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Staff Menu Picks: Our Favorite Dishes in Durham

Estimated Read Time:
4 min

Ever wonder what Discover Durham staff and volunteers crave throughout the week? Well, now you know.

Most of us have one thing in common: We like to eat darn good food. Whether you’re on the hunt for Caribbean and Southern soul bowls, waffle balls dipped in sweet bourbon sauce, or a shatteringly crisp, moist chicken sandwich, the Bull City has you covered.

Known as the Tastiest Town in the South, Durham has a smorgasbord of global cuisines and unique flavors. Since it's pretty much our job to stay up-to-date on the restaurant scene, we’ve rounded up a list of our Discover Durham staff and volunteers’ personal favorites. Get ready for menu items ranging from gourmet to grab ’n go that you can add to your bucket list.

BREAKFAST & BRUNCH

Bev can give you the inside scoop on most of the local spots around Durham. When they have really put in a full morning of hard work, they treat themselves to a breakfast burrito from Monuts. There is something about the symphony of flavors – including their maple sriracha home fries stuffed inside – wrapped up in a giant tortilla that tickles Bev’s palate every single time. Pro tip: The burrito is only available on weekdays. Katie has a few favorite brunch spots around Durham, but she heads to the Durham Farmers’ Market for Bklyn Bakery’s everything croissant with vegan cheese (and other vegan treats) on the weekends.

Trust us, you have not had brunch until you’ve made your way to It's a Southern Thing for the chicken and waffle skewers. Highly recommended by Durham native Bakr, the fried waffle balls dipped in honey butter and sweet bourbon syrup are to die for. And don’t even get him started on that crispy, fried chicken on a stick.

LUNCH & DINNER

Salads, Sandwiches, & Sides

Avis is down for any of the entrees at Saltbox Seafood Joint, but she can’t stop talking about the sides – fried cauliflowers cooked to perfection with a slightly brown outer layer and one-of-a-kind hush honeys coated with honey. She’s been a huge fan before chef Ricky Moore was awarded the 2022 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast category.

Jane has one and only one weakness – she can’t say no to the buffalo chicken salad at Nantucket Grill. That fresh lettuce topped with spicy buffalo chicken and creamy blue cheese dressing gets her every time. Fellow salad lover Tricia constantly craves the La Diaspora salad from Spanglish. “This salad has EVERYTHING," she says with excitement. "It’s got your greens and juicy ripe tomatoes, but it also adds Puerto Rican flavor with crispy plantains, maduros, and the crown jewel: fried cheese!”

Move over, salad. Let’s talk about finger-lickin' good chicken. Now that Jeff has eaten the fried chicken sandwich from Picnic, he will not settle for anything else. Who wouldn’t want a filet of juicy chicken, smothered with Old Bay aioli and pickles, on a toasted Martin’s bun? Though it’s not quite a sandwich, the chicken shawarma pita pocket from Neomonde is Margaret A.’s favorite menu item. Talk about a true supporter, she’s been ordering those savory pita pockets before Neomonde even expanded into Durham.

Pizza, Pasta, Platters & Bowls

When Brittany isn’t in the office, everyone assumes she’s chowing down on the bacon and roasted garlic pizza at Boxcar Bar & Arcade. Not only does Boxcar have a variety of Neapolitan-style pizza, but with an arcade and outdoor seating, it’s also the ultimate drinking and gaming experience. Jerry loves another Italian dish – pasta. For house-made Bolognese with butter, cream and Parmigiano Reggiano, his first choice is Vici Ristobar, an Italian restaurant “where food and drinks conquer.”

Years ago, Anna walked into Goorsha, an Ethiopian restaurant off Main Street, and she was hooked. Not only is the atmosphere warm and inviting, but she feels like the dishes somehow transport her right to Africa. She raves about every dish she tries, but the rich and flavorful spices of the vegan platter, specifically the yemisir kik, fosolia and azifa, always hits the spot.

Ask anyone in the office – Kaila’Shea is passionate about Boricua Soul, the brainchild of a husband-and-wife duo that serves a fusion of Caribbean and Southern flavors. Her favorite menu item is the Boricua Soul bowl, a hearty bowl of warm, juicy collard greens, savory mac and cheese, authentic pernil, fried tostones, and a scoop of golden Spanish rice and beans. According to Kaila’Shea, “the Caribbean flair with an euro-African twist is something you can't say no to in Durham!”

Brisket & Tempura

No one leaves The Original Q Shack hungry. Just ask Tom, a loyal fan who has been frequenting the restaurant for over 15 years. He aways looks forward to the combo platter with generous portions of perfectly-prepared meat and hearty sides. Susan is a regular at many local spots around town, but when she wants her favorite, she heads to Plum Southern Kitchen & Bar for the “well-seasoned, melt in your mouth, a little messy, but oh, so worth it” brisket tacos.

You know that one person who knows everything about every restaurant – the one who can tell you the chef’s name and list all the secret menu items ... from memory. Well, that’s Margaret P. on our staff. After careful consideration (and a ton of pressure to choose only one item), Margaret P. shared that her favorite menu item is – drumroll please – the "M" Omakase from M Tempura. Apparently, “each bite is simple, yet flavorful...and balanced to perfection.” If you haven’t heard of chef Michael Lee or visited one of his four restaurants around Durham, it's time. You can thank Margaret P. later.

DESSERT

Craig has always had a soft spot for Jack Tar's double cheeseburger, but he thinks the fried, made-to-order crullers with chantilly cream and jam, steals the show. Since life's all about balance, we're here for this savory and sweet combination. We don’t have video footage, but we’re pretty sure that first bite of cruller made him do a happy dance.

Whenever there is a website issue (or really any issue), Jonathan saves the day. We've always wondered how he does it, and now we know his secret: cake. And not just any cake – the dark chocolate cake with decadent layers of chocolate and home-baked flavor from La Recette Patisserie gives him superpowers. Order the magical cake online, or pick it up at their brick-and-mortar opening in the fall of 2022.

When Genesis took her Ecuadorian family to the Cocoa Cinamon in Lakewood for authentic Mexican churros, their eyes lit up. Together, they savored every bite of those freshly made, crispy, doughy churros. Looking to take your churro to the next level? Genesis suggests dipping them into the hot chocolate puddle of “rich, velvety cocoa decadence.”

BEVERAGES

Marcus starts his day with coffee, and it’s an extra special day when it’s a vanilla latte from Oak House. He swears there’s more than just espresso, steamed milk and vanilla syrup in that 12 oz. cup. It’s really that good.

Several years ago, on one of his regular visits to Fullsteam Brewery, Peter noticed a new seasonal beer on the menu called Southern basil beer. Although he didn’t expect to see basil in a beer, he was sold after one sip. The exquisitely “crisp, light, and uniquely tasty” beer is only available during the summer when the brewery can gather basil from nearby farms. Trust Peter, it’s the perfect summertime beer.

We've listed all our favorite menu items – laid them out on a silver platter for you. All you have to do is go and gobble them up. Oh, and tag @durhamnc if you share any photos of these places on Instagram.