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best authentic Southern buffets/restaurants in Durham, Chapel Hill area (seeking collard greens, okra, fried chicken, casserole, butter beans, etc.)?

  • m

I'm moving to the Triangle area come June, and I'm wondering where the best places are to find really down-home authentic southern food. A while back, I lived in South Georgia, and every small town had at least a few family-run buffets stocked full of the fried and baked chicken, casseroles, turnip and collard greens, black eyed peas, butter beans, lima beans, squash, sweet potato, banana pudding sort of food.

Where can one find that up in the Triangle, especially Durham and Chapel Hill (Cary and Raleigh recs. too if anything springs to mind)? Either buffet style or order-off-the-menu.

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  1. In Durham the popular joint for Southern food is Bullock's. Their bbq is bad but most everything else is quite good. Be prepared to wait in line and they don't take credit cards. You order off the menu but they have family style option where they bring you food to share and then charge per person.

    Another place in Durham is Ole NC Barbeque, which is a buffet. The food is mediocre at best so I would avoid.

    In Chapel Hill, Mama Dip's Kitchen has been made famous by the Food Network. The food can be quite good but the prices are quite high and the portions are quite small in comparison. If you go into that place thinking you'll get what you did at those south GA places you went to (and I know since I grew up in Tallahassee) you will be sorely disappointed.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Sant

      I was never more disappointed in a Southern restaurant than Mama Dip's. I would avoid it like the plague. I come from a family of good southern cooks and what I had there was not even close.

      1. re: Candy

        I endorse all of the above comments. As Nab says, it's very odd that the local Southern cooking is so truly bad. Bullocks is kind of fun, and it's plenty cheap, but, objectively assessed, it's not really very good. My wife and I once made a bet: she said Kentucky Fried makes better fried chicken, I said Bullocks. After back-to-back testing, I had to concede my point. The only Southern eatery that's at all worthwhile is Allen and Sons, and even that leaves something to be desired. The cue is good but everything else -- from sodden hushpuppies to limp fries -- is pretty ordinary.

        I once mentioned the culinary horror of the K&W Buffet, and, if memory serves, I was accused of being racist and Northern elitist. Whatever.

        The best Southern chow I've had in NC was at the Red Rocker Inn in Black Rock out in the mountains somewhere. This was the kind of Southern food I had always heard about and dreamed about. Large portions of simple food richly prepared and mountains of feather-light biscuits, all served family style. A great, great meal.

        The best Triangle eats are ethnic in my opinion. Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Indian. Go figure.

        David A.

        1. re: David A.

          The Red Rocker Inn is in Black Mountain. Here's a link. It's worth a road trip to have the brunch.

          Link: http://www.redrockerinn.com/

          1. re: David A.

            I've only been once but the Fried Chicken at Shrimp Boats on Chapel Hill Blvd. in Durham was quite good. The sides were ok.


          2. re: Candy

            I would second Current Cafeteria and Shrimp Boats. Current is especially good for breakfast. Honey's is another option.

            1. re: Candy

              mama dips used to be INCREDIBLE. Then they moved to the new location, got a lot of publicity from the liked of food network, prices doubled (or tripled for some dishes), and the quality went WAAAAYYYY down. For great NC soul food in chapel hill, the place to go is Bon's Home Cookin' near Granville Towers. Truly divine. If the strawberry shortcake is available that day, order it, i promise you will love it. Also the 1/2 pound hot dog is surprisingly wonderful and I cant say enough good things about the chicken and sides. Bon's is owned by Mama Dip's daughter; she knows exactly what she is doing, is in the kitchen herself almost every single service, and doesnt charge you for a name or reputation.

            2. re: Sant

              I lived in Tallahassee for a while too. Do Market Diner or O'Neals in Thomasville ring a bell? Man, I loved those places.

              1. re: Mike H.

                Further question for Sant, since you seem familiar with the type of southern food I grew up with...

