Welcome to Durham
Here are some destinations to know about if you are visiting Durham. This page focuses on destinations that are within a five-minute radius (plus traffic lights) of Duke University and Washington-Duke Inn (WDI), where visitors often stay.
There is another town not too far away called Chapel Hill. Some people say it is nice, but Durham-lovers mostly ignore it. The city of Raleigh and the town of Cary are too far away to be of interest.
Durham has been recognized as America's foodiest small town. You don't have to go far for good food and you don't have to go to Chapel Hill. This page focuses on local options run by serious local people.
Like most American towns, Durham has some pockets that have become infested with corporate food chains. Notable concentrations include Southpoint Mall (e.g., Apple Store), the Hillsborough Road area near the Durham Hilton (fast food along with a barbecue joint or two), the 15-501 corridor toward Chapel Hill (which also leads to A Southern Season and a Whole Foods and some other interesting destinations) and the South Square area of Durham, which also has some restaurants of interest mentioned below. Enough said about these areas.
These are local options that are worth visiting to experience
what the area has to offer.
The Nasher art museum is near WDI.
The museum cafe is an excellent lunch or snack spot.
Four Square is an A-list restaurant quite close to WDI. Make reservations.
Piedmont is my current preferred local foodie spot. It is good for an excursion to downtown.
Guglhupf is a good German bakery and coffee shop with ample indoor seating, a nice outdoor courtyard, and free wireless. We love Gughlupf. It is quite close to WDI.
Foster's Market is next door, and they also have a bakery
and lunch food and outdoor seating. Many people love Foster's, but I never get further than Guglhupf.
Barbecue is a local vice and many visitors wish to sample it. Allen and Son is considered authentic, and it is a nice drive if you go the right way (Erwin Road toward Chapel Hill, right on Mt. Sinai Road, 20 minutes, you will feel like you are visiting another more Southern world.)
A still-good option close to WDI is Original Q-Shack.
Barbecue has suffered from the rise of industrial-scale hog farming, but these places still do the best they can at their price points. There are other local options that also have their fans.
Outdoors and Walking
Duke Forest. There is a 3-mile cross-country loop around the WDI hotel.
Note also that there are lonelier Duke Forest trails a mile or so up SR 751 (go
left out of the WDI hotel, drive for 1-1.5 miles, park on the side
of the road for trailheads on the right or left).
Duke Gardens are on the north side of campus.
Eno River is a wild preserve with lots of trails that runs through Northwest Durham. Cox Mountain loop is the preferred destination for a 2-3 hour excursion. If you are staying at Durham Hilton then you are already halfway there.
Bennett Place historic site is practically across the street from the Durham Hilton. The American Civil War ended here, and the town of Durham was born when encamped soldiers developed a taste for the local Brightleaf tobacco.
Unfortunately, the only food options within walking distance of WDI are on the Duke campus and perhaps along Erwin Road on the west side of campus. A location is defined as "on-campus" if it has DUKE wireless access.
- WDI has a decent upscale restaurant and a typical lounge with some good taps. There are lots of reasons to stray from the hotel, but the food here can be enjoyed.
- Nasher is an excellent lunch or snack spot.
- Refectory in the Divinity School is my
preferred on-campus food option. Approved for healthy food.
- Armadillo Grill in the Bryan Center is a Mexican/Southwest formula restaurant. I have never been there.
- There are several other cafeteria-style options in the Bryan Center, LSRC Blue Express,
and at other locations on campus.
- Interactive campus map
The following restaurants are mainstays of the Durham Food Scene. These
are some of the places we take visiting colleagues. Reservations strongly
recommended. These restaurants are all protein-centric but veggie-acceptable and
use local ingredients when they can.
There are many other good restaurants listed below, and others that I missed.
- Four Square near the WDI. Impeccable service.
- Nana's has been on a winning streak.
- Magnolia Grill is an original: many local chefs interned here.
- Piedmont is my current preferred local foodie spot.
Think "Michael Pollan". If that doesn't mean anything to you, the others will do just fine.
- Watts Grocery another local foodie restaurant. Can be loud.
