Top 12 Best Restaurants in Durham

Last Updated on January 13, 2024 by Emily Johnson

As an up-and-coming foodie destination, Durham, North Carolina boasts an impressive and diverse culinary scene. From down-home Southern cooking to award-winning fine dining, this city serves up amazing eats. Durham’s restaurants consistently earn praise from renowned publications like The New York Times, Bon Appétit, and Southern Living.

No.Restaurant NameCuisine/StyleSpecial Mention
1Dame’s Chicken and WafflesSouthern soul foodJames Beard American Classics award winner
2Pizzeria ToroNeapolitan-style pizzaArtisanal pizzas with creative toppings
3Mateo Bar de TapasSpanish tapasInnovative small plates, extensive wine list
4NanatacoMexicanSpecializes in durmados and tacos
5M SushiSushiChef-driven, high-quality sushi
6Crawford and SonSeasonal American cuisineKnown for duck confit pot pie
7Fullsteam BreweryBrewery with Southern-inspired beersFeatures unique beers like rhubarb basil
8Alley Twenty SixUpscale American fare and craft cocktailsSeasonal menus with regional ingredients
9Saltbox Seafood JointFried seafoodNorth Carolina caught seafood only
10Neomonde Baking CompanyLebaneseWood-fired pita and flatbreads
11Joyce ChenAsianGourmet spins on Chinese, Thai, and Korean

The city even claims two establishments honored as James Beard Foundation “American Classics.” Foodies visiting Durham are spoiled for choice. Here are the top 12 best restaurants that should not be missed on any Durham dining itinerary.

Dame’s Chicken and Waffles

Name and Location: Dame’s Chicken and Waffles, Durham, NC

History and Significance: Dame’s has been serving their signature chicken and waffles since 1938. A Durham institution known for quality comfort food.

What to Expect: Crispy fried chicken, fluffy waffles, mac and cheese, greens, and more. Casual counter-service in a lively setting. Cash only.

Visitor Information: Open Tuesday-Sunday 7am-9pm, closed Mondays. Dishes from $5-15. Street parking available.

This iconic eatery started as a food truck before moving into a bright and welcoming downtown storefront. Dame’s plates up the best chicken and waffles in Durham, using time-perfected family recipes. Expect crispy, juicy fried chicken served alongside thick Belgian waffles, then smothered in butter and syrup.

Must-try sides include mac and cheese, collard greens, and cornbread. Don’t skip dessert – the sweet potato cheesecake and banana pudding are divine. Dame’s has garnered numerous accolades including a James Beard American Classics award. Stop in for a taste of authentic Southern soul food.

Pizzeria Toro

Name and Location: Pizzeria Toro, Durham, NC

History and Significance: Opened in 2005, they are renowned for wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza with creative North Carolina-inspired toppings.

What to Expect: Thin-crust pizzas, salads, and appetizers in a laid-back space with patio dining. Full bar. Lively atmosphere.

Visitor Information: Open daily 5pm-10:30pm. Pizzas $12-18. Reservations recommended. Free street parking.

For incredible Neapolitan-style pizza in Durham, look no further than Pizzeria Toro. This laid-back eatery handmakes pizzas with artisanal flair. The chewy, blistered crusts pair beautifully with creative topping combos like the Umbrian – fontina, soppressata, bacon, and dried fig.

Pizzeria Toro also offers fresh salads, paninis, and craft cocktails. The exposed brick interior lined with small tables cultivates a convivial vibe. When the weather’s nice, grab a patio table and enjoy wine and pizza with a side of people-watching.

Mateo Bar de Tapas

Name and Location: Mateo Bar de Tapas, Durham, NC

History and Significance: Opened in 2008, Mateo helped pioneer the Durham food scene with its authentic Spanish tapas menu.

What to Expect: Traditional small plates like paella, empanadas, charcuterie in a warm, sophisticated setting. Extensive Spanish wine list.

Visitor Information: Open Monday-Saturday 5pm–11pm. Tapas $4-15. Reservations recommended. Street parking.

Experience Spanish tapas with a modern twist at Mateo Bar de Tapas in downtown Durham. This lively restaurant and bar offers innovative small plates and classic tapas like pan con tomate, patatas bravas, and gambas al ajillo.

