Thursday, January 3, 2008

Kelly's Durham Dining Guide

I made this list of good, local places to eat for some newcomers to town. The list is not meant to be comprehensive although I think it covers most of the good places. If not, let me know what I've forgotten.


Q-Shack, 2514 University Drive
Excellent NC style BBQ as well as ribs and
Texas style brisket BBQ. Delicious sweet potato fries, collards, and macaroni and cheese. On the lighter side, they have a great Cobb salad. The best comfort meal in town is their Texas pie: brisket chili served atop fritos or fries with onions, cheese, avocado, lettuce and scallions. Serves beer.

Bullocks, 3330 Quebec Dr off of Hillsborough
Durham institution for NC style BBQ. Delicious hush puppies. Fried chicken is good too. No beer. Baptists don’t serve beer in their BBQ joints.


Cosmic Cantina, 1920 1/2 Perry St
This hole-in-the-wall upstairs on
Perry St has simple but great burritos and quesadillas. It’s usually full of Duke students. Get your food to go unless it is warm enough to sit outside on their patio.

Toreros, 800 W Main St
Standard Mexican fare but better than other places. Good vegetarian options like the bean tostado and spinach enchiladas.

Tonali, 3642 Shannon Rd Ste 1
Gourmet Mexican cuisine using fresh ingredients. Menu changes often. Warm and inviting décor. No velvet sombreros or bull horns hanging on the walls. Delicious fish Veracruzana.

Cafes and bars with good food:
Foster’s Market, 2694 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd
Great for breakfast or lunch. Foster’s has a lot of outside seating when the weather is nice. Good coffee and a selection of wines, candies, bakery items, and other sundries. Very good ginger cookies, scones, and macaroons.

Guglhupf Bakery and Café, 2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd
Bakery sells fresh, artisan breads and pastries daily. Delicious croissants, foccacia, and muesli bread.

Federal, 914 W Main St
Great selection of beers on tap and in bottles. The food is much better than standard bar food. The daily specials are always excellent and a good value. The fries are great and seasoned with garlic and parsley. The grilled cheese sandwich cannot be beat, especially with a side of fries.


Thai Café, 2501 University Dr Ste 10
The first Thai restaurant in
Durham opened only a couple of years ago. Warm, inviting décor with full bar. Crab angels are a yummy starter. Good Pad Thai, tom yum, and all dishes can be made with tofu.

Pao Lim, 2505 Durham Chapel Hill Blvd
Pacific rim cuisine served. Delicious dal soup as a starter and very good salmon dishes.

Twisted Noodle, 4201 University Dr
Another Thai restaurant that opened a few months ago. The food is better in quality and value than Thai Café but the atmosphere and bar are not as inviting.

Sitar Indian Palace, 3117 Shannon Rd
Best Indian restaurant in
Durham. Indian buffet served on weekends.


Rue Cler, 401 E Chapel Hill St
Coffee shop and bakery items served throughout the day. Go for beignets and coffee for a very unhealthy but tasty breakfast. Weekends brunch is served. In the evenings Rue Cler offers a fixe prix, three course menu for $25. It changes often. The standard menu features traditional French bistro fare like steaks frites.

Vin Rouge, Ninth Street and Hillsborough
Love the croque monsieur and escargot! Pricey but good menu. Dark, sexy atmosphere.

Italian and pizza:

Pizza Palace, Guess Road
The oldest pizza restaurant in
Durham moved to a new location on Guess Road, but it is still a dive. The pizza is great though, especially the ones with white sauces and garlic. The crusts are thin and crisp.

Cinelli’s Ristorante, 607 Broad St
Atmosphere is not great and neither is the service, but the pizza is good and so are dishes like the carbonara tortellini, pasta with vodka sauce, and pasta Cinelli with white beans and escarole.

Pop’s, 810 W Peabody St
Upscale Italian in an old warehouse space serves delicious mussels, gourmet pizzas, inventive pasta dishes, and meat dishes like chicken cooked under a brick. Good wine list and tasty desserts. Generally the service is very good.

Satisfactions, Main St in Brightleaf Square
A large beer selection and good pizza. It's a fun place to go watch some hoops, drink a beer, and have some pizza with friends.

Nouveau Southern:

Piedmont, 401 Foster St Ste B2
The chef is known for his preparations of pork and beef. The portions are huge. For brunch on the weekends order shrimp and grits or the pork chops with eggs.

