Hank’s Downtown Dive

Gluten-free fried chicken is served in a retro bucket with rice, beans and a salad.

When a place is called a “dive,” it can conjure thoughts of a disreputable spot situated in a sketchy part of town.

Thankfully, Hank’s Downtown Dive in Cary diverges from that dubious stereotype. Instead of seediness, there’s style. In other words, this is a destination where you can go to dinner and not have to worry about checking the sanitation grade (in case you’re wondering, it’s a solid A).

“We like to consider it a bohemian bistro,” said co-owner Matthew Bettinger, who runs Hank’s along with business partner Jeff Kinard. “It’s a neighborhood spot with great ambiance and a service style to match. We also have a food and beverage program that’s approachable and well executed.”

Hank’s patio invites guests to linger.

In late 2018, Bettinger and Kinard teamed up to open SideBar, a popular cocktail joint also located in downtown Cary.

“SideBar has been successful, so when we saw an opportunity to open a full-service restaurant, we decided to go for it,” Bettinger explained. “We’ve basically created a place where if people want to come in and grab a quick bite and drink at the bar, that’s great. Or, if they want to get a table on the patio and hang out for a few hours, that’s cool too.”

Oysters are on the small plates menu.

Catherine Bettinger, Matthew’s wife, pulled together the striking interior design for Hank’s space. Vibrantly hued wall colors abound. A small number of comfortable banquettes dot the front dining room, while a voguish, multi-textured sunroom and expansive patio provide plenty of alternatives for relaxing.

An inviting bar area features a framed picture of the Bettingers’ pet cockapoo, Henry (also known as Hank), hanging on the wall.

Hibiscus punch is a refreshing, delicious and Instagram-friendly choice.

“We thought it was fitting to name the place after the dog, as it shows that we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Bettinger said with a laugh.

Raleigh native and seasoned chef Evan Cordes helms the kitchen, churning out tempting dishes like crispy cauliflower, marinated ceviche and griddled octopus.

Brisket tacos come with Hank’s Sauce, shallots and cotija cheese.

“We put the octopus on the menu from the day we opened, and people have loved it,” said Cordes, a longtime friend of Matthew Bettinger, who honed his craft in Raleigh and Atlanta restaurants. “We keep things casual and approachable for the most part, but for the slightly more adventurous eater, we have that, too.”

Seafood offerings like oysters on the half shell and yellowfin tuna resonate well with guests.

Colorful pillows add to the inviting atmosphere.

“We work closely with Locals Seafood to source the freshest items available,” Bettinger said. “We also lean heavily into produce, as we think vegetables deserve just as much attention as anything else on the plate.”

Many of the menu items are gluten free, including the signature fried chicken, which is served in a retro-style bucket.

Marinated heirloom tomatoes and ricotta cheese arrive on grilled La Farm Bakery bread.

“For the chicken, we use a buttermilk hot sauce brine and a gluten-free breading mix with onion, garlic, herbs and spices,” Cordes said. “We want to give those who don’t eat gluten a bit more accessibility.”

Don’t ignore the tacos, which are served a la carte. For fillings, choose from among carnitas, veggie, fish or the standout wood-roasted beef brisket that’s always sliced, never shredded.

If it’s available when you visit, try the superb heirloom tomato toast featuring scratch-made ricotta served atop grilled La Farm Bakery bread.

“It’s simple food done right,” said Bettinger.

Top off the meal experience with an ultra-rich slice of quatro leches cake, a tamarind Jarritos soda float or a scoop of ice cream (flavors vary).

Griddled octopus is a nod to Hank’s more adventurous patrons.

Here’s a bonus tip to take advantage of before you leave: Buy a bottle of the house-specialty Hank’s sauce made with roasted garlic, sour cream, mayonnaise and lime. You can thank us later.

When it comes to beverages, draft cocktails get top billing.

“The most popular cocktails right now are our draft margaritas and cantaritos, which are made with grapefruit and tequila and then finished off with bitter Aperol and chili salt on the rim,” said Bettinger.

Fresh flowers add a pop of color to the already vibrant restaurant.

For a refreshing option, try the hibiscus punch with hibiscus tea, white wine, rum, lemon, grapefruit, oleo saccharum (a sugar-and-citrus mix), lime juice, citric acid and soda water.

An eclectic wine selection keeps things interesting and pairs well with the food.

Hank’s is open Wednesday through Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. Check the website or Facebook page for the latest update on hours of operation, as plans call for expanding business times moving forward. Reservations are accepted by phone and online.

A whimsical portrait of Henry (or Hank) the cockapoo looks over the bar area.

Hank’s Downtown Dive
111 East Chatham St., Cary
(984) 464-2524

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *