Staff Menu Picks: Our Favorite Dishes in Durham
Discover Durham's staff and volunteers know Durham's restaurants like it's our job. Find out our biased opinions on Durham's most crave-able dishes.
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 favorite Durham dishes. Get ready for menu items ranging from gourmet to grab ’n go that you can add to your bucket list.
Our Favorite Breakfast & Brunch Dishes
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, and if you miss the Bakery at the market, you can always order from their website.
Trust us, you have not had brunch until you’ve made your way to It's a Southern Thing. Highly recommended by Durham native Bakr, the chicken and waffle skewers are worth the trip. 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. Jada opts for the Shrimp & Grits. The Cajun-inspired dish is packed with flavor and embodies Southern comfort and the ample portion means you can always take home leftovers.
Lunch & Dinner Picks
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 cauliflower cooked to perfection with a slightly brown outer layer and one-of-a-kind hush honeys. She’s been a huge fan before chef Ricky Moore was awarded the 2022 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast category. Speaking of seafood, Maureen heads to Succotash for a taste of creole cooking. Her favorite dish is the fried oyster po'boy.
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.
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? AC craves the Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich with a salad at M Kokko and raves, "It is the crispiest, perfectly hot sandwich between two golden buns. It is crunchy, oozing with flavor. The salad cuts the spiciness and if you pair it with their house-made iced tea, it's a meal of champions!"
When it's time for a dinner out, Morgan picks the burger at Alley Twenty Six – the short rib in the mix and the bacon-onion jam topping make a rich, delicious burger that is truly crave-able. And if you're not hungry enough for a full-size burger, order the junior for a lighter meal that still satisfies.
We also have a few serious fans of Mediterranean food in our office. Craig loves the falafel pita sandwich from Mediterranean Grill & Grocery. True to its name, when you walk in, you see a grill to the left and a small grocery store to the right. The phrase “hidden gem” gets thrown around a lot, and this truly qualifies as one. Right up the street, there’s a park called Hidden Park. It’s tucked away on a road surrounded by neighborhoods and not much else. It’s well worth a trip to South Durham just for this. 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.”
When it's time to grab lunch, you can bet on Ben heading to Corner Yaki at Durham Food Hall to pick up a karaage bowl. The rice, fried chicken, egg and pickled ginger is a delicious fusion of comfort food and Asian flavor.
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!”
Glenda loves the ramen from M Kokko. What at first appears to be a simple noodle soup wows with a complex layering of flavor, and the time and care the chefs spend developing this depth is evident in every comforting bite. Even if it's 100 degrees in July, it's never too hot for ramen!
The sesame tofu at China Palace has a big fan: Victoria. Fried tofu with green onions, served with white rice may seem like a simple dish, but the sauce makes it outstanding. It's sweet and savory and tastes like the best maple syrup you've ever had, with a hint of spice. Not your oversaturated, sugary syrup, but hints of maple that remind you of fall in New England. Also, you can usually get two servings out of this (no shame if you finish it in one delicious sitting).
When Imroz orders the Peri Peri Boti from Viceroy, he doesn't utter a word until the plate is empty. The melt-in-your-mouth tenderloin is like nothing he's ever experienced.
Brisket, Short Ribs & 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.
When Todd is looking for a satisfying treat, he has to have the short rib wontons from Juju. They are, to put it lightly, perfection. The deep-fried bites are filled with tender beef and topped with pepper-basil jam, cilantro and creamed chévre. "It's everything I want in a single bite, a veritable symphony of flavor and you'll be doing yourself an immense favor the next time you order them. Odds are, my friends and I have a plate or two coming to our table before we even order drinks!"
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.
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.”
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.