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Must-Try North Carolina Food | Best North Carolina Dishes

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Looking to learn all about North Carolina food? You’ve come to the right place!

There are varieties of unique foods, drinks, and places to enjoy in North Carolina. Of course, several sweet treats are available nationwide (and around the globe), but nothing compares to enjoying a cold soda or a hot donut in the place where it all began.

You can sample hot cocoa, fried doughnuts, and fried chicken at one of the many local restaurants. And, no food tour is complete without stopping for a sweet treat. From a variety of donuts to a post-race burger, North Carolina has some unusual offerings you have to try!  

So, the following ten native North Carolina foods will certainly satisfy an adventure lover’s taste buds.

Must-Try North Carolina Food | 10 Best North Carolina Dishes

Must – Try North Carolina Food

Pulled Pork

North Carolina Food: Pulled Pork

The American barbecue technique of pulled pork involves simmering pork over low heat, which results in tender, moist meat that can be easily torn into small pieces. Traditionally,  in the western part of North Carolina, it uses pork shoulder cuts dressed with vinegar, pepper and tomato sauce.

In the eastern part of the state, they cook and pull the whole pig and the sauce usually contains no tomatoes. 

The popularity of pulled pork spread across the country and there are many variations available, including different cuts of meat and cooking times, marinades, and sauces. 

North Carolina-Style Barbecue

North Carolina Food: North Carolina-Style Barbecue

There are two regional styles of barbecue in North Carolina, one on the western side and one on the eastern side. There’s a lot of whole hog barbecue in the east, while more Lexington barbecue is found in the west.

In the east, they smoke the whole hog, while they smoke only the pork shoulder in the west. In addition, barbecue is usually served chopped with vinegar-and-spices-based sauce in the east, whereas in the west, it is generally served as a sandwich with tomato sauce.

Hickory and oak are typically used for this type of barbecue, probably the oldest type of barbecue in America.

Texas Pete

Many types of hot sauces are available in the United States, but Texas Pete is the third best-selling brand. Sam Garner, a North Carolina barbecue stand vendor, sold the first bottle of Texas Pete in 1929. 

The Garner family made a cayenne pepper version of the sauce after customers complained and wanted it hotter. Thus, the legendary sauce was born.

The Garners refused to name the sauce Mexican Joe, insisting that it should have an American name. Their marketing advisor suggested the name Mexican Joe, but they rejected it. 

His son Pete, whose nickname was Harold, inspired him to name the dish after him, and he selected Texas due to its reputation for spicy food. 


North Carolina is known for its livermush, an American dish. The dish is made from fried slices of livermush (a product made from pig livers, heads, and cornmeal and is spiced with sage and pepper). 

Livermush is typically served for breakfast with eggs and grits, although you can also enjoy it for lunch or dinner.

Even though some people might think that livermush and scrapple are the same, scrapple has a bit less cornmeal and can have more liver, less liver, or no liver at all. 

These days, livermush is becoming more popular, and one can sometimes add it to omelets or use it as a pizza topping.


Carolina-Style Hot Dog

Hot dogs made in the Carolinas consist of hot dog sausages wrapped in split bread rolls. In addition to slaw, onion, and chili, they are characterized by traditional condiments. 

As a fourth condiment, they sometimes add mustard to hot dogs with the slaw or as a replacement.

Hot dogs with slaw are pretty popular due to the sweetness and crunch of the slaw, which contrasts with the slight spiciness of the mustard and chili. 

Carolina-style condiments are no longer limited to hot dogs; hamburger toppings are also included.

North Carolina Food: Carolina-Style Hot Dog

Red Slaw

From North Carolina comes the red slaw, a variation of coleslaw. It’s also known as barbecue slaw and is traditionally made from shredded cabbage, water, vinegar, sugar, and ketchup, giving the salad its reddish color.

A significant part of Lexington barbecue is red slaw, which is especially popular there. 

As a side dish, salads are also used in barbecued meat sandwiches. The ingredients in red slaw may vary depending on the region, but what’s important is that it is served very cold. Other components might include mustard seeds, black pepper, onions, carrots, or hot peppers.

North Carolina Food: Red Slaw


Originally from North Carolina, Provision is American taleggio-style cheese. They use pasteurized goat’s milk to make this semi-soft cheese, which is aged for three months. 

