Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina. With great power comes great breakfast responsibility, especially when the people powering up in the morning might be the one making major decisions for the entire state. Here’s where the locals go for the best breakfast in Raleigh—and where you should, too.
North Raleigh, land of pre-planned subdivisions, doesn’t get credit for having great food options. But Brig’s, which has been a community stalwart since the ‘80s, is reliably one of the best breakfasts (or brunches) in town. The rich French Toast and Belgian waffles are always solid options, but if you’re feeling more adventurous the restaurant has weekly Benedict, omelet, and griddle specials (think a big gooey melt of vegetables, ham, cheese, and home fries) that change every week. And despite its relative longevity in the Raleigh restaurant scene, Brig’s isn’t afraid to change with the times—they have gluten-free bread now.
Native North Carolinian chef Ashley Christensen, a James Beard Award winner, has half a dozen restaurants around town, each of which masters a different style, from hipster-approved small plates to luxe fried chicken. Head to Poole’s Downtown Diner, arguably her flagship, for upscale but filling takes on Southern classic diner fare where the day’s menu is scrawled on chalkboards—think a peach and brown butter tart, crispy cornmeal-battered fried okra, and crab beignets. The newly released Poole’s Cookbook will give you inspiration between visits.
If your breakfast style is more pastries-and-coffee than grits-and-bacon, the elegant Lucettegrace in downtown Raleigh is your best bet. The sweets are what would happen if a Parisian settled in the American South: buttermilk and fig scones, ham and cheese croissants, and a rotating selection of toothache-worthy cakes and pies, like a Valparaiso (named for the pastry chef’s hometown—in Indiana, not Chile) cake with coconut shortbread and vanilla mousse.
As a general rule, if a restaurant loudly proclaims itself the best of something, you should take it with a shaker full of salt—after all, how many dollar slice places claim to have New York City’s best pizza? But Big Ed’s claims it has the best Southern-style home cooking in Raleigh, and it may very well be right. Big Ed—yep, he was a real guy—first opened this cafe in the ‘50s, and customers still line up for cooked-to-order breakfast dishes like hot cakes, ham with red eye gravy, fried catfish, and eggs scrambled with pork brains (yep, you read that right). Wash it down with some of North Carolina’s unofficial state beverage, the super-sweet red soda called Cheerwine.
New Englanders may run on Dunkin, but Southerners (and especially North Carolinians) swear loyalty to Krispy Kreme, which was invented in Winston-Salem, NC, about an hour and a half west of Raleigh. It’s practically a state law to have the original glazed donut (or, let’s be honest, three of them), but you can switch it up to a chocolate glazed with sprinkles or a cinnamon sugar without hurting anyone’s feelings. To get the full experience, wait for the “hot donuts” light to come on, but hurry—it acts as a Batsignal for everyone in town.
Grits are the quintessential Southern breakfast (and lunch, and dinner…) food, and pairing them with shrimp is a perfect way to get your morning going. For this meal with a healthy dose of kitsch, Nofo @ The Pig, a combination restaurant and store dedicated to all things Southern is your spot. The name is an homage to the Piggly Wiggly grocery store that once occupied this space. Besides the shrimp and grits, invest in a buttermilk fried chicken with eggs, pulled pork hash, or fried green tomato Eggs Benedict with pimento cheese and bacon jam. To begin working off the calories, head upstairs to the shop, which was doing Draper James before Reese Witherspoon was—in addition to local meats, coffees, beers, wines, chocolates, and cheeses, you can pick up cutesy T-shirts and coffee mugs printed with the NC state flag.
Don’t go to Humble Pie expecting pie—or a humble menu. Despite the name, this downtown Raleigh spot is a go-to for filling, savory small plates (which are really more like medium plates). The weekend brunch has standard Southern fare like biscuits and gravy, plus more mainstream dishes like huevos rancheros, pancakes, and breakfast burritos. If your brunch stretches into lunch, the patio has a tiki bar, and the bar bites include a crazy-good ricotta gnocchi.