links listed are not to the restaurant pages themselves (i figure that's easy enough to google!) but to posts i've written with reviews and usually at least some pictures. be sure to let me know if this helps you -- or if you have any other recommendations for us! we're always on the lookout for new fun places to try.
top overall picks for a special night out
✭ revolution (also here) is a relative newcomer to the durham restaurant scene featuring a modern, urban feel and contemporary cuisine. i especially recommend trying their smaller plates (see the scallops below) -- you can easily make a meal out of 2 of them. i have been there for lunch, as well, and had an equally good experience.
✭ whether for brunch, lunch, or dinner, watts grocery has never failed to wow me with their modern take on southern cuisine. they also do a wonderful job focusing on locally-sourced products.
✭ nana's is an old-guard durham favorite. i have enjoyed several delicious meals there, though it tends to be more traditional fare that doesn't get me as excited as some of the other durham favorites. they are renowned for their risotto.
✭ rue cler is french bistro-style restaurant featuring prix fixe meals with 3 delicious courses. if you're not in an over-the-top mood, their nicoise salad is also excellent.
✭ i'm surprised that i don't have any photos taken at four square, because we've been there a bunch! another durham classic: well-crafted dishes featuring local ingredients in a lovely setting (an old home with a square layout, hence the name) and impeccable service. a great choice when family is coming to town.
✭ sitti might be my current favorite restaurant in raleigh. sitti has mouthwateringly good lebanese cuisine in a cozy setting. i can't vouch for authenticity, but i CAN for deliciousness. their hummus, shown below, gets an A+ for taste and presentation.
✭ poole's downtown diner has an interesting concept where you read the menu off of chalkboards located near the bar. odd, but it works -- or you don't really care because the food is so good that the minor inconvenience can be overlooked. josh still talks about the burger with brie on brioche that he had there! now that i think about it, we are way overdue to go back.
✭ for barbeque in a slightly fancier setting than the traditional benches/checkered tablecloth style, we like the pit. their menu is also varied enough to satisfy those of us that aren't always craving a pile o' pork with eastern sauce (though their version of this is quite good).
✭ bonne soiree is definitely a contender for my absolute favorite restaurant in the triangle. traditional french cuisine flawlessly prepared and served in a beautiful, intimate setting -- what's not to love? if you go, i highly recommend just going all out and getting the wine pairing. tina (the chef's wife) will bring small pours of various glasses to go with each course, and most likely she will knock your socks off. the only downside? this place is $$$, and -- budding food bloggers -- they do not allow photography. worth it, though, for a special occasion!
✭ we love panzanella for nights when we feel like being taken care of without breaking the bank. located in carrboro, their focus is italian with an organic/local/healthy edge.
✭ sage cafe is a vegetarian restaurant with a middle eastern bent located in the timberlyne shopping center in chapel hill. we have been there many times and have never had a meal that was less than fantastic. in particular, the fezen joon will rock your world. it may not look like much (see below), but just trust me. the tiramisu is also awesome.
✭ the fact that i have zero pictures from lantern in chapel hill means just one thing: we are wayyyy overdue to go back there! i am going to remedy this as soon as possible, as this renowned asian fusion restaurant is one of my all-time favorites.
✭ by far, our favorite place within the hillsborough scene is panciuto. it would my pick for best italian in the triangle, though their take on the cuisine isn't always the most traditional. we've only been there once, but i was wowed by the ambience, attention to detail, and the FOOD. next time i go back, the camera will come, too :)
✭ tupelo's features cajun delights -- think spicy seafood and honey cornbread. good for a change-of-pace dinner; we also like the patio for lunchtime.
casual & fun
✭ elmo's diner is one of our absolute go-to favorites. they have locations in durham and carrboro, and their cuisine is a perfect blend of homey but fresh. also fantastic for brunch (try their omelets). i have dreams about this loaded spinach salad:
✭ the fish shack (sibling restaurant to the barbeque-focused Q shack located right next door) wasn't a restaurant i expected to love, but they won me over with a great shrimp salad and a cute patio (the proximity to LoYo -- right across the street -- doesn't hurt their case, either).
