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Jan 26 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the OK- Five Star and Irregardless Cafe

If you’ve read Foodalicious Follies for any length of time, some of you might be thinking: “Great he likes this place but looks like this guy eats and likes EVERY-thing”! Which is partially but not entirely true, I’m actually a bit picky about my restaurant favorites. I do like most of the places I dine at and totally respect restauranteurs. And when I’m trying out a new restaurant, it’s typically based on recommendations by friends, online reviews and local buzz. So admittedly, my opinions skew to the positive side of things because that’s the way I roll and yes, I don’t like wasting my money. That being said, I have to confess to not liking a handful of popular Triangle restaurants, mea culpa.

 

Five Star is a tough one for me, there are some really decent things about the place. Find their discrete entry-way, push open the heavy wooden door and voila! Love the multi-level space and stylish decor, perfect spot for a first date. Great lounge space, bar and their service is solid. Prices at Five Star are pretty reasonable and portion sizes decent. So what’s not to like? Well to be honest with you, the food.



I’ve eaten at Five Star several times and try to give it a chance. Tried everything from the heatseeker shrimp, sesame beef, scallion pancakes and spring rolls. The sesame beef seemed to be mostly coating and the scallion pancakes? Way too dry and floury. Everything I’ve eaten seems overly sweet, battered and totally Americanized. My overall take is that I’d prefer PF Chang’s to Five Star and I really don’t think much of PF Changs. In the end, I think you should eat whatever you like but Five Star doesn’t come close to five stars for me, it would be lucky to get two. And yet I know many in the area adore Five Star. Love the space, love the concept but yeah, the food just falls really short. But you know what? I’m sure I’ll give ‘em another try sometime soon…

 

Dining room at Irregardless Cafe, Foodalicious Follies

Another Raleigh classic is Irregardless Cafe over on Morgan Street. Several people recommended this place to me when I first moved in the area so I had high expectations. What started out as a vegetarian restaurant has become more of a mixed bag of cuisines with a focus on local and sustainable. Again, I’ve eaten here several times and never been really impressed. Chicken marsala, ok. Shrimp and grits, ok. And I know they use great ingredients and are an institution but still… My experience has been that the entrees have always been a bit uninteresting, lacking in flavor and poorly presented, not a good combo.

 Chicken marsala at Irregardless Cafe, Foodalicious Follies


Between the location, decor and mixed service, I really can’t see paying the $18 – $24 price for entrees. But if you’re a vegetarian, Irregardless might be a decent dining spot. In a perfect world, Irregardless Cafe would morph into a restaurant more akin to Watts Grocery in Durham but I’m not holding my breath. The challenge with being a local institution is that it’s so hard to evolve and improve when your customer’s expect a certain experience and menu. Unfortunately Irregardless Cafe falls into the really middling category for me. However at their prices, I can’t really recommend them. Too many better choices out there, my friend.


 

 

I really hate being disappointed with my dining dollars so even if I’m stepping into a restaurant for the first time, I’ve typically done my research. And when I go out to eat, I try to order food that I can’t cook at home. As a decent home chef, who wants to order up a meal I could whip up myself?! Which is why I love my pizza, slow-smoked ribs, and fried goodies when I go out. And if you can’t beat what I could cook at home, why should I bother?

Foodalicious Follies is about getting the most for your dining dollar. And while Five Star and Irregardless Cafe are not bad restaurants, I typically find them lacking and wouldn’t really bother unless someone asked me to go. Because in the end, I’m all about the food and want you to be happy and full of bon appetit! But I’m still hoping these Raleigh favorites can pick up their foodie game, I’m not ready to give up on you yet…

Five Star
511 W. Hargett Street
Raleigh, NC 27603
919.833.3311

Irregardless Cafe

901 W. Morgan Street
Raleigh, NC 27603
919.833.8898

Five Star on Urbanspoon

Irregardless Cafe & Catering on Urbanspoon

7 comments

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  1. Alan King

    >Thanks for the review, but I couldn't disagree more about Five Star. Perhaps its a matter of expectations – I don't expect native Asian cooking like I would find in Beijing or Bangkok – really, I don't expect that from any Asian restaurant in the area. What I do expect, and routinely experience at Five Star, is delicious, well prepared and well presented food. I've never been disappointed. Couple the food, with great space and fantastic service and it's a winner for me. Now, I'll admit I may be a bit partial – it's my neighborhood local and folks at Five Star are friends – but I don't think either of those things influence my taste buds. Scallion pancakes and seared duck breast – that's a meal that makes me smile. Glad you're going to give them another chance and thanks for your reviews.

