15 Best Restaurants in Durham, NC in 2023

15 Best Restaurants in Durham, NC in 2023

This list of the best places to eat in Durham covers delights from the best sushi, to the best ribs, and everything in between. North Carolina is known for its own particular blend of tomato-based, pork barbecue that’s slightly sweeter than others you may have tried. But don’t be fooled into thinking that barbecue is all to be found in Durham.

I recently spent three glorious months housesitting in Durham, North Carolina. Having that length of time there really gave me a chance to immerse myself in the local environment, and being a huge foodie myself, I did my fair share of exploration into the city’s culinary scene. Here, I am going to share my list of the 15 best restaurants in Durham, NC.

15 Best Restaurants in Durham

There are so many top restaurants in Durham, that this has been a pretty difficult list to finalize. I had a lot of favorites that I enjoyed revisiting time and again during my stay, and I’ve made sure to give some variety as I could have easily come up with 15 great barbecue spots alone!

It’s also worth noting that as well as offering great ‘restaurant food’, many of the places in this post offer bar snacks or lighter bites too; perfect if you’re pushed for time, or are happy to sit at the bar. Here are my 15 top picks for where to eat in Durham:

1. The Blue Note Grill

two racks of ribs on a bbq

As one of the best traditional restaurants in Durham, The Blue Note has to be first on my list. I went back so many times as it’s not only a cool setting with daily live music, but it also offers some truly fantastic barbecue. The service is excellent, the prices are very reasonable and the portions are so hearty that you’ll do well to finish your plate!

Stepping into The Blue Note Grill, you’ll likely hear some Bluegrass (1940s American roots music) being performed on the in-house stage by local musicians. You’ll find groups of between 2 and 6 playing there most afternoons whilst you enjoy a bite and the sound of the string band music in the background gives an authentic vibe, which I loved.

The full rack of ribs is pretty impressive. It comes with two sides (I had the mac and cheese and collard greens) plus hushpuppies, and it’s easily enough for two to share. The option to order a plate of sides, where you can pick any 4 for $11.99, is a popular choice; especially when looking for a delicious selection of smaller bites, or if you simply can’t make up your mind.

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The Blue Note Grill Information

Address: 709 Washington St, Durham, NC 27701, United States – Click here for directions Phone: +19194011979Operating Hours: 11 am-10 pm, Tues-Sat Must-Try Meals: Half or Full Rack of Ribs, including two sides and hushpuppies, Brunswick Stew with hushpuppies, Plate of SidesAverage Cost: $4-$10 per starter, $10-20 per main, $4-$8 for dessertsWebsite: thebluenotegrill.com

2. Elmo’s Diner

chicken salad with corn and tomatoes

An institution for many decades and one of the best local restaurants in Durham, award-winning Elmo’s Diner offers everything from simple breakfasts to rich, filling square meals in a traditional American diner setting that you’re sure to love.

I predominantly went to Elmo’s for brunch and twice had the California Omelet, served with a side of home fries and toast. Being British, home fries were a new introduction for me, but I was very thankful to discover them! Elmo’s are crunchy and delicious, and cooked with the skin on. Perfect with some salt and ketchup.

In my opinion, this is hands down the best brunch in Durham. Though lunch is also pretty epic, (their southwest chicken salad is spectacular). You may have to wait a few minutes for a seat on weekends and they don’t accept reservations. However, the service is great and they’ll get you in and eating as quickly as possible.

Elmo’s Diner Information

Address: 776 9th St, Durham, NC 27705, United States – Click here for directionsPhone: +19194163823Operating Hours: 7 am-3 pm, Mon-Fri 7 am-3.30 pm Sat & SunMust-Try Meals: California Omelet with a choice of 1 side and toast, Southwest Chicken Salad, Italian Meatloaf with two sides and a choice of breadAverage Cost: $9-$12 for breakfast, $10-$12 per lunch and dinner, soups start at $3Website: elmosdiner.com

3. Hutchins Garage

person pulling a slice of pizza

Of all the nicest restaurants in Durham, Hutchins Garage is up there with the best. Many locals agree that they serve some of the best pizza around and the quality, value for money, and atmosphere is hard to beat.

