Tasty 8’s

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Raleigh is littered with hot dog joints. Roast Grill, Cloo’s, and Snoopy’s have all competed to be the city’s iconic hot dog restaurant. After taking the place of the former lunchtime favorite, Spize Cafe, Tasty 8’s is the latest challenger for the sausage crown. 

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Eight dogs, eight beers, eight milk shakes, eight dipping sauces… thus the name, Tasty 8’s. Personally, I’m not a fan of locking down your concept down to number because then what happens when you want to expand? Remember Hi5? On Tasty 8’s second night of operation Sara and I were so preoccupied with cleaning our house for visitors that we forgot to eat dinner. And although Sara whipped up some creatively themed snacks (i.e. O Dump Cake My Dump Cake) for our viewing of Dead Poets Society, we craved something more substantial after the movie. We figured a couple of hot dogs would be the perfect solution for a late night meal. 

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The Southern Dog should be a slam dunk. A twist on the Carolina classic, the dog’s addition of blue cheese to the slaw intrigued Sara enough to order it. Unfortunately, it was over-seasoned and the hot dog didn’t have the snap that I love. Sara was equally underwhelmed. 

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I am hoping the dog’s miscues were more a reflection on the restaurant’s second day of operation than a reflection of its general quality. 

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Oak City Outreach Center

That was a year ago.

For all the Top Ten and Best Of lists Raleigh often finds itself on, what caught national media attention was one of our ugliest moments. 

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That was last Sunday.

Kathy proudly showed off her Bojangles biscuit when I asked if I could take a photo of her food inside the Oak City Outreach Center.

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After the retweets and Facebook shares, the meetings and committees, the Oak City Outreach Center was born because we, Raleigh, knew as a community we could do better. 

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Behind the former Salvation Army sits a converted dry cleaner, transformed into a building were groups can now provide meals to those in need. The Outreach Center is open on the weekend, when many soup kitchens are closed.

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Over a sausage biscuit and coffee, Kathy’s eyes light up as we talk about her past. When I ask her about her given (Chinese) name, she pulls out a notepad and begins to teach me Chinese calligraphy . 

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Bojangles biscuits at the Oak City Outreach Center mean more than Scotty McCreery jingles. It’s the medium that brings me and Kathy together. The economical and social gap that divides, and even defines us, is closed by this simple meal.

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Torii Noodle Bar - Ramen Class

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As a 21-year-old wandering through the grocery store with the limited money from work study job, my choices often came down to buying beer, or food with actual substance. Of course I chose beer. I usually picked up a few packages of ramen with the change.

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But ramen in the U.S. has made a comeback since my undergrad days, from respected restaurants focusing on the dish to ramen finding its way to the latest food fads. It’s all worlds away from dry noodles and flavor packets. 

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For years Kanki has been stunning its table side audience with flattop cooking and onions volcanoes. Expanding beyond the theatrics of the Japanese steakhouse, Kanki opened up Torii Noodle Bar. 

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Goodnights Comedy Club/The Factory

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You wouldn’t believe it today but the basement of Charlie’s Goodnights used to have some of the best food in Raleigh. The Underground was one of Raleigh’s under-appreciated downtown gems that closed it doors in the late 2000’s. 

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Nowadays most diners at Charlie Goodnights are just trying to fulfill the two item minimum while catching a show. That was the situation I was in when one of my childhood idols, Mick Foley, came to town. Though initially I was content just to purchase beer from the comedy club’s surprisingly decent beer list, as it often does, my appetite began to grow. 

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Looking for some munchables to accompany the professional wrestling story-telling of Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy, I found coconut shrimp on the menu. 

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Coquette Brasserie - Brunch

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If Coquette had a sweet spot on Fayetteville Street or a nice building in the Warehouse District, the hype train surrounding the restaurant would probably go off the rails. Not to say it does poorly at its North Hills location, but it always seems to be forgotten off the endless lists of the best places to eat in the Triangle.

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Coquette embodies what is maybe the greatest strength of the Triangle culinary scene - accessibility. French food has often been thought of as high brow, complicated, and overpriced. But Coquette puts all of those notions to bed. 

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After a few days of a swollen face from my wisdom teeth extraction, I was ready to have real food again, and just in time for brunch. My first choice was soft biscuits from the State Farmer’s Market Restaurant, but pulled up to a line out the door. 

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Our journey for soft, buttery carbs lead us to North Hills. Croissants and scones were one of the first words out of my mouth. The sweet pastries came out warm and along side whipped maple butter, which melted slowly into the crevices of the bread. I powered through the ache in my jaw to enjoy each bite of the crackling goodness of the croissant.

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LeCount’s Catering Food Truck

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With food trucks nowadays plastered with vivid graphics and featuring niche cuisine, there’s something endearing about a food truck that just serves food.

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Every Saturday afternoon, while driving home from the gym I’d pass by a handmade “Hot Fish” sign pointing to the LeCount’s Catering Truck. 

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There’s nothing remarkable about the truck, just meager signs covering the sides with prices penned with permanent marker. Just a few miles down from LeCount’s catering building, the truck sits in the parking lot of a car wash. It feels worlds away from Downtown Food Truck Rodeos that happen just a few blocks away.

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The food, however, is just as good. Plentiful and mostly fried, the LeCount’s hot fish dinner seems to be meant to fill you up for both lunch and dinner. 

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Bittersweet

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One of the first trips Sara and I took together was to Charleston, and the trip remains one of our favorite memories. While strolling around Market St. one night after dinner, we craved something sweet. Kaminsky’s pastry counter called to us, and while digging into the late night sweets I longed for something similar in Raleigh. After few dessert-less years in Downtown, Bittersweet opened. 

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Supplying cupcakes and sweets to places like Helio’s (under the banner of Bittycakes), Kim Hammer finally found her own storefront for her baked sweets on East Martin Street. 

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Cup O Jane

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This may come as a disappointment to many of you, but I didn’t take any pictures of the baristas. 

Raleigh isn’t a stranger to the breastaurant concept. From the blatant to the more subtle, the Oak City is cluttered with establishments relying on more than their servers’ charm to bring in customers. But these places have always been limited to the ultra macho bars and sports bars, so my curiosity peaked when I read about Cup O Jane. 

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Firewürst

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It’s easy to look at Firewurst’s decor and branding, clean and precise, and think it’s just another start-up franchise. It’s easy to think that it’s another entry into the already bloated fast casual market, hell bent on food domination. But Sara and I learned a different story when Firewurst Co-founder Chas Morgenstern invited us to dinner at the restaurant.

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