Share plates of jamón serrano, brie drizzled with truffle honey, stuffed piquillo peppers, and other delights. Mateo boasts an extensive list of Spanish wines and sherries. With bold flavors and top-notch service, this is one of the best restaurants in Durham for a fun night out.

Nanataco

Name and Location: Nanataco, Durham, NC

History and Significance: This bright little spot focuses on serving freshly-made Mexican street tacos using seasonal, local ingredients.

What to Expect: Creative tacos, quesadillas, and sides like corn esquites in a casual counter-service setting. Limited indoor seats.

Visitor Information: Open daily 11am–10pm. Tacos around $3.50 each. Takeout available. Free lot parking.

For no-frills, authentic Mexican food, look no further than tiny Nanataco serving out of a counter-service storefront. Their specialty is durmados, Hidalgo-style tacos crammed full of your choice of protein like al pastor, chorizo, shrimp, and cactus.

Fill up on memelas, gorditas, sopes, and chilaquiles in red or green salsa as well. Nanataco keeps the menu short and focused, but executes classics flawlessly. Warning: prepare to wait in line for these top-notch tacos, but it’s well worth it.

M Sushi

Name and Location: M Sushi, Durham, NC

History and Significance: Michael Lee opened this contemporary sushi restaurant in 2021 after success with sibling restaurant M Kokko. Known for high-quality fish.

What to Expect: Artful sushi and sashimi rolls and plates in a sleek, modern setting. Extensive sake options. Upscale vibe.

Visitor Information: Open Tuesday-Saturday 5pm-10pm. Moderately priced plates $5-$20. Reservations recommended.

Chef-driven, high-quality sushi shines at swanky M Sushi in downtown Durham. Sit at the pristine glass bar and watch the sushi chef prepare creative nigiri and sashimi combinations with a focus on local ingredients. The omakase tasting menus allow diners to sample the chef’s best selections of the day.

Standouts include the the Black Truffle Sushi Roll wrapped in shaved truffle and the Buttered Popcorn Roll combining tempura flakes and cream cheese. With craft cocktails and a speakeasy vibe, M Sushi takes this Japanese cuisine to the next level.

Crawford and Son

Name and Location: Crawford and Son, Durham, NC

History and Significance: Opened in 2018, Crawford and Son is lauded for elevated soul food dishes and craft cocktails in a chic setting.

What to Expect: Creative takes on classics like fried chicken, mac and cheese, collards, and banana pudding. Cocktail focus.

Visitor Information: Open Tuesday-Sunday 5pm–10pm. Entrees $18-$32. Reservations recommended. Valet parking available.

For exquisite seasonal American cuisine, reserve a table at Crawford and Son located downtown. Chef Scott Crawford and his team whip up inventive dishes like duck confit pot pie and chicken schnitzel with maitake mushrooms. Don’t miss their famous snow crab stuffed avocado salad, a menu staple since opening day.

Make sure to peruse the thoughtful wine list for the perfect pairing. The restored historic building provides an elegant but unfussy ambiance. Splurge on a special occasion tasting menu to experience the culinary heights Crawford’s can reach.

Fullsteam Brewery

Name and Location: Fullsteam Brewery, Durham, NC

History and Significance: Founded in 2010, Fullsteam focuses on Southern-inspired beers made with local ingredients. Part of craft beer surge in Durham.

What to Expect: Wide selection of creative beers on tap in a laid-back taproom setting. Light snacks available. Fun, community vibe.

Visitor Information: Open daily 4pm-10pm. Brewery tours on Saturdays. Food trucks often outside. Free lot parking.

Part brewpub, part beer garden, Fullsteam Brewery crafts a lineup of distinct Southern-inspired beers on site. Sip pints of their signature collards-infused Carver Sweet Potato lager or summery rhubarb basil witbier. Pair the brews with beef brisket nachos, pimento cheese and benne seed hummus, or other elevated pub snacks.

Kids and dogs are welcome in this laid-back space with communal tables. Fullsteam is all about celebrating Southern foodways through libations – an especially fun experience during frequent food truck rallies.

Alley Twenty Six

Name and Location: Alley Twenty Six, Durham, NC

History and Significance: Opened in 2008 in an alleyway downtown, Alley Twenty Six has an eclectic farm-to-table menu and craft cocktails.

