Whilst a relatively small city, Durham certainly packs a punch when it comes to eating out. If you’re looking to plan ahead or stuck for where to eat tonight, let me show you the best places to eat in Durham.
I’ve now lived just outside of Durham for over four years and, whilst Covid-19 stole a large chunk of those, I love nothing better than nipping into this beautiful cathedral city for a bite to eat and a few drinks. Durham is no doubt a small city but that doesn’t mean that it skimps on great places to eat. Often overlooked by food lovers as they head straight up to Newcastle (the food scene in Newcastle is unreal to be fair), Durham has plenty of choice too from some of the best Mexican food this side of the Atlantic to the sloppiest burgers you’ll ever see and from ultra-authentic Thai food to fine-dining tasting menus. This guide will show you exactly where the best places to eat in Durham are and I guarantee you’ll be booking a table in no time!
If you’re looking for the best cafes in Durham (like Flat White and Riverview Kitchen), you’re going to want to check out this post here and for those planning a full weekend in the city, here’s my guide to making sure it’s perfect!
MY FAVOURITE PLACES TO EAT IN DURHAM’S CITY CENTRE
I’ll kick things off nicely with what I think is the best restaurant in Durham and certainly the best Mexican food that I’ve had so far. Barrio Comida serves up epic tacos day in day out with my choices being the Al Pastor (spit roast adobo marinated pork, roasted pineapple and salsa roja) and Pescado (fried fish, cabbage salad, crema and xni pec onions). The corn that makes the soft taco shells is ground daily right here in the kitchen. If you don’t fancy tacos, you can order quesadillas or a burrito but make sure you don’t miss the totopos (corn chips) with some guacamole and the homemade salsas. The restaurant is a short walk up New Elvet near the student union and offers some of the best views of the cathedral too. All in all, you won’t be disappointed especially if you visit during happy hour (2 tacos for £5 and beer for £3).
The Rabbit Hole
The Rabbit Hole is slightly further out of the city centre than Barrio Comida but comes highly recommended. The vibe is 1920’s Shanghai supper club and I’m not sure many places offer high quality Asian cuisine alongside live jazz music. During the day, you can feast on a huge array of Dim Sum (think red oil wontons, pork buns and spicy crispy beef) whilst on a night you can expect more substantial meals like black bean stir fry, ginger soy fish and satay chicken. At night, you enter through a secret door, down the side street, under the red light.
The Rabbit Hole is part of the same group that own Tango and Zen (also highly recommended for Thai food) you know to expect quality here!
Tango / Fat Hippo
A straight shoot-out for the best burgers in Durham right here! I often lean towards Fat Hippo for burgers (plus they do loyalty points and I’m pretty sure I have enough for a t-shirt now) but Tango are independent, offer outdoor seating on Elvet Bridge and have a ‘cheese bomb’ side which is basically liquid cheese that you have to dip your burger into!
Estabulo / Rio
This is the battle of the Brazilians with both Estabulo and Rio very recently opening in the city. Both offer the now infamous all you can eat meat dining experience alongside unlimited salad from the purpose built salad bar. The concept is simple, meats are cooked to perfection in the kitchen before being presented to each table and, if you think you can handle it, you keep your card on green meaning that yes, you can definitely eat more meat. We’ve only eaten at Estabulo so far but Rio is next on the list and I’m sure both will be just as good as each other. This is an experience that you have to try at least once!
Turkish Kitchen Meze & Grill
On Saddler Street, on the ground floor of number 66, is the Turkish Kitchen Meze & Grill. I can’t believe that what is now a beautiful restuarant space used to be, until recently, a betting shop! We had been wanting to try Akarsu which I’d always thought was the number one Turkish restaurant in Durham but, purely down to logistics of taking a newborn baby in a pram, we chose to visit here instead.
Surprisingly we had such a chilled lunch here as Evelyn, only a matter of weeks old at the time, slept all the way through the car journey to Durham, through the walk to the restaurant, through the meal and back again! If only it stayed that easy…
Anyway, we were really impressed with the food served up here and the hospitality was second to none. If you get chance, I’d recommend taking advantage of the lunch offer between 12pm and 4pm Sunday to Friday as you get two courses for just £13.95. I went with the Atom to start which was roasted aubergine mixed with yoghurt and hot chilli topped with fried butter and the Mixed Kofte for main.
In this Asian mini-mart, situated next to Durham’s bus station, I promise that you’ll find some of the most authentic Thai food certainly in Durham and maybe even the North-East of England. This isn’t the place that you come for a romantic meal out, I mean you’re eating in a shop, but if you’re just after some good food before 8pm you’ll want to try it here. After returning to the UK following ten months of travelling, I craved this exact place. It reminds me so much of eating in South East Asia; unpretentious, relaxed and cheap too. I loved the Hainanese chicken rice which took me right back to eating in a hawker market in Singapore.
The Thai River restaurant in Durham is linked to Golden Pearl if you’re looking for a ‘proper’ restaurant.
Fine dining arrives in Durham with a six course tasting menu presented by Head Chef, Ruari Mackay. Ruari was behind the transformations of the Garden House Inn and the Traveller’s Rest (still unreal) so you know that the food is going to good here. coarse aims to make tasting menus more accessible, more affordable and more fun and I have to admit that I have never had a tasting menu. The menu at coarse changes with the seasons and is only £40 per person which is great value for money!
I love pizza. Not as much as burgers I don’t think but pizza is right up there so I was over the moon when Pizza Punks opened up in Durham. The concept is simple, freshly baked sourdough pizzas with your choice of unlimited toppings for just £12.95. Some of my highlights from the choices are Nduja, pepperoni, buffalo chicken, caramelised pineapple & chipotle pulled pork.
The decor is top notch as expected with a Pizza Punks and the cocktails are great too. You can read more about my visit here.
Another place on Saddler Street that we visited when Evelyn was much younger. With a distinct lack of dine in fast food joints in Durham (not that that’s a bad thing!), nkdBIRD caters to those looking for a quick bite to eat in the form of buttermilk fried chicken. The location is great to catch the attention of passers-by with its neon lights but the interior is small and quite cosy though we did manage to fit our pram in!
Be prepared for the comings and goings of delivery drivers as food is available on Justeat/Ubereats/Deliveroo but if you’re looking for some quick and easy, this could be for you. I enjoyed the Korean-Pop burger with Asian coleslaw, gochujang mayonnaise and siracha sour cream.
The Food Pit
The Food Pit is Durham’s street food hall with a range of different vendors all under one roof. The vendors that are currently there include Greek Kitchen, Holy Guacamoley, Manao Thai and Taste & Feast. This is where we go if me and Emma don’t fancy the same food and it’s pretty laidback, perfect for a quick bite to eat.
I’m skipping the almost legendary Italian restaurant, La Spaghettata, and recommending that you visit Uno Momento just off the marketplace instead. Uno Momento is a restaurant that I’ve always passed and made a mental note that I need to try it. That finally happened a few weeks ago and I was pleasantly surprised. I had a hot-shot calzone which was honestly huge even by my standards and I actually had to leave some but it tasted unreal.
You can get 2 courses for £16.95 all day and all night from Monday to Friday and between 11am and 4:30pm on weekends which is a great deal. Uno Momento serves up the Italian food you’d expect from pastas to pizzas to chicken and seafood dishes but also includes parmos given that we are in the North-East after all.
Places I Really Need To Try
As it says on the tin, there are a few places in Durham that I know I really need to try (over and above the ones I’ve set out above) and they are the Tomahawk Steakhouse in the Boat Club, Tia’s (legendary Mexican) and Shaheen’s (apparently the best Indian food in Durham).
Other Notable Recommendations
As I alluded to earlier, there are so many good places to eat in Durham but I can’t include every single one unfortunately. There are many other notable recommendations depending on what you’re after so feel free to try Head of Steam (great vegan food) Bells’ fish and chips, Cosy Club, Turtle Bay, Zaps burrito bar and Marco Pierre White’s steakhouse.
I haven’t been to each and every restaurant so if you have any thoughts on the best places to eat in Durham, let me know in the comments below!