By Jason Frye
Southern hospitality means more to Fayetteville than a friendly wave and a “Welcome to our town.” We want you to make yourselves at home, get comfy, have a bite to eat. Fayetteville’s filled to the brim with restaurants, from well-known chains to flavors that traveled from far and wide to land on our doorstep to homegrown dishes made from recipes that have stood the test of time (and too many backyard cookouts and church suppers to count). We’re talking about tangy Eastern North Carolina barbecue and a plate piled high with sides. Crispy fried chicken served with the cheesiest mac ‘n cheese to grace your fork. Biscuits so big you’ll have to snap a pic. Farm-fresh produce. Cold draft beer poured by the brewer himself. The flavors of our home. So, we know you came hungry–hungry for something homegrown–because like any good Southern grandma, we’re glad you stopped by. Now let us fix you a plate.
North Carolina has a great barbecue tradition, and for many of us Tarheels, well, we’re pretty sure we live in the cradle of ‘cue; however, where barbecue was born is an argument for another day. North Carolina has two distinct styles of ‘cue: Eastern, with its whole hog and tangy vinegar sauce, and Lexington, with a spicier, thicker sauce and meaty cuts, like shoulders and butts. Barbecue can start an argument over styles, sauces, and sides, but we celebrate it all, even those flavors that snuck in from elsewhere and impressed us so much that we invited them to stay.
Few barbecue eateries deliver flavors like the ones you’ll find at Fowler’s Southern Gourmet. Their barbecue spans styles, from pulled pork with a splash of Eastern North Carolina vinegar sauce to sticky, saucy ribs to fork-tender brisket to pork-belly burnt ends. Doesn’t matter if you get yours as a platter, with some mighty fine sides, or as a sandwich, which can be as traditional or inventive as you are, because you’ll fall in love at first bite. With produce, cheese and more coming from farms and fields nearby and across the state, you’ll have a true taste of North Carolina on every plate.
At Southern Coals, they stretch beyond the pulled pork into some standout wings, smoked pork chops, pit roast beef, brisket, ribs and smoked chicken. But that’s not all. The sides–from potato salad to coleslaw to collards to cornbread–and their banana pudding (a classic finish to a barbecue meal) make for a plate you’ll talk about for a long time.
If you prefer your barbecue with a side of awards, then Mac’s Speed Shop will deliver the smoky goodness and the trophies, ribbons, plaques and platters that are a sign of greatness. They’ve won more than two dozen awards for their ‘cue, sauces, chicken, and more. Those awards include Grand Champion at The Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival and Reserve Champion at When Pigs Fly and at South Carolina’s Grilli’n & Chilli’n BBQ Cookoff. At Memphis in May, possibly the most lauded and important barbecue festival there is, Mac’s took 1st place in sauce, as well as 2nd, 5th and 8th-place finishes for their whole-hog barbecue. But one taste and you won’t need the award to tell you what you’re eating is world-class barbecue. Brisket burnt ends, cornmeal-fried catfish, that award-winning hickory-smoked pulled pork, even a new category of barbecue goodness: Mexicue. If you’re thinking Mexicue must be things like tacos stuffed with brisket or pulled pork and barbecue sauce, a quesadilla loaded with smoked chicken, and nachos served with a heaping pile of ‘cue on top, then you’re thinking it’s time to go to Mac’s Speed Shop.
Fuller’s Old Fashioned BBQ is the very picture of traditional barbecue, with a few extras. You’ll find all the pulled pork, smoked chicken, potato salad and sweet tea you want, but look deeper and you’ll find chicken dripping in tangy, sweet, smoky sauce; fried catfish; seafood platters piled high with fried fish, shrimp and oysters; and more. For a taste of old-school ‘cue, this is it.
At Buddy’s Barbecue, they bring together two fantastic things: barbecue and breakfast. No, you’re not going to find something wild, like a barbecue benedict, on the menu, but that’s because Buddy’s sticks to tradition. So breakfast consists of country ham, eggs, breakfast sandwiches, grits and those notions of a homecooked meal. The real star of the show is the barbecue, though, and whether you like yours on a sandwich or paired up with a couple of sides and served as a tray, you’ll find the sauce has a homey balance of vinegar and pepper, and that it helps that ‘cue really shine.
