Food & Drink

The 12 Best Restaurants in Durham

Published On 09/10/2015 Published On 09/10/2015

Durham has always had a lot going for it -- Duke University, The Triangle -- but it’s only fairly recently that its restaurant scene has become a downright destination. And these 12 restaurants, with their authentic North Carolina BBQ and excellent early morning burritos, might just have something to do with that.

Jason Frye/Thrillist

Best burger: Bull City Burger and Brewery

107 E Parrish St
From brewing the beer to baking the buns to grinding the beef, everything here is done in-house, including the duck fat frites that top the off-menu burger (yes, the fries are on the burger). Also on the secret burger? A fried egg and a healthy layer of house-made (duh) aioli.

Jason Frye/Thrillist

Best outdoor dining: Tobacco Road Sports Cafe

280 S Mangum St
Anyone who’s seen Bull Durham knows that there’s a giant bull menacing over left field of the Durham Bull’s Athletic Park, but less known is that right beside that is the terrace at Tobacco Road. Watch a game from your table and maybe even catch a foul ball if your hands aren’t too busy double fisting ribs and beers. Get there early -- tables go quick!

Best sophisticated Southern supper: Piedmont

401 Foster St, Ste B2
Good ol' Southern cooking -- grits and tea, peaches and field peas, mustard greens and pickled watermelon -- is upgraded with produce, meat, and eggs supplied from the restaurant's 55-acre farm. This place is so fresh it makes other self-proclaimed “farm-to-table” establishments look even more laughable.


Cheapest eats: Cosmic Cantina

1920 Perry St
Corn tortillas are made-to-order, there’s a $3 burrito as big as a moderately sized child’s head, 90% of its menu is under $8, and it stays open late. Real late. Like 5am late. So-late-it’s-early late.

Jason Frye/Thrillist

Best sushi: Basan

359 Blackwell St, Ste 220
Order whatever you damn well please so long as you get the kizami wasabi to go with it. It’s sweet and sharp, and a far cry from the one-note, eye-watering, dyed green stuff they sell in grocery stores.

Best for fancy occasions: Four Square

2701 Chapel Hill Rd
With a seasonal, seafood-heavy menu and classic French preparations, it’s a classy spot to bring a hot, hot Tinder date, or your mom. When the weather’s nice, sit on the porch that overlooks the garden. 

Best pizza: Pizzeria Toro

105 E Chapel Hill St
Choose from a white or red sauce base, but don’t bother with pedestrian pepperoni -- you want the venison sausage and caramelized onion pie. The wood-fired pizza is all you really need to feel satisfied, but in a weird twist, the baby lettuce soup is surprisingly delicious.


Best sandwich: Toast

345 W Main St
Come here for authentic-ish panini, tramezzini (cold sammies without the crust), and crostini (toasted appetizer sandwiches you’ll want to order four of), courtesy of a couple of Durham natives who opened the paninoteca in 2008. The vibe is casual but the three-cheese panini with Grana Padano, asiago fresca, pecorino, and truffle oil will make you feel lavish. As lavish as a sandwich can make one feel, anyway.

Best vegetarian: The Palace International

1104 A Broad St
If you haven’t already (why haven’t you?), introduce yourself to African curries and sides, like ugali, which is similar to polenta; and kachumbari, a simple salad/salsa of onion, tomato, and cilantro. Mostly everything on the rich menu is vegetarian or vegan.


Best breakfast: Monuts Donuts

1002 Ninth St
It may be known for donuts -- absolutely delicious chocolate peanut butter cream donuts, to be sure -- but breakfast here is the real move. Try tacos with scrambled eggs and house-made chorizo, or the Breakfast Banh Mi, a bagel piled high with pickled veggies and avocado, topped with a fried egg and Sriracha mayo.

Best power brunch: Washington Duke Inn

3001 Cameron Blvd
The menu calls weekend brunch “a three-course indulgence” and with dishes like corn flake challah French toast, beef tenderloin served with eggs and hollandaise over grits, crab cakes, and a take on eggs Benedict that might make you cry into your fancy napkin, you’ll be inclined to agree.

