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The spread at Zweli’s
Forrest Mason Media

18 Essential Restaurants in Durham, North Carolina

From classics to newcomers, the best of the Bull City

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The spread at Zweli’s
| Forrest Mason Media

When it comes to dining in the Triangle, Durham has stolen the spotlight for nearly the past decade. Dubbed “America’s Foodiest Small Town” in 2008 by Bon Appetit, Durham takes its restaurant scene seriously. Far from being a staid bastion of steakhouses and chain restaurants, Durham’s food scene runs the gamut of both cuisines and styles. Where else could one find a bakery-slash-noodle shop-slash-dumpling joint?

Drawing from an international pool of residents thanks to both Duke University and Medical Center and nearby Research Triangle Park, Durham’s restaurants offer such a wide array of cuisines that diners could quite literally eat their way around the world without ever leaving the city. Indian, Thai, Cuban, Japanese, Zimbabwean, Salvadoran —the list could go on. These international offerings get along just fine with long-standing local institutions, making for a dining scene where lunch can easily be some comforting Carolina barbecue before moving onto a shared plate of Ethiopian doro wat and awaze tibs for dinner.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Picnic

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1647 Cole Mill Rd
Durham, NC 27705
(919) 908-9128
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Pasture-raised hogs from farmer Ryan Butler, true wood-smoked Carolina ‘cue from pitmaster Wyatt Dickson, and an excellent menu from chef Christopher McLaurin make Picnic one of the Triangle’s go-to spots for pulled pork, fried chicken, and more. The barbecue plate is a great way to truly experience the restaurant (with collards and hush puppies obviously), as are the barbecue sandwiches. Other offerings change frequently but often include chopped brisket, a fried fish sandwich, and McLaurin’s famous cornbread with sorghum butter.

Picnic/Facebook

2. Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant

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3003 Guess Rd
Durham, NC 27705
(919) 479-8339
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On weekdays Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant serves up typical Chinese-American fare, but on the weekends the dining rooms transform into a bustling dim sum parlor. Diners line up outside to wait for a seat as carts of sui mai, turnip cakes, steam rolls, and other dim sum classics pass from table to table. A cup of piping hot green tea is de rigueur, and the whole experience is best enjoyed with friends or family so everyone gets to try a bit of everything.

3. Bullock's Bar-B-Cue

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3330 Quebec Dr
Durham, NC 27705
(919) 383-3211
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Bullock’s has served classic Eastern Carolina barbecue since 1952 and claims to be the longest continuously-running restaurant in Durham. The barbecue is obviously the draw here, but some non-porcine options include the Brunswick stew bread bowl, the Calabash shrimp appetizer with Cajun sauce, or the country style steak with gravy. This is old school Southern comfort food, served the way it’s always been.

4. Vin Rouge

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2010 Hillsborough Rd
Durham, NC 27705
(919) 416-0466
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Sometimes all life needs is a classic steak frites. Or maybe moules mariniere? Cassoulet? Vin Rouge’s menu reads like a classic French bistro greatest hits list. As the weather warms a table weekend brunch in their walled patio is a coveted reservation, and the wine list is an oenophilic Francophile’s dream.

5. Elmo's Diner

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776 9th St
Durham, NC 27705
(919) 416-3823
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Generations of Durham families and bleary-eyed Duke students line up each morning for classic diner fare at Elmo’s. Pancakes, eggs any way, biscuits and gravy, and more. The food is fast and the service efficient, and while there can often be a wait to get a table, there is always piping hot coffee on hand in the lobby to stave off the sleepies or aid in recovery from last night’s party.

Elmo’s Diner/Facebook

6. King's Sandwich Shop

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701 Foster St
Durham, NC 27701
(919) 682-0071
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With the exception of a year or two, King’s Sandwich Shop has been open since 1942 — long enough that it’s not unusual to find grandparents bringing their grandchildren for the same burgers and hot dogs they enjoyed when they were young. Griddled burgers with King’s sauce, hot dogs with all the toppings, piping hot fries, and ice cold shakes round out the menu. There are often specials, but it’s the classics that have brought people back for decades.

