The final stop in our foodie pilgrimage across the US is Raleigh, NC! The North Carolina capital is becoming a serious culinary destination, in large part due to the six bars and restaurants owned by renowned chef Ashley Christensen.
Ashley grew up in a home that prioritized garden-fresh food and hosting friends and family. She is a self-taught chef, inspired by her upbringing, cooking for friends in college, and an early job in a restaurant at age 21. She’s since found huge success in the restaurant industry by trusting her passions for cooking, community, and volunteer work.
Since settling in Raleigh with experience in some of North Carolina’s top kitchens, Chef Ashley opened Poole’s Diner, the first of what would become quite a collection of downtown Raleigh institutions. Drawing on Southern comfort food classics, the menu features modern flavors, local produce, and a French influence. Few in the restaurant industry could deny her talent, drive, and connection to her city. In 2014, Chef Ashley was named the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast, the first Raleigh-based chef to do so!
WHY VISIT RALEIGH
While Raleigh doesn’t have the metropolitan feel of larger East Coast destinations, the restaurant scene can certainly hold its own. In a state with strong farming traditions, seasonal fruits and vegetables are plentiful and influence the local menus. There is something for every taste, the Southern charm infused in every dining setting from food trucks to fine dining.
CHEF ASHLEY’S RESTAURANTS
You could easily fill an entire visit to Raleigh eating only at restaurants that Ashely owns and cooks at, if not longer. “I own and operate several restaurants—Poole’s Diner, Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Chuck’s Burgers, Fox Liquor Bar, and Death & Taxes – all located within downtown Raleigh. Each building has a historic connection to the city, and we take great inspiration from the space itself in developing our concepts. The Poole’s building, for example, has been a restaurant since the 50’s, first as a pie shop and then as a luncheonette and diner. We kept the original name to pay homage to its place in Raleigh’s history. Our food is an updated contemporary take on comfort food, which ties directly in to the space’s original use.”
Want to get a taste for how Ashley incorporates extra virgin olive oil into her cooking? “We use California Olive Ranch olive oil to drizzle all of our hand-cut Belgian frites at our burger restaurant, Chuck’s. The olive oil adds a buttery round depth and helps the salt stick to each fry perfectly.”
Where Else to Dine
“This restaurant is run by my dear friends Cheetie Kumar and Paul Siler. Cheetie is the chef and her food is a beautiful ode to seasonality through the lens of her Indian background. Garland is sandwiched in between King’s, a rock club, and Neptune’s, a bar (both of which are also run by Cheetie and Paul). It creates an anchor of community and culture downtown that contributes to the tight-knit feeling of our community.”
What to Order: “At Garland, I love to order the Cauliflower 65, a dish of fried cauliflower florets tossed in a richly spiced sauce, along with a glass of rosé. At lunch, I’m a sucker for the kimchi roti quesadillas with cilantro crema.”
“If I’m feeling a little under the weather, or just generally having a bad day, nothing makes me feel better than a bowl of pork belly soup from this restaurant. It’s run by Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha, a brother and sister who immigrated from Laos when they were kids, and have done a beautiful job introducing the food of their childhood to Raleigh.”
“This sports bar is right across from the NC State campus and it’s the place I probably frequent the most. It’s been serving burgers to college students for decades, and it’s the type of place where everyone is a regular.”
What to Order: “I usually order Mimi dip—a hot dip with cream cheese, sausage and tomatoes—or a chicken Gus sandwich.”
Thanks to Chef Ashley and hope you get a chance to visit the restaurants she owns and recommends!