Chef Ashley Christensen unveils the best places in Raleigh to grab a quick, cheap bite.
1 of 5Photo: Gary Clark
Meet Our Raleigh Restaurant Connoisseur
"I taste food all day, so I'm not always hungry at mealtimes," explains Ashley Christensen, a James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist who has appeared on the Iron Chef America television show. "Then it's midnight and I realize I've only eaten a few tablespoons of food all day." On the heels of opening her three newest concepts (Beasley's Chicken & Honey, Chuck's, and Fox Liquor Bar), the chef is no stranger to long stretches in the kitchen. When she emerges, she yearns for good food, loud music, and a connection to her 20-year history in the area. "A conncetion to people is important to me. One of the first cooks I worked with in a mass-production Italian restaurant was the amazing Ceasar Gonzalez. Now, 16 years later, he and his brother own my favorite taco truck."
2 of 5Photo: Gary Clark
El Rey Del Taco Food Truck
For a late-night taco fix, Ashley craves the Barbacoa (shredded chuck roast with guajillo salsa), Lengua (beef tongue), and Al Pastor (pork and pineapple) tacos topped with chopped onions, cilantro, and lime juice. "Their salsas are sick!" she says (meaning delicious in chef speak).
Usually parked at 301 Hodges Street, Raleigh; 919/771-4569
3 of 5Photo courtesy of Richard Gusler
The Players' Retreat
Locals call it "the PR," a tavern across from North Carolina State University that's been there since 1951. "A friend of mine took this place over. It's a great place to watch a game, drink a beer, and chow down on Mimi's Sausage Dip & Chips made with local sausage from the farmers' market, cream cheese, tomatoes, and hot peppers."
Ashely goes for a quarter-pound steak-style burger with steak sauce, grilled onions, and American cheese and a Cheerwine late. "If I've had a few drinks, I invest in Zingo, a service that rides a scooter to you, folds the scooter up, puts it in the trunk of your car, and then drives you home," Ashley says. Most Zingo drivers are college kids willing to take a detour for a Cook-Out milk shake.
This 24-hour chicken joint has amassed a cult following for its Chicken and Cheddar Biscuits: flash-fried chicken breasts sliced off the bone and served on a hot, buttered, four-corner biscuit. "They also sell a Box of Bones, the meat-laden bones left over from the trimmed chicken breasts. They're dope."
133 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill; 919/929-2425