Durham is home to some of the best restaurants in North Carolina and we’ve been lucky enough to enjoy many of them. There are so many ways to explore the city’s food scene, but we wanted to keep things low-key for those of you who forgot your suit, tie, and Sunday’s best. We’ve also mixed things up with some Downtown Durham restaurants, as well as those in other neighborhoods. Before you venture out for food here, we’d like to share 18 of our favorite casual restaurants in Durham!
This guide is part of our series on North Carolina Food, Durham Travel, and Places to Visit in North Carolina. It was originally created on August 13, 2018, and has been maintained and updated as of June 14, 2019.
Must-Eat Casual Restaurants in Durham
Many of these casual restaurants serve lunch and dinner, but we want to focus on how they dish out the best breakfast in Durham!
Website | 776 Ninth St
Now, you can’t come to the Bull City without having breakfast or meals throughout the day at Elmo’s Diner. This Downtown Durham restaurant is an institution and you’ll hardly ever walk by during weekend mornings without seeing a line out the door. If it’s on Sunday, that’s because they’re likely waiting for the best brunch in Durham! Everything is delicious here, but their quiche is something to die for!
Website | 1200 W Chapel Hill St
GRUB makes some of the best lunch in Durham, but we think of it as an absolute breakfast go-to. Housed in a renovated 1950s Pure Gas Station, this is a great place to grab a milkshake, breakfast, and bites throughout the day. Their eclectic décor and melt-in-your-mouth biscuits make GRUB a must-eat Durham restaurant. The choices here are endless, and our favorites include chicken biscuits that won’t quit and their juicy burgers.
Hot tip: Enjoy $6 Taco Tuesdays or a gourmet milkshake on the rooftop.
Website | 1002 Ninth St
Who said doughnuts can’t be a complete meal? At Monuts, you’ll also usually find a line out the door. But with a fresh list of cake or dough selections, Monuts is THE breakfast spot and totally worth the wait! Don’t like doughnuts? They also have incredible breakfast sandwiches and bowls! Every person who orders gets a fun fact card to read while they wait, too!
Website | 401 Foster St
Rise Durham is a growing franchise with a location by the Farmers’ Market and Durham Central Park. There, you’ll find a showcase the most amazing and fluffiest biscuits you’ll ever see. Definitely get a Righteous Chicken biscuit AND their Fried Green Tomato and Pimento Cheese Biscuit. YOU’RE WELCOME.
Website | 5230 North Roxboro Rd
Silver Spoon is our favorite place to grab breakfast in North Durham. You may get overwhelmed by their massive menu, but remember that Silver Spoon’s breakfast skillets are what many people come for. We love them, too, but also anything else that comes out, like the basics—pancakes with a couple of meats and eggs. Also, don’t forget to grab some baklava on your way out because it’s simply amazing!
Lunch & Dinner
One of the things I love about all these casual restaurants in Durham is how there are hardly two that offer the same types of food. The city’s restauranteurs know that you have to find a niche and once that’s been served, there’s always a new one to search for.
The Chicken Hut
Website | 3019 Fayetteville St
The Chicken Hut is a cash-only cafeteria-style restaurant and has been an institution in Durham for over 60 years. With daily specials and fresh made-to-order fried chicken, people line up around the block for that and their incredible side dishes and moist cake, too. Only open for lunch-time orders so make sure you plan ahead and get in fast!
Website | 1116 Broad St Suite 100
When in the South, one must eat fried chicken. The brainchild of Scott Howell and Rick Robinson, DeeLuxe Chicken was born as a way to meet the demand for local fried chicken but with elevated sophisticated twists. While fried chicken is a staple item, they also offer incredible burgers, salads, and seafood sandwiches using the freshest local ingredients. Dip your chicken in one of their 12 house-made sauces or pull up to the bar for a soft serve cone. No matter what, come to DeeLuxe hungry and ready for a delicious dining experience!
We learned more about this awesome Durham restaurant when we interviewed Rick Robinson here!
Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Website | 409 Blackwell St
Head to Durham Bulls Athletic Park when Minor League Baseball is going (April to September) and you’ll find great games, but also delicious eats. Classic favorites include Bright Leaf Hot Dogs and brews from Bull Durham Beer Company. More awesome eats inside DBAP include Gonza Tacos y Tequila by left field and slices from Pie Pushers inside the concessions area. Note: Both Gonza and Pie Pushers have standalone locations in Durham, with the latter also driving around and serving via their food truck!
Eastcut Sandwich Bar
Website | 3211 Old Chapel Hill Rd
Eastcut wanted Durham to have a place where a variety of culinary tastes met. With transients coming from all over to live, attend school, or work, they knew there was a market for it. Here, you can chow down on delicious items like the Buff Chick and Clifford’s Cutlet. You can also check out the blackboard special each day! Either way, make sure to order a side of house-made sweet potato tots and a “frose!”
Website | 726 Rigsbee Ave
You cannot come to Durham without stepping foot into the beer mecca that is Fullsteam Brewery. We wouldn’t have craft beer in North Carolina without Pop the Cap, spearheaded by Fullsteam Owner Sean Lilly Wilson. Not only is the beer incredible and innovative (I mean, who else makes beer with
Gonza Tacos y Tequila
Website | 604 Fernway Ave
Gonza Tacos y Tequila has locations in Raleigh, Wake Forest, and Cary but their spot on in the center of Durham’s Warehouse District is absolutely worthy of a mention here. This Colombian-Mexican restaurant dishes fresh and flavorful taco combinations throughout every service. You can sit inside or outside when the weather cooperates. Plus, they have an extensive tequila menu which you can’t say “No” to when visiting.
We also mentioned Gonza Tacos y Tequila in our guide to Durham’s best ethnic restaurants.
Website | 1807 W Markham Ave
While it isn’t exactly a “restaurant,” this little shack off Broad Street is packing some serious heat! Wing and waffle fries are really all many people need in life and Heavenly Buffaloes is there to cater to your every need. They even considered vegetarians, vegans, and anyone with an aversion to chicken with an incredible meatless wing! Also, who doesn’t want to Burnie Zass-Hoff?
King’s Sandwich Shop
Website | 701 Foster St
King’s Sandwich Shop (701 Foster St) is the OG of casual restaurants in Durham. Cooking home cooked food on Foster Street since 1942, King’s is right around the corner from the Historic Durham Athletic Park. We love walking up and ordering something random but challenge you to a Royale with Cheese or a couple of Spicy Blackbean Burgers, depending on your lifestyle.
Website | 2512 University Dr
$5 Margaritas? Yes, please! Not only does NuvoTaco serve up Mexican-American food with fresh, local ingredients, but they are one of the only restaurants to get dirty! Okay, with their meats is what I’m talking about. Get your head out of the gutter! If you’ve never had a taco with beef tongue taco or hog jowls and want to try it, this is the place. You don’t have to eat the dirty stuff, though. I will judge you if you come here without the Big Daddy Burrito! I guarantee it’s the size of our toddler’s face.
Parts & Labor
Website | 723 Rigsbee Ave
You’ll find delicious food, craft brews, and spirit-filled drinks at Parts & Labor, which pairs nicely with Durham’s amazing Motorco Music Hall. Here, you’ll find an eclectic menu that will easily make everyone happy. Whether you’re chowing down on marsala poutine, veggie samosas, or their delicious udon salad (pictured, right), the laid back vibe, this place perfectly accompanies all the great music that comes through Motorco! Oh, and Parts & Labor gets bonus points for having some of the best late night eats in Durham, too!
Website | 1647 Cole Mill Rd
We’ve been coming to Picnic Durham for a long time and we’re not alone. This place is well-known for its whole hog BBQ and picnic tables outside. Go for the pulled pork or sway away from traditional NC BBQ with some brisket. Also, don’t be afraid to be tempted by their smoked buttermilk fried chicken, which might be the tastiest bone-in bird you’ll ever eat. However, you must eat their bacon-braised collards as a side. That’s an order!