As the name suggests, the building was once a garage, but the space has been tastefully renovated into a great indoor restaurant and festoon-lit outdoor seating area. The patio here is quite possibly the best to be found in Durham, and inside, there’s a retro music vibe with iconic black and white photos of great musicians like Blondie adorning each booth.

The menu at Hutchins Garage likes to push the boundaries of pizza as we know it, whilst also giving a nod to its traditional routes. You’ll see the likes of peaches and bacon, and even fried chicken as topping choices, although, I personally can’t say no to a hot honey pepperoni pie – and theirs is delicious.

Hutchins Garage Information

Address: 402 W Geer St, Durham, NC 27701, United States – Click here for directionsPhone: +19842196578Operating Hours: 4 pm-10 pm Tues-Fri. 11.30am-10pm Sat. 11.30am-9pm SunMust-Try Meals: Hot Honey Pizza, Fried Chicken Pizza, House-Made TiramisuAverage Cost: $6-$13 per starter, $14-18 per main, and $8 for dessertsWebsite: Hutchins Garage | Durham NC | Facebook

4. Dame’s Chicken and Waffles

plate with chicken and waffles and whip cream

Dame’s Chicken and Waffles is known for having the best breakfast in Durham. Locals love this place so much that many religiously pay a weekly visit for a huge serving of award-winning chicken, waffles, and schmears.

I had to research what a schmear was when I saw it on the menu; for those that don’t know, it’s basically a smearing of delicious toppings and sauces to complement your waffles. Dame’s offers chocolate-hazelnut, vanilla-almond, and baby-blueberry flavors – amongst many more. Build your own plate or let the experts decide for you from their house specialties.

Dame’s menu also features an inspiration section and a collection of pre-set chicken and waffle combos. The delightfully named dishes such as The Frizzy Fowl and Schmear Me Baby sound too tempting to turn down.

Dame’s Chicken and Waffles Information

Address: 530 Foster St #130, Durham, NC 27701, United States – Click here for directionsPhone: +19196829235Operating Hours: 10 am-3 pm Sun & Monday. 11 am-8 pm Tues – Thurs. 10 am-9 pm Fri & SatMust-Try Meals: Schmear Me Baby, The Frizzy Fowl, The Duelling RoostersAverage Cost: Waffles, inspirations, and specialties – $10-$20Website: dameschickenwaffles.com

5. King’s Sandwich Shop

beef philly cheesesteak sandwich

This hole-in-the-wall, walk-up burger, sandwich, and hot dog stand has been serving the community since 1942. Although King’s does offer outdoor seating, most customers opt to grab some of the best street food in Durham to go. It’s definitely a lunchtime spot, thanks to its limited opening hours, but it’s always busy with locals – which is only a good sign in my eyes.

You can’t miss the cool retro building that sits just opposite the old Durham Bulls baseball field Downtown, and the food here is fantastic. I was staying just a few minutes away from King’s and worked my way through most of the menu. For me, their Chicken Philly Sandwich is the best thing to grab for lunch in Durham.

King’s Sandwich Shop Information

Address: 701 Foster St, Durham, NC 27701, United States – Click here for directionsPhone: +19196820071Operating Hours: 11 am-4 pm, Tues-SatMust-Try Meals: King’s Breakfast Sandwich, Brightleaf Red Dog, Chicken Philly CheesesteakAverage Cost: $3-$5.50 hotdogs, $7-15 burgers, $4.25 – $12.95 sandwiches and cheesesteaksWebsite: kingssandwichshop.com

6. Juju

a pan with mongolian bbq

On the far side of the Duke East Campus, you’ll find 9th Street – a great location for shopping, drinking, and dining. Juju is high up on the list of excellent restaurants in Durham and is an absolute must-visit if you find yourself on 9th. Offering Asian fusion food and some delicious tapas, Juju is a popular spot and it’s easy to see why.