7. Rose's Noodles, Dumplings and Sweets

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121 N Gregson St
Durham, NC 27701
(919) 797-2233
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Rose’s has had a few identities over the years but its current iteration as a pastry counter/noodle joint/dumpling bar just might be the greatest. Katie Meddis offers incredible desserts, pastries, and ice creams while her husband Justin serves some of the best East Asian fare in the state. There is always some style of ramen on offer, as well as a katsu sando, a crispy fried chicken cutlet on pillowy milk bread with cabbage and tonkatsu sauce. An order of dumplings and some macarons to-go would round out the full Rose’s experience.

8. Goorsha

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910 W Main St
Durham, NC 27701
(919) 588-4660
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Goorsha is the place to bring friends and family and gather around generous helpings of expertly prepared Ethiopian food. Doro wat, timatim salad, awaze tibs, and more grace the menu, all waiting to be scooped up with hand-torn bits of injera, the tangy Ethiopian flatbread that serves as your utensil. Also worth checking out is the new Gojo by Goorsha, a cafe and sandwich shop right behind the restaurant.

9. Saltbox Seafood Joint

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608 N Mangum St
Durham, NC 27701
(919) 908-8970
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Sure there are now two locations of chef Ricky Moore’s famous southern seafood shack, but the OG Saltbox experience can be had at the Five Points location. Fresh catch comes in from the North Carolina shore and is transformed into sandwiches and plates that have people lining up daily. Offerings often include oysters, shrimp, catfish, grouper, red drum, and more. The twice-yearly Lobster Roll Day draws big crowds —it’s not unusual for people to plan their entire days around getting their hands on a roll.

seafood on a table Baxter Miller

10. M Sushi

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311 Holland St
Durham, NC 27701
(919) 908-9266
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Chef Mike Lee has created a mini M-pire in Durham (M Kokko, M Tempura, M Pocha), but M Sushi is the original flagship. A few steps down into the semi-subterranean space transports diners to a world of expertly crafted sushi and luxurious Japanese cuisine. The rolls and other items are available a la carte, but the full M Sushi experience is the omakase menu - the Lite Omakase is six courses, while the Grand Omakase is eight. A generous wine, cocktail, and beer list is available as well.

11. Alley Twenty Six

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320 E Chapel Hill St
Durham, NC 27701
(984) 439-2278
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Mixologist Shannon Healy teamed up with chef Carrie Schleiffer for a craft cocktail and food combination that is as unique as it is tasty. Healy’s cocktails are legendary and rotate seasonally, while Schleiffer’s menu includes blistered shisitos, cornmeal-fried oysters, and crispy pork belly. The famous Alley burger (a half-pound patty, truffle cheddar, bourbon bacon jam, chipotle aioli, and arugula) is always available, and those in the know ask for it to be foie’d (a generous chunk of foie gras stuffed right in the middle). A selfie with a burger and a cocktail in the actual alley is a downtown Durham bucket list item.

12. Toast

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345 W Main St
Durham, NC 27701
(919) 683-2183
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Billy and Kelli Cotter’s Italian-inspired “paninoteca” was part of the early wave of downtown revitalization and still has a lunch line out the front door all these years later. Choices include hot-pressed or cold sandwiches, open-faced crositini, salads, and often a soup or two. The three cheese sandwich (grana padano, asiago fresca, pecorino, and truffle oil) is the most luxurious grilled cheese in town, while the chicken salad sandwich with garlic aioli puts an Italian twist on an American classic.

Toast/Facebook

13. NanaSteak

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345 Blackwell St
Durham, NC 27701
(919) 282-1183
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The sister restaurant of the legendary (and now-closed) Nana’s, NanaSteak has charted its own path as Durham’s go-to steakhouse. Traditional steakhouse fare gets a modern facelift with main courses like the charcoal-grilled filet mignon, with Wagyu beef fat french fries, roasted Brussels sprouts, and bearnaise, or the crispy pork ribs, with quick “kimchi” Napa cabbage slaw and a miso-ginger glaze. An extensive wine list and expertly crafted cocktails round out the experience, and the restaurant’s location right next to the Durham Performing Arts Center make it the perfect spot for a dinner-and-a-show date night (when those come back).