Watt’s Grocery, 1116 Broad Street
The newest upscale restaurant in
Durham. The chef uses fresh, local ingredients for preparing updated North Carolina cuisine. The atmosphere is modern and warm. Brunch is served on the weekends.

Alivia's, Main Street and Gregson
The best coffee in town thanks to a very impressive Italian coffee machine and a supply of great beans. It's good for breakfast and lunch. Dinner is pricey but usually pretty good. Service isn't exactly stellar. Brunch on the weekends is a small menu but good.

Fine dining:

Magnolia Grill, 1002 Ninth St
The crown jewel of fine dining in the Triangle region. Go if you parents are paying or for a special occasion. Ben Barker, the head chef and owner, is most competent with starters and fish. His wife Karen is the pastry chef who does wonderful creations. The service is very good.

Nana’s, 2514 University Dr
On par with Magnolia Grill as one of the leading restaurants in the region, Nana’s has been a Durham institution since 1992. The chef and owner, Scott Howell is a top chef in the Triangle. For a special dinner, order the chef’s tasting menu and the wine pairings. It’s also fun to sit in the bar for a glass of wine and a salad or a dessert. Also good service.


Joe said...

Nice list. Thanks!

kristiep said...

what about four square under fine dining?

Kelly said...

Yeah, I should add Four Square. The last time I was there the fish was way over-cooked. Generally though, I like the food and atmosphere. The service is always very good.

Toby said...

Thanks for the helpful list! Ya might want to include some of the better taquerias...

Kelly said...

Ok on the taquerias. I have only been to one. Need to try some others.

Kelly said...

I should also have included China Palace at Garrett and Old Chapel Hill Road. The food is great but it is rather divey. Not that I care about that.

tamerlanetheterrible said...

I humbly and respectfully wish to submit my own establishment to the list of Cafes and Bars with Good Food.

Bull McCabe's Irish Pub has some decent chow on occasion. It's an Irish Pub, granted, but much leeway is given re specials and the like.

I'd be honored to have any of you stop by.

Decent Wings, by the bye, Maura.t

DurhamFood said...

Good list, though I disagree with a few choices (eg I can't stand Alivia's).

Agreed with toby re taquerias :)

Barry Ragin said...

I can vouch for Taqueria Lopez and Taqueria Los Comales. I'd also add Hong Kong on Guess Rd. and Shanghai (next to Krpger's on Hillsborough) under Asian foods. There's also a little Italian hole in the wall called Francesca's on Erwin Rd. just past the hospitals near the new chain restaurant that shall not be named that we've eaten at occasionally and enjoyed. Spartacus on 15/501 (near Target) is worth a visit.

If you like meat, Chamas is also add-worthy.

Also, Old NC Barbecue, up in the mall that time forgot has a good buffet, if you like cholesterol.

There's a couple of Italian Pizzerias in the north part of town that are decent, and i think have half price specials on Tuesday? Randy's Pizza is still my favorite, however.

City Beverage is the only place in south Durham that i know well enough to recommend, although i'm sure there are others.

Barry Ragin said...

Oh, and there's a caribbean place called Doctor's Cove that opened recently in East Durham where the Harley Davidson cafe used to be that i'm anxious to try.

DurhamFood said...

Barry: where exactly is that Caribbean place? Sounds interesting.

Hong Kong and Shanghai should def. be on the list.

Barry Ragin said...

821 N. Miami, between Holloway and Liberty.

Rachel said...

What about Tosca under Italian? Their patio is super romantic and my husband and I have always enjoyed their food. Under Asian, I would add Kim Son. Their service and atmosphere leave a lot to be desired but their pho, bun and crepes are awesome... and where else can you get bubble tea?

Alivia's, Anotherthyme and City Beverage have made it on our 'never again' list of restaurants with crappy service and inconsistent quality.

Dan S. said...

I'll second: Tosca Ristorante Italiano, Four Square and Ole NC Barbecue and would suggest Parker and Otis and Blue Corn Cafe for Cafés and Mexican, respectively.

Holter die Polter said...

I think Guglhupf gets a bit of short shrift in the description here. Granted, it's quite fitting for the bakery part, but not at all inclusive of the café part. The Gug offers a full range of breakfast/brunch/lunch items...

Britt said...

Randy's Pizza must be mentioned, it is by far the best pizza I've had anywhere in the triangle, especially the slices, and their subs are good too, plus 3 durham locations!

The Federal is without a doubt my favorite Durham restaurant, replacing Patrick's Seasonal which closed.

I'll second Barry's recommendation of Los Camales.

