Vis a Vis Living in the Triangle
May 9, 2007 10:05 AM   Subscribe

North Carolinian MeFites: Please fill me in on the treasures of the Raleigh-Durham area in preparation for a visit . . .

So I'm going to the Triangle area of North Carolina for a week in late May-early June, and hoping to check into some things that might make living there worthwhile (not just touristy stuff).

I am especially interested in a) live music scenes; b) explorable natural wonders within a 2-hour drive or so of RDU; c) the visual arts scene in the area; d) great places to eat, especially Southern food; e) ways to experience the local climate of cultural tolerance and/or conflict honestly on a brief visit (especially post-Duke-lacrosse-scandal, I'd love to see places or events where town/gown, black/white/Latino, and rich/poor interact every day). If there's something you hate about living there, that's helpful too. Muchas gracias, y'all.
posted by spitbull to Travel & Transportation around Raleigh, NC (31 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
For live music: Cat's cradle:
Explorable natural wonders: Well ... the mountains are 2 hours away in one direction, the beach 2 hours away in another. I don't know if you get in to any of the 'good stuff' within two hours. The Eno River state park is pretty, but not exactly a world renowned tourist destination.
I have no ideal about the visual arts.
Places to eat: The Guglhupf ( for German pastries/desserts. The Magnolia Grill is famous and delicious (In Durham, on 9th street), and may be on the pricey side. BBQ is well represented: Bullock's (family style) in Durham, the Q-shack (in Durham). People say Mama Dip's in Chapel Hill (a famous Southern food place) has gone downhill, others like her daughter's restaurant more (Bon's Country Cooking?).
Cultural tolerance ... uh ... not sure.
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:23 AM on May 9, 2007

I've been there for a couple business trips. The Triangle itself is just an office park, but don't miss Raleigh and Chapel Hill. They're beautiful.
posted by xammerboy at 10:23 AM on May 9, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks both.

OK, let me extend the driving range to 3 or 4 hours, because I want to know about those beaches and mountains.

And I'm using "Triangle" perhaps incorrectly to mean the whole area -- Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding.
posted by spitbull at 10:45 AM on May 9, 2007

For natural wonders, especially if you want to go to the beach anyway, I'd suggest NC Beach State Park, near Wilmington. Venus Fly traps only grow naturally within a 75 mile radius of this area, and additionally other carnivorous plants and orchids grow here and overall it's a good chance to see several ecosystems, including mudflats, maritime forests, and marshland. IIRC from talking to a ranger, plants will be blooming in June.
posted by artifarce at 10:46 AM on May 9, 2007

Celebrity Dairy for the friendly goats and yummy cheese, Clyde Jones in Bynum, Beggers and Choosers in Pittsboro, Alan & Son BBQ. All of these places will have you driving through pretty countryside.
posted by idest at 10:52 AM on May 9, 2007

Live music: Cat's Cradle for sure. Pick a copy of The Independent or just browse their website for more musical venues.

For sushi, I think Waraji in Raleigh is world class.
BBQ: I liked Ole Time Barbecue in Raleigh when I was eating meat. The hushpuppies were delicious, too.
Indian: Bombay Grille in Durham. I could eat there every week. Skip the lunch buffet and go for dinner.
Pizza: Lilly's Pizza in Raleigh is my favorite. Pepper's in Chapel Hill is pretty good, too.
...but Southern food, you say? Well, I already mentioned Ole Time for the Carolina BBQ experience. I've always been a little disappointed by Mama Dips, with the exception of her breakfast offerings, but that's just because I'm not a Southern food person. There's always Crooks Corner in Chapel Hill, too, but I've never eaten there.

Outdoorsy stuff: the botanical gardens in Raleigh and Chapel Hill are pretty cool, and the Duke Gardens are beautiful. Eno River and Umstead are both decent parks, but as Comrade_robot mentions, they both have their moments of 'meh'.

Town and Gown: hang out on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill nearly anytime of any day. It will be a little tougher since school will be out when you get here. For Duke's famous cultural conflicts, cruise around Ninth Street and the Trinity Park areas. You'll see what I mean.

What do I hate about living here? I swear the entire Triangle shuts down at 9:00PM. Also, there are no sidewalks, everything is spread out, and you have to drive just about everywhere. Public transportation still leaves a lot to be desired, and the housing boom has created acres of disgustingly ugly, cheap-looking subdivisions.

