorable Mention: Bahama Breeze, Lilly's Pizza

Best Pizza: Lilly's Pizza
Honorable Mention: Capital Creations Gormet Pizza, Big Jim's Pizza, Pepper's Pizza

Best Vietnamese: Dalat Oriental Restaurant
Honorable Mention: Cafe Cyclo, Pho Cali House of Noodles, Green Papaya

Best Italian: Olive Garden
Honorable Mention: 518 West Italian Cafe, Amadeo's Italian Restaurant

Best Sushi: Sushi Blues
Honorable Mention: Kashin Japanese Restaurant, Waraji Japanese Restaurant

Best Indian: Taj Mahal Indian Cuisine
Honorable Mention: India Palace, India Mahal

Best Thai: Shaba Shabu
Honorable Mention: Thai Palace Restaurant, Sawasdee Thai Restaurant

Best Seafood: 42nd St. Oyster Bar
Honorable Mention: Kemp's Seafood House, Mayflower Seafood Restaurant, Tony's Bourbon Street Oyster Bar

Best Middle Eastern: Neomonde Bakery & Deli
Honorable Mention: Solomon's

Best Greek: Taverna Nikos
Honorable Mention: Spartacus

Best Barbecue Experience: The Barbeque Joint on Weaver Dairy Road in Chapel Hill.
First off, the food is fantastic, especially the BBQ. But it’s the understated ambiance that makes the Joint so much fun, welcoming, so laid-back. Check out the unique blend of vegetable sides, all way fresh and in mega-servings, listed on the funky blackboard. The Joint has the most eclectic traffic, locals in T-shirts and prom dresses. Don’t ask for ketchup… not available.

Best Birthday Cakes
Take an Atkins break and celebrate any occasion with the richest, freshest, most colorful, most tender cakes this side of I-85. The Mad Hatter cakes are so dense, so mouth watering, you courteously ask for a small slice first, then very quickly follow with a request, “Seconds?” You want total desert nirvana? Two paths await you: Strawberry Shortcake or Black and White Chocolate Cake.

Best Culinary Line in the Sand
It’s hard to be an ethnic restaurant in America where culinary tastes lean toward the mass-produced and predictable. The longtime Ninth Street eatery International Delights Restaurant has taken a stand against such easy choices by letting patrons know up front that there will be No Ketchup Served Here! “Ketchup is used to cover the flavor of junk food,” asserts a sign near the daily menu. It goes on to explain that the owners are proud of their Middle Eastern dishes and are not about to smother them under a coating of Ronald Reagan’s favorite school-lunch vegetable (our words, not theirs). So don’t even bother to ask for the forbidden condiment with your gyro or falafel sandwich. Enjoy the purity of these menu items—and don’t forget to order the tea with sage or mint. If you feel inspired, you can also buy a “No Ketchup” T-shirt for $10.

Best Tamales This Side of Siler City
At a former hot dog stand just off Roxboro Road on Club Boulevard in Durham is Taqueria La Poblana, which offers the most delicious selection of real, corn-shuck wrapped, chicken or pork tamales this side of Siler City or Matamoros. They come in a spicy red or green sauce, are deliciously rich in corn meal and spices, and make the Mexican food at any of the chains taste like McDonald’s cardboard by comparison. But Cresencia Cortes Pena, the dedicated chef, only makes them Friday through Sunday, though some are sometimes left on Mondays and Tuesdays. The rest of the week you’ll have to settle for her exquisite enchiladas, huarches and tortas.

Best Evidence Hillsborough Street Isn’t Dead Yet
One point if you said Mitch’s, which remains the archetypal Wolfpack haunt. But they’ll carry tavern owner Mitch Hazouri out on his shield before he gives up the fight for Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, close by NCSU. Two points if you said Porter’s, the new bar-and-restaurant a few doors down, because it’s the second sweet play on the block by Frazier’s restaurant owners Kevin and Stacy Jennings. (And props to Arthur Sandman, who owns the much-improved building that both places share.) So is this critical mass—Mitch’s for the youth, Porter’s for the hip, and Frazier’s (soon to expand) for the more urbane? Maybe. At least it’s progress on a street that hasn’t seen any for so so long. While we wait for the city, or the state, or President Kerry to put a few sheckles behind the neighborhood’s ambitious reconstruction plans for our Capital City’s main east-west street, at least now Mitch won’t be so lonely.

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