Serena Restaurant and Bar on Miami Blvd (www.serena-rtp.com) is 1) nearby to RDU airport 2) very good food 3) good beer 4) great cocktails 5) free open wireless 6) smoke free.
Cons: kitchen closes at 9pm and I hear they may close early on Friday the 1st because of the holiday weekend so call ahead.
I've been in the Triangle for a little over a year now and Lantern has become one of our favorite places to go. When we want food that will excite us and reward us, we go to Lantern.
To us, Lantern is two experiences at one location: A comfortable, minimalist restaurant in the front and a cozy, intimate small bar in the back.
I've been to the restaurant 3-4 times, as recently as 3 weeks ago. I had the smoked chicken and Flat Iron steak. The Flat Iron steak was memorable to me because I serve it at another restaurant in the area. I was impressed with how tender it was, how well cooked it was, and.. well it was pricey at $29, but I felt it was so good they deserved it. A really good example of why people should like Flat Iron steak. The XO sauce that came with the chicken got my attention so much I found myself dipping the Flat Iron steak in that. My only disappointment with the restaurant on that last occasion was that they had no specials available -- we had gotten there late and I assume they'd sold out of everything, so we'd seen many of the choices from weeks before. I really believe short menus ARE GOOD and are only bad when you eat at the same place regularly.
We've been to the back bar more than the restaurant because it's such a cool place when you want a cozy/intimate time with your S.O. or a chill out with 3-4 friends. We usually get 3-5 appetizers and enjoy the variety, tapas style. But it is the desserts which I get excited for. Lantern has some of the most rewarding desserts I've tasted. They're small -- as desserts should be -- and enjoy them for their richness, taste, presentation, etc.