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Durham NC restaurant recommends?

We will be there a few days - maybe one nice dinner out, and several local inexpensive paces. We aren't big meat eaters but like fish and ethnic food. We live near Smith Street in Brooklyn, so that's our frame of reference.

Also would love some eating suggestions for the drive down 95, if there's any hope.

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  1. For a nice dinner out in Durham, I highly recommend Revolution. The dishes I've had there range from very good to sublime, and the atmosphere is sophisticated without being fussy.

    Don't miss out on the Mexican food in the area. Suggestions will vary widely on this board, but I love Taqueria la Vaquita. I also enjoy Costa Azul; you can get great Honduran/Mexican food there. La Vaquita only has picnic tables outside, and Costa Azul lacks atmosphere, but they are both excellent and a great value.

    Taqueria La Vaquita
    2700 Chapel Hill Rd, Durham, NC 27707

    107 W. Main Street, Durham, NC 27701

    Costa Azul Restaurant
    2721 Guess Rd, Durham, NC 27705

    1. Amazingly enough, I'm not familar with Smith Steet in Brooklyn; however, the "search" feature is your friend.

      1. For your one "nice" dinner out....I would recommend Pop's...you have to get the mussels for an app.

        1 Reply
        1. re: RRG

          I like Pop's, but if you haven't tried the mussels at Revolution, RRG, they are amazing. You don't have to commit to a whole meal there, just hit the bar (drinks are too expensive, I think, but the beer is fine), grab a beer and have the mussels with some of their bread. Really good.

        2. Elmo's Diner..lots of breakfast items all day, but when I went I had Spinach Enhiladas. I thought the food was really diverse, good quality, served hot and varied menu. Loud inside but good food from $8 to $10 a plate..tops.

          7 Replies
          1. re: BurgJoy

            On Sunday mornings we either had breakfast at Elmo's or Foster's Market and never were disappointed with either.

            1. re: Lewes17266

              Avoid Elmo's at all costs. It is terrible. Especially if you live near Smith St. in Brooklyn, you will absolutely despise this place. The only thing you can find here that you don't have near Smith St. in Brooklyn is good BBQ, and for that, go to Allen and Sons. I'll second the suggestion for using the Search feature. It works very well.

              1. re: Shag Waits

                I agree with Shag that Elmo's does the big S and sucks. The food is overrated and under seasoned. And all they are is a bland tasteless dinner.

                But to say that the area has nothing to offer that you would not find near Smith St in Brooklyn is just plain wrong headed.

                Try Magnolia Grill for the one blow out meal. There style of high end southern is not something you see in New York, and they do have the best desserts in the area .

                Also Crooks Corner in Chapel hill is another great example of high end or gourmand southern.

                But a word of advise, while you are down here try not to tell everyone that things are better in Brooklyn, this coming from an ex resident of Brooklyn Heights.

                1. re: chazzer

                  well at least I know where to go now when i get off the train - Smith Street

                  1. re: chazzer

                    I agree with the Magnolia Grill dessert assessment. Top notch. I've found the savory food to be hit or miss. Last time I had a seared foie gras appetizer, it was stone cold. Ambiance also kinda blows. Only good thing I've had at Crook's Corner is shrimp and grits. Maybe worth a stop for that.

                    While not particulary unique or Southern, I had a fantastic tasting menu at Nana's a few weeks ago. It is a quite a steal at $55 (even though their website says $50) for 5 courses and $25 for wine pairings. I don't think you can find a deal like that near Smith St. in Brooklyn. Nearly everything was technically perfect. Our wait dude was super cool, too. He was the first dude to say, "I'm going to wait a bit before putting the order in to allow you some time to enjoy your cocktails." Practically every place serves the first course while I'm working on my martini. I hate that. My boyfriend usually has a cosmo and he hates that, too.

                  2. re: Shag Waits

                    I love Allen and Son, but given that the OP said they aren't big meat eaters, it doesn't seem like a place they'd interested in.

                2. Is the Top Hat still around? That was a great little dive in Durham for a great burger, excellent fries, and a cold one back in the day.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Buddha49

                    The Top Hat is looooooooooong gone. Selling drugs out the back door did them in. I loved their chili cheese burgers.

