The Triangle, named for the three cities clustered in the center of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh—is full of great, cheap eats. With fourteen colleges and numerous high tech companies and startups in the vicinity, there are a lot of lunch breaks to cater to, and tasty, affordable options are plentiful throughout the metropolitan area. Check out some of our favorites, for a great meal that'll set you back a mere $6 or less:
I have a confession for you. For years, I turned my nose up to hot pepper jelly without ever having tried it. You can't put hot pepper jelly on a PB & J! But what you can and should do is pair the spicy-sweet condiment with cheese...and it couldn't be more at home than on the Grilled Cheese on Sourdough ($4) from Foster's Market. Take your lunch outside to the patio, where the joint grows its own cucumbers, tomatoes, and grapes.
Neal's Deli is known regionally for its house made pastrami, and it stands to reason they'd put the same level of care into their hot dogs. Order the Chileno Completo ($6). Yes, 6 big ones might seem like a lot for a hot dog, but it's well worth the price. The all-natural casing, German-made frank is served on a locally made pretzel roll, topped with mayo, house made hot sauce, sauerkraut, and more tangy, creamy avocado salsa than you know what to do with. Be forewarned: You might need a fork.
"Vimala Cooks, Everybody Eats" is the slogan of this Chapel Hill favorite. The restaurant boasts a menu with hyper local, seasonal ingredients, a living wage for all staff, a sliding payment scale for those in need, and one killer bowl of Dal Over Rice ($6). Order it with Vimala's free, homemade spicy lemon pickle, for a sunny, filling, and beautiful lunch.
Taqueria La Vaquita
Spot this Durham favorite by the cow statue on the roof. La Vaquita makes great carnitas, perfectly juicy with little caramelized bits. They're best simply tucked into the housemade corn tortillas, along with onions, cilantro, and a dribble of the green sauce. Order two of them, with yellow rice and lard fortified refried beans for $6. If you're lucky, and you come on a day when they've put out pickled onions and habaneros, be sure to add a couple scoops to your to-go box, as well.
Taqueria La Vaquita: 2700 Chapel Hill Rd, Durham, NC (Map); (919) 402-0209.
Li Ming's Global Mart
Halfway in between Durham and Chapel Hill, tucked into an old strip mall, you'll find Li Ming's Global Mart, with a wide range of "Asian Specialties." The hot bar holds the best deals in the area. In addition 5 or 6 varieties of steamed buns, red, lacquered ducks, and fresh tofu, Li Ming's offers 3 entrees plus rice for just $6 (cash only). Choose from around 30 authentic dishes—the stir-fried Asian greens, steamed fish with julienned ginger and scallions, and braised pork belly are all incredible.
Li Ming's Global Mart: 3400 Westgate Dr, Durham, NC (Map); (919) 401-5212.
Guasaca serves Americanized versions of Venezuelan arepas with unique ingredients. Try the Braised pork, Pinto Bean, and Salsa ($4.65) or the Tilapia, Sweet Plantains, and Caramelized Onion ($4.15). The little cornmeal pockets are topped with shredding cheese and come with an addictive mild green sauce. The arepas look small, but are surprisingly filling. They come in orders of one, two, or three, but we were stuffed after just one plus a side of plantains ($1.50).
Just outside of Downtown Raleigh you'll find authentic, affordable Mediterranean fare at Neomonde. Everything from baba ganoush to savory curries are available by the pound. Other budget friendly options include half (but still substantial) orders of pita sandwiches ($3.59-5.99) and their pita "pies." For a savory snack or light lunch, try the Cheese Pie ($3.99) with three cheeses, garlic, sesame, and parsley.
Like their namesake implies, Char-Grill serves up smoky, charred burgers that are an affordable, tasty upgrade from your average fast food. Indulge in a single patty ($2.75), made to order, or add chili and slaw to make it Carolina-style if you can brave the mess. Char Grill is a local chain, and you'll find a few locations around Raleigh and Durham. We'd recommend visiting the original tiny cinderblock location in Downtown Raleigh on Hillsborough Street, where they've been flipping burgers since 1959.
About the author: Kimberly Gormley loves nothing more than local food. Especially if its a slab of pork.