  2. RonW

    >Hey Alan, thanks for checking out the blog and the comment. Yes, it is a matter of expectations because food can be very subjective. Definitely think you should like what you like and we can agree to disagree, respectfully.

    But I did spin up this post for several specific reasons. One, because they both are Raleigh/local institutions. Two, because I don't want y'all to think I'm a foodie pushover. And three, to address the rapidly evolving food scene out here.

    Understand that I've been eating scallion pancakes for well over 30 years and love em! Brilliantly simple, when done well, delicious. My family has owned several Chinese-American restaurants and my mom made them all the time so I've got the bar set in my head. And I can only ignore that bar so much, even when trying something different. That being said, when I first tried Five Star's pancakes, my initial thought was a resounding "WTF". I knew the place was Americanized but it was beyond my expectations. If I have a friend who tells me, I want totally Americanized Chinese food, I would bring them to Five Star. But would prefer something like David's Dumpling & Noodle bar, truthfully. At least we agree on the service and decor, but I do think the Five Star's owners (as smart business people) are serving food for a very specific niche. And I hope that both restaurants do step up their game.

    Separately, I'll disagree with you that you can't get good Asian/native cooking out in the Triangle. Maybe that could be said 10 years ago but the food scene here is morphing quickly which is exactly why I write Foodalicious Follies. Have you tried Dim Sum House, Asian Grill, 35 Restaurant or Super Wok? All in Raleigh/Cary and good examples of decent authentic Chinese food. My hope would be if you gave them a fair shot, you'd eventually prefer them to more Americanized options.

    In the end you should absolutely eat what you like but I whole-heartedly encourage you to try out more authentic options. Again, thanks for the honest comments on this touchy subject. I had some trepidation writing up this posting but want to be honest on my side too.

    Respectfully,

    RonW

  3. Todd

    >I am neither here nor there with Five Star's food and their bar could be better, but… I like the "place" and the food is "decent." So I will be back.

    Irregardless… I *love* Irregardless. They have a couple dishes that are… meh. But, on the whole… I *love* Irregardless. Plus, kinda like Five Star, the "place" that is Irregardless makes it one of my "default restaurants" in Raleigh.

    (by the way, your openid commenting seems to be broken – at least for me on Chrome)

  4. RonW

    >Hey Todd, thanks for the comment. Looks like what I've posted is a bit contentious, cest la vie. So we sorta agree on Five Star and I admit my problem with them is due to the fact that I know Asian cuisine really well. And I have a really hard time accepting their version of it. No big deal.

    For Irregardless I just feel the food is SO average. And the rest of the place: decor, service, ambiance is sorta below average. While their prices are probably a touch higher than average. Again another institution that was great once but I think time has passed it on.

    But I will toss out some other suggestions for Irregardless. Try out Capital Club 16 which is cheaper, more interesting and has excellent food. Brought Morgan there and he loved it. Always love the Rockford for high-quality, inexpensive sandwiches. And Humble Pie is really good with eclectic small plates.

  5. Anonymous

    >Hey, Ron.

    Just wanted to recommend trying Gonza Tacos y Tequila on Lead Mine Rd. Random location, but great food.

  6. Ben

    >Ron,

    Good post. I hate wasting my money too and usually do plenty of research before I try a new place. I haven't been to either of these places in many years, but I guess the fact that they're both still around probably says something positive about the experiences they offer. And yes, Watts Grocery is totally awesome, and I wish Raleigh had something like it.

  7. RonW

    >Thanks Ben, I tried to talk about the goods and bads of both spots and I hope they evolve over time. It's just that when new places are raising the bar, it's hard for established places to keep up.

    Durham has a couple of places that I would love to see in Raleigh. Watts, Toast and Dain's come to mind…

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