Ninth Street Area
Ninth Street is a classic university business neighborhood with some funkier places
that have much to recommend them. This area is easy to get to from Durham Hilton: turn
left out of the hotel and keep going. Don't go too far.
- Vin Rouge French Bistro. Vive La France.
- Parizade. Mediterranian formula. Quite decent and equipped for crowds. In Erwin Square, the tallest building around.
- Vita/Verde is right next to Parizade. I have heard it is good but I have not been there.
- Blue Corn Cafe Southwest/Mex. Durham has lots of authentic Mexican holes-in-wall (ask if interested), but Blue Corn is a whiter version.
- Cosmic Cantina is a dive. I go there often for the excellent burritos, usually take out.
- Elmo's Diner. A diner.
- Mad Hatter's Bakeshop. Good breakfast, other food as well. Free wireless. If you want baked goods go to Guglhupf.
- Whole Foods grocery store with a cafe and salad bar. Near Mad Hatter's.
- Magnolia Grill is an original A-list restaurant: many local chefs interned here.
- Watts Grocery another A-list local foodie restaurant. Can be loud.
Downtown Durham has some excellent restaurants scattered around. Here are a few of the Approved spots.
Piedmont is my current preferred local foodie spot.
- Rue Cler. French/Parisian, but not the pretentious kind. Vive La France. Can be noisy.
- Dos Perros. Interesting upscalish Mexican-plus. Try the goat.
- Revolution. People are excited about this A-list candidate. Let me know how you like it.
- Toast Paninoteca. Italian sandwiches and NC microbrews.
- Tosca Italiano
- West End Wine Bar. More of a place to go for a drink, but also good light food. Tucked away behind Durham's snazzy new Amtrak station.
Brightleaf is one of several pedestrian-friendly clusters of shops and restaurants in renovated historic tobacco buildings. These 19th-century tobacco warehouses are some of the coolest brickwork you will see anywhere. Brightleaf itself is high-rent so the restaurants tend to fall back to high-margin formulas. But I have had good meals at all of these restaurants.
- Pop's Trattoria off Brightleaf. Some other people think the pizza is good.
- Another Thyme just off Brightleaf, pioneer of Durham food scene.
- The Federal pub, preferred hangout of Duke grad students and some incognito professors. Irish Pub next door.
- Parker and Otis breakfast and lunch, gourmet shop.
- Brightleaf Restaurants include pizza, asian, greek, and one of those places that serves slabs of meat on swords.
American Tobacco Campus
ATC is another pedestrian-friendly cluster in the courtyard of an old tobacco factory. It is near the Durham Bulls ballpark and the Durham Performing Arts Center. Duke's OIT offices are here. It has a number of
restaurants including pizza, cuban, and
pan-asian options. It is also the location of Tyler's Taproom, the
best set of beer taps around.
There are a number of decent ethnic options and less-established independents tucked in amongst chains in various areas. If you want quicker or lower-cost food and you're not too particular you can drive to one of these areas and find food that even food snobs can eat.
One option is along Erwin Road on the West end of campus: go left out of the WDI onto 751/Cameron and turn right at the next light onto Erwin Road for Chipotles, several coffee shops, asian, etc.
Another option is the
South Square/University Drive area: go right out of the WDI hotel onto 751/Cameron, bear right at first light onto 751/Academy Road, go through some more lights, then exit right onto 15-501 business, or go another block to the t-bone and turn right on University. Several options in this area:
- NeoChina is a decent Chinese place that can be good if you choose well and ask for low-oil no-MSG.
- Sitar India Palace can be very good if you order from the menu. They sometimes have a buffet too. They can handle a crowd.
- Twisted Noodles is a decent simulation of Thai food.
- Saladelia: salads and trim fare.
- Rick's Diner is a nice little neighborhood place where the waitresses call you "honey".
- ABC liquor store (NC Alcohol Board of Control). There's also one up on Main Street not too far from Durham Hilton. If you're looking for a bottle in this state then ABC is the only place to go. Note: Wine Authorities up the road is the A-list wine shop with tasting bar and gourmet food items.
- Large corporate beer pubs
- Target, a super with a grocery store.