Unique Restaurants in Durham, NC: 10 Unmissable Durham Eateries

by Jen
Unique Restaurants in Durham, NC
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Eager to uncover the most unique restaurants in Durham, NC? From the heart of downtown to the quaint corners of the city, join me in exploring 10 of Durham’s best places to eat.

Hello fellow foodies! Welcome to Durham, a North Carolina city that’s a true paradise for those who love to explore through taste. Here, ‘unique’ means more than just unusual dishes. It encompasses the entire dining experience. From the decor to the service, each element contributes to a memorable meal. Whether it’s a cozy spot hidden away or a lively place in the city center, uniqueness is what connects them. As someone who cherishes discovering new dining spots, I’m excited to share with you some of the most unique places to eat in Durham, NC.

This guide is all about celebrating the diversity of Durham’s food scene. From quaint bakeries with irresistible sweets to upscale restaurants that redefine dining, Durham has it all. Without further ado, join me as we explore 10 of the most unique restaurants in Durham, NC.

The top restaurants to visit in Durham, NC right now

Unique Restaurants in Durham, NC: 10 Must-Visit Restaurants in Durham, North Carolina

Ready to discover Durham’s best restaurants? This city is full of surprises, from cozy corners to innovative kitchens. Join me in exploring the best places to eat in Durham, NC.

Fancy a unique dining experience? How about a meal in a historic railroad car or a serene city garden? Durham offers all this and more, with a variety of unique dining spots. Here’s your go-to guide to the most unique restaurants in Durham, NC. Get set for unforgettable dining adventures in this lively city!

1. Ideal’s Sandwich and Grocery

Dive into Ideal’s Sandwich and Grocery for a one-of-a-kind experience in Durham, NC. It’s a delightful blend of a grocery store and a sandwich shop, offering a unique twist on casual dining. Located conveniently in the city, it’s a gem for anyone looking for a quick, delicious meal.

The ambiance at Ideal’s is a nod to the past, with shelves stocked with everyday items and intriguing finds. But wait till you try the sandwiches – they’re the real showstoppers! I highly recommend the Philly Roast Pork sandwich. Priced at $8.50 for a half and $15 for a full, it’s a flavorful journey with broccoli rabe, sharp provolone, and roasted garlic mayonnaise. The fresh ingredients and large variety make Ideal’s one of the best places to eat in Durham, NC.

What really makes Ideal’s stand out? It’s their dedication to serving up quality at prices that make you smile. It’s a hit with everyone – students, locals, and visitors alike. The vibe here is so welcoming, you’ll feel like part of the Durham family in no time.

For those planning to visit Ideal’s, it’s open Monday through Saturday. They offer both dine-in and take-out options. It’s a bustling spot during lunch hours, so arriving early or off-peak can be a smart move. And if you’re in a rush, their efficient service ensures you won’t wait long for your meal.

Ideal’s Sandwich and Grocery is one of the unique restaurants in Durham, NC.
Ideal’s Sandwich and Grocery offers a unique blend of convenience and delightful meals. | Source: https://www.nctriangledining.com/

2. Banh’s Cuisine

For anyone searching for Vietnamese food in Durham, NC, Banh’s Cuisine is your spot! It’s a unique find, just a quick drive from downtown, offering an authentic Vietnamese experience unlike any other in the city.

The menu at Banh’s is a delightful showcase of Vietnamese specialties. Not only are the dishes delicious and affordable, with most between $5 and $12, but they also offer a unique taste of Vietnam in every bite. Their Pho Bo, known for its depth and authentic flavor, is a standout.

What sets Banh’s apart is its dedication to true Vietnamese cooking. They use fresh, quality ingredients to craft dishes that are both genuine and flavorful. The atmosphere is unpretentious and inviting, which makes you feel right at home.

Banh’s is easy to visit with ample parking. Early evening is a great time to beat the crowd. Banh’s Cuisine is a gem among the unique restaurants in Durham, NC, offering a unique and joyful dining experience that’s both accessible and full of authentic Vietnamese charm.

Banh’s Cuisine offers authentic Vietnamese flavors.
Banh’s Cuisine offers authentic Vietnamese flavors. | Source: Banh’s Cuisine on Facebook

3. Monuts

Monuts is where doughnut dreams come true in Durham, NC. This unique spot has transformed from a humble bike-delivered service to a bustling bakery. Located conveniently in downtown Durham, it’s a must-visit for sweet treat enthusiasts.

What sets Monuts as one of the most unique restaurants in Durham is its creative twist on classic doughnuts. Each doughnut is a masterpiece, with flavors ranging from traditional to adventurous. The prices are sweet too, with doughnuts typically costing around $2 to $3. Their Maple Bacon Bourbon doughnut is my personal favorite, offering a perfect blend of sweet and savory.

