By Amber Watson, owner of Bites of Bull City
Whether eating a healthy plant-based diet is already part of your lifestyle or a future goal, this list of must-try restaurants is for you! Durham is lucky to have four dedicated vegan restaurants located in various spots throughout the city, along with several others that offer a large selection of vegan options.
1. Pure Vegan Café
With successful locations already established in Raleigh and Cary, this woman and minority-owned business has expanded yet again, introducing their fully vegan menu to the Bull City. You will find this bright and airy eatery in the Erwin Terrace Plaza, a short walk from Duke Hospital. The menu features options like plant-based veggie burgers and hot dogs, mouth-watering “chick’n” sandwiches, French fries, breakfast items, desserts, and Indian fusion entrees like rice bowls and wraps, not to mention an extensive drink menu with fresh cold-pressed juices, smoothies, acai bowls, coffee, and lattes.
Located at: 2812 Erwin Rd #104 Durham, NC
2. Earth to Us Vegan
In North Durham, Earth to Us Vegan is known for serving hearty portions of its inventive American and Latin vegan eats from appetizers like cauliflower wings, loaded nachos, and garlic tostones to entrees such as their popular vegan mac and cheese plate, BBQ arepas, veggie empanadas, or hempe tacos, this welcoming spot does not disappoint. They also recently opened a Raleigh location and began offering Sunday brunch from 11am until they sell out, featuring a menu of tofu breakfast burritos and arepas, blueberry pancakes, “bacon” breakfast plates and more.
Located at: 1720 Guess Rd #18 Durham, NC
3. Pure Soul
You’ll find this little vegan oasis tucked in a small unassuming strip mall off the bustling Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd. Everything on this menu is plant-based, but you’d be hard-pressed to know the difference based on the Southern-inspired comfort food they’re known for, such as “BBQ” and fried “fish” sandwiches, “shrimp” po’ boy, and buffalo drumstix, along with signature sides like cheese fries and soul mac. They even carry a selection of vegan desserts, partnering with local vegan bakers, Taylor Street Sweets and Dee’s Kitchen. Grab a fresh-squeezed lemonade and enjoy your meal on their bright patio, which feels like a little tropical escape in the Bull City.
Located at: 4125 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd, Ste. 1 Durham, NC
4. Banu Vegan
Banu’s tagline is “Conscious Comfort Food” because they source fresh ingredients from local farmers’ markets year-round to ensure you’re eating the best of the season. Their