Backyard BBQ Pit

Best barbecue: Backyard BBQ Pit

5122 NC Hwy 55
You can smell the oak and hickory smoke from the outdoor pit a mile away, and there’s always a line out the door at lunch. Sloppy portions of baked beans, ribs, brisket, collard greens, and hush puppies are served on sectioned styrofoam plates with plastic forks, but presentation is irrelevant when the food’s this authentic. 

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1. Bull City Burger and Brewery 107 E Parrish St, Durham, NC 27701

What sets this burger joint and microbrewery apart is that they make almost everything in-house: sauerkraut, pickles, mayonnaise, mustard, buns, all-beef hot dogs, bacon, and, of course, beer. Bull City Burger and Brewery also uses locally-sourced and pasture-raised beef—ground daily—and boasts year-round outdoor seating.

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2. Tobacco Road Sports Cafe 280 S Mangum St, #100, Durham, NC 27701

At Tobacco Road Sports Cafe, you can do all the things you like to do -- sip brews, get some gourmet grub, and watch the game -- in a buzzing sports environment. Just don't expect it to be quiet here!

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3. Piedmont Restaurant 401 Foster St, Durham, NC 27701

For a farm-to-table experience, Piedmont Restaurant sources its ingredients from its sister company, Coon Rock Farm, which boasts pasture-raised antibiotic and hormone-free chickens. The locally-inspired cuisine continues with North Carolina craft beer selections.

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4. Cosmic Cantina 1920 Perry St, Durham, NC 27705

If you're looking to spice up your night, this hole-in-the-wall Mexican eatery uses handmade tortillas and is open until 5am.

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5. Basan 359 Blackwell St, Durham, NC 27701

At this west-meets-east eatery, Pacific-style sushi is brought to the Atlantic with fresh seafood, creative speciality rolls, and an array of sake.

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6. Four Square Restaurant 2701 Chapel Hill Rd, Durham, NC 27707

Guests can enjoy a seasonal, bi-monthly menu inside a 1908 Victorian manor, complete with a wraparound porch. If this isn't fine, Southern, dining, I don't know what is.

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7. Pizzeria Toro 101 E Chapel Hill St, Durham, NC 27701

Located in the heart of Durham, Pizzeria Toro supplies creative, wood-fired pies with toppings such as fried eggplant, spicy lamb meatballs, house prosciutto, summer squash, and Hog Island bay clams. This bustling restaurant is also equipped with a full bar that offers Italian and dessert wines.

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8. Toast 345 W Main St, Durham, NC 27701

Although the name suggests everyone's least favorite breakfast food, this paninoteca serves the holy trifecta of sandwiches: panini, tramezzini, and crostini. Toast also serves two types of homemade soup daily and an assortment of vegetarian options.

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9. The Palace International 1104 Broad St, Durham, NC 27705

The Palace International is a casual, family-owned and operated restaurant serving African cuisine. The owners, of Kenyan descent, strive to create a cultural environment through food and music.

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10. Monuts Donuts 1002 9th St, Durham, NC 27705

Durham’s beloved Monuts began as a farmer’s-market stand, but now stands as the belle of the ball in the Durham bakery scene. The place’s yeast and cake donut offerings differ daily, with favorites like Salted Caramel, Earl Grey, Chocolate Chai, and Strawberry Buttermilk making the rounds on the chalkboard that also advertises its incredible bagel selection.

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11. Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club 3001 Cameron Blvd, Durham, NC 27705

Situated on Duke's campus, the club's 300 acres offers guests a relaxed retreat from hustle and bustle of nearby cities, along with access to hiking trails managed by the university. The Fairview Dining Room, located in the AAA Four Diamond hotel, serves regional neo-American cuisine.

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12. Backyard BBQ Pit 5122 NC Highway 55, Durham, NC 27713

Forgoing the grill, barbecue at this unassuming restaurant is cooked in a pit over hickory and oak wood, infusing it with unique, smoky flavors. In addition to cooking up a variety of meats and fish, Backyard BBQ Pit also serves up homestyle sides such as candy yams, fresh shucked collard greens, and fried okra.



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