13 Hours in North Durham

(By Thomasi McDonald)

It’s possible the Good Lord and Mother Nature conspired to create the perfect suburban locale when North Durham was developed. You’ve got country roads, well-kept (and somehow still affordable) homes with spacious yards in quiet neighborhoods, family-focused entertainment, arguably the best barbecue in Durham, and definitely the best Italian in the Triangle. 

But you’ve also got traffic. And chances are, this is how your day begins, ideal or not—stuck in it. Today, however, you catch a break on your way to the West Point at the Eno, where you’re going to start the morning off with a hike. A long hike, too, to burn off those calories for what’s ahead. 

You begin at the entrance on North Roxboro, just south of Latta. You follow the river west, headphones on, until you come to the Guess Road underpass; you can go a little farther if you’re feeling it, a lot farther if you’re really feeling it, but not today. Today, you turn back. 

Depending on the day, or the time of year, there are lots of things happening at West Point. You could tour the McCown-Mangum House, a restored 1850s farmhouse, and the working grist mill. You could come by for the Fourth of July Festival or the NC Jerk Fest, with its full complement of reggae music. Or you could just have a community picnic or take your family (or dog) out for a swim in the river. 

Right now, you’ll head back down Roxboro and swing by Super Taqueria for a couple of tacos—nothing too heavy. From there, a few more blocks down to King’s Red and White for some grocery shopping, a browse through the excellent beer selection, a peak down the candy aisle to see if those double-dipped chocolate peanuts that never seem to be in stock are there, then a trip to the meat section to load up for your next barbecue. 

You head home, drop off your goods, and drive to the Edison Johnson Aquatics Center for some lap time. It’s an eight-lane indoor pool; you grab one and go for a spell. 

After that, you head back, shower off, and relax. Maybe water your plants or mow your lawn or watch TV or take a nap—it’s the suburbs, do your thing. 

And then you get dressed, rendezvous with your significant other, and do the best possible thing in North Durham: eat at Gocciolina. 

That is a perfect day. 

Unless, of course, the local fair has taken over the Compare Foods parking lot to mark the arrival of fall.  Then you should do that. Or it’s May and the Bimbe’ Cultural Arts Festival—founded a half-century ago by N.C. Central students to celebrate African and African American history, culture, and arts—is in town; that’s a must, too. Or your kids want to go to the Museum of Life and Science; that’s good, too. 

North Durham may be the suburbs. But you’ll never run out of perfect days up here. And if you somehow do, just jump on I-85 and head west. 

Landmark: Northgate Mall

Where to Get a Cup of Coffee: Esmeralda’s Café

Where to Visit with Friends: Northgate Park

Where to Walk Your Dog: West Point on the Eno

Where to Spend the Night: Hilton Durham



3314 Guess Road, 919-973-4089, gocciolina.com

What’s left to say about Gocciolina that hasn’t been said before? Every night (except Sunday), chef Aaron Benjamin prepares specials alongside Italian classics for a packed (if small) house. Enjoy three selections from the mezze platter, a plate of house-made pasta, then split an entrée and a bottle of wine with that special someone and still find yourself nowhere near a hundred bucks. Reservations are recommended, but nobody minds waiting for a table in Gocciolina’s lovely lounge.

Note: We’ve highlighted our pick for the best of each category below. 


Alpaca Peruvian Charcoal Chicken

302 Davidson Avenue, 919-220-9028, alpacachicken.com

Who doesn’t like charcoal rotisserie chicken? Alpaca seems to have the Peruvian chicken concept down pat. Order from quarter-white, quarter-dark, half, or whole chicken, and all that’s left are the sides. Nobody would blame you for choosing them all, but the can’t-miss options are the yucca fries or the maduros. 

Bennett Pointe Grill

4625 Hillsborough Road, 919-382-9431, bpgrill.com

There are few no better places to relax with friends over seafood or sandwiches. The menu comes complete with the history of the area, including the restaurant’s namesake. 

Bleu Olive

1821 Hillandale Drive, 919-383-8502, bleuolivebistro.com

Bleu Olive has been a North Durham oasis for decades, serving some of the finest moussaka around. 

The Dog House

2009 Guess Road, 919-286-9200

We’ll order for you: Ol’ Yallow (hot dog drenched in bacon bits, mustard, and the platonic ideal of melted cheese), hush puppies, and a hot apple turnover dripping with icing. Don’t forget the sweet tea. 

Libby’s Too

4910 Hillsborough Road, 919-383-8838

The meat-and-two may be a dying breed, but not at here. The challenge would be to find a moister portion of meatloaf or a sweeter glass of tea. 

Melo Trattoria & Tapas

1821 Hillandale Road, 919-384-9080, melotrattoria.com

Perfectly portioned sandwiches make for a great lunch. If you don’t believe us, try the Croque Monsieur a L’Italienne.

Panaderia Pahuatlan

2000 Avondale Drive, Suite U, 919-220-0020

Here you’ll discover display cases filled with Mexican breads and cakes, as well as hot, fresh corn tortillas, at (for-real-and-not-in-a-sales-pitch-way) unbelievable prices. 

Pelican’s Snoballs

3217 North Roxboro Street, 984-244-0174, pelicanssnoballs.com

The perfect rebuttal to days turned hot and humid! Extended fall hours means Snoballs are available well past summer—one upside to global warming, perhaps.


1647 Cole Mill Road, 919-908-9128, picnicdurham.com

The gang at Picnic prepares their pork the old-fashioned way: whole hog over wood. But they aren’t afraid to stray from convention. Take, for instance, the boozy slushie machine. While the kids slurp down mac ’n’ cheese, Mom and Dad enjoy an alcoholic snow-cone made from Cheerwine. 

Pomodoro Italian Kitchen

1811 Hillandale Drive, 919-382-2915, pomodoroitaliankitchen.com

Sometimes there’s no better cure for a Monday than a big, steaming bowl of macaroni and gravy. 

Randy’s Pizza

1720 Guess Road, 919-286-7272, randys-pizza.com

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Randy’s doesn’t reinvent the wheel; you get large slices of New York-style pie. 

Restaurante Guanajato Durham

2103 North Roxboro Street, 919-973-3475

When Los Comales closed, you heard a collective ay de mi from Durham taco lovers. Great news, pobracitos: Restaurante Guanajuato opened in the same spot, owned by the same people. El pastor steals the show. 

Rockin’ Rolls Sushi Express

3405 Hillsborough Road, Suite E, 919-251-8822, rockrollusa.com

Choose from more than fifty kinds of rolls and other kinds of Japanese cuisine, fresh-made and placed on a conveyor belt that passes by your table. 

Saigon Grill 

2929 North Roxboro Street, 919-399-9800

Sitting quiet on Roxboro is Saigon Grill, North Durham’s one-stop-shop for great pho and Vietnamese panini. 

Super Taqueria

2842 North Roxboro Street, 919-220-9884

Super Taqueria is the Roxboro mainstay that provides great quality, fresh and flavorful meats, and friendly service. Don’t skip the salsa bar. 

Thai Spoon

3808 Guess Road, 919-908-7539, facebook.com/thaispoondurham

Quick and quiet, this casual Asian eatery serves the classics with minimal fuss. Pad Thai is the star here, but don’t miss the fried crab rangoon.


Bluestone Grille

3800 Hillsborough Road, 919-564-2903

Located inside the Hilton, Bluestone is the perfect place for a quiet drink away from prying eyes. Where better for a sip of a martini before any number of clandestine affairs, or a Bloody Mary to follow after? 

Esmeralda’s Café 

1058 West Club Boulevard, 919-864-8007, facebook.com/esmeraldascoffee

Imagine maneuvering Northgate Mall without coffee. Thanks to Esmeralda’s, you won’t have to. 

Sacred Grounds Coffeehouse 

2700 North Roxboro Street, 919-477-1584, sacredgroundscoffeehouse.com

Sacred Grounds is a religious outreach program that doesn’t charge for desserts or coffee, asking instead for donations. The goal is to provide a safe, clean space for anyone to enjoy a cup of joe. Live music Saturday nights.


Compare Foods

2000 Avondale Drive, 919-220-9638, comparesupermarkets.com

North Roxboro is a veritable oasis of Mexican cuisine, and the hub is Compare Foods. Armed with perhaps the widest selection of meats and produce in the city, folks can find nearly every ingredient necessary for that Mexican recipe they’ve been dying to cook. (There’s also a lawyer’s office and a barbershop inside.) 