What to Expect: Ever-changing globally inspired shared plates in an intimate, romantic setting. Extensive by-the-glass wine list.

Visitor Information: Open Tuesday-Saturday 5pm-midnight. Plates $9-25. Reservations recommended. Street parking.

Alley Twenty Six brings upscale American fare and craft cocktails to historic downtown Durham. Their seasonal menus incorporate regional ingredients into dishes like NC trout with spring vegetables, squash blossom flatbread, and local Rabbit and the Bull cheeses.

The elegant dining room provides an intimate experience accentuated by touches like pressed tin ceilings. Cozy up in a leather booth or at the bar downstairs to take in Alley Twenty Six’s distinctively Durham vibe: inventive yet homey cuisine in a chic restored building.

Saltbox Seafood Joint

Name and Location: Saltbox Seafood Joint, Durham, NC

History and Significance: Opened in 2012, Saltbox serves fresh, seasonal seafood in a casual setting with an emphasis on sustainability.

What to Expect: Simple seafood plates and sandwiches focusing on quality ingredients. Raw bar for oysters and ceviche. Coastal vibe.

Visitor Information: Open Monday–Saturday for lunch and dinner. Dishes $7–20. Counter-service. Street parking available.

For the region’s best fried seafood, head to no-frills Saltbox Seafood Joint. Order at the counter, grab a picnic table, and dive into crispy fried shrimp, scallops, and Atlantic flounder sandwiches. Saltbox keeps the menu focused, with only North Carolina caught seafood on offer.

Load up your tray with hush puppies, slaw, shrimp tacos, award-winning clam chowder, and fried seafood galore. Cash only adds to the old-school charm. Saltbox delivers fast, fresh, addictive seafood worth the wait.

Neomonde Baking Company

Name and Location: Neomonde Baking Company, Durham, NC

History and Significance: Family-owned bakery since 1992, Neomonde is acclaimed for its Mediterranean baked goods and food.

What to Expect: Middle Eastern fare like pita, hummus, falafel, baklava in a casual cafe setting. Breakfast and lunch served.

Visitor Information: Open daily 8am–5pm. Items $3–10. Counter-service. Free parking lot on-site.

Sample Lebanese classics at family-owned Neomonde Baking Company, a Durham favorite for over 25 years. Their wood-fired pita and flatbreads, prepared in-house daily, are beyond compare. Fill up on falafel, savory pies, hummus, baba ghanoush, and tabbouleh.

Don’t miss out on their from-scratch Lebanese pastries and cookies either. Neomonde’s welcoming service and cozy dining room reflect its family heritage. Reasonable prices make this a go-to for excellent Middle Eastern fare.

Joyce Chen

Name and Location: Joyce Chen, Durham, NC

History and Significance: Serving quality Chinese fare since 1970. Named after pioneering Chinese chef Joyce Chen. Known for authentic dishes.

What to Expect: Chinese classics like moo shu, dumplings,General Tso’s chicken in a casual, dressy setting. Full bar.

Visitor Information: Open daily for lunch and dinner. Entrees $10-25. Reservations recommended. Free lot parking.

For elevated Asian cuisine in an elegant setting, book a table at Joyce Chen. This downtown restaurant puts gourmet spins on Chinese mainstays along with Thai, Japanese, and Korean specialties. Menu showstoppers include duck fried rice, miso glazed salmon, and wok-charred Brussels sprouts.

Handcrafted cocktails like the spicy ginger martini complement the innovative dishes. The two-story space oozes sophistication with furnishings imported from Shanghai. At Joyce Chen, familiar Asian staples undergo masterful transformations using quality ingredients.

Conclusion

Durham deserves its reputation as an emerging Southern food destination. The city’s diverse, thriving restaurant scene offers something for all palates and occasions. For just a taste, visit legendary spots like Dame’s Chicken and Waffles and Saltbox Seafood Joint. Or experience fine dining at the likes of Crawford and Son and Alley Twenty Six.

Traditional ethnic cuisine shines at eateries like Nanataco and Neomonde Baking Company. From ramen to tapas to barbecue, Durham’s culinary offerings reflect the city’s distinct blend of Southern roots, university town savvy, and influx of new cultures. Use this guide to eat your way through one of America’s most exciting rising food cities.

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