This isn’t a list of the city’s “best.” Instead, it’s an attempt to identify cultural catalysts and guardians of tradition that represent what gives Greensboro its soul.
1. Pho Hien Vuong
Real ones might fawn over Van Loi II, Binh Minh or Banh Mi Saigon. But Pho Hien Vuong is the best example of a local restaurant serving international food that’s crossed into the mainstream. Greensboro is partly defined by its large immigrant and refugee communities, and Pho Hien Vuong illuminates that more clearly than most.
Easily one of the most popular restaurants in Greensboro, Stephanie’s is one of the few that deserves the mantle of “culinary institution.” Barack Obama and thousands of others have been here for the delicious soul food, and also because it’s the most prominent black-owned restaurant in the city. Plus, it’s easier to find than the International House of Prayer.
3. Mi Casita
If Pho Hien Vuong typifies immigrant food gone mainstream, Mi Casita is the opposite. Few people know about this incredibly worthwhile Mexican spot in the city’s “International Restaurant Row.” And that’s part of the reason it belongs on the list; to truly appreciate what the city has to offer — culinary and otherwise — you must dig.
4. Dame’s Chicken & Waffles
Yes, the chicken & waffles. But also the mac & cheese is the best in the city, the grits and greens are on point and Dame’s is a community hub. The food might be heavy, but it’s phenomenal. It’s also one of the first recent examples of a business from elsewhere in the state expanding to Greensboro, a bubbling trend that would’ve been rather unthinkable not that long ago.
5. Beef Burger
Hops Burger Bar is Greensboro’s most famous burger place, and it’s also home of the best burger in the Triad (or maybe the state, but TripAdvisor went too far). Yet Beef Burger is more quintessentially Greensboro, with its affordable pricing, horrifically ugly décor, endless deals, and outdated games. Don’t miss the shakes or mac & cheese bites.
6. Smith Street Diner
Biscuits are the No. 1 food I miss since moving to Brooklyn. You could argue that Biscuitville’s headquarters should garner it a place on this list. But with biscuits the size of your head at Smith Street, a top ranking from Southern Living and admitting that I’m a Bojangles partisan, this truly local business belongs. Smith Street filled the void left by Robinson’s —one of the first mainstream black-owned restaurants in the city — and paved the way for places like Scrambled.
The best barbecue in Greensboro comes from Boss Hog’s on East Bessemer. (Stop being so white and go over there already!) But Stamey’s is the Greensboro spot for this North Carolina favorite, in part because of their cooking approach. That’s why George W. Bush stopped there. If you’ve never been, what claim do you even have on this city?
8. Crafted: The Art of the Taco
A symbol of the changing downtown, few if any restaurants in the Gate City have garnered as much hype in the last decade. Though in some ways it’s been eclipsed by its street food successor, this taco joint acted as the vanguard of the latest wave of downtown dining, making a path for posher places like 1618 Downtown and White & Wood. Crafted: Taco has transformed in the process, moving into a much bigger space across the street and adding a Winston-Salem location, too.
9. Sticks & Stones / Fishbones
The Lindley Park pizza place made Greensboro cool before it was ready. Accompanied by sister restaurant Fishbones across the street, it transformed a neighborhood and helped the city kick it up a notch. This is where your out-of-town friends suggest meeting up when they come back to visit.
10. Bandito Bodega
If Greensboro is lucky, Bandito Bodega is a harbinger of what’s next for the city’s food world. A food truck-turned-storefront that masterfully pulls together global ingredients and tastefully injects personality, Bandito should demarcate the beginning of a new era for the city’s restaurant scene. It’s one of the few local places where you could bite into a new dish blindfolded and easily name its source. As Greensboro grows up, that should be one of its chefs’ goals.