One of my favorite things about Durham was all the great food, especially Southern food. During my year in Durham, I became a big fan of many restaurants — places I miss a lot now that I’ve graduated and moved away from North Carolina. I’m not a big fan of upscale or gourmet restaurants, just really good food (often cheap). These are my favorite restaurants in Durham:
I had chicken and waffles for the first time during my sophomore year of college and immediately fell in love. This may seem like a weird combination, but once you try it, it all makes sense. Dame’s, located in downtown Durham, does the dish a little differently than what I’m used to. The waffle is a bit softer (it’s a bit like a thick pancake), and is offered in multiple forms, such as gingerbread and sweet potato (of course, regular is also an option.) The chicken is also a bit different from other establishments I’ve been to, as they offer chicken without the bone. The chicken is fried, very crispy, and has great flavor. My favorite way to eat the dish is to combine it, leaving the chicken right on top of the waffle, and I pour syrup over all of it, but some prefer to separate the two. Every time I went to Dame’s I had a great experience, with incredible food and really good service — their staff is incredibly nice and accommodating, and always helpful to customers who’ve never had the dish before. I highly recommend chicken and waffles in general, and you should definitely go to Dame’s. The line can be long for lunch on weekends, so try to go during weekdays — you can usually get a table right away.
Los Comales de Durham
Los Comales is my favorite Mexican restaurant in Durham, and I wish I had eaten there more. It’s a bit off the beaten track, north of downtown Durham and around 10-15 minutes away from Duke, but they have great Mexican food. This place is not a sit-down restaurant and the entire menu is in Spanish, so you may need to ask for help when ordering. I’m a really big fan of the tacos and tortas — very fresh and cooked perfectly. This restaurant also has Melon Water, which looked weird at first but tasted really good. This restaurant is a bit more authentic than your typical run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant. If you’re looking for really cheap and great Mexican food, this is the place for you.
I paid more visits to this restaurant than anywhere else in Durham, and while I’m not sure if that was the best decision for my health, I certainly have no regrets. My year in Durham made me love BBQ, and what makes Q-Shack special is that it features a wide range of BBQ — not just the typical NC style. One year in NC doesn’t make me a BBQ expert, and I still can’t hold a conversation on the differences between Eastern NC and Western NC BBQ, but I do know that all NC BBQ is pork, and Q-Shack has great pork (I’m a big fan of the pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw). Texas BBQ is brisket, and even though brisket isn’t native to NC, Q-Shack has a great brisket — my favorite item at the restaurant. Besides the great BBQ, the restaurant also has great sides — I’m especially a fan of their fries and onion rings. Since hushpuppies are a necessity, you get them with your meal no matter what, although I do think the quality of hushpuppies is the one thing Q-Shack can improve upon. Q-Shack is located less than 10 minutes from Duke, and it should be a requirement that all incoming students pay a visit to the restaurant within their first week at school. BBQ is simply too important in NC to ignore.
Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen
Okay, so this might not be in Durham, but it’s close enough. Located in Chapel Hill, less than 15 minutes from Duke, Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen is a drive-thru only establishment serving up great biscuits, especially chicken biscuits. I didn’t even know that a piece of fried chicken breast inside of a biscuit was a food option (outside of my imagination) until I came to Duke, but luckily for society it is, and Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen has the best chicken biscuit I’ve ever had. There’s only two things I don’t like about Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen: it closes at 2:30 pm every day (after all, it’s a sunrise biscuit, not a sunset biscuit — and yes, I still don’t fully understand how a chicken biscuit is a breakfast item, but apparently it is) and it’s cash only, but this place never failed to disappoint and I highly recommend it if you are ever in Chapel Hill in the morning or early afternoon.