DURGuide

Where To Eat & Stay In Durham

The 16 best restaurants and hotels in Durham.

Where To Eat & Stay In Durham guide image

photo credit: Anna Barzin

Welcome to the Bull City. Despite its growth over the last decade and a surge of tech jobs and Teslas, Durham still feels like a small town thanks to its small center city and tight-knit community. It’s known for Duke University and a robust range of Black-owned businesses, including first-rate restaurants like the newer Saltbox Seafood Joint and the standby Chicken Hut

It’s clear that everybody who lives in Durham is proud to be here, with the blue city flags hanging from countless front porches, but even if you’re in town for a weekend getaway, we think you’ll have an excellent time. Especially when you stop by classic Southern restaurants or cute wine bars between shows at the Pinhook, a Durham Bulls baseball game, or late-night DJ sets at Annexe. Here are all the best places to eat and stay in Durham.

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RGH Guide

Where To Eat & Stay In Raleigh


NEW-ISH & BUZZY RESTAURANTS


photo credit: Anna Barzin

Littler review image

Littler

$$$$919-374-1118
Hours:MONClosed
Perfect For:Date Night

Littler was closed from 2020 to early 2022, but this beloved bistro is, thankfully, back open with favorites like the crispy latkes benedict and Parker House mini loaves. The wood-paneled and deep-blue painted space sort of feels like you’re on a ship at sea, and it’s generally one of the best date spots in the city—just make sure to make a reservation ahead of time. Order the carrot cavatelli with harissa yogurt and the local flounder with corn and tomatoes, but save room for all of the desserts. Yes, we said all of them: if you can somehow choose between a corn pudding cake with peaches and a basque cheesecake with vanilla roasted figs, you’re much more decisive than us.


Ideal's Sandwich Shop in east Durham puts broccoli rabe in basically everything. It’s smashed into the signature chicken cutlet sandwich and Philly roast pork alike, both of which make for an excellent quick lunch. Ideal's also has some grocery staples, including pasta, fresh-baked bread, and a few rotating take-and-bake dinner options, perfect for a night you’re rushing off to a show at the Durham Performing Arts Center. The space is so small there’s hardly room to wait in line, let alone sit and enjoy, so definitely plan on taking everything to go.


Food halls are perfect for large groups and people with different tastes, and Durham Food Hall is no exception. The half a dozen stalls have you covered for something at any hour, beginning with Old North Meats’ $5 breakfast sandwich, which you should definitely add pastrami to. Lunchtime belongs to Ex-Voto, specifically the hearty crunch wraps packed with roasted chicken thighs and chipotle crema. Grab a wood-fired pizza from Napoli for dinner, especially if you’re in a hurry, and stick around for a drink at Auctioneer Bar. Consider ordering your food to go and enjoying it in the nearby Durham Central Park.


photo credit: Anna Barzin

M Sushi review image

M Sushi

$$$$(919) 908-9266
Hours:MONClosed
Perfect For:LunchDate Night

If a local film crew wanted to shoot a secret meeting between a private investigator and a client, they’d choose M Sushi. Located below street level in a low-ceilinged dining room with exposed beams overhead, M Sushi is a great spot for a working lunch, weeknight dinner date, or, you know, meeting a private investigator. Order the unagi don, some a la carte nigiri, and some mochi donuts if you’re there during the day, but at night it’s all about the omakase and the rolls. Go with the $56 Lite Omakase where you’ll get sashimi, crudo, and tamago, and consider adding on some seared scallop, spicy tuna, and tempura shrimp rolls to share. Skip the cocktail menu and opt for a glass of junmai sake or one of the white grape or peach nonalcoholic house sodas.


CASUAL SPOTS


When you think of Southern food, you’re probably picturing the menu at Chicken Hut, one of the oldest restaurants in the city—they’ve been cooking soul food classics in a space that feels like a school cafeteria since 1957. The fried chicken is the best we’ve tried in town, but everything from the sweet tea and pound cake to chitterlings and pig’s feet is fantastic. They’re only open for lunch, so come here for a quick pit stop before a walk along the American Tobacco Trail.


Saltbox is the kind of place you want to bring people to without telling them anything about it—just walk up to the unassuming roadside box, and watch as they freak out after one bite of lightly fried and incredibly fresh seafood. There is simply no better seafood in the region, and when presented on a humble roll, everything from North Carolina striped mullet to king mackerel shines. Enjoy the accompanying honey-drizzled hush puppies, along with the house tea and a lemon punch combo drink, and take it all to one of their picnic tables out front.


photo credit: Anna Barzin

Cocoa Cinnamon review image

Cocoa Cinnamon

$$$$
Hours:MON
7AM-7:30PM

There are three locations of Cocoa Cinnamon, the city’s best coffee shop, but we like the Old North Durham flagship best. It’s just a few blocks from the center of downtown, in a single-story brick building that’s become a community hub where you’ll probably run into a local musician or freelance writer set up in the corner. The espressos and lattes come from the company’s own Little Waves Coffee Roasters, and they sell blends like a dark roast “Royal 7,” named for the seven civil rights activists who protested segregation in Durham. They make some unusual and interesting drink options also, like kakawa, a pre-Columbian cacao beverage, and mocktails like the Love Frequency with espresso, orange juice, and sweetened seltzer.