Folks around here refer to Fred Chasons Grandsons Buffet simply as Grandsons, and in case you didn’t know, here in the South, if we shorten your name, give you a nickname or call you by anything other than your given name (and a few other choice words), you’re like family. At Grandsons, they keep up the family tradition of serving up platter after platter of barbecue. And fried chicken, mashed potatoes, okra and all the sweet tea you can drink. The ‘cue has that smoky note that lets you know it was done right, and the fried chicken is crispy, just like Fred Chason’s Grandmama made it.
Our deep tradition of military service shows in our barbecue, too. One of our favorites is the veteran-owned, regional chain, Mission BBQ. Their all-inclusive approach to barbecue is the right way to do it. Want some brisket, a jalapeno-laced smoked sausage and some pulled pork? Or maybe a plate of ribs, a chicken and a heap of slaw? Go for it. They have all this, plus 10 sauces to choose from, so you really can travel around the South with just one plate here.
Southern and Soul
We know how to set a table in the South, so pull up a seat and prepare for a feast. Southern cuisine is about down-home comfort, big flavors, and fresh food, which makes it a perfect pairing with Soul Food influences that keep us coming back for more.
Sweet Smokee’z BBQ & Soulfood brings Chicago-style barbecue, southside Soul Food, and Southern hospitality to Fayetteville via Fairbanks, Alaska, where Chef Mykel Sims opened a barbecue joint of his own. If that doesn’t tell you how confident Chef Sims is in his ribs, pulled-chicken sandwiches, collard greens, smoked meatloaf and shrimp ‘n grits, then maybe this will. After Alaska, Chef Sims, an Army veteran, came to Fayetteville with his active-duty wife and opened a restaurant in the heart of barbecue country, putting his ‘cue and soul-food dishes up against the best around. And he’s still standing. Go give it a taste and find out why.
Over at Rob and Mickey’s Southern Café you’ll find the burgers and sandwiches any good diner should serve, but also some sides steeped in Southern tradition. The collards, lima beans, rice and gravy, and fried okra are good enough for a meal unto themselves, but throw in a fried pork chop sandwich, a pile of smoked turkey wings or some chicken and pastry and you’re talking about a meal that’d make any Southern grandma smile.
Hot Diggity Dog carries on the Southern tradition of the cookout. Some of you might call it a “barbecue,” but down here, barbecue is pork cooked over wood; that thing you do in the backyard when you have friends over, that’s a cookout. Well, Hot Diggity Dog dishes up everything from the backyard cookout classics, like hot dogs and cheeseburgers, but then takes things a bit further, offering up a taste of the country with a fried bologna sandwich (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, and try it with cheese and mustard—you won’t be mad) and an indulgent take on the hot dog with their delicious and “Top 20 Hot Dog in North Carolina,” bacon-wrapped hot dog. With regular dogs, get one “All the Way”—with mustard, chili, slaw and onions—but with the bacon dog, it’s best to let each bite speak for itself.
You might think it’s breakfast, but Uptown’s Chicken and Waffles is an any-time-you-want-it meal. Crispy waffles, topped with perfectly fried chicken. That’s almost all you need to know. Top your waffle–and your chicken–with bourbon butter or maple pecan butter, and you’re onto something. Drizzle a little syrup over the top of their salty, succulent fried chicken and that bite of waffle, and that dab of butter transforms into a bite that will leave you speechless. Word of warning: it’s so good, you won’t want to share.
Bites from Around the World
Since the earliest days of our city, we’ve welcomed folks in from abroad with open arms—it’s that Southern hospitality, we just can’t help ourselves—and that always means sharing a meal or two. The restaurants in and around Fayetteville show our deep connection to the outside world and the authentic flavors of home, wherever home might have been.
