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Mussels in a black pot on a table with a white tablecloth.
Mussels at Vin Rouge.
Forrest Mason Media

18 Essential Restaurants in Durham, North Carolina

From French fare to fried chicken

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Mussels at Vin Rouge.
| Forrest Mason Media

When it comes to dining in the Triangle, Durham has stolen the spotlight for nearly the past decade. 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.

New additions to the map include Parizade, Copa, and Parker & Otis.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant

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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.

Bullock's Bar-B-Cue

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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.

Vin Rouge

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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 at weekend brunch in the walled patio is a coveted reservation. The wine list is an oenophilic Francophile’s dream.

A plate of steak and fries with curly parsley.
Steak frites at Vin Rouge.
Roy Rice Photography

Parizade

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Parizade celebrates its 30th birthday this year, cementing its place as one of the elder statesmen of the Giorgios Group family of restaurants. Decades on, Parizade continues to pack in diners with its pan-Mediterranean fare, hosting everything from business lunches to anniversary dinners. General manager Igor Gacina continues to hold court in the dining room, greeting guests both old and new, while in the kitchen, executive chef Jason Lawless takes diners on a culinary tour from places like Italy and Greece right to the Piedmont of North Carolina.

King's Sandwich Shop

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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.

Dame's Chicken & Waffles

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Dame’s started in Greensboro, but gained acclaim in the Triangle when it opened the Durham location. Now situated in the Liberty Warehouse, diners line up almost daily for Dame’s take on this soul food classic. The restaurants has a list of specialties like the Red Crested Rose Comb (two fried chicken legs atop a classic waffle with strawberry schmear and candied pecans) or the Orange Speckled Chabo (a fried chicken cutlet atop a sweet potato waffle with orange-honeycomb schmear and orange dijon sauce). Diners can also create their own chicken and waffles adventure by choosing their preferred type of fried chicken, flavor of waffle, and flavored butter schmear.

Goorsha

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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.

M Sushi

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Chef Mike Lee has created a mini empire (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 smaller version is six courses, while the grand selection is eight.

Pizzeria Toro

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Wood-fired pizza is hot right now in Durham, with multiple spots opening over the past couple of years, but Pizzeria Toro is the O.G. of wood-fired pies. Chef Gray Brooks (also of Littler and Jack Tar), and his team churn out innovative tweaks on Neapolitan classics, like the prosciutto cotto with green olives, asiago, and rosemary or the North Carolina littleneck clam pie with chilies and pecorino. The Chatham County crispy pigs’ ears appetizer (sliced and fried pigs’ ears with an apricot mostarda) has been a menu staple for years, and Toro backs up the menu with a creative cocktail list and wine list heavy on Italian classics.

Alley Twenty Six

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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.

At first glance, Copa might just look like another a high-end dining option on Main Street, but closer inspection will reveal a menu full of expert takes on Cuban cuisine, combined with a dedication to North Carolina’s local foodways and a commitment to bettering the restaurant industry for all. Co-owners Elizabeth Turnbull and Robert Copa Matos fought for servers, bartenders, kitchen staff, and more during the pandemic, advocating for local, state, and federal assistance, and taking a lead in organizing downtown Durham restaurants in an effort to survive Covid-19. That work continues today, and diners can support it by tucking in to plates of Cuban tapas, crab cake croquetas, and ropa vieja.

NanaSteak

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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 and roasted Brussels sprouts 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.

Steak with fries.
Steak frites at NanaSteak.
NanaSteak

Parker & Otis

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Perhaps nothing represents the inexorable march of development in Durham than the loss of the original Parker & Otis space. Owner Jennings Brody created one of the Bull City’s most beloved eateries (cum-cafe-cum-wine shop-cum-gift shop) in Brightleaf Square and luckily was able to relocate the business to the American Tobacco Campus when a developer bought the original building. The new Parker & Otis is quite a bit smaller but still has all of the expertly hand-selected gifts, books, wines, stationary, and more. Longtime customer favorites like the grilled pimento cheese, turkey and pepper jelly sandwich, and green goddess tuna salad are still available at the deli counter, with the added bonus of now being able to dine al fresco amongst the meandering streams and lawns of American Tobacco.

Taqueria La Vaquita‎

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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.

Chicken Hut

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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.

El Chapin Guatemalan Grill & Catering

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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.

