China called, and Shaun Sundholm answered. A braj of many hats, @F_Letter left our shores a few days ago for bigger, better, and more MSG-laced things but not before introducing an A-Team of adventurous coworkers to some of the best eats in Raleigh (ironically Shaun lived in Durham).
A couple of these grub-hubs were once on level-5 Baldwin& lockdown, shared only with the few and privileged, but our memories must live on by the mouthful, so lucky you for landing on the receiving end of our bon-voyages.
1. Soo Cafe
If you’re looking for the best traditional fried chicken in the area, there’s no beating Beasley’s. BUT, if you’re looking for the next best thing to shove in and around your mouth then try Soo Cafe. Located incomprehensibly next to School Kids Records on Hillsborough street, the ‘cafe’ is known for their Korean Fried Chicken: Double Fried and coated in sticky, sweet, spicy sauces. I’d recommend something else, but there’s really no reason – get the chicken and prepare for a meal full of erotic noises.
2. Seoul Garden
Speaking of Korean, on the outskirts of town is another korean outpost full of many and varied specialties. Seoul Garden is a large, Korean Barbecue style restaurant outfitted with grill-top tables and copious amounts of HITE beer. The Bento Box is a steal during lunch, crammed full of dumplings, tempura, and your choice of protein – Short Ribs or Pork Bulgogi are nuts. The cold Bimbambap is off the hook, while the grill-top options are great but overpriced.
Our favorite part of Seoul Garden: The Banchan or small dishes that are served alongside everything. From small crispy fish and potatoes in honey to sesame stringbeans and fiery kimchee, they’re unlimited and always on point.
NOTE: Put Go Chu Jang (hot sauce) on everything.
3. Pho Cali
I was a frequent visitor of Pho Cali before I started at Baldwin& and met the infamous F_Letter but the frequency definitely increased in the cold lunch months after. I say cold because the house speciality, Pho, is a giant bowl of steaming hot beef broth littered with tender beefy bits. Not ideal in 90% humidity, but they have plenty of cold-noodle dishes as well as other fiery soups like the Pork & Lemongrass or Tapioca Noodle. There’s also the added bonus of cold, suspiciously-flavored Bubble Tea to cool your bones.
Our crew typically started with the pork Bahn Mi cut into smaller pieces as a starter. It’s not your traditional Bahn Mi, but damn good when the breads freshly toasted.
4. Taqueria El Toro
Known only as Secret Tacos, Taqueria El Toro was our greatest kept secret. Slipping out the front door unannounced on pilgrimage to this holiest of holy taco tanks, Secret Tacos remained a secret until Shaun’s last day when the agency saddled up and rode out 20 deep. Secret Tacos then, and forever, became Public Tacos.
Everything is good, nothing is not delicious, but if I had to call out a few main attractions I’d say go for the tongue taco, el pastor gordita, and the Menudo (tripe stew) available only on Saturdays.
Layer your tacos up with the half dozen salsa options at the salsa buffet (yes, that says salsa buffet), toss in a few roasted jalapeños, some spicy cabbage and pickled carrots maybe. Pop a Victoria, wipe your brow and enjoy the meat sweats while watching Mexican soccer.
Until your return, Zai Jian Amigo!