Capture the joy of travel much closer to home with these local restaurants that boast unique atmospheres and food inspired by other countries.
by Kara Adams
Experiencing a bit of FOMO after scrolling Instagram lately? Fear not: these local restaurants and bars with exotic atmospheres and worldly cuisines will transport you on a summer vacation in no time. From authentic cuisine like escargot or hand-made pasta, to bubbling fountains and pergolas wound with grapevines, Raleigh restaurants can transport you to another land. Immerse yourself in the beaches of Mexico, the streets of Italy, and other exotic locals — without getting on a plane — with these 11 restaurants.
For a Trip to a Greek Village: Taverna Agora
When Lou Moshakos settled down in Raleigh, he brought with him the opportunity to experience a slice of life in a small Greek village with a night at Taverna Agora. The Greek Kitchen & Bar is authentic down to the smallest details, from Greek wood adorned bars to olives with pits in honor of his heritage, and 30-foot boat ropes hanging from the ceiling that remind you to try the delicious Fisherman’s Pasta. The dishes on the Mediterranean menu are all made with olive oil imported from Greece, so you really can taste a bit of Moshakos’ homeland no matter what you try.
Indoor & outdoor seating available; 326 Hillsborough St | tavernaagora.com
For Chic Cuisine at a French Bistro: Jolie
If you’re dreaming of a date night in Paris, Jolie is just about the closest you can get. With a cozy and intimate setting that harkens the backroads of France and a stunning rooftop dining option, you’ll feel like the Eiffel Tower is just outside. The menu is full of unique twists on French classics that are sure to satisfy your craving for something new, from classic trout amandine to an escargot that changes with the season.
Dine-in; reservations recommended; 620 N Person St | restaurantjolie.com
For Happy Hour in the Tropics: Lola’s Beach Bar
Lola’s brings the beach to Raleigh with a bamboo bar, a copious amount of surfboards, and a wave-themed floor pattern that is so detailed you can almost feel the sand between your toes. Sip on one of their refreshing cocktails, including piña coladas and an authentic Jamaican Rum Punch, as you chill out in this tropical oasis with surfing competitions playing on the televisions.
Indoor & outdoor seating available; 1803 Glenwood Ave | lolasbeach.bar
For a Starry Italian Meal on the Plaza: Mulino
Treat yourself to a long, indulgent Italian meal and good wine in this dreamy outdoor dining space, complete with string lights and a bubbling, tiled pool (no swimming, sorry). Between the menu filled with handmade pastas and house-made gravy to a wine list focused on Italian vineyards, a night under Mulino’s cafe lights, where potted plants abound, is sure to satisfy your sightseeing cravings.
Indoor & outdoor seating, reservations available; 309 N Dawson St #1313 | mulinoraleigh.com
For a Trip to the Streets of Mexico: Gringo A Go Go
“Taste the flavor of real Mexican food” is the promise of this lively restaurant, which serves up authentic dishes with lots of vegetarian and vegan options. This cocina-and-bar strikes a vibrant image, with fiesta lights and hammered metal cacti filling the space, and fedoras and vintage photographs adorning the walls. Pair one of the famously delicious home-cooked meals with agua fresca, refreshing beer or a daily special margarita, infused with whatever’s in season.
Indoor & outdoor seating available; 100 N Person St | gringoraleigh.com
For a Trip to Ireland: Doherty’s Irish Pub
If you want to experience a night out in Dublin, try watching one of the upcoming World Cup football matches at Doherty’s. This pub feels like the real deal, with Guinness on tap and traditional Irish meals like boxty’s and fish and chips rounding out a menu full of some of the best bar food on this side of the pond, with an environment to match.
Indoor & outdoor seating, reservations available | 1979 High House Rd, Cary | dohertysirishpubnc.com
For Casual Island Vibes: Honeysuckle Teahouse
If you’ve always wanted to experience a traditional tea house, look no further than Chapel Hill’s Honeysuckle. With open air seating, bright blue paint, flower fields, and a hippie vibe, this unique spot feels like anywhere but North Carolina. Try one of the house’s herbal blends while your children frolik in the nearby flower fields and teeter-totter at the playground, or relax in one of the colorful eno hammocks.
Outdoor seating; 8871 Pickards Meadow Road, Chapel Hill | thehoneysuckleteahouse.com/
For a Luxury Vacation to Mexico, Oceanside: The Cortez
The bright blue benches and plant-covered walls make you feel like you’re on a vacation as soon as you enter The Cortez. The inviting tiki bar and cheerful vibe create a beachside atmosphere — but the sophisticated cocktails, seafood-forward menu, and chic presentation made it feel more resort than surf shack.
Indoor & outdoor seating, reservations available; 413 Glenwood Ave | cortezraleigh.com/
For Sampling an Open-Air Market in Asia: MOFU Shoppe
MOFU’s dishes are inspired by owners’ Sophia Woo and Sunny Lin’s Asian-American heritage and travels across the continent. They opened the restaurant with their winnings from the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race, and the airy restaurant with huge windows faces Raleigh’s bustling downtown for a street-market feel. The menu blends and mixes all sorts of traditional Asian staples, like Vietnamese-ish bánh mì corndog, Korean-ish kimchi fries and their Thai twist on bananas foster.
Dine-in, reservations available; 321 S Blount Street | mofushoppe.com/
For a Meal in a Hidden Mediteranean Alleyway: Sitti’s Patio
Sitti serves up modern renditions of Lebanese meals, and their open-air patio, nestled between buildings behind the restaurant, is a surprise even to locals. The Art Deco bar features Lebanese liquors, wines and beers and their plethora of dips encourage sharing. The name is a tribute to the grandmothers, or sittis, of the Hatem family, and the universal grandmotherly love shines through in the menu, including dishes like kabobs, pizzettes, and tasting samplers to learn about the cuisine.
Indoor & outdoor seating, reservations available; 137 S. Wilmington Street | sitti-raleigh.com/
For a Romantic European Vacay: Rosewater Kitchen & Bar
The lovely Rosewater Kitchen will have you quite literally looking at Raleigh through rose-colored glasses as their dewy lighting bathes the space in coral hues. The dishes are just as enchanting and colorful, including a striking pink beet & ricotta hummus, and a selection of greens seasoned with Rosewater’s delicious blend of fresh herbs, something they pride themself in.
Dine-in; check website for hours; 110 Park at N Hills Street| rosewaterraleigh.com