Ah, on preview, since you've expanded your driving radius, I would second the trip to NC Beach State Park. You could probably get to the Outer Banks in 5 hours, and it's worth checking out. There's also Pilot Mountain State Park outside of Winston-Salem, which is pretty cool. Sheesh, I could go on and on, so I guess I'd better just post.
posted by malaprohibita at 10:54 AM on May 9, 2007

For bbq you might want to read the threads on Chowhound. You'll find that everyone will disagree about particular restaurants. I have to second Bullocks' though (my mother-in-law called their fried chicken the best she had ever had, second to her mother's and the family-style is rather fun if you have a big group). I also like Danny's (Cary, and I believe Raleigh?), but that's one you'll get a lot of disagreement on.
posted by artifarce at 10:54 AM on May 9, 2007

OH YEAH! And the Maple View Dairy ice cream place across from Weaver Street Market in Carrboro!
posted by malaprohibita at 10:55 AM on May 9, 2007

Restaurants, both in Chapel Hill:
Crook's Corner
Allen and Son Barbecue (Citysearch info)

If you're in the area spend some time wandering in A Southern Season and check out some local treats. If you're a bike geek the Performance store in Carrboro is worth a visit, you could pick up some deals.

You might also want to check out the local independent weekly The Independent to see what's going on during your visit.

People do use "Triangle" to mean Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. The office park is referred to as "RTP."
posted by needled at 11:01 AM on May 9, 2007

definitely go to the Magnolia Grill. It has the best food I have ever eaten in any restaurant, anywhere in the world.

If you feel like a steak, also check out Angus Barn.

As far as the town-gown thing, just visit duke. You're going to be coming during the summer when school won't be in session, but summer school will be taking place. Hang out around East Campus. Drive around the neighborhoods surrounding East Campus. You can even visit the Lax house.

After doing all that depressing stuff, go visit Cameron. Also go visit Nasher Art Museum. You can also check out a Durham Bulls game.
posted by unexpected at 11:06 AM on May 9, 2007

Natural wonders:
*NC Zoo in Asheboro probably fits here. Well done. Nice drive, too.
*Uwharrie mountain-ettes
*Hanging Rock State Park
*Pilot Mountain (or is it Mt Pilot?) near Mt. Airy. Also, go to Mt. Airy for Mayberry goodness. Eat a porkchop sammich at the Snappy Lunch.

*Not Bullock's, for God's sake. That's tourist food.
*Allen & Sons BBQ (2 near Chapel Hill)
*A&M BBQ in Mebane, a couple stops west on I-40
*ELMO'S DINER. In the name of all that is holy, everyone passing through the Triangle MUST MUST MUST eat at Elmo's at least once for breakfast and once for dinner. It's diner food, not southern food, but ho-lee crap is it good. Biscuits'n'gravy are to die for.

Cultural honesty:
*A Bulls game, if they're playing
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:25 AM on May 9, 2007

Raven Rock.

And it's less than an hour from Raleigh.

If you wanna see black/white/latino/Lumbee/Asian interaction, drive down to Fayetteville. You don't get too much more diverse than us.
posted by konolia at 11:30 AM on May 9, 2007

Chapel Hill and Carrboro are great, especially this time of year, when most of the students have disappeared. If you're interested in some light hiking, I highly recommend Duke Forest. As for Barbecue, you can't go wrong with The Barbecue Joint. Also see this previous thread.
posted by Token Meme at 11:35 AM on May 9, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone, and keep 'em coming. This is sort of what I had in mind.

One further request: reasonably economically/socially healthy small towns (less than 10Kish pop) within a few hours' drive, especially towns still economically dependent on agriculture or industry, and not tourism. Good main streets, etc.
posted by spitbull at 11:37 AM on May 9, 2007

Oops ... corrected link for previous thread.
posted by Token Meme at 11:37 AM on May 9, 2007

-LocoPops popsicles in Durham (awesome)
-Weaver Street outdoor patio for lunch (Carrboro)
-Federal patio for dinner (Durham)
-Farmer's Market on Saturday morning (Durham)
-Banh's Vietnamese food on 9th street on Wed. or Sat. (Durham)
-Duke Gardens (Durham)
-Cat's Cradle (music in Carrboro)
-Allen & Son's BBQ (sticks, kind of near Chapel Hill)
-Rock Quarry for swimming (Durham)
-New gelato place at Brightleaf (Durham)
-Sweet potato burritos at Carrburritos (Carrboro)
-Nasher Art Museum - have brunch or lunch at the cafe on the patio, it's delicious (Duke campus, Durham)
-See if Cool John Ferguson is playing at the All People's Grill in Durham. You should go if he is.