                What about the restaurant at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh? I hear they serve up a popular southern lunch with vegetables straight from the market. If you're familiar with it, is it in the same vein as Market Diner in Thomasville?

                1. re: Mike H.

                  My then girlfriend and now wife and I used to head up to Thomasville on many a weekend to go eat at Market Diner. I have not found any place here that is as good and certainly not as cheap, although Bullock's is pretty good.

                  The only place I have eaten at the Raleigh Farmers market is the seafood place. If you like fried seafood it's not bad but it's nothing special. But I've only gone there a few times and haven't been by there in at least a couple of years. I prefer to hit the local farmers markets in Durham and Carrboro since they have only local growers selling goods there.

                  By the way, welcome to the Triangle. We love it here and I think you will too.

            3. Chapel Will & I were talking about this phenomenon when we hit Jujube a week or so ago. I always thought it was very strange that all the Southern-style/country-cooking was so bad at the restaurants, and Will almost instinctively didn't even associate that food with the food that he knows & loves as "Southern cookin". Canned products, made into a slop, is not how they made it in the country. They grew their veggies. I guess it's akin to Chinese food, in that the majority of restaurants serve up crap. The caveat with the buffets is that the quantity ends up trumping quality. If a place focused on just a couple of dishes each night, and did them well, that would be better IMO. May not address supply/demand issues.

              Having said all that, I used to like Bon's BBQ in Carborro which has now relocated to the University Plaza in Chapel Hill on Franklin. I haven't been to the new one though.

              Will said he ate at this place in Carborro called Country Crossroads or something, but I can't remember his conclusion.

              The places Sant mentioned are allegedly good, and I can only confirm Bullocks.

              1. In Durham (Roxboro Rd and Murray) there is Current's Cafeteria. It's been a few years since I was there but I recall enjoying the food. I don't believe it was a buffet but the menu certainly covered all that good old home cooking. I need to revisit the place to see if the food is still up to snuff.

                There are quite a few "soul food" diners in central and northeast central Durham but I can't remember names or location off the top of my head. I've had good meals in a few of them, bad meals in others.

                1. i'm no conoisseur on soul food, but i hated the rubbery, greasy chicken and styrofoam-textured bbq at current cafeteria. it was cheap, but a chinese couple owned it when i was there. i don't know if they still do, but... golden spoon restaurant is right down roxboro from there. it's near the walmart, in the end of the foodlion parking lot. i've seen it forever, but swore i'd never eat there... now i swear i will not judge a restaurant by the picture of eggs, bacon, and grits painted on the window. it was like $6.50 for sweet tea, some delicious fried chicken, two veggie sides and biscuits. how can a place that looks so terrible be so damn delicious????? try it and write about it!!!!!!!

                  1. Mama Dip's is a tourist trap with very expensive, very mediocre food.

                    Bullock's BBQ bad? You surely must be joking! There's good reason why you'll likely stand in line at Bullock's!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: chimchim

                      On my list of top 5 BBQ restos, Bullocks is #12 or 13, which is not to say it it's bad, just mediocre.

                      Hell, I took a few clients there for lunch a couple of weeks ago, and everyone ordered the chicken potpie!

                    2. I can't understand for the life of me how Allen & Sons gets good reviews from some people. I've eaten there a few times, and it's been consistently horrible!

                      If you want good Q from a genuine log burner, I'd highly recommend taking a ride down Highway 70, to Goldsboro, to visit Wilber's.

                      1. Stephenson's BBQ, on Highway 50 in Johnston County, has KILLER!!! homemade Brunswick Stew. Sadly, their Q is mediocre. Their excellent fried chicken is made to order with a 30 minute lead time.

                        1. I once interned in a Chapel Hill office full of southern food devotees, and we made many lunchtime trips to the Village Diner in Hillsborough for the lunchtime buffet. A Google search tells me it is the "oldest continuously operating restaurant in Hillsborough." The lunch buffet was full of things like fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, greens, black-eyed peas, and banana pudding. I will be honest, I am a tofu kind of girl and while I liked the food I could not tell you how it compares to the mental ideal you all seem to have. But it might be a place to try.

                          1. I wouldn't eat Bullocks Q if you gave it to me. I realy don't understand whay its popular. Their Brunswick Stew isn't too bad. Allen and Son's is excellent. For home style food like you are looking for, go to Dillard's, 3921 Fayetteville Street in Durham. Their Q is so-so, but the side dishes (mac n cheese, collards, etc) are excellent.

                            1. I don't understand those who bad mouth Bullocks. It is the best BBQ around, and their family style meal is an incredible deal and a local institution. Particularly for someone who is new to the area, it is a great introduction to the local cuisine as you can try a bit of everything. I guess the more negative reviews it gets, the shorter the lines are for me...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: pcwd

                                Best BBQ around? Surely you jest. Hell, Smithfield's makes better BBQ, and they're a chain!

                              2. Now you have my attention if you make it to Birmingham, AL NICKIS or SMOKEHOUSE NEAR FARMERS MARKET. Outstanding country selection usually have 8 meat selections plus the best okra, fried green tomatoes, pinto beans,fried corn and collard or turnip greens. Dont forget the cabbage.

                                1. After 6 years of visiting the Triangle Allen & Sons is as good a cue experience as I have had. Don't get me wrong, I don't pass up a visit to Bullocks but the combination of environment (Allen & Son's is basically on the train tracks) and food has me picking them every time I can only get in one good meal. Their Chess pie alone is enough to bring me there. Bob Melton's in Rocky Mount frequently has me making a giant detour on my way back to NY so I can bring a cooler of real food back to the starving masses. Heck, this is Eastern Carolina Q, it's all Manna from Heaven!!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: foodies

                                    I thought Melton's closed several years ago.

                                    Have they re-opened?

                                  2. What about PanPan? last time i was there was 98 when i was still in college. but that had real soul food, even if the place was sort of a dump.

                                    and at the time, bullocks was awesome, although i'm not sure my taste buds at that point had developed much beyond the beast and dominos.

                                    1. Pan Pan had to close due to the widening of I-85. However, within the past few months it has reopened in nearby Northgate Mall. I haven't been, but my understanding is that it focuses more on seafood (Pan Pan Seafood is its new name).


                                      1. No one has yet mentioned Cooper's BBQ in downtown Raleigh. Excellent BBQ, killer hush puppies, the other sides are ok. and a bottomless cup of very Southern-style sweet tea!

                                        I also think Allen and SOns in CH and Bullocks in Durham have very good BBQ. Pan Pan's BBQ used to be pretty awful; that place was always more about quantity of food and not quality.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: kurtzu2

                                          Dillard's Bar-B-Q fits your request as well as the new cafeteria at Northgate. Another option is Current Cafeteria on Roxboro Road in Durham although breakfast is my favorite there.

                                        2. Pam's Farmhouse on Western Blvd. in Raleigh. They have meals very much like the Farmer's Market. Lottsa greens and okra, mashed potatoes and green beens.

                                          From Cary going into Raleigh, Powell Drive and Western Blvd.

                                          1. hey, i doubt anyone is checking this post anymore...but the best southern buffet is a place called the Toot-n-Tell in South Garner N.C. you guys gota be kiding with this mama dips buisness

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: sus

                                              Toot-n-Tell is t-riffic! I haven't been there in a few years but it is one of the few buffets where you can get chitlins.

                                            2. DixieBelles BBQ in Apex has a nice selection of sides including collards. Their fried chicken is pretty tasty also.

                                              1. If BBQ is what you want, go to Stamey's BBQ in greensboro, nc. They have good sauce and their pork is chopped fine. Their hushpuppies are great too. It is about an hour to an hour and a half drive for you depending on where you live in the triangle. Stamey's is across High Point Road from the Greensboro Colisseum. You will see that they have wood stacked near their restaurant and smoke coming from a chimney. That is a sign of a true BBQ restaurant.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Bengaliwife

                                                  i'd like to second the stamey's recommendation. they catered my graduation party and it was awesome

                                                  1. re: Bengaliwife

                                                    Not too flame, but I recently ate at Stamey's and was very disppointed...it was not good at all. No flavor to the Q, awful hushpuppies, and surly service to boot. I grew up in G'boro, and have eaten there hundreds of times in my life, and I'm afraid its gone downhill.

                                                  2. Anybody been to Joyce and Family in Fuquay-Varina? They got a nice write-up by Greg Cox. Wish it wasn't sucha haul from Chapel Hill.


                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: bbqme

                                                      See my post below. It is great.

                                                    2. The Barbecue Joint on Weaver Dairy Rd in Chapel Hill has great Southern side dishes. An ecclectic place for sure and they don't cook their barbecue with wood, but it is pretty darn good anyway. Their Gumbo is good, too.
                                                      A&M in Mebane is not far away and still uses wood, as does Allen & Son in Chapel Hill.
                                                      Also, Hursey's in Burlington uses wood, as well.
                                                      You can see that I like the real wood smoked barbecue, not the fake stuff that a lot of the 'joints' use.
                                                      Take a drive to Nashville, NC - about an hour east of Raleigh - for some good barbecue that is worth the drive.
                                                      Now please, somebody tell me where the best Mexican is located - near Raleigh, if possible?

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: probono

                                                        flying burrito in chapel hill is my favorite

                                                        1. re: probono

                                                          Where's the good barbecue in Nashville? Haven't been that way in years.

                                                          1. re: probono

                                                            Worth noting for those who are searching the board looking for places in the area that The BBQ Joint on weaver dairy is long gone. So is flying burrito (named below).

                                                          2. Joyce and Family in Fuqua is exactly what the OP was asking for. Joyce does the entire southern cooking thing to perfection. Keep an eye on the buffet so that you can get the fried food as soon as it comes out of the kitchen.


                                                            1. Hear hear on Joyce and Family! And I have to agree with the poster who said that they've never been so disappointed as when they went to Mama Dip's - I wouldn't eat there again if you paid me.

                                                              1. I moved to Durham 4 years ago and have yet to find a good country style buffet.The people around here do not seem to understand the concept of vegtables that are sweet and have a smoked flavor with sidemeat or good fried chiken and fried fish and the Barbeque here is just bad.When I go home to Georgia I eat at Old times Southern Buffet but there aren't any up here. I feel sure that a city the size of Raleigh has some good buffet but the problem is that its so large that if you don't know your way around it can be somewhat intimidating. Mama Dips is a joke and so is that chicken place right off UNC campus (time out),which supposedly has such great chicken biscuits.Don,t trust the food channel they lie big time.

                                                                8 Replies
                                                                1. re: Harvey777

                                                                  Buffets in general are joke and if you want southern food you should not look towards the chains.. Someone use to tell me to go to Country Junction in Carrboro, but the outside always scared me. Durham's bbq scene is lack luster but I hear good things about Backyard BBQ pit and well once The Pit and Ed Mitchell's other place open Durham will have decent Que but at higher prices. Southern food is not a durham specialty as far as I'm concerned. If you want a southern buffet go find a Golden Corral... Meat and threes are also hard to come by but you there may be some hidden gems in less than savory locations.

                                                                  As far as raleigh being too big.. I don't understand that. You find what you are looking for.. you put the directions into your GPS or google maps and you go. End of story.

                                                                  1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                                                    BF Country Junction is only open until lunch, but it is always packed. If I were a morning person I'd have tried it. It's really cool as the owners are Korean and cook traditional southern food. Love the South.

                                                                  2. re: Harvey777

                                                                    The BBQ at Allen and Son between CH and Hillsborough is excellent.

                                                                    1. re: Harvey777

                                                                      When I lived in Tallahassee, FL we used to drive up to Thomasville, GA to go eat at the Market Diner next to the farmers market so I know what you're talking about, Harvey. The bad news is, they just don't Southern buffets up here like they do in south GA. The only Southern buffet I found was Ye Old Country Kitchen in Snow Camp, NC. It's not worth the hour long drive it would take you to get there, the food wasn't that good. You're better off eating family style, which is AYCE, at Bullock's.

                                                                      1. re: bbqme

                                                                        bbqme and I share a Tallahassee history and familiarity with Thomasville's Market Diner. Honestly, it seems like farm-fresh buffets of that superior quality are limited to SC and GA these days. You can still find good meat-and-threes around here and there, but not the full spread.

                                                                      2. re: Harvey777

                                                                        Time Out is a place to go when you need food and time before going home after a night out. They do not claim to sell authentic or high quality Southern food, so I'm not surprised you were disappointed if you were expecting anything more than grease and carbs.

                                                                        1. re: mpjmph

                                                                          That's not true according to the food channel.They said that the chicken biscuits were in the top ten in the the nation just like they said that Mama Dips was among the very best fried chicken in the country.What a joke! I've had better fried chicken at convience stores. Face it, when it comes to southern food this area of N.C. just out and out suxs.

                                                                          1. re: Harvey777

                                                                            Their Chicken Cheddar biscuits are just overhyped and huge. The issue is that the biscuits are doughy and undercooked or too large for what they need. You should just go to Bojangles or maybe Sunrise Biscuit kitchen if you are looking for something in morning or noon.

                                                                        1. re: jlb4unc

                                                                          I like Fullers a lot, but it's nowhere near Durham/Chapel Hill.

                                                                        2. This thread was started over eight years ago, and it was interesting to review it and note the restaurants that it mentions that are now closed.

                                                                          It's hard to find good Southern food in restaurants in the South. There's a reason it's called "home cooking": many Southern dishes are hard to do in a restaurant, where you have to cook fast and in large quantities. Most of the restaurants that originate before the foodie revolution down here (ca. 2008) use lots of canned and frozen and instant ingredients--although you can find one or two things on their menus that are done right. The place to find well-excecuted Southern food these days is largely at those foodie restaurants, whose owners are committed to authenticity and making things from scratch, usually with high-quality or at least fresh ingredients. Two of the new barbecue restaurants in Durham, for example, the Pit and Ed Mitchell's Q, do good versions of many Southern classics, such as collard greens.

                                                                          With all due respect to the small-town places, my experience has been that they rely heavily on frozen and canned ingredients. I can certain understand nostalgia for the places in south Georgia that the original poster had in mind (I grew up in Memphis in the 70s and 80s and remember lots of them there); but I would be very surprised if their black eyed peas, butter beans, et al. were not from a can.

                                                                          With that said, some of the places today in Durham that are what I imagine the south Georgia restaurants were like are the C & H Cafeteria (which has a really good chocolate cream pie), Bullock's, Pan-Pan (now, as pointed out, in Northgate Mall and which has, believe it or not, really good turkey and dressing), and Backyard BBQ, on 55 near the 55/54 intersection.

                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: PGDinDurham

                                                                            I highly recommend The Chicken Hut in Durham near NCCU on Fayetteville St. Their fried chicken is amazing. They have great sides and other rotating main courses every day.

                                                                            1. re: boaviagem

                                                                              Every time I think to go there, it's closed! I do want to try it. Are they open only for lunch?

                                                                              1. re: PGDinDurham

                                                                                Yes, I think they are open for lunch only. Their YELP page indicates M-F 11:30am-4:00pm.

                                                                              2. re: boaviagem

                                                                                Chicken Hut is good but it is not a buffet. However, for around $6.50 you get a meat and two sides and a drink-- a bargain. Fried chicken is made to order so be prepared to wait.

                                                                                If you want a buffet, try another place on Fayetteville St. called Bowick's Ark. The buffet is only on Sundays for the after-church crowd. I have eaten there but not during the buffet.