Discovering the Food Scene in Durham, NC: Best Restos & Cafes

Durham’s population has swelled by nearly 25% since 2010. Fueled by new developments, new jobs, and press about Durham being the third best place to live in the United States, the city continues to make strides to accommodate its new residents and welcome more in the future. One of the ways that Durham is meeting the needs of its past, present, and future residents is by upping its game in the food scene. Now home to more than 150 bars and restaurants in downtown Durham alone, the city is getting props from prestigious publications like Bon Appetit, the New York Times, and Southern Living Magazine. Whether you are one of the new (or older) residents of Durham, you’re considering a relocation, or you’re just planning a visit, you need to make a plan to hit some of the best restaurants and cafes in the city. Here’s where to start when it comes to amazing food in Durham.

Local Cuisine and Signature Dishes

Being located in the south, Durham’s traditional dishes include southern favorites like fried chicken, shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, and pimento cheese. Some of the best fried chicken in the city can be found at Dame’s Chicken and Waffles where you can build your own with a choice of bird (wings, cutlets, or drumsticks), waffle (classic, sweet potato, gingerbread, or oatmeal), schmear, and drizzle. If you’re in the mood for shrimp and grits, head to Nzinga’s Kitchen for this classic that’s the featured half-price special every Thursday from 9 am-6 pm. Debbie Lou’s Biscuit Shop is the place to be for biscuits and gravy and an outstanding weekend brunch, while Parker & Otis serves delicious pimento cheese (they suggest adding it to your BLT sandwich).

If you want to wander through the food markets or stop at a street food vendor, make a stop at the Durham Co-Op Market Grocery & Cafe and grab something from local vendors like Bull City Pepper Co., Boxcarr handmade cheese, or Bull Durham Beer Co

Top Restaurants in Durham

You don’t have to look far to find an amazing restaurant in Bull City! For the perfect fine dining destination to celebrate a special occasion, head to Cucciolo Osteria for modern Italian food with a twist or French bistro Vin Rouge for steak frites and trout amandine with a perfectly paired wine.

Looking to get off the beaten path and frequent some hidden gems? Make a point to swing by hole-in-the-wall Banh’s Cuisine for Vietnamese offerings that are almost all under $10 (but bring cash as they don’t accept cards) or Chicken Hut–one of the oldest restaurants in the city–for delicious fried chicken and collards.

Unique eateries are always fun to visit–especially if you’re on vacation and want to dine somewhere that will live in your memory for years to come! If fun and different are two words you use to describe your ideal dining experience, head to Krill for inspired Southeast Asian food served in a fun, vibrant atmosphere or Nasher Cafe at Duke University where you can dine overlooking the garden and hang out with the leaders of tomorrow.

Best Cafes and Coffee Shops

Just because you’re not in the mood for a sit-down dining experience doesn’t mean you want to sacrifice taste, quality, or service! If you’re looking for a fun coffee shop to kick your morning off right, swing by Beyu Caffe for locally roasted coffee and an omelet or Foster Street Coffee, where you can relax in comfy chairs while enjoying a pumpkin pie latte and tropical chia bowl.

If you’re after a cafe for breakfast or lunch, you should add these local faves to your list: Dulce Cafe for a delicious panini or Cuban sandwich, Toast for some of the best Italian sandwiches you’ve ever tasted, and Bull and Bean for balsamic burrata salad, turkey and brie sandwich, or a slice of peanut butter and banana toast.

International Cuisine in Durham

There’s no shortage of international cuisine for those who want to take a walk on the spicy side when it comes to food in Durham! Popular international restaurants include Copa, which serves farm-to-table Cuban tapas, Dashi, a Japanese noodle shop, and Goorsha, an Ethiopian restaurant serving a variety of dishes, all of which are scooped up with traditional injera bread instead of silverware.

If you’re looking for a mix of different international cuisines, you can try out some of the city’s fusion restaurants. Local favorites include Lula Bang Bang (pan-Asian food and sushi), Juju Durham (Asian fusion and tapas), and Krill (a contemporary take on Asian dishes.)

Vegetarians and vegans will also find plenty to love in Durham. Pure Vegan Cafe serves everything from vegan Indian fusion dishes to Southern comfort food to meat-free Chicago-style hot dogs. Pure Soul is another vegan option and the perfect place to grab a quick meatless BBQ sandwich and slaw or ‘shrimp’ po’boy hoagie. If you’re vegan and planning to dine with someone who is not, there are also a variety of restaurants that serve both meat-based and vegan dishes, including Lemon & Lime Indian Grill and Bar, Zweli’s Zimbabwean Restaurant, and Parts & Labor, a bar and grill located in the Motorco Music Hall.

Ready to eat?

If all this talk of food in Durham is making you hungry, make a plan to visit one of the fantastic restaurants on this list to see why the city is quickly becoming a foodie favorite. Don’t live in Durham but thinking of relocating or are ready to up or downsize your Durham home? Reach out to the experienced team at Spotlight Realty. They’ll be happy to help you find your next home.

*Header photo courtesy of Unsplash

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