I’ve been to Michelin-rated restaurants around the world and have eaten at renowned chefs’ restaurants in the U.S., but sometimes the most satisfying meals come from the ones when I think that I’ve gotten my money’s worth. There’s really nothing comparable to that feeling when I walk out of a restaurant, completely satiated, and think, “yep, that meal was totally worth the time and money”.
Here are 11 of the best cheap eats (in no particular order) in Raleigh that are completely worth the money:
Rise biscuits and donuts
Rise has been blowing up Raleigh recently. With two new locations in Raleigh, one in North Raleigh and the other in Cameron Village, Rise has elevated the donut and biscuit scene in the City of Oaks. Lines snake outside the door early at Rise with customers waiting to get their hands on unique yeast and cake oversized donuts generously topped with confections like Cheerwine icing and liberally filled with caramel apple butter. Rise services the biscuits lovers as well with accoutrements that include fried chicken and city ham.
All locations of Rise also offer speciality varieties of donuts and biscuits germane to each location. And maybe, best of all, the donuts and biscuits at Rise don’t really break the bank. Most donuts range between $1 to $2.50 and most biscuits fall under the $5 mark.
RISE North Raleigh | 6325 Falls of Neuse Road Raleigh NC 27609 | 984.200.5751
RISE Cameron Village | 530 E. Daniels Street Raleigh NC 27605 | 984.200.6966
Jubala Coffee’s biscuits
Down the road from Rise’s North Raleigh location off of Falls of Neuse Road, Jubala Coffee also serves up a mean biscuit. While visitors to the Lafayette Village coffee shop may come for its extraordinary coffees, they like to linger around and indulge in its sweet, made-from-scratch biscuits. The sweet biscuits come slathered with Big Spoon butters, seasonal jams, pimento cheese and country ham. And like Rise, a delicious breakfast doesn’t have to be expensive at Jubala. Biscuits with most toppings are only around $3.
Construction on Jubala’s second location in the Aloft hotel on Hillsborough street is progressing and the coffee shop and cafe is expected to open in the next few months.
JUBALA COFFEE | 8450 Honeycutt Road #104 Raleigh NC 27615 | 919.758.8330
Customizable pasta, pizza and salad from Serena Cucina
Though mostly known as a very good neighborhood Italian restaurant, Serena Cucina deserves some more recognition that it has in the area. Lest the disparaging Yelp reviews scare you away, I have to say that I’ve never had a poor experience at Serena. The Italian-Sicilian eatery serves just about everything in sizable portions and gives the customer an opportunity to customize their order of salad, pizza and pastas with toppings like grilled octopus and fried chickpeas. The quality is quite good for the cost as well. Salads start at $6 with the ability to add on toppings. Pastas start at about $9 with the option to add on more meats and vegetables. Serena’s 12” coal-fired pizzas start at around $11 with the choice to add on more artisanal toppings like smoked proscuitto and battered eggplant. And with complimentary coal-fired flatbread and amuse-bouches of the soup du jour that Serena’s hands out for gratis, you’ll likely not walk out of the North Raleigh cucina very hungry.
SERENA CUCINA | 7456 Creedmoor Road Raleigh NC 27613 | 919.900.7685
Champong (Korean seafood noodles) from Seoul Garden
Everyone that knows me knows that I love noodles. The champong noodles at Seoul Garden are no exception to that love. I’m a bit wimpy when it comes to the Korean spice-o-meter so I usually order mine less spicy, but the big champong bowl of fiery crimson and amber colors of the spicy seafood broth at Seoul Garden always gets me, well, fired up. The noodles are always cooked just right, with the right amount of toothiness and chew and there’s always plenty of seafood (shrimp, squid and mussel) to scavenge in each bowl. At $11.99, the price tag might seem costly, but the bowl is quite large and it’s easily enough to take home half the portion (but don’t because the noodles get soggy the day after). The cost does include banchan, the Korean equivalent of amuse bouche that include a variety of small side dishes (kimchi, bamboo shoots, etc.)to sample with your meal.
SEOUL GARDEN | 4701 Atlantic Ave. Raleigh NC 27604 | 919.850.9984
The chicken burrito combo at Los Cuates
Los Cuates has always been like an old friend to me—reliable and trustworthy in its ability to deliver.
It’s where you can find a California –style chicken burrito assembled with princely bits of tender, marinated chicken and fluffy rice blanketed in a bright avocado sauce and swaddled in an oversized soft tortilla. The drive-thru location on Capital Boulevard is my preferred location, where the $7.99 chicken burrito meal with rice, beans and a soft drink is offered. The fare is a step above the bland, ubiquitous offerings of surrounding Mexican restaurants and the service is always friendly and prompt and the portions quite generous. If you desire a sit-down experience, you’ll find that the Wake Forest Road adjacent location serviceable, along with an expanded menu of options.