You can't go somewhere to "experience" the Southern racial and/or political situation or scene. It's imbued in daily life. And it's part of our politics. Hang out at the Durham Food co-op, walk around the Farmer's market, go see whatever is up at the new Bull City Headquarters downtown, see if there's a Durham CAN assembly, talk to the people at the bar at the new/old Joe & Jo's bar, go to a church dinner. It's not really something you can find or see in a week though.

Don't live in Raleigh if you can help it -- Durham has a vibrant political scene, burgeoning music scene, lots of new cafes/restaurants/weird stores opening. The hype about the "violence" is often race-based. It's not that bad and it's certainly not that random. I guess it will depend a) where you're working, b) what kind of living situation you want, c) situation of kids and income, d) what kind of community and/or neighborhood you want.

I have to run but will think of more later.
posted by fionab at 12:15 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks fionab. I am indeed looking to "experience" precisely the imbuing of daily life with values of tolerance and respect for difference. I've done extensive time (over a decade) in the south already, so I'm not a newbie to the particulars, though I've not spent much time in NC. So I'm looking for that street that connects divided neighborhoods where both neighborhoods shop at the same supermarket or have barbecues in the same park, for example. I'm looking for parts of towns and neighborhoods that don't feel as segregated (by class, not just race) as some others. One hears that the area is relatively progressive for NC and for the south, so I'm looking for places to test that judgment that arent's just upper-middle-class enclaves or academic communities. It's a tricky question, but I'm aware it's not a judgment one can make on the basis of a drive-by experience. One can, I think, feel the vibe if one has experience with its varieties.
posted by spitbull at 12:31 PM on May 9, 2007

I've lived and worked in Manhattan for the last ten years, but was born in, and spent the first 30 years of my life in, the Triangle. I still work from there, on average, one week a month, as the company I work for in New York City is opening an RTP office.

You've had some excellent advice on restaurants.

On matters cultural, there are three major and countless minor universities in the immediate area, and I think you will find a lot on offer, especially in the music scene but also in the visual and performing arts. Good independent bookstores, good small restaurants, etc.

On issues of "tolerance": here's my take. Manhattan is culturally more stimulating and diverse, but on issues of race and class Raleigh has its shit together far, far better than NYC does now, or will for at least another generation.

The Triangle region, because of the concentration of higher education and high-tech and biotechnology employers, caters for well-educated and culturally sophisticated residents very well. If you want an authentic Southern small-town experience, you're going to need to leave the Triangle area to get it, as most of what's within driving distance has become bedroom communities for RTP. (That being said, I've always dug Pittsboro, on the other side of Jordan Lake from Raleigh and Cary, quite a lot.)
posted by enrevanche at 12:49 PM on May 9, 2007

Best answer: I live in Durham and visit Carrboro often. IMO, it's hard to find local stuff in Raleigh or Cary anymore because of the housing boom in those areas. You'll find more interesting things on the west side of RDU.

a) Everyone's on track here. Read the Independent. Check out a show at Cat's Cradle.

b) Don't know where you're from, or what you would consider a natural wonder. We have a lot of trees here. We have a lot of rural areas that aren't a very far drive at all. One scenic drive that's easy for a non-local is to take I-40 to the 751 exit in Durham and drive south. Keep driving straight on that road long enough and you end up in a really nice park on the Shearon Harris Reservoir. Takes about 30-40 mins one way and gives you a glimpse at some older farm houses in what used to be way out in the sticks.

c) Okay, there's one good reason to go to Raleigh: Artspace is the best one-shot place to see local artists and their studios. If you're looking more for art museums, then you've got:
NC Museum of Art - Egypt exhibit running through July
Ackland Art Museum @ UNC (Chapel Hill)
Nasher @ Duke (I haven't been there)

d) Definitely Elmo's Diner in Carrboro for breakfast. It's in Carr Mill Mall, an old textile mill converted into a small mall. On the other side is Weaver Street Market, where a lot of locals hang out. Not as many weirdos as there used to be 10 years ago, but that will give you some local flavor. (BTW, this is all right across the railroad tracks from Cat's Cradle)

Breadmen's is another staple of Chapel Hill dining. Their BBQ is actually true eastern NC BBQ. Most of the other BBQ around here is close, but not quite. Breadmen's is a diner (like Elmo's) not a BBQ place, so you can get breakfast at any time. IMO, Elmo's is better for breakfast, Breadmen's is better for lunch or dinner. Local opinions may vary.

Q Shack in Durham isn't true NC BBQ but it is damn tasty.

I've lived all over the South, and the Southern food here isn't worth the effort. I would suggest going to a local Mexican restaurant, such as El Rodeo, Torero's, or Monterrey. Bandido's is my personal favorite.

Baba Ghannoj is a good local Mediterranean chain. Sunset Grille, Carolina Ale House, and Tyler's Tap Room all have outstanding upscale bar food.

If you want to drive in the country a little, head out to the Maple View Farms Country Store for some ice cream and relax on a hill overlooking a dairy farm. Yeah, there's the store in Carrboro, but the drive out in the country is worth it.

e) This is a hard question. I live in south Durham and don't see any conflict on a daily basis. There's a wide variety of races and income levels everywhere I go in south Durham. If you want to disprove your theory, then just go to a grocery store, gas station, or fast food place here. The Kroger at the corner of MLK Blvd & S Roxboro Rd in Durham is located very near income-assisted apartments and Hope Valley Farms, a very large middle-class housing neighborhood. The store gets plenty of business from both.

Duke is in NE Durham, so maybe it's different in that part of town. Go where people hang out. Closest place to Duke itself would be Ninth Street. Eno River park and Northgate Mall are other areas in north Durham where people spend time.

This Target store and the Durham Q Shack seem to attract a lot of Duke students. I suspect the Durham Whole Foods Market is the same way. There's also regular farmer's markets in Durham and Carrboro. They should have information about them in the Independent.

I personally hate all the traffic, big box stores, and cookie cutter houses in Wake County (basically all areas east of RDU airport), so that's why I'm steering you away from that part of the Triangle.
posted by Sasquatch at 12:52 PM on May 9, 2007

How about one of America's top 50 Restaurants?

In my opinion, Chapel Hill is the place to be. If I had the cash I'd stay at the new Franklin Hotel. Incidentally, it's walking distance from the aforementioned restaurant.
posted by jne1813 at 1:06 PM on May 9, 2007

And about your small town question, here's two suggestions but they're both a tad large:
Burlington, NC - Nickname: Hosiery Center of the South
Kinston, NC - I believe Kinston is the central town for NC tobacco farmers. I met a lot of kids of tobacco farmers when I went to NC State and they were all from Kinston.

If you're up for the road trip, take Highway 64 east to the Outer Banks. Takes about 4 hours from the Triangle if you use the roads marked just "64". Take the roads marked "64 Business" or "64 Alternate" and you'll go through a ton of small rural towns on your way out (it will probably take about 6 hours this way).

If you don't have that much time, drive halfway out to Williamston, NC. Within a couple miles is a Wild West steak house / dinner theater / mini golf / amusement park called Deadwood. It's in the middle of nowhere. You have to see it to believe it.
posted by Sasquatch at 1:11 PM on May 9, 2007

reasonably economically/socially healthy small towns

Siler City

Nice but touristy:
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:20 PM on May 9, 2007

As far as music goes, I'd check: Focuses on local snotty indy rock. Good stuff.
Scan music blog from the local indy weekly.
Trianglemusic blog

I'd suggest killing two birds with one stone and hitting a good bbq/soul/southern style place. The best known and popular places attract pretty diverse crowds. A few places that haven't been mentioned yet, Smithfield Barbecue, and the raleigh Farmers Market seafood place.

What do I dislike about RDU area? It would be nice if there was better public transport, but I've always lived in "you have to have a car" areas so it doesn't really bother me.
posted by alikins at 1:26 PM on May 9, 2007

Dear Spitbull, May I please piggyback on your question and inquire of the answering Mefites - how the job and housing markets are, especially in the Chapel Hill and/or Siler City areas? Thanks.
posted by goml at 2:01 PM on May 9, 2007


In a nutshell,
Chapel Hill = expensive houses & high tax rates due to perceived quality of Chapel Hill/Carrboro school system. Changing from small college town to snooty bedroom community for well-to-do professors & RTP workers. Work is either at UNC or in RTP. Houses are overpriced compared to anything outside of the school district.

Siler City = tiny, rural community. Don't know much about it other than I think of pigs when I hear Siler City. Probably older houses for cheap. Long drives to get to anything. There might be a gas station job. You get the point. Most of the decent paying jobs are in RTP or Wake County.

Pittsboro, NC is the compromise & halfway point between the two.
posted by Sasquatch at 2:17 PM on May 9, 2007

Honestly, I'll respectfully disagree with Sasquatch about some of the restaurant suggestions. El Rodeo and Torrerro's are the kinds of Mexican food that are doused in that fake orange melted cheese and bad beans. There are some awesome taco stands and Mexican, Honduran, Bolivian and El Salvadorean restuarants that expats actually eat at. Read this for starters. El Paraiso and Super Taqueria will do you good. The Ale House and the Tap Room serve pretty mediocre pre-frozen bar food and burgers. The Fed, the "new" Joe & Jo's (whatever it's called), Piedmont and Alivia's are far far better (and filled with a more mixed crowd to boot) and they all (excpet Piedmont) have delicious bar food and burgers. I suspect we're coming at Durham from slightly different angles, so take my suggestions with a grain of salt :-)

- Durham Bulls game - super cheap, super fun, good for adults as well as families
- All People's Grill - seriously
- live music at the General Store (Pittsboro)
- depending on how down/hip/late-at-night you'd like to be, the monthly Hell dance party is probably the most diverse (on a whole plethora of levels!) party crowd I've seen. (Chapel Hill)
- oh right, if you have kids, bring them to the Farmer's market as there is usually some music or entertainment for them
- what kinds of 'community' and/or volunteering are you into? Most groups would be happy if you'd like to join in for a day.
- Guglhupf patio for brunch
- The old Fowler's bakery/deli/cafe/awesome porch place is now long closed, but a new place is opening there mid-May, called Parker and Otis. 112 Duke Street -- see if there is any kind of event on the porch when you're here - it's a good Durham mixing ground.
posted by fionab at 2:19 PM on May 9, 2007

Response by poster: gomi, no problem . . .

thanks everyone. what a wealth of info.
posted by spitbull at 2:31 PM on May 9, 2007

If you will be visiting Chapel Hill Carrboro, the highlighted best answer a few down from this thread that I wrote includes a walking tour of things to see/do/eat.
posted by greta simone at 4:29 PM on May 9, 2007

The Cat's Cradle isn't the only place for live music. There's also The Cave, where you should stop in for a drink if you're just wandering Chapel Hill before band times. For live music there's also Local 506 though I believe you need to get a membership in advance (ie prior to the night you wish to go). A fairly easy quick deal I believe, but I'm told they're quite strict about not signing up members on the night at the door so do your homework if there's someone you want to see there. They get a fair few good bands you might normally expect to see at the more famous Cradle. The Skylight Exchange is the archetypal coffeehouse+used book&record store and also has live music at night. seems !!! are playing the Cradle on May 28th. If that's your thing.
posted by Martin E. at 6:09 PM on May 9, 2007

There’s a lot of good stuff here, but the things that stuck with me after wading thru it all are:

The Vietnamese place on ninth street in Durham, and ninth street in general are nice.
Carboro - a fairly human compromise between town and gown. Elizabeth Cotten’s home town.
Mapel Farms Dairy - on Dairyland Rd. Some of the prettiest country around here, and a good place to live.
The Celebrity Dairy had a very nice bed and breakfast run by good folks way out in the country about 15 miles southwest of Chapel Hill. I don’t see it on their web-site now, and I don’t know why. I checked it out about five years ago, when they were putting the finishing touches on the great-room and they had it going then... might be worth a try.
I guess the QShack is OK if you like eating enough meat in one sitting to last a normal person a couple of days.

Not mentioned is Biscuit King in Durham. Which is probably just as well unless someone like Triangle Slim or Mandolin Mike B takes you there.

I used to live midway between Siler City and Pittsboro when they were farm towns. Since then the area has relatively exploded. Pittsboro has become the picturesque place for people from Chapel Hill and the Triangle to go a little country and have a nice meal and shop for antiques. Meanwhile, Siler City has become the place to go for Wallmart, overgrown strip malls and Mexican trouble. Of course it remains, as ever, a good place for redneck trouble.

For a bit of out of the way coastal flavor you can follow the Neuse River down to Oriental and rub elbows at The Oriental Marina and Restaurant with ocean crossing yachtsmen. Then head west a bit to the Minnesot Beach ferry over the Neuse and check out Beaufort and Harker’s Island for the salt of the earth and sea.

And, on preview, what Martin E. said... except the guy at The Skylight Exchange doesn't seem to mind buying hard to find Blues records from coke-heads who steal them from me as long as he knows where they live.
posted by Huplescat at 7:41 PM on May 9, 2007

Response by poster: thank you everyone. almost all deserve "best" flags.
posted by spitbull at 7:20 AM on May 10, 2007

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