Although not exclusively a meat-free restaurant, its wide selection of veggie options makes Juju my choice for the best vegetarian restaurant in Durham. Their cocktails and sake list are also worth stopping in for, and because of its reputation, booking ahead is recommended.

Juju Information

Address: 737 9th St #210, Durham, NC 27705, United States – Click here for directionsPhone: +19192863555Operating Hours: 11 am-2 pm, 5 pm-9 pm Mon-Sat. 5 pm-8 pm SunMust-Try Meals: Sichuan Style Chicken, Mongolian Beef, Charred OctopusAverage Cost: $5-$16 per starter, $16-28 per main, $10-$14 for dessertsWebsite: jujudurham.com

7. Mothers & Sons Trattoria

a plate with caccio e pepe sauce and a fork with spaghetti twirled around it

If you’re looking for fine dining in Durham, you have to head down to Mothers & Sons Trattoria for some of the best Italian food around. Having spent a lot of time in Italy, I love Italian food and Mothers & Sons serves up pasta dishes that rival many of those I’ve eaten in the ‘old country’ itself.

With a focus on regional Italian food and seasonal sensibility, Mothers and Sons is one of the best places to eat in Durham. They’re also one of the first restaurants in the southern US to offer ‘fatta a mano‘ – that’s handmade pasta to you and me – and it’s delicious.

Mothers & Sons Trattoria Information

Address: 107 W Chapel Hill St, Durham, NC 27701, United States – Click here for directions Phone: +19192948247Operating Hours: 5 pm-9.30 pm, Mon-Thurs. 5 pm-10 pm Fri & SatMust-Try Meals: Rigatoni alla Norma, Hearth Roasted Chicken with charred escarole and salsa verde, Paccherri Cacio e PepeAverage Cost: $5-$14 per starter, $12-$30 per mainWebsite: www.mothersandsonsnc.com

8. Maverick’s Smokehouse & Taproom

bbq plate with brisket and chicken adn macaroni and cheese and collard greens

My local BBQ restaurant and bar was Maverick’s, and not only do they cook up some delicious barbecue but they also boast perhaps one of the best patios in Durham. Overlooking the former Brightleaf Tobacco building and the Warehouse District, you can enjoy a mix of Carolina, Memphis, and Texas-style BBQ with a view.

Maverick’s offers one of the most unrivaled lunchtime deals around: Tuesday through Thursday 11 am-3 pm, the ‘Hard Workin’ special sandwich includes a small coleslaw, a side dish, and a soft drink for $9.99, and taking advantage of this bargain makes Maverick’s one of the cheapest restaurants in Durham.

Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom Information

Address: 900 W Main St, Durham, NC 27701, United States – Click here for directions Phone: +19196828978Operating Hours: 11 am-9 pm Tues, Weds, Thurs & Sun. 11 am-10 pm Fri & SatMust-Try Meals: Hard Workin’ Special (available at limited times), Fried Cajun Chicken Wings, Texas Dry Rub Brisket SandwichAverage Cost: $4-$8 for appetizers, $10-$16 per main, $6-8 for dessertsWebsite: maverickssmokehouse.com

9. Mateo Bar de Tapas

a pan with paella and fresh seafood on top

Romantic restaurants in Durham are plentiful, but I personally feel that Mateo Bar de Tapas tops the list – the name even sounds charming. They offer some excellent traditional Spanish tapas and incorporate local twists in the menu such as the use of Almejas (North Carolina neck clams).

Mateo Bar de Tapas is also one of the few places in Durham where you can find properly cooked paella. Their drinks list is impressive too, and it’s overall well worth stopping in here.

Mateo Bar de Tapas Information

Address: 109 W Chapel Hill St, Durham, NC 27701, United States – Click here for directions Phone: +19195308700Operating Hours: 5 pm-10 pm, Tues-SatMust-Try Meals: Almejas (clams), Albondigas (meatballs), PaellaAverage Cost: $7-$18 Tapas dishes. $54+ Paella and steak dishes for the tableWebsite: mateotapas.com

10. Goorsha

ethiopian food on a platter

The best vegan restaurant in Durham I came across was undoubtedly Goorsha. Although not exclusively vegan, their choice of plant-based options makes it the place to go if you’re looking for non-meat food choices or just something a little different.