Everything but Grannies Panties

2926 Guess Road, 919-471-0996, everythingbutgranniespanties.com

Part antique store, part thrift shop. This small house on Guess Road bursts at the seams with hidden treasures that spill out onto the front parking lot, side yard, and even into the backyard. 

King’s Red & White

305 East Club Boulevard, 919-220-2192

This family-run grocery has served its community for decades. For old-school warmth and service—and a choice meat selection, quality N.C. beers, and great produce—there’s no better grocer in the Triangle.

La Superior

3325 North Roxboro Street, 919-220-3588

Smaller than Compare, this Latino grocery is worth braving the parking lot for the fresh-made corn tortillas alone. Belly up to the lunch counter for the best torta Cubana on the East Coast. 

Northgate Mall

1058 West Club Boulevard, 919-286-4400, northgatemall.com

Like most malls, it’s past its heyday, but there’s still plenty of treasures to be found in Northgate. There are at least four shops to buy a ball cap with the logo of your favorite sports team. 

The Tobacco Hot Spot

2806 Guess Road, 919-908-2268

All your (definitely tobacco and for no other purpose) smoking accessories can be found here. The latest trends are covered (vape accessories, CBD oils, etc.), too, and not for trendy prices. 

Trosa Thrift Store

3500 North Roxboro Street, 919-220-6119, trosathriftstore.org

Imagine a citywide garage sale, housed in a former Walmart Supercenter, with everything from books to DVDs to housewares to top-of-the-line furniture.


Bennett Place

4409 Bennett Memorial Road, 919-383-4345, nchistoricsites.org/bennett

When Generals Joe Johnston (Confederate) and William T. Sherman (Union) met at a small farmhouse here between Raleigh and Hillsborough, Durham was little more than a train depot in the tobacco fields. The events over the next two weeks would give rise to the Bull City and a tobacco empire that spanned decades. Catch one of the free guided tours for more in-depth info.

Edison Johnson Aquatic Center

500 West Murray Avenue, 919-560-4265, dprplaymore.org

The city-run center has an eight-lane indoor swimming pool that features a number of programs, including exercise and fitness programs, swim lessons, swim teams, lap swim, and family swim. You can pay by the day ($4) or month ($30) or purchase a punch pass.  

Eno River State Park 

6101 Cole Mill Road, 919-383-1686

The many trails in the wide, encompassing Eno River State Park offer something for everyone: ruins from Durham’s old pump mill, a suspension bridge stretching over the river, a nineteenth-century family boneyard. There are easy strolls beneath the forest as well as strenuous treks up and down rocky hills. 

Museum of Life and Science 

433 West Murray Avenue, 919-220-5429, lifeandscience.org

Where else can you find yourself swarmed with butterflies? Or watch red wolves at play? The perfect stop for anyone fascinated by NASA’s Apollo missions or dinosaurs.

Sky Zone Trampoline Park

1720 Guess Road, #90, 919-425-0800, skyzone.com/durham

Who doesn’t like jumping on a trampoline? Perfect for a kid, perfect for an adult. 

Swimming at the Eno Quarry

Access via the Cabe Lands Trail, Eno River State Park, Howe Street

If the Eno River State Park is North Durham’s backyard, then the quarry is its swimming pool. Scratched nearly sixty feet deep into the earth to mine stone to build I-85, it reaches peak popularity on weekends in July. Never mind the sweaty one-mile hike to reach the four-acre pond; the waters maintain a chilly temp even on the hottest of days. 

Valley Springs Park Disc Golf Course

3805 Valley Springs Road, 919-560-4355

This gorgeous, tree-shaded, well-maintained twenty-two-hole course comes complete with bathrooms and a water fountain, so all you’ll need to bring are your discs and competitive spirit. 

West Point on the Eno

5101 North Roxboro Street, 919-471-1623

West Point contains nearly four hundred acres of history and activity, including hiking trails and wide-open spaces. Be sure to wander through the site’s structures, which include a reproduced Colonial-era mill housing a museum of early Durham life, and the Hugh Mangum Museum of Photography. Picnicking and canoeing are also available.

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