Durham’s reputation as “America’s Foodiest Small City” is well-earned. Consider yourself warned: Durham takes its food and drink seriously. Nestled amongst the natural abundance of the Piedmont region, local chefs (including several James Beard award winners) feature locally grown products in unique and creative ways.
Below are just a few local favorites; click here to see the list of restaurants recommended by the DBA. Professor Steven L. Schwarcz also regularly reviews restaurants in Durham and the surrounding area; click here to see his list of recommendations and reviews.
It all started in a shed at the Durham Farmer’s Market. But after the sweet and savory pies and famous donut muffins were snatched up within an hour, week after week, Scratch was born. This little bistro offers the finest baked goods served anywhere, perfectly paired with Durham’s own legendary Counter Culture Coffee. The real secret is the succulent lunch menu, which features locally grown produce and pork from North Carolina farmers. You can take Scratch out of the Farmer’s Market, but you can’t take the Farmer’s Market out of Scratch. .
The food truck craze hit Durham early and has only grown since. This locally grown favorite can be spotted on Duke’s campus and in the surrounding downtown neighborhood. The cars literally following it to its next location is reason enough to give it a try. Voted the #2 favorite food truck in a recent Food Network poll, OnlyBurger doesn’t disappoint.
Like Magnolia Grill, everything at Nana’s seems perfect. The food, service, atmosphere, and wine list are all expertly crafted and lend an unmatched and unexpected sophistication to this little corner of Durham.
No menu in Durham is quite as aggressive or creative as the one Executive Chef Jim Anile puts together at Revolution. Located in the heart of downtown, Revolution epitomizes the re-birth of Durham. With white décor, tile mosaics and one of the trendiest bars around, Revolution matches the beauty of their menu with the aesthetics of the restaurant. Ox tongue, haystack shrimp and octopus salad are just a few of the innovative creations on the menu. When out to impress a date or a client, look no further than Revolution.
A true gem of Durham, Cosmic Cantina consistently gives patrons the most bang for the buck. Located at the corner of Ninth St and Perry St, Cosmic as it’s known, for around $6 serves a burrito that looks like it needs to be airlifted to your table. Cosmic Cantina is great for a quick lunch, a cheap dinner or a late night snack (they are open until 4 a.m.) It’s best to go with someone who has been there before, since finding Cosmic is a bit difficult, it gives hole-in-the-wall a whole new meaning, but definitely a buried treasure once you find it.
Hands down, one of the best burgers in the country, Dain’s was featured on Man vs. Food and deservedly so. One of the feature items is ‘The Diffibulator”, a burger that needs no further explanation. Bring your appetite when you go to Dain’s and be sure to try one of the many microbrews available.
The best Asian cuisine in Durham is located in the far right corner of Brightleaf Square. Mt. Fuji is a place that is guaranteed to bring customers back. With flavor and presentation that far outweigh the modest prices, Mt. Fuji is an absolute steal. The biggest attraction is for sushi fans, who take advantage of the half-price specials. If going out for sushi, a $20 bill is more than enough to cover the cost for two.
It’s hard to put into words a way to describe Mellow Mushroom. It’s simply the best pizza around. The specialty pizzas come in a myriad of options, none of which disappoint. Across from the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, in the American Tobacco Campus there is always a crowd to be found at Mellow Mushroom. There is something there for everyone, gluten-free crust, vegan options ,endless toppings and a great atmosphere. Mellow Mushroom is the go-to place on a Friday or Saturday night in Durham.
From a good Sunday brunch to an intimate date night, Alivia’s is fitting for almost any occasion. Complete with an outdoor patio that can be enclosed during poor weather and has fire pits for the winter months, Alivia’s always accommodates. Their menu is full of Southern specialties like shrimp and grits and BBQ sliders, guaranteed to delight. It’s very easy to find, on the corner of Main St. and Gregson St., just look for the packed patio during a weekend afternoon. When the sun goes down Alivia’s turns up the ambiance with its “fire lit” seating, sure to impress and set the mood.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so why skip out? Elmo’s is sure to start your day off on the right foot, with quick, friendly service and the best breakfast in Durham. Pancakes, omelets, bacon and eggs and grits ... all the classics, served hot and fresh daily. However, do expect to wait a few minutes on the weekends, Elmo’s is always packed.