Goorsha is a traditional Ethiopian restaurant, and its spicy vegan stews are fantastic, both in quality and quantity. Their patio offers a gorgeous setting with festoons and parasols, and I could even go as far as to say that it’s the best outdoor restaurant in Durham.

Goorsha Information

Address: 910 W Main St, Durham, NC 27701, United States – Click here for directionsPhone: +19195884660Operating Hours: 5 pm-9 pm Mon-Thurs. 5 pm-10 pm Fri. 12 pm-10 pm Sat. 12 pm-9 pm SunMust-Try Meals: Kik Alecha, Gomen, Metin ShiroAverage Cost: $4-$9 per starter, $12-20 per mainWebsite: goorshadurham.com

11. Torero’s Mexican Restaurant

plate of nachos with avocados tomatoes and meat

Serving the Carolinas for more than 30 years, Torero’s is the place to go if you love Mexican food. Their regional and authentic dishes and outstanding emphasis on customer service make Torero’s one of the best local restaurants in Durham.

Their ethos is based on using quality ingredients and they make fresh salsa in-house all day long – it has to be tried, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll find an extensive menu of all the usual Mexican favorites plus a host of regional delights here.

I recommend trying the Guadalajara Special – bone-in beef served in red sauce with cilantro and onions for a real authentic bite.

Torero’s Mexican Restaurant Information

Address: 604 Fernway Ave, Durham, NC 27701, United States – Click here for directions Phone: +19196824197Operating Hours: 11 am-10 pm Sun-Thurs. 11 am-11 pm Fri & SatMust-Try Meals: Guadalajara Special, Torero’s Plate, Fajita NachosAverage Cost: Extensive menu dishes from $7-12Website: torerosmexicanrestaurantsnc.com

12. The Roof at the Durham

plate of oysters and lemons

The best rooftop bar in Durham, and a killer restaurant to boot, is The Roof at The Durham Hotel. It’s perfect for couples looking for a special night out, and high up, overlooking the center of the city you can enjoy some of the best fine dining in Durham.

On top of the panoramic view, The Roof emphasizes local food, with North Carolina pasture-raised meats and farmers’ market vegetables used for each dish. They also make their desserts in-house and their ice cream is to die for. This place really is one of the top restaurants in Durham and one you should definitely add to your list.

The Roof at the Durham Information

Address: 315 E Chapel Hill St, Durham, NC 27701, United States – Click here for directionsPhone: +19197688831Operating Hours: 5 pm-11 pm Mon-Thurs. 5 pm-12 pm Sat & SunMust-Try Meals: North Carolina Oysters, Vegetarian Pitta, Rose’s Ice CreamAverage Cost: $11-$22 plates. $7 for dessertsWebsite: The Roof – Rooftop Patio in Durham, North Carolina | The Durham Hotel

13. Mango Indian Grill

an indian curry

Located inside the Durham Food Hall is a little unknown gem that somewhat secretly serves up some of the best food in Durham. Mango Indian Grill was created by the same people that started Chalonad – an award-winning restaurant a few miles away in Chapel Hill.

Chalonad has been voted ‘Best in Class – Indian’ for 7 years in a row by the News and Observer, and its owners are now bringing the same veritable taste and quality to Durham.

The menu at Mango Indian Grills offers everything from Indian-style finger food to full curries, biriyanis, and rice bowls. Don’t be put off by the food hall setting for a meal out; it’s a cool and bustling place to enjoy one of the most authentic local restaurants in Durham.

Mango Indian Grill Information

Address: Food Hall Liberty warehouse, 530 Foster St Ste 1-E, Durham, NC 27701, United States – Click here for directionsOperating Hours: 11 am-9 pm Mon-Thurs. 11 am-10 pm Fri & SatMust-Try Meals: Mysore Masala, Gobi Manchurian Rice Bowl, Chicken BiriyaniAverage Cost: $4-$10 sides and finger food. $10-$12 for mainsWebsite: mangoindiangrill.com

14. Plum Southern Kitchen & Bar

shrimp and grits in a pan

Located in the heart of Downtown is Plum, one of the best places to eat in Durham.

