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Aug 26, 2006 03:59 PM

Durham Faves

I'd love to hear some feedback on people's favorite restaurants in Durham. Why are they your favorites? What are the best dishes there?

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  1. The Federal--great for low-cost, high-yield meals. Wonderful specials, including the occasional duck breast, house-cured pastrami, braised pork shoulder, etc. On the fixed menu, all the sandwiches, the carnitas, and the burger are all very dependable. Service can be less than ideal and the place can get very smokey.

    Vin Rouge--lovely unpretentious French bistro fare. I love the boudin blanc on apple-cabbage coulis. Liver is very good, as is the carmelized onion tart. Boullabaise is nice. Avoid the oysters smothered in cheese--bad concept or poor execution, but either way, a loser.

    Super Taqueria--great tacos al pastor, carbon, cabesa, lengua, tripa. Good, filling tortas. Very cheap, very satisfying.

    Dillard's Bar-B-Q--some here will slam me for this but I think the 'cue's fine and the fried chicken is better than fine. I much prefer this place to the more-popular Bullock's.

    Nikos Taverna--not extraordinary, but perfectly good Greek food at reasonable prices. Fish is always good.

    Blue Nile--again, not extraordinary, but perfectly good Ethiopian. I think I prefer the Ethiopian place in Chapel Hill but either will satisfy when the craving hits.

    Hong Kong Restaurant--Chinese food is very disappointing in the Triangle. In Durham, this place is the best we've found. The salt and pepper squid is good, and the specials menu is pretty reliable. Dim sum is served and is serviceable but too greasy.

    Magnolia Grill--$$$$, but the best of the high-end places IMHO. Menu changes every few weeks so I can't recommend a particular dish. Get dessert, there are usually a number of wonderful choices.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Tom M of Durham NC


      Sadly enough, I think Blue Nile is closed -- it's not where it was, at any rate, and I think it's being replaced with something else.

      1. re: DingoWallaby

        Confirmed. What a drag--I liked that place.

        1. re: DingoWallaby

          How is Queen of Sheba in Chapel Hill, I really like Ethiopian food but haven't been yet.

          1. re: Rory

            In my experience, the food was very good, but the service was spotty, and pretty slow.

          2. re: DingoWallaby

            The owner of Queen of Sheba is the wife of the couple who owned Blue Nile. From what I heard, they got divorced and she came to Chapel Hill to open Queen of Sheba. I think she was always the main chef at Blue Nile, which may explain the post above about it not being stellar..?? Queen of Sheba, on the other hand, is great. I'd recommend the vegetarian options over the meat dishes - that's just my preference. And you can't leave without getting some sambusas (I'd recommend more than one order!). The hot tea is also really good (pretty sweet, though, if that's not your thing). The service can be a bit spotty at times, but overall it's OK...or at least it doesn't really phase me. And sitting outside on the deck is really nice when the weather permits. Plus, the owner is VERY SWEET...such a nice lady.

            BUT...a developer that recently purchased the land her restaurant is on will be knocking the building down soon. Fortunately, he has offered to build her another, but that would likely mean waiting for 1-2 years...not so feasable. She doesn't know what to do in the meantime (still needs to make $$), so there's a good chance that Queen of Sheba's days are numbered. I hope everyone will frequent this place more...maybe it will give her the incentive/hope to set up shop somewhere temporarily?? Anyway...keeping my fingers crossed...

          3. re: Tom M of Durham NC

            Add Chosun Ok to my list. Just had my first meal there and it was very, very satisfying. Friendly service, great portions, lovingly prepared entrees. I suggest they change the name to Chosun Awesome.

          4. Tom's calls seem about right, though Dillard's is not an experience I would care to repeat. Hong Kong Restaurant is good for dim sum, probably the best in the Triangle. Eastern Light is probably a bit better for everyday chow, assuming you select your dishes carefully and stick to the Chinese menu. Their homemade noodles and potsickers are particularly good. Food aside, Hong Kong has a major ambience problem -- the place is approaching shack status. While I'm on the subject, let me reiterate my appreciation for Red Palace in Raleigh, as far as I know the only restaurant serving high-quality Chinese-style Chinese food in the Triangle.

            I would certainly add Guglhopf, the Q Shack, and Miranda's Taqueria to the list of Durham Faves. And if you avoid the buffet, Kashmir is not bad for Indian.

            At the opposite end of the cost spectrum, I'm sure others would add Nana's and Four Square to this list. There's a real argument to be made that these are better than Magnolia. I am myself a bit doubtful about the cost/quality ratio at all of these restaurants. If money is no object, then by all means enjoy yourself.


