Great Dishes and Delightful Drinks of Durham

Great Dishes and Delightful Drinks of Durham

40+ top food industry professionals shared with us their No. 1 food and beverage orders. Here are the responses we received, in no particular order:


What are your favorite dishes in Durham? Why?

  • Saltbox usually has a special I can enjoy without an issue, as most places’ breadings are heavily contaminated with wheat, and not great flavor-wise either. Mexican – El Cuscatleco has a Caldo de Res that is one of my favorite hearty comfort meals. Pie Pushers‘ wings have been some of my faves for a couple of years now. I haven’t tried their gluten-free pizza yet. – Hadassah R. Patterson, Capitol Broadcasting Correspondent at WRAL-TV Out and About, Triangle Gluten-Free LLC


  • The avocado toast at Scratch. It’s super fresh, filling and a reliable choice. Mango and sticky rice at Thai Café. The perfect combination of cold and hot and sweet and savory. – Les Eckert, Academic Director for the School of Culinary Arts, Durham Tech


  • My family loves to go to Pie Pushers. We split a pepperoni and sausage pizza called the Jerry with no cheese. We also like to catch Pie Pushers at Ponysaurus on Sundays. The burger and fries at Alley Twenty Six is otherworldly. So is the Green Monster burger at Bull City Burger & Brewery, add slaw. And I can never resist single cheeseburgers with grilled onions at Wimpy’s and King’s. Vegan chocolate ice cream at Parlour. We’re not vegan, by the way. Pigs in the Blanket from Scratch at the Durham Farmers’ Market paired with their seasonal lemonade. We get several orders of the pigs because they’re addictive and we fight over them. Gougeres at Loaf. A gougere is like a puffy cloud of cheddar cheese. Pretty much a dream come true. For breakfast, Whole Foods does a great job. I get a biscuit, a bit of eggs, bacon and one spicy fried grit ball. – Lesley Stracks-Mullem, Owner, Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours


  • Sopes pastor from La Vaquita, Dijon moules from Vin Rouge, ginger snaps from Rose’s … all so simple, yet perfect execution. – Phoebe Lawless, Owner, Scratch and The Lakewood


  • Dain’s “Have-It-Your-Way Burger” with some of the best fries in town. Tater tots also excellent. Great beer selection. Dos Perros pork carnitas tacos and/or fish tacos with spicy mayo on corn tortillas paired with a $5 margarita on a Monday night. A Rise biscuit with Egg, white cheddar, country ham, honey and pickles. Loaf‘s daily bread (looks like Sicilian pizza features different fresh veggies, meats and cheeses daily) great stuff for a extremely reasonable price. This panini from Toast Durham – rapini, sweet Italian sausage, roasted garlic, asiago fresca, soppressata, fontina, arugula, mustard. Their soup is always consistently terrific, too. Foster’s Market grilled turkey club … house-roasted turkey breast, bacon, spinach, Swiss and Dijon vinaigrette on ciabatta bread (I recommend changing the bread to rye or sourdough.) Also at Foster’s Market, the BLT chicken Caesar wrap: sliced grilled chicken breast, bacon, tomato, Parmesan and Caesar salad in a spinach wrap. Old Havana’s El Caney … slow-roasted pork, avocado, cheese, a touch of mustard and mojo sauce. – Aaron Mandel, Publisher, Clarion Content

    Chirashi don at M Sushi: Stunning to look at, even more fun to eat.
  • Dry-aged steak with roasted marrow bone at The Durham: Sets the bar for steak, definitely worth the splurge (serves two generously). Chirashi don at M Sushi: Stunning to look at, even more fun to eat. Fritto misto at Mothers & Sons: Menu says “anchovies, squid, smelts, shrimp, zucchini, chiles.” They had me at anchovies. Ice cream at The Parlour — blueberry lavender in the summer, otherwise Vietnamese coffee or salted butter caramel. Tacos at Super Taqueria: Favorites are carnitas, lengua and chorizo; killer salsa bar, too. – Greg Cox, restaurant critic for the N & O


  • Fried Chicken at The Chicken HutMatt Kelly, Mateo, Vin Rouge, St. James


  • My latest crushes: The hand-sliced pastrami-stacked Reuben at Lucky’s Deli. – John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance
  • Currently my favorite dish is the squid ink tonnarelli with uni at Mothers & Sons. Squid ink can be such a hard component to work with, and the combination of flavors in this dish is always perfect. – Sarah Parker, Durham Catering Company


  • Soup at Toast. Escarole salad at Mothers & Sons. Coffee ice cream at The Parlour. Steak at The Durham Hotel. Burger at Bar Virgile. Clams at Mateo. Vegetables at Gocciolina. Lamb chops at Gocciolina. Shrimp and spoon bread at Littler. Ramen at Dashi. Salad at Toast. Salmon at Vin Rouge. – Lex Alexander, ‘retired food guy’ at Whole Foods Market
  • Viceroy‘s “Gobi Sukka.” This dish is the perfect amount of crunch, spice and salt. Crispy battered cauliflower is sautéed with onions, peppers & curry leaves. M Sushi‘s beautiful “Hamachi” small plate. It is served with the freshest hamachi around and has a clean flavor. The plating is stunning with serrano peppers, shallots, ponzu, radish and grapes. – Kristen Baughman, Founder, Tabletop Media Group


