The Best Restaurants In Durham, Raleigh And Chapel Hill

Virág Gulyás

North Carolina’s three main university towns Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill boast some of the state’s most exciting museums, cultural events and award-winning restaurants. From innovative chefs to Southern comfort cooking, we’ve updated our previous guide to bring you 10 more outstanding eateries in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.
Bida Manda interior | Courtesy Bida Manda

1. Bida Manda

Restaurant, Asian, Thai, Vietnamese

Bida Manda was a true gastronomical novelty: one of the first authentic Laotian restaurants in the whole country. The name translates from Sanskrit as ‘father and mother’, encapsulating the family-owned nature of business. The menu is filled with traditional tastes right from the owners’ own childhood recipes, and the interior is decorated by family-inspired pictures, following a down-to-earth design to ensure a faithful glimpse into Laos culture. The restaurant, led by excellent chef Lon Bousanga, has played host to celebrity guests like Billy Joel and members country rock band the Avett Brothers. A little gem in Raleigh with a reputation and guest lists that any New York-based venue would envy. Big Ed’s City Market interior | Courtesy Big Ed’s City Market

2. Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant

Restaurant, American, Vegetarian, Vegan

Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant, Raleigh
Image Courtesy of Big Ed's City Market
What makes Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant special in the region is certainly its true Southern kitchen and culture. Set in Raleigh’s’ City Market, the interior resembles with a cultural museum by displaying household and other objects abundantly. The original place was opened in 1958 by Big Ed Watkins, who acted as his mother’s right–hand when preparing meals for workers. Today’s venue was established in 1989 and earned its reputation by serving county-style rich breakfasts, featuring classical Southern tastes, including local egg specialties, variety of whole egg omelettes, meat biscuits and burgers. This is a great place to start the day with a bumper Southern brunch.

3. An Cuisines

Restaurant, Asian

An Cuisines is set in a modern interior and features pan-Asian fusion dishes, with the best sushi in town. Though sushi and meat seem an odd combination, An Cuisines excels in both. The restaurant’s beef is praised universally, while the sushi bar is good enough to make a curious one-time visitor into a loyal returning guest. The venue features special signature rolls and a great variety of small and large plate options, from which the sea bass brochette and pork kimchi hot pot are to die for. An ideal place both for fine-dining as well as for a casual evening out, with service that echoes warm Asian hospitality and impeccable Southern attentiveness.

4. The Fearrington House Restaurant

Inn, Hotel

Nestled between Chapel Hill and Durham in the picturesque Fearrington Village, The Fearrington House Restaurant is part of the five star Fearrington House hotel. The Restaurant is the only AAA Five Diamond restaurant in the USA with Green Certification and is frequently named among the top 10 venues in the country. Acclaimed Chef Colin Bedford’s contemporary American menu is changes continually, keeping his staff on their toes, creatively. Fish and meat specialties such as rosemary cured lamb and roasted heritage farm pork are delectable. The setting is likewise stunning: a white-columned house with rustic charm in a beautifully green surroundings.

5. Herons

Restaurant, American, Vegetarian, Vegan

Herons, the luxurious signature restaurant of Umstead Hotel, is one of the area’s high-end venues. A Condé Nast Traveler-recognised restaurant that also earned a Forbes five-star and AAA Five Diamond certifications, Herons serves refined American food, from delectable breakfast, lunch, and dinner selections to Chef-tasting samples. Creative, seasonally inspired flavors, some even grown in the restaurant’s own garden, are presented from the fully open kitchen, while lengthy windows give out onto the surrounding scenery and art lines the walls.


Lantern is an exciting fusion restaurant that blends Asian-influenced recipes with Southern ingredients, creating something new and innovative. Led by brother-sister chef duo Andrea and Brendan Reusing, Lantern opened in 2002 and defines its success not only by the exceptional tastes but also by a close-knit team-work. The venue gradually became a destination restaurant, making it tough for locals to walk in and find a seat in their favourite spot. The venue’s special treat is the famous Lantern Table, which accommodates up to 45 guests for seated dinner.
Lantern, 423 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC, USA, +1 919 969 8846

6. The Little Dipper Fondue on Main

The Little Dipper Fondue on Main

Unsurprisingly, The Little Dipper Fondue on Main is all about fondue. While fondue is rightly considered a classic Swiss speciality, at The Little Dipper everything comes with dipping sauces, which are praised county-wide. Choose from over 20 types of homemade, unique sauces and enjoy how they just melts over the samples of premium meat, fresh seafood or vegetables. Though the venue offers a three-course meal comprising cheese selections, appetizers and plates to share, opting for other assortments is available from the a la carte menu, lining up excellent flavours delivered right from local farms. Once finished with the main courses, you can go right on dipping with the mouth-watering chocolate fondue, an excellent closing ceremony at this exclusive melting pot.
The Little Dipper Fondue on Main, Brightleaf Square, 905 West Main Street, Suite 21A, Durham, NC, USA, +1 910 251 0433

mateoA signature dish at Mateo | Courtesy Mateo

7. Mateo Bar de Tapas

Restaurant, Contemporary

Image Courtesy of Second Empire
Mateo Bar de Tapas is the area’s hottest Spanish kitchen. Located in downtown Durham in a former Book Exchange building, the venue lives up to all expectations when it comes to food, décor and the inevitable Iberian vibe. Offering a rich selection or Spanish flavours, some dishes are even given with a local touch, causing such flavour combinations as the BBQ pork with piquillo cheese or the roasted bone marrow with oxtail marmalade and spring onion. Besides the taste fusions created by chef Matthew Kelly, Mateo also boasts a great wine and sherry selection that are easily matched to any of the dishes by the attentive and knowledgeable staff.

8. ONE

Restaurant, American

Named as the Triangle’s best restaurant of 2014, ONE is a unique place fusing the skills, 26 years of experience and taste of two acclaimed chefs, Daniel Ryanand and Kim Floresca, who worked at numerous well-renowned places before creating ONE. Modern, chic interiors, leather chairs and dark wooden tables with floor-to-ceiling wine stand, ONE is an upscale restaurant with a fully open show kitchen and a knowledgeable sommelier, Seas Rouch, who takes credit for the acclaimed wine list. ONE serves contemporary American tastes with seasonally changing menu; dishes are grouped by their nature such as ‘roots & bounty’, ‘land & sea’, making the menu decorative and distinctive. If you’re looking for the best value for money, try out the Chef’s tasting menu to receive a full culinary journey through ONE’s kitchen

9. Tonali

Restaurant, Mexican

Durham’s most admired authentic Mexican treasure, Tonali is commended for its food and atmosphere equally. Excellent food, goodly portions and impeccable service all lead to a slightly pricey meal but definitely one that’s worth the money. Shrimp ceviches tostadas, steak hurache and the fish tacos are delicious samples from the menu, which changes weekly and receives its ingredients directly from local farms. Accompanying the traditional food, you’ll also find all the usual Mexican drinks, from dark and amber beers to more unusual traditional Mexican drinks such as Micheladas, Charro Negro, Paloma and Jarritos.
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