                  2. When are you coming? Downtown will be hopping with film festival people this coming weekend. Watts St. Grocery and/or Magnolia Grill both offer high-end Southern-ish fare using local ingredients. Revolution is really nice, but with less Southern tendencies. Same goes for Nana's. The Federal on Main St. is a fun, local place with excellent food. Back room is non-smoking. Breakfast at Guglhupf is good - or Foster's right next door (15-501). Guglhupf is a true German bakery and Foster's is owned by a local Martha Stewart protegee. The breakfasts are good, but I would stay away from the scones, they're as big as your head and you could build houses with them that no wolf could blow down.

                    1. We recently had dinner at Revolution last week. It is fairly heavy on seafood. We had fresh oysters which was what was expected and well priced, 9 for $10, the octopus was incredible, we had periwinkles on crostini which was a bit too salty and they do have a bit of a funky taste (which was appealing to me, not DH), fried zuchini with blossoms still attached which was ok (oil could have been changed in fryer) scottish salmon with lentils and red wine butter sauce (very tasty) The bread is from Tribeca grill in NY and was very good. Service was very good and friendly with good suggestions. Atmosphere is 'urban' in feeling, lots of white with hints of rich colors thrown in. All menu items were priced well for what you got. It is a laid back feeling, servers wear t shirts. Make a reservation.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: winedine

                        Even non-weekend on the reservation for Revolution? We're thinking of trying it soon ...

                        1. re: LulusMom

                          If you're just going to be two people you can always sit at the bar. That's what we've done, but I'm a total barfly when it comes to nice restaurants.

                          1. re: suse

                            Yeah, quite often when we don't have Lulu in tow we sit at the bar too. Thanks for the info.

                      2. I don't know much about Brooklyn, but I highly recommend Watt's Grocery off of Broad St. in Durham. Especially for brunch. They specialize in locally-sourced ingredients and have a wonderful "new-Southern" menu. The quality of the food is really high, but the prices are reasonable. Also, brunch at Crook's Corner is excellent too (shrimp and grits with homemade biscuits and orange marmalade).

                        Taqueria La Vaquita is one of my favorite places to eat for lunch - their huarache with chicken and the chicken tamales incredibly tasty, but again you have to do takeaway or eat outside.

                        For hanging out outside of the downtown area, I recommend City Beverage near I-40/751/NC 54. They have a great selection of really good NC-based beers, so you can get a good idea of what is offered locally. The food is good, if not a bit retro, but then so is the decor.

                        And, although it was mentioned before, Allen and Sons has some of the best BBQ in the state, and is totally worth the effort of getting there. It is off of NC 86, north of I-40, just a couple minutes outside of Chapel Hill.

                        1. I cast my vote AGAINST Revolution. The service is deplorable, the food is hit or miss and the ambience is decidedly generic. There's no need to brave all the "nuances" of downtown Durham just to eat at this place for the experience that you get in return. I'd rather go to Watts, Mag Grill, or Pop's than Revolution any day.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: samhopkins

                            The "'nuances' of downtown Durham"? I'm sure I can't imagine what you might possibly be referring to, since I "brave" the streets of downtown Durham all the time. Without incident. Maybe you'd feel safer dining in Meadowmont, or Southern Village?

                          2. I'm very surprised no one has mentioned Piedmont in this thread. Certainly as good if not more to my taste than Watts Grocery, at the same price point.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: walras

                              Agreed - much better than Watts, and worthy of mention.

                              1. re: LulusMom

                                In the last 18 months. I've been to Piedmont twice and Watt's five times, based on popularity. Piedmont is certainly worth a visit, but Watt's is really impressing me lately, especailly the late night smelts.

                              2. re: walras

                                The only reason that I didn't mention it is because I have yet to eat there (but have heard wonderful reviews from friends who have). It's one of the top places on my list.

                              3. Wow - posted about Elmo's. I was in Durham a year ago and liked Elmo's. I am not from the area but enjoyed the meal I had. I have eaten at Magnolia also and agree the experience would be nice. Still think Elmo's had food that pleased my in-laws, 20 year old son and my husband and self.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: BurgJoy

                                  Elmo's apparently is not so good now. It has been a few years since we were there. I still love my Elmo's t-shirt and have good memories of many Sunday mornings there.