  • The lasagna at Gocciolina. Rich, thick layers of perfectly blended of ingredients that change seasonally. The tomato pie from Comfort Cuisine, layers of blended heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, ricotta, Parmesan, Duke’s light mayonnaise & farm fresh eggs. Totally decadent. Comfort Cuisine‘s sweet corn (corn from local Lyon’s Farm) done “street style” – grilled with Siracha mayo & then rolled into crumbly queso. Pizzeria Toro‘s prosciutto cotto pizza with Castelfranco olives. – Maggie Radzwiller, Chef/Owner Comfort Cuisine Catering & events


  • Pizzeria Toro‘s sausage and pepper pizza. – Portia McKnight, co-owner, Chapel Hill Creamery


  • Fried Chicken Sandwich at Picnic – the thigh is so tender and crispy – just so good. Make a roast beef and Swiss on a hoagie at Lucky’s. I make my own sandwich because I love a roast beef, Swiss, shredded lettuce, onion, Duke’s mayo and oil and vinegar. I used to make them at a place called Subs Etc. when I was 15 and it brings back delicious fond memories. Carbonara at Gocciolina. Simple, but made just like it should. Golden Harvey at Black Twig (shameless, but true). Midwest Mobster at Mattie B’s. Chicken, Vermont cheddar and scrambled egg biscuit at Rise. Pork schnitzel at Nana’s. Ribs at NanaSteak. Ramen at Kurama. Steamed buns at Juju. Steak frites at Vin Rouge. Mushroom tart at Rue Cler. Sausage pizza at Pizzeria Toro. Grits souffle at The Lakewood. – Mattie Beason, owner, Black Twig, Mattie B’s and County Fare


  • The Burger at The Durham Hotel is exactly what a burger should be: Juicy, fresh, filling and satisfying. – Sandra Gutierrez, food personality and author


  • 1. Shakshuka, Scratch 2. Japchae mandu, Bo’s Kitchen 3. Crispy fried eggplant, Gocciolina 4. Chiles rellenos, Guanajuato 5. Pupusas, Guanajuato (yeah, I really like Guanajuato) 6. Kale panino, Toast 7. Tres leches cake, Rose’s Meat Market 8. Chocolate chip cookies, 21c Museum Hotel 9. Dry-sauteed string beans, Happy China 10. Mac+cheese, Watt’s Grocery. – Vanessa Mazuz, co-owner, The Parlour


  • When I think of Durham, I think of Pizzeria Toro. I am not a Chicago-style or New York-style fan, but Pizzeria Toro takes me back to my time in Rome – the best pizza ever. Since Toro opened its doors, I stay loyal to their spicy lamb meatball & kale pizza. I am a girly girl, but I can consume this pizza with no problem just like the Romans. You don’t go to Rome and have two small slices of a personal size pizza. A true pizza eater will devour that pizza like as meal. The year that Toro had a fire and closed its doors were rough, but so glad they were able to come back. – Cecilia Moreno, creator & author, Food Diary of a City Girl LLC


  • Ham and cheese sandwich at Mateo. Cuban Sandwich at Old Havana. Breakfast wraps with country sausage at Foster’s Market. The Grand Tasting menu at M Sushi. Scott Howell, Nana’s chef


  • Gnocchi a la Sorrentina from Gocciolina. Buffalo Mozz pizza at Pizzeria Toro. Artichoke and mushroom salad at Mothers & Sons. El Vegetariano brunch plate at Old Havana. Vietnamese noodle salad with tofu at Banh’s (only on Wednesdays). Barb’s Margarita pizza at Pie Pushers. The Chevreything at Monuts. Guacamole at Dos Perros. Fries at Geer Street Garden. KFC at Dashi: Spicy, pickley, yummy.
    Salad at Toast, I could eat it (and usually do) every day. – Kelli Cotter, co-owner, Toast/Dashi


  • Pizzeria Toro – gianduja budino, hazelnuts, olive oil, sea salt (dessert) Toast – chicken liver, pancetta, pickled fennel (crostini) Juju – duck fat fried rice (main) Loaf – seasonal fruit galettes (breakfast). – Ricky Moore, chef and proprietor, Saltbox Seafood Joint


  • I love the hanger steak with blue cheese butter, along with the pomme frites, at Vin Rouge. The beef is tender and always cooked to perfection (I like a medium rare) and the blue cheese butter is abundant enough to melt across the entire steak. Their duck confit salad is not to be missed for those with a taste for tangy, sweet and savory on a single plate. The ambiance, service and the wine list makes Vin Rouge my favorite special occasion restaurant in Durham. I’ll eat anything from Scratch Bakery, but I’m partial to the pickled egg salad and the hot corned beef sandwich. Mad Hatter’s Bakeshop & Cafe is where I go to meet colleagues or friends for chit-chat. Many times it’s just coffee and cupcakes, but when it’s meal time, I like the salmon with olive tapenade. My husband is wild about the Queenstown lamb burger from Burger Bach. I go for the Wellington burger, which features grass-fed New Zealand Angus beef, blue cheese, caramelized onions, brown gravy, sauteed mushrooms and aioli. We share a plate of fries and a couple of the yummy dipping sauces. Guglhupf is a great place to eat any time of day. Having recently spent several weeks in Germany, I’m anxious to try some of their German dinner choices (spaetzle!), but haven’t ventured there yet. For lunch, though, I am a creature of habit and always order their curried chicken salad and am never disappointed. – Carolyn Burns Bass, author and blogger for HuffPost