The cheese is brushed and hand-turned in the maturation process, while the rind is washed and develops a hard exterior.

It has a crumbly, compact texture, a yeasty aroma, and a creamy flavor. Providence can be served as a table cheese with cured meat and olives. It goes well with dark Syrah.

Chocolate Lab

Looking Glass Creamery makes it in Fairview, where Chocolate Lab cheese is produced. Pasteurized milk is used to make the cheese. 

Each other day, the red rind is washed with a brine solution. It has a firm texture, intense aromas, and sweet, sharp flavors.

During the rubbing process, they also coat the wheels with crushed cocoa and sea salt to give the rind a rich and rugged appearance.

Chocolate Lab pairs well with a glass of Malbec wine or a chocolate stout beer.

Calabash-Style Seafood

Calabash-style seafood is a traditional American dish originating from North Carolina, or more precisely, from Calabash. 

Usually served in Calabash seafood restaurants, this feast includes multiple kinds of seafood, such as crab, shrimp, and fish, either breaded or unbreaded, and fried to a golden brown.

North Carolina has named this dish its official state dish in the past few years because of its popularity. 

Besides being one of the rarest dishes because it is not commonly found in seafood restaurants, the Food Network also regarded it as American cuisine. As a result of all the factors listed above, Calabash-style seafood is popular these days.

North Carolina Food: Calabash-Style Seafood

Pimento Cheese

You’re missing out on one of the most incredible things since sliced bread if you haven’t tried pimento cheese. Southerners enjoy this amazing cheese concoction on crackers, in grilled cheese sandwiches, mixed into grits, or added to deviled eggs; basically, in any form.

At Community Deli, you can get the classic grilled pimento cheese sandwich or take it to the next level with The Big Easy, with grilled pimento cheese, fried green tomatoes, and bacon. 

The pimento cheese fritters with pepper jelly appetizer or the Southern Mac skillet are a few dishes to try at Relish Craft Kitchen & Bourbon Bar. 

Also, the pimento cheese starter is a must-order at the Poole’s Restaurant if you’re lucky enough to get a booth or a seat at the bar.

North Carolina Food: Pimento cheese

Fried Chicken

This unusual sauced, or “dipped,” fried chicken is made by bringing the chicken parts in a solution of water, salt, and sugar. The chicken pieces are coated in a seasoned flour mixture and left in the refrigerator to ensure that the coating has adhered.

Then the chicken is deep-fried in 350-degree peanut oil until the coating is crispy. For the sauce, it usually is a combination of Texas Pete Original Hot Sauce (a North Carolina specialty) with Worcestershire sauce, oil, molasses, and cider vinegar. 

The taste is amazing and flavorful. The coating is crispy, and the inside is so tender and yummy!

Fried Chicken

North Carolina Country Ham

If you want to taste the never-experienced flavor, you should give North Carolina country ham a try. This country ham is cured for 40 days with saltpeter and spices and is often smoked. Shoppers can find these sensational country ham products at any local store.

First arriving in North Carolina in colonial times, Country Ham continued to thrive due to its popularity throughout WWII. The dish’s popularity would be cemented at the Ham and Yam Festival in 1986, with North Carolina Hams winning eight straight years before the competition was halted.

Country ham was a famous export of North Carolina to England during colonial times and an amazing delicacy that defined and enhanced family gatherings and holidays. It also is perfect for eating by itself or combined with sandwiches and other dishes.

North Carolina Country Ham

Fried Green Tomatoes

This iconic dish, fried green tomatoes, can be found at every barbecue place in the area. This dish is a combination of two southern favorites, unripe green tomatoes, and pimento cheese, to create pleasure for your taste buds.

While we associate the fried green tomatoes with southern cuisine, the dish actually came to America from the Midwest via Jewish immigrants. This crispy, tangy, and boldly savory appetizer is perfect for any occasion. 

Fried Green Tomatoes

You can make this dish easily at home. Cut them horizontally in thick slices. If you like, sprinkle a pinch of sugar on each slice to chase away the lingering bitterness.

Before frying, coat the tomato slices in seasoned flour or make a thicker breading. Dip the slices in flour, then in egg, and next dip them in a substantial coating of breadcrumbs, cornmeal, or cracker crumbs.

