We’re going to keep things low-key and share the best casual restaurants in Durham here. There are so many ways to explore Bull City’s food scene, and we’ve mixed things up with some Downtown Durham restaurants, as well as those in other neighborhoods.
So before you venture out for your next meal here, take a gander at our favorites!
This guide is part of our series on North Carolina Food, Durham Travel, and Places to Visit in North Carolina. We originally created it on August 13, 2018, and has been maintained and updated as of February 18, 2020.
Must-Eat Casual Restaurants in Durham
Breakfast 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 | 341 W Main St
Beyu Caffe is a place where you can truly be you. Founded on the principals that we all have more in common than our differences, Beyu is a restaurant in downtown Durham restaurant with its own signature coffee blend and catering operation.
With no need to transition from breakfast to lunch, all items on the menu are served all day.
No matter when you visit, one item that you cannot leave without is the Carver’s Peanut Butter Latte. It’s crafted with espresso, peanut butter, and dark chocolate. This drink is like taking a giant sip of a Reese’s Cup and we are here for it!
We included and a few more spots below in our guide to black-owned restaurants in Durham, too!
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.
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!
Facebook | 5410 Highway 55 Suite AJ AK & 2022 Chapel Hill Rd
If you’re looking for biscuits like momma makes, Chef Sidney Coves of True Flavors dishes them up alongside upscale southern favorites in a casual diner atmosphere.
With two Durham restaurant locations (SoDu and Lakewood) you can chow down on smooth cheesy grits, duck hash, and their buttery biscuits while catching up with friends from all over the Bull City! This spot is absolutely one of the best places to eat in Durham, so what are you waiting for?
Lunch & Dinner Durham Restaurants
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.
Bull City Burger and Brewery
Website | 107 E Parrish St #105
The perfect restaurant to grab an in-house beer and grass-fed burger in Durham, Bull City Burger and Brewery has a lot going for it. There’s always a fun new item added to the specials list, which is fun if you’ve been there more than a few times like we have.
And if a fun rotating menu isn’t enough for you, check out BCBB’s exotic meat month each April. That’s when tarantulas, reptiles, scorpions, and more fun animals appear on the menu.
If you join a Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tour in Durham, it’s likely that you’ll stop by Bull City Burger and Brewery.
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.
This place is open for lunch-time orders so make sure you plan ahead and get in fast!
Website | 107 W Main St
While COPA is more upscale during the evening for their tapas-style menu, their lunch menu is much more casual, harkening to the owners’ previous Old Havana Sandwich Shop. Delicious Cuban sandwiches served on home-made bread are just a part of why COPA is a must-eat casual restaurant in Durham.
The owners source from their farm in Hillsborough, keeping every bite as local as possible at this Durham restaurant. Our recommendation? You can’t go wrong with any of the sandwiches, a side of maduros, and definitely one of their in-house sodas!
Dame’s Chicken & Waffles
Website | 530 Foster St Unit 103
We all think of chicken and waffles as a Southern thing, but really the first tales of poultry and hot griddled carbs come from the arts renaissance in Harlem during the 1920s. The interior of Dame’s Chicken & Waffles in Durham honors that period of art and jazz.
They also make chicken so juicy and crispy that you will keep coming back for more. Choose a waffle (we love the sweet potato), one of their seven shmears, add a drizzle, and you will surely be in heaven!
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.
And not only is the beer incredible and innovative (I mean, who else makes beer with
Fullsteam is the first of many breweries in Durham that you need to check out!
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 international 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 consider vegetarians, vegans, and anyone with an aversion to chicken with an incredible meatless wing! Also, who doesn’t want to Burnie Zass-Hoff?
Jack Tar and the Colonel’s Daughter
Website | 202 Corcoran St
Chef Gray Brooks has done it again! Also owning Pizzeria Toro, Jack Tar, and Littler, Brooks is known for his flare in flavor and sophistication. Jack Tar remains a packed space for brunch, lunch, and dinner!
Named after the former Jack Tar Motor Lodge which is now the Unscripted Hotel, Brooks serves classic diner food but with a modern and contemporary spin. Stop in for all-day breakfast and see menu items such as Julia Child’s omelet or a turducken sausage sandwich on a house made English muffin.
Pictured is the Szechuan Peppercorn Hot Chicken which is so perfectly crispy that you could have sworn your grandma made it. Always leave room for the fried to order crullers which are rolled in cinnamon sugar and layered atop chantilly mascarpone and house-made jam.