Fishmongers gives off the vibe of a local beach community joint, right in the middle of downtown Durham. Patrons come for the specials like mahi-mahi, trigger fish, red snapper and oysters, but come back for the top notch veggies and sides. The picnic benches and disposable paper tablecloths give Fishmongers a casual feel, but with upscale taste.
If you're in need of a healthy, delicious and fun alternative to ice cream, then look no further than Local Yogurt. Known as Loyo, this frozen yogurt shop serves up four flavors made with all-natural ingredients along with toppings from local farms and vendors. While flavors and toppings rotate on a regular basis, the family-friendly environment and cheerful spirit remains the same.
For those who prefer to cook their own food. Filled with a wide variety of local producers (all 67 vendors are located within 70 miles of Durham) and conveniently located at Durham’s Central Park, the Farmer’s Market is your go-to location for fresh and delicious produce. Open year round on Saturdays and half the year on Wednesdays, it has everything from local meats to sweet potatoes to leafy greens to delicious locally baked goods!
Durham has a well-established convoy of food trucks. Durham’s trucks offer everything you could possibly want from BBQ to pizza to dumplings to cupcakes and more! You can oftentimes find them parked in front of local drinking establishments lacking kitchens of their own. A few times a year, a number of the trucks pull together for the delicious food truck rodeo . Don’t miss it!
- Blue Corn Café, 716 Ninth St., Durham, 919-286-9600
- Taqueria la Vaquita, 2700 Chapel Hill Road, Durham, 919-402-0209
- Torero’s, 800 W. Main Street, Durham, 919-682-4197
- Dos Perros, 200 N. Mangum Durham, 919-956-2750
- Nana Taco, 2512 University Dr., Durham 919-489-8226
If there is one thing that there is plenty of in Durham, it is good Mexican food. The myriad taco trucks parked all around town offer great, cheap, authentic fare. The Blue Corn Café offers high quality fare and a nice low key atmosphere. If you are looking for a more authentic experience, and a sit-down location, check out La Vaquita, known for good mole and easily recognized by the cow on the roof. Torero’s is conveniently located off of 15-501 near the residences of many students and offers drink specials. Dos Perros offers more refined Mexican fare but still at a reasonable price. Nana Taco is a newcomer, but has made a noticeable entrance into the Mexican food scene.
- Chubby’s, 748 Ninth St., Durham, 919-286-4499
- Cosmic Cantina, across from 9th St. on Perry St.
- Chipotle, 2608 Erwin Rd, Durham, 919-309-2901
These are the go-to restaurants for that quick bundle of sustenance between classes. Chipotle has great food and is closest to the Law School. Cosmic Cantina is a favorite for lunchtime events at Duke and has more local color than Chipotle; we just find their burritos to be a little less flavorful than their big chain competitor.
- Shanghai, 3433 Hillsborough Rd., Durham, near the Kroger, 919-383-7581
- Neo China, 4015 University Dr., Durham, 919-489-2828
- China Buffet, 3720 Mayfair St., Durham, near the Kroger by South Square, 919-403-7878
Friendly staff and delicious sesame chicken at Shanghai make for an excellent meal. Also, Neo China offers among the best lunch deals in town: $6.95 for one of several entrees, soup and an egg roll. Every good list of Chinese food has to include at least one buffet: When you have that craving to really get your money’s worth, stop by China Buffet and prepare to gorge yourself.
- Saffron, 4121 Davis Dr., Morrisville, 919-469-5774
- Dale’s, 811 Ninth St., Durham, 919-286-1760
- Sitar, 3630 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd, Durham, 919-490-1326
Although pricey, and Morrisville is a bit of a drive, Saffron is the best Indian food in the Triangle. It is pricey and Morrisville is kind of a schlep, but you will love the romantic atmosphere, great wine list, and the delicious food with high-quality ingredients. Branch out from the usual tikka masala by trying the cauliflower and nut flavors of Saffron’s Ghobi or the minty Paneer Pasanda, both vegetarian. Dale’s is much closer and offers a nice spread for buffet lunch. Sitar is a bit expensive, but locally owned and it offers delicious cuisine.
- Charlie’s, 758 Ninth Street, Durham
- Wingstop, 1839 Martin Luther King Pkwy, Durham, 919-401-9401
- Buffalo Wild Wings, 6709 Fayetteville Road, Durham Near Southpoint. 919-206-4497
Charlie’s has the best wings ever, and a nice open bar area with outdoor seating and a back room with pool tables that makes for a fun night out. Wingstop also has great wings with tons of different flavors. It is more of a takeout place, but is easy driving distance from some of the popular student neighborhoods in South Durham. Buffalo Wild Wings is new to Durham (as of 2012) and is exactly what you’d expect from the nation-wide chain.
Best Sports Bar
- Bailey’s, 1722 Fordham Blvd, Chapel Hill, 918-1005
- Carolina Ale House, 3911 Durham Chapel Hill Blvd, Durham, 919-490-2001
- Tobacco Road Sports Cafe, 280 S. Mangum Street, Durham 919-937-9909
Tobacco Road is one of the most popular places to catch a game. Attached to the Durham Bulls Stadium, it has everything you expect from a sports bar. Great food and lots of screens! Bailey’s with its good food, good crowd and lots of excitement make for a can't-miss night out. Also try the Carolina Ale House, near the Super Target on business 15/501. They have cheap drink specials, a long beer list, a diverse menu, and great buffalo chicken fingers.
- Sushi Love, 2812 Erwin Rd., Durham, 919-309-2401
- Shiki Sushi, 207 W Hwy 54, Durham, 919-484-4108
- Mt. Fuji, Brightleaf Square, 905 W. Main St. Suite 21-B, Durham, 919-680-4968
- Vine Sushi and Thai, 607 Broad St., Durham 919-294-8382
There are a couple of solid choices for Sushi in Durham. Every night at Sushi Love is BOGO on dine-in rolls and it is the closest to the law school. Mt. Fuji is popular with law students for its BOGO sushi every night and a number of drink specials. Shiki Sushi is located near Southpoint and is another favorite. Vine Sushi just opened in Fall of 2012 to rave reviews near the Whole Foods next to East Campus. These sushi places also offer other Asian cuisine, with great Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese dishes on the menu.
- Thai Café, 2501 University Dr., Durham, 919-493-9794
- Vine Sushi and Thai, 607 Broad St., Durham 919-294-8382
- Sushi Love, 2812 Erwin Rd., 919-309-2401
It is easy to get good Thai food in Durham, but these three places are the favorites. For a quiet atmosphere, good flavor, and a convenient location we have to pick Thai Café as the best. The owner is often on hand to great you as you enter. Although primarily known for their sushi, Vine and Sushi Love have some tasty Thai options.
Best Pub Food
- Tyler’s Taproom, American Tobacco District, 324 Blackwell St, Durham, 919-433-0345
- The Federal, 914 W. Main St. Durham, 919-680-8611
- Geer Street Garden, 644 Foster St, Durham, 919-688-2900
One of the most popular bars in town, Tyler’s Taproom is in the hip American Tobacco District. This is the ideal place to go before a Durham Bulls game or after a bike ride on the American Tobacco Trail. The food is creative and often gives a local twist to pub classics: think fried catfish and chips. The beer list is as long and dense as your Torts casebook. Many law students also take advantage of Tyler’s Wednesday Pint Nights where you get to keep the glass of the featured Pint on Tap. The Federal, right next door to James Joyce, also has an incredible menu. The chef uses fresh, local ingredients that vary with the seasons. Geer Street is a newcomer, but it has made a very good impression already with fantastic fries with creative dipping sauces to choose from.
- Elmo’s Diner, 776 Ninth St. Durham, 919-416-3823
- Foster’s, 2694 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd. Durham 919-489-3944
- Rick’s Diner, 4015 University Dr., Durham, 919-419-0907
- Guglehupf 2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham 919-401-2600
- Parker & Otis, 112 S. Duke St., Durham, 919-683-3200
Elmo’s offers the classic diner experience, with excellent blueberry pancakes and other treats. Guglehupf offers a fancier, setting that specializes in German offerings and local fare. If you don’t feel like waiting in line, which regrettably tends to happen at both Elmo’s and Guglehupf, try the alternative diner experience at Rick’s. Foster’s also has great breakfast food, with fresh ingredients and delicious baked goods. Parker & Otis is a really great market/restaurant and is newley remodeled. Go on a weekend and get brunch or lunch and sit on the patio. It’s also a great place to spend an afternoon with a coffee and your reading.
- Vin Rouge, 2010 Safeway St., Durham, 919-416-0406
- Rue Cler, 401 E Chapel Hill St., Durham, 919-682-8844
A Cute little French Bakery and restaurant, Rue Cler is well known for its beignets and crepes. Vin Rouge offers a taste of the fancier side of life with an authentic feel and great atmosphere. Its food cannot be beaten if you’re looking for a French meal.
- Daisy Cakes, 401 Foster Street, Durham, 919-389-4307
- Guglhupf, 2706 Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham, 919-401-2600
- Francesca’s Dessert Caffe , Ninth St., Durham, 919-286-4177
- Maple View Farm, 6900 Rocky Ridge Rd., Hillsborough 919-960-5535
Guglehupf offers some great desserts to go with its sandwiches and German cuisine, but Francesca’s, nesteled in the 9th St. strip, focuses on them. A great place for an indulgent treat to go with your coffee. Daisy Cakes started out as a food truck and finally opened a storefront in 2011. They specialize in cupcakes but do oh so much more. Maple View Farm is an enjoyable drive through the Duke Forest before arriving at their quaint country store and creamery. Their farm-fresh ice-cream really can’t be beat!
Best Place to Get a Hoity-Toity Sandwich
- Foster’s, 2694 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd. Durham 919-489-3944
- Guglhupf, 2706 Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham, 919-401-2600
- Toast, 345 W Main St., Durham, 919-683-2183
Foster's is owned by Sara Foster, once a chef for Martha Stewart. Her market and shop offer excellent sandwiches, wraps, salads, and other wholesome stuff. Similar in concept to Foster's minus the market, Guglhupf has delicious and inventive sandwiches, scrumptious baked goods, and café-style coffee drinks. Enjoy the spacious patio seating in warmer months. Toast is an Italian sandwich shop that has been written up in the New York Times. All of its ingredients are local – except for its meats and cheeses which come straight from Italy!
Best Southern Cooking
- Crook’s Corner, 610 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, 919-929-7643
- Mama Dip’s, 408 West Rosemary Street, Chapel Hill, 919-942-5837
- Bullock’s, 3330 Quebec Dr., Durham, 919-383-3211
Crook’s Corner is definitely the best Southern restaurant in the area. If you like shrimp and grits, they do them better than almost anyone. Crook’s represents the fancy side of Southern. We have not found a particularly good down-home style place. If this is what you are looking for, Mama Dip’s and Bullock’s are reputed as masters of this genre. Alternatively, get in the car and strike out for Alabama.
Best Soul Food at 3 a.m.
- Time-Out Restaurant, 133 W Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 919-929-2425
A Chapel Hill institution. Try the famous biscuits or fried chicken as featured on Man vs. Food.
- Sage Café, Timberlyne Shopping Center, 1129 Weaver Dairy Rd., Chapel Hill, 919-968-9266
- The Spotted Dog Restaurant and Bar, 111 E. Main St. Carrboro, 919-933- 1117
- The salad bar at Weaver Street Market, 101 East Weaver St., Carrboro, 919-929-0010
- The Wellspring Café at Whole Foods, 621 Broad St, Durham
Most restaurants in Durham can accommodate a vegetarian palate, but the Sage Café is one of the few purely vegetarian options in town, if not the only. Even if you are a meat lover, this is a worthwhile experience. Straddling the border between Chapel Hill and Carrboro and located on an oddly shaped triangular piece of land, the Spotted Dog Café offers great food at decent prices. Both the Weaver Street Market and the Durham Whole Foods offer pay by the pound pre-cooked food that is healthy and delicious.
- Spartacus, 4139 Durham Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham, 919-489-2848
- Baba Ghannouj 2200 W Main St., Durham 919-286-6699
Opa! If you’re looking for Greek food, come to Spartacus, near the Super Target on business 15/501. The flaming Saganaki is especially recommended. Although they specialize in a Lebanese-Greek fusion, Baba Ghannouj is one of the few other options in town. Their greek salad is especially tasty.
Best Ice Cream
- Locopops, 2600 Hillsborough Rd., Durham, 919-286-3500
- Maple View Farms, 3109 Dairyland Rd., Hillsborough, 919-960-5535
- Local Yogurt, 2501 University Dr., Durham, 919-489-5900
Locopops is truly a local treasure. They serve the most creative popsicle flavors (e.g. Honeydew Lemon Verbena or Cucumber Chile) and are perfect for a summer afternoon. The flavors rotate extensively day-to-day. Watch out, they’re habit-forming. Located just outside of Chapel Hill, Maple View Farms offers fresh milk, ice cream and dairy spread. On a nice day, you can sit on the porch outside the store and relax in their comfortable rocking chairs. Local Yogurt has a shop near the Law School and often has specials for students. They have the biggest selection of toppings in town, including all the best cereals (Lucky Charms, Captain Crunch, etc.).