Monuts isn’t just about doughnuts, though. They also serve delicious bagels and sandwiches. As such, it’s a great spot for breakfast or lunch in Durham, NC. Their commitment to using locally sourced ingredients adds a special touch to every bite. It’s a tasty way to support local farmers and bakers.

For those planning a visit, it’s wise to remember that Monuts can get busy, particularly on weekends. An early visit can ensure you get to choose from their full range of delicious offerings. This spot truly embodies the spirit of unique Durham restaurants, providing a sweet and memorable culinary adventure.

Dine at Monuts, a sweet haven where doughnut dreams flourish.
Dine at Monuts, a sweet haven where doughnut dreams flourish.

4. Viceroy

Viceroy brings a unique twist to Durham’s dining scene, blending Indian spices with British flair. Located in the heart of the city, this restaurant is a fusion fan’s dream. It’s where East meets West in the most delicious way.

The Chicken Tikka Masala Pie at Viceroy is a playful mix of familiar and exotic. Their menu is a celebration of inventive dishes, each a fusion of Indian heat and British comfort. It’s a feast for the senses, offering something excitingly different.

At Viceroy, dining is about discovering new tastes. The chefs here are experts at combining different cooking styles, creating dishes that are both surprising and satisfying. Every bite is a discovery of new flavors.

A visit to Viceroy is a smart move for anyone looking for a unique meal in Durham, NC. It’s a popular spot, so reserving a table is recommended. Situated in the vibrant city center, Viceroy stands out as one of Durham’s best restaurants, offering a memorable and distinct dining experience.

Viceroy is a fusion delight where Indian spices meet British flair.
Viceroy is a fusion delight where Indian spices meet British flair.

5. Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings and Sweets

Next up on our list of the best restaurants in Durham is Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings, and Sweets. Here, every dish is a celebration of East Asian flavors mixed with North Carolina’s best. This unique restaurant in Durham serves up a mix of lunch, dinner, and brunch options, all paired with amazing pastries and sweets. Inspired by Chinese, Japanese, and other East Asian cuisines, the menu here is both diverse and exciting.

The menu features everything from fresh fruit galettes to homemade ice cream sandwiches. For savory cravings, their ramen and noodle dishes are a hit, each with a local twist. And for dessert lovers, their in-house sweets like macarons and cheesecakes are a real treat.

Rose’s is a place where food lovers rejoice. It evolved from a meat market to an East Asian eatery, showing the owners’ love for food and innovation. Every dish, whether a main course or dessert, is crafted with care and creativity. It’s this blend of sweet and savory that makes dining here so special.

Right in the heart of Durham, Rose’s is easy to find and a joy to visit. It’s perfect for a laid-back brunch or a delightful dinner. As one of the most unique places in Durham, NC to eat, Rose’s promises a dining experience filled with delicious surprises and top-notch flavors.

Rose's Noodles, Dumplings, and Sweets serves diverse lunch, dinner, and brunch options.
Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings, and Sweets serves diverse lunch, dinner, and brunch options.

6. Namu Korean Eats

Namu Korean Eats in Durham is a haven for Korean food lovers, offering a twist on traditional flavors. This unique spot is known for its innovative approach to Korean cuisine, serving up dishes that are both familiar and refreshingly new. From their signature Kimchi Bul-Fries to the classic Bibimbap, every item on the menu is a treat!

The Kimchi Fried Rice is a must-try. It’s a spicy, flavorful dish that captures the essence of Korean cooking. For those who love a bit of heat in their meals, this dish is a perfect choice. It’s a delicious way to explore the depth of Korean flavors.

I personally love their Bibimbap. It’s a traditional dish with a mix of chilled veggies, a fried egg, and savory Korean BBQ. The blend of textures and tastes in this dish is simply superb. It’s a great example of Namu’s commitment to authentic Korean cuisine with a modern touch.

Namu isn’t just about great food. It’s about the experience. With a spacious outdoor patio, it’s a fantastic place to enjoy a meal in the open air. Located in Durham, it’s a gem for those seeking a unique dining experience. Namu stands out as one of the most fun restaurants in Durham, NC, offering a memorable experience with its innovative Korean dishes.

Namu Korean Eats is one of the unique restaurants in
Namu Korean Eats boasts an innovative twist on Korean cuisine.

7. Elmo’s Diner

Since opening its doors in 1997, Elmo’s Diner has become a beloved part of Durham’s dining scene. Nestled in the Ninth Street shopping district of Old West Durham, this diner offers a warm and casual atmosphere, perfect for a relaxed meal. Its history as a former taxi cab garage, beauty college, and bakery adds to its unique charm.

Elmo’s Diner stands out for its commitment to fresh, homemade food. They take pride in serving dishes that are reminiscent of home cooking, with desserts and soups made from scratch. This approach to food makes Elmo’s one of the best places to eat in Durham for those seeking a comforting meal in a friendly setting. Their menu caters to a wide range of tastes, ensuring there’s something for everyone.

One of the diner’s unique aspects is its community involvement. They have a strong connection with the local Durham community, evident in their Spirit “Mursday” initiative supporting Durham Public Schools. This commitment to the community is not just admirable but also creates a sense of belonging among its patrons.

Visitors to Elmo’s Diner should note that they do not accept reservations or call-aheads. However, they welcome heads-up for large parties. Located near many Durham, NC attractions, Elmo’s Diner is easily accessible and a must-visit for anyone exploring the city.

Elmo's Diner, a Ninth Street staple in Durham since '97, exudes a casual charm within a converted garage and bakery space.
Elmo’s Diner, a Ninth Street staple in Durham since ’97, exudes a casual charm within a converted garage and bakery space.

8. M Sushi

For the best sushi in Durham, NC, head to M Sushi. This isn’t your ordinary sushi spot. It’s the first in a series of restaurants created by Chef Michael Lee, known for his dedication to quality and creativity. This restaurant offers an exceptional sushi experience, focusing on traditional and contemporary techniques.

The heart of M Sushi’s appeal is its fresh ingredients. Here, you’ll find a range of sushi and sashimi made with fish flown in from across the globe. Their Omakase menu is a real treat, offering a daily-changing selection based on what’s freshest. It’s a fun way to try new flavors and see the chef’s creativity in action.

Eating at M Sushi is a fun, memorable experience. The setting is modern and welcoming, perfect for a special night out or a get-together with friends. It’s a great place to enjoy some of the best food in Durham, NC.

Located right in downtown Durham, M Sushi is easy to get to and a great choice for a fancy night out. While it is a fine dining establishment with prices to match, the exceptional quality and unique dining experience make it well worth the visit.  For anyone looking for the best restaurants in Durham, NC, M Sushi is a top pick.

Durham's M Sushi reimagines sushi with Chef Michael Lee's innovative flair, blending tradition and creativity.
Durham’s M Sushi reimagines sushi with Chef Michael Lee’s innovative flair, blending tradition and creativity.

9. Azteca Grill

At Azteca Grill in Durham, you’re in for a delightful surprise. This restaurant stands out with its vibrant Mexican flavors, offering a menu that’s both authentic and innovative. Each dish is a celebration of taste, from zesty tacos to rich, savory enchiladas. Truly, it’s one of the most fun places to eat in Durham, North Carolina.

When it comes to pricing, Azteca Grill hits the sweet spot. The menu is reasonably priced. This makes it a great choice for both casual diners and those looking to enjoy a special meal without breaking the bank. You’ll find that the quality of food far exceeds what you’d expect at these prices, offering great value for money.

Location-wise, Azteca Grill is conveniently situated. It’s easily accessible from Durham’s city center, making it a hassle-free destination for both locals and visitors. Whether you’re out for a shopping spree or exploring the city, this restaurant is just a short drive away, perfect for a delicious meal stop.

Lastly, Azteca Grill isn’t just about great food and location. It’s about the experience. The staff are friendly and welcoming, adding to the overall enjoyment of your meal. Whether you’re a first-timer or a regular, you’ll feel right at home here. So, next time you’re in Durham, make sure to drop by Azteca Grill for an unforgettable dining adventure!

Azteca Grill serves authentic and innovative Mexican flavors that celebrate taste with zesty tacos and rich enchiladas.
Azteca Grill serves authentic and innovative Mexican flavors that celebrate taste with zesty tacos and rich enchiladas. | Source: Azteca Grill on Facebook

10. Guglhupf Bakery & Restaurant

Last up on our list of Durham’s best places to eat is Guglhupf Bakery & Restaurant. It’s like stepping into a little piece of Europe, with amazing baked goods and creative dishes. Their artisan bread is something special – baked fresh and full of flavor. The menu is full of surprises, changing with the seasons to bring you the best.

What’s really cool about Guglhupf is the variety. Whether you’re craving a sweet pastry or a hearty meal, they’ve got you covered. It’s the perfect spot for brunch with friends or a cozy dinner. And their desserts? Absolutely delicious – you’ve got to try their cakes!

This place isn’t just about great food. It’s about the whole experience. The building itself is unique, with a cool, artsy vibe that makes dining here extra special. It’s a great spot to relax and enjoy good company.

