While Northwest Raleigh has many wonderful eateries, some of the best restaurants are in the heart of Raleigh. Well worth the drive, Side Street Cafe is located in Oakwood, the most progressive neighborhood in the historic Five-Points area (as you head downtown). The restaurant, painted a beautiful aged-grape color, follows the Victorian architecture that surrounds a good portion of the neighborhood and stands out from the street.
The quaint cafe is a perfect balance of elegant Olde Raleigh tradition and down-home Southern charm. In fact, If you had a Great Aunt Fern who served sweet tea out of mason jars on her front porch, she would surely invite you to sample a very similar cuisine and atmosphere. In fact, I would say that Side Street is more of a cozy dining room than a restaurant. Inside, the decor allows for a feeling of familiarity and comfort as there are antiques lining the walls, old family photos, local art (to update things a bit), and let’s not forget the aroma of homemade baked goods.
I have never found a restaurant around Leesville with the same comforting feeling of Side Street Cafe. In fact, many restaurants do not function the way they were meant to. Restaurants should have a carefree and inviting atmosphere. One should have an experience of pleasure, without rushing–without that greasy dump of stress that seems to rot in your stomach after you’ve stuffed yourself with poor quality food.
As for Side Street, I have yet to try anything I didn’t think was flavorful and fresh. The menu has a wide selection of soups, sides, sandwiches and sweets that are sure to please. The clever menu has a “Side” theme where it is broken down according to what kind of “Side” you would like to enjoy. “Our Best Side,” includes house favorites and traditional sandwiches,“A Bit on the Warm Side,” covers just what you think it does, “The Green Side,” covers salads, and “The Lighter Side,” includes half-sandwich options where you can add on a side from the “Side Kicks” option.
On my most recent visit, I ordered the Humdinger Sandwich which is hummus spread on whole-wheat toast with sweet onion, tomato, black olives, cucumbers, and sprouts. This sandwich may sound ordinary, but the hummus and locally-grown tomatoes were a perfect pair. I also had savory country-style vegetable soup with adequately large chunks of veggies and potatoes, which complimented not only the sandwich but the rainy day that accompanied my visit.
If you don’t come for anything else, come for the freshly baked desserts. Your commute to Oakwood will be worth it when you sink your teeth into the magical heaven that is the lemon square. It’s got that old-fashioned bake-sale spirit, with a dense, buttery homemade base and a light and refreshing lemon topping. They even make sure that the powdered sugar is baked enough on top so that it isn’t burnt, but perfectly caramelized.
Lastly, if it isn’t the sweet desserts that will inspire another visit, it’s the sweet staff. Any of the employees working could easily be a friend of your family, which is exactly how you are treated. Waiters and waitresses treat you with the utmost hospitality and seem to really care for you as if you were sitting in their living room.
Overall, Side Street Cafe is a warm and friendly place to dine. The atmosphere, food, and people are what makes this restaurant a standout among many chain restaurants and sub-par eateries that seem to be all over Raleigh.The only thing I would suggest is going on a day where you are willing to take your time and enjoy what Side Street has to offer–not because they have slow service, but because you should. I mean, you wouldn’t snub your Great Aunt Fern, would you?
Love your article – and I have been enjoying this restaurant since it opened over 20 years ago! Most of the sandwiches were created from favorites of the owner’s friends and clientele. Some are even named for the people that “invented” them. It is a fun and delicious place to visit. If you’re downtown you should make a point to go!