Chatelaine Kitchen

Top five tastes of North Carolina

Steeped in Civil War history, this state’s cities and counties serve up exceptional cuisine, both locally and globally.


Pan con tomate at Mateo Bar de Tapas

I really didn’t know what to expect on a recent epicurean media tour of North Carolina. For four days we ate and drank our way through Durham, Raleigh and Kinston. Though just about everything I ate was delicious, I’ve narrowed the trip down to my five must-eats.

1. The Skylight Inn, Ayden: With Pitmaster Sam Jones and his dad, Pete, at the helm, this iconic joint has been serving up Eastern-style BBQ for over 50 years. Simply put, they specialize in slow-smoking entire butterflied hogs for up to 15 hours over oakwood charcoal until they’re fall-off-the-bone tender. Shredded and chopped with some of the crisp skin, it’s served with a dash of peppery vinegar sauce, sweet coleslaw and fried cornbread. Each smoky, tangy, sweet mouthful is different from the next; quite a contrast to the sweet one-dimensional BBQ served north of the border.

2. 18 Seaboard, Raleigh: This fancy all-American grill, a stop in our Taste Carolina Walking Food Tour, greeted us with tasting plates of wood-fired Cheshire pork belly topped with charred corn and peach-pepper jelly. The juicy glazed bites were gone in seconds and had me wishing it was a whole side of belly! A refreshing peach sangria helped take the edge off.

3. The Boiler Room Oyster Bar, Kinston: Oyster pie, oh my. A star of PBS’s A Chef’s Life, Vivian Howard’s newest restaurant serves a leek-and-oyster-filled, cornflake-topped best-pie-ever — a taste memory that still lingers. To top it all off, a classic local Southern treat of Pepsi and peanuts in a glass (it’s good, I promise) is rehashed as a salty-sweet peanut butter ice cream float, and is just as unforgettable.

4. Bida Manda, Raleigh: As soon as we walked through the red doors of this unique N.C.-meets-Laos restaurant and bar, siblings Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha offered us a big bowl of their mother’s chicken curry. With both their parents still in Laos, the pair chose the restaurant’s moniker, Sanskrit for “father and mother,” to honour them from afar. I worked my way around the lemongrass-laced sauce, trying to capture the flavourful complexity, so I could recreate it at home.

5. Mateo Bar de Tapas, Durham: Chef Matthew Kelly’s take on Spanish tapas had me at calamares fritos (fried squid rings). Served with a piquillo tartar sauce, tender, crisp squid is a tough act to follow, yet other dishes, including migas y chicharonnes (chicken-skin, broccoli, cheese & mornay sauce), pan con tomate (Spanish toast with tomato) and warm churros took our collective breath away.

Mateo bar de tapas fried calamari

Fried calamari at Mateo Bar de Tapas