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Durham’s reputation as “America’s Foodiest Small Town” 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 including a list of restaurants recommended by the DBA.
The Food Truck Scene
Durham has a well-established convoy of food trucks. Durham’s trucks offer everything you could possibly want from Korean BBQ to pizza to dumplings to cupcakes to gourmet grilled cheese and more! You can often find them parked in front of local drinking establishments lacking kitchens of their own, as well as around the Duke campus and throughout downtown Durham. A few times a year, a number of the trucks pull together for the delicious food truck rodeo. Don’t miss it!
Voted one of the 24 US Coffee Shops to Visit Before You Die, Cocoa Cinnamon is the perfect place to hole up and study for exams or just grab a coffee on the patio and people-watch. We recommend the Al Mokha, a latte with real chocolate (not just chocolate syrup) and topped with Sri Lankan cinnamon.
Juju is an Asian fusion tapas sister restaurant to Chapel Hill’s Jujube, launched in part by the same chef behind Durham’s Dos Perros. With delicious cocktails and dozens of small plates, Juju is ideal for both group dinners and date nights. We recommend the braised beef short rib and goat cheese wontons served with pepper-basil jam and the crispy Brussels sprouts with dried apricots, crushed peanuts and pickled onions.
Sake Bomb is an affordable Asian bistro and bar that has a little bit of everything: the best sushi in Durham (always buy one, get one free), spicy Thai curries, full Hibachi dinners, and a variety of noodle entrees. Best of all, there are different drink specials every day of the week. We recommend the drunken noodles (wild rice noodles tossed with basil leaf, tomatoes, carrots, onions, string beans, and bell peppers in a spicy brown sauce) and the land and sea roll (shrimp tempura, cucumber, and tempura flakes topped with seared filet mignon, eel sauce and scallions).
Watts Grocery is the purely North Carolinian brainchild of local chef Amy Tornquist that’s as perfect for a Saturday afternoon brunch as for a Wednesday night firm dinner. The restaurant is small, so make a reservation a couple of days in advance – it’s always worth it. We recommend the low country seafood gumbo (house made tasso and bacon in a traditional gumbo broth and served with dirty rice) for dinner and the huevos rancheros (red beans on corn tortillas with two fried eggs, avocado, queso fresco, jalapenos and fresh salsa) for brunch.
On every law student’s list of top brunch places in Durham, Parker & Otis is a restaurant and gift shop in downtown Durham packed with delicious gourmet food and desserts, wine and champagne, and Durham gifts and souvenirs (their candles are a particular favorite). We recommend the grilled pimento cheese on sourdough with bacon and their turkey and stonewall kitchen mango chutney on sourdough with bacon, lettuce, red onion, mayo and yellow cheddar.
The Little Dipper has the best fondue in Durham, set up to offer a three course meal with cheese fondue, salads, and meat and veggie entrees (with chocolate fondue a necessary addition) as well as a full a la carte menu. The restaurant also offers a local “919 menu” which features food and drink options made only with locally sourced farm ingredients. Come on Tuesdays for the local's special, where cheese and chocolate fondue is only $10 per person.
Another one of the law school’s favorite brunch places, Vin Rouge features one of the most authentically French dining experiences in Durham (their baguettes are perfect). Make a reservation ahead of time and be sure not to miss their Restaurant Week specials. We recommend the eggs Oscar for brunch (an English muffin with poached eggs, asparagus, and crab hollandaise) and the gratin de macaroni (with bacon and gruyere) for dinner.
A guaranteed good night out, Pizzeria Toro has the best pizza (and the nicest servers) in Durham, without contest. They don’t take reservations, so we recommend coming in, putting down your name, and heading across the street to Criterion to wait for your table – it’s worth it! We recommend the soft egg pizza, with arugula and old North Durham oyster mushrooms, and the sweet fennel sausage pizza, with roasted peppers and provolone.
The best, funkiest dessert place in Durham, with delicious hand-made ice cream, sorbets, and tons of dairy-free and vegan options. Look for the permanent store in downtown Durham and their bus at the food truck rodeo – it’s the perfect cap to any meal. Though there are always new flavors being offered, we recommend menu constant Vietnamese Coffee (made from espresso beans and sweetened condensed milk) and malted cinnamon (which does taste just like a cinnamon bun).