A friendly neighborhood restaurant that serves southern food with an updated and modern edge, the food here is not to be missed. Their ever-varying menu is dictated by local suppliers and seasonal availability, and you can expect to find everything from creative salads to delicious fish and steak plates up for grabs.

Overlooking the former home of the Durham Bulls baseball team, once the site of many scenes from the Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon movie ‘Bull Durham‘, Plum is possibly the best restaurant in Durham with a view too – go and see for yourself.

Plum Southern Kitchen & Bar Information

Address: 501 Washington St C, Durham, NC 27701, United States – Click here for directionsPhone: +19193516446Operating Hours: 5.30 pm-8.30 pm Sun, Mon & Thurs. 5.30 pm-9.30 pm Fri & SatMust-Try Meals: Seabass Crudo, Shrimp and Grits, Cast Iron Manhattan Steak and PotatoesAverage Cost: $8-$19 for smaller plates, $21-30 per main, and $9-11 for dessertsWebsite: plumdurham.com

15. Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar

man shucking an oyster with a plate of oysters and lemons

Although you won’t find a restaurant in Durham with a sea view, (you’ll have to travel a few hours to the coast for that), you can still thankfully enjoy some amazing seafood in the city. Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar is a small southern chain of around 25 locations across just 7 states, and the restaurant in Durham is known for having some of the freshest fish around.

With their daily specials such as ‘$1 Oyster Mondays’ and ‘$.50 Steamed Clam Wednesdays’, Shuckin’ Shack is easily one of the best cheap eats in Durham. If you’ve ever heard someone say not to eat seafood unless you’re by the sea, you can rest assured they’ve never eaten at Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar…

Shuckin Shack Oyster Bar Information

Address: Erwin Square Plaza, 2200 W Main St A-140, Durham, NC 27705, United States – Click here for directionsPhone: +19842197337Operating Hours: 12 pm-9 pm Sun-Thurs. 12 pm-10 pm Fri & SatMust-Try Meals: Oysters on the Half Shell, Snow Crab Legs, Saul T Steam PotAverage Cost: $4-$9 per starter, $9-$30 per main, $30-$50 plattersWebsite: theshuckinshack.com

Must-Try Meals in Durham

a pile of pulled pork bbq

North Carolina is known for its own special brand of barbecue (that’s primarily pork), and its slightly sweeter tomato-based sauces. This doesn’t limit the restaurants of Durham; even the barbecue joints offer variety and the food culture in Durham is rapidly growing. Here are a few must-try dishes whilst in town:

Pulled Pork BBQ

All good barbecue places in Durham will offer a North Carolina staple, pulled pork cooked slow and low, with a tinge of sweet tomato sauce. It’s absolutely delicious and a must-try if you’re anywhere in NC.

Many locals pride themselves on their BBQ and I never once came across a pulled pork plate I didn’t love. The barbecue at The Blue Note Grill is some of the best around.

Hutchins Garage Hot Honey Pizza

Hot honey on a pepperoni pizza is something I first discovered in Costa Rica, and it’s hard to now choose any other topping whenever I see it on a menu. Locals widely consider Hutchins Garage to be the best pizza in Durham and I concur!

The pizzas are huge and delicious. It’s a family-friendly place and has a great selection of craft beers to accompany your pizza. Their salads are also huge so you certainly get your money’s worth here no matter what you order.

Duck Frites

I only ate them once but the duck frites at Bull City Burger and Brewery are off the charts. Basically, they’re very skinny French fries, fried in duck fat with sea salt and rosemary seasoning. Absolutely sensational. Served in a heaped bowl to accompany your burger, the frites make for a hearty meal all by themselves, but also form the perfect burger accompaniment.

