Poole’s Voted Best Diner in North Carolina for 2024

Diners can frequently feel locked in time, but while Poole’s in Raleigh has classic chrome edging and red artificial-leather stools and booths, the waitstaff does not wear old-school uniforms. Instead, tattooed servers move around the horseshoe-shaped counters to Phoebe Bridgers’ music.

They’re happy to walk you through the extensive range of craft brews or help you understand the handwritten chalkboard menus. Ashley Christensen, the chef and owner, delivers intelligently updated spins on comfort foods such as roast chicken and potato salad. There’s no iceberg lettuce or a sticky Heinz bottle (from who knows when) in sight.

Poole's Voted Best Diner in North Carolina for 2024

“My father was a truck driver who traveled to all these other cities. Christensen describes a diner as a location where he always felt as if he spoke the language and was accepted.

Poole’s Modern Familiarities

Poole’s is more trendy than her father’s favorite restaurants, yet it caters to people of all ages. Its warm atmosphere is only one of the many reasons why our readers named it the finest restaurant in North Carolina in our 2024 South’s Finest poll.

Poole’s offers something for everyone, from young couples sitting at the counter perusing Zillow listings to families enjoying mountains of Macaroni Au Gratin (Christensen’s famed mac and cheese, shown below).

Poole's Voted Best Diner in North Carolina for 2024

While the recipe may appear fussy, it hits all of the same notes as the traditional but with deliberate improvements, such as adding Jarlsberg and Grana Padano cheeses in addition to sharp white Cheddar. She also broils it, giving the top an appealing caramelized crust. Her food has evolved over the last 16 years, but her main purpose has not: “Meet people at their place of comfort, but then take them beyond that.”

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Poole’s Southern Hospitality

Poole's Voted Best Diner in North Carolina for 2024

Aside from reimagining homestyle diner classics, Christensen offers a unique viewpoint on Southern hospitality. The building’s side features a rainbow mural that reads, “All are Welcome.” And this isn’t just a platitude. Poole’s bartender and mixed-media artist Luke Buchanan (Christensen’s first employee) painted it to express her vision of a business where the doors are always open to everyone.

A colorful window decoration near the entrance reads, “Don’t forget kindness.” During the controversial 2016 election, an earlier version stated, “Don’t forget to vote.”

Some may argue that food and politics do not mix, but at Poole’s, they do, creating a setting where strangers become quick friends and regulars become supporters of not only the restaurant but also the artists who masquerade as bartenders. Christensen, like the menu, pushes hospitality to new heights, and her restaurant benefits as a result.

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