Zweli's

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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) Williams 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 Williams says is one of the most popular items on the menu.

Yamazushi Japanese Restaurant

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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.

Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant

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.

Bullock's Bar-B-Cue

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.

Vin Rouge

A plate of steak and fries with curly parsley.
Steak frites at Vin Rouge.
Roy Rice Photography

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 at weekend brunch in the walled patio is a coveted reservation. The wine list is an oenophilic Francophile’s dream.

A plate of steak and fries with curly parsley.
Steak frites at Vin Rouge.
Roy Rice Photography

Parizade

Parizade celebrates its 30th birthday this year, cementing its place as one of the elder statesmen of the Giorgios Group family of restaurants. Decades on, Parizade continues to pack in diners with its pan-Mediterranean fare, hosting everything from business lunches to anniversary dinners. General manager Igor Gacina continues to hold court in the dining room, greeting guests both old and new, while in the kitchen, executive chef Jason Lawless takes diners on a culinary tour from places like Italy and Greece right to the Piedmont of North Carolina.

King's Sandwich Shop

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.

Dame's Chicken & Waffles

Dame’s started in Greensboro, but gained acclaim in the Triangle when it opened the Durham location. Now situated in the Liberty Warehouse, diners line up almost daily for Dame’s take on this soul food classic. The restaurants has a list of specialties like the Red Crested Rose Comb (two fried chicken legs atop a classic waffle with strawberry schmear and candied pecans) or the Orange Speckled Chabo (a fried chicken cutlet atop a sweet potato waffle with orange-honeycomb schmear and orange dijon sauce). Diners can also create their own chicken and waffles adventure by choosing their preferred type of fried chicken, flavor of waffle, and flavored butter schmear.

Goorsha

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.

M Sushi

Chef Mike Lee has created a mini empire (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 smaller version is six courses, while the grand selection is eight.

Pizzeria Toro

Wood-fired pizza is hot right now in Durham, with multiple spots opening over the past couple of years, but Pizzeria Toro is the O.G. of wood-fired pies. Chef Gray Brooks (also of Littler and Jack Tar), and his team churn out innovative tweaks on Neapolitan classics, like the prosciutto cotto with green olives, asiago, and rosemary or the North Carolina littleneck clam pie with chilies and pecorino. The Chatham County crispy pigs’ ears appetizer (sliced and fried pigs’ ears with an apricot mostarda) has been a menu staple for years, and Toro backs up the menu with a creative cocktail list and wine list heavy on Italian classics.

Alley Twenty Six

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.

Copa

At first glance, Copa might just look like another a high-end dining option on Main Street, but closer inspection will reveal a menu full of expert takes on Cuban cuisine, combined with a dedication to North Carolina’s local foodways and a commitment to bettering the restaurant industry for all. Co-owners Elizabeth Turnbull and Robert Copa Matos fought for servers, bartenders, kitchen staff, and more during the pandemic, advocating for local, state, and federal assistance, and taking a lead in organizing downtown Durham restaurants in an effort to survive Covid-19. That work continues today, and diners can support it by tucking in to plates of Cuban tapas, crab cake croquetas, and ropa vieja.

NanaSteak

Steak with fries.
Steak frites at NanaSteak.
NanaSteak

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 and roasted Brussels sprouts 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.

Steak with fries.
Steak frites at NanaSteak.
NanaSteak

Parker & Otis

Perhaps nothing represents the inexorable march of development in Durham than the loss of the original Parker & Otis space. Owner Jennings Brody created one of the Bull City’s most beloved eateries (cum-cafe-cum-wine shop-cum-gift shop) in Brightleaf Square and luckily was able to relocate the business to the American Tobacco Campus when a developer bought the original building. The new Parker & Otis is quite a bit smaller but still has all of the expertly hand-selected gifts, books, wines, stationary, and more. Longtime customer favorites like the grilled pimento cheese, turkey and pepper jelly sandwich, and green goddess tuna salad are still available at the deli counter, with the added bonus of now being able to dine al fresco amongst the meandering streams and lawns of American Tobacco.

Taqueria La Vaquita‎

“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.

Chicken Hut

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.

Related Maps

El Chapin Guatemalan Grill & Catering

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.

Zweli's

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) Williams 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 Williams says is one of the most popular items on the menu.

Yamazushi Japanese Restaurant

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.

Related Maps