Raleigh

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I always research the destinations I plan to visit to get ideas about attractions, restaurants, accommodations, outdoor activities, and more. I also look for any guided tours, as I enjoy the opportunity to learn about a place from a local, who can add valuable insight.

And, I often check if there are companies that offer walking food tours to get a bead on the culinary scene. Many times, these types of excursions include historical tidbits, too, which serve to further enhance the experience. Plus, the exercise element is a definite plus. Read on to learn how to enjoy Raleigh by food tour.

Taste and Explore with a Knowledgeable Guide on a Raleigh Food Tour

Welcome to Raleigh! Photo by Debbie Stone
Welcome to Raleigh! Photo by Debbie Stone

On a recent visit to Raleigh, North Carolina, I opted for a day of foodie fun with Triangle Food & City Tours. Owner Jacquelyn Manson, who took over the reins of the company in 2018, grew up in the South. “I was always the first at the dinner table and happy to do the dishes in order to enjoy some of mom’s homemade food,” she says. “Food and family have always gone together for me.

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My best Christmas memories were not the gifts, but arriving at my grandparents to find a bowl of homemade chicken soup and chocolate chip cookies waiting at the dining table.” She adds, “Both my grandmothers were great cooks, as is my mother. Me, I focus on the eating and praising of the chef. I’m a better eater than a cook!”

Manson has been living in the Raleigh area for decades. She put herself through college at NC State working in the restaurant community doing everything from waiting tables to bartending and hosting.

She also has twenty plus years’ experience planning events in the hospitality industry and takes great pleasure in showing off the restaurants of the area to locals and visitors alike. Her advice is, “Don’t just see the city…taste it!”

Choose from Two Neighborhood Tours

Currently, the company offers two tours in Raleigh, “Bites of Boylan Heights Neighborhood Food Tour” and “Savor Historic Oakwood Neighborhood Food Tour,” plus private city and food tours in Raleigh and nearby Durham. Manson is able to create specialty tours for corporate retreats and outings, birthday and wedding parties, bridal showers, clubs, church groups, etc.

The Triangle Area’s Food Scene is Burgeoning

The food culture in the Triangle area (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill) has grown and continues to evolve. According to Manson, there is a wonderful selection of dining options available to suit a variety of preferences.

She says, “Whether it’s a combined husband and wife local butcher and dessert restaurant, a Mediterranean delicatessen, local craft brewery, historic favorite southern restaurant, the best homemade local ice cream or pie shop, an epicurean market and café, Irish pub or a local bakery with mouth-watering desserts and breads, you’ll experience a culinary landscape in all corners of the Triangle.”

Learn About the History of the Boylan Heights Neighborhood

On my recent “Bites of Boylan Heights” tour, we made five stops to sample a selection of delicious bites. In between locations, we strolled through the picturesque Boylan Heights neighborhood, which is located in close proximity to downtown Raleigh. Manson commented that this area is regarded as one of the premiere places to live in the city. It’s also on the National Register of Historic Places as an historic district.

I was smitten immediately with the beautiful, tree-lined streets, the mix of different architectural styles homes, from Queen Anne and Colonial Revivals to Dutch Colonials, Italianate style and craftsman bungalows. And it was interesting to hear the history of this special place.

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William Boylan was one of the state’s wealthiest and most influential businessmen, who did a lot of work in land transactions in Raleigh. He also helped facilitate the building of the railroad that would run through downtown. And he gifted a plot of land to his son, William Montfort Boylan, which at that time, was right outside the city limits.

In response to a housing shortage in the early 20th century, real estate firms began to develop old plantation lands in this area and the 100-acre wooded portion of William Montford Boylan’s estate offered a good location. Parcels went quickly and by 1915, they were all sold. The neighborhood subsequently became one of Raleigh’s first planned suburbs.

Historic Sites Abound

Historic Montford Hall. Photo by Debbie Stone
Historic Montford Hall. Photo by Debbie Stone

There are several historic sites in Boylan Heights that you’ll pass by during the tour, including the Joel Lane Museum House and Montford Hall, now the Heights House Hotel. The former was the home of Colonel Joel Lane, who is considered to be a founding father of both Wake County and Raleigh. In 1792, Lane sold 1,000 acres of his land to the State of North Carolina, on which to build Raleigh as the new state capital.

Montford Hall was the home of above-mentioned William Montford Boylan and stands as a landmark at the northern entrance to the Boylan Heights Historic District. This Italianate style mansion-turned hotel is one of the few remaining pre-Civil War houses in the Raleigh area. It’s a National and Raleigh Historic Landmark.

Savor the Flavors of Sam Jones BBQ

Samplings from Sam Jones BBQ. Photo by Debbie Stone
Samplings from Sam Jones BBQ. Photo by Debbie Stone

Our first food stop on our Raleigh food tour was Sam Jones BBQ, known for having some of the best BBQ in North Carolina. This is the restaurant’s second location in the state, with the original based in Winterville.

The Raleigh establishment opened in early 2021 to much fanfare and is very popular with locals. At Sam Jones, they take pride in slow-smoking whole hogs over Carolina oak on site each day, a technique that’s rooted in the tradition of eastern North Carolina BBQ.

