Worth the Drive

The Depot on First, Knightdale
The Depot on First, Knightdale
SAAP, Cary
SAAP, Cary
Hummingbird, Raleigh
Hummingbird, Raleigh
Rustic Roots, Bunn
Rustic Roots, Bunn

Expand your surroundings and your palate with a jaunt to one of these unique dining destinations. Farm-to-table fare, in-house distilled spirits, and international flavors make these restaurants worth the road trip.



Chef Lon Bounsanga, formerly of Bida Manda and Brewery Bhavana, opened his newest Laotian restaurant on the edge of the new Downtown Cary Park late last year.

SAAP, which means “delicious” or “yummy” in Laotian, serves a tempting mix of small and large plates. Consider Ginger Chicken Satay, BBQ Pork Skewers, or Lao Herb Sausage.

Or the best-selling large-plate selection Pad Lao, which features caramelized fried noodles brimming with shallots, bean sprouts, peanuts, cilantro, egg crepe, garlic, and soy sauce.

Chef Bounsanga suggests ordering a variety of dishes to share with others at the table.

“It’s all about using fresh ingredients and spices,” Bounsanga explains. “Laotian food is very savory, and we’re serving a lot of street food like I grew up eating.”

Laotian cuisine incorporates culinary influences from Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, and Thai cultures. Elements like fish sauce, Thai chilis, and galanga — a root similar to ginger — are primary components in many of the eatery’s dishes.

Popular lunchtime options include Green Papaya Salad with charred pork chop or the Crying Tiger version involving grilled beef steak, or the Banh Mi sandwich.

“Every dish is special, as we’re still trying to introduce our guests to Laotian cuisine,” says Bounsanga.

— David McCreary


The Depot on First


A revitalized historic home turned restaurant brings Southern hospitality and farm-to-table dining to downtown Knightdale. The Depot on First melds vintage architecture with modern accompaniments to craft a laid-back, upscale vibe, which is echoed in the modern American-style cuisine.

“Most of the items on the menu are local to North Carolina,” says executive chef Kevin Stratton. “We use Joyce Farms in Chapel Hill for poultry and duck, Ridgefield Farm in western North Carolina for their grass-fed Brasstown Beef, and Cheshire Pork in Goldsboro. We get our fingerling potatoes and green beans from Blue Sky Farms in Wendell.”

“I don’t tether myself to any certain type of cuisine or culinary methods,” says Stratton. “I like to employ French and Italian styles, but I also use Asian techniques to keep things interesting.”

Stratton admits his favorite dish on the menu is the Duck Scarpariello, his spin on the classic Italian American dish with sausage, fingerling potatoes, and green beans in a balsamic pepperoncini sauce.

“Part of my motivation for taking on this project was somewhat selfish,” says proprietor Christoper Critzer. “There was no other place around here providing the type of food we’re serving. This location gave us a great opportunity to change that.”

— David McCreary




Hummingbird pairs an eclectic New Orleans-inspired menu with a modern diner-meets-revitalized-warehouse setting for a unique dining experience that reflects the personality of the chef and founder, Coleen Speaks. Speaks first made a name for herself locally with Posh Nosh Catering, then added Hummingbird and Whitaker & Atlantic event space in her quest to bring “cool things” to Raleigh.

Large and small plates plus craft cocktails rotate seasonally at Hummingbird, but the menu’s signature favorites stay year-round.

Dishes like Charbroiled Oysters and Peacemaker Po’boy emphasize Speaks’ New Orleans roots, where she trained under famous television chef Emeril Lagasse.

Hummingbird’s dining space expands outside of its intimate dining room onto an all-season patio, overlooking the intersection of Atlantic and Whitaker Road.

A coveted brunch destination, Hummingbird’s morning menu breaks tradition with dishes such as Green Shakshuka and Grilled Romaine served with a six-minute egg.

— Elliot Acosta


The Hackney


Inspired by Eastern North Carolina destination restaurants like Tarboro’s On the Square and Kinston’s Chef & the Farmer, Susanne Hackney believed that her hometown could become a gourmet retreat — and she committed to making it so.

Hackney and partner Nick Sanders quit their corporate jobs to create The Hackney Restaurant, Bar & Distillery, which opened in 2019 in a painstakingly restored historic bank building.

“We wanted (a chef) that’s in it for the long term, too, and felt connected to the vision (for the restaurant), plus (the town of) Washington — to really have that same aspiration for James Beard or Michelin,” Hackney says. Enter Chef Jamie Davis, named a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast in January.

Chef Davis showcases his passion for seafood within The Hackney’s menu, which changes daily based upon availability of locally sourced ingredients.

“Our catfish is really something that people absolutely love,” Hackney notes, referring to filets dredged in local Tidewater Grain Co. rice flour and perfectly fried.

Other favorites include Soft Shell Crab and Grits and Seared NC Mountain Trout.

Restaurant patrons can opt for a gin tasting from the in-house distillery, or select a gin-based cocktail like the Salt of the Earth that combines salt, lime, and cucumber with the award-winning 1000 Piers Gin.

— Elliot Acosta


Lechón Latin BBQ & Bar


At Lechón, founder Jorge Thorne takes diners on a culinary tour of the Americas, marrying the traditional idea of a meat-and-three barbecue joint with flavors from Puerto Rico, Argentina, Thorne’s native Peru, and more.

Central to the menu is the restaurant’s wood-fired oven — used for Argentinian sausages, Peruvian roast chicken, and of course the namesake dish, lechón. A staple in Puerto Rican cuisine, the slow-cooked young pig with crispy skin and meltingly tender meat is the most popular item at the restaurant.

In true Carolina style, you can get the lechón as part of a barbecue platter or as a sandwich, served on Cuban bread with sauteed onions and garlic mayonnaise. You can also have it served carnitas style; as part of a Cuban sandwich with ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard; or double down on meatiness with the Lechón Burger.

“We don’t compete with traditional barbecue, and we don’t really compete with Mexican restaurants either,” Thorne says.

It’s not uncommon to find families that have driven in from an hour away, Thorne says. “They come here, and they eat the food that they grew up with,” he says. “You can bring people closer to home with the food.”

— Matthew Lardie


Rustic Roots


“We want people to come in here, feel welcomed, and let us take care of them,” says Russ Vollmer, owner of Rustic Roots farm-to-table eatery in rural Franklin County.

“The connection between source and plate is important,” Vollmer says. “Guests come in believing they are supporting local farmers, so we want to be sure to do farm-to-table authentically.”

Vollmer Farms, run by Russ’s cousin, is one of the restaurant’s go-to suppliers, along with JJ’s Greens in Louisburg, Joyce Farms in Winston-Salem, and Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork from Goldsboro.

While the menu changes seasonally (“about every two months,” according to Vollmer), popular items like Hot Honey Chicken, Black Angus Ribeye, and the Farmhouse Burger tend to remain readily accessible.

“Our food isn’t overly sophisticated,” Vollmer says, “but it is fresh, made with quality ingredients, and it has some nice flair to it.”

Even the seemingly simple Juicy Bread — large pieces of grilled ciabatta slathered with garlic and herb butter — showcases the restaurant’s dedication to freshness and flavor.

End your meal with the house-favorite Brown Butter Cake, a caramel-meets-cinnamon delicacy made with a standout secret ingredient: love.

— David McCreary


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