Very possibly the best burger in Durham. You can catch them in their truck (they’ll be at every food truck rodeo and you can follow them on Twitter to see where they’re parked on other days) or their permanent locations on Shannon Road and Blackwell Street. We recommend the lamb sliders (ground lamb with tzatziki, sweet onions and feta) and their famous fried green tomato burger (a single patty with a fried green tomato, a grilled egg and pimento cheese).
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 serves a cheap 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.
Serving one of the best burgers in the country, Dain’s was featured on Man v. Food and deservedly so. One of the featured items is ‘The Defibrillator," 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.
Some of 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. The specialty pizzas come in a myriad of options, none of which disappoint. Located 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.
Yet another burger option, Bull City Burger and Brewery works with North Carolina farmers that supply beef with no added hormones and antibiotic-free. Enjoy their tasty hamburgers and all-beef hotdogs along with a pint of their homemade brew.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so why skip it? Elmo’s is sure to start your day off right with fast and friendly service and the best breakfast in Durham. Pancakes, omelets, bacon and eggs, and grits ... all the classics, dished up hot and fresh daily. Elmo's serves lunch and dinner as well. Do expect to wait a few minutes on the weekends as Elmo’s is always packed.
One of the hottest spots in Durham, Bar Virgile has one of the largest selections of fine spirits in the Triangle. They focus on craft and classic cocktails along with small-plate seasonal offerings throughout the year. It's a small, cozy environment that does not take reservations, so get there early and prepare to stay late!
Filled with a wide variety of local producers (all vendors are located within 70 miles of the market) and conveniently located at Durham’s Central Park, the Farmers' Market is your go-to location for fresh and delicious food. Open year round on Saturdays and half the year on Wednesdays, it has everything from locally raised produce, eggs, meats, and honey, as well as delicious locally made cheese and baked goods.
- Blue Corn Café, 716 Ninth St., Durham, 919-286-9600
- Taqueria la Vaquita, 2700 Chapel Hill Rd., Durham, 919-402-0209
- Torero’s, 800 W. Main St., Durham, 919-682-4197; 4600 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham, 919-489-6468
- Dos Perros, 200 N. Mangum St., Durham, 919-956-2750
- Nanataco, 2512 University Dr., Durham, 919-489-8226
- Cosmic Cantina, 1920 Perry St. (around the corner from Ninth St.), Durham, 919-286-1875
- If there is one thing that there is plenty of in Durham, it is good Mexican food. The myriad of 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, check out La Vaquita, known for good mole and easily recognized by the cow on the roof. Torero’s has two Durham locations and offers drink specials. Dos Perros offers more refined Mexican fare but still at a reasonable price. The popular Nanataco, located next to Nana's, serves fresh food at reasonable prices, with $5 Margaritas every day.
- Shanghai, 3433 Hillsborough Rd., Durham, near the Kroger, 919-383-5700
- Neo-China, 4015 University Dr., Durham, 919-489-2828
- Happy China, 2505 Durham Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham, 919-237-2021
China Buffet, 3720 Mayfair St., Durham, near South Square, 919-403-7878
Friendly staff and generous portions at Shanghai make for an excellent meal in an attractive setting. Neo-China offers a great lunch deal: $7.30 for one of several entrees, soup and an egg roll. Happy China features Szechuan dishes in an attractive setting. 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
- Dales, 811 Ninth St., Durham, 919-286-1760
Sitar, 3630 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham, 919-490-1326
Saffron has some of 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 locally owned and its delicious cuisine has frequently made the "best of" lists. You can't go wrong with the lunch buffet at Sitar.
- Heavenly Buffaloes, 1807 West Markham Ave., Durham, 919-237-2358
- Wingstop, 7104 NC Hwy 751, Durham, near Southpoint, 919-484-4100
Buffalo Wild Wings, 6709 Fayetteville Rd., Durham, near Southpoint, 919-206-4497
Heavenly Buffaloes has the best wings around, and they even have a vegan option. More of a takeout place, Wingstop also has great wings with lots of different flavors. Buffalo Wild Wings is exactly what you’d expect from the nationwide chain.