The restaurant is famous for its chopped BBQ pork and smoked turkey, pulled chicken, spareribs, mac and cheese and collard greens. We sampled a BBQ pork sandwich and a slice of smoked turkey, along with some mac and cheese. Tasty? You bet!

It was accompanied by a boozy slushie made with Cheerwine and bourbon. Cheerwine, I learned, is a uniquely southern bubbly cherry soda, which is quite sweet. Add the liquor and it packs a punch.

Rebus Works is a Hidden Gem

Tin fish plate at Rebus Works. Photo by Debbie Stone
Tin fish plate at Rebus Works. Photo by Debbie Stone

Next up was Rebus Works, a cool little spot that’s part café, art gallery and grocery store. First established as a community-oriented art gallery run by artists for artists, it has evolved into an eclectic spot, where you can enjoy good coffee and an array of tasty treats, while enjoying the quirky, diner-like décor and art on display. There’s oodles of character and a warm, welcoming vibe in this hidden gem.

Owner Shonna Greenwell’s vision for Rebus Works has always been that it is a space rooted in the local community. So, naturally, local products are the name of the game here, whether you’re eating, drinking a java concoction or draft brew, or exploring the items in the grocery section. You’ll find everything from fresh produce and honey to cheese, chocolate and even body care lotions and potions from local small companies and businesses.

We dug into the tin fish plate, which consisted of sardines, hummus, pickles, kettle-cooked potato chips, cukes and sprouts and a “trifecta kraut,” with curry, turmeric and ginger. Accompanying this aesthetically and yummy display was a refreshing Purple Rain drink, made from pea flower, lavender and lemon juice.

Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing is a Hip Spot

Yummy Everything Brussels and Roasted Beet Hummus at Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing. Photo by Debbie Stone
Yummy Everything Brussels and Roasted Beet Hummus at Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing. Photo by Debbie Stone

We then made our way to Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing, a short walk across Boylan Bridge, where we stopped to take in the skyline view of the city. Jacquelyn called our attention to the train tracks below, explaining that they separate in two, and that this type of juncture is known as a “wye.” It’s where the trains change direction on their course.

Upon arriving at the restaurant, we learned that owners Chris Borreson and Sara Abernethy chose to name their establishment as such because for them, the wye in the tracks “symbolizes a new beginning, a new direction and a bright future ahead for our city.”

At Wye Hill, the focus is chef-driven, innovative bar food, creative cocktails and craft beer, which is brewed on site. We sat on the spacious outdoor patio to take in the views, while munching on Everything Brussels and Roasted Beet Hummus. I love brussels, but I’m particular about them. These, I’m happy to say, were fabulous. I loved the combo of fromage blanc, maple-mustard and everything bagel seasoning used on them. And they were perfectly crispy!

I was initially wary about the Roasted Beet Hummus, as I’m not a big fan of beets, though I do like their vibrant color. Not sure what magic the kitchen performed with these veggies, but the resulting dish was a big hit. I practically scraped the bowl with the accompanying griddled pita.

Find Delicious Argentine-Style Empanadas at Makus in the Morgan Street Food Hall

Inside Morgan St. Food Hall. Photo by Debbie Stone
Inside Morgan St. Food Hall. Photo by Debbie Stone

After Wye Hill, we headed towards the Warehouse District to the Morgan Street Food Hall. Here, you’ll find a slew of local eateries and restaurants, as well as local food retailers, offering a wide variety of cuisine from pizza and tapas to Indian curries, sushi, fish and chips, and more. There’s even a gin and absinthe bar.

We had the opportunity to sample empanadas from Makus Empanadas. This eatery (and its other location in Durham) is owned by three close friends who grew up in Argentina. The men long dreamed of sharing their all-time favorite food – empanadas – with everyone, using authentic recipes from their grandparents. Flash forward and their dream became a reality.

The empanadas at Makus are always baked, never fried, and come stuffed with a number of different fillings, like beef, chicken, ham and cheese, spinach and sweet corn. My husband and I scarfed down a few of these made-to-order, piping hot and savory pastries and declared them to be as good as the ones we recently had in Buenos Aires.

The Raleigh Food Tour Ends on a Sweet Note at Videri Chocolate Factory

How sweet it is at Videri Chocolate Factory! Photo by Debbie Stone
How sweet it is at Videri Chocolate Factory! Photo by Debbie Stone

Last stop on the tour was Videri Chocolate Factory, which proved to be a sweet end to the afternoon. Videri sources organic and transparent trade ingredients to ensure a high quality, responsible chocolate. And it’s nut free, peanut free, gluten free, soy free and egg free, so those with food allergies in these categories can fully enjoy the experience.

Just know you might have a hard time deciding what delectable treats you want to purchase, as there are many options, from dark chocolate bars to bon bons with caramels and ganache. My chewy apricot caramel bon bon was heavenly and I savored each tiny bite, trying to make it last longer.

You can also take a self-guided tour of the factory and enjoy some free samples before making your decisions. And there’s a cute café, too, which offers coffee drinks and soft-serve ice cream.

No need for dinner after this tour!

www.trianglefoodandcitytours.com

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Author Bio: Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries spanning all seven continents, and her stories appear in numerous print and digital publications. 

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