Surrounded by farmland and steeped in Southern culinary traditions, the area encompassing the cities of Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill would be a great place to eat, even without the industries that take it over the top. But the North Carolina Research Triangle, as it’s known, is also home to three major universities — Duke, University of North Carolina and North Carolina State — and it’s a booming hot spot for medical and tech companies. The region’s 21st-century economy gives residents a hunger for the new that supports sophisticated restaurants by nationally known and up-and-coming chefs alike. Here are some top-notch places to try.
At Chapel Hill’s Lantern, James Beard Award winner Andrea Reusing makes spectacular Asian-style fare. Now she’s brought her talents to the boutique hotel, The Durham. Her restaurant fills the lobby, and her bar spans the rooftop. With its sky-high windows, the airy dining room is a natural for brunch. Start with a Tequila Mary, whose zingy salt-and-zest rim balances brooding mezcal and smoked chile. The menu sounds global, but Reusing sources locally, and her cooking is homespun. North Carolina’s pork-scraps-and-meal cake is dubbed “livermush.” Can you blame her for calling her version “scrapple?” Whatever the name, it’s outstanding, the crisp-fried exterior yielding to a toothsome shredded-meat filling.
Hangtown fry is a Californian invention, but here, the plump Atlantic oysters and deep-fried bacon, perfectly fluffy eggs and tangy, buttery hot sauce feel more Southern comfort than SoCal. Same goes for “sticky rice.” Really a porridge of local rice loaded with soft-boiled eggs, fat North Carolina shrimp, greens and kimchi, it’s a fusion-y soul soother. Come back at 5 p.m. when the roof opens, and sink into an Adirondack chair with a vibrant, apple shrub-based “Chapman Is My Name” cocktail and smoked-trout-stuffed picnic eggs. Under Reusing’s watch, sunset tastes terrific. All-day dining. Reservations recommended for dinner and brunch. $45 at brunch; $100 at dinner.