We ate a lot of great food right in our own backyard in 2019. In the two previous years, we traveled through large sections of both the American South, which is our food focus, and the country. In 2019, we visited new sections of our home state, North Carolina, while making a few short road-trip excursions to neighboring states.
So much research goes into our decisions on which restaurants to visit that it’s always incredibly difficult to select our best dining-out experiences each year. But these are among our favorite meals from the past year. We hope these reflections will help you discover a new place to eat or remember an eatery you haven’t been to in quite a while.
NOTE: We also shared our Best We Ate in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Since we revisit and continue to enjoy many of the restaurants that topped categories in those previous posts, we’ve added “new” to many of the categories to denote experiences specific to 2019.
Without further ado, the Best We Ate in 2019!
Best Overall Meal: Mayworth’s Public House in Cramerton, North Carolina
This is a tough call. In the same county (Gaston) as Mayworth’s Public House, Nellie’s Southern Kitchen in Belmont served us a tremendous three-course dinner in the summer. We also enjoyed other great complete meals, from appetizer to entree to dessert, which is what this category is about. But we just can’t get Mayworth out of our minds. From macaroni and cheese wontons, to burgers and tacos and an epic Sloppy Joe sandwich, to delicious cheesecake, every time we’ve eaten at Mayworth’s the past couple of years has been incredibly memorable. In 2019, the restaurant solidified itself as one of our favorite restaurants anywhere.
Most Unique Eatery: 57 Alpha Café in Rutherfordton, North Carolina
Any place where you can chat with someone who flew an airplane into the parking lot to eat lunch is a unique spot. Add the fascinating life stories and the kitchen skills and hospitality of the owner and you’ve really got something. This little cafe at a local airport is a delightful experience you shouldn’t miss if you’re in the area.
Best New Burger: CowBar at Morgan Street Food Hall in Raleigh, North Carolina
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We must give an honorable mention to H&F Burger in Atlanta, Georgia, which serves an incredible meat-and-cheese delight of its own in a unique dining market. But the food hall, and the burger, that wowed us the most during the year came from CowBar in Raleigh’s Morgan Street Food Hall. CowBar offers a number of tempting selections, but I chose the traditional burger with basic toppings, and I was downright sad when it was all gone. The soft bun, beefy and cheesy center, and crisp toppings jived just the way I like in a burger. It was plentiful, affordable and served in a unique space that offers numerous restaurant options to please the entire family, old school food-court style.
Best New Appetizer: The Groovy Beast, Gastonia, North Carolina
We ate more appetizers than normal in 2019. Most of the time, we minimize the cost and calories with dine-out meals by skipping the opening course, and often the dessert, too. Not this year. The Belly Brussels starter at Groovy Beast (which was highly recommended by Jim Cox, a local food-lover and teacher-friend of Molly’s) was the appetizer that stood out the most to us at year’s end. With the dish, you can make your mama happy by eating your vegetables, crisp Brussels sprouts, and get your crispy bacon at the same time. There’s plenty to share, and we suggest you do, so that you have plenty of room for a great burger or other entree afterward.
Best Sweet Treat: Cheesecakes by Alex, Greensboro, North Carolina
When you think about ways you can find an excuse to drive two hours up the road for food, you know it’s a place you love. That’s the case with Cheesecakes by Alex. Whenever we can get near North Carolina’s Triad region, we make a pilgrimage to this cheesecake shop for a couple slices. You can’t make a wrong selection. They just make excellent cheesecake, and you can get a big slice for about $4. (As an honorable mention, we got our tastebuds back on a couple cones of Sunni Sky’s ice cream during the summer of 2019, and they were a close second here. The ice cream is our favorite anywhere because of how many free samples you can try, how creamy it is and how many creative flavor options are available!)
Best New Breakfast/Brunch: Blue Ridge Biscuit Company, Black Mountain, North Carolina
We could easily trumpet the delightful brunch experiences of The Crepe Factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina, or La Farm in Cary, North Carolina. Both serve unique, often-healthy and always-delicious breakfast-style foods. But we give the honors in the Breakfast and Brunch category to the epic, and we mean truly epic, biscuits at Blue Ridge. Whether you opt for a more traditional bacon, egg and cheese, or a delicacy special like smoked trout, you’re going to get a massive biscuit with impressive toppings at Blue Ridge, which happens to be located in the beautiful and unique town of Black Mountain.
Best New Mexican Food: Farmhouse Tacos in Travelers Rest, South Carolina
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Traditional Mexican restaurants are plentiful across the South, and we love pretty much all of them for a basic meal of chips, salsa and tacos. But our favorite Mexican food stops are usually the newer, more creative restaurants that offer Southern soul food or trendy takes beyond the basic beef and chicken Mex plates. Our dear friend Martha shared a meal with us at Farmhouse, and we haven’t been able to get the tacos (like the fried chicken option) out of our head ever since.
Best New Barbecue: Kings BBQ Restaurant, Kinston, North Carolina
A heap of Eastern North Carolina-style vinegar-sauced barbecue and a helping of creamy and sweet cole slaw served on a bun that’s literally a hushpuppy. Need we say more? The Pig in a Puppy is the star of the show at Kings, but there’s plenty more to discover. And you can wash it all down with that nectar of the South that we love: sweet tea. (Honorable mentions in this category go to Clyde Cooper’s BBQ in Raleigh and Woodlands Barbecue in Blowing Rock, which both serve excellent Q in other North Carolina cities.)
What were your favorite restaurant meals in 2019? PLEASE SHARE them with us so we can make them part of our 2020! Comment on this post or like @FoodieScore on Facebook and tell us there!