Oh, Durham, North Carolina. Home of Duke University and all its glory. Home to a once-thriving tobacco industry. And, in case you haven’t heard, home to some of the best food in the South.
Durham has been recognized over and over for its variety of top-notch restaurants, the culinary geniuses behind them, and the fact that there seems to be a food truck on every corner. Honestly, you could probably eat three meals a day in Durham for months without ever stepping foot inside a restaurant. They’re everywhere. Even the local favorite brick and mortars have trucks out and about. Nope, there’s no shortage of food in Durham. You’d have to live here to make a dent in trying everything this flourishing foodie town has to offer.
Obviously, it wasn’t easy making a short list of places to eat in Durham, but we narrowed it down to a handful of places that won’t disappoint if you happen to be traveling through. We’ve got your food scene covered from breakfast all the way to an after dinner treat.
- Breakfast: Elmo’s DinerFor a true Durham breakfast, take a trip to Elmo’s Diner on 9th Street. The local favorite serves made-from-scratch favorites until closing time. (Photo courtesy of Ildar Sagdejev)
If you’re looking for comfort food, look no further than Elmo’s. Good food and good service make you feel at home in this comfy atmosphere of filled booths and locals at the counter. Forget the donut shop, dive into the made-from-scratch dishes such as the chocolate pancakes to satisfy the sweet tooth, or go both sweet and savory with a bacon waffle and a side of warm syrup. Eggs sunny side up, please.
Nearly everything is made from scratch and served in large portions—just as it should be in a neighborhood diner. And of course breakfast is served up until closing. If you need a little more incentive, Elmo’s Diner aims high to accommodate even the youngest patrons—family-friendly (ask to color a duck for the wall) and all kids’ meals are under five dollars.
Will Elmo make an appearance? Doubtful. The name came from a character in the 1987 movie Made in Heaven. The owner’s liked the character, liked the name, and so Elmo’s Diner came to be. You’ll have to ask about the duck yourself.
Close Second: Guglhupf Café and Restaurant
- Lunch: SALTBOX Seafood JointThe SALTBOX Seafood Joint was inspired by the coastal fish camps and seafood camps (photo courtesy of Carson H.)
Don’t expect fancy tablecloths and dressed up waiters at this Durham favorite. In fact, don’t expect tables (there’s a handful) or a wait staff. Everything at SALTBOX is done in tasteful simplicity by Chef Ricky Moore. Or is that tasty simplicity?
Inspired by the coastal fish camps and seafood shacks, Chef Ricky, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, has created something of an icon in Durham. There’s not much to SALTBOX. You walk up to the window, check out the handwritten menu on the chalkboard and place your order. Nothing is overly seasoned, the chef opting for a more simplistic approach to his cooking (and restaurant) and, boy, does he do it right.
The menu changes daily, depending on the fishermen’s catch of the day. It doesn’t get any fresher than this, and the day’s catch never touches a freezer. You’ll want to come early if you come closer to dinner, because SALTBOX closes when the fish run out. Believe us, they will.
Close Second: Old Havana Sandwich Shop
- Supper: The Original Q-Shack The Original Q-Shack promises “meat as tender as a mother’s love” (photo courtesy of The Original Q-Shack)
You can’t visit North Carolina without making at least one stop at a real-deal ’que joint. And you won’t find a better slice of brisket than at The Original Q-Shack. Owner Daniel Ferguson has been smoking the meat in-house daily with hickory and mesquite wood for going on thirteen years. Nothing is rushed, which makes their meats just as tender as their slogan states: “BBQ tender as a mother’s love.” Now that’s tender.
And like any proper Southern restaurant, collard greens grace the menu. The portions aren’t for the faint of heart, served hot and plenty of ’em. The ribs and the potato casserole are Q-fans’ favorites.
Close Second: Bull City Burger & Brewery
- Dessert: LocoPopsLocoPops has a variety of regulars, but the seasonal specials are truly something special. Pictured, the Strawberry Balsamic. (Photo courtesy of Adri T.)
So the idea of a popsicle for dessert may seem a bit childish and probably not what you had in mind. Owner Summer Bicknell might change your mind about that. After leaving the corporate world of Nashville, she ended up in Mexico to study the art of making gourmet pops. Loco, right? Upon returning to the States she ended up in Durham, and the rest is frozen history.
Locopops is a food truck favorite, but you can visit her storefront on Hillsborough Road. Flavors such as sea salt caramel and Mexican chocolate can appease even the most adult palates, while the chocolate brownie and grape limeade are sure to please any tuckered-out tots.
Close Second: The Parlour
See More “A Day in Durham: The Nosh Files” Photos Here