9 Amazing Durham Restaurants You Have to Try

Durham is a cultural hub of the Carolinas with so much to discover. Known for its research center and university, the more recent inclusive revitalization has brought the city into a new and bright era of exciting enrichment and plenty of fantastic Durham restaurants to check out.

Chock full of entertainment, arts, and educational opportunities, the culinary landscape of this city has reached a coveted crescendo that matches its character. 

The foodie scene of Bull City is centered on a community of independent and locally owned dining destinations. Each has its own unique identity and flair, not to mention those bold flavors that such Southern country havens are known for. These masterful menus often run the gamut from gourmet to pub grub. As a diverse North Carolina city, the cuisine of the area often reflects this with an eclectic collection of eateries easily available anywhere in the city. So if you’re heading out for a night with the crew, here are some of the best restaurants in Durham, NC to try!


Best Durham Restaurants to Try


Picnic

durham restaurants

This is the go-to spot in town for some authentic Southern eats. It’s a legend among locals and a mandatory meal for any out of towner. For a city that considers this type of country cuisine to be a religion, it says a lot that Picnic is often at the top of everyone’s list. The atmosphere offers the casual comfort of a family cookout or mama’s kitchen, with a hip and rustic decor cultivated through string light signs, picnic tables, tin, and warm woods. The Barbecue Plate is the best bet if you really want to get a good all-around sense of what they do here. 

The fixings are as fantastic as the mains, a rare rave, with flawless hushpuppies, collard greens, and cornbread. The pulled pork, fried chicken, and sliced brisket are as delicious as you’ll find anywhere. All meat is pasture raised and hardwood coal smoked for a true farm-to-table experience as well. They cater whole pig pickings for local events if you feel like throwing a private party. Don’t worry, you won’t go thirsty here – there is a well-curated menu of local beers and crafts cocktails to wash down that home cooked whole hog Carolina barbecue. 


Elmo’s Diner 

durham restaurants

Elmo’s has been an institution of Bull City for decades and always lives up to its beloved stature. It has that quaint and homey feel you hope for from a neighborhood diner, walls adorned with fliers for community events, and crayon-colored duck drawings from all the children who have had family meals here. Scoot into a cozy booth and order up any of the time-honored tasty treats available, such as the Biscuits and Gravy or Greek Grilled Cheese. 

The menu boasts an array of American classics, as well as their famous breakfast food which is served all day long. Every dish is delicious and made completely from scratch. The service is quick with a side of that quintessential Southern hospitality, so be ready to be referred to as honey or sweetie by your server. It’s such a fan favorite that there is often a line to get in, but grab a cup of coffee from the entryway and patiently take a number, because Elmo’s is always worth the wait. 


King’s Sandwich Shop 

durham restaurants

If you’re in the mood for fast food, look no further than King’s Sandwich Shop. King’s has been curing the cravings of this community since 1942. It’s an iconic symbol of the city, and the best of the best Durham restaurants to grab a quick sandwich, burger, or hot dog. Their hand-dipped milkshakes are also a favorite feature for many foodie fans. You’ll have your pick of toppings, from chilli to slaw, while always skipping the soggy bun. Each order placed is served up perfectly – they have been doing this for a while, after all. 

The sandwiches range from fried bologna to Philly cheesesteak to po’ boys and are always changing as well. Regardless, be sure to ask for the special King’s sauce. Adding to the small-town allure of this eatery, they open as and when they wish, and if they do, you’ll find all the locals quickly flocking over. They pride themselves on making simple food that satisfies the soul. The small corner building with the red and white exterior maintains its historical charm, offering only old-school, quick, get-it-and-go service. It’s a no frills joint that guarantees full and happy customers. 


Grub

durham restaurants

Set in a fully renovated 1960s gas station, this eatery boasts the best rooftop space for gathering and enjoying classic culinary delights. It started as part of a revitalization project and is located in the historical West End of the city. The decor is kitschy and cute with that Durham city flair. The interior is intimate with warm lights, barn red accents, and plenty of wood. The shining crown is, of course, the roof space. What’s better than sharing a bite and a beverage with loved ones under the warm Carolina sunshine looking out over all of Bull City?

Their breakfast menu is on deck every day until 15:00 allowing you plenty of opportunity to try their beloved breakfast bowls. The biscuits here are some of the best, making us want to savor every melt in your mouth bite. It’s a great spot to enjoy a weekend brunch, especially if you order one of their famous Blue Devil Marys. The offerings are eclectic with plates to please even the pickiest of preferences. Pop in for a light lunch or dinner feast with burgers, salads, and sandwiches galore. The Pauli’s Pimento and Mama’s Big Bird are just a few stand out selections from a menu full of mouthwatering meals. 

Trust me, start your evening here and then head to one of the best Durham breweries nearby.


Vin Rouge

A feast fit for any Francophile, Vin Rouge is a Parisian paradise. A French Bistro that boasts all the culinary classics from this esteemed culture, eating here is a transportive experience. The walls are adorned with black and white photographs and an art deco atmosphere. This intends to pay homage to the New Wave of the 1950s and ‘60s, while the added elegance is enjoyed through traditional white tablecloths and romantic lighting. Outside there is a covered patio reminiscent of a charming brasserie. It’s ideal for an intimate and upscale affair. The wine list is expertly curated and extensive, so be sure to ask for the perfect pour to pair with your plate. 