NanaSteak/Facebook

14. Taqueria La Vaquita‎

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2700 Chapel Hill Rd
Durham, NC 27707
(919) 402-0209
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“Just drive down the road and look for the cow” is how most people explain how to get to La Vaquita. Arguably the most famous of Durham’s many taquerias, La Vaquita serves a variety of traditional tacos on homemade corn tortillas. Think barbacoa, carnitas, lengua, al pastor, and more. There are platos tradicionales like mole poblano, ceviche, or polla a la crema, as well as tortas.

15. Chicken Hut

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3019 Fayetteville St
Durham, NC 27707
(919) 682-5697
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One of the oldest black-owned restaurants in Durham, Chicken Hut is something of a local legend. The specials change depending on the day of the week (oxtails on Fridays), but the famous fried chicken is always available. Open in 1957, the restaurant is operated by members of the Tapp family to this day.

16. El Chapin Guatemalan Grill & Catering

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4600 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd Suite #38
Durham, NC 27707
(919) 908-7975
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Head down 15-501 for Guatemalan cuisine like pupusas, grilled meats, and caldos. The cuchitos de pollo are traditional corn flour cakes filled with chicken, and the carne guisada is a beef filet served with special sauce and accompanied by a beet and cabbage salad. Other offerings include ceviche, tamales, and atol de elote, a sweet corn and milk drink commonly sold by street and market vendors in Guatemala. Part of the restaurant is also a market for those looking to stock up on Latin American pantry staples.

17. Zweli's

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4600 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd Suite 26
Durham, NC 27707
(984) 219-7555
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One of the few Zimbabwean restaurants in the entire country, Zweli’s has built a loyal following in its few short years of operating. Chef Zwelibanzi (Zwe for short) turned a successful catering operation into a brick and mortar location offering samosas, Piri Piri chicken, Jollof rice, and more. Many diners order a side of Chakalaka, a spicy tomato and bean relish that Chef Zwe says is one of the most popular items on the menu.

(Takeout only)

18. Yamazushi Japanese Restaurant

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4711 Hope Valley Rd #6a
Durham, NC 27707
(919) 493-7748
Visit Website

Traditional kaiseki-style (coursed) Japanese dining and intimate tea ceremonies are the hallmark of this Woodcroft mainstay. Consistently ranked one of the best Japanese restaurants in the state, Yamazushi has had to transition to takeout during the pandemic, however be on the lookout for when they reopen the dining. Serviced by the husband-and-wife team of George and Mayumi Yamazawa, dinner at Yamazushi is a truly special experience.

1. Picnic

1647 Cole Mill Rd, Durham, NC 27705
Picnic/Facebook

Pasture-raised hogs from farmer Ryan Butler, true wood-smoked Carolina ‘cue from pitmaster Wyatt Dickson, and an excellent menu from chef Christopher McLaurin make Picnic one of the Triangle’s go-to spots for pulled pork, fried chicken, and more. The barbecue plate is a great way to truly experience the restaurant (with collards and hush puppies obviously), as are the barbecue sandwiches. Other offerings change frequently but often include chopped brisket, a fried fish sandwich, and McLaurin’s famous cornbread with sorghum butter.

1647 Cole Mill Rd
Durham, NC 27705

2. Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant

3003 Guess Rd, Durham, NC 27705

On weekdays Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant serves up typical Chinese-American fare, but on the weekends the dining rooms transform into a bustling dim sum parlor. Diners line up outside to wait for a seat as carts of sui mai, turnip cakes, steam rolls, and other dim sum classics pass from table to table. A cup of piping hot green tea is de rigueur, and the whole experience is best enjoyed with friends or family so everyone gets to try a bit of everything.

3003 Guess Rd
Durham, NC 27705

3. Bullock's Bar-B-Cue

3330 Quebec Dr, Durham, NC 27705

Bullock’s has served classic Eastern Carolina barbecue since 1952 and claims to be the longest continuously-running restaurant in Durham. The barbecue is obviously the draw here, but some non-porcine options include the Brunswick stew bread bowl, the Calabash shrimp appetizer with Cajun sauce, or the country style steak with gravy. This is old school Southern comfort food, served the way it’s always been.

