Grub, Pizzeria Toro and Gocciolina: 24 hours of eating in Durham

The Durham Farmers' Market is one of the many highlights of Durham's food scene.
The Durham Farmers' Market is one of the many highlights of Durham's food scene.

My dad and brother flew in this weekend for the N.C. State game, and with them here for only 24 hours, we tried to visit as many Durham restaurants as our stomachs could handle. 

Friday, 11 p.m., Mateo Bar de Tapas

After listening to a bit of the lifeless Icona Pop performance, I headed over to a late-night meal downtown at Mateo. My dad and brother went straight from the airport to the restaurant. That’s how much my family loves this place. The restaurant is a dim-lit, traditional tapas place, with a board of 20 specials that makes each trip unique and interesting. Highlights included the roasted duck breast and chicken croquettes specials, gambas and brussels sprouts. I would avoid the octopus and meatballs dishes, which are both good but fall short of the rest of the menu. In past visits, the fried rice and salt cod were also great. I wouldn’t recommend going on a college budget, but it is a great place to meet family or go for a special occasion.   

Saturday, 10 a.m., Grub Durham 

My original idea was to go to Monuts, the famed donut and breakfast spot off of East Campus. A line out the door complicated that plan. We ended up at Grub, a place I have been to a couple times. The biscuits are the highlight of every visit, perfectly crispy on the outside and paired well with butter and raspberry preserves. The chocolate chip pancakes are just okay. The batter needed to be mixed better as a few clumps were confusingly salty. The fried chicken and ham and egg biscuit sandwiches, which I had the last couple times, are the way to go. Grub is a solid breakfast spot in a convenient location. They are also open for lunch and dinner and serve a good hamburger at both. 

Saturday, 11:30 a.m., Durham Farmers’ Market 

The Durham Farmers’ Market packs a lot into its hundred or so yards of space in Durham Central Park. They have meats, fresh fish, cheese, wine, beer, pastries, produce and more, all from local farms and vendors. The market is only open 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays during the winter. Loyal customers still turned out even though it was 40 degrees and raining. I picked up a great baguette from Loaf and a wheel of speciality Carolina Moon cheese from Chapel Hill Creamery before I left to escape the cold.

Saturday, 1 p. m., Pizzeria Toro

A Duke student favorite, Pizzeria Toro serves maybe the best pizza in Durham. We had the mushroom white pizza and the classic Margherita. Both were great thanks to delicious fresh mozzarella cheese and a thin, crispy crust. The suppli (fried rice balls) were a solid starter as well. The clean space and open kitchen, with a massive wood burning stove in the center, make it an easy place to come back to. Their no reservations policy means the wait can be daunting, though we had no problem getting a table on this rainy Saturday.  

Saturday, 5 p.m., M Kokko

The line for M Kokko was about 30 people long by the time they opened at 5 p.m. Luckily we got there at 4:45 and were second in line. This restaurant also has a no reservations policy, and it’s an even smaller space than Pizzeria Toro, so the wait times can be outrageous. The food is worth nearly any amount of wait time, though. The soy garlic glazed korean fried chicken wings served with pickled daikon cubes might be the best dish in all of Durham. The chicken sandwich and pork buns are not far behind. This is a great place for someone on a college budget (I believe the dishes range from $9 to $15), and I hope more Duke students visit in the future.  

Saturday, 6 p.m., Duke vs. N.C. State

Zion put up 32 points. RJ had a triple double. Good stuff.

Saturday 9:45 p.m., Gocciolina

This small Italian restaurant on the outskirts of town is a bit of a trek. As a reward for your effort, the food is relatively affordable. The pastas range from $9 to $14, and the steak, while relatively small, is also $14. However, other entrees and the wine list may put this out of range for many Duke students. Still, it’s worth making a date spot or go-to place for a special occasion. For me, the burrata special, fried eggplant appetizer, and steak were all worth coming back for. I would also probably order the pasta carbonara and meatball appetizer again.  

And after my family left early Sunday morning, and our crazy 24 hours of food was over. Now, it’s back to Marketplace I guess.


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