Not much to look at, but this is exit 278 on I-40, between Durham/Chapel Hill and Raliegh.
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It doesn't look like Walnut St. in Philly, but in the Triangle, it's Restraunt Row.
Thanks to the serpentine town borders, I believe this one actually falls in Chapel Hill, though if you leave central Chapel Hill, exit 278 is one exit past the mall that sits in Durham.
Tax rates aside, its the exit for the best food in the Triangle in at least two highly competitive categories, Thai and BBQ, though you'd certainy never suspect it as you exit the highway. You immediatly get a couple of bad strip malls (C-properties, they'd call them in the biz), a long-stay motel, a midgrade business hotel, a Chick-fil-A on the most prosperous corner, some garages, empty storefronts and poorly thought-out traffic lights.
Don't be deterred. You are about to find two absolute gems.
For the first, you certainly don't need to take my word for it - I found this place by asking the Thai students in my school where they go for good food. They all said the Thai Asian Buffet.
Look for it carefully. It's shoved in the elbow-corner of the Food Lion strip mall on the north side of the road.
Be sure you find it at 4900 NC Hwy 55 Ste 200. None of the map sites will pinpoint it correctly, and there are several Asian restraunts in the surrounding area, all with similiarly vague names, including the word 'Buffet.' Again: As you travel away from I-40, it's on your right.
For $7, you get full run of their 20-item buffet, which includes several kinds of dumplings, vegetable, chicken (orange, peanut, garlic, green bean, etc), and - the make-or-break for any Thai joint - Pad Thai. It's thick and on the hot side, with plenty of egg, peanut and chicken.
Also, the drinks are HUGE (tack on 1.50 for them), and you'll need them.
$7, killer food, lunch buffet on weekdays (menu at night and Satuday),
Or you could go just down the road a few miles, well past anything that might be called 'developed', down to an industrial-looking shop with a sign out front that says "Backyard BBQ Pit."
I found it from H. Kent Craig's remarkable North Carolina BBQ Reviews, where it was awarded the widely coveted:
Here's the full review.
We went in and met the new owners last year. They bought the place a year prior, and absolutely everything - greens, mac and cheese, sweet potatoes, cobbler, etc - gets made fresh, from scratch in the kitchen everyday.
And the BBQ is ridiculous. Soaking in flavor but not in sauce, moist and fresh and lean and just perfect.
I've eaten at every other 3- and 4-pig site Kent has on his site, and nobody is close.
Bonus Exit 278 Food tip: Head back up Highway 54 a few miles and you'll find the cloest Dunkin Donuts to Chapel Hill. Within a few clever turns and a mile of there is the best Chinese in the Triangle at China Palace.
Best easy dish: Sesame Chicken.
Best off the "Chef's special" menu: Squid Kung Pao. Holy cow, is that a terrific dish. Do NOT think you are getting anything like calamari. You are getting large, meaty strips of the octopus that attacked Captain Nemo. AWESOME. I've read everything else on the special menu is good, too.