10 Best Restaurants In North Carolina, USA

Photo of Lani Seelinger
9 February 2017

North Carolina has always provided plenty of fertile ground for farmers and gamekeepers. Now, restaurant owners and chefs are taking advantage of what the land has to offer with these top restaurants.

Downtown Raleigh | © JMTurner/Wikicommons

Nana's Restaurant

Restaurant, American, $$$
Belted Galloway
Belted Galloway | © Amanda Slater/WikimediaCommons
Durham has lately gained a reputation for being a foodie’s heaven. Nana’s is the absolute cream of the crop. It opened in 1992, well before the city’s restaurant renaissance. Since then they’ve been experimenting with flavors and ingredients in some very exciting ways. Their menus change monthly, and guests always have the option of their tasting menu, which can come paired with wine specially selected by the chef. Although this is highly touted as a place for a fancy occasion, you can always see the extremely talented man behind it all, chef Scott, in shorts and a baseball cap. That’s Nana’s – the finest food in an unpretentious atmosphere.

The Fearrington House Restaurant

Restaurant, American, $$$
The Biltmore Estate
The Biltmore Estate | © Daderot/WikimediaCommons
Just outside of the Triangle and therefore convenient for anyone in Raleigh, Durham, or Chapel Hill, The Fearrington House Restaurant has been ranked among the top restaurants in the country on numerous counts. Their chef is committed to keeping the menu new and exciting. So, you’ll never see repeats no matter how many times you come back. The restaurant is part of the Inn and Spa, which is part of Fearrington Village. This is a draw in itself, not only for the adorable Belted Galloway cows. You can enjoy a walk around the country village. Then, move on to the quiet, simple elegance of this much-lauded restaurant.

The Dining Room at the Biltmore Estate

Restaurant, Vegetarian, Gluten-free
Interior Herons at the Umstead
Interior Herons at the Umstead | © The Umstead Hotel and Spa
The Biltmore isn’t just an attraction for its beautiful architecture, gorgeous location, or status as the largest privately owned house in the United States. It also has an award-winning restaurant. Going to The Dining Room at the Biltmore Estate offers a brilliant chance to dress up and feel like you’re a part of the surroundings. Here you enjoy local ingredients prepared in healthy and exciting ways. They embrace their history and their location in the Appalachian Mountains with many of their menu items. Additionally, they use many ingredients from the Biltmore estate and the farms nearby, including beef and lamb raised on the estate. The Biltmore is worth a trip on its own merit, but the Dining Room adds an extra dimension.

Herons at the Umstead

Restaurant, American, Vegetarian, Vegan, $$$
The Umstead, a spa hotel just outside the capital city of Raleigh, is known for its luxury across the state. Herons is the culinary expression of this luxury. They’ve received accolades from numerous publications, speaking to their quality. Their menus change seasonally, and you’ll find different options for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner. They make an effort to build as much as possible around ingredients from their farm nearby, so the freshness is unparalleled. You’ll find menu items that you already loved. But at Herons, they’ll be revamped and improved beyond what you thought possible. In addition, the restaurant is famously gorgeous and the presentation is flawless.

The Gamekeeper

Restaurant, American, Vegetarian, Gluten-free, $$$
A mountain culinary gem, Gamekeeper Restaurant has been open in its current form since 2000. This was when its current owners bought the restaurant and turned it into what it is today. They take full advantage of what their location has to offer. They make use of all sorts of local, organic ingredients in their ever-changing and always exhilarating menu. Meat lovers will love the choices here, as they offer dishes with all sorts of exotic meats, like ostrich, wild boar, and elk, all excellently prepared. However, they also cater to vegetarians. For example, they serve an exquisite cheese plate or a veggie plate full of everything that they can find in the nearby mountains.

Sanitary Restaurant

Market, Restaurant, Seafood, $$$
Sanitary Fish Market & Restaurant has a laid back, casual atmosphere that doesn’t exactly scream gourmet. However, they’ve become a true North Carolina institution and there’s no better place to get fresh seafood on the entire coast. Almost as soon as you’ve taken your seat, they’ll bring you a bowl of fresh, hot hushpuppies to peak your appetite. Never fear, they’ll give you more if you run out. Their seafood menu covers everything you could possibly want. It’s all fresh every day – not that that should surprise you, given the location. The service is always exceedingly warm too; you’ll be welcomed like an old friend. They’re also happy to advise you if you have questions about the fish on the menu.

Artisanal Restaurant

Restaurant, American, Vegetarian, Vegan, $$$
The manager and owner, a husband and wife pair, opened Artisanal Restaurant in 2006 and have put all of their passion for the business and tireless work ethic into running it ever since. The chef had his training in New York City, and his experience is evident in the range of options he puts on the table back in Banner Elk, North Carolina. You’ll find Southern touches such as pimento cheese and grits, right alongside Italian dishes or Asian dishes, depending on what’s in season. The building is a refurbished barn, which lends the interior a rusticity and coziness that would be hard to find elsewhere.

Chef and the Farmer

Restaurant, American, Vegetarian, Vegan, $$$
Sauteed mushrooms
Sauteed mushrooms | © 2011 Evan Sung Photography
The tiny town of Kinston, North Carolina may seem like an unlikely place to house a world-class restaurant. But, that’s exactly where the owners of Chef and the Farmer decided to put down their roots. Driven by a desire to highlight what this poor and oft-ignored region of North Carolina has to offer, they partner with all sorts of farmers in the area. They serve exclusively local food. The availability of various ingredients changes by the season, so the chef changes the menu weekly. They’re always preserving various items to use throughout the year. This charming place has also gained a lot of recognition as the subject of the PBS series A Chef’s Life.


Restaurant, Spanish, Mediterranean, $$$
Curate | © Peter Frank Edwards
This Spanish tapas bar opened in 2010. It’s been gaining recognition across the state ever since as a top-notch dining experience in terms of both atmosphere and food. One of Cúrate’s chefs is even in the running for best chef in the Southeast, and you won’t be surprised when you try a couple of their dishes. It’s a good thing that tapas is by its very nature a family-style, sharing experience. This is because you’ll find it nearly impossible to choose between all of the options. They have a lot of recognizable Spanish favorites that you can find across the pond, but many of them also include local touches. Their coffee and cocktails are also not to be missed.


Lantern has garnered national recognition for its dedication to local ingredients, its commitment to using green energy, and the exceptional high quality of the food. Located on Chapel Hill’s main street, Lantern may appear to blend in with the rest of restaurants – but not once you try the food. The general theme is Asian food from across the region. However, you can experience local touches from all of the organic ingredients, be it greens from nearby farms or fish from the North Carolina coast. Beyond lunch and dinner, the cocktail and dessert menus are also well worth a look.

Lantern, 432 W Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC, USA, +1 919 969 8846

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