Plenty of folks know and love Tex-Mex, but El Cazador serves a blend of familiar Tex-Mex dishes and traditional bites from across Mexico. Tacos inspired by the street carts of Mexico City; tortas with flavors from northern Mexico; seafood dishes, like ceviche, fish tacos, and camarones al mojo de ajo (grilled shrimp in an awesome garlic and mushroom sauce) that speak to coastal towns, from the Baja to the Yucatan to the Pacific. While we’re talking Latin flavors, El Salvador Restaurant brings Salvadorian flavors to the plate, and La Fogata delivers bold Colombian dishes so authentic, you’ll swear you were in Bogota.
We have flavors from the Caribbean at Jamaican Kitchen, where the Jerk Chicken serves as a great introduction to the foodways of this island nation, but dishes like curry goat, oxtail stew and rice with cabbage and plantains will take you deeper into Jamaica’s kitchen. You have to try the salt fish with ackee, Jamaica’s national dish; ackee, Jamaica’s national fruit, has a creamy, savory flavor that goes well with the spicy peppers and salty cod it’s served alongside.
Habana Cuban Restaurant continues the Caribbean theme, and though Cuba’s only 90 miles from the U.S., their food is an intriguing blend of Latin and Caribbean influences, resulting in some outstanding dishes that are simultaneously hearty and light, succulent and tropical. Plenty of plantains and tostones are on the menu to accompany the hearty flavors you’ll find in ropa vieja (Cuba’s national dish), a dish of shredded beef in a rich sauce served with fresh vegetables and plenty of rice, and chicken mole, shredded chicken served in a sauce that’s so tightly packed with flavors, you’ll think about it for days afterward. Of course, there’s the Cubano, one of the greatest sandwiches in the world, and a solid introduction to Cuban food.
We have flavors from the other side of the globe, too. Moving East from Fayetteville, we have Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern dishes from Zorba’s Gyro on a Spit, Agora Restaurant and Pharaoh’s Village. Then there’s Indian cuisine from Bombay Bistro and rich curries from Thailand and Vietnam from Thai Lanna Restaurant, Thai Pepper Restaurant, and Grilled Ginger Vietnamese Restaurant. At Grilled Ginger, look beyond the curries into the pho, a soup from the north of Vietnam, or order one of the noodle dishes to expand your Vietnamese cuisine horizon.
Moving further east, we get to Japan and Ramen Tsubaki, where this trendy noodle soup gets its day on the stage, and Samurai Japanese Steakhouse, where they cook your meal on a teppanyaki table. Finally, we hit Korean cuisine with a stop in at Shila Korean Restaurant, where the scallion pancakes, bi bim bop (rice served in a piping hot stone bowl and topped with veggies, meat, a fried egg, and plenty of spicy sauce), and kimchi will convert you to a Korean food fan for life.
The Best Breakfast
All that talk about chicken and waffles has us thinking about breakfast, and in Fayetteville, we have some mighty fine spots, where the coffee is hot and the breakfast done just right.
A Fayetteville favorite is Metro Diner, where you can order a pair of sunny-side-up eggs and toast or you can step things up a bit. Fried Chicken Benedict (a croissant turned French Toast), stacks of fluffy pancakes and two big biscuits smothered in gravy might tempt you away from your usual order, but you might be the breakfast sandwich type. If you are, it’s your lucky day, because the Avocado Breakfast Sandwich–a BLT plus avocado, plus egg, plus eight-grain bread–is a guaranteed hit.
Biscuits are big in the South, and they’re even bigger at Vicky’s Biscuits and Chicken. These are what we call cathead biscuits, because these fluffy, buttery beauties are huge (the size of a tom cat’s head), and they’re topped with everything from country ham to fried chicken to a pork chop. Or go for the biscuit in all its biscuit-y goodness and have yours with a bit of butter and jelly.
Five breweries in and around Fayetteville keep us from getting too thirsty, and we have our favorite pints everywhere we go. You will, too, after a little beer tour. From tasters to flights to full pours, these brews are big on flavor and are a great marriage of the international and multicultural influence that’s shaped our city into what it is today.
