Foodie Tour

Add a thriving dining-out culture to Raleigh’s downtown revitalization and you get a bounty of restaurants populating the city’s established streetscapes. This often involves adaptive use of older buildings, and there are now a number of restaurants housed in Raleigh Historic Landmarks. Happily for diners, this trend enables access to places they might not otherwise see.

First among them is The Mecca, operating in the same 1880s storefront since 1937. The building previously housed a grocery, then a shoe store, always with offices upstairs. Décor dates to the 1930s: patterned tile floor, paneled walls, wood booths, a poppy-red bar with matching stools, and an iconic neon sign outside. In the twentieth century, there were far more shops downtown than restaurants, most in buildings that, like The Mecca, had retail space under upper-floor rentable offices. The Delany Building, the Montague Building, and the Heilig-Levine Store are all examples in varying scale and architectural style. Now, their plate-glass storefronts put diners on display. The Delany Building is a typical, minimally detailed commercial style of the early twentieth century. It has wire-cut bricks at the façade and its 1926 construction date inscribed in a stone at the parapet; interior finishes have been lost to renovations. Its rich history reflects the achievements and struggle of African Americans in Raleigh in the early twentieth century.

As at the Delany Building, other storefronts remain despite interior alterations. The 1912 Montague Building retains individual storefronts even though some interior walls have been removed to accommodate large dining rooms. Exterior detailing enriches the building. Note the decorative cornice above groups of arched windows, the iron corner column that allows a cutaway entrance for the restaurant, and the colored glass blocks in the sidewalk that allow light to filter into the building’s expanded basement. The Italianate-style Helig-Levine Store dates to 1870. It is one of the oldest commercial buildings downtown and one of just a few survivors from the nineteenth century.

Other downtown buildings include early skyscrapers and business headquarters. The Capital Club Building had offices for its eponymous men’s social club as well as Office space in the tower that provided income. Now there is a restaurant in the first-floor corner space off the little brass-and-marble lobby. The three-story H. J. Brown Coffin House Building was erected in 1907 to be the new home for an established Raleigh business, one which occupied the entire building. Look for the sidewalk glass block like those of the Montague Building at both of these structures.

Todays popular Glenwood South neighborhood was a light-industrial area in the early twentieth century—much of it replaced around mid-century with residential development. Such factories easily allow for large dining rooms, given the open, lofty spaces that originally accommodated large machinery. The Pine State Creamery, the Raleigh Electric Company Power House, and CP&L Car Barn and Automobile Garage are all examples. The practical, functional finishes—concrete, brick, tile—employed in these production facilities eventually became fashionable in interior design and are often highlighted in the new dining spaces.

The Royal Baking Company on Hillsborough Street in West Raleigh is a similar industrial example and features exposed steel roof trusses at the interior. Many of the employees at Royal Baking Company walked over from Method, a village founded by formerly enslaved African Americans that was annexed into the city in 1960.

Finally, there is the Dodd-Hinsdale House, a late nineteenth-century dwelling converted to restaurant use. When the house was built, similar dwellings lined this stretch of Hillsborough Street. Most have been demolished—and the Dodd- Hinsdale House very nearly was too—but a few remain to recall the era when this was a well-to-do residential corridor.

Repurposing these commercial, industrial, and residential buildings provides varied and interesting spaces for Raleigh’s restaurant scene. Keeping such structures occupied and in active use also helps preserve them. This is worthwhile because they reflect many aspects of Raleigh’s nineteenth- and twentieth-century history, important physical manifestations of the city’s evolving story.

Dodd-Hinsdale House

The Victorian-era home of Raleigh mayor William H. Dodd and later of attorney and legislator John Wetmore Hinsdale features a variety of architectural details. The house combines an Italianate-bracketed cornice, a Second Empire mansard-roofed tower,…

(former) CP&L Car Barn and Automobile Garage

The Carolina Power and Light Company erected this simple but elegant one-story common-bond brick building to house electric streetcars and buses. The building later became an automobile garage. It is a rare example of an Art Deco…

(former) Raleigh Electric Company Power House

The Raleigh Electric Company built this building and its coal-fired steam-driven turbines to power Raleigh's electric street car system and to augment power supplies for the city. The structure's tripartite arrangement, featuring a…

(former) Pine State Creamery

The State College Agricultural Extension Service encouraged the establishment of the Pine State Creamery as a dairy farmers' cooperative at the end of World War I. The dairy products plant is a two-story Art Moderne design in cream-colored…

The Mecca

The Mecca is a Raleigh institution. Greek immigrant Nick Dombalis and his wife Helen opened The Mecca Luncheonette on Fayetteville Street in 1930. They bought this building in 1937 and moved the restaurant. Like the Sir Walter Raleigh Hotel, The…

H.J. Brown Coffin House Building

The H.J. Brown Coffin House Building was the early twentieth-century headquarters for a local business established in 1836. Originally a cabinet shop and later a maker of coffins, it evolved into an undertaking and mortuary company that eventually…

Capital Club Building

Architect Frank B. Simpson designed this skyscraper for the Capital Club, one of the oldest prominent men's organizations in the South. The building juxtaposes Art Deco motifs with a classically derived building form, and the twelfth-floor…

Montague Building

The Montague Building, a combination of the Neoclassical Revival and the emerging Commercial styles, was the first large retail building in the Moore Square area. This building, along with the Mission-style City Market, helps define a lively center…

Early Store Building (Heilig-Levine)

The three-story Heilig-Levine Furniture store remains one of the few intact nineteenth century commercial buildings surviving downtown. Built as a hotel, it displays the heavily bracketed cornice and tall arched windows of the Italianate style. Two…

Delany Building

The Delany Building is one of only two remaining commercial structures built on Raleigh's "Black Main Street" before World War II. Builder Dr. Lemuel T. Delany, the first black surgeon practicing at Saint Agnes Hospital and son of the…

(former) Royal Baking Company

Conceived by W.E. Long Company of Chicago, specialists in bakery design, and built by the Raleigh construction firm of James A. Davidson, the Royal Baking Company is a utilitarian one-story brick building with simple International style detail. Built…