For real down-home flavor, fry them in bacon grease or a mix of bacon grease and vegetable oil and fry until golden. In the end, you have fried green tomatoes, another iconic North Carolina food.  Enjoy!

Sweet Potatoes

If you are a potato lover, you should know that sweet potatoes are the state vegetable of North Carolina. Where ever you are, you’ll find someone nearby who can serve up a delicious dish or side dish of sweet potatoes. 

The Classic Carolina mashed Sweet Potatoes include sugar, eggs, melted butter, vanilla extract, and milk. 

North Carolina is the number one producer of sweet potatoes in the United States. Besides mashed, there is an option to order fried or baked sweet potatoes. Extremely delicious!

Sweet Potatoes

Calabash Seafood

If you are in North Carolina, try some Calabash seafood. Calabash refers to the bottle gourd prominent all over North and South Carolina. Calabash also happens to be a small town just over the border between North and South Carolina.

Typically, Calabash Seafood includes lightly breaded shrimp, fish, hush puppies, and crab cakes. Calabash seafood is lightly cooked, the texture is brown, and the taste is flavorful and tender. 

North Carolina Restaurants

Old North State Food Hall

67 Jr Rd. Suite 300, Selma, NC 27576, United States // +19842630577

Located just off the Old North State Food Hall Road, it’s a favorite spot for travelers and locals. The Old North State Food Hall features 15,000 square feet of dining space led by ten professional chefs, a dedicated team of butlers, and a friendly wait staff. 

This place that combines a comfortable environment with good food offers you a rich menu of Cuban and Indian street food, from which we especially recommend you try the authentic Neapolitan pizza, quintessential American burgers, and authentic traditional dishes. 

They also host entertainment events such as Let’s Music Tonight, New Year’s Eve celebrations, and private events such as birthday parties, and more.

Case Dining Hall

Case Academic Center, 240 Jeter Dr., Raleigh, NC 27606, United States // +19195152100

The Case Dining Hall is of great importance because it provides healthy food for the nation’s new generation of intellectuals, actually for the students who study at the Case Academic Center. 

The restaurant offers a number of packages in accordance with the eating habits of the students, but also has a team of professionals who not only prepare the best meals for the students but also educate them on the topic of nutrition and why a healthy diet is of key importance. 

Furthermore, the Case Dining Hall is aware that many students cannot eat all foods due to numerous allergies and intolerances, and they personalize meals accordingly. Just as caring as the chefs and the expert team of nutritionists is the service team, which regular visitors describe as one of the most hospitable.

Ethiopian Food Truck Merkato Cafe 

880 E. Chatham St., Cary, NC 27511, United States // +19194135306

This family-owned coffee bar prepares the best Ethiopian food and coffee. They are also famous due to their hospitability, which brings their customers back over and over again. And for sure, it brings new ones too. 

The Beef Tibs, Merkato Special, Veggie Combo, and Coffee Latte are highly recommended from their enormous menu. The Beef Tibs are made out of tender cubed beef marinated with onion, garlic, jalapeno, and garlic spiced oil, and this meal comes with two veggies. 

Merkato Special includes tender cubed chicken breasts and beef simmered in Berbere, with special seasoning and lots of veggies. The Veggie Combo is the best option for those who prefer a vegetarian diet. 

This delicious meal is made out of lentils, kale, cabbage, and split pea simmered in Berbere with special curried seasoning cabbage. Last but not least, from their long list of coffees, the Coffee Latte, with its sweet taste and, at the same time, intensity, will become your favorite coffee to go.

Taqueria Esmeralda

413 State Rd. 3015, Morrisville, NC 27560, United States // +19193772455

This is certainly not the most luxurious restaurant you have ever visited, but the prices are very reasonable, and the quality is still at an excellent level. You get a large portion of freshly prepared food with quality ingredients for an extremely low price. 

By the way, Taqueria Esmeralda is actually a cute little trailer converted into a restaurant that serves delicious food and drinks. The service is a little different than in ordinary restaurants, but that did not stop the Taqueria Esmeralda team from becoming famous for their hospitality and friendliness. 

This little restaurant gets the best reviews from its regulars and casual tourists alike. We chose the Lenqua, Carne Asada, Quesadillas, Asada Tacos, Barbacoa, and Torta as the best of its otherwise large offering. 

This restaurant is also known for preparing perhaps the best authentic food in North Carolina, which we highly recommend you try. So if you are looking for a relaxed place where you can get good food and a significant portion at an even better price, Taqueria Esmeralda is the right place for you.

1887 Bistro

Talley Student Union, 2610 Cates Ave., Raleigh, NC 27606, United States 

The 1887 Bistro is located on the third level of the Talley Student Union and serves students, staff, and visitors to campus. Regarding private events, it offers a space with a capacity of up to 100 guests. 

The restaurant has a beautiful view of Cates Avenue and is staffed by a professional and award-winning culinary team. From their rich menu, which includes numerous lunches, dinners, and desserts, we recommend the Hot Honey Chicken Sandwich, made out of fried chicken thighs dipped in spicy honey sauce and topped with purple cabbage slaw, served on a brioche bun. 

The Tomato Basil Soup is a rich tomato soup made with fresh basil and finished with cream. It is served with delicious crackers. Last but not least, the Chocolate Chunk-Cookie Sundae presents a giant chocolate chunk cookie served hot in a skillet with vanilla ice cream and topped with caramel. 

Since this place works as a campus restaurant, some students eat here every day; they carefully choose their ingredients and ensure they are high quality.

Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen & Bar

101 S. Tryon St. #130, Charlotte, NC 28280, United States // +19802707268

Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen & Bar nurtures the tradition of Southern food rooted in the vibrant mountain areas of North Carolina. 

Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen & Bar works with a top team led by the head chef, who was several times a semi-finalist for the James Beard award, Top Newcomer from Zagat, and was voted Food and Wine Magazine’s “Peoples Best New Chef – New York.” 

He spices up this restaurant’s menu with new creative dishes such as Honey Dusted Fried Chicken, Mac & Cheese Waffle, Asheville Hot Fried Chicken, Cast Iron Pork, the famous Tupeloma drink, Fried Green Tomatoes, and one interesting drink, the Boozy Turkey.

Nukkad Indian Street Food

1710 High House Rd., Cary, NC 27513, United States // +19193789083

What’s better than traveling with the senses instead of planes, cars, buses, and trains? Nukkad Indian Street Food will allow you to travel to the warm, exotic corners of India with the help of taste and smell. 

Located in the heart of North Carolina, Nukkad Indian Street Food prepares the finest Indian food. Widely known for its hospitality, this restaurant has spiced up its atmosphere with an authentic touch that evokes memories of the Middle East, with a friendly team of waiters and the best team of chefs to ensure you have the best experience. 

You won’t go wrong with any dish from their rich list of oriental dishes, and we highly recommend Chicken Kathi Roll, which is tandoori chicken tikka chunks stuffed inside a lacca paratha. 

Served with curly masala fries, the Yellow Dal Tadka is north-Indian style yellow lentils tempered with ghee-fried spices and herbs, served with a side of jeera rice and gluten-free. 

The Mawa Gulab Jamun is one of the Indian desserts which are soft and spongy and made from khoya (dried milk) and dumplings soaked in sweet syrup. If you are looking for something nice to drink, don’t forget to try the Madras Coffee and Masala Chai.

Summary Of The Best North Carolina Foods

As much as we talk about these wonderful restaurants and state foods of North Carolina, it is really difficult to capture their hospitality, pleasant ambiance and enticing atmosphere, which should be experienced by everyone. 

What else can we tell you except that the delicious food and lovingly prepared drinks in these places will never let you down. Whichever of these restaurants you choose will only make your stay in North Carolina more beautiful and richer for an unforgettable experience.

Do not forget to try as many North Carolina foods as possible because you will be treated. Enjoy the warm hospitality of the locals and the delicious meals, and stop by some local stores to bring something home. 

Visiting other destinations in North Carolina? Check out our other delicious guides:

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Monday 12th of September 2022

Perfect--thanks for doing this research. Exactly what I was looking for. Am hosting a dinner for our book club--after reading "Where the Crawdads Sing," and I promised to make NC foods, sine it's my home state (even though have lived in CA for 20 years). But I wasn't sure what that was--I thought of Brunswick stew and banana pudding, but that's as far as I got--you've given me more food for thought. Thank you!

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