Gaston Brewing Company serves a full menu of pub grub, burgers and sharable pizzas, but it’s what they’re pouring that has us walking through the door. The Gold Digger Belgian Tripel and the All American Strong Ale bring styles from the land of windmills and wooden shoes to Fayetteville, and they’re spot on in terms of style. Those beers are big–both of them clocking in at more than 7% alcohol by volume (ABV)–so if you want something lighter, the Lafayette Kölsch–a beer named for the city’s hero and for that classic German style–is crisp, clean and ideal on a hot day. With India Pale Ales (IPAs), Double IPAs, a tasty wit and seasonal offerings, you might have to visit a time or two if you want to taste the whole lineup.
Food trucks frequent Bright Light Brewing Company, a downtown nano-brewery where they show off the best of what they can do in a pint glass and celebrate tasty brews from across North Carolina. A pair of great–and distinctly different–blonde ales and an intriguing cream ale anchor their menu, while specialty styles, like sours, pop up on the guest taps. A fun, friendly atmosphere and folks who definitely like to talk beer, Bright Light is exactly what you want in a neighborhood brewery.
Huske Hardware House, another downtown brewery, is Fayetteville’s oldest, and it’s in a gorgeous historic building. Another brewery with a full menu (try the shrimp po’boy or the beef tip hoagie—you won’t be disappointed), their beer’s as cold as it is refreshing.
When you head to The Mash House Brewing Company remember two words: steak and beer. The steaks are hand-cut beauties, and the beer’s brewed just steps from the bar. The Hefeweizen has that big banana and clove flavor and hazy look you want in a hefe, and their Stout is loaded with a roasty, chocolaty aroma that carries over into the flavor of the beer. But it’s their IPA that surprises; not too hoppy, not too malty, this is an accessible beer that’s easy to sip.
In Hope Mills, less than 1 mile from I-95, Dirtbag Ales Brewery and Taproom keeps more than a dozen beers on tap, and each one’s a great match to the smashburgers at Napkins, the onsite eatery. It’s hard to know where to start here. Do we go with the Ragular–a craft brew designed with the non-craft drinkers in mind (word of warning, it will convert you to craft beer)–or the Oui Oui Saison–which brings together French yeast and crisp apples to create a beer that’s an instant favorite–or something else? Maybe the Impossibly Black, a black IPA with Ethiopian coffee, or the Blactobacillus, a dark, kettle-soured ale that adds in notes of cherries and cinnamon to round it out. That only scratches the surface of what’s on offer here.
In the South, we like to get dressed in our finest on Sunday, whether we’re headed to a house of worship or some to-die-for brunch reservations, but we’ll also get dressed up any other day of the week and head out for a celebratory meal.
After undergoing a facelift that’s made Circa 1800 shine, they’re ready to impress with more than just the dining room; they want to wow you on the plate. Brunch, served Saturday and Sunday, is an absolute feast. The shrimp ‘n grits has a well-earned reputation for being among the best around, likewise the bananas foster French toast. You can’t go wrong on their menu, as long as you don’t forget the Bloody Mary Bar.
Scrub Oaks - Contemporary American Pub’s brunch aims to please, as well, and with a weekend menu that changes according to what’s in season and what tastes great, the only thing you can expect is a delicious meal. Their soft-shell crab might make an appearance; or maybe it’s the chef’s take on fish tacos or a surf and turf plate you’ll want to write home about; or maybe it’s an adult milkshake—imagine Maker’s Mark blended into some house-made ice cream; or maybe . . . you get the picture. Scrub Oaks takes their food seriously, and they’re seriously creative.
For more than 55 years, Chris’s Steak & Seafood House has been a go-to for those meals that mark a special occasion and a favorite restaurant when we have a hankering for steak. The steaks here are hand-cut, and the seafood fresh from the coast—something that’s held true here since they opened in 1963 and something that’s earned them such a high reputation. Whether you feel like a ribeye, filet, rack of lamb or catch of the day (guarantee it was swimming just a few hours ago), it’s going to be cooked to perfection and paired with the perfect wine.