  • Well, for starters, I’d say M Sushi and Saltbox Seafood are my favorites. I haven’t experience fine dining in Durham, although M Sushi and Saltbox are mighty fine. Then there’s Scratch Bakery for a slice or whole pie to get ya back to Greensboro. A good Methodist girl loves a good Jewish deli. Lucky’s had all my favorites; I did have to add a little more salt to the Matzah Ball Soup. Looking forward to my next day in Durham for another solo foodie tour. – Lynn Wells, owner and operator, Thyme Well Spent Personal Chef Service LLC


  • Bhat Mi from Na’mean / Ko Kyu. The BBQ Short Rib on this sandwich is out of this world. It also has a great blend of sweet and spicy with a perfect texture combo from the honey peanut sauce, chilies, cucumber, mint, cilantro, pickled vegetables, KoKyu Chili Sauce and just enough crushed peanuts. The Ko Faux Banh is a great alternative for vegetarians. Basque Beauty Pizza from Mattie B’s. I’m a big fan of the sweet-and-savory combo, and this pizza nails it. The savory serrano ham, mozzarella, arugula and roasted garlic oil are balanced with a thin, delicate layer of fig jam. The whole thing is accented with a little bit of funky blue cheese and pecans. I like to pair it with their (awesome) arugula salad with fig orange vinaigrette, red onion, smoked goat cheese and toasted pecans. – Katy Creech, owner / operator, The Glass Jug


  • The squid ink pasta at Mothers & Sons … I can have five orders of that alone and be happy. Any fish dish cooked over wood fire at Nana’s … you can’t possibly go wrong. KoKyu Na’mean‘s Bhat Mi or any of their Bahn Mi-style sandwiches … the fillings are good, but the baguette itself is amazing! I don’t think it’s on the menu anymore, but the pig tail at Mateo is stupid good. The Alley burger and scotch eggs at Alley Twenty Six are always on my mind. Grilled octopus at Bleu Olive is always perfectly charred and delicious! Spicy hot chicken at Mama’s Hot Chicken always satisfies my Nashville-style hot chicken cravings. Anything with Bearnaise sauce at Vin Rouge … I’ll smother that sauce all over my body. Technically not a restaurant, but meals at Snap Pea Underground are mind-blowing delicious and super creative. The traditional Japanese Kaiseki meal at Yamazushi … It’s like the only proper traditional Japanese restaurant in the entire state … and then some salted caramel ice cream at The Parlour is a crack in ice cream form. Tendon crackers and shrimp heads at Dashi are perfect snack anytime. Any empanadas from Luna Rotisserie and Empanadas! Spicy fish stew at Happy China is my spicy Chinese fix. – Mike Lee, chef/owner, M Sushi & M Kokko


  • Shameless plug … NanaSteak mussels and burger. House-ground steak for the burger, and it changes regularly. Nana’s risotto. Forever a classic. Mateo gambas and queso frito. The oils at the bottom of the gambas is definitely bread-worthy. And the queso frito is God-like. The melted cheese over it is incredible! Accordion Frito pie. Aaron from Gocciolina makes the chili. Great spice. Gocciolina meatballs. Though it’s hard to narrow down anything on their menu as just one favorite. Viceroy‘s murg mykanwala. I’m sure other things are good there but I’ve gotten this every time and I will still continue to get this every time. Bull McCabes buffalo chicken tenders. Yes, I’ve only ever had them when I’m drunk. Bagel Bar‘s ham, cheddar, apple sandwich on an everything bagel. They also drizzle honey on top. It’s amazing. Dashi Korean BBQ cauliflower. It might be life-changing. Great balance of spice. And now I need to eat some … Mattie B’s buffalo pizza topped with Caesar salad. It’s one of those dishes that the first time you have it you feel like someone’s been keeping it a secret from you, and it makes you happy that you’ve discovered it, but sad that it took you so long. Black twig Cider House‘s lamby joes. A wonderful carry over from Six Plates. NanaTaco nachos. Get any kind of meat on top. All glorious. The Original Q Shack chicken wings. Yes, they do great BBQ, but the wings are maybe the best I’ve ever had. No maybe. They’re the best!!! As you can tell I’m starving! Going over this list makes me really happy that I work in Durham! – Brad Weddington, partner, NanaSteak


  • Overall, I have a huge crush on Picnic. Picnic’s fried chicken sandwich is perfection … tender, savory and with that perfect balance of soft and crunchy. On the sandwich though, the stringy pickled onions and tangy-salty old bay aioli elevate it to rock star status. The #protip here is to get a small amount of their house Honey Hot Sauce on the side to dip your sandwich in as you go. The next dish I can’t get enough of is the blackened Cajun catfish. As if the fish wasn’t perfectly spiced on its own, the house-made tartar sauce is packed with an amazing overbalance of dill that rolls my eyes right up to the back of my head every time. For sides, I’m certain that the most popular is the amazing mac and cheese, but my go-to is the fried okra – bitter, soft, savory, crunchy and delicious. Another favorite of mine is the Alley Twenty Six foie gras burger. Carrie Schleiffer takes her “standard” Alley burger topped with savory black truffle cheddar, tangy bourbon bacon jam, arugula (for just the right amount of bitterness to balance things out) and a peppery chipotle aioli, and she stuffs it with foie gras. It’s like a Minnesotan Jucy Lucy that decided cheddar was too lacking in umami. It’s incredible. She also does an amazing job with lobster, and the lobster roll is credit to that. On the short list of meals that I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention (but don’t have time to describe in detail) are the steaks at NanaSteak. Those guys certainly know how to pack an amazing amount of flavor into the meat they cook. The range of sausages and toppings at Black Twig Cider House are impressive, and every single one is a fantastic combination of flavors. The curried sheperd’s pie at Viceroy is the perfect blend of traditional English savory and Indian spice. And when I’m looking for awesome bar food, the burgers at Dain’s Place are a straightforward essential. For dessert, I have to go back to the rotating menu at Picnic and the awesome standards at NanaSteak. And speaking of sweet, you can do no better for breakfast than Monuts. The rotating list of donuts there are incredible, and the sandwiches are sublime. I’ve had too many donuts to remember them all, but standouts include those featuring a bourbon-infused glaze, pistachios, lavender or apples. And I could swear there was a banana donut topped with peanuts or a peanut glaze that I just about melted into a puddle over. If you’re in south Durham, Rise is also a must, and as cliche as it may be, the maple-bacon bar is worth the hype. Speaking of bananas, peanut butter and bacon, the PB-banana-bacon sandwich at Parker and Otis always hits the spot when I feel like something sweet for lunch. – Andy Morrison, director of craft brands, Harris Beverages
  • Nicoise salad at Guglhupf. Pork nachos with guacamole and fish tacos at NanaTaco. Wasabi sushi rolls at Shiki Sushi. Salmon at Primal. Ensa-Lot-A salad and quinoa bowl at Happy + Hale. Baby back ribs at Blue Note Grill. Pizza at Randy’s Pizza. Love so many dishes at Watts Grocery, Gonza Tacos & Tequila, Basan  Rebecca Burnett, The Durham Toffee Company


  • 1) Oysters on the half shell – Vin Rouge 2) queso frito y huevo – Mateo 3) fideua – Mateo 4) white turnip soup – Toast 5) watercress salad – Dashi 6) squid ink tonnarelli – Mothers & Sons; not in any particular sequence of preference. – Ben Barker, partner, Pizzeria Mercato, formerly chef/owner Magnolia Grill


  • With a new-ish restaurant and two kids, I very rarely eat or drink away from work or home. Once a week or so, when there’s no time to cook dinner, we get take out from one of two places in our neighborhood: Alpaca Peruvian Chicken and Guanajuato Restaurant. The thing I always get at Guanajuato that I really look forward to is a huarache with pastor. It’s like a taco, but bigger, and with lettuce, crema, queso fresco and beans. With the addition of one of the many salsas or toppings from the salsa bar, it’s kind of a perfect meal. – Drew Brown, chef/owner, Lucky’s Delicatessen


  • Sushi- Basan; Pizza- Pizzeria Toro; Ramen; BasanMaressa Gabriel, marketing manager, Eschelon Experiences


  • Banh’s is a place that you have to love. The food is classic cheap eats … served from the kindest folks. No giant fanfare, just good family business. The Caney at Old Havana. The fennel sausage at Pizzeria Toro. Light Brown Leghorns at Dame’s Chicken & Waffles. Sharing dishes at Gocciolina.
    Hot dogs and green chile at The Accordion Club. Mazaman with rice noodles at Dashi. Reuben at Geer Street Garden.
    Just about anything at Azteca, La Vaquita or La Superior.
    Over-Easy at Bull City Burger and Brewery. A slice of Sicilian at Pie Pushers. The Belvis at Belgian Waffle Crafters. Fried chicken at The Chicken Hut. Pancakes and eggs at Nzinga’s. All of these dishes taste so good on their own and even better because they are connected to the places and fine folks behind them. They are part of what cumulatively makes our city great. – Leon Grodski de Barrera, co-owner, Cocoa Cinnamon


  • Steak frites, Vin Rouge: Perfect dish to split with my wife, Laura, on a date night. Any pizza, Pizzeria Toro: Great for lunch, dinner, late night or the morning after; in my mind, one of my favorite pizzas in the country, right in our backyard. Miso soup, M-Sushi: Simple, comforting, delicious. Any of the bruschettas at Mother & Sons: All are so good! – Ben Adams, chef/owner, Picnic


  • Crispy pig tail at The Durham; Tacos Carnitas at La Superior; Grilled half-chicken at The Lakewood; Burger and tots at Dain’s; Butter beans at Mateo; Potted rabbit at Littler; Chicken soup at La Cacerola; Grill game at Ponysaurus Kate Medley, food photographer and filmmaker
  • The ramen on Wednesdays at Rose’s Meat Market and Sweet Shop! It is so creative. Lamb ramen! I mean, who else is doing that? Plus they take such great care to make all of it – the broth, the pickled veggies. There is just something about waiting in line for a once-per-week delicacy that makes it special, too. The roast beef sandwich and the matzo ball soup at Lucky’s Delicatessen. The sandwich is perfect. The roast beef is tender, full of flavor, and house-made. The blue cheese and pickled onion are the perfect funk-and-acid to balance the buttery roast beef. And putting it on a kaiser roll is great because it makes it so I don’t feel guilty eating the whole thing. The Brussels sprouts pizza at Pizzeria Toro. It’s magical. Even people who don’t like Brussels will eat this. The heat of the wood fired oven perfectly chars the outside of the Brussels sprouts. Their crust is light and lets the ingredients shine. – Stacey Sprenz, photographer, Stacey Sprenz Photography


  • Almond Croissant from Loaf Bakery. If I could only eat one Durham food forever, this would be it. Perfection. Kale panini at Toast. Hearty and spicy. The hardest part is deciding between their lightly dressed green salad with shaved Parmesan, and their seasonal soups drizzled with olive oil (I’ve never had one I didn’t love!). Pace Car pizza from Pie Pushers. Sweet corn on pizza is a revelation. Gocciolina – I find a new favorite each time I go! The menu is never the same twice. Some of the simplest dishes are the absolute best, like a small dish of perfectly flavored corona beans. – Casey Roe, marketing & sales manager, Funny Girl Farm


  • The Foie Burger at Alley Twenty Six – pure decadence stuffed inside the best damn burger in Durham. Fried chicken sandwich at M Kokko – first of all, its perfectly fried. Second, the sauce is perfect. Third, the sandwich is huge and comes with an equally large and delicious salad for only $9. Hard to find a lunch deal that beats that. Fried calamari at Mateo – I am sucker for fried calamari and order it literally everywhere I travel. I’ve yet to find a version as perfectly cooked and delicious as Mateo’s. Pepperoni pizza at Pie Pushers – for years, my Saturday morning breakfast at the farmers market has been a slice of pepperoni from Pie Pushers. Since they started delivering, we order at least once a week. Pizza is one of my desert island foods and I think I could live on their pepperoni pizza alone. Egg and cheese on an everything bagel at Bagel Bar – as a born-and-bred New Englander, I’ve lamented the lack of good bagels in North Carolina. Bagel Bar solved all of that. Their sandwiches are delicious, but for me nothing beats a simple egg and cheese on their everything bagel. What makes it perfect is that they remember that kosher salt is, and always should be, part of the “everything” mix! – Matt Lardie, co-founder, School of Home
  • I try not to admit my favorite restaurant in Durham, but because I love sushi so much and Chef Mike Lee is so creative, M Sushi is probably it. I love the Chirashi bowl, which is an assortment of sashimi, roe and picked goodies on rice. His scallop small plate is also one of a kind. Saltbox is probably everyone’s favorite seafood in town, including mine. Since the menu changes daily, there can’t really be a “favorite dish,” but the king mackerel was extra good when we had it. I also love the slaw! I had the best fried oysters one night at Bar Virgile. They make fabulous elevated, “bar food.” My favorite burger in town is Burger Bach. I’ve never been a fan of lamb, but their lamb burger changed my mind. It’s grass-fed New Zealand lamb, goat cheese, spinach, Manuka Honey Dijon vinaigrette, cilantro sauce – yum! Rue Cler has one of my favorite brunches whether I get a crepe with frites or salad, I never skip the delicious warm beignets! Another favorite brunch spot is True Flavors Diner. We like the duck hash and shrimp and grits. They also serve the best warm biscuits with jam. The Orange Speckled Chabo at Dame’s Chicken & Waffles is our go-to when introducing family and friends to the chicken-and-waffle experience. Lucky’s is my new favorite sandwich shop. I love the house-cured turkey sandwich with bacon, onion and avocado. They don’t skimp on the meat! For wood-fired pizza, I’m a new convert to Treforni after being introduced to it and learning how much they know about creating the perfect Neapolitan wood-fired pizza with quality ingredients. I love a lot of the tapas at JuJu – they are unique and good portions for sharing (I can’t stand tiny tapas). The pork belly steamed buns are really good, and they might have our favorite dessert in town: the chocolate mousse peanut butter cup! I love pupusas, and one of the best places to get them is at El Cuscatleco, which also makes really delicious maduros (plantains). The garanchas and maduros at Guatemalan restaurant El Chapin also in that area are also very good and super affordable. Another favorite dessert in Durham are the handmade ice cream sandwiches at Rose’s Meat Market & Sweet Shop, such as the strawberry sorbet on lemon cookies or the miso gingersnap. – Amber Watson, owner, Bites of Bull City
  • My favorite local dish is the ginger chicken at Banh’s Cuisine. It’s the perfect amount of food for lunch, it isn’t too filling. The vegetables are always perfectly cooked – Chan is a stir fry master. It has a delicious sauce, only slightly sweet, and is topped with a nice pile of fresh, thinly shredded ginger. I’ve been eating this dish for two decades now, and I don’t intend to stop. – Andrew Magowan, owner, Geer Street Garden


  • M Sushi‘s tuna crispy rice, marinated octopus, truffled soy. Cool and hot. Crispy on the bottom yet pliant on top. A touch salty and always fresh, with just the right amount of umami. We mix it up with sushi and sashimi, but this is the one M Sushi dish we order every time. The Durham Hotel‘s NC Fish a la Plancha. Andrea Reusing has a beautiful touch with seafood, and with this dish, she complements fresh catches from the North Carolina coast with bright flavors of just-picked local vegetables and the perfect notes of salt and acid. The Lakewood‘s charred cabbage with vinegar and paprika oil. I once walked across a crowded room to tell Phoebe Lawless how much I loved this dish. Deceptively simple, the local “sugarloaf” variety cabbage is charred to a roasty sweetness, leaving the the satisfying cabbage crunch intact. The brightness of the vinegar and smoky depth of the paprika oil marry perfectly. It’s a brilliant use of an under appreciated vegetable … there is so much more to cabbage than slaw! – Mark Overbay, founder & president, Big Spoon Roasters


