In 1999 when Cheetie Kumar’s musician husband, Paul Siler, opened Kings, a hip performance venue in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, she would cook for the bands who came to play. It was a natural progression from the couple’s time spent on the road in their own band, when Kumar would pore over cookbooks between gigs. The marriage of food and music has molded her life from her childhood in Chandigarh, India, through her adolescence in the Bronx, to a stint in radio and music management during college in Amherst, Massachusetts. Now, the James Beard semifinalist co-owns two Raleigh music venues and a restaurant, Garland, all while continuing to play guitar in her band, Birds of Avalon.
photo: Courtesy of Cheetie Kumar
Chef Cheetie Kumar.
At Garland, Kumar’s innovative menu is inspired by the spice route with influences from China, Southeast Asia, India, and the Middle East, filtered through a North Carolina lens. “It’s an immigrant’s perspective on Southern food,” Kumar says. And Raleigh, she adds, is the perfect place for it: the people are warm, the food culture is ethnically diverse, the music scene is ripe, and there’s a palpable sense of adventure. “Raleigh has a rebellious spirit,” Kumar says. “But it also feels homey, similar to my childhood home of Chandigarh.” When she’s not in the kitchen or on the road with her band, here are a few of her favorite spots.
426 S. McDowell Street, Raleigh
“Poole’s has been the touchstone for everything culinary in this area for the last ten years. Ashley [Christensen] made it okay to have a voice in the food world. This restaurant was opened by a woman, and run by a woman, and became the anchor for everything else in Raleigh—and it’s delicious.”
590 E. Chatham Street, Suite 112 & 114, Cary
“This place is a vegetarian, Southern, South Indian restaurant. It’s been here and consistently good for fifteen years. It has a killer Paper Masala Dosai—the best I’ve ever had. It’s basically a fermented rice and lentil crepe that’s at least a yard long. Three feet! It’s shatteringly crisp and light and tangy, and the chutneys they pair with it are spot-on. My mouth’s watering now.” sriudupicafe.com
photo: COURTESY OF Udupi
An assorted appetizer platter at Udupi Cafe.
6404 Tryon Road, Cary
“Everything they serve is spiced boldly with so much balance. It’s very authentic, super fresh, and has great service. They have this toothpick lamb, which is basically bite-sized pieces of lamb on toothpicks—but they’re in a deep bowl with a ridiculous amount of dried chilies, as if they were peas in a stew. It’s a fun presentation. But it’s really hard to go wrong with anything on their menu.”
photo: COURTESY OF Szechuan Taste
St. Roch Fine Oysters + Bar
223 S. Wilmington Street, Raleigh
“This is Sunny Gerhart’s excellent new spot a block away from us. It’s a creative and delicious Cajun-inspired oyster bar and restaurant from a chef who grew up in the St. Roch neighborhood of New Orleans.” strochraleigh.com
photo: MIKE MCDONALD
Oysters at St. Roch.
938 N. Blount Street, Raleigh
“Stanbury is operated by friends in a very friendly way. But it’s also very rebellious. It’s in our neighborhood so we walk there on Monday nights when we don’t have to work. It’s a Southern restaurant but they take chances with their flavors, which I love.” stanburyraleigh.com
photo: Lisa Gotwals
Cocktails at the Stanbury Bar.
The Fiction Kitchen
428 S. Dawson Street, Raleigh
222 S. Blount Street, Raleigh
106 S. Wilmington Street, Raleigh
“Can I do a tie? I really can’t choose just one more. All three are owned and operated and led by Raleigh people. They’re invaluable to the downtown food community. One’s vegetarian, one’s Laotian, one’s Mexican. These restaurants make up our little community of daring people and make our neighborhoods vibrant and delicious.”
thefictionkitchen.com | bidamanda.com | centroraleigh.com
photo: Lisa Gotwals
Bida Manda’s Pork Belly Soup.