Best Restaurants & Bars In Winston-Salem, NC

Where to eat and drink in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

All month long, we're celebrating the people, places, dishes and traditions that make Southern food so special. Come take a seat at our table.

Back in 2005, I packed my bags and moved my Long Island-born-and-bred self down to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, home of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (yes, that Winston and that Salem), my new home at Wake Forest University and, to my surprise and delight, a bizarrely large amount of great restaurants.

Sure, there are a lot of chains. A lot. (Including our beloved double-sided drive-through, Cook-Out.) But veer off the main drags or into Downtown Winston, and there's a whole lot more to love. Here, a few favorites I still think are worth the journey.

This white-tablecloth restaurant owned by two brothers hits all the down-home classics while adding a cheffy twist. Case in point: Southern fried pickles ($9) with tomato remoulade for dunking; Frogmore stew ($23) filled with Surry sausage, hominy and amber ale-tomato broth; salmon coated in pecans and Moravian cookies (a W-S speciality, $21); and a pimento cheese-topped burger (pictured above, $13).

The Original Little Richard's BBQ
There are a helluva lot of barbecue options in the Tar Heel State, and most of the best ones are found off random highways outside the cities. But tucked among a sea of strip malls is this Lexington-style barbecue shack serving pork three ways: chopped, sliced and coarse chopped. (My preference is a chopped tray with slaw and hush puppies.) Stop in on a Wednesday and add pit-cooked ribs on the side.

Sweet Potatoes

Of course, this down-home Downtown spot does have a build-your-own sweet potato ($3 and up) with toppings like diced ham, pineapple and toasted coconut. But I skip straight to the sandwiches during lunch service, namely the open-faced meat loaf on Texas toast ($9) and the Sweet Potatoes version of the Kentucky Hot Brown ($7), smothered in a mushroom-studded take on cheesy Mornay sauce and served on a sweet potato biscuit (naturally).

Downtown Winston Salem | Photo: Brandon Ore via Flickr

Krankies Coffee
Late in my tenure at Wake, Downtown Winston-Salem started to pep up. Leading the charge: Krankies, located inside an abandoned meatpacking plant that was taken over by five squatters and declared The Werehouse. (It also plays host to a farmers' market, artisan market on occasion, art studio and performance space.) Krankies roasts all its own coffee beans and has pastries at the ready. Best of all, for students and idlers alike, the Krankies folks are happy to have you linger at the tables for as long as you'd like.

Skippy's Hot Dogs
Frankly speaking, you might think that a place hawking mostly hot dogs wouldn't make it in a smaller city like Winston. But lo and behold, the downtown lunch spot thrives (as do a strange amount of others), thanks in part to its house-made pretzel buns and Nathan's (and Nathan's only) weiners. The standard dog delivers, as does the Chicago-style, but I always go straight for the Reuben ($3) with a side of thick-cut fries ($1.75).

6th and Vine
There's many a crappy dive bar (West End Opera House with its weird carpet) and an increasing amount of legitimately good ones (Finnigan's Wake, most of all). But when we needed a break from kegs and cheap shots, 6th and Vine it was. The menu is reliably good and vaguely New American (crab cakes with grilled artichoke remoulade, $21; pecan-crusted pork, $19; baked goat cheese atop arugula, $10), and the wine list is always approachable and well thought out. Best of all, bottles are half off every Sunday night.

Dinner on the patio at 6th and Vine | Photo: Courtesy of 6th and Vine

I know, I know. How did a native New Yorker let an Italian sandwich shop in North Carolina make the list? But the sandwiches hold up to any NYC institution. You can't really go wrong, but perennial favorites include the classic Italian (dry salame, mortadella, prosciutto cotto with aged provolone, $7) on ciabatta and the vegetarian (grilled eggplant, roasted peppers, mozzarella and pesto mayo, $7) served on freshly baked focaccia.

Mary's Gourmet Diner
Truth be told, late college nights meant breakfast wasn't always in the cards. But when it was, to Mary's we went. It's been through a few iterations over the years but always maintained its kick-ass breakfast menu. Naturally, there are egg scrambles, omelets, biscuits and gravy, and so on, but skip straight to the build-your-own Benedict ($11), which includes options like jalapeño-pimento cheese, sirloin steak, smoked salmon and more. Worth noting: Mary's shuts its doors at 2 p.m. most days (3 p.m. on Friday and Saturday).

Honorable Mention: Prissy Polly's
Technically, this is not in Winston-Salem. It is, however, just off Business 40 on the way to the Greensboro airport (which is pretty much the only way to get to Winston if you aren't driving) and has a drive-through window. Unlike most North Carolina barbecue joints, which strictly serve only one type of barbecue, Prissy Polly's has both Lexington (tomato based) and Eastern (vinegar based). TT Tip: You can get half and half when you order any of the plates or the tray, which is really the only appropriate choice. Be sure to get a banana pudding ($2) packed in a Styrofoam container for the road.