✭ chosun ok is a korean joint located in a strip mall. don't be fooled -- there are delicacies awaiting you inside! i enjoyed a memorable meal of bibimbap in a steaming hot stone bowl served with ginseng rice wine.
✭ tower indian is a vegetarian southern indian place out in RTP. it is supercheap and i would guess fairly authentic, since it is always filled with indian families. if you go, i recommend the gunpowder masala dosai -- shown below, a giant flatbread filled with spicy potato filling. YUM.
✭ sushi yoshi tends to be our go-to for sushi. the value is not as good as shiki sushi in durham, but the proximity to our apartment can't be beat (it's practically walking distance!).
✭ scratch bakery in durham is a relatively new bake shop downtown specializing in handmade and locally sourced pastries. they are famous for their doughnut muffins (below, a chocolate specimen):
✭ toast features delicious sandwiches, gourmet crostini, and soups and is located near revolution downtown -- perfect for a quick meal before enjoying a show at the DPAC.
✭ red lotus in chapel hill is our go-to for take-out chinese. they even have brown rice:
✭ lime & basil is decent vietnamese on franklin street. they specialize in steaming bowls of pho. here's an example:
✭ gulf rim is another total 'beer-on-the-patio' place, located in hillsborough. they feature mexican-american cuisine with an emphasis on seafood. josh and i like the shrimp cocktail with avocado -- and of course their margaritas.
brunch & other treats
✭ in this post, i compare my beloved LoYo to newcomer orange leaf (pump-your-own yogurt in chapel hill. it's a fro-yo face off -- but the victor is not much of a surprise.
✭ guglhupf is hands-down my favorite brunch place in the triangle. they have traditional bavarian pastries and breads, delectable egg dishes, and (my favorite) a beet sandwich with walnuts and goat-cheese spread that is to.die.for. it can be crowded, but it is definitely worth the wait.
✭ vin rouge has a great brunch menu in an elegant atmosphere.
✭ zest restaurant & home art is super-cute and fun if you're looking for a brunch option in raleigh. they have a (very girly) store filled with pretty things out front, and a menu filled with tantalizing options inside. i recently tried (and loved) the brie, strawberry, and arugula sandwich.
✭ by far, my favorite place to get pizza in the triangle is lilly's in raleigh. the best i can do for a review is at the bottom of this post which features lilly's leftovers! their pizza is thick-crusted and decadent, and there are myriad fun combinations of gourmet toppings to choose from. i also highly recommend the tofu salad with dried cherries and ginger vinaigrette - random but great!
✭ the loop is where we go when we CAN'T venture to raleigh for the above. i love the portabella mushroom and pancetta pizza in combination with their gorgonzola walnut salad.
✭ brixx rounds out our top 3. i actually think their pizza is just okay (i may be in the minority on this one) but their beer menu -- and the fact that you can get cute little samplers -- is great. it's also fun to sit outside at the meadowmont location if the weather is good.
✭ west end wine bar is cozy and the durham location features take-out pizza from pop's! a great location for just hanging out.
✭ mill town is a belgian beer bar/gastropub. it is one of our go-to choices for a fun night out with friends, especially when people come to visit the area. they have a LONG (ie, the length of a smaller novel) and comprehensive beer menu, and fun foods to go with the beverage of your choice. josh and i love the pretzel appetizer with biercheese, and i also enjoy their salads. the grilled cheese with avocado also hits the spot, and the frites with various toppings are fun. basically: we are fans!
✭ six plates in durham boasts a fun wine selection, comfortable couches, a great cheese board and an even greater version of truffle frites (seriously: GET THESE). this place was also the site of the first blogger meet-up i arranged. fun memories!