Thanks to many years of international immigration, the world-renowned research and academics of Duke University, and the booming tech startups, it’s no surprise that Durham also has a plethora of high quality international and ethnic restaurants. We’ve been eating our way through North Carolina‘s Bull City for a while and decided it was time to share our favorite places to eat beyond barbecue, fried chicken, and other southern staples that make up part of the city’s food scene. This is our must-eat list of ethnic restaurants in Durham, from Downtown to its surrounding neighborhoods and beyond.
Ethnic Restaurants in Durham
Menu | 107 W. Main Street
Located in the heart of Downtown’s Baldwin building, COPA serves up delicious farm to table tapas-style Cuban bites. While the small plates are a can’t-miss, the cocktail selection at COPA is secretly our favorite reason to visit. Do yourself a favor and sip on La Diosa Negra after the Cuban tobacco smoke works its way out. And in case you notice something familiar about COPA, the owners previously owned the Old Havana Sandwich Shop and brought those favorites over to feature on the lunch menu during the week.
If you join a Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tour in Durham, you might get a sampling of COPA’s awesomeness.
Facebook | 1920 Perry Street
Looking for a late-night place to shovel chips and queso? Cosmic Cantina is that spot. A hole in the wall that can be hard to find if you aren’t in the “know,” but the food is always delicious and they’re open until 4 am. Located off of Ninth Street up a dark and questionable stairway, you’ll find some of the best chimichangas and tacos in all of Durham. They also have a great little hidden patio where a pitcher of margaritas is always a crowd pleaser.
Website | 415 East Chapel Hill St
The smell of slowly simmering Firsthand Foods bones wafts through the dimly lit Japanese noodle shop, that we all know as Dashi in Durham. Meaning “soup base” in Japanese, this shop serves up plenty of that, filling piping hot bowls with the best ramen, accompanied by Japanese whiskey and sake. Whether you’re enjoying the open kitchen in the restaurant downstairs or getting late night snacks in the upstairs Izayaka, Dashi’s flavors and aesthetics will quickly transport you to the back alleys of Tokyo and Osaka.
Gonza Tacos Y Tequila
Menu | 604 Fernway Ave
While Gonza Tacos y Tequila isn’t just a Bull City restaurant (they also have locations in Raleigh, Wake Forest, and Cary) we think they are definitely worth a mention. Fresh flavorful taco combinations, kickass outdoor seating, and an extensive tequila menu have us giving them a thumbs up! Located in the middle of Durham’s Warehouse District, this Colombian-Mexican restaurant is a must eat!
Menu | 910 West Main Street
Goorsha means “a hug between friends” and offers up deliciousness and a cozy atmosphere at its location in the Brightleaf District. All I’d is that you should expect to arrive to Goorsha hungry and willing to get your hands dirty. Forks are not something found at your place setting, as Ethiopian food is traditionally eaten using your hands and a soft spongey bread called “injera.” While Goorsha does offer a wide assortment of meat dishes, our recommendation is to get vegan dishes like Timatim Fitfit or Metin Shiro and split with a friend!
Menu | 2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd.
Guglhupf mixes a German bakery, café and beirgarten and is perfect for brunch or dinner. Strings of twinkle lights and a hum of waterfalls converge with the smells of proofing bread and sounds of interesting conversations. Once only known for their brunch and café, Guglhupf is expanding their dinner menu to include German sausages, spätzle, schnitzel, and delicious assortments of meats and cheeses.
Lime and Lemon
Menu | 811 Ninth Street #150
One of the problems with most Indian restaurants is that they only represent one region on that massive subcontinent. But that’s not the case with Lime and Lemon on Ninth street. Using traditional spices and extreme attention to detail, the dishes at Lime and Lemon are both delicate and bold. Serving traditional North and South Indian fare, you can find your old favorites but also some new and interesting dishes to try!
Menu | 5420 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd
Tucked away off of 15-501, Namu dishes up the most delicious Korean fare. Sprung from their popular food trucks, Bo’s Kitchen and Bulkogi collaborated to bring Durham the best Bibimbap, green tea lattes, and mandu. Meaning “tree” in Korea, Namu has a beautiful outdoor patio section and equally peaceful indoor seating. Next door to the coffeeshop is a beer hall, which serves over 120 varieties of domestic and international beers.
Menu | 311 Holland Street Suite B
While the entrance to M Kokko is “around that corner and in the basement of that building,” it’s never hard to find with the line of people outside waiting to get a sweet taste of their famous chicken wings. The restaurant is a small and intimate setting, but packed with the flavors that Chef Michael Lee is known for!
Of course, we can’t mention ethnic restaurants in Durham without including M Sushi.
Menu | 2200 West Main Street
Parizade is not just incredible food, but an experience in bold Mediterranean flavors. Built by chef and restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias, Parizade has spent 26 years feeding the people of Durham. Whimsical interior design match the chef’s fine attention to detail, as beautifully plated food makes for a visual and delicious feast. Whether you’re hosting a business meeting, catering a special event, or just meeting a friend for a delicious and healthy lunch, Parizade is the place to be.
Facebook | 2929 North Roxboro Street
Located in North Durham, Saigon Grill’s food takes us back to the side streets of Vietnam. Whether you’re eating a bowl of pho or bun cha (or their amazing spring rolls), you’ll quickly realize that Saigon Grill brings the flavor that has made Vietnamese food one of the best cuisines you’ll find in the world. We keep coming back because Saigon Grill any time we want to time-travel back to those plastic stools and the heat of Hanoi.
Menu | 4600 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd
Did you know that the only Zimbabwean restaurant in the US can be found right here in Durham? From peanut braised collard greens to the chakalaka, health-conscious diners will be pleased to find that all of the sides at Zweli’s are vegan. For me, the must-order dish is the piri piri chicken, seasoned and grilled over an open flame. It’s spicy, but not overpowering and charred, but still juicy. And with so many new and interesting flavors coming out of this kitchen, it’s no surprise that many foodies in Durham are flocking to Zweli’s.
Honorable Mentions and Final Thoughts
Before anyone gets too angry, here are some honorable mentions that we still love: Guasaca, Luna, Mediterra Grill, Super Taqueria, La Superior Carniceria, The Tamale Factory, Twisted Noodles, and Vin Rouge. Since the city’s food scene is always changing and evolving, this guide will move with it. We can’t wait to see how the folks on this list continue to succeed and how more international players come to Durham and shine with their dishes. We know there’ll be plenty of room for them.
Got any favorite ethnic restaurants in Durham that you’d like to share? We’d love to know and eat our way through them, too!