Mongolian Beef

There are several great Asian fusion and tapas restaurants in Durham. But some of the best can be found at Juju and their Mongolian beef dish is exceptional. Lightly spiced, so not too overbearing, and served with a generous portion of rice, this dish is perfect for lunch or dinner if you fancy a nonbarbecue meat fix.

Vegan menu at Gorsha

Ethiopian restaurant Gorsha has a terrific choice of vegan options and is widely considered one of the best places to eat in Durham. Their daily deal of three vegan plates for $14 is a real bargain.

There are a few dishes to choose from but Yesmir Kik (red lentils stewed in berbere, onions, ginger, and garlic) and Gomen (chopped collard greens cooked with onions, garlic, and garnished with sliced jalapeños) were two of my favorites.

Durham Restaurants: FAQs

cutting board with smoked brisket

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about the best restaurants in Durham, NC:

What are the best restaurants in Durham?

There are so many great restaurants in Durham, but my personal favorites are the Blue Note Grill and Hutchins Garage. The Blue Note has some of the best North Carolina BBQ around and is an excellent venue with daily live music, and the pizza at Hutchins Garage is some of the best I’ve tasted, not to mention how lovely the outdoor patio is for lunch or dinner.

What neighborhood has the best restaurants in Durham?

Downtown Durham has the best restaurants for sure – both the Blue Note Grill and Hutchins Garage can be found there. The Downtown area is a cool hub of bars, restaurants, and breweries that are all within walking distance of one another and offer some of the best places to eat in Durham.

Where should I stay in Durham?

Durham is a very walkable city, I loved where I stayed in the Trinity Park area. Located right near the Duke East Campus, 15 minutes from the city center and about 10 minutes from Downtown, it gave me access to pretty much everything within a short stroll.

Where is the best pub food in Durham?

My local pub was Maverick’s Smokehouse and Taproom, it had a great selection of beers at reasonable prices and a delicious and varied menu. They offer the ‘Hard Workin’ lunch special which is a good deal that runs Tuesday to Thursday lunchtimes. Their outdoor seating area looks over the Brightleaf building and is a great spot to people-watch.

What’s the best restaurant in Durham with a view?

The Roof at The Durham Hotel is the best restaurant with a view and is one of the best places to eat in Durham. Their rooftop bar and patio features panoramic views of the entire city and is a pretty breathtaking spot for a really rememberable meal.

What food is Durham famous for?

Durham, and North Carolina as a whole, is known for its own unique brand of barbecue. Typically their style of BBQ is pork-based, cooked slow and low, and then served with a tinge of sweet tomato sauce. It’s certainly unique to others I’ve tried, but there’s no doubt that it’s absolutely delicious.

Is Durham NC a foodie town?

Yes absolutely, and it’s increasingly becoming more of a foodie town as development progresses throughout the city. The restaurants are plentiful and the food on offer is always of a very high quality. The variety you encounter, from traditional barbecue to Indian, Asian, and sushi is a testament to the foodie nature of Durham. There’s something for everyone.

What are the best sushi restaurants in Durham?

I’m not a massive fan myself, so I haven’t frequented any of the best restaurants in Durham for sushi. However, I asked a few locals and the consensus was that Pokeworks on West Main Street and M Sushi on Holland Street are two of the best around.

These two spots were mentioned repeatedly for quality, freshness, and decent value for money. M Sushi is also one of the most romantic restaurants in Durham – so I am told!

In Conclusion

Durham is such a great place for food; whether you’re looking for quick street food or fine dining you’ll find everything you could desire in his personable city.

My area of choice was Downtown purely because it was the location of a few of my go-to restaurants, like Kings Sandwich Shop and The Blue Note Grill. But the whole of Durham is covered with fantastic eating establishments.

North Carolina may have a reputation as a barbecue state, and don’t get me wrong there are some awesome places to eat great barbecue, but there’s so much more on offer. The pizza rivals those that I’ve eaten in Italy, the Asian tapas was arguably some of the best I’ve ever tried, and even the bars serve up interesting takes on pub food and bar snacks.

You certainly won’t go hungry in Durham! The only question is, where to try first?

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