Capital Boulevard’s Hidden Gems

Fried chicken from Soo Cafe, a Korean restaurant
Soo Cafe's fried chicken, which was named one of the best in the south by Southern Living.

Raleigh is known for its vibrant food and beer scene, running the gamut from nationally-recognized restaurants to beloved hole-in-the-wall joints. Capital Boulevard, one of the city’s most-traveled corridors, doesn’t usually come to mind as a destination for a world-class meal or a tasty local brew; dotted with chain restaurants and big box stores, it can be hard to find the hidden gems. But, if you’re willing to venture outside the Beltline, here’s a guide to a few unique places to visit. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised at all that Raleigh’s busiest thoroughfare has to offer.

Soo Café

2815 Brentwood Road

The fried chicken at Soo Café, a Korean restaurant just off of I-440, was named one of the best in the south by Southern Living, so it’s not exactly a secret. The chicken is fried twice, which makes it extra crispy, then slathered in your choice of sauce: original, SOGA (soy garlic), North Carolina hot & spicy, old fashioned or Soopreme—a layer of SOGA, and a second coating of either original or old fashioned. The chicken isn’t the only thing buzzy about Soo Cafe; the restaurant is also getting popular for its private room in the back, where you can host a karaoke party complete with all the latest K-pop hits.

Aggie’s Grill Station

3027 Capital Blvd.

The menu at Aggie’s Grill Station can be overwhelming. With a mix of American, Asian and Italian dishes, it’s a great lunch option for a group with different tastes, but it can be hard to decide what to choose. There are several Aggie’s locations throughout North Carolina, and the spot in Raleigh has friendly staff members who are always eager to suggest their favorites, although they’ll tell you they think all the dishes are equally good. Two standouts are the Hibachi-style grilled chicken with fried rice and vegetables, and the chicken wrap, a toasted tortilla filled with seasoned chicken, banana peppers, lettuce, tomato and Aggie’s gourmet sauce. And, in case you’re wondering, the restaurant, and the sauce, was named after the owner’s daughter.

Michael’s English Muffins

3611 Spring Forest Rd., Suite 114

Michael’s English muffins are not what you’d expect, and, if you’ve never tried an English muffin baked from scratch, owner Annabell Comisar’s are a good introduction. “At first glance, folks usually comment on the size, intrigued at how much bigger and thicker they are in comparison to what they think of as an English muffin,” says Comisar. “But after tasting a sample, we hear that they taste like a donut without sugar.” After selling her English muffins to local restaurants and vendors for three years, Comisar opened the store in January and expanded her menu. The shop serves regular and sweet potato English muffins that can be topped with an assortment of offerings, including local honey butter, seasonal jam or avocado and cucumber. Comisar also sells sandwiches such as the popular Originator, which is filled with sausage, American cheese and habanero pimento cheese.

Roma’s Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant

3805 Brentwood Road

Pizza from Roma's Pizzeria
Pizza from Roma’s Pizzeria.

Just off Capital Boulevard in the Brentwood neighborhood, you might miss this small restaurant hidden behind a gas station. But the location hasn’t kept the Jaouhari family from building a following over the last 36 years. The partition at the counter is covered with handwritten messages from customers showing their love for the family’s New York style pizza. Once the space became too crowded with graffiti, Amal Jaouhari started keeping a book for customers to sign. “We have customers who have been coming here for years,” says Imad Jaouhari, Amal’s husband, who offers newcomers and regulars the same special: “Buy a pizza, get a free joke.” It’s become such a tradition that his daughter even had a baseball cap made for him bearing the tagline.

Pho Far East

4011 Capital Blvd.

Talk to a local foodie about pho and you will probably hear about Pho Far East. Last year, Raleigh Magazine asked local chefs where they like to eat and three of them named it one of their favorites. The restaurant is tucked in a strip mall on the corner of Capital Blvd. and New Hope Church Road, but once you find it you won’t soon forget their authentic Vietnamese dishes.

Owner Thu Bui is responsible for the famous pho they have been serving for 10 years. Her daughter, Hoa Trinh, even took the family recipe to use at her restaurant in downtown Raleigh, Sushi O Bistro & Sushi Bar. If a giant bowl of pho doesn’t suit your fancy, another popular choice is one of their varieties of bún, vermicelli noodle bowls.