  • Gocciolina – all their homemade pasta dishes are wonderful. M Sushi – sushi is the best in town, so far. Bleu Olive – great appetizers. Vin Rouge – best oysters. On Tuesdays, $1! Yay! Zen Fish – best poke in town. – Amanda Cushman, private chef and culinary instructor


  • Peruvian charcoal chicken at Alpaca. Nonna’s Pizza at Bocci. Smoked Buffalo chicken wings at The Original Q Shack. NanaSteak Fries with Foie Gras/Cracked Pepper Hollandaise (side Old Fashioned). – Daniel Kulenic, owner/operator, The Rickhouse

Now, same question, but for drinks – from local craft brews to cocktails to sodas, coffee and smoothies. And why?

  • For drinks, I’ll head to Primal Food and Spirits with friends for the cocktail happy hour menu and potables. Last I was there, I ordered a sweet-potato vodka martini, shaken and dirty. I’m not even sure it was “on menu,” but it’s a classic and was perfect – cloudy with olive juice and frosty from bits of ice shavings. They used Covington’s sweet potato vodka at the time. The palate of it is smoother and a bit more subtle. It was great. They also had a spicy habanero cider on special for a bit that was a lot of fun to try, and it was not overbearing. Speaking of cider, I plan an event or two at Bull City Ciderworks periodically for my gluten-free meetup group, and we always enjoy the flights for group discussion. Black Twig Cider House has a ton of options as well. I drink coffee less frequently, but I do like Joe Van Gogh‘s various coffee/beverage specials, or a genuine cafe con leche from my friends at Old Havana Sandwich Shop. They also make a great Mojito. As far as tea, I’ve enjoyed the tea selection at Oval Park Grille. – Hadassah R. Patterson, Capitol Broadcasting Correspondent at WRAL-TV Out and About, Triangle Gluten-Free LLC


  • The house-made ginger ale at Dashi. It’s very refreshing and [isn’t] overpowering with any one ingredient.  – Les Eckert, Academic Director for the School of Culinary Arts, Durham Tech


  • Joe Van Gogh at Woodcroft makes a perfect cup of jasmine iced tea, never oversteeped or bitter. I could drink the chocolate/ coffee/ banana/ almond butter smoothie at Happy & Hale every day as a meal replacement. – Lesley Stracks-Mullem, Owner, Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours


  • Iced Americano made by Thurmond at Scratch, anything on the shellfish wine menu at Vin Rouge. – Phoebe Lawless, Owner, Scratch and The Lakewood


  • Dos Perros classic margarita. The Americano at the original Cocoa Cinnamon. A Bud bottle from a friendly Devine’s bartender. Foster’s Market iced coffee. – Aaron Mandel, publisher, Clarion Content


  • Bollywood Lullaby (punch for four) at Alley Twenty Six: Silkiest, most elegant punch I’ve ever had. Manhattan at Bar Virgile: The classic, perfectly executed and served in a Nick and Nora glass. Biere de garde at Ponysaurus: Loaded with complex flavors but not heavy. – Greg Cox, restaurant critic for the N & O


  • Parker & Otis’ unsweet peach tea. – Matt Kelly, Mateo, Vin Rouge, St. James
  • My latest crushes: The Paycheck Pilsner – a summer quencher – from Fullsteam. – John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance


  • For cocktails, the aperol margarita at Pizzeria Toro absolutely takes the cake. Every detail down to the sea salt on the rim and the large cider glass makes it the perfect refresher. For a more low key option, Accordion Club‘s off-menu shandy hits the spot (just ask for it!). And I can’t get through the week without an iced cold brew from Joe Van Gogh. – Sarah Parker, Durham Catering Company


  • Rye pale ale Ponysaurus; Cortado The Durham Hotel; Wine at Vin Rouge. – Lex Alexander, ‘retired food guy’ at Whole Foods Market


  • Cocoa Cinnamon‘s “Dr. Durham.” It is a latte with slightly frothier micro-foam. The homemade vanilla really comes through in this drink and is also topped with something super fun … black lava salt! – Kristen Baughman, Founder, Tabletop Media Group


  • The “Maggie slushy” made just for me at Gocciolina by bartender Wes – a really well-shaken Redemption rye Manhattan, with fresh lemon juice added, poured over a large cocktail ice cube with orange zest. The same as above, but made at JuJu … by Brett using cardamom bitters for extra warmth and fragrance. – Maggie Radzwiller, Chef/Owner Comfort Cuisine Catering & events


  • Fullsteam‘s “Coffee is For Closers” brew. – Cherith Andes, Clairemont Communications


  • They make a mean Vesper at Alley Twenty Six … my favorite drink, probably because I wish I was James Bond. The State Bird at Mateo. My favorite version of gin and tonic. Humidity at Fullsteam. A lovely pale ale. Orange You a Hippie, orange cider at Bull City Ciderworks, need I say more? Cider, cider, cider, anywhere really. – Mattie Beason, owner, Black Twig, Mattie B’s and County Fare