Best Sports Bars
- Tobacco Road Sports Cafe, 280 S. Mangum St., Durham, 919-937-9909
- Carolina Ale House, 3911 Durham Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham, 919-490-2001
- 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 NC Highway 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
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, near the Whole Foods next to East Campus, offers lunch combo deals served in a more laid-back environment. 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 greet 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 Garden found its home in a remodeled gas station. Try their fantastic fries with creative dipping sauces.
- Elmo’s Diner, 776 Ninth St., Durham, 919-416-3823
- Foster's Market, 2694 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham, 919-489-3944
- Hope Valley Diner, 3710 Shannon Rd., Durham, 919-419-0907
- Guglhupf, 2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham, 919-401-2600
- Parker and Otis, 112 S. Duke St., Durham, 919-683-3200
The Nasher Museum Café, 2001 Campus Drive, Durham, 919-684-5135
Elmo’s offers the classic diner experience, with excellent blueberry pancakes and other treats. Guglhupf features a fancier setting and 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 Guglhupf, try a more traditional diner experience at Hope Valley Diner. Foster’s also has great breakfast food, with fresh ingredients and delicious baked goods. Parker and Otis is a really great market/restaurant. Go on a weekend and get brunch or lunch and sit on the patio. The Nasher Museum Café menu changes seasonally and features products from local sources, served in a unique setting that's lovely for weekend brunch.
Best Coffee and Tea
Mad Hatter Bakeshop and Cafe, 1802 W. Main St., Durham, 919-286-1987Caffé Driade, 1215-A E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 919-942-2333Beyu Caffé, 341 W. Main St., Durham, 919-683-1058
Cocoa Cinnamon, 420 W. Geer St., DurhamBean Traders, 105 W NC 54 Highway, Suite 249, Durham, near Southpoint, 919-484-2499Afternoon Tea in the Fairview Dining Room, Washington Duke Inn, 3001 Cameron Blvd., Durham, 919-493-6699The area's many local coffeehouses provide a nice alternative to studying in the library. Drink copious amounts of coffee, enjoy the relaxing atmosphere and contemplate the finer points of tort law. For formal tea in a genteel setting, the Washington Duke Inn can't be beat. Enjoy the scones, sweets, and tiny sandwiches with your choice of tea.
- Vin Rouge, 2010 Hillsborough Rd., Durham, 919-416-0466
Rue Cler, 401 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham, 919-682-8844
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. A cute little French Bakery and restaurant, Rue Cler is well known for its beignets and crepes.
Best Places to Get a Hoity-Toity Sandwich
- Foster’s Market, 2694 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham, 919-489-3944
- Guglhupf, 2706 Durham-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 eatery offer excellent sandwiches, wraps, salads, and other wholesome options. Guglhupf has delicious and inventive sandwiches, scrumptious baked goods, and café-style coffee drinks. Enjoy the spacious patio seating in warmer months. Toast is a celebrated Italian sandwich shop downtown. All of its ingredients are local – except for its meats and cheeses which come straight from Italy!
Best Southern Cooking
- Crook’s Corner, 610 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 919-929-7643
- Watts Grocery, 1116 Broad Street, Durham, 919-416-5040
- Mama Dip’s, 408 W. Rosemary St., Chapel Hill, 919-942-5837
Bullock’s, 3330 Quebec Dr., Durham, 919-383-3211
Crook’s Corner is one of the best Southern restaurant in the area; The New York Times calls it "Sacred ground for Southern foodies." If you like shrimp and grits, they do them better than almost anyone. Crook’s represents the fancy side of Southern. Serving excellent dishes inspired by and created with local ingredients, Watts Grocery impresses with new takes on traditional Southern dishes and is an excellent spot for Sunday brunch. Mama Dip’s and Bullock’s are masters of good down-home style Southern food.
Best Soul Food at 3 a.m.
Time-Out Restaurant, 201 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 919-929-2425
A Chapel Hill institution. Try the famous biscuits or fried chicken as featured on Man v. 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 E. Weaver St., Carrboro, 919-929-0010
The Café at Whole Foods Market, 621 Broad St., Durham, 919-286-2290
Most restaurants in Durham can accommodate a vegetarian palate, but the Sage Café is one of the few purely vegetarian options in the area. 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 offers great food at decent prices. Both the Weaver Street Market and the Durham Whole Foods offer pay-by-the-pound prepared food that is healthy and delicious.
