Travel Scenes: Raleigh and Chapel Hill

By Amanda Paa – Updated July 6, 2020

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all sworn we’ve told our partners something, then realize with the shock in their eyes that we missed the mark – like mine when Brian announced amongst friends that he was headed to North Carolina to put his other house on the market. Men’s brains……

There was the “how could you forget to tell me that?” conversation, an ounce of frustration, but then spontaneity. Admittedly I was a little hurt at first, but I knew it was not on purpose. A sincere apology was followed by some flight arranging and soon my ticket to Raleigh was booked. Five days later my bag was packed with travel essentials. Homemade savory nuts, bison Epic Bars, coconut chips, paleo ginnybakes bars, and their mini gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, which may or may not have even made it to the airport.

Paleo Travel SnacksBut before I get to my week in North Carolina, can I just tell you how good it felt to be spontaneous? Jumping into something brings a sense of living life, excitement, and happiness.

Being in a better state of physical and mental health, I was able to see the opportunity in the miscommunication, not negativity or anxiety. We often go to that place first, but I’ve been practicing “opposite action”, and it seems to be working.

Laotian Food at Bida Manda restaurant ~ Raleigh, NCWhile I was at the airport I made dinner reservations for our first night at a little Greek place downtown. On our way there, we couldn’t help but notice the good vibes coming out of Bida Manda, a Laotian restaurant I had read about, but trying to get a table without a reservation wasn’t recommended. I ran in to check it out anyways, and surprisingly we could be seated in a half hour – done and done.

Funky music and purple flowers in mason jars, sturdy tables made of salvaged church doors, and exposed brick with vintage paintings and beautiful tapestries set the scene.

We shared fresh spring rolls and their house shrimp chips, light & crisp like pork rinds, but made from crushed dried shrimp, tapioca starch and garlic. Goodness, they were amazing, as was the Beef Larb and Spicy Pad Thai. We even saved room for dessert, a black rice pudding with coconut cream custard.

black and white. The next few days we concentrated on getting the house cleaned and fixed up. Repainting, carpet stretching, deck washing, scrubbing every inch of the place….. and finding a stray black cat that looked just like Grace.

I fell in love quickly when she moseyed up to the front steps and rubbed against my leg. Of course I let her in so she could have a break from always having to be on alert. Soon I was calling her Blacky, and making a trip to the store to buy food and a bed. To say it was hard to leave her is an understatement.

Veggie & Egg Muffin Cups, like mini frittatasOne of the reasons I was quick to take the trip is because now that I’m a full-time freelancer, I can work from anywhere that has an internet connection and a kitchen. I was assigned a job on short notice from one of my main clients while we were there, and was able to recipe test, then find a few styling props at Goodwill for photography. And when work doubles as mini vegetable frittatas for breakfast, there are no complaints.

Leather BagAlso, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee was my morning ritual. You’re most likely laughing if you live anywhere besides Minnesota because they’re a dime a dozen in most places, but we don’t have a single in one in the Minneapolis area! Yes, I like fancy coffee, but what is it that makes this stuff so good? (My thrifted bag has quickly become a travel favorite too, well worth the $12 I spent on it.)

Air B&B rental ~ in the heart of Chapel HillWith everything ready for the realtor, Brian decided we deserved a little fun and rest. He found this sweet cottage in the heart of Chapel Hill through Air B&B, and we made plans to meet up with friends who were going to come down from Baltimore. Such a good idea.

Even though we were only there for 2 days, I made sure we found good eats and drinks. It definitely wasn’t hard, as Chapel Hill was named the Foodiest Small Town by Bon Appetit a few years ago.

Best Mediterranean Food ever. ~ at Mediterranean Deli & Catering, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Bulk Beans at Mediterranean Deli & Catering ~ Chapel Hill. A must visit place.

my chapel hill favorites:

1. Mediterranean Deli & Catering: It’s a complete sensory experience. So much to see, taste, smell and hear. Whether it’s the smell of freshly baked pita (which they even have a gluten-free version), the 25-foot display case showcasing over 40 authentic Middle Eastern dishes, or the busy sounds of visitors and the kitchen crew, it’s a must visit. Almost everything is gluten-free (and even paleo), and I swear you could visit dozens of times and never eat the same thing twice. I ordered (shown above) the chicken schwarma on rice, then added the turkish roasted beets, a lentil kofta, homemade pickles, tzatzki, and lebanese garlic sauce. I would rank it as one of the top 10 meals in my life.

You can also go next door to their market and find some amazing imported ingredients, like the dried beans you see above. A great addition to any pantry.

2. Al’s Burger Shack: imagine a road side stand making juicy burgers from pasture-raised beef, and using the best local cheese, dairy and vegetables for all the classics. They serve the burgers in 3, 6 or 9 ounce patties, so I got the 6 ounce Classic wrapped in lettuce and shared the crinkle cut fries with Brian. Top notch. He ordered the Chili Cheeseburger and said it was life-changing. They also serve beer and wine, making it the perfect casual Friday night out.

3. The Baxter Arcade: imagine all your favorite 80’s video games & pinball machines – inside a BAR. It was unlike anything I’ve ever been to. A total nerd-chic atmosphere and a serious way to have fun. And just for the record, I crushed everyone in Punch Out.

4. Kipo’s Greek Tavern: Beautiful restaurant, beautiful food. A great place to go with a group and share a bunch of plates. Everything was priced so reasonable, and a boatload of gluten-free options. We ordered a few of the mezze spreads, dolmas, keftedes (meatballs), grilled octopus, spanakoryzo, soulvaki chicken, and wood-fired lamb. And true to their roots, a belly dancer made her way throughout the restaurant with elegance.

5. TRU Wine Bar: Deli by day, wine bar by night, this place is cozy and comfortable. A cool vibe with refurbished wood furniture and an outdoor lounge, it was the perfect night cap.

6. The Beer Study: Brian is quite the beer geek so it was obvious this brew shop was on our list to check out. Not only do the have a plethora of knowledge and unique offerings to purchase, you can also enjoy a pint there, as well as wine on tap. A his and her win. And we didn’t know it at the time, but you can actually bring your own food in and have a nice little cheese plate with your beverages.

7. Root Cellar: If you’re looking for a stellar farm to table breakfast or lunch, this place is a dream. They make and bake everything from scratch and have a wonderful market if you’re wanting something to take along on a picnic. They also started doing paleo dinners, a plan where you can order 5 made-from-scratch meals & heat up at home. Genius.

After that little getaway, we made the trek back to Minnesota. Fingers crossed that the house sells, but if it doesn’t, I wouldn’t mind spending a few winter months there either. If you have any favorites in the Raleigh area that I missed, be sure to leave them in the comments below! xo

Did you make this?

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August 17, 2015


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  1. Deborah

    How fun to do a trip so spontaneously like that! I’ve never been to North Carolina but I’m dying to go.

  2. Sherrie

    It sounds like you guys had a really great time. And yeah for spontaneity, there’s nothing like it to shake things up! Also, I’ve never been to Raleigh, or Chapel Hill, I should change that. xx

  3. Jennifer

    I love, love, love that bag! What an awesome find for $12. And all the food looks so delicious in this post.

    • Amanda Paa

      thanks Jennifer! i’m trying to go the rest of the year with only buying clothes/accessories by thrifting. this was a good find!

  4. Carrie @Frugal Foodie Mama

    Wow! You all packed a lot into those two days! :) I just love North Carolina. There seems to be so much beauty and things to do and see (and eat) no matter if you are in the mountains or near the coast.

    • Amanda Paa

      Yes, I kind of feel like it’s a hidden gem! And the last time we were there we took a day trip to Wilmington and the beach, love that the ocean is so close.

  5. Cathy Pollak ~ Noble Pig

    Loving this little travel essay! Beautiful pics.

  6. Faith (An Edible Mosaic)

    I loved this post so much. Sometimes a little spontaneity is the best thing. That is such a sweet house and oh my gosh, what an adorable kitty! I can imagine you just fell in love with her. I know what you mean about the coffee thing! I love a good local roast, but I miss my Tim Hortons something fierce – I wish so much that they’d come to my area!

  7. Liz @ The Lemon Bowl

    I love that you took a spur of the moment trip!! We don’t do that as much with kids but I want to do it more!!

    • Amanda Paa

      Yes, hard if you have kids! Or a dog. So I totally get it. That’s why I stick to a cat, lol. But if grandparents are near, they would probably love to have the little ones. :) Thanks for stopping by Liz, xo.

  8. Tessa | Salted Plains

    Sounds like such a fantastic trip. And what a cute Airbnb you guys had. Yay for spontaneity! We took a spur of the moment road trip to Colorado a couple weeks ago before I went back to work, and I feel like it made all the difference. I love what you said about “opposite action”. I’m going to try and implement that. xo!

  9. Carol Bisson

    Sounds like a lot of work but also a lo of fun. What happened to Blacky?

    • Amanda Paa

      Sadly I had to leave her :( but the neighbors said they would watch for her and feed her if they were able. i so wish i could have brought her back. She was a sweetheart, even slept at the foot of our bed for two nights. Hopefully see you at market this weekend!

  10. Christina @ Christina's Cucina

    What a fun trip and you hit so many places in such a short time! I love spontaneous travel and hope to do more in the future (now that I’m dropping my youngest off at uni TOMORROW)! I love great thrift store finds, too! Good luck in the house sale, and like you said, maybe you’ll be back again before it changes hands, which wouldn’t be a terrible thing :)