  • 1. Coconut hot chocolate, Durham Hotel. 2. Kublai Khan, Cocoa Cinnamon. 3. Cherryzing, Homebucha. 4. Lavender lemonade, Scratch. 5. Blood orange shrub, Pizzeria Toro. 6. Ethiopia Sidamo, Joe Van Gogh. – Vanessa Mazuz, co-owner, The Parlour


  • Hand’s down the best cocktails in Durham and the Triad are at Alley Twenty Six. The bar’s menu is seasonal. You can never go wrong with a Mezcal Mule. The bar always has ginger beer in stock and has a great selection of liquors in stock, including Mezcal. The Corpse Reviver is a cocktail I have started seeing more and more in upscale craft cocktail bars, however, not one makes a Corpse Reviver like Alley Twenty Six. They are delicious, but a warning: You definitely need a designated driver when consuming one of these babies. – Cecilia Moreno, creator & author, Food Diary of a City Girl LLC


  • Bar Virgile, the whole specialty cocktail list is always solid. Scott Howell, Nana’s chef


  • Durty Bull Blond Sour, great balance and so refreshing. Ponysaurus Rye Pale Ale, same reason as above. Alley Twenty Six‘s ever-changing variations on the French 75: Always so creative but hints at the classic I love. The Durham Hotel‘s The Green Room, and not just because I love The Green Room. Parker and Otis‘s regular cappuccino. Perfect ratio and flavor, every time. Grapefruit shōchū frozen deliciousness at Dashi. Aperol margarita at Pizzeria Toro, so tart and refreshing, and just a bit different than the classic. – Kelli Cotter,  co-owner, Toast/Dashi


  • Alley Twenty Six – any of the freestyle cocktails that Rob does! – Ricky Moore, chef and proprietor, Saltbox Seafood Joint


  • I am a huge fan of Counter Culture coffee and will drink copious amounts wherever it’s poured. I enjoy stopping in to Parker and Otis to browse and then sit a spell over a cup of Counter Culture coffee. – Carolyn Burns Bass, author and blogger for HuffPost


  • When I sit down at Fullsteam, I tell the bartender, “Now, I don’t drink beer, but have you got First Frost?” There’s something about persimmon undertones in a cold beer any time of the day or year. I can’t wait to try Kyle‘s menu. I carry a bottle of his Dusty Foothills chili table sauce with me everywhere! Durham is on fire! – Lynn Wells, owner and operator, Thyme Well Spent Personal Chef Service LLC


  • Paycheck Pilsner, Fullsteam. Most people don’t realize that light lagers are actually one of the most challenging beers to make. They take much longer to make than the average ale, and their delicate, clean nature means there is nowhere for flaws to hide. For these reasons, there are few craft breweries that tackle this type of beer. It’s pretty awesome that we have a local brewery, not only up to the challenge, but doing such a good job with it! Paycheck is light, refreshing and just a tiny bit toasty. Perfect for our hot, sticky summers! You can find Paycheck at most local bottle shops and many local grocery stores. Local Negroni, using Durham Distillery Navy Strength Gin. As a busy professional in the beer industry, I find that my palate for fine cocktails often surpasses my ability to make them. However, I’ve built a handful of recipes over the years that I love, because they’re delicious, [simple] and all the ingredients are easy to keep on hand. The classic negroni is one of my favorites to play with!

Katy’s Favorite Local Negroni
1 oz. Durham Distillery Navy Strength Gin
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
3/4 oz. Campari
2 dashes Crude Rizzo Bitters (rosemary, grapefruit & peppercorn)

I know this isn’t traditional, but I like to shake all ingredients and serve in a martini glass with a twist of lemon.

  • Option 1: Swap in Fair Game Blackberry Tipper for the vermouth and use Crude’s Bitterless Marriage (hibiscus, lavender & oak) bitters.
  • Option 2: Swap in Fair Game Ruby Port and use Crude’s Sycophant (orange & fig). This is particularly good in the cooler months.
  • Option 3: Try out a frozen negroni this summer!

You can find Durham Distillery products in the NC display at your local ABC store and Fair Game and Crude products at many local beer and wine stores. – Katy Creech, owner / operator, The Glass Jug

  • Cocoa Cinnamon for coffee fix. Fullsteam, Bull City Burger and Brewery, and Ponysauraus for my beer fix. – Mike Lee, chef/owner, M Sushi & M Kokko


  • Shameless plug: NanaSteak old fashioned and English mule. The Old Fashioned is very unique, using Luxardo cherry juice and a mix of bitters. Our English mule uses a local farmer’s ginger and turmeric syrup mixed with Pimm’s. Really, you could add anything to that syrup and it’s great. Alley Twenty Six rum and tonic. So delicious and refreshing that you can’t just have one. Their house-made tonic is delicious. Accordion Club Budweiser. I know, I know. NanaTaco mojitos. Frozen, of course. Ponysaurus rye pale ale. They make a lot of good beers but this one always stands out. Parker and Otis vanilla lattes. My wife actually had to have an intervention with me for the number of these I drank every week. I’m not joking. Seriously. Durham distillery anything!!! Their gins are amazing. The new cucumber vodka is outrageously great. And their Damn Fine chocolate liqueur is sinful. – Brad Weddington, partner, NanaSteak


