Allen & Son, Alley Twenty Six, barbecue, Bobcat Bite, Bull City Burger and Brewery, Cocoa Cinnamon, Daisy Cakes, Durham, Mateo Tapas, North Carolina, Parker and Otis, Pizzeria Toro, restaurants, Santa Fe Bite, Six Plates, West End Wine Bar
This month’s Favorite Things post is all about food! Specifically, my favorite restaurants in Durham, North Carolina. If you find yourself in Durham, these are not to be missed. Most of them are relatively new to the scene, so if you haven’t been to Durham in a few years, you might be surprised.
You may not think of Durham as a culinary hot spot, but it’s been getting a lot of press over the past few years. The venerated New York Times has written about it several times, which you can read here, here, and here. Food & Wine has also profiled Durham a couple of times, here and here.
Many of these features have highlighted spots such as Magnolia Grill, Toast, Rue Cler, Whiskey (which is closing), Watts Grocery, Six Plates, and Nana’s. And yes, those places are all great, but some of them (ahem, Magnolia Grill–which a commenter informs me is now closed) are way overpriced. They’ve also now been around for what feels like a long time.
I would eat breakfast at Daisy Cakes every day if I could. The eggs are perfectly cooked, the grits are true Southern grits, and their biscuits are to DIE for. I also love that they put a delightful little cookie on your saucer when you order tea or coffee.
They serve lunch too, but I’ve only been there for breakfast. And cupcakes. Oh, the cupcakes. They are decadent and delicious. And you can even get gluten-free versions! (They do wedding cakes too.)
Daisy Cakes sells its own gluten-free flour, Equal Measure, that can be used on a 1-to-1 substitution basis instead of regular flour. (It’s not cheap – $16 for a 2-pound bag – but if you love baked goods and need to be gluten-free, I think it would be worth it.)
Daisy Cakes also offers Afternoon Tea, which I’ve never done, but it’s going on my list for my next trip to Durham! Afternoon tea is the BEST.
Bull City Burger and Brewery
I love hamburgers, especially restaurant hamburgers. Until I went to Bull City, the best hamburger I ever had in my entire life was at a tiny place outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico called Bobcat Bite. (It seems that Bobcat Bite has been relocated to downtown Santa Fe and renamed Santa Fe Bite.) The burgers at Bull City might be even better than Bobcat Bite. After my first visit, I could not stop thinking about how delicious the burger was. And I couldn’t wait for my next trip to Durham so I could go to Bull City again. They are that good.
Bull City is a “farm-to-fork” restaurant. All of their ingredients are from local North Carolina suppliers, and they don’t use ANY high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, or hydrogenated oils. (You know what they do use? Duck fat. And it is fantastic. Try the duck-fat fries. You will thank me later.)
Bull City is also a working brewery (which you can tour) with a rotating selection of hand-crafted beers. But wine lovers aren’t left out in the cold either. They have an Enomatic machine that has a nice selection of wines from around the world.
Just writing this post makes me want to go to Bull City RIGHT NOW. It’s that good.
P.S. The owners of Bull City recently opened Pompieri Pizza next door. Their pizza is every bit as good as their burgers. These people are doing something right!
The best coffee shop in Durham is Cocoa Cinnamon. I don’t even drink coffee, but my friends who do tell me that Cocoa Cinnamon’s is great. What keeps me coming back is their sipping chocolate. It’s basically the espresso of hot chocolate – rich, flavorful, concentrated chocolate in a tiny cup. Imagine drinking a melted chocolate bar made from the best chocolate in the world.
Looking at their menu makes me wish I lived in Durham because there’s no way I’ll ever get to try everything I want to by merely visiting a couple times a year.
Cocoa Cinnamon pays its employees a living wage, reinvests in the community, and works with coffee, tea, and chocolate suppliers who focus on ethical and sustainable practices. It’s exactly the kind of small business I want to support. (And I’m not alone, because the place is always packed.)
In addition to Bull City’s new pizzeria, downtown Durham is also home to Pizzeria Toro, which I’ve only been able to visit once because it was temporarily closed the last time I was in town. They had one fire that caused them to shut down for about 10 days, and then a second fire that caused a much longer closure. You can read about it here. They’ve only just reopened, and I’d like to see them survive, because their pizza is phenomenal.
Despite the obvious risks inherent in having a giant wood-fire oven in a restaurant, it really does produce the best pizza. Pizzeria Toro’s menu is not the kind that will overwhelm you with options – it fits on a single page. But the options that are there are intriguing. Soft egg, oyster mushrooms, and arugula? That’s different. Sweet fennel sausage, roasted peppers, and provolone? Yes, please.
Even things I don’t usually like are good at Pizzeria Toro. My friend Liz really wanted to share the kale salad. I hate kale. But that salad was delicious. Somehow they managed to soften, but not wilt, the kale, and the pine nuts and parmesan were a great complement to kale’s usual bitterness.
Pizzeria Toro also has a nice bar area, which made our (very long) wait a lot more enjoyable.
Allen & Son
Last, but by no means least, is my favorite barbecue joint IN THE WORLD. Technically, it’s in Chapel Hill, but not the part of Chapel Hill where UNC is located. It’s in the middle of nowhere, next to a railroad track, just barely across the county line separating Durham County from Orange County. It’s called Allen & Son, and it’s so down-home, they don’t even have a website.
Allen & Son is a family-run barbecue joint. In fact, you probably should call before driving out there, because when the family takes their vacations, the place closes down. It’s a no-frills kind of spot, which is what you should look for in a barbecue restaurant.
NC barbecue is slow-cooked pork. It’s pretty much the best stuff on earth (no offense, Snapple). Allen & Son smokes their pork out back behind the restaurant using hickory logs. You just can’t imagine how good this pork is when it comes out of that smoker. You add the sauce to your liking at the table. Allen & Son’s sauce is a nice tangy, spicy, vinegar-based sauce that is the perfect complement to the smoked pork.
As with most barbecue restaurants, you can get the pork in sandwich form or on a plate. Sides include macaroni and cheese, fried okra, cole slaw, and the best hush puppies ever. Ever.
I’ve eaten barbecue in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, California, Maryland, and homemade from my own kitchen. Allen & Son is hands-down the best I’ve ever eaten.
Wine & Cocktails
There is no shortage of great places in Durham to get a glass of wine or a cocktail. My favorites are Six Plates (wine bar and small plates with a cozy, comfortable atmosphere; practically on Duke’s campus), West End Wine Bar (more urban, utilitarian styling in downtown; also with a location in Chapel Hill), Alley Twenty Six (phenomenal craft cocktails and a small but reasonably priced selection of wines; downtown), and Mateo Tapas (it’s a tapas restaurant, but the food is really pricey; instead, hit the bar for an unparalleled selection of Spanish wines, including an entire page of sherry; downtown). Also, Parker and Otis is a great place to pick up a bottle of wine to enjoy with your meal (or by itself) on their patio. They keep a selection of chilled wines on hand.