LOS CUATES | 3505 Capital Boulevard Raleigh NC 27604 | 4524 Old Wake Forest Road Raleigh NC 27609 | 919.872.6012
Nigiri from Tokyo House
Sushi is never truly cheap, unless you’ve sunken down to the gas station portable variety. Then you’re really rolling the dice on future implications for your digestive system. Sushi at Raleigh’s Tokyo House may not fit the normal “cheap” parameters, but it is good quality for the money. The hamachi and eel nigiri at Tokyo House have never disappointed in their freshness and in the quality of the rice. The N. Raleigh neighborhood sushi restaurant also offers a large assortment of sushi rolls to choose from if that’s your jam (the Minwoo and Scary Jerry are particularly recommended). And, if you’re a loyal customer, you would be wise to nab the frequent buyer card—every $25 earns you a punch and after 10 punches you get $25 off your next visit.
TOKYO HOUSE | 7439 Six Forks Road Raleigh NC 27609 | 919.848.3350
A gourmet burger from Chuck’s
Gourmet burger prices have easily inflated to the mid-teens recently. Artisanal breads, locally-sourced cheeses and toppings have all added to the sky-rocketed high prices though you would think that with the fierce gourmet burger competition in the area, prices would be at least competitive. But alas, if you want a gourmet burger around Raleigh, you’ll have to bite the bullet and pay the pricey burger piper. Luckily at Chuck’s in downtown Raleigh, the prices are at least reasonable for what you get. Burgers are still constructed with bourgeois ingredients like bacon-onion jam and Ashe Co. mountain Cheddar, but the prices don’t eclipse the $11 mark, unlike some other burger places in town that have the gall to charge $15 for a burger. For $10.50, all burgers (made from 100% house-ground chuck) come with fries and a pair of Chuck’s famous dipping sauces to enjoy.
CHUCK’S | 237 S. Wilmington Raleigh NC 27601 | 919.322.0126
Tonkotsu ramen from Sono
Some may scoff at the idea of paying $14 for a bowl of ramen when the packaged variety is so cheap, but once you try the real stuff, you’ll understand why. The truth is, ramen is time-consuming to make. The ingredients are mostly not all that expensive, but that broth, that broth can take a day to boil down the pork and chicken bones to coax out all the right flavors. At Sono in Raleigh, the tonkotsu ramen made with pork is your best bet. The unctuous flavor from that milky, porky broth is the truly the perfect antidote on cold day.
SONO | 319 Fayetteville Street Ste. 101 Raleigh NC 27601 | 919.521.5328
Peruvian chicken from Mami Nora’s
Nothing courts Southerners like juicy, marinated chicken. The Peruvian, wood-charcoal rotisserie chicken from Mami Nora’s in Raleigh in no exception. Many Raleighites have fallen in deep love with the marinated chicken. And as a bonus, Mami Nora’s uses hormone and steroid-free chicken in their ovens. At the Raleigh restaurant (there are other locations spread throughout the Triangle as well), $6.99 can you buy you a quarter-dark chicken combination with your choice of two sides. Not too bad for the price and for some really sumptuous chicken.
MAMI NORA’S | 2401 Wake Forest Road Raleigh NC 27608 | 919.834.8572
Tacos from Taqueria El Toro
Tacos from Taqueria El Toro is usually followed by the word “legit”. “Legit” or authentic tacos and authentic Mexican fare can be hard to come by in Raleigh, but this taqueria makes a good case for it. The place operates on a mostly Mexican clientele, but most of the employees can help in English. Tacos like the lengua, carne asada and al pastor are heavily recommended (pretty cheap per taco too) and don’t forget to load up at the toppings bar next to the registers.
TAQUERIA EL TORO | 3615 Junction Boulevard Raleigh NC 27603 | 919.661.5676
Mapo Tofu from Red Pepper Asian
If you’ve lived in Raleigh for a while and appreciated authentic Chinese cuisine, chances are you lamented the closing of Fortune Palace several years ago. Though now fortunately for FP fans, the owners re-opened a new restaurant off New Bern Avenue called Red Pepper Asian. The location is a smaller reincarnation and many of the favorites are back including the salt-and-pepper calamari and mapo tofu. Many of the Malaysian and Thai dishes are back as well. Most entrees, including the mapo tofu ($10.95) rarely go beyond the $12 mark, and because of its quality make this one of the better Chinese fare values in town.
RED PEPPER ASIAN | 4121-109 New Bern Avenue Raleigh NC 27610 | 919.594.1006