The menu features all the favorites, and every dish is divine, so much so that it can be quite the conundrum to choose. The Escargot or Charcuterie are both authentic and exquisite ways to begin a decadent dining experience. The Moules Mariniere Frites is a spectacular selection, but don’t discount the delectable Steak Frites with blue cheese butter.

If you’ve managed to save room for dessert, we commend you and encourage an order of the decadent chocolate mousse. Their weekend brunch is very popular as well, so be sure to call ahead if you want to attend. 


Rose’s Noodles, Dumpling, and Sweets

Dining at Rose’s is a one-of-a-kind experience you have to eat to believe. As its name implies, though it seems hard to fathom, this joint serves up an incredible combination of fare. This is the place where you can devour some of the best East Asian eats in the entire state. They have an ever-rotating selection of Ramens, as well as fresh Katso Sandos, Steamed Buns, and Crispy Dumplings.

The menu is simple, ever evolving, and always absolutely awe-inspiring. This eclectic establishment also acts as an artisan bakery, with desserts, pastries, and ice creams all made daily in-house. This includes such craveable creations as White Miso Gingersnap Ice Cream Sandwiches, Coconut Key Lime Macaroons, and Blueberry Buttermilk Upside Down Cake. 

While the flavors and recipes are inspired by cuisines from across the Pacific, each and every ingredient is sourced locally in this region of North Carolina. As such, the menu often alters based on what is fresh and available each season. It’s a small space with a simple decor, that is generally packed, for a vibrant and bustling atmosphere. There’s nowhere else in the world where you can find such high quality and creative bits all being eaten under the same roof, and there’s nowhere else we would want to. This is truly a special find among all the best Durham restaurants. 


Goorsha

Goorsha is responsible for bringing traditional Ethiopian foods to the Triangle, and for that we will be forever grateful. The name comes from a word which means to express honor, love, and friendship through feeding one another. To place a bit of food in another’s mouth shows both acceptance and appreciation. Who needs a spoon when you have perfectly flavored Injera or flatbread to use to devour scoops of Doro or Zilzil Key Wots. The atmosphere is cute and casual. The decor is simple, and the walls are adorned with traditional artwork. 

As the name suggests, it’s the perfect place to bring a group of loved ones, all gathered around the generous orders with every person tasting and trying each one. There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options as well, such as spicy chickpea stews called Shiros. Be sure to try the Sambusas, a crispy pastry common in the culture. Each dish is crafted carefully with local and organic ingredients and strives to honor and celebrate the heritage of its flavors and foundations.

There is a long list of house-made cocktails that pair well with any meal here, as well as artisan wines and craft beers. You can dine al fresco on the patio space, and it’s worth checking out the adjoining cafe and sandwich shop, called Gojo, which is by the same owner and right behind this blue and brick facade. For an authentic Ethiopian culinary experience, Goorsha is engaging, enlightening, and all around exquisite. 


Cucciolo Osteria

For fresh Italian fares, Cucciolo Osteria is the best Bull City has to offer. They serve up simple and traditional Italian dishes that we just can’t get enough of. The focus here is truly on the pastas, all of which are heavenly. Every pasta is made from scratch in-house, using the best and freshest ingredients available. The menu does change seasonally and offers a specifically curated few dishes at any given time. The Truffle Tajaran and the Vongole steal the show, even from a roster of solely superb selections. They offer a modern twist with some fresh takes on their Bruschette options and mains, like the Butter Chicken. 

For dessert try the Tiramisu or the house made Limoncello. As you may expect, the wine list is small but perfectly picked to go with any entree. The high ceilings and exposed brick give a rustic and chic feel to this upscale eatery. It’s dimly lit and designed minimally, displaying only their vast collection of fine wines along the wall. It originally started in Seoul, Korea and became the best Italian restaurant in Durham. It’s sister shop then took up residence in downtown Durham and has been thriving ever since. For a high-end evening that feels more cool than stuffy, Cucciolo is an incredible choice. 


Taqueria La Vaquita

If you hear some locals in the know talking about that place with the cow on top, run, don’t walk over to La Vaquita. In Spanish the name translates to the taco restaurant of the little cow, and boy do they mean literally. With a giant plastic cow sitting majestically on the roof of this eatery as it has been for many years, you sure can’t miss it. It’s become an iconic joint for Mexican food in the city, and the grub always guarantees a good meal. 

The food and flavors are authentic and made fresh to order in-house. They offer all the favorite authentic taco choices including pastor, carnitas, lengua, tripa, pollo, asada, barbacoa, and chorizo. You’ll think you’ve teleported all the way to the sunny shores of Mexico upon the first bite. If you prefer to venture for a more adventurous dish, try the tortas, antojitos, or platillos tradicionales. The decor is simple and unassuming which allows these spectacular fares to shine all on their own. The small patio is often adorned with brightly colored bunting that is traditional to Mexico for a more festive feel. 

About Natasha

Natasha moved to North Carolina for college years ago (but she's not trying to age herself here). Her days were spent reading a book on the beach and enjoying a cold glass of sweet tea in between classes at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Upon graduation, she met her partner, Cameron, and they traveled the world together crossing 85 countries and six continents. After, six years of international travel they settled down and launched Lost in the Carolinas to share their experiences about and travel tips on South Carolina and North Carolina.

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