When you ask for restaurant recommendations in Durham, you probably hear the same names come up over and over again: the well-known spots with national recognition and plenty of foodie buzz surrounding them, but what about the restaurants that slip in under the radar but still serve some of the best food in the Bull City? They might be a bit off the beaten path, lesser known, or smaller operations, but they’re equally delicious. For your dining pleasure, we’re revealing eight of our favorite Durham restaurant (and dessert) hidden gems.
Authentic Salavordian and Mexican food awaits at this unassuming spot on Garrett Road. You start off with a free basket of chips and fresh housemade salsa. The pupusas are perfect, and with a combo deal, you can try a couple different menu items along with a generous helping of beans and rice on the side for around $6. We usually get the platanos as an appetizer as well. The tab is always affordable and our bellies are always full.
On Fayetteville Street, there’s a funny building that looks more like an apartment than a restaurant, but inside, you’ll find the friendliest staff and the best comfort food around. Served cafeteria style, cash-only, and only open for lunch Monday-Friday, Chicken Hut offers several daily specials in addition to their made-to-order fried chicken and all kinds of Southern sides. Everything from the lima beans to the yams to the crispy chicken skin is bursting with flavor. We couldn’t resist a peach cobbler for dessert too! Chicken Hut has been around for over 60 years and I’d say they definitely fulfill their goal of providing inexpensive, delicious, home-cooked meals to the community.
Run by students from The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham, The District is located on the basement level at American Tobacco Campus (next to the YMCA). In this lovely restaurant setting, culinary students test their skills preparing, cooking and serving food – and you get to be the guest. Entrees and sides are affordably priced and there are some definite favorites, like the fried brussels sprouts. You can get a small or large portion for your entree, but we recommend going for the large which is more filling and still a fair price. And always make sure you opt for whatever seasonal desserts they have on the menu since it might be your only chance to try them before the menu changes. The District is only open for lunch on Thursdays and Fridays from 12-2pm (and is closed in between semesters). You can call to inquire and make reservations ahead of time.
It’s hard to miss La Vaquita on Chapel Hill Road because there’s a giant cow statue on the roof. This taqueria is a casual place for great authentic Mexican. Tacos are served on homemade corn tortillas with flavorful meats and all the garnishes. They have homemade sopes, jam packed tortas (Mexican sandwiches), and quesadillas too. Eat outside on covered picnic tables or take it to go. With so much variety, you’ll want to go back to try more of the menu next time. You won’t break the bank no matter what you get and you’re sure to be satisfied.
This relatively new Guatemalan restaurant is in a plaza off of 15/501 and has delicious appetizers like garnachas for just $1.75 each and entrees like juicy and flavorful chicken with a generous number of sides (rice, salad, soup) and Guatemalan soups with warm tortillas. The plantains here are also really well done!
You probably already know about the food truck…it’s one of Durham’s favorites, serving up specialty grilled cheese sandwiches and addictive fried brussels sprouts, but did you know American Meltdown also has a spot in the Southpoint mall food court? That’s right, the next time you’re catching a movie or completely worn out from shopping and dealing with mall crowds, you don’t have to settle for typical food court food. Plus, every Wednesday night kids eat free with the purchase of an adult entree. (*Note: Porchetta, another Triangle food truck, also has a storefront in the Southpoint mall food court.)
For fresh and fruity ice cream and popsicles, head over to La Monarca, located in a small strip mall close to East Club Boulevard. Their frozen treats are the perfect way to cool off, especially on hot summer days in Durham! And you know they’re made with real fruit because you can actually see big chunks of it frozen inside. The strawberry and kiwi popsicles are a couple of our favorites.
It took a while for Carolina Glazed Donuts to open on Miami Blvd., and when they did, it was a rather quiet reveal, but not long after, people started to rave about it and we can confirm it’s true…they make seriously good softy pillowy donuts and they don’t charge an arm and a leg for them. Carolina glazed has all the traditional kinds and many special flavors, along with giant fritters and eclairs. They also fill your donuts to-order! The custard filling we had in our chocolate frosted eclair was the best filling we’ve tried in a while!
Photos: Instagram @bitesofbullcity