North American eateries

Ratings are on a scale of 0 to 24. The scale used to be 0 to 10, so restaurants written about before 2012 may have only had their ratings adjusted by formula and not by hand (hence all the 2s, 5s, 8s, etc.) The scale works as follows:

24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 16
15 14 13 12 11 10
9 8 7 6 5 4
3 2 1

An asymmetrical 0 to 24 scale may not be intuitive, I realize. But as a rule of thumb: a double-digit score means I liked it, while a single-digit score... less so. Also, as you might expect, scores from many years ago may not be very reliable, so do check the dates.


"Is Southern food killing us?" asks an Atlanta Journal-Constitution headline. Answer: yes, but unfortunately, not in time for the election.

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Name Cuisine Address Last update Score
Cosmic CantinaMexican (taqueria)local chain (Durham, Chapel Hill)2017-12-1021
When I was in grad school I went to the Cosmic Cantina in Durham several times a week: burritos were my default meal, and not only did this place turn out decent ones, but it was open until 4 a.m. When I moved to New York, I was surprised to happen across another Cosmic Cantina that was just opening — apparently the owners were trying to go national. But the NYC franchise didn't last long, and I have to admit that I didn't go very often: there were lots of better options, even just for burritos. Cosmic Cantina was pretty good for North Carolina, but I didn't think it compared to the best taquerias outside the South.

That is no longer the case. I went to the Cosmic Cantina while in Chapel Hill, mainly out of nostalgia, and was shocked at how good it was. I wound up going back, and then to the Durham original, during that trip: three visits in something like 27 hours. I cannot think of a better burrito than the mini veggie I got on trip #2. And the very fact that there are three sizes, and so many options — two types of mole, plus the "old school" burrito with no rice, plus many others I didn't get to try — speaks volumes. AND IT'S SO CHEAP! $2.99 for the "old school"! $1.50 for a big cup of top-notch horchata, for which I'd expect to pay $3.99! I used to make fun of the sign saying "THE BEST MEXICAN FOOD ON THE PLANET", thinking, "Yeah, if you think you drop off the edge of the world if you leave the Triangle"… but the way this place has gone uphill, I cannot think of a better taqueria. Really amazing.

International DelightsMediterraneanNinth btw Perry/Markham, Durham, NC2017-12-1015
This was a frequent stop for me when I was in grad school, but it had been fifteen years since I'd been in NC, so I thought that it would either be gone or under new management whose food would be nothing like the '90s International Delights fare. Instead it turned out to be an improvement on what I remembered — the best falafel I've had in a long while.
Sole Mio'sItalian3rd & Molloy, Nashville, TN2005-12-1311
Decent Italian place right off the freeway. Sundried tomato bisque was very good; manicotti was just okay, but gets bonus points for clearly having been assembled by someone with an eye for food rather than looking like a microwaved Stouffer's entree.
IrregardlessEclecticMorgan & Tryon, Raleigh, NC2002-02-0714
This is an interesting place where the menu changes daily and usually features a fair number of veggie options and some excellent desserts. They're better for dinner than for lunch, since lunch is mostly a matter of picking a sandwich, but we weren't going to wait around till dinnertime to start heading back to New York, so lunch it was. I got an egg salad sandwich with a side salad and potato salad (it was a Day Of Salads) and they were good but a bit pedestrian for the price. The banana cake we got for dessert was awesome, though.
Francesca'sDessertNinth btw Perry/Markham, Durham, NC2002-02-068
Everything looks delicious, but I came here after discovering that Wellspring's pie counter is no more following another round of Whole Foods assimilation, and the coconut custard pie I got was just plain not good. That wasn't custard — it was goop. I seem to recall having better stuff here, though, so maybe it was an aberration.
Pulcinella'sPizzaHope Valley & Woodcroft, Durham, NC2002-02-068
I'd remembered the Sicilian pizza here as an almost Di Fara-like creation, with lots of olive oil and so forth... but no, it's actually huge and bready and not very good. The little dollop of bright semi-chunky tomato sauce on every piece is nice, but otherwise this is missable. I guess the pasta might be okay, given that the sauce is good, but the pizza was a big disappointment.
the Flying Biscuit CafeEclecticPiedmont & 10th, Atlanta, GA2002-02-0414
We sort of randomly ended up here after some wandering, which was a lucky break as the place turned out to be quite good. The appetizer was the highlight, pan-seared ravioli filled with smoked mozz and roasted red pepper on a bed of spinach and tomato vinaigrette. Absolutely delicious. Also very good was the biscuit that came with the mesclun salad. The entree I got, a plate of asparagus, spaghetti squash and sweet potatoes in a balsamic reduction, was okay, if self-limiting — my last bite would have been my last even if I hadn't cleaned the plate. And the hot chocolate brownie pie for dessert was a sort of cousin to NYC's legion of molten chocolate cakes. But I'm telling you, that ravioli — I could've had three more plates of the stuff, easy.

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