Time for a round-up on dining out in the Triangle. We’re running the gamut here with foods from around the world!
1. Mint, Chapel Hill, NC (my favorite in this group)
This is an Indian restaurant, located next door to Local 506 on the Carrboro end of Franklin, and within the same block as India Palace (also good, but it’s been a few years since I last went there). The inside is simply elegant–nice bar, dim lighting, not kitschy. We started out the meal with a bottle of wine and complimentary papadum served with two chutneys.
I’m an adventurous eater (though not Andrew Zimmerman style), and I’m always open to trying new foods. So I asked the waiter to pick out his favorite from the menu–I’m not vegetarian, and I enjoy some heat. So I got the Mint Chicken!
The food was amazing. The chicken was tender and moist on the inside, and lightly charred on the outside for some crunch and smoky oven flavor. And notice the portions are healthy. I had enough leftover for lunch the next day. The dishes at our table came with large bowls of basmati rice, plus we ordered assorted naan. I was reminded recently that there are in fact four types of dining utensils: fork, knife, spoon and BREAD, perfect for sopping up the sweet and spicy red coconut curry sauce. Others at the table ordered the Chicken Vindaloo (a favorite, and spicey) and Saag Paneer. Hold me back, I’m seconds away from driving to Chapel Hill for the lunch buffet.
2. Lilly’s Pizza, Raleigh, NC
Lilly’s is a freakin’ cute pizza joint in my neighborhood that thrives on fun crowds, art and music, outdoor seating and the best in local and natural ingredients. It fills the Pepper’s Pizza void in my heart that I’ve had since moving out of Chapel Hill. I went to Lilly’s recently with a friend before seeing The Wrestler at The Rialto. We split The Aristocrat (topped with extra virgin olive oil, organic garlic, organic mushrooms, sharp white cheddar, mozzarella, roasted tomato slices, roasted yellow onions, organic roasted potatoes & Parmesan). I was a slice into enjoying the pie before I said–hey, where’s the famous Lilly’s tomato sauce? This sauceless pie, unencumbered by heavy tomato sauce, stands out with it’s herby, garlic tang! I was surprised how good the roasted potato was. Arrive here early to snag a table, especially if it’s warm and sunny. Also worthwhile at Lilly’s: the $6 lunch special (2 slices+drink or 1 slice+salad+drink).
3. Jibarra, Raleigh, NC
We’re heading to Mexico. Fancy Mexico. Jibarra is a contemporary Mexican restaurant in the downtown Depot. This area and restaurant has a lot of promise if it can overcome its slightly off-the-beaten-path location.
First up: a classic Jibarra margarita. Tequila is supposed to be Jibarra’s thing, with over 30 varieties available. You can order a tequila flight with a sampling of three. Pass. I would have liked to see versions of your traditional margarita, similar to Sol Y Luna in Birmingham. I remember getting the savory Sol Y Luna Margarita there with Sauza Conmemorativo tequila, Grand Marnier and homemade spicy sangrita. Mmm not your average Monty’s pitcher.
For dinner I ordered the Tacos de Carne Asada (thin sliced ribeye served with potato, onion and poblano pepper medley, diced onion, cilantro, salsa molcajeteada and flour tortillas), a personal fave. This is my standard order at Mexican restaurants. My overall assessment, honest and true…I like Monty’s more. Ahhhhh. I know. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe price point, but Monterrey’s is just as good, if not better.
Jibarra does win in atmosphere, quality of drink, salsas, sides, presentation, etc.
4. Vita, Durham, NC
This cute place is operated by the restaurant group responsible for Parizade, George’s Garage, BIN54 and Spice Street. So I expected good Mediterranean flare and a nice dining experience right off the bat. A lot of food was ordered by our table. I think pictures will speak more than words.
Our entire table was very satisfied with the food, ambiance, service and 1/2 price wine night. I would definitely return here, especially to sit outside on the patio to dine. Ooh! And I nearly forgot one of the best parts. Rustic Italian bread is brought to the table pre-meal, along with your regular olive oil. But they also serve full heads of roasted garlic! Yum. Just pop out a clove, and it makes the perfect topping to a bite of bread. Nice touch.