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Chef Ashley Christensen Shares Her Favorite Food Experiences In Raleigh, North Carolina

Welcome to EAT THIS CITY, your tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by a world-class chef, celebrity, or local hero.

This week, we’re heading to Raleigh, North Carolina. Along with Durham and Chapel Hill, the city makes up the Research Triangle — known for tech and centers of education. But it’s also a foodie destination, and there is no one more qualified to point us toward orgasmic grub than Ashley Christensen. This culinary queen was awarded the James Beard award for Best Chef Southeast in 2014 and is a two-time semi-finalist in the Outstanding Chef category. In addition, she is author of the popular and well reviewed Poole’s: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner. And, naturally, she is an outstanding restaurateur with six restaurants in Raleigh, including Death & Taxes, Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, and Chuck’s.

Chef Christensen is known for seasonal, locally sourced ingredients with a focus on bright, fresh flavors and she is widely revered for it. Death & Taxes — which uses Southern ingredients to celebrate wood-fired cooking — was a 2016 James Beard award finalist for Best Restaurant. Bon Appetit named it one of America’s Best New Restaurants of 2016, as did Food & Wine. One look at the eatery’s food makes it clear Christensen’s popularity with her peers is hard-earned and well-deserved.

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Piggin' out over here.

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If you aren’t hungry yet, you will be after you read about Chef Christensen’s Raleigh faves and look at some of the dishes featured in the pics.

Pizza

Oakwood Pizza Box

This brand new pizza spot located just outside of downtown is run by Anthony Guerra, whose family has been in the pizza business for years. The simple menu keeps the focus all on the pizza, which has a nicely crispy crust with just enough chew.

Tacos

El Rey del Taco

Very early in my career, I worked with a line cook named Cesar Gonzalez. Since then, he and his brother have opened this taco truck, which is my favorite in Raleigh. They’re usually open until 3am, which means I can swing by after a late night. I usually order a pastor and a lengua taco, but the clincher is their salsas, which are fresh and delicious.

Asian

Bida Manda

When it comes to Bida Manda — a warm and serene Laotian spot run by brother-sister team Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha — you can’t leave without ordering the pork belly soup. Rich with coconut milk, ground pork, and pork belly, it’s the thing I crave when feeling under the weather or after a tough day. That said, their entire menu is fantastic—I usually make a meal out of the starters, including the Lao sausage flavored with lemongrass and crispy rice lettuce wraps. And then I wash it all down with the bar’s special pina colada, served on the rocks with fresh coconut cream.

Street Food

American Meltdown

Technically this grilled-cheese focused food truck is based in nearby Durham, but their routes regularly take them to Raleigh, so I always seek them out. Usually I’m a purist about grilled cheese, but the Buffalo Blitz melt, with grilled chicken, buffalo sauce and Havarti cheese, makes me veer from my standard order. And their fried brussels sprouts with ranch dressing are pretty much perfect.

Sweet Food

Lucette Grace

This small storefront in the middle of downtown does a beautiful job of turning out desserts that are elegant and highly technical, but still incredibly approachable and delicious. In the summer, the macaron ice cream sandwiches are one of my favorite sweet treats; they also make an insane King cake around Mardi Gras.

Fine Dining

Heron’s at the Umstead

The Umstead is in Cary, a suburb of Raleigh, but it’s our favorite place to escape to for day at the spa or a weekend staycation. And Steven Devereaux Greene, the chef at the hotel’s restaurant, Heron’s, blows my mind every time I eat his food. He sources the very best ingredients, and every plate looks like a work of art, which complements the beauty of the surroundings.

Vegetarian

The Fiction Kitchen

This spot is right around the corner from our first restaurant, Poole’s. I’m always so inspired by the way Caroline Morrison and her team work with vegetables, and evoke the spirit of Southern food in such a clean and refreshing way. Using tofu and seitan, she creates meatless versions of North Carolina classics like chicken and waffles and pulled pork bbq, but it’s her farmer’s market plates, inspired by the bounty of the nearby state farmers’ market, that I love the most.

Brunch

Garland

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Local fig galette, brandied cream & hazelnuts

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Garland has been one of my favorite lunch and dinner spots since it opened. It’s run by chef Cheetie Kumar, who pulls on the flavors of her Indian heritage and local ingredients to inform a really unique menu. Just a few months ago, they started doing brunch on Saturdays and it’s quickly become my go-to spot. I can’t resist the calas, a kind of Creole sweet rice fritter, or the lamb neck shakshuka.

Iconic Food of the City

Player’s Retreat

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Catfish tacos. #eatlocal #foodie #foodporn

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Part college sports bar, part neighborhood hang, part thoughtful café: the Player’s Retreat occupies so many roles. Located right across the street from the heart of NC State’s campus, this place has been around since 1951 and Raleigh old-timers have all kinds of stories about its past. Under the leadership of owner Gus Gusler and chef Beth Littlejohn, it has gotten a facelift. There are still the classic burgers, fries and wings; but then there are also things like the giant list of more than 80 single malt Scotches, or refined weekly specials that would be more expected in a formal dining room. It all sums up to an experience like no other, at a place that feels purely Raleigh.

Odd Culinary Experience

Brewery Bhavana

This new gorgeous spot from the same owners as Bida Manda defies categorization. Is it a flower shop? Yes. Is it a book store? Also yes. Do they serve delicious dim sum? Yes. And, as the name suggests, at the heart of it all is a brewery that makes gorgeous food friendly beers. It sounds like it wouldn’t all work together, but when you’re sitting in the bright, plant-filled room, drinking a mango-green peppercorn saison over a plate of seafood dumplings while contemplating your next book purchase, it comes together in perfect harmony.

Guilty Pleasure

St. Roch Fine Oysters & Bar

My former sous chef at Poole’s, Sunny Gerhart recently opened this restaurant, where he focuses on seafood inspired by his family’s background in New Orleans. Oysters are the stars of the show: I like to start with a dozen local oysters on the half shell, and then move on to one of the roasted oyster options (I’m partial to the tasso variation, with pork jowl tasso, sage, file, and gruyere).

Hangover Food

Bojangles

Bojangles is a beloved fried chicken chain throughout the Southeast, and I swear that the iced tea has healing, hang-over curing powers, especially when paired with a Cajun chicken biscuit and a side of mashed potatoes with gravy.

Cheap Eats

Neomonde

This Mediterranean bakery and deli is one of my very favorite spots to go for takeout, mostly because it’s really delicious but also feels healthier than a lot of the fast casual options we have in Raleigh. I love stocking my fridge with their tuna salad, which is bright and zippy and mayo-free; the hummus; and the veggie lasagna, which sets me up for the week. They also bake their own pita bread on site, so if I want something a bit more filling, the grilled chicken pita is the move.

Thank you Chef Christensen, for taking us on a culinary tour of Raleigh!

Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out San Diego, Austin, Cambridge, Hoboken, Hollywood, Return to Miami, Return to Las Vegas, Manhattan, Oakland, Paris, Portland, Tampa, Durham, Toronto, Baltimore, Monterey, Vail, Lexington, Bentonville, San Antonio, Warsaw, Kansas City, NYC, Washington DC, New Orleans, Cleveland, Miami, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans,Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston, and Detroit.

See you next week!

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