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To Eat or Not to Eat: A Food Review of the North Carolina Zoo

Updated: Apr 19

I went to the North Carolina Zoo, which is located in Asheboro, on a quiet, chilly Monday afternoon. Most visitors had gone home for the day, whether from exhaustion or reaching their limit with the cold weather. Many of the animals had retreated to quiet corners or caves in their enclosures. I didn’t mind. I was on a mission –– a mission to review the restaurants and food options at the zoo and to determine whether eating there is worth it or if you should grab a bite to eat in town instead.

I started my Tour De Zoo at the Farm to Table Café, located right at the entrance/exit of the North

America section. The café offered both indoor and outdoor seating, and they had a counter for

fast ordering. I was surprised at the array of interesting menu options; there was a Fig n’ Pig BLT

sandwich, and Beef Birria Burrito, among other fresh, farm-to-table options. I landed on the

Yard Bird Club Sandwich, which had a brined chicken breast, Swiss, arugula, thick bacon, and

special sauce on a brioche roll along with a side of surprisingly well-seasoned fries.

The flavors and quality at the Farm to Table Café were probably the best out of all the restaurants

at the zoo. Plus, there was no cheesy décor, which can be either a bonus or a drawback depending on your preferences. However, most of the menu items were pretty expensive, ranging from 10 to 20 dollars. So, considering the prices and the fact that the restaurant is located near the exit, which is pretty far away from most of the animals and attractions, I don’t know if this restaurant is worth the time or money. Yes, the food was tasty and fresh. But, if you’re looking for a pricey farm-to-table meal, maybe choose a local restaurant in Asheboro instead.

Next, I stopped at Settler’s Ridge –– a snack stand also located near the entrance/exit to the North America section. Unlike Farm to Table Café, Settler’s Ridge goes full-out with zoo-themed decorations and design. The stand offered average-priced ice cream and toppings, grab-and-go snacks, and fountain drinks. Even in the cold weather on that chilly Monday, there was still a group of children lined up for some Dip N’ Dots. Despite the cheesy setup and the lack of substantial food options, I do believe that Settler’s Ridge is worth it. It’s great for families looking to end their visit by rewarding the kids with a sweet treat. I can’t argue with that.

Deeper into the North America section of the zoo, I found Wild Burger –– a restaurant located inside the Kid Zone. This casual restaurant had six burger options on the menu, all of which were surprisingly creative in their toppings, along with drinks and sides. There is strictly outdoor seating, which may be a drawback in the colder seasons, but the picnic tables all have a direct view of the kids’ play area –– extremely convenient for families. While some of the burgers were on the expensive side, I do believe that this restaurant is worth it. The location is perfect for families that want to stop for a quick bite in between enclosures, or if parents want to rest their feet and let the kids play for a while. Plus, the burgers are surprisingly good quality, creative, and satisfying.

There are other dining locations that were either closed for the season or that I was unable to try during my visit. In Junction Plaza, the center of the park, are Junction Springs Café, Crossing Pizza Café, and The Coop (which provide more substantial meals such as burgers, chicken sandwiches/tenders, and pizza), as well as Connections Creamery (ice cream and grab-and-go snacks). Located in the Akiba Market in the Africa section of the park are Billy D’s Fried Chicken and Billy D’s Snax.

So, to eat or not to eat? That is the question. The biggest factors that determine whether the dining options at the North Carolina Zoo are worth it are which sections of the park you plan to visit, how long you plan to spend at the park, and if you have children. If you’re planning to spend the whole day at the zoo, then the dining options listed above are probably going to be worth it. The park is massive, and having convenient restaurants in every section is going to be necessary for hungry kids or parents needing a break. While places such as Settler’s Ridge and Connections Creamery don’t offer substantial meals, they can still be worth it for families. If you are only spending a short time at the zoo or only stopping in one section of the park, then these options will not be worth it. For example, while the Farm to Table Café was delicious, its location by the entrance and price range makes it an unnecessary stop.

he North Carolina Zoo has many convenient and delicious options for zoo visitors to choose from. Yes, most are overpriced and cheesy in their design. But for visitors spending the day at the zoo or families with children, most of these restaurants will be worth it.

--Emily Murrill



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