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Downtown Durham’s dining scene is thriving. Here are some of our favorite spots.

The Triangle-area’s best restaurants

N&O dining critic Greg Cox visited more than 65 restaurants in 2018. Here are some of his favorites for the year, and why they make his list.
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N&O dining critic Greg Cox visited more than 65 restaurants in 2018. Here are some of his favorites for the year, and why they make his list.

Whether you’re a longtime Durham resident or just dropping by, downtown Durham is one of the best block by block dining cities in the South.

Here are our some of our favorite spots to seek out for a bite, plus some nightcaps.

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Alley Twenty-Six

320 East Chapel Hill St., Durham

Shannon Healy runs one of the area’s finest cocktail bars. There’s a frequently changing menu of seasonal drinks that’ll never steer you wrong, but bartenders can make anything you like with a few choice adjectives. They also boast a kitchen to match the booze.

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Bull City Burger

107 E. Parrish St. #105, Durham

Proving that pasture-raised beef can be done on a high volume scale, don’t be disheartened if the counter-service line stretches to the door, it’s worth the wait. Bull City boasts a sign declaring, “Yes, we made that,” which applies to everything, from the pickles to the buns to the mustard. Even the beer.

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COPA’s Ropa vieja a la americana features NC grass-fed beef, slow-cooked with wine, mint, and a light tomato sauce served on crepe-like flatbreads made from cassava root. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

COPA

107 W. Main St., Durham

A Cuban restaurant like COPA might not exist anywhere else on earth, serving Cuban food based on pre-revolution recipes drawing heavily on European influences. But there’s still a mean mojito.

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Dashi

415 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham

This two-story restaurant is a downstairs ramen bar and an upstairs izakaya. If the downstairs is full, don’t despair, there are also noodle bowls upstairs and better luck with a seat.

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The Durham

315 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham

Bearing the city’s name, this hotel restaurant is a lobby dining room of retro elegance, with a cozy tucked away bar. A world away, the rooftop bar has its own menu and a livelier vibe, offering the tallest view of downtown currently available. If you’re wandering through for brunch, it sneakily has one of Durham’s best coffee programs. Critic Greg Cox named it the best restaurant of 2017.

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Jack Tar & The Colonel’s Daughter

202 Corcoran St., Durham

This modern diner on the ground floor of the new Unscripted Hotel goes from morning to night, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Colonel’s Daughter, the black box bar next door, is narrow and dark, usually with a movie on the lone television. There are more than dozen seats at the bar, but plenty of standing room along the wall, with a wooden railing for drinks.

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Luna Rotisserie & Empanadas

112 W. Main St., Durham

The restaurant boasts a South American meets American South menu with, yes, both rotisserie meats and empanadas. Both are excellent. Whether settling in for a meal (with interesting sides) or grabbing a bunch of empanadas and small plates, Luna should suit your needs.

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The house specialty at M Kokko is KFC wings, the K standing for Korean as in that countrys famously extra-crispy twice-fried chicken. Twelve bucks gets you eight wings, glazed with a classic soy-garlic sauce or a spicy-sweet sauce riddled with freshly toasted red chiles. That price also gets you a small dish of house-pickled daikon and a seasonal vegetable side sautéed kale. jleonard@newsobserver.com Juli Leonard

M Kokko

311 Holland St., Suite B, Durham

This sister restaurant of M Sushi serves famous Korean chicken wings and sandwiches, but also excellent bowls of ramen. The waiting list can be staggering, like a certain global phenomenon musical.

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The Parlour

117 Market St., Durham

This master creamery is known to have a line in a snowstorm.

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Pizzeria Toro

105 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham

This Neopolitan pizzeria is one of the most bustlely spots in town, with a menu of red and white pizzas and even a selection of hams. A large communal table means you may bump into new friends.

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There’s a house made Shan-Xi noodle dish with two variations, one pairing the broad, very long wheat noodles with an animal protein such as stir-fried pork belly or braised monkfish, and the other a vegetarian alternative at Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings & Sweets. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings & Sweets

121 N. Gregson Ave., Durham

Named one of the country’s best new restaurants by Bon Appetit before it was even a restaurant, Rose’s serves deeply satisfying bowls of ramen and housemade noodles and an always changing menu of spicy, sour, tingly bites, including dumplings and buns. Don’t waste time wondering why an Asian noodle shop is paired with a dessert counter, just be thankful it exists.

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Saltbox Seafood Joint

2637 Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, Durham

Fried fish becomes art at this seafood shack a couple miles outside of downtown Durham. Chef Ricky Moore serves whatever is fresh that day from the North Carolina coast, from safe bets like shrimp and flounder, to compelling cases for eating more mackerel and croaker.

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The USS Nimitz towers above the table with its three tiers of lobster, oysters, shrimp, clams, mussels, crab claws, king crab, ceviche, tartare and smoked fish dip at Saint James Seafood on Thursday, Mar. 14, 2018, in Durham, NC. Casey Toth ctoth@newsobserver.com

Saint James Seafood

806 W. Main St., Durham

Saint James somehow manages to be every kind of seafood restaurant at once, serving loving odes to the fried fish platters, elegant shellfish towers and the bounty of the sea in between. There’s no shame in doubling up on Old Bay fries, or on anything from the tiki-heavy cocktail menu.

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Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson

Don’t forget drinks!

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