                                2. I'm not sure if this counts as a thread hijack or merely a narrowing of focus. How about a good Durham eatery that is convenient for lunch when visiting Sarah Duke gardens on a weekend? No, it doesn't have to be walking distance, but somewhere that isn't a drive to the other side of town.


                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: klmonline

                                    Nasher Art Museum cafe - http://www.nasher.duke.edu/museum_caf...

                                    The gardens also has their own cafe (Terrace Cafe), but I've never gotten anything from them, so can't speak to quality there.

                                    Or just bring your own food and have a picnic on the grounds!

                                    1. re: romansperson


                                      I wish I had known about all these wonderful restaurants when I lived in the area.

                                      1. re: romansperson

                                        I can second the picnic recommendation - especially with good cheese and bread. However, I have managed to EAT at Nasher once of the times I've attempted to. They've closed early, run out of food, or otherwise made themselves unavailable. From my one experience, the food was quite unremarkable (we had folks who wanted to go, hence we tried again and again). There are better restaurants in Durham IMO.

                                        For places close to Duke Gardens - Bahn's on 9th Street for lunch on a Saturday (Vietnamese - bring cash), Chubby's on 9th Street (had a bad first experience there, but subsequent experiences have been more positive), Vaquita or Shanghai on Hillsborough Road, Toast and Rue Cler downtown. None should be more than a 5 minute drive.

                                      2. re: klmonline

                                        Erwin Square is a quick drive from the Gardens. Home to Baba Gannouj, Parizade and Vita. Go another block or two and you're at 9th Street. The Brightleaf area is also quite close IMO, but I'm not sure if that's what you mean by going across town. We did the Gardens this weekend, and had lunch at Parker and Otis. I was a great day.

                                        1. re: Lucydevil

                                          BG is no longer there, Vita is bad, and Parizade is only passable IMO. I would go to Nasher but if you must drive continue on to 9th Street or Broad St. Broad St. has the Broad St. Cafe, Watts Grocery, a new African restaurant (haven't tried yet), and Whole Foods cafe.

                                          1. re: bbqme

                                            Just to set the record straight, BG is too still there! Had it last night - please don't put it out of business by posting that it's gone! Still, it's not where I'd send an out-of-town visitor.

                                            Nasher museum restaurant is fabulous unless you're looking for giant portions, which they don't have. I second that Parker & Otis is a fun lunch too.

                                        2. re: klmonline

                                          There are food courts inside various buildings. We had a quick lunch occasionally on Sundays at a building next to Duke Chapel. You could check it out. http://www.duke.edu/services/dining/i...
                                          Also, The Duke Washington Inn is right there. We had a beautiful Sunday lunch there once but I think you can get a simple sandwich there also. http://www.washingtondukeinn.com/Dini...

                                        3. I'll throw in a recommendation for Four Square. Same price point as Magnolia Grill and Nana's, but I find it to be consistently better. Also, the atmosphere is just lovely (renovated historic house).

                                          I'll second recommendations for Watt's, Piedmont (probably my favorite at the moment), Fosters, Guglhupf, and the Federal. I'd say that you might want to hold off on Revolution, though. Yeah, it's the new hot spot, and one look at this list will tell you that a lot of chowhounds LOVE it, but there are also a lot of mixed reviews out there. I had an excellent experience there, but if you're in town briefly you might want to go with a more seasoned restaurant.

                                          Someone mentioned City Beverage. Love the food, hate the service. Don't ever go for lunch unless you have a whooooole lot of time on your hands. It's our neighborhood haunt, and my wife and I used to eat there regularly, but issues with the service have turned us off a bit.

                                          I've heard nothing but good things about Vaquita and have been dying to eat there. North Durham also boasts a number of excellent taquerias, but if you want more upscale Mexican, try Tonali. This ain't your typical taco and burrito joint. Dishes are creative, ingredients are fresh, and the menu is excellent. In the four years I lived in NYC, I never encountered a Mexican restaurant anything like it.

