Best Bites of the Bull City: Volume 3
The toughest food critics in Durham are not the journalists, I guarantee you, it’s the kids! We’ve all experienced dreaded meals with a picky toddlers or even teens (heck, I was one of them back in the day!), but with Durham’s vast food scene, there is something for everyone, even the littlest and the loudest among us.
For the best family-friendly eats around South Durham (and the rest of the Bull City), we asked Kat Benson, mother of two, to share her picks. Kat is the founder of SoDu Parents Posse, an incredible and inclusive online community where parents connect, share stories and resources, ask questions, and vent freely. You can join the Facebook group here.
Breakfast or brunch with the kids
The morning I found out I was pregnant with my firstborn, my husband and I were so stunned that we went to our favorite breakfast place around the corner, Benetis, to think about our changing life over waffles. It’s like going home when you enter because the owner knows everyone. I like to get an omelette with a side of their yummy tzaziki for my home fries.
My family is also a huge fan of Rise. My husband teaches documentary filmmaking and one of his students made a short about Rise when they were newly opened, so my kiddos got to be on the big screen stuffing their faces with chocolate donuts. I love the fried green tomatoes and the s’mores donut, and appreciate their kid play space.
Crowd pleasing cheap eats
I survived on Cosmic Cantina as an undergrad at UNC and was happy to find there was a Durham Cosmic that was just as cheap and delicious. I’ve gone here with pals after doing Bull City Escape’s puzzle rooms and with the kids after a fun day at Duke Gardens, it’s always a good meal at a crazy cheap price.
Favorite place to order take-out
Tandoor in RTP is so close to my house that I could bike there, and it’s so worth it. They couldn’t be nicer. My husband and I can’t live without their aloo mattar, pakoras and samosas, garlic naan, and butter chicken. We get this and make our kids mac and cheese when it’s been a long day.
Family-friendly lunch location
Over in Southwest Durham, Shannon Plaza has got it figured out for lunch, between Only Burger, Bull Street Gourmet, and Pop’s Backdoor (with their play nook), each member of the family can get their choice from a different place! You can hit Tutti Frutti for dessert then the library, all within one block.
Family-friendly dinner spot
Hope Valley Brewing Company has a cute kid’s corner and is dog-friendly too, which is awesome for us with our new rescue pup, Chance. Kids eat free on Tuesday, and if you get there early enough. you get half price appetizers at happy hour. I favor the patio on a nice evening and tend to order the crispy brussel sprouts and bang bang cauliflower.
If you want a little fancier, Shiki Sushi has a giant menu but is not too pricey and the staff is great with kids.
Best sweet treats
Throughout the winter, we drive past Pelican’s Snowballs with a heavy heart as we await opening day. My kids always get the same thing, but I mix it up – My favorite being mango and pineapple topped with chili lime powder for a kick. You can’t beat relaxing in the sun on their rainbow picnic benches as you let their sugared snow melt in your mouth.
We’ve also got a habit of stopping by The Mad Popper after Tae Qwon Do for a pre-dinner treat. The kids love the ice cream sundae flavored popcorn, while I go for the shak BBQ. As I type this, I’m eating their “crazy good kettle corn” and enjoying Bull City Ciderworks cider…that counts as a sweet treat too, right?
Favorite pizza shop
Pompieri Pizza is super kid-friendly with books and a play area, plus they have neat fish tanks that are part of their Aquaponics system used to grow herbs. All four in my family had a blast decorating pizza boxes for their annual pizza box art contest where the winner gets a year of free pizza! As far as what to get, you can’t beat their Sunday Family Meal.
Favorite fast-casual (non-chain) restaurant
William’s Gourmet Kitchen is this fun place tucked away behind the train tracks and it’s yummy as can be: Nice outdoor seating, friendly people and fast service. I tend to go for the black and blue burger with sweet potato fries.
Favorite place for adventurous little eaters
Research Triangle Park (RTP) offers a lot of options, and for those of us who live close by, it’s a treat. I recommend the Ting, jerk chicken, and plantains at local hole-in-the-wall Jamaica Jamaica, and the Baht Mi at KoKyu’s Na’Mean for tasty fare in an atmosphere that tempts the littlest ones. Then you can grab an unbelievably mouth-puckeringly and delightful icy lemonade at Jimmy’s Famous Hot Dogs to reward them for trying something new.
Best place for outdoor seating & eating
If you’ve got a fence, you’ve got my business! Bull McCabe’s is the perfect place to meet up with other families and let the kids roam safely, climbing trees as you enjoy food and a brew on the lawn. Halloween afternoon there was a blast!
Ponysaurus is also an excellent place to take in a game with a beer while helping the kids make s’mores over their fire pits.
Favorite restaurant for mommy meet-ups (without the kids)
Alley Twenty-Six is super classy for a night out. I am a fan of Cloud Cover and Foula Kahuna, but you can’t go wrong with a vodka tonic. Their sculpted ice and housemade tonic reinvents the wheel.
I’ve also hosted many a moms night out at The Little Dipper during their Wednesdays $9 chocolate and cheese ladies night…delish!
My favorite place to take people from out of town is 21C and Counting House. Where else in the Bull City can you roam a modern art museum with your handcrafted drinks while being a stone’s throw from the famous Durham Bulls at bat!