- Randy’s Pizza, Numerous Locations
- Enzo’s Pizza Co., 2608 Erwin Rd., Durham, 919-309-3696
- The Pizzeria, 604 W. Morgan St., Durham, 919-890-3853
- Amante’s, 135 Martin Luther King Blvd, Durham, 919-572-2345
There are many pizza options in Durham and everyone has their own favorite style, Randy's serves New York style pizza that is available by the slice. They do deliver, but since their pizza gets tough when it gets cold, it’s usually better to do takeout. If you want to make your own pizza, they also will sell you the dough for really cheap, about $1 for three pizzas’ worth. Enzo's is very close to the Law School and offers some great pies. The Pizzeria is relatively hidden, but it's a hidden gem. Try their Grandma Style or any of their specials. Amante’s (and Enzo’s) is popular at Law School lunch events and is the most common delivery option.
- Allen & Son, Hwy 86, between Chapel Hill and Hillsborough, one mile north of I-40 “if you’ve gone to the railroad tracks you’ve gone too far.” 919-942-7576
- The Q Shack, 2514 University Rd., Durham
- Bullocks, 3330 Quebec Dr. Durham, 919-383-3211
North Carolina is known for its barbeque, and the Triangle is no exception. To get the real experience, you must make a pilgrimage to Allen & Son. The atmosphere is best described as Southern Gothic, but Keith Allen gets up at four o'clock each morning to get the pit going and to prepare the best pulled pork in the region. The sauce changes a little every day, so the experience is never quite the same each time. If you don’t want to drive as far, go to the Texas-styled Q Shack. (Professor Ernie Young [from Texas] refuses to go anywhere else). The pork does not match Allen & Son, but the Q Shack offers a wider range of options, including beef brisket and chicken. Bullock’s is a local favorite, but it is more of a "meat-and-three" than a straight-up barbeque place.
- 411 West, 411 Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 919-967-2782
- Piazza Italia, Brightleaf Square, 905 W Main St., Durham, 919-956-7360
- 604 at West Villiage, 604 W. Morgan St., Durham, 919-416-4554
One of the most popular restaurants in Chapel Hill, 411 offers excellent and creative Italian, with an emphasis on delicious seafood dishes. The atmosphere is perfect for dates and meals with parents, especially if you get a reservation in the back of the restaurant. Piazza Italia has a less creative menu, but their more traditional food is universally delicious. They make all their pasta fresh in the restaurant. 604 has undergone some ownership changes for the better. The atmosphere can’t be beat, it is located in an old tobacco warehouse, and the squid ink pasta and lamb are favorites.
The only place I’ve been where a corn dog is considered a side item, Cook Out is a local burger chain with an endless menu and a magical value. They are open late and their parking lot is a real social scene around two in the morning on a Saturday. Also, they have every flavor of milkshake conceivable including Watermelon in July and August. The taco trucks are independently owned and operated, but they’re open late and you cannot get more authentic or better food for a lesser price.
- Nana’s, 2514 University Dr., Durham, 919-493-8545
- Four Square, 2701 Chapel Hill Rd., Durham, 919-401-9877
- Piedmont, 401 Foster Street, Durham 919-683-1213
For the best atmosphere in town, go to Four Square, located in a restored Victorian house. The food is nothing to turn your nose up at either. Piedmont has an ever evolving menu based on the best locally available ingredients and they do a fabulous job with the food.
Best All You Can Eat
- Crazy Fire Mongolian Grill, 1270 Buck Jones Rd., Raleigh (one of several locations in Raleigh), 919-481-2222
- Lunch Buffet at Dale’s, 811 9th St., 919-286-1760
This local chain offers quite the dining experience. Select the meats and vegetables and sauces you want and watch the cooks cook it in front of you. First timers get to bang the gong that hangs near the cooking area; it is a gimmick that people really seem to enjoy. Eat all the Indian you can at Dale’s during lunch. Its not far from campus, so you’ll have plenty of time to take advantage of the buffet.