  • Rather than give my favorite beers from any local breweries, I want to share my favorite draft lineups locally. I love when I walk into a place planning to have two or three rounds, and I know that there will be at least four beers on the menu that I’m going to be completely torn between. That’s especially impressive when the draft menu is only 10 to 12 taps deep. For me, those places are (in no particular order): Criterion, Bull McCabes and Mattie B’s. I always know that they have given careful thought to what they add to their tap list, and I’m never disappointed. – Andy Morrison, director of craft brands, Harris Beverages


  • Krupnikas at Brothers Vilgalys. Coffee and cappuccinos at Bean Traders. Rebecca Burnett, The Durham Toffee Company


  • Wine selection at Vin Rouge and Mateo exceed virtually all lists in the Triangle for our tastes (in no way meant to diminish the superb lists at Nana’s, Piedmont, Rue Cler and Mothers & Sons). Michael Maller expresses his rarefied enthusiasm for French and Spanish wines with outstanding selections at every price point; we are richer here in Durham because of his superb attention to producer and terroir coupled with an astute understanding of wine’s place as a component of the complete restaurant experience. Can’t wait to see the list for the seafood joint! – Ben Barker, partner, Pizzeria Mercato, formerly chef/owner Magnolia Grill


  • Coffee, Cocoa Cinnamon. Beer, Bull City Ciderworks and Motorco. – Maressa Gabriel, marketing manager, Eschelon Experiences


  • House-made ginger ale at Dashi. Krupnikas by The Brothers Vilgalys. La Frida – Cocoa Cinnamon (my wife created based on the best mole recipe in our extended family, inspired by Frida Kahlo). [Southern] Basil by Fullsteam. Honeysuckle soda at The Lakewood. – Leon Grodski de Barrera, co-owner, Cocoa Cinnamon


  • Ponysaurus beer: Always delicious, always go down easy. Any cocktail at Littler: Cozy, intimate bar, great staff, great tunes and drinks are always delicious. Cheap beer at Accordion Club: Great spot to drink for cheap and run into all of your restaurant friends! – Ben Adams, chef/owner, Picnic


  • Alley Cocktail at Alley Twenty Six. Nick‘s wine selection at the Durham Co-op Market. Kate Medley, food photographer and filmmaker


  • Fullsteam Brewery does everything well, but my favorite beer they make is Coffee is for Closers. I love the richness of this brew and the fact that it is made with local coffee from Muddy Dog Roasting Co. The little bit of lactose they add makes it creamy and delicious with the perfect iced coffee feel. The La Villa Rica at Cocoa Cinnamon is the perfect balance of vanilla sweetness and strong coffee. You can actually see vanilla beans in it because of the house-made vanilla bean syrup. There is always the most wonderful latte art atop it as well. It is truly a cup of love. The cocktail named for The Durham Hotel is really solid. Anything with rum, cognac and tawny port has to be great. It is the perfect drink to sip on a cool evening. Plus, the surroundings add to the experience … that rooftop bar is awesome. – Stacey Sprenz, photographer, Stacey Sprenz Photography


  • London Fog from Scratch Bakery – oh-so-creamy, served in a mug that feels like [you’re] sipping from a bowl. Dr. Durham from Cocoa Cinnamon – A new Durham drink so good it feels like a classic. Chocolate Habanero latte from Bean Traders – The perfect blend of sweet and spicy! Hot summer Durham days require this drink. Margaritas at Dos Perros – the best in town! I love the spicy ones likes Hot Guava and Habanero. Best-kept secret: $5 Margarita night on Mondays. – Casey Roe, marketing & sales manager, Funny Girl Farm


  • The Rhize Up at Bull City Ciderworks – This is my go-to cider whenever I’m there, or basically anywhere that serves Bull City Ciderworks cider. It’s cidery and crisp with a gingery bite. Any orange wine from Bar Brunello – Esteban knows his stuff, and if its on his menu, I know I’ll probably like it. His orange wine list is especially exciting, and it always manages to surprise me. Boozy smoothies at Dashi – They always have two flavors and I always get them swirled together. It’s a seriously fun way to wind down a Friday night. – Matt Lardie, co-founder, School of Home


  • I’m not the most helpful here because I really don’t drink coffee or alcohol, but I like chai lattes at Guglhupf and Parker & Otis. I tend to like them sweet and creamy instead of spicy and tea-like, and these two places make it that way. The milkshakes at NanaTaco are really good and better than the ones you order at chains. If we do get a cocktail, we like The Kiwi drink at Burger Bach. Homemade lemonade at True Flavors diner. – Amber Watson, owner, Bites of Bull City
  • Alley Twenty Six Gin & Tonic. Shannon Healy makes the best tonic I’ve ever had, and this really sets the Durham G&T standard. Check that. It sets the G&T standard, period. Dos Perros Habanero Margarita. Please forgive the rock music metaphor, but this is a power trio in a glass: habanero-infused Hornitos tequila, lime and agave. It’s hard not to order these by the pitcher. – Mark Overbay, founder & president, Big Spoon Roasters


  • Old Fashioned at NanaSteak. Anything from Bar Virgile or Alley Twenty Six.  Daniel Kulenic, owner/operator, The Rickhouse