Picnic Durham is near the Eno River State Park, which is one of our favorite places to enjoy the outdoors in Durham!
Website | 102 City Hall Plaza
Neapolitan pizza isn’t your standard pie and Pompieri Pizza isn’t your typical neighborhood pizza joint. With a causal laid-back vibe, Pompieri serves elevated flavors with locally sourced ingredients and a wood-fired char. In true Neapolitan style, you won’t be served with your pie precut and the dough puffs out at the sides giving a light and airy crust. And is it kid-friendly? With an in-house children’s play area, you bet! Feel free to bring your kiddos for a night out at this awesome Durham pizza restaurant.
Hot tip: Check out their all-you-can-eat Family Meal Pizza on Sundays from 4:30 pm-6:30 pm! The chef chooses the pizza, though, so bring your adventurous tastebuds for some of the best food in Durham!
Website | 4900 NC Highway 55, Suite 510
Visit Sushioki for sushi burritos, bowls, nachos and more! More than double the size of your standard sushi roll, this place brings fresh, fast, and healthy to RTP. Not only is the food delicious, but Sushioki partners with organizations such as World Relief to hire area refugees while paying them livable wages. And before you stop by, check out their daily specials for $2 off designated rolls!
ZenFish Poké Bar
Website | 810 Ninth St
ZenFish Poké Bar is the perfect spot to grab something healthy and delicious in Durham. With a variety of base options from white rice, brown rice, salad, quinoa to even zucchini noodles, this is the ultimate stop for the rising Poké trend being seen across the country. One of the best parts of ZenFish is their commitment to the community. The signature bowls of Compassion, Gratitude, Courage, and Kindness are an inspiration and reminder of how to let love into your life. Sourcing ingredients from local farmers and making sure that everything is compostable makes this guilt-free casual restaurant a must-stop!
East Durham Bake Shop
Website | 406 South Driver St
Made from scratch, locally sourced, fresh daily. All the markers for an amazing bakery. That’s exactly what East Durham Bake Shop is and more. Living Wage-certified and with the sweetest owners you’ll ever meet, East Durham Bake Shop is a cozy little corner store where you can sit with a delicious cup of coffee and a beautiful slice of pie.
Website | 2618 Hillsborough Rd
With seasonal flavors and tastes inspired by owner Summer Bicknell‘s travels, Locopops is the perfect place to dangle your legs off a front porch and lick a pop! We love their baby pops and silky ice cream, too. Thanks to their expanding menu, you can even grab a slice of Mexican chocolate chess pie.
Website | 117 Market St
Want a sweet treat while strolling around downtown? The Parlour is the best place to go! Local fresh ingredients and 18 percent butterfat means this ice cream will leave you wishing for a double scoop. They have plenty of treats for everyone, with vegan-friendly fruit sorbets and coconut milk-based creamy ice cream! Personal favorites include their Bourbon Butter Pecan, Vietnamese Coffee, and Salted Butter Caramel.
Menu | 1125 W North Carolina 54 Suite 204
Rolled ice cream is all the rage and Sweet Charlie’s is where you can enjoy delicious flavor combinations or make up your own. Combining the Thai inspired ice cream rolls with American flavors, Sweet Charlie’s rolls up flavors like “Namaste Strawberry Cheesecake” and “Rise and Shine Cinnamon Toast Crunch.” You can pick from premium ice cream, nonfat yogurt, and vegan bases and top it off with any (or all) of their free toppings! And if you really want to go the extra mile, eat your roll from a Early Bird Donut bun!
Our Thoughts and Yours, Too!
These are not the only casual restaurants in Durham that we love, but this should get you started if you’ve never eaten here. With such an awesome food scene to tackle, this was tough. If you’ve explored some of the Bull City’s places to eat, what’s been your favorite so far? What’s your favorite casual eating spot here?