Went to College in Raleigh for 6 years and grew up in Durham/Chapel Hill area. Now live in DC, but have traveled all over. You will be pleased with the variety and quality of food you find I think.
I don’t think you want to drive to wilson or goldsboro, nothing to do when you get there even if the ‘que is good.
If you want to kill a solid day (4 hours each way) go to Asheville. Tons of good places to eat there around main st, and fun to walk around. Be aware if you drive west the style of BBQ changes (around Winston Salem or so). Worth trying the east and west stlyes. (east is best)
First advice – get sweet tea everywhere you go. I think its a sign of cultural respect. Anyone that asks for non-sweet tea (Yankees) are just obnoxious. The BBQ places and southern eateries pride them selves on a good brew usually, so its just like trying their hushpuppies (the other classic favorite).
Raleigh, mostly downtown which is a bit spread out. There are some good places to walk around and look, some not. Natural history museum and capitol building are decent to walk around. Raliegh’s art museum is good too. Check out the fairgrounds on the weekend for a big giant flea market, always entertaining. "Cameron Village" is a classy shopping area that can be decent to browse and some good food too.
1) NC Seafood Restaurant – fried seafood dirt cheap and good: @ the state farmer’s market, eat on a picnic table out of syrofoam boxes
2) Cooper’s Barbecue – an institiution. Fresh porkrinds on the tables
3) Joe’s Place Featuring Joe’s Mom’s Cooking – lunch and dinner, best southern classics and great sandwhiches on fresh homemade bread. Get the all you can eat veggie plate and try the sweet potatoes, green beans and greens. Don’t be scared of the unmarked bottle of hot pepper vinegar on the tables. It looks like waste but is nice on greens.
4) Krispy Kreme downtown, I think this is the 2nd store ever, original is in Winston-Salem. open 24-7, look for hot glazed and the sour cream donuts.
5) Cafe Luna – really great italian, kinda classy but you’re not out of place in jeans.
6) Hayes Barton Cafe and Dessertry – best desserts that are over the top good, great burgers, etc. Huge cakes and pies by the slice and fresh milkshakes
7) Mitch’s Tavern – great place to enjoy a game and a beer or 5 and tasty chili or sandwhich. Lounge around, Mitch is usually around and good to chat too.
8) Frazier’s – great semi classy dining, fancy menu but good
9) Brigs – northern raleigh, best breakfast, although not southern style. Never found a souther style breakfast place that was better than moms biscuits and gravy so I quit trying. Brigs has some amazing omlettes, waffles, pancakes. Try the almond nut-muff. There’s one in Chapel Hill too. I’d eat there every morning.
10) someone else mentioned Char-grill, awesome burgers
11) If you like lots of varieties of beer the Flying Saucer is great. Food not terrific though. Very near krispy kreme (that’s how I know KK is open late!)
12) Neomonde Bakery & Deli – middle eastern – get a falafel and some hummus and pitas. Don’t miss the baklava. Really great food.
Near Duke Univ (really nice campus to walk around)
1) Elmo’s Diner – ate there once a week for 5 years
2) Cosmic Cantina – big giant burritos before they were cool. All prices exactly even dollars, no change!
3) Bullocks Barbeque is amazing, great fried chicken too
4) Fast food: BoJangles. great fries and country ham biscuits. If the store is a good one the food will be perfect. If the fries are cold send them back… they are worth the wait hot.
Also near Duke is the Duke Homestead Tobacco museum, where else can you find that?!?
Can catch a durham bulls game – cheap and a great atmosphere. Better than a major league game