                                          1. My favorite restaurant in durham is Hong Kong Chinese (for lunch). You can find the location on google maps.
                                            It's an more or less ordinary chinese restaurant, but they also serve Dim Sum, which is awesome. Weekends they have a full cart service for lunch, and for Weekday lunch and dinner, they have a limited menu, but still tasty.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: DreamCyn

                                              Hong Kong is not an ordinary Chinese restaurant for these parts. It's actually good. Most Chinese restaurants around here are very bad serving American-ized Chinese food.

                                              1. re: Tom from Raleigh

                                                Ordinary in appearance. Don't let that scare you off from trying the place.

                                            2. Elmo's and Magnolia grill in the same thread? The poor Diner doesn't stand a chance. Elmo's is a great little Diner with a more eclectic menu than you would expect from such establishments. It's not for the gourmand but it's a great meal to ground you after a night on the town. For a little more upscale brunch Vin Rouge right across the street is a nice Sunday morning on the porch in appropriate weather. A couple of places worth mentioning in the Downtown area that haven't made the list is Tosca hidden in the West Village apartments, and Rue Claire. Italian and French cuisine respectively as the names would imply. I enjoyed Revolution but most of the folks that have tried both have given the nod to Rue Claire. Revolution's meal tasting flight can be quite enjoyable. I too can't understand why Peidmont doesn't get more press. It's quite consistent just is Pops. Neither place will be the meal of a lifetime but they're quite good and as of yet I haven't had an off night at either one.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: Jammin72

                                                just a minor correction to Jammin72's post - it's rue cler:

                                                1. re: cervisiam

                                                  Rue Cler is the best brunch in Durham, yum! Also Durham is blessed to have Nana's and Mag Grill.

                                                  1. re: cervisiam

                                                    Thanks for the spell check! :blush:

                                                2. For great and inexpensive food, try George's Diner on Hillsborough Rd. It's a 24-hr diner with a kitschy 50s theme. They have a huge menu, everything from breakfast (served all day) to nice dinner entrees. The prices are good and the food is great. I really hope folks check them out, since I want them to stay around long enough to try all nine pages of the menu!

                                                  1. George's Diner, at the 85 exit for Hillsborough Street: http://georgesdinernc.com/

                                                    Great food, great people, open 24 hours... better than I expected for sure!

                                                    1. The very best restaurant in Durham is Nana's located where 15/501 intersects University. You do need reservations. It is great not only because the food is creative and excellent but also because you are treated like royalty even in the bar area. It does have a national reputation and is pricey, but I sure wish I could eat there every week.

                                                      My second choice would be Faerington House located south of Chapel Hill in an old plantation. Again this restaurant has creative excellent food and the setting is especially nice.

                                                      19 Replies
                                                      1. re: silvaofnc

                                                        Just as a different perspective, I don't especially care for either of these places. Thats why they make chocolate and vanilla!

                                                        My experience at Nana's has been that one thing will be great, then the next dish really wan and uninteresting. And the service has been very uninterested.

                                                        1. re: LulusMom

                                                          Have to agree with Lulu on this one... Nana's has just been too damn inconsistent the past few years, and Fearrington is nothing short of highway robbery. In Durham, I love Watts, all the Roxboro Road taquerias (esp. Comales and Superior), and Saigon Grill (esp. Canh Chuah, crepes, and the bun with spring rolls and grilled pork). Federal I might try now that the smoking ban has gone into effect... I just couldn't enjoy my food there before.
                                                          I still need to try Mami Noras.
                                                          Vin Rouge, when they're on, is as good a restaurant as one can find in the Triangle. Same goes for Piedmont, although I hear more and more frequent rumblings of bad meals from people I trust. Too bad, because I love that place.
                                                          I have heard bland reviews and raves alike about Revolution, though I haven't been myself. A good buddy of mine eats there fairly regularly, and he adores it.

                                                          1. re: Pigloader

                                                            I like Vin Rouge a lot. There is something about the mixture of food, atmosphere, comfort that makes me want to go there a lot more than places that might be fancier or have somewhat more "refined" cooking. Great service too.