Mediterra Grill, 2608 Erwin Rd., Durham, 919-383-0066
Mediterra Grill, situated in the Duke Hospital area, is a family owned and operated restaurant with a unique take on Greek and Lebanese food.
Best Ice Cream and Frozen Treats
- Locopops, 2618 Hillsborough Rd., Durham, 919-286-3500
- Maple View Farm, 6900 Rocky Ridge Rd., Hillsborough, 919-960-5535
- Local Yogurt, 1114 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham, 919-489-5900
The Parlour, 117 Market St., Durham, 919-564-7999
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 Farm offers scenic views of open farmland, Holstein cows and fresh churned ice cream . 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.) Scooping the best handmade ice cream in downtown Durham, The Parlour also serves sorbets and non-dairy items in flavors like Honey Lavender and Vietnamese Coffee.
- Randy’s Pizza, several locations including 1813 Martin Luther King Parkway #1, Durham, 919-490-6850; 4810 Hope Valley Rd., Durham, 919-403-6850
- Enzo’s Pizza Co., 2608 Erwin Rd., Durham, 919-309-3696
- The Pizzeria, West Village, 604 Fernway Ave., Durham, 919-890-3853
- Lilly's Pizza, 810 W. Peabody St., Durham, 919-797-2554
- There are many pizza options in Durham and everyone has their own favorite style. Randy's serves New York style pizza available by the slice. They do deliver, but since their pizza gets tough when it gets cold, takeout is best. If you want to make your own pizza, they also will sell you the dough. Enzo's is very close to the Law School and offers some great pies. The Pizzeria is a hidden gem. Try their Grandma Style or any of their specials. Enzo’s is popular at Law School lunch events and is a favorite delivery option. Lilly's serves delicious pizza made with organic and local ingredients.
- Allen & Son, 6203 Millhouse Rd., Chapel Hill (Hwy 86, between Chapel Hill and Hillsborough, one mile north of I-40), 919-942-7576
- The Original Q Shack, 2510 University Dr., Durham, 919-402-4227
Bullock’s, 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-style 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.
- Mother and Sons Trattoria, 107 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham, 919-294-8247
- Cucciolo Osteria, 601 W. Main St., Durham, 919-294-8383
- 411 West, 411 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 919-967-2782
- Mother and Sons and Cucciolo Osteria are two recent additions to downtown dining, both featuring a small menu of handmade pastas and regional Italian dishes. One of the most popular restaurants in Chapel Hill, 411 West 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.
- Cook-Out, 3624 Hillsborough Rd., Durham, 919-382-2814
The Taco Trucks, All around town
Possibly the only place where a corn dog is considered a side item, Cook-Out is a regional burger chain with an endless value-packed menu that includes more than 35 flavors of milkshakes. They are open late and their parking lot is a real social scene at around two in the morning on a Saturday. The taco trucks are independently owned and operated, but they’re open late and you cannot get more authentic or better food at a lower price.
- Mateo bar de tapas, 109 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham, 919-530-8700
- Piedmont, 401 Foster St., Durham, 919-683-1213
- Mateo blends Spanish flavors with Southern ingredients in a rotating menu of small-plate meals. Don't pass up the patatas bravas. It's a favorite among locals and a great place to take out-of-town visitors. Piedmont has an ever evolving and menu based on the best locally available ingredients.
Best All You Can Eat
- Crazy Fire Mongolian Grill, 1270 Buck Jones Rd., Cary (one of several locations in the area), 919-481-2222
Lunch Buffet at Dale’s, 811 Ninth St., Durham, 919-286-1760
Crazy Fire Mongolian Grill offers quite the dining experience. Select the meats and vegetables and sauces you want and watch the cooks prepare it in front of you. First timers get to bang the gong that hangs near the cooking area. Eat all the Indian you can at Dale’s during lunch. It's not far from campus, so you’ll have plenty of time to take advantage of the buffet.