2019 Maggy Awards: Restaurants

Noelle Scott, left, Mounir Saleh and Simone Saleh Lawson are behind Sassool’s everyday success. “My dad is definitely the driving force,” says Scott. “His passion for the business and for feeding people is contagious and inspiring.”

Best New Restaurant


Kathmandu Kitchen
Scratch Kitchen & Taproom

Best Appetizers

Ruckus Pizza, Pasta & Spirits

Tazza Kitchen
Rudy’s Pub & Grill

Best Cocktails

Ruckus Pizza, Pasta & Spirits

The Mason Jar Tavern

Best Bakery

La Farm Bakery

Once in a Blue Moon Bakery
Great Harvest Bread Company

Best Barbecue

City Barbeque

(Big Mike’s) Brew N Que
Danny’s Bar-B-Que

Best Breakfast

Brigs Restaurants

First Watch
Famous Toastery/Toast Cafe

Best Burger & Fries

Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar

Five Guys
Abbey Road Tavern & Grill

Best Date Night Restaurant


Tazza Kitchen
Ruckus Pizza, Pasta & Spirits

Best Coffeehouse

The Wake Zone Espresso

BREW Coffee Bar
Crema Coffee Roaster & Bakery

Best Seafood

Bonefish Grill

Deans Kitchen + Bar
The Full Moon Oyster Bar

Best Steak House

Angus Barn

Ruth’s Chris Steak House

Best Pizzeria

Ruckus Pizza, Pasta & Spirits

Salvio’s Pizzeria
Johnny’s Pizza

Most Kid-Friendly

Ruckus Pizza, Pasta & Spirits

Rudy’s Pub & Grill

Best Asian Restaurant


Tasu Asian Bistro
Taipei 101

Best Mediterranean Restaurant


Neomonde Mediterranean
Bosphorus Restaurant

Best Italian Restaurant

Daniel’s Restaurant & Catering

Lugano Ristorante
Ricci’s Trattoria

Best Indian Restaurant

Cilantro Indian Café

Kababbish Café
Nazara Indian Bistro

Best Mexican/Latin American Restaurant

Mi Cancun

Totopos Street Food & Tequila
Gonza Tacos y Tequila

Best Specialty Diet

First Watch

Diced Gourmet Salads & Wraps

Best Neighborhood Bar

Ruckus Pizza, Pasta & Spirits

Rudy’s Pub & Grill
Crosstown Pub & Grill

Best Outdoor Dining

Ruckus Pizza, Pasta & Spirits

Tazza Kitchen
Lucky 32

Best Craft Brewery

Bond Brothers Beer Co.

Fortnight Brewing Company
Southern Peak Brewery


Best Mediterranean Restaurant, honorable mention for Specialty Diet

Named for family matriarch Cecilia “Sassool” Saleh, the third-generation restaurant and bakery serves up authentic Lebanese dishes that are also healthy, fresh and delicious. Owner Mounir Saleh is the driving force behind the restaurant, and the day-to-day operations are handled by daughters Noelle Scott, who runs the North Raleigh Sassool, and Simone Saleh Lawson, who manages the Cary location. A third location opened in July at the Morgan Street Food Hall in downtown Raleigh.

“Cooking and making food is part of who we are. It’s part of our identity,” Saleh said. “Every time we’re feeding somebody in the Lebanese culture, it’s like we’re showing how much we enjoy people and how much we love their company by having that pride, that connection with food. It’s not a way to make a living; it’s not a way to make money. It’s a joy.”

The restaurant is popular with vegans and vegetarians, who can find several dishes to suit, including the popular fava bean salad. Lawson says everything is made fresh, so they can satisfy special dietary needs.

“Everything we do is mimicking the way my grandmother, my aunt, my dad host people at their home,” she said. “You’re supposed to have abundant food, everything very fresh, very tasty, and your guests or your customers — you’re there to satisfy their every request.”


Cilantro Indian Cafe

Best Indian Restaurant

Tandoori chicken with mint-yogurt sauce

Owners Tavassum Rahmen and Mustafa Ansari have built a loyal following in the nearly five years that Cilantro has been open in Cary’s MacGregor Village. The couple puts a premium on customer satisfaction and responding to their needs.

To serve customers with limited time for lunch, Rahmen and her husband created daily Fast Lunch specials.

“We have people who come in for lunch who only have half an hour,” said Rahmen. “Indian food takes a long time to make. It has a lot of spices. It’s a long process that needs to be done before we can send it out to the table. So with certain popular items – like chicken tikka masala, Moroccan hummus, butter chicken, some vegetable items like saag paneer – those things we start cooking before we open.”

The cuisine reflects the flavors of Rahmen’s home in northeast India and is characterized by fresh ingredients and halal meats. Popular menu items include the mild bihari coconut curries and the spicy chicken karahi. Most entrées come with roghni naan, a yeast bread with a texture between traditional tandoori and pita bread.

“We’re here because of our customers,” said Rahmen. “They have supported us, and their satisfaction is the most important thing.”


Mi Cancun

Best Mexican/Latin American Restaurant

This Grace Park dining spot opened in 2015, and since then it has built a solid reputation for service and value. This is the first time Mi Cancun has appeared on the Maggy list, and if the reviews are anything to go by – it won’t be the last!

Diners rave about the consistently great food, the lively atmosphere and the huge margaritas. Most of all, folks can’t say enough about the fresh guacamole, made right at your table. Also worth mentioning are the express lunches for busy professionals, the vegetarian menu, and the complementary valet parking.

Locations at the Holly Springs Towne Center and in North Raleigh also serve up a tasty mix of traditional Mexican fare.


City Barbeque

Best Barbecue

Jason Strickland never gets tired of eating barbecue, and his favorites are the award-winning brisket and the spicy smoked sausage. “I was never a big fan of kielbasa or any type of smoked sausage until I had this.” He’s holding the Mother Load party platter which serves six and retails for $59.

At the Maggy-winning barbecue joint, the smokers are going night and day, turning out scrumptious turkey, chicken, spicy sausage, pulled pork and ribs. But the beef brisket is the star of the show, named best brisket in the country at the American Royal Invitational barbecue competition in 1998.

Jason Strickland, general manager of the Cary City Barbeque, has been with the company almost five years and says the brisket won him over.

“Before they actually interviewed me, they said, ‘Hey, let’s eat this food before the interview. We want you to see what it’s about,’” he said. “I’d never heard of the company when it first came to Cary. Once I tasted that food, I thought, ‘if they do this every single day, there’s no choice but success for these guys.’”

Other distinctive dishes include the Brunswick stew, which has neither lima beans nor potatoes, the old-fashioned corn pudding and the potato salad.

“One of our employees in Ohio, his grandmother brought the corn pudding to a party that our owner was at. He told the lady that he had to have the recipe,” Strickland said. “The potato salad is a 100-year-old recipe from the owner’s wife’s great-grandmother.”

The Cary restaurant, the first location in North Carolina, opened in April 2014. Other Triangle locations are in North Raleigh, Garner and Durham. Each City Barbeque restaurant serves the local community by giving back about 10 percent of pre-tax profits to local charities and nonprofits.


Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar

Best Burger and Fries

Bad Daddy’s Sam I Am burger features ham, American cheese, pesto and a fried egg.

Bad Daddy’s gets points for consistency, claiming the Maggy win for a second year. Hungry for more juicy facts about this favorite burger joint? Order up!

2007 — The year the first Bad Daddy’s opened in Charlotte.

2013 — Bad Daddy’s opens in Morrisville’s Park West Village

12 — Specialty burgers on the menu.

12 — Types of cheese to top your burger

16+ — Craft beers on tap, including local brews from Raleigh’s Big Boss and Apex’s Bruprint.

20 — Assorted condiments, including Bad Daddy’s sauce and the delectable bacon bourbon jam


Ruckus Pizza, Pasta & Spirits

Best Pizzeria, Appetizers, Cocktails, Neighborhood Bar, Outdoor Dining and Most Kid-Friendly; honorable mention for Best Date Night Restaurant

Ruckus Nachos can be customized with three different meats and a variety of toppings.

Ruckus bartender Karin McDaniels prepares a drink with apricot-infused vodka. The strawberry-infused vodka, left, goes into the popular strawberry lemonade.

With six Maggy wins and one honorable mention, it’s clear that our readers love this popular Triangle restaurant group. But owners Robert and Ashley Royster and Amy Pilz believe that supporting the community is as important as great food.

“We support the community, so they support us back. We do a lot of give-backs to local schools, local charities, anything that we can do,” said Ashley Royster.

Every March, Ruckus hosts a St. Baldrick’s Foundation head-shaving event, which last year raised more than $72,000 for cancer research. In December, the Raising a Ruckus nonprofit collects money for Christmas gifts and other necessities for needy families in Western Wake. In 2017, 45 families at eight area schools benefited from the generosity of Ruckus staff, patrons and community partners.


First Watch

Best Specialty Diet, honorable mention for Best Breakfast

The breakfast, lunch and brunch spot opened in Cary in March 2017, and has quickly become a favorite for folks seeking a healthy way to start their day.

“We offer items that you wouldn’t typically find on menus, from coconut-chia seed pudding to healthier omelets and items that utilize egg whites instead of the full eggs,” said Mark Shaulis, general manager.

Avocado Toast, with fresh avocado, seasoning, and lemon on multigrain bread, and served with two eggs, is by far, the top seller, he says. Other favorites are quinoa power bowls, house-made granola and hearty skillet hash.

“At First Watch, our mission is simple; it’s ‘you first.’ We value our time together — the people who we serve, the people who we work with — to create genuine connections and respect,” said Shaulis. “We try to treat everybody as friends serving friends.”

All five Triangle First Watch franchises are locally owned by VIM Holdings, which also owns Cary’s Tribeca Tavern.


Rudy’s Pub & Grill

This Apex hangout should get an award for consistency, netting three honorable mentions in the Appetizer, Neighborhood Bar and Most Kid-Friendly categories.

Rob and Amy Bankoski took over the pub in 2013 with the goal of making a great restaurant even better, starting with the food. Popular appetizers include Buffalo shrimp and Bavarian pretzel bites that come with house-made cheese dip.

“The foundation of our success is our food. It’s all made from scratch, we don’t use frozen stuff, and we use organic, locally grown produce,” said Rob Bankoski. “We’re a neighborhood-oriented place where everybody knows everybody. It’s a ‘Cheers’-type atmosphere.”

Now there is something going on every night, from Trivia Tuesdays to Kid Day Thursdays and twice-a-week Poker nights. “All of our events draw different crowds,” said Bankoski.


1 Comment

  • Kristen Solis says:

    My husband and I always enjoy these type of “best of” lists because we try some of the places listed. This article is very disappointing and misleading. Ruckus pizza wins 6 awards? There are so many amazing restaurants in this area, your contest really falls short. Try expanding the pool of eligible restaurants to provide believable results.

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