                                                        2. re: silvaofnc

                                                          I do occasionally like eating in the bar at Nana's. It used to be our special occasion place, but now I'm just not into special occasion places in general. Does that even make sense? I guess I'm just over the "special" dining experience. I just want a bite of food that makes me close my eyes and smile. Nachos and a good beer at the Federal - Mami Nora's chicken, Pho at Saigon Grill, spicy Dou Hua at Grand Asia Market, a killer taco....I suppose an occasional precious plate of food with a killer reduction is a lovely thing - it's just that you have to spend a lot of money and put up with a lot of "excellent choice ma'am" encounters to find the occasional bitefull of bliss.

                                                          1. re: silvaofnc

                                                            I have yet to go to Nana's though I want to nor have I been La Vaquita (though right now with the temps the way they are... I don't plan to go soon). That said if you want a metropolitan style restaurant I'd look into Revolution (if I had to think NYC in Durham, NC that would be it). Four Square is suppose to be good but my experience based on when I went (valentines) should be taken with that in mind. The food was good, slightly memorable and the service was rushed (but adequate). I have enjoyed Watts Grocery despite feeling a bit squeezed into the space. I've also like Taverna Nikos and would like to get to Vin Rouge.

                                                            1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                                              Try the La Vaquita on Hillsborough Rd (Kroger Shopping Center). It's woned by the same family, and they have nice warm seating inside! I actually like the menu a bit better (more seafood), but the food is comparable quality.

                                                              1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                                                I second the Revolution recommendation. I like Nana's, but Revolution wins hands-down if you want a metropolitan style restaurant.

                                                                I really love Four Square and am surprised that it doesn't get more love on this board. It's not slick, new, or sexy, but it is beautiful and romantic with really top notch servers and food (Valentine's Day outstanding apparently!).

                                                                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                                                  Finally got to try Revolution last week. Really great looking place and yes, very metropolitan. I thought the food was fine, not really much more than that. But the space makes it worth a trip there, at least for a drink and an appetizer or two.

                                                                  1. re: LulusMom

                                                                    I've consistently had good (but occasionally "precious") appetizers at Revolution. Can't get too excited about the mains, but the papardelle was excellent the time i had it. The mussels are outstanding.

                                                                    1. re: suse

                                                                      I had 3 different appetizers as my meal. They varied a lot in quality. The shrimp in haystacks - or whatever it is called - was delicious but woefully oversalted. I think it is a great place to sit and drink and would happily do so with an appetizer or two; wouldn't bother sitting at a table and ordering a main though. My husband said his was fine but nothing special. I think it was a steak (the martinis there obviously went to my head).

                                                                      1. re: LulusMom

                                                                        At Revolution, there are three "must order" dishes: the oysters and the the Ahi "Poke" Tuna from the raw bar, and the mussels. The tuna and the mussels are just spectacular. The oysters are super fresh, and it's a terrific presentation.

                                                                        1. re: durhamois

                                                                          The tuna was one of the 3 things I got. I liked it. It reminded me a lot of other tuna things I've had so many times before though, so some points taken off for that, but yeah, it was a nice dish. My husband got the oysters. They were wonderful and fresh but he missed having a minionette (sp??) sauce on the side.

                                                                          1. re: LulusMom

                                                                            The sauces are what make this dish. How come he didn't get any? Weird that.

                                                                            1. re: suse

                                                                              He got some sort of very ketchupy sauce (as in cocktail sauce without the horseradish). The oysters were still very good. What kind of sauces have you gotten with yours?

                                                                              1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                There was freshly grated horseradish and some sort of minionette (?) and something else - anyway it was a little trio of things.

                                                                                1. re: suse

                                                                                  Hmm, maybe because we were there between Christmas and NYEve they were playing things low. Definitely no minionette. It was very quiet there that evening. I imagine it is normally livelier.

                                                                          2. re: durhamois

                                                                            I know what Ahi Poke Tuna is but is it pronounced poke (the action) or poke-ay/poke-ee?

                                                                              1. re: durhamois

                                                                                I heard Anthony Bourdain say it once on his No Reservations show and he pronounced it "poh-kay". Seems to be in line with what this site says: