If you want to meet the most kind-hearted, genuinely loving people you'll ever find, travel to North Carolina. I can't say that I loved the food the most of any place I've been, the public transportation was one big perpetual headache, and the weather wasn't always the greatest, but I'd forget about all of that if it meant I could be around the people I met in Raleigh and Greensboro.
There are only going to be a few food spots to talk about, but they are the most culturally diverse of my travels thus far. There was Lebanese, Indian, Laotian, Thai, and of course, some good old fashioned southern comfort food. For the sparse selection of restaurants, North Carolina doesn't stick to "normal" American food, and for that I was extremely impressed.
Besides the grub, I happened upon a few extremely notable cultural differences. It's worth mentioning that this is my first real experience with the South, so these may be super obvious to everyone else, but new to me. First things first. On my first whole day in Raleigh, I got up bright and early like I always do to have breakfast and get a jump start on the day. I was out of the hotel by 9:30am and ready to head downtown for some window shopping, food, and random adventuring, but much to my surprise, nobody else wakes up until at least 11am, or more commonly noon. Needless to say, I was ducking and covering while it poured outside (without an umbrella) for about two hours. So much for a good hair day!
But even though I was running around like a crazy lady looking for a coffee shop to hide out in, I still got smiles and hellos from everyone that passed me on the street. I found myself slowly letting my guard down because you really don't need to worry about what every person's temperament will be...it's going to be a positive one. That is not the usual in the West Coast. And when everyone has a cheerful disposition, no one is apprehensive toward strangers. You don't need to be. To this point, I had almost everyone I encountered asking when I was coming back to North Carolina, offering for me to stay at their home, and inviting me back as soon as possible because they loved my energy as much as I loved theirs.
One unfortunate difference between my familiar culture in Arizona and the South was definite division of race. A conversation with a bus driver while in Raleigh confirmed my thoughts about the black and white segregation still present in their society. He had said, "Everyone might be friendly to you out here, but if you're black, they just look right through you." A statement like that is heartbreaking. I was raised to love and treat everyone as I would want to be treated. Don't get me wrong, it's not like slavery is still happening, but the homeless population and less desirable job positions are usually not held by Caucasians. The same would hold true for Arizona, though with Mexicans. This social injustice is one thing, among others, I hope to use my God-given Graphic Design talents to dissolve.
My time in North Carolina also included two Graphic Design firms. It is fascinating to see the difference in design style of each US region and I'd be even more thrilled to experience some global Graphic Design firms. (Shout out to my Auntie Kay and Uncle Giles in England. I'll make it there soon enough!)
Gluten-free Vegan Food
A guide to the gluten-free (GF) vegan (V) food you can find in Raleigh and Greensboro, North Carolina
Blue Mango: ($8-13+) 222 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC 27603
I was most intrigued by the name of this place at first, but this is the most authentic Indian cuisine I've ever had. Their menu features plenty of hearty meat-filled entrées, but also more than 10 vegetarian dishes (some also vegan.) I found my waiter to be extremely knowledgeable about the menu, and the chef was very accommodating to my allergies. When they learned it was my first Indian food experience, the chef made my meal with the intentions of maintaining an especially authentic taste. (I.e. he didn't Americanize the dish like he sometimes does for guests to enjoy it.) After it was delivered, he even came out to inquire about my experience. This is a mark of a great chef who truly cares about each guest and each dish. My Chana Masala was fantastically fragrant and had an explosive flavor profile. With more time, I would have been back to enjoy another dish.
Sitti: ($5-25+) 137 S Wilmington St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Right in the middle of downtown, Sitti delivers authentic Lebanese cuisine.. Although this restaurant is not specifically gluten free or vegan, it does offer many vegetarian options and most dishes can be altered to accommodate allergies. I fell in love with the Mouhamra, a roasted red pepper and walnut puree with creamy olive oil and hearty spices. You'll also find traditional favorites like falafel, baba ghanouj, kabobs, and chicken shawarma, among salads, pizza, wraps, and plenty of appetizers. I was slightly less than impressed with my vegetable kabob, but I wouldn't consider that dish venturing too far into the menu choices.
Bida Manda: ($7-20+) 222 S Blount St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Never before have I experienced Laotian food until Bida Manda. This style of food is described as Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai, with French influences. With gluten free and vegan restrictions, it is difficult to say what this style of food is all about because my Green Papaya salad had very basic ingredients. Most of the dishes are either vegan OR gluten free, but not both. Taking out the ingredient that would accommodate both preferences would be removing a main component of a dish that's minimalistic as it is. I will say that the dish I had was expertly prepared with fresh ingredients, and amazing presentation. But then again, that's high class dining for you. Another compliment is due for other dishes and the bizarre, but thoughtful combinations of ingredients. If you've never tried Laotian food before, this restaurant is a must.
The Remedy Diner: ($5-16+) 137 E Hargett St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Obviously there wasn't any vegan barbecue or fried chicken to be had by this girl, so this is the closest to "Southern comfort food" that I experienced. I like to think that I left my mark on this cute little diner by suggesting the Halloween Party Pandora station that the whole staff fell in love with, but they also dished up PETA's winner of "#Top 5 Vegan Sandwiches in the USA," so we're even. This sandwich, the Tempeh Tantrum (cute, eh?) was among a whole list of other vegan options. I absolutely loved the (vegan) pesto mayo! It's always a treat to have a traditionally non-vegan sauce or dressing. They are very happy to accommodate a gluten allergy as well, but make sure to ask. Some of the vegan "meats" are made with gluten. For those travelers who don't have allergies, there are also a plethora of meaty, cheesy, and gluten-ey dishes.
Fiction Kitchen: ($5-14+) 428 S Dawson St, Raleigh, NC 27601
I would give this cute little spot 6 stars if it didn't ruin my rating system. It was hard to narrow down a dish with all the gluten free and vegan choices. In the end, though, I couldn't pass up these nori rolls with sashimi tofu. Licking your plate is of course social taboo, but I desperately wanted to. It looked beautiful, it tasted beautiful, and it ended way too soon. You'll love Fiction Kitchen for all the variety, and what's even better is that it's 100% vegan with clearly identified gluten free dishes. With everything from tacos, to curry bowls, to chicken and waffles, I'd be surprised if you couldn't find something you liked. They also source locally for an even more fresh, delightful addition to each plate.
Boba House: ($3-12+) 332 Tate St, Greensboro, NC 27403
For whatever reason, I hadn't jumped on the boba train until this trip. If you haven't had a boba drink before, it's somewhat of a sweet smoothie with gummy-like tapioca balls mixed in. I would consider it more of a dessert than a smoothie because of the sweetness. As far as this restaurant goes, it is actually the only specified vegetarian restaurant in Greensboro that also has gluten free options. At this Thai and Vietnamese inspired restaurant, I also enjoyed Pho for the first time. Can't help but say it again but.... Turn down Pho what?! Ahem. Anyway. I wasn't entirely impressed with the overcooked tofu, but the soup itself was amazing and there were plenty other vegan choices to enjoy. If you've got allergies, this is the place to be in Greensboro. And if you have allergies and you're traveling to Greensboro, pack an ice chest with some food or you'll be one weary, hungry traveler.
So that's a wrap! I was told by many locals I needed to have gone to Charlotte as well, so that's on my list! Not that I need a reason to go back to North Carolina, though. It will be my home someday.