            3 Replies
            1. re: Sinophile


              Have you tried the dim sum over at the Neo China in Cary? I've only been once, years ago, and it was a madhouse--hour plus wait at the door--but I was very impressed with the food: neat and fresh, with some nice presentation touches that Hong Kong completely foregoes. I'd return if I thought it was possible to get a table in a reasonable amount of time. The rest of the Neo China menu is nothing special, as I recall, but their dim sum was quite good on my one visit.

              1. re: Tom M of Durham NC

                I've eaten many times at Neo China. None of the three local dim sum eateries -- Neo China, China One, and Hong Kong -- are entirely satisfactory. Neo China has by far the best ambience, but the food tends to be bland and predictable, and they shop it around until it's dead cold. China One probably has the most skillful cuisine, but the place has the ambience of a morgue, and they too shop food until it's dead cold. After many years of visits and much reflection, I've recently come to the conclusion that, all things taken into account, Hong Kong is the place to go. The steamed food leaves something to be desired, but the fried food is quite good -- I especially like the taro-crusted shrimp cakes -- and it's always hot.

                Best of luck,


                1. re: Sinophile

                  For Chinese I think the best deal in town is China Wok. The hot and sour soup is delicious and their regular menu items are all good quality for cheap prices. It is out of the way and definitely not a place to go for the decor.

                  For other local foods I eat at Thai Cafe for Thai food, Miranda's for mexican, Kashmir or Sitar for Indian. I used to go to the Saladelia Cafe quite often but haven't been there in a while. I put a premium on cheapness though and am not so willing to pay more money for better food except on special occasions. Also, I go to Pulcinella's for Italian. I love the salad and bread that come with the meal, and I've found all the entrees that I've tried to be very tasty.

            2. Thanks for the feedback, guys. I've been around here for a while, but I keep thinking I might be missing something, which is why I posted my request. We had a great experience at Vin Rouge early on, but then some very so-so ones, so we haven't been back. But I'll give it another go. Same for Hong Kong. Time to head back, I suppose. I've been a China One regular, but they can be a bit uneven. Being a sinophile myself, I'm dying to make the trek to Red Palace, but Raleigh is always such a mental haul. I need to round up a group and head over there, though. I just recently tried Eastern Lights after reading about it here and liked the food a lot. I agree about the upmarket restaurants in town - Nana's is probably our favorite, but money is an object - it's fun occasionally to get a drink at the bar and have an appetizer or two. I'm not too big on hoity-toity "excellent choice, ma'am" dining - I just like good food and preferably a decent vibe. What do you think of City Beverage?

              1. I think City Beverage is great for lunch. I really like their salads and burgers. But their dinners have been hit or miss and can be pricy for what you get, service is less than desired, and it can be a long wait to get your food.

                I'd like to put in my two cents on Sitar India Palace and Four Square. I think they have a lot to offer.

                1. I really like City Beverage for a casual dinner that is tasty without being expensive or heavy in a fun atmosphere, and they have good beers on tap. Sadly, last time I went they no longer had the mini turkey burgers with brie and green apples, which was my favorite, but the salads are also ample and tasty. That said, I wouldn't go with more than 3 or 4 people - I took a group of 8 or 10 once and it was a total fiasco - the waitstaff were totally overwhelmed (we were just a group of grad students wanting burgers, not demanding), we waited for a long time and then our food took absolutely forever and all came at different times, and they refused to divide our checks. I wasn't allowed to suggest a restaurant again for a long time.

                  Same goes for Federal - I've had great food and great times there, but you have to be very laid back, not in a hurry, not in a big group, and engrossed enough in your conversation that you don't mind if your waitperson disappears for a half hour or so. Having lived in Chapel Hill and Durham for a few years, I've just come to expect this kind of uneven, uninterested service in general and try not to get uptight about it.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: dubedo

                    How does a place with service so lacking still get so many recommendations? I ate once at Federal, and although the food was quite good, I really have no desire to return. There are other good places around to eat where the wait staff aren't a__holes, and at least act like they appreciate customers being there. How would the servers pay rent if they had no customers?

                    I think it is a shame that there is so much support for a place like that. The ownership should be embarrased that everyone in the Triangle thinks their wait staff sucks.

                    Sorry for the rave, but poor servcie has really been getting to me lately. Diners should be more proactive in letting management know when they are having a bad time. How will they fix it if they don't know there is a problem?