One last comment, you must try Bahn's it may be small and simple, but their Vietnamese dishes are great, and very cheap.

Anonymous said...

does RTP not count as Durham, even tho it's in the border? Leave it out and you've lost Spice & Curry, Beneti's, the Korean BBQ places, etc etc. admittedly they are mostly about lunch, but there's still some great food to be had.

Andrew said...

You could round out the list with Seafood selections (er, maybe just one, with Blu), and Dessert options (Locopops, Francesca's, and Mad Hatter's). Otherwise, a very comprehensive and reasonable list!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, great list! And many fine additions from all the great suggestions - and thank you Barry for pointing us over. There are several I hadn't heard of and now want to try.

I do agree with the comment about Alivias. It seemed to have so much promise at least in concept, but is more disappointing every visit. The patio is pleasant on a nice evening tho. Here's to hoping decent service and improved food options will come.

I like the new southern options at Watts Grocery and Piedmont, but wish in both cases some of those great southern recipes could be made more healthy (one or two non meat dishes, something). The food is excellent but would go more often if there were one or two healthier option main dishes.

DurhamFood said...

Blue Corn is not Mexican, it's Latin American. It's also on the mediocre side.

That first statement is a fact, the latter an opinion :)

Dan S. said...

I'll admit, I wasn't wowed by the Ropa Vieja, the one time that I've visited Blue Corn, but given how people rave about it, I figured it was just an off-day, hence my suggestion.

Maura said...

Decent Wings, by the bye, Maura.
I finally had some on Friday evening. Very good wings. And I'll take this opportunity to again rave about the fish sandwich. It's the best I've had anywhere.

I like the food at Cosmic Cantina, but I never pass up the chance to complain about the service I've had there. A mistake is one thing. The refusal to correct it is another thing entirely, as is being stared at blankly because you expect it to be corrected.

claire said...

Toreros is a OK for what I'd call mall mexican. Any of the little places I've been on and around N. Roxboro have been better.

The Hong Kong on Guess Rd. and China One on 55 are the only Chinese places that I know of around here that serve dim sum.

Cinelli's sucks. Two bad experiences, won't ever go back.

Tosca's once charged a table I was at for getting a second basket of bread. Never went back there, either.

In the Never Understood What the Fuss Was About department: Cosmic Cantina, Satisfaction, Alivia's.

On my personal list of faves: Federal, Pao Lim, Pizza Palace, Pop's, Piedmont.

Also worth a mention is Amelia's, the cafe next to Chamas. Great pastries and coffee, nice atmosphere. I believe they also serve aperitifs.

Nibbs said...

I think Cinellis ranks just behind Randy's on the pizza front. They slice the sausage sideways and have hot cherry peppers as a topping. They probably get 1/3 orders from our house.

Another RTP gem is 9n9 off Alexander. The BEST $5 sandwich deal in town - Because you get 2 of them. Order the pork sandwich and continue about your now much improved day.

Anonymous said...

Great listing . I would have added the Shanghai Restaurant on Hillsborough rd. I like theri version of Hunan Pork

Greg D said...

I have to second Blu Seafood on Hillsborough Street. The food is always fresh and the staff is always friendly. They opened sometime in the summer and I've been many times. This place is just what Durham needed!

malie said...

may i also suggest xiloa, a little nicaraguan place just near bahn's on 9th st.? have been there twice for the buffet - $6.50 for lunch and it is wonderful. if the manager (anar?) is there, order their coffee too - she'll make it for you special. yum!

Anonymous said...

What about some of the Georgios B's places? How is the Elmo's over on 9th? It can't be any worse than a Cosmic Cantina. I should explore Durham's eats a bit more, but most of my travel from Chapel Hill/Carrboro takes me through Cary and South Durham (Thailana and such) more than the Duke and Durham proper area. What do people think of Mellow Mushroom's Pizza or places in that area? I won't go near Symposium Cafe. My gf and I went there and after 15 minutes we hadn't even been asked what we wanted to drink. We politely told the manager we were going to Tyler's and promptly did so. Anyone have thoughts on Saladelia? There is also Pao Lim by Nana's.

Anonymous said...

Whats the scoop on Six Plates?

Anonymous said...

Someone asked about Six Plates - good food and great wine list, though I would recommend going there for drinks and a snack rather than for dinner. The six plates that are offered each night are tasty and paired perfectly with a suggested glass of wine, but they are too small for a real dinner and will leave you wanting more. Might be a good place to do wine and an appetizer before dinner.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, I've tried a few times to do all six plates and am never able to do it!