GOOD FOR GROUPS


photo credit: Anna Barzin

Picnic review image

Picnic

$$$$9199089128
Hours:MON
11AM-8PM

Whether you’ve never had our state’s BBQ, or you grew up on it, you should visit Picnic for a plate of whole hog that holds true to North Carolina’s barbecue traditions. This northwest Durham outpost is a bit more expensive than some other options in town, but the slow-cooked pork is extremely high quality and the sides are fantastic. Try the fried okra and coleslaw, and save room for dessert staples like the banana pudding and chocolate chess pie. Picnic’s casual dining room and covered porch are always full of kids and their parents, making it feel like a cross between a community center and a large family reunion.

We're willing to bet that Dame's makes the best plate of fried chicken and waffles in the world. If you’re feeling like the Hungry Hungry Hippos incarnate, bring a group and get the Orange Speckled Chabo, which comes with a chicken cutlet the size of your face and a sweet potato waffle. Douse it with syrup and hot sauce, add on some spicy collard greens and mac and cheese, and you’ve got a truly excellent brunch that will definitely inspire you to take a nap. If that sounds overwhelming, you can always order wings or some excellent blackened salmon.


Zweli's bills itself as the only Zimbabwean restaurant in the country, serving up dishes like braised oxtail, piri piri chicken, and jollof rice with sadza, a starchy, cornmeal-based staple used to scoop food with your hands. It’s in a strip mall just off the highway, with a casual feel that makes it perfect for a big group meal. Whatever you do, make sure you finish your meal with the magwinyas, sugar-coated doughnut balls that are perfectly bite-sized and the ideal companion to your otherwise savory meal.


photo credit: Anna Barzin

Parizade review image

Parizade

RESERVE A TABLE

POWERED BY

open table
$$$$9192869712
Hours:MON
5PM-8:30PM

You just graduated from Duke and your extended family is in town to celebrate. Take them to Mediterranean staple Parizade. The busy dining room feels like a cross between the set of Legends of the Hidden Temple and a music video in a museum, while the back patio feels like a piazza. In other words, Parizade is probably the most eccentric restaurant in Durham. Be sure to order the linguine with clams and chorizo, the herb-stuffed branzino with broccolini, and an Aperol spritz.


WHERE TO GRAB A DRINK


North Carolina is littered with breweries, making it easy to find a good pint just about anywhere. But it’s worth checking out Ponysaurus first thanks to its expansive lawn covered in picnic tables and umbrellas. They’re not a place that only focuses on hoppy options, as you can get a lot of choices like its superior biére de garde, Mexican-style lager, a cherry sour, and the brewery’s signature Don’t Be Mean to People saison, benefitting local LGBTQ organizations. Parking is easy, dogs are welcome, and you can order some pizza and garlic knots, making it an ideal place for a low-key Saturday afternoon.


Durham’s newest wine bar has bright blue walls and multi-colored bohemian-style lounge chairs, and throws Prince tribute parties. Moreover, Killer Queen feels like the perfect place to bring your tattoo artist for a glass of wine on the back patio, or somewhere to come solo and make a new friend behind the bar. The rotating wine list includes rare vintages from Tasmania to Germany, and you can snack on some things like a burrata plate with watermelon and a microgreens salad.


THE HOTELS


Unscripted is located in the very heart of downtown, overlooking the city’s iconic bull statue from the rooftop pool deck. The brightly colored rooms with bold geometric patterns give the place a mid-century feel, and weekends feel buzzy when in-house restaurant Jack Tar serves a great brunch. You won’t be able to sleep in if you want to get there for eggs though—you’ll want to be there early to beat the rush. If you need help waking up, stop by Unscripted’s single-origin coffee bar.


Downtown’s 21c Museum Hotel has more than 10,000 square feet of museum space on premises, including work by regional artists. As if three separate exhibitions simultaneously on display and a walkable location weren’t enough of a draw, the 21c Museum Hotel also houses a spa complete with a sauna and massage therapists. That makes this a great choice for an indulgent anniversary weekend escape.


The colorful and retro-chic Durham Hotel impresses immediately with its turret-style stairwell popping out from the front and a Backgammon-esque white and yellow exterior side wall, as well as its soaring lobby ceilings and retro blue and gold rooms. It’s stylish and chic, but the real draw is the partially covered rooftop restaurant, where you may run into a graduating class of law school students taking photos in front of the skyline. Plus, its central location puts it next door to the subterranean Kingfisher cocktail bar and steps from attractions like the Parlour ice cream shop and Zen Succulent plant store.


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