What To Eat in North Carolina
North Carolina is one of the top barbecue states, but from the ocean to the mountains, exactly how the barbecue is cooked and served varies dramatically. Connoisseurs in the east and central parts of the state want whole hog ‘cue (although some prefer just the shoulders) hacked to smithereens and just barely moistened with vinegar pepper sauce. Side dishes include boiled potatoes in the east and Brunswick Stew and hushpuppies in the center of the state. To the west, sauce begins to contain tomatoes and is a more significant presence on the plate.
Beyond smoke-cooked pig, North Carolina’s prime attractions are fresh Mid-Atlantic seafood, some of the nation’s best fried chicken, country ham, and superior biscuits.
Outstanding fried chicken is a staple throughout North Carolina, but Keaton's of Statesville takes it to a higher plane. Once fried to a crisp, pieces of juicy bird get a quick dip in Keaton's zesty hot sauce, which somehow gets sucked through the skin and into the meat down to the bone. The result: a taste-buds trip in a class of its own.
It might seem odd to list slaw as a Tarheel specialty. Slaw is everywhere and, really, how good could it be? In the barbecue parlors at the center of the state, it can be the star attraction. Mixed with house-made sauce and God-know-what other ingredients that chefs tend to keep secret (pimento cheese? curry powder? hot peppers? tart pickles?), it can serve as a salad, a dip, or the secret element of meat loaf. But it reaches fullest glory when piled atop a mound of smoke-cooked pork.
There are literally dozens of styles of barbecue across the wide state of North Carolina. Lexington-style is king: pork shoulders cooked over wood coals until fallapart tender, dressed with minimal vinegar-based red sauce. Have a platter or sandwich, sliced or chopped, and ask for extra pieces of crunchy skin.
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A pork chop sandwich at Snappy Lunch diner in Mount Airy (Andy Griffith's Mayberry) comes with a slew of condiments that add up to an American best!
Fatty’s is a funky spot on the southern tip of the Outer Banks serving crunchy fried chicken & waffles and other stick-to-your-ribs southern favorites.
Creative versions of southern classics make The Basics a cozy, casual downtown destination for great meals prepared with flair but no pretensions.
In a strip-mall location, the Cast Iron Kitchen offers rustic decor and downhome food. Grits, corned beef, and pimento cheese sandwiches are notable.
Three meals a day and a vast menu make Sweet N Savory Cafe a good choice for groups of diners with different tastes. From-scratch bakery is an asset.
Specialty grocer, artisan butcher, renowned Wilmington caterer, Pine Valley Market also is a grand place to eat lunch, when creativity tempers tradition.
Pinpoint is a Wilmington beacon of high-end farm (and sea)-to-table fare that is original, radiant with flavor, and glossy-magazine beautiful.
Great biscuits are the basis of an inventive menu in which southern classics are created with a modern twist. Rolled & Baked is one-of-a-kind-wonderful.
A small, humble dining hut serving excellent examples of the fried seafood for which the town of Calabash is world-famous. Very popular: expect to wait.