Let’s say you’re tired of eating burgers and maybe even Italian or Chinese food… So where should you go for dinner tonight? While the Triangle certainly isn’t a food mecca like some bigger cities, there are definitely some more esoteric cuisines for those of you that are super-curious eaters! I mean, how many of y’all have tried Afghani cuisine before? I’m guessing it’s less than half of you and let me tell you, you’re missing out! Or how about a good German/Polish restaurant? J Betski’s is a great option for sausage and sauerkraut right in downtown Raleigh. And if you’re jonesing for Thai or Vietnamese, why choose? Just go to Spize Cafe and you’ll have the best of both worlds. All three of these places prepare their food with great flavor and freshness, even if you may not have put them on your restaurant rotation!
Let’s start with the hearty German fare over at J Betskis in the Seaboard neighborhood of Raleigh. Inside J Betskis you’ll get a feel for its German background but it’s not over the top in terms of decor. No lederhosen, a minimum of stained glass and while the space does have a lot of dark woods, J Betski’s has a modern and airy feel. Grab a beer at the bar if you need to wait, the place serves some of the best beer I’ve had recently. I’m not sure what their secret is but the brewski’s there tasted ridiculously fresh and clean. Even if their food wasn’t so darn good, I’d just come here to sit and chat with the bartenders while quaffing a fresh beer!
But lo and behold, J Betski’s menu has some great Eastern European classics such as bratwurst, knockwurst, kielbasa and pierogies but always done with a fresh and delicious twist! I’ve had a fantastic house-made kielbasa sandwich on a delectable roll along with a side of German potato salad (sliced potato, vinegar, herbs). Their pierogies are deliciously tender, filling without being too heavy. And service has been quite good during both my visits. Sitting outside on their covered patio, well I can’t think of a much better way to spend the afternoon on a nice day!
Moving off the European continent and moving down south, take a culinary trip to Afghanistan with a meal at Unaabi Grill in Cary! From the outside Unaabi isn’t much to look at but don’t let its looks fool you. Inside you’ll find a dark polished wood floor, traditional Afghani garb and hangings on the wall and a FANTASTIC menu of Middle Eastern delights! If you’ve never had Afghani food before, the best way to describe it as a blend of Turkish, Indian and Middle-Eastern fare. No surprise given Afghanistan’s geographic location.
Start off with Unaabi’s light and crunchy bolanee which is similar to a thinned down empanada. Filled with pumpkin, spinach, scallions, potato or meat, these lightweight fried treats are a wonderful contrast of taste and texture. And thankfully not too filling since they are delicious! For my main entrees I’ve done their kabuli palau, two beef kabobs under a pile of wonderfully spiced rice. We’re talking basmati rice seasoned with cardamon, cumin, slivered carrots and almonds along with raisins for good measure! A really delicious taste combo… And Unaabi Grill’s meats are to die for, I recently had their delicious tandoori chicken which was exceptional! Juicy, marinated chicken with a bit of char and spice, perfect! Given that there’s only two Afghani restaurants in the area that I know of (Village Kabob on Peace Street), Unaabi Grill is a great choice for adventurous eaters!
Moving further east, how about some great Thai and Vietnamese food?! Well guess what my friends, Spize Cafe will rock your tastebuds and world! Spize Cafe is an unassuming eatery on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh but inside it’s modern and eco-friendly. Check out the retro-mod furniture, polished wood floors and light-hangings. For lunch it’s a casual spot where you order at the counter. For dinner, you get table service and Spize Cafe becomes a bit more hip. Either way the food is authentic, spicy and real. The owner, Meechai Kowae hails from San Francisco and knows his way around the kitchen so when you order spicy, that’s what you’re gonna get!
One of their most popular items are the baguettes with either lemongrass pork loin or cumin chicken. The thick and crunchy La Farm baguette makes for a great contrast to the wonderfully spicy meat and strips of carrot and daikon. This sandwich is a mouthful but worth the effort and mess! I’ve also had SpizeCafe’s fish with penang curry over jasmine rice, serious spicy deliciousness. Add on a cold beer or glass of wine and you’ll have a wonderful meal. Spize Cafe dabbles in both Vietnamese and Thai cuisines which makes for a great range of appetizer and entree choices. But yes, they’ll both tingle your tastebuds!
I know that we’re in the South here and of course I love my NC barbeque and hush puppies. But I’ve seen people post online that it’s silly to expect to find good ethnic food in this area because that’s not what the North Carolina is about. But I beg to differ! The Triangle is transforming before our very eyes and its food scene is too. I’d like to think that we can keep all the great traditional Southern fare in NC and add in all the wonderful ethnic cuisines you can find in most big cities. So take advantage of these great German-Polish, Thai-Vietnamese and Afghani restaurants in the area because it’s all good, bon appetit!