Wrapping up our tour of the coolest Durham restaurants, Guglhupf is a standout. My top pick is their scrumptious quiche – it’s a flavor-packed winner. Guglhupf Bakery & Restaurant is a must-visit for anyone looking for unique places to eat in Durham, North Carolina. It’s a spot that brings joy with every bite!

Guglhupf Bakery & Restaurant brings a taste of Europe with amazing baked goods, creative dishes, and special artisan bread.
Guglhupf Bakery & Restaurant brings a taste of Europe with amazing baked goods, creative dishes, and special artisan bread.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Unique Restaurants in Durham, NC

Searching for more information to help you decide where to eat in Durham, NC? Here are some common questions (and answers) I get asked a lot about the best Durham restaurants.

What food is Durham, NC known for?

Durham boasts a vibrant and diverse food scene. Here are some foods Durham, NC, is particularly renowned for:

  1. Barbecue: North Carolina is famous for its barbecue, and Durham offers both Eastern and Western styles. Eastern-style barbecue is vinegar-based, while Western (or Lexington-style) is tomato-based.
  2. Southern Comfort Food: Classic Southern dishes like fried chicken, biscuits, collard greens, and grits are staples in Durham’s restaurants.
  3. Locally-Sourced Cuisine: There’s a strong farm-to-table movement in Durham, NC. Many restaurants focus on locally sourced and seasonal ingredients.
  4. Global Cuisine: Reflecting its diverse population, Durham offers a variety of international cuisines. This includes Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian restaurants.
  5. Craft Beer and Artisanal Coffee: Durham has a thriving craft beer scene with numerous local breweries. Artisanal coffee shops are also popular, offering locally roasted coffee and unique blends.
  6. Food Trucks: The city has a lively food truck scene, serving everything from gourmet burgers to ethnic specialties.
  7. Pimento Cheese: A Southern staple, pimento cheese is a popular item in Durham, often found in sandwiches, as a burger topping, or as a dip.

Is Durham a foodie city?

Yes, Durham is a fantastic spot for food lovers! It’s packed with a variety of restaurants, from cozy cafes to exciting eateries. Whether you’re into sweet treats or savory bites, Durham’s got something for everyone’s taste buds.

A cozy restaurant radiating comfort and exceptional dining vibes.
A cozy restaurant radiating comfort and exceptional dining vibes.

What is the most iconic food in North Carolina?

North Carolina’s big on barbecue, especially pork. The state’s famous for its special slow-cooked, vinegar-based barbecue sauce. Plus, if you love seafood, the coastal areas serve up some super fresh catches!

Are there any cheap eats in Durham, NC?

Absolutely! Durham is a treasure trove of budget-friendly dining options. For instance, Elmo’s Diner is a local favorite where you can enjoy hearty, home-style meals without breaking the bank. From fluffy pancakes to savory sandwiches, it’s a go-to spot for delicious, affordable eats in Durham.

Which is better for food: Raleigh or Durham?

That’s a hard one! Both North Carolina cities are renowned for their excellent food. Raleigh might be your choice if you’re looking for a larger variety of dining options, including more upscale and fine dining experiences. Durham could be more appealing if you’re interested in innovative, farm-to-table dining, and a strong focus on local and artisanal foods. Both cities offer excellent culinary experiences, so you really can’t go wrong with either. It might even be worth exploring both to get a full taste of what the region has to offer!

Are there any Michelin Star restaurants in Durham, NC?

There are no Michelin Star restaurants in Durham, NC. Don’t let that fool you! The city’s bursting with top-notch places to eat. You’ll find everything from upscale dining to unique, creative spots that are sure to impress.

Recap: Unique Restaurants in Durham, NC

Durham, NC, is a city where every meal can be an adventure. With each of the unique restaurants we’ve explored, you’re experiencing a piece of Durham’s vibrant culture and history. From the cozy comfort of Elmo’s Diner to the innovative flavors at M Sushi, there’s something here for every palate.

If I had to pick just one restaurant to recommend, it would be Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings and Sweets. This spot truly captures the spirit of Durham’s dining scene with its creative dishes and welcoming atmosphere. It’s a place where every bite is a delightful surprise, perfect for foodies looking for something out of the ordinary.

Remember, Durham isn’t just about great food. It’s about the stories behind each dish, the passion of the chefs, and the warmth of the community. Each restaurant we’ve visited offers a unique window into the heart of the city. Whether you’re a local or just passing through, these dining spots are sure to leave a lasting impression.

So, next time you’re enjoying a North Carolina vacation in Durham, NC, embark on a culinary journey through these amazing restaurants. You’re sure to find not only incredible meals but also unforgettable experiences that you’ll cherish long after your visit.

The top restaurants in Durham, NC  for all types of travelers
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