Restaurant of the Year: Gocciolina
3314 Guess Road, Durham, gocciolina.com
Food writers have been gushing over Gocciolina since the day it opened in 2015, and deservedly so. What’s not to love? A small spot—get reservations—nestled in an unglamorous shopping strip, this Italian small-plates restaurant showcases chef-owner Aaron Benjamin’s house-made pastas, but the antipasti shouldn’t be missed. Order the spicy chickpeas or the crispy eggplant, then split some entrées between your table: something from whatever’s on the ever-changing blackboard, definitely; the Carbonara is a signature dish, so get that, too; and the gnocchi is always outrageous. Add a side of sautéed brussels sprouts and a bottle of wine. And whatever you do, don’t leave without ordering the gelato.
Best New Restaurant: Hutchins Garage
402 West Geer Street, Durham
In summer 2018, with a Pizzeria Toro alum as chef, the owners of downtown Durham mainstay Bull McCabe’s filled a much-needed niche in the Rigsbee/Geer scene: late-night pizza. Featuring New York-style pies, a quality beer list, and craft cocktails, all in the remnants of the automotive supply store from which it gets its name, Hutchins is also great for pre-Motorco dinner, a Sunday-afternoon indulgence, or an evening out with the fam.
10 Other Places You Have to Go
415 East Chapel Hill Street, Durham, dashiramen.com
Dashi is all about the ramen, categorizing each option by the nature of the broth—pork, sea salt, soy, miso, kimchi—rather than the protein or vegetables it contains. That’s downstairs. Upstairs, the small plates in the izakaya, or Japanese speakeasy, might be even better, including townie favorites like black nori popcorn, grilled edamame rubbed with irresistible spices, and tender buns with lamb or spicy tofu. The bar offers copious shochu, sake, and Japanese spirits by the flight.
315 East Chapel Hill Street, Durham, thedurham.com/dining
As with her menu at Lantern in Chapel Hill, James Beard Award-winning chef Andrea Reusing focuses on North Carolina ingredients for The Durham Hotel’s namesake restaurant. The menu changes frequently, but signatures include dry-aged burgers and steaks, roasted oysters, and seasonal vegetables. Head to the hotel’s rooftop bar for a cocktail, a round of bar snacks, and sunset views.
910 West Main Street, Durham, goorshadurham.com
Goorsha serves a variety of Ethiopian fare atop injera, a traditional flatbread used to scoop up flavorful salads, curried vegetables, and lentils. It’s a favorite spot for vegans, but carnivores will find plenty to love among the tibs (or meat strips) and appetizers such as kitfo, a minced beef tartar.
311 Holland Street, Durham, msushidurham.com
Each meticulously crafted piece of sushi from chef Michael Lee’s M Sushi is designed to showcase each fish’s textures and flavors, from Japanese snapper and scallops to local tuna and flounder. Don’t miss Lee’s next-door spot, M Kokko, for Korean fried chicken and ramen, or M Tempura a block away, for tempura omakase dinners and donkatsu-style lunch sets.
Mateo Bar de Tapas
109 West Chapel Hill Street, Durham, mateotapas.com
Matt Kelly’s Spanish tapas spot is always in the conversation for Durham’s best restaurant. Its small plates garner rave reviews (the patatas bravas!), its sangria is made with Cheerwine (!), and the ever-changing entrée blackboard always has something interesting. But the real reason to go: the pan con tomate—bread, tomato paste, and, if you’re feeling frisky, manchego.
105 East Chapel Hill Street, Durham, pizzeriatoro.com
At Pizzeria Toro, chef Gray Brooks uses a mix of soft and high-gluten flours for his rounds and bakes them in a wood-fired oven to create pies with a crisp, charred crust that lands somewhere between Neapolitan and New York-style. You can’t go wrong with classic combos, but don’t miss the one with chanterelle mushrooms and garlic and the seasonal Meyer lemon pie. Round out your order with the kale salad (no, seriously) and suppli al telefono (fried, cheesy rice balls).
Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings & Sweets
121 North Gregson Street, Durham, rosesdurham.com
At Katie and Justin Meddis’s airy-yet-intimate eatery, dig in to bowls of noodles, particularly those featuring Justin’s long-simmered broths, steamed dumplings, and seasonal salads, but be sure to save room for Katie’s desserts, particularly the seasonal ice cream sandwiches, mochi cakes, and macarons (try the crème brûlée).
Saint James Seafood
806 West Main Street, Durham, saintjamesseafood.com
The main draw at Saint James is a raw bar with all manner of oysters, from fat and briny to mild and sweet. But if you want to go all in, there are seafood towers overflowing with lobster and crab, beautifully plated entrées, and—oddly enough for a seafood restaurant—some of the best brussels sprouts and french fries around. And the cornmeal hushpuppies with honey butter and country ham? Unreal. It won’t be cheap, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better dinner in the Triangle.
Saltbox Seafood Joint
608 North Mangum Street, 2637 Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, Durham, saltboxseafoodjoint.com
Saltbox serves as both chef Ricky Moore’s take on a modern fish camp and a love letter to North Carolina seafood, where he fries(or grills) whatever catch is fresh that day—say, a basket of fried shrimp or bone-in croaker. Don’t miss the hush honeys, a honey-glazed hush puppy-zeppole hybrid. Bonus: The second location, which opened in 2018, has indoor seating.
2010 Hillsborough Road, Durham, vinrougerestaurant.com
This is a restaurant dedicated to opulence, and the menu is an extension of that philosophy: sauteed calves liver, oysters served with Gruyère cheese, crème brûlée. Come here for a special occasion. Wear loose pants.
2018 Best of the Triangle Readers’ Pick, Best New Restaurant in Durham County: Saint James Seafood.
Finalists: Goorsha, Jack Tar and the Colonel’s Daughter, Namu.