3330 Quebec Dr
Durham, NC 27705

4. Vin Rouge

2010 Hillsborough Rd, Durham, NC 27705

Sometimes all life needs is a classic steak frites. Or maybe moules mariniere? Cassoulet? Vin Rouge’s menu reads like a classic French bistro greatest hits list. As the weather warms a table weekend brunch in their walled patio is a coveted reservation, and the wine list is an oenophilic Francophile’s dream.

2010 Hillsborough Rd
Durham, NC 27705

5. Elmo's Diner

776 9th St, Durham, NC 27705
Elmo’s Diner/Facebook

Generations of Durham families and bleary-eyed Duke students line up each morning for classic diner fare at Elmo’s. Pancakes, eggs any way, biscuits and gravy, and more. The food is fast and the service efficient, and while there can often be a wait to get a table, there is always piping hot coffee on hand in the lobby to stave off the sleepies or aid in recovery from last night’s party.

776 9th St
Durham, NC 27705

6. King's Sandwich Shop

701 Foster St, Durham, NC 27701

With the exception of a year or two, King’s Sandwich Shop has been open since 1942 — long enough that it’s not unusual to find grandparents bringing their grandchildren for the same burgers and hot dogs they enjoyed when they were young. Griddled burgers with King’s sauce, hot dogs with all the toppings, piping hot fries, and ice cold shakes round out the menu. There are often specials, but it’s the classics that have brought people back for decades.

701 Foster St
Durham, NC 27701

7. Rose's Noodles, Dumplings and Sweets

121 N Gregson St, Durham, NC 27701

Rose’s has had a few identities over the years but its current iteration as a pastry counter/noodle joint/dumpling bar just might be the greatest. Katie Meddis offers incredible desserts, pastries, and ice creams while her husband Justin serves some of the best East Asian fare in the state. There is always some style of ramen on offer, as well as a katsu sando, a crispy fried chicken cutlet on pillowy milk bread with cabbage and tonkatsu sauce. An order of dumplings and some macarons to-go would round out the full Rose’s experience.

121 N Gregson St
Durham, NC 27701

8. Goorsha

910 W Main St, Durham, NC 27701

Goorsha is the place to bring friends and family and gather around generous helpings of expertly prepared Ethiopian food. Doro wat, timatim salad, awaze tibs, and more grace the menu, all waiting to be scooped up with hand-torn bits of injera, the tangy Ethiopian flatbread that serves as your utensil. Also worth checking out is the new Gojo by Goorsha, a cafe and sandwich shop right behind the restaurant.

910 W Main St
Durham, NC 27701

9. Saltbox Seafood Joint

608 N Mangum St, Durham, NC 27701
seafood on a table Baxter Miller

Sure there are now two locations of chef Ricky Moore’s famous southern seafood shack, but the OG Saltbox experience can be had at the Five Points location. Fresh catch comes in from the North Carolina shore and is transformed into sandwiches and plates that have people lining up daily. Offerings often include oysters, shrimp, catfish, grouper, red drum, and more. The twice-yearly Lobster Roll Day draws big crowds —it’s not unusual for people to plan their entire days around getting their hands on a roll.

608 N Mangum St
Durham, NC 27701

10. M Sushi

311 Holland St, Durham, NC 27701

Chef Mike Lee has created a mini M-pire in Durham (M Kokko, M Tempura, M Pocha), but M Sushi is the original flagship. A few steps down into the semi-subterranean space transports diners to a world of expertly crafted sushi and luxurious Japanese cuisine. The rolls and other items are available a la carte, but the full M Sushi experience is the omakase menu - the Lite Omakase is six courses, while the Grand Omakase is eight. A generous wine, cocktail, and beer list is available as well.

311 Holland St
Durham, NC 27701

11. Alley Twenty Six

320 E Chapel Hill St, Durham, NC 27701

Mixologist Shannon Healy teamed up with chef Carrie Schleiffer for a craft cocktail and food combination that is as unique as it is tasty. Healy’s cocktails are legendary and rotate seasonally, while Schleiffer’s menu includes blistered shisitos, cornmeal-fried oysters, and crispy pork belly. The famous Alley burger (a half-pound patty, truffle cheddar, bourbon bacon jam, chipotle aioli, and arugula) is always available, and those in the know ask for it to be foie’d (a generous chunk of foie gras stuffed right in the middle). A selfie with a burger and a cocktail in the actual alley is a downtown Durham bucket list item.

