by Ron Wen http://trianglenc-restaurants.com/
As a season subscriber to Durham Performing Arts Center’s (DPAC) Broadway series, I’ve gotten to know the area really well when it comes to restaurants. Between the DPAC and the Durham Bulls, this revived neighborhood can get really busy, which is actually a great thing! With all the people flowing through the area, new restaurants and bars have popped up to take care of those hungry folks. Great eating options ranging from Mexican nouveau, casual Italian sandwiches, gourmet burgers and seasonal urban chic. So if you’re headed out to catch a show or game, there’s plenty of great food options within a walking or short driving distance of DPAC!
With most shows starting at 7:30 to 8:00 pm and ending at after 10pm you can certainly do dinner after the show but I for one, would find it hard to enjoy things with a rumbling tummy. And while you’ve got some uber-convenient options right at the American Tobacco Campus (Tylers, Mellow Mushroom, Cuban Revolution), I prefer to grab a bite away from the main DPAC drag. Mellow Mushroom is a favorite of mine but from what I’ve seen it can be jam-packed in Durham. I can’t imagine what it’s like before a popular show like Wicked. Tylers has decent pub grub but it’s not a great option for a night at the theater in my opinion. You might be better off just doing beer and cocktails here. And Cuban Revolution?! Online reviews have been ALL OVER the place for this restaurant with regards to food and service so I’d prefer to avoid it for a big night out.
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So what’s my strategy for the DPAC? While season ticket holders get free private parking, I prefer to just head on over to Main Street between 5 – 6pm. You’re allowed one hour of parking until 6pm when it becomes free for the evening. So at 5pm there are typically free spaces (possibly with meters) that you can park in all night. If Main Street is full, try Chapel Hill Street or Parrish Street. It’s rare when I can’t find something within a couple of blocks near Main Street. As a bonus, you avoid traffic jams in a parking structure on the way home.
Once you’ve found a space, you’ve got some great restaurants within four blocks of Main Street and Mangum: Revolution, Piedmont, Dos Perros, Toast, Piedmont and Rue Cler! The easiest option is also probably the most expensive: Revolution. It’s a pretty little spot, very urban and chic with a seasonal menu and mere blocks away from DPAC. On theater nights, Revolution will get booked out so certainly make a reservation. Otherwise a seat at the fancy bar may be an alternative option. They serve the full menu and it’s a great place for small plates and classic cocktails. The dinner choices range from ahi poke to mussels, paparadelle to diver scallops. Revolution is definitely a place to impress your date and get the night started off with a bang!
Further north you’ll find Dos Perros, a fairly new nuevo latino-Mexican restaurant. On one side you’ll find a cozy bar area and the other, a very simple bare-bones dining room. But make no mistake about Dos Perros, it’s all about more unusual Mexican dishes from a variety of regions of the country. I’ve tried out their chicken mole poblano and empanadas, good stuff! Sitting at the bar with a cocktail and some appetizers is a great way to get your evening started. The restaurant is still finding its way with the menu but I think Dos Perros is a fine option for Mexican and the ambiance is cool and casual.
Some other good choices in the Main Street area are the Piedmont Restaurant and Rue Cler but both will require a bit of a walk to DPAC. Piedmont is similar to Revolution, it’s focused on seasonal Italian-French food. Decor is rustic European and pleasant. Service can be a bit hit or miss and at their price points, I find that a bit disappointing.
Rue Cler is a solid French bistro with great service. They’ve also got a very affordable ($30) three course prix fixe menu, perfect for theater night. Mix and match from the seasonal menu or from the a la carte portion to your heart’s content. Recently I had a lovely lentil soup, braised asparagus and steak frites with bearnaise sauce as my prix fixe meal. Either restaurant is a fine option, just keep the stiletto’s at home for ease of walking!
Now if you’re willing to drive a bit before or after the show, you’ve got some fantastic options further down on Main and Ninth Street. Pop’s Italian restaurant has moved into its new space at 605 W. Main Street and serves up home-made pasta, wonderful brick oven pizza and their classic: chicken under a brick. Over on Ninth Street you’ll find the under-rated Blu Seafood which is comfortably casual but you can also dress it up here. All their dishes are handled with a deft touch, I’ve had their signature crab mac n cheese, a great calamari appetizer along with delicious desserts. It’s definitely worth the drive from DPAC for a civilized dinner at either spot! Just give yourself enough time to find parking and hoof it over to the show.
One newer option that puts you steps away from the DPAC entrance is the lovely, Tobacco Road Sports Cafe. Yes, they’ve got tons of televisions. Yes, they serve pitchers of beer. But Tobacco Road Sports barely qualifies as a sports bar given its upscale decor, lovely full bar and solid service. While it may be difficult to get a table on show night, the area around the bar is first come, first served, order at the bar. And if THAT area is full, you can even sit at the patio on the other side of the bar! There’s plenty of space here but being so close to DPAC makes Tobacco Road Sports a very popular dining spot.
Tobacco Road Sports specializes in eclectic pub food so you’re sure to find something tasty here. Start with their buffalo chicken egg rolls or lettuce wraps to get things going. Try out the nachos drizzled in cheese sauce and add some chicken or shrimp to bling it out, fantastic! Their burgers are solid or go for their triple slider plate: hamburger, barbeque and corndog! After you’re done, take a leisurely short stroll past the fountain over to DPAC, you can’t be any closer than Tobacco Road Sports…
And don’t forget about Bull City Burger & Brewery and Dame’s Chicken and Waffles which I reviewed separately. Bull City Burger & Brewery spins out fresh beer brewed on the premises along with top-notch gourmet burgers. Most everything is made in-house at Bull City Burger. And Dame’s brings two of your favorite foods together with a Southern twist, who can say no to fried chicken and/or waffles? A couple of newer spots for a simple and hearty meal, no jacket required…
In the end it all just depends on your mood: fancy and frilly or tasty and simple! Getting in for an early dinner around DPAC is typically not that hard unless there’s something very popular showing. But in all honesty, sometimes I’m just in the mood for some small plates and apps before hitting the show. It can be a bit easier than doing a full, three course meal if you’re pressed for time. Just don’t go to the DPAC hungry because outside of some cookies, gelato, candied nuts and adult beverages, you won’t find much to tide you over for three hours! And it’s really hard to enjoy a show when you’re famished, take advantage of the great dining options in the area, bon appetit!
Revolution (Modern Eclectic)
Toast (Italian sandwiches, paninis)
Dos Perros (Nouveau Mexican)
Piedmont (Seasonal Continental)
Rue Cler (French)
Blu Seafood (Seafood)
Tobacco Road Sports (American)
Bull City Burger & Brewery (American)
Dame’s Chicken and Waffles (Southern Soul)