King’s Sandwich Shop
Website | 701 Foster St
King’s Sandwich Shop (701 Foster St) is the OG of casual restaurants in Durham. Preparing 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 | 105 W Chapel Hill St
From the same family of Mateo, Vin Rouge, and Mothers & Sons, Chef and James Beard finalist Matt Kelly created Lucky’s. This is the casual New York Style Deli that all northern transplants have been craving.
Traditional Jewish and Italian deli menu items dominate the menu, but you’re also bound to see some southern fare listed on the board.
Personally, we think you should dig into their classic Italian Hero served up with shredded lettuce or housemade sausage sub. But honestly, anything you choose at Lucky’s will be a winner.
Website | 101 E. Chapel Hill St
After spending 5 years in South Korea, we became very familiar with “Pocha”- or Korean street food. Occupying the small corner spot west side of Downtown Durham, M Pocha takes Chef Michael Lee’s love for street food and spreads it across all Asian culinary cultures.
If you arrive for lunch, you will probably find a bento box option featuring several choices of Korean proteins and a mix of banchan (side dishes) which change daily. The evening menu, which also varies, features bacon dumplings, kimchi army stew, Malaysian rice dishes, and noodles to slurp.
The environment, much like in Korea, is communal seating. With seats looking out the window lining the store and one long community table in the center, M Pocha is a place to share laughs and great food in a casual environment.
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! Their meats are what I’m talking about, so 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 Durham restaurant 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 the amazing Motorco Music Hall. Here, you’ll find an eclectic menu that landed P&L among our favorite casual restaurants in Durham.
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!
Parts & Labor earns bonus points for having some of the best late-night food 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. That’s an order!
Website | 105 E Chapel Hill St
Pizzeria Toro is what we like to call an “upscale” casual Durham restaurant. That’s because it’s accessible to all but with more advanced flavor profiles. I mean, you won’t find Buffalo mozzarella, spicy lamb meatballs, soft eggs, zucchini bechamel in your typical take-out pizza place.
Here, you’ll find the main dining room with an open kitchen layout, a farm table in the center, and tables along the walls. It’s not uncommon to see strangers conversing with each other over the farm table spurred by the question, “What’s that you got there?”
Grab a friend and split their PNW Chanterelle mushroom pie and the kale salad that I still dream about every night!
Website | 102 City Hall Plaza
Neapolitan pizza isn’t your standard pie and Pompieri Pizza isn’t your typical neighborhood pizza joint.
With a casual 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!
Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings & Sweets
Website| 121 N Gregson St
What used to be Rose’s Meat Market is now an unassuming spot that packs giant flavor. Dishing up East Asian inspired meals with North Carolina ingredients, diners at Rose’s slurp, devour, and leave happy.
While parking at Rose’s can be tricky, don’t be discouraged and find street parking! Also, while we typically do take our toddler with us to most of these causal restaurants, we went kid-free to Rose’s. The space is tight, the tables are high, but we would take her for an ice cream sandwich or a macaroon!
Rose’s was also featured in our Durham ethnic restaurant guide
Saltbox Seafood Joint
Website | 608 N Mangum St & 2637 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd
Chef Ricky Moore brings the fresh daily caught seafood to Durham and we can see why there are always long lines! People are always flocking to Saltbox Seafood Joint all year round, but don’t miss the annual lobster roll!
Coming from a fine-dining background, Moore makes simple food shine. The chalkboard menu changes daily based on what is being caught right here on our shores. Nothing is ever frozen and while prepared simply, each menu item is treated with care.
Website | 104 City Hall Plaza
If you eat at Spanglish and not take a selfie in front of the mural, did you even eat there? This thriving food truck from Raleigh arrived in Durham to serve us all some modern Puerto Rican food and we couldn’t be happier!
One of Spanglish’s most traditional dishes they serve is Mofongo, which mixes crushed plantains and a delicious broth.
Served with juicy pork, maduros, and avocados, it’s filling and the perfect way to experience Puerto Rican food for the first time!
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.
And 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 one of the healthiest (and most delicious) casual restaurants 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!
Dessert in Durham
For some, Dessert is what you eat after an amazing meal at a sit-down place. But as you’ll see there, these dessert-specific spots are the perfect way to finish your journey through our favorite casual restaurants in Durham.
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 an 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 spot to grab food in Durham?