320 E Chapel Hill St
Durham, NC 27701

12. Toast

345 W Main St, Durham, NC 27701
Toast/Facebook

Billy and Kelli Cotter’s Italian-inspired “paninoteca” was part of the early wave of downtown revitalization and still has a lunch line out the front door all these years later. Choices include hot-pressed or cold sandwiches, open-faced crositini, salads, and often a soup or two. The three cheese sandwich (grana padano, asiago fresca, pecorino, and truffle oil) is the most luxurious grilled cheese in town, while the chicken salad sandwich with garlic aioli puts an Italian twist on an American classic.

345 W Main St
Durham, NC 27701

13. NanaSteak

345 Blackwell St, Durham, NC 27701
NanaSteak/Facebook

The sister restaurant of the legendary (and now-closed) Nana’s, NanaSteak has charted its own path as Durham’s go-to steakhouse. Traditional steakhouse fare gets a modern facelift with main courses like the charcoal-grilled filet mignon, with Wagyu beef fat french fries, roasted Brussels sprouts, and bearnaise, or the crispy pork ribs, with quick “kimchi” Napa cabbage slaw and a miso-ginger glaze. An extensive wine list and expertly crafted cocktails round out the experience, and the restaurant’s location right next to the Durham Performing Arts Center make it the perfect spot for a dinner-and-a-show date night (when those come back).

345 Blackwell St
Durham, NC 27701

14. Taqueria La Vaquita‎

2700 Chapel Hill Rd, Durham, NC 27707

“Just drive down the road and look for the cow” is how most people explain how to get to La Vaquita. Arguably the most famous of Durham’s many taquerias, La Vaquita serves a variety of traditional tacos on homemade corn tortillas. Think barbacoa, carnitas, lengua, al pastor, and more. There are platos tradicionales like mole poblano, ceviche, or polla a la crema, as well as tortas.

2700 Chapel Hill Rd
Durham, NC 27707

15. Chicken Hut

3019 Fayetteville St, Durham, NC 27707

One of the oldest black-owned restaurants in Durham, Chicken Hut is something of a local legend. The specials change depending on the day of the week (oxtails on Fridays), but the famous fried chicken is always available. Open in 1957, the restaurant is operated by members of the Tapp family to this day.

3019 Fayetteville St
Durham, NC 27707

Related Maps

16. El Chapin Guatemalan Grill & Catering

4600 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd Suite #38, Durham, NC 27707

Head down 15-501 for Guatemalan cuisine like pupusas, grilled meats, and caldos. The cuchitos de pollo are traditional corn flour cakes filled with chicken, and the carne guisada is a beef filet served with special sauce and accompanied by a beet and cabbage salad. Other offerings include ceviche, tamales, and atol de elote, a sweet corn and milk drink commonly sold by street and market vendors in Guatemala. Part of the restaurant is also a market for those looking to stock up on Latin American pantry staples.

4600 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd Suite #38
Durham, NC 27707

17. Zweli's

4600 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd Suite 26, Durham, NC 27707

One of the few Zimbabwean restaurants in the entire country, Zweli’s has built a loyal following in its few short years of operating. Chef Zwelibanzi (Zwe for short) turned a successful catering operation into a brick and mortar location offering samosas, Piri Piri chicken, Jollof rice, and more. Many diners order a side of Chakalaka, a spicy tomato and bean relish that Chef Zwe says is one of the most popular items on the menu.

(Takeout only)

4600 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd Suite 26
Durham, NC 27707

18. Yamazushi Japanese Restaurant

4711 Hope Valley Rd #6a, Durham, NC 27707

Traditional kaiseki-style (coursed) Japanese dining and intimate tea ceremonies are the hallmark of this Woodcroft mainstay. Consistently ranked one of the best Japanese restaurants in the state, Yamazushi has had to transition to takeout during the pandemic, however be on the lookout for when they reopen the dining. Serviced by the husband-and-wife team of George and Mayumi Yamazawa, dinner at Yamazushi is a truly special experience.

4711 Hope Valley Rd #6a
Durham, NC 27707

Related Maps