Sometimes the best restaurants are those located off the beaten path — the little-known mom-and-pop eateries just waiting to be found. In some cases, they are secret spots that locals frequent and designate as their favorite go-to places.
Over the past several months, Cary Magazine has carefully searched for the uncharted destinations that are an integral part of the local food scene. Here’s our spotlight on six establishments well worth finding — time and again.
2893 Jones Franklin Road (Swift Creek Shopping Center), Raleigh
Former rock drummer and Philadelphia area native Bob “Anvil” Thompson has gained a loyal following by providing Philly-style cheesesteak sandwiches at his small namesake emporium tucked away in Swift Creek Shopping Center.
“We use top round beef we cut fresh daily,” the affable Thompson said, while adding that he uses Boar’s Head brand cheese and sources bread from Morrisville’s Neomonde Baking Co. “We strive to keep the sandwiches affordable and still use quality ingredients.”
Among the menu options are the classic cheesesteak with American or provolone cheese served “wit’or wit’out” onions; steak supreme (sweet or hot peppers, mushrooms, cheese, onions and a house-made marinara sauce); and garlic roast pork (spinach, roasted red peppers, aged provolone).
Vegetarians and others will delight in the portobello mushroom, which features sliced portobello with roasted red peppers, cheese, onions and balsamic vinegar. Want something special? Try the pepperoni-laden pizza steak.
Thompson’s wife, Barbara, takes customers’ orders at the counter and happily provides guidance for the uninitiated. Anvil’s also serves specialty beverage Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer, a rare find in the South. “We have it shipped in, and it goes out the door fast,” Thompson said.
Closed Sundays, Anvil’s is open six days a week for lunch and dinner.
100 Jerusalem Drive, Suite 106, Morrisville
For ambiance, efficient service and rock-solid Italian cuisine, look no further than Babymoon Café. Located just minutes from Raleigh-Durham International Airport, the restaurant is notable for its extensive 144-item menu.
“It’s hard to keep consistency with a menu that big, but our talented chef staff is committed to serving first-rate food,” said chef/co-owner Yeirdon Ingle, originally from Rocky Mount, N.C., who runs the café alongside New Jersey-born business partner Ryan Salman.
The two friends have successfully pulled off an intimate Tuscan bistro vibe that’s suitable for a special occasion without the white-linen trappings or high prices. “Every night we have candlelight dinners, and we work to be that special place where people can come and have a memorable dining experience,” Ingle said.
While all the traditional Italian pasta dishes are well represented, the more ambitious entrees generate buzz. To wit: lobster ravioli with saffron cream sauce, shrimp and bluefin crabmeat and the porcini mushroom ravioli.
Babymoon is open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner and Saturdays for dinner only. Reservations are accepted.
JOYCE & FAMILY RESTAURANT
135 South Main St., Fuquay-Varina
Searching for genuine Southern comfort food? Simply visit Joyce & Family Restaurant in downtown Fuquay-Varina.
While it’s possible to order from the menu, consider the hearty buffet instead. At any given time you’ll find chicken and pastry, yams, homemade mashed potatoes, collard greens, pork ribs, baked macaroni and cheese, cabbage, hush puppies and, of course, the quintessential fried chicken.
“The chicken recipe is my husband’s,” said the matronly Joyce Staton, a Fuquay-Varina native who has been married for 42 years. “People really love it.”
Fittingly, charming family photos adorn the restaurant’s walls, and the dining room features a simple mix of Formica-laden booths and tables. Thanks to the friendly, accommodating waitstaff, your drink remains full and you receive your choice of house-made dessert ranging from banana pudding and peach cobbler to strawberry cake and sweet potato pie.
Nestled among a variety of shops along Main Street, Joyce & Family is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. The restaurant is closed on Mondays.
1231 Kildaire Farm Road (Saltbox Village), Cary
Committed to offering quality stone-oven baked pizza and other provisions, locally owned Marilyn’s is a welcome addition to the gourmet pizza sphere. Whether you choose a slice or a whole pie, you can’t go wrong with any of the fresh items originating from distinguished food purveyors like San Guiseppe Salami Company, Lindley Mills and Ashley Farms.
“You can taste the difference in our food,” said owner Ken Fabricatore, a New York native who also creates mean calzones, salads and homemade desserts. “Our meats are all-natural, and our crust is made with organic flour. We even have gluten-free crust available.”
Fabricatore named the restaurant in honor of his mother, a former schoolteacher who raised six children and helped run numerous family-owned delicatessens. Paying additional homage to family, his sister’s original artwork hangs on the pizzeria’s walls.
For specialty pie, enjoy any of these premium standouts: Mexico City (black bean base with marinated lime chicken, roasted red onion, cilantro, avocado, jalapeños and Monterey Jack); the Big Sleep (grilled shrimp, artichoke hearts, pineapple, fresh basil and mozzarella); and Diary of a Pizza Girl (pesto base, andouille sausage, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted walnuts and white cheddar).
When it comes to beer, distinctive on-tap selections include Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale and Allagash White.
A word to the wise: Go early. The restaurant’s cozy dining room only has seating for 24 patrons. Marilyn’s provides lunch and dinner service seven days a week.
THAI THAI CUISINE
108 Osterville Drive (Arbor Creek Center), Holly Springs
In business since February 2010, this tiny, 26-seat restaurant serves authentic Thai cuisine with colossal flavors. Owner Jirawan Pavapotago from Thailand prepares each dish to order in her modest-sized kitchen.
Customers are treated to various attractions, including the house specialty drunken noodle. This mouth-watering stir-fried entrée includes your choice of tofu, beef, chicken or shrimp with wide rice noodles, egg, onions, carrots, red peppers and broccoli, topped with Thai gravy sauce and basil leaves.
“People also enjoy the Thai Thai sampler,” Pavapotago said, which features steamed soybeans, spring rolls, summer fresh roll, shrimp in a blanket, tofu triangle and chicken satay.
Save room for dessert, as fried banana, Thai custard or mango with sticky rice will surely hit your sweet spot.
The restaurant’s decor tends toward elephant-themed wall hangings, and a single waitress capably handles her responsibilities with grace and enthusiasm.
Thai Thai is located in a sleepy business complex somewhat out of sight from passersby, so you’ll want to lock in the address into your GPS device. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner daily.
THE URBAN TURBAN BISTRO
2757 N.C. Highway 55 (High House Crossing), Cary
Word of mouth has spread among Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and South Asian food aficionados: The Urban Turban is legit! Those who have managed to find this somewhat concealed fast-casual outpost have thoroughly enjoyed superb soups, salads, kabobs, pita wraps and more.
“More than 90 percent of our clientele are regulars,” said owner Asad Abbasi, who hails from Pakistan. “We serve tasty food that is healthily prepared, and many people come in two or three times a week to enjoy it.”
Abbasi’s commitment to quality, healthy cuisine is unwavering. “Our grape leaves are hand-rolled, the hummus is freshly made and the soups are prepared from scratch,” he said.
A tempting lunch buffet offers soup, salad, pita bread, seasoned vegetables and several flame-grilled lean meat choices. You can also order off the restaurant’s wide-ranging menu.
“We have nearly 30 vegetarian items available,” Abbasi said. Besides turnips, spicy black-eyed peas and green beans, ethnic selections abound like tzatziki; falafel; and baba ghanoush, a purée of eggplant, fresh garlic, tahini sauce and lemon juice.
The Urban Turban is open every day for lunch and dinner.