In the South, cities tend to expand outward instead of upward. Raleigh surely fell victim to that trend. In the past few years, however, the capital city of North Carolina has seen a welcomed and vibrant rebirth in food and arts culture. Raleigh's go-to destinations now encompass the areas around the capital building. Fayetteville, Salisbury and Wilmington streets now boast the coolest destinations and tend to be jam-packed full of patrons night after night.

With the influx of new restaurants, a new light has been shed on age-old standards. Mo's Diner isn't a diner at all, but a house converted into a high-end and down-home restaurant with service in each of its three dining rooms. Despite the new taste for the gourmet, the surrounding area still offers plenty of inexpensive options. The Mecca Restaurant is a third-generation, family-run mainstay, open since 1930 and serving Southern cooking late into the night. And for a real bargain, head down to Cooper's BBQ for a local lunch counter experience and a barbecue that has been ranked as one of the top in the country.

When it comes to bars, Raleigh's scene is mainly underground -- literally. The Foundation Lounge is subterranean, featuring unheard of concoctions and an unmatched selection of whiskeys. For a louder and grittier experience, head to Neptune, whose basement bar features classic arcade games and rock deejays.

Restaurant rebirth

Spearheading the downtown restaurant rebirth is chef/owner Ashley Christensen, who began by revamping Poole's Diner in 2007. Featuring an ever-changing menu of locally-grown ingredients, this "diner" takes no reservations, has a line out the door and quickly became the standard and redefinition of local flavor. Just last year, Christensen opened three new establishments, all right next to each other on S. Wilmington Street. Beasley's Chicken + Honey is a sleek chicken and waffles spot. Chuck is a meaty cafeteria-styled restaurant. And Fox Liquor raises the bar on cocktails and mixology in the South. Many of the spirits and cocktails featured were previously unavailable and unheard of down in the area.

If you go

Poole's Diner

426 S. McDowell St.

Beasley's Chicken + Honey

237 S. Wilmington St.


237 S. Wilmington St.

Fox Liquor

237 S. Wilmington St.

Mo's Diner

306 E. Hargett St.

The Mecca Restaurant

13 E. Martin St.


Cooper's BBQ

109 E. Davie St.

Foundation Lounge

213 Fayetteville St.


14 W. Martin St.

The roots of a cool fest

Raleigh also has grown exponentially in terms of entertainment. New venues have sprouted up and all participate in the yearly Hopscotch Festival. Currently in its third year, national and international acts now join the regional talent that the Hopscotch festival prides itself on. Much like South by Southwest in its infancy, Hopscotch could become the Southeast's hottest ticket. This year Yo La Tengo, The Roots and The Jesus and Mary Chain headline the festival, while more than 175 other bands fill out the three-day, 15-venue festival. Visit for info.