Weekend Round-Up: Some of the Triangle’s Best

This weekend I had the chance to visit several Triangle restaurants that just plain rock – these are some of the best the area has to offer:

Thursday night:
Poole’s diner (Raleigh)
Sweet potato soup with burgundy-thyme honey, braised short ribs over smoky collard greens, an excellent baguette with butter, and their renowned macaroni gratin.  I could eat at Poole’s every day.

Friday night:
Carrburritos (Carrboro)
Carnitas mejor burrito – massive, loaded with juicy meat, no rice filler, and deliciously fresh.  Although I’ve always liked this place, I hadn’t been here in quite a while.  I’ll be coming back soon – the burrito was outstanding.

Sunday night:
Chuck’s (Raleigh)
8oz “Spirit Animal” burger – cream cheese, roasted poblanos, grilled tomato, tortilla dust.  A little too much cream cheese, a little too little tomato, and virtually no tortilla dust(?) – but nevertheless sensational.  The best burgers in the Triangle are at Chuck’s.  I wasn’t wowed by the fries on my first visit, but this time they were incredible.

Best Pizza in the Triangle?

I obviously still have a lot of places to try (see below), but here are my thoughts on some of the places I have been to.  What are your favorites?  What other places do I need to try?

1.        Bella Mia

2.       Pizzeria Toro

3.       Salvio’s

4.        Lilly’s

5.        Klausie’s

6.        Bocci

7.        Brixx

8.        Fuhgeddaboutit

9.        Maximillian’s Pizza Kitchen

10.        Moonlight Pizza

11.        Pop’s Backdoor South

12.        Cinelli’s

13.        Z Pizza

Still to try: Al Dente, Pie Pushers, Randy’s, Pizza Italia, Schiano’s, Vivace, Marilyn’s, Piola, Rosati’s, IP3, Capital Creations, Paparazzi

Best Burger in the Triangle?

photo courtesy of flickr

Keeping up the burger theme for one more post – what’s your favorite area burger experience?  Here is my totally subjective list, in order of places that I would go back to for a burger.  In other words, although I’ve used the merits of the burger itself as the main criteria, other factors like sides (esp. fries), price, and ambience have also influenced my decisions.  And yes, Five Guys is a nation-wide (?) chain, but I rather enjoy it.

  1. Chuck’s
  2. Bull City Burger & Brewery
  3. Only Burger
  4. Tie: The Federal / Raleigh Times
  5. Five Guys
  6. Tribeca Tavern
  7. MoJoe’s
  8. CookOut
  9. Geer St. Garden
  10. Chargrill
  11. Player’s Retreat
  12. Barry’s Cafe

Admittedly, there are many places I’ve yet to try: Dain’s Place, Wimpy’s, Buns, Porter’s Tavern, King’s Sandwich Shop, Abbey Rd. Grill, Corner Tavern & Grill, Blue Note Grill

Where do you get your burger fix in the Triangle?


Bella Mia Pizza (Cary, NC) – revisited

Our second visit to Bella Mia Pizza in Cary confirmed what we experienced the first time around: if you haven’t been yet, you need to go. Their pizza blows other Triangle pizzas right out of the water (or oven). The crust, charred from the coal-fired oven, is incredible. We ordered a “Houston St.” pie ($12) and a “Canal St.” calzone ($11). The pie had smoked mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and basil. It tasted excellent, but suffered a little on the following two counts. First, the crust, though crispy on the edges, was super thin and soggy in the center of the pie. This made it very difficult to eat, because I couldn’t even quite pick it up without the toppings sliding off. Second, there’s a lot of extra crust space where it’s just bread. On the other hand, the calzone might be my choice from now on.  As I noted after our first trip to Bella Mia several months ago, it is amazing – one of the finest things I’ve eaten in the Triangle – and for only $11!  Stuffed simply but amply with sausage and ricotta, you just can’t stop eating it. We also tried the lemon-rosemary roasted chicken wings ($8 for a small order of about 6-8 wings). These were also delicious, served with some very sweet caramelized onions.

To summarize, you can get other good pizzas in the Triangle, but this is the only great pizza I’ve had in the area.  I look forward to many future visits.

Review: Bella Mia (Cary, NC)

Several weeks ago, I had some friends in town from Washington, DC.  We were making plans to go out for dinner, and I was asked where we could get good pizza in the area.  “There’s really not any great pizza in the Triangle,” I replied.  That was before I knew about Bella Mia, which, with its ultra-hot coal-fired oven, has been hailed as the long-awaited arrival of “real” pizza in the Triangle.  A recent visit confirmed this for me.

Upon entering the restaurant, I felt a little under-dressed in shorts and sneakers, but the space is nicely balanced between the casual and the upscale, save for perhaps the outdated dance music playing on the radio.  The interior is sleek, with dark wood tables and an open kitchen.  It’s a fine place for a nice date or for bringing a 2 ½ year old (as we did).

We ordered a margherita pizza ($9.50) and a “Canal St” calzone ($11), which was stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, and sausage.  I understand that good pizza is primarily about a good crust, and this crust was delightful, but it must be said that the toppings were what kept this pizza from being extraordinary.  They were actually too sparse: there was a very limited amount of sauce, which was perfectly fine, but the mozzarella slices were alarmingly thin – borderline paltry – and there were only a few small basil leaves on the whole pie.  Furthermore, there was a lot of vacant space between the toppings and the edge of the pie. As a result, all I could really taste was the crust.  Flecked with char spots from the coal-fired oven, it did have a great flavor and texture.  It was poofy on the edges and quite thin, but not crispy, in the middle.

The calzone, on the other hand, was phenomenal.  The ricotta was creamy, the sausage was cut into nice big chunks, and it was stuffed to the edges in the same great crust as the pizza.  Served with a judicious amount of tomato sauce, it was addictive – one of the best things I’ve eaten in the Triangle in quite a while.  The one improvement that could have been made was the plating: the calzone was crudely cut into three large pieces, with a little tomato sauce strewn on the middle section.

The rest of the menu was tempting too.  Bell Mia offers house-made pastas (the lasagna special almost won me over, but I was there, like many I suspect, to try the pizza), and I’ve heard good things about their lemon-rosemary roasted chicken wings, stuffed mushrooms, and nutella dessert pizza.

A note on ordering: the pizzas are about 12” in diameter, but, being thin and not overloaded with toppings, might leave you a bit hungry if split in half.  Most people I observed were ordering individual pies.  The calzone was decidedly more substantial and could probably serve two.  But don’t worry about it too much: any leftovers are not going to go to waste.

In the end, like many other recent commenters, I’m thrilled to have Bella Mia in the Triangle.  Now I know exactly where to go for good pizza.

Rating:  * * * *