The flavors of Korea, China and Cuba are all surging to the forefront of Durham’s food scene, with amazing bakeries and creative drinking establishments along for the ride.
Durham is a burgeoning mecca of great restaurants within the Triangle. If you need further convincing, check out our article about the ten Durham restaurants most frequently listed by CurEaters. However, top-ten lists have their limitations and skew in favor of established restaurants while preventing some worthy contenders from receiving any shine.
We’re here shine a spotlight on some of the most welcome additions to the impressive collection of Durham restaurants. Below is a list we’ve cobbled together, showcasing ten of the most impressive up-and-coming restaurants on the Durham food scene.
Roberto Copa Matos and Elizabeth Turnbull have rapidly earned a reputation for delivering authentic Cuba cuisine despite being well removed from the islands of the Caribbean. Everything from the lamb meatballs to the cocktails are prepared with a vibrant, Cuban flair! And, the staff is highly regarded for their attentiveness,
“Personally, it is a great honor to receive the good welcome to our concept from the community,” said Roberto. “It’s also a big responsibility. We feel ourselves to be stewards of this farm-to-table movement. The fact that we have this concept that starts by cultivating the soil and exploring the pathway from soil to table while using the basic elements of Cuban cuisine, it is a passion, an honor and a responsibility. If our concept succeeds, it will not only benefit ourselves as restaurant owners, but it will also benefit all of those that we can work with.”
Don’t be distracted by the fact that the kingfisher on the logo resembles a blue jay (I swear I thought it was a blue jay until someone finally told me the bar’s name)! Kingfisher serves an assortment of creative cocktails highlighting the traditional flavors associated with Durham and the greater South.
“I think our success means that we’re contributing something to the city that people are responding to,” said Sean Umstead, who co-owns Kingfisher along with his wife, Michelle Vanderwalker. “Earning this distinction validates a lot of work that we’ve put in. We want to make sure that we’re reflecting Durham well just like the many quality establishments the city already has, and that we’re contributing something that is worthwhile to the community. That’s something we’re going to continue to try to do.”
If you’ve overdosed on coffee and need an infusion of tasty tea in your life, Jeddah’s has a remedy prepared for you! Owned by Morgan Siegel and Wael Suliman, Jeddah’s Tea serves up several of their own flavorful custom tea blends, including tea variations inspired by countries in every corner of Africa.
“To me it really is inspiring that the community is so anxious to get to know one another,” said Morgan. “Food and drink are the best way for people to get together across cultural, ethnic and religious lines. It’s exciting to see people who are getting to know about places like Kenya or Senegal because they see there is a tea from there, and that sparks their interest. It excites me that people are coming together and learning about different geographies, and I’m just honored to provide a medium through which they can do that.”
If you enjoy dumplings, Sister Liu’s is the place to be! They’re handmade and juicy, with a flavorful dipping sauce served alongside. If you enjoy Chinese street food, you also need to try the Chinese burgers. Whether you get the beef, pork or vegan options, all of them are served with only the freshest ingredients.
“I’ve been wanting to try Sister Liu’s for a while!” exclaimed Taylor Meadows, CurEat’s director of marketing. “People have told me that the noodles and dumplings are awesome, but to not overlook the Chinese Burger!”
If you’re a fan of M Sushi (and seriously… who isn’t?) you absolutely need to try out Chef Michael Lee’s most recently-opened restaurant, M Pocha. The name is derived from pojangmacha – food commonly served in Korea’s street stalls. And, dishes like the Kimchi Soup and Bacon Dumplings should be accompanied by a few strong beverages, so feel free to drink up!
“We’re trying to introduce something we didn’t have in the downtown Durham community,” said Lee. “We wanted to offer bite-size things you can share, like at Mateo’s – they do great things over there. We wanted to do something very casual and laid back, where people can mingle and converse, and enjoy the type of food my friend and I like to eat when we’re having a few drinks. I’m happy people are so open minded and have accepted us so well.”
True Flavors is appropriately named because nearly every item on the menu features some creative combination designed to make your tastebuds happy. This includes dishes like the BBQ Duck Omelette, the Grilled Lobster Cheese Biscuit or the Bourbon Bacon Meatloaf. No matter what your order, you’ll undoubtedly end up with a flavor explosion for your tastebuds.
“We’re trying to do something different,” said Chef Sidney Covers. “I want to make my mark on cooking and on the restaurant scene. A lot of people say it’s a black-owned restaurant, but that label puts me in a box. I’m trying to be outside of the box and reinvent the box. My goal is to do something different, and for the restaurant to simply be looked at as a great restaurant. I want it to be known for making food that’s different, and for me putting my stamp on it. It feels good to get so much positive attention for my cooking.”
The East Durham Bake Shop prides itself on making desserts look just as delicious as they taste! The pies, scones, croissants, buns and cookies all have a thoroughly inviting appearance, and the flavors are simply divine. Spiced Chocolate, Ginger Pear and Bourbon Caramel Apple are a few of the creative flavors available for you to sample.
“We set out to connect meaningfully with people as a neighborhood place,” said Benjamin Filippo, the owner of the East Durham Bake Shop. “The fact that people travel to come here from outside of the neighborhood when it may not be the most convenient stop for them means a whole lot. It’s been a great experience to see those relationships build and to meet new people, and to share all sorts of meaningful life events with people. That includes weddings, births and other important events that we’ve been connected to through our food.”
LouElla touts itself as a neighborhood bottle shop, bar, and event space. The bottle shop offers curated wine, craft beer, and fortified selections from family operated producers. Although it isn’t a restaurant per se, LouElla attracts a loyal following by catering to patrons that are interested in learning the stories behind the drinks that are being served.
“It’s been a long hard trail for me to get this going, so to get any recognition at all is pretty exciting,” said Campbell Davis, the owner and manager of LouElla. “Our customers are the local people who want more than just a cold Budweiser, or someone who wants something that they don’t get at a common sports bar. People do like the engagement of what I consider the old-school conversation with a bartender, where customers can say ‘hello,’ find out what the bartender is excited about, and why they’re pouring what they’re pouring.”
If there was an award for the “Best Korean Sandwich Shop” in Durham, Ko Kyu Na’Mean would take it home. They use a wide range of Korean and non-Korean ingredients, from Kimchi slaw and honey peanut sauce to Italian beef and sea salt pork belly. There isn’t another place in the Triangle area capable of whipping up sandwiches quite like Ko Kyu Na’Mean.
“We work hard, and I’m very proud of the restaurant,” said Chef David “Flip” Filippini. “We try to source the best ingredients and we try to put out the best food we can. We don’t strive to make lists and win awards; we just try to make good sandwiches. We couldn’t be any happier to serve good food to the people we serve it to.”
Esteban Brunello’s wine bar appeals to patrons with sophisticated tastes, including the tastes of the owner himself. Brunello’s passion for wine is ubiquitous and contagious within his establishment. He occasionally sells hard-to-find wines at a financial loss for the sake of sharing something special with his customers.
“Being in a top-ten list for any reason is something that keeps pushing me to get better and better at what I’m doing,” said Brunello. “It’s easy for anyone to make a wine list and serve the wine, but to create the list and show your passion through it is not easy to achieve. It’s nice to see that people are recognizing the hard work we do, even if they don’t realize everything that goes on behind the scenes of this bar that helps us to provide them with all of the wine we serve.”
We hope this list has steered you toward 10 inviting Durham restaurants that you have not yet sampled. Download the CurEat App (available for iOS and Android) and pin our “10 Up-and-Coming Durham Restaurants” list. You can create your own lists of restaurants in different cities that you love and want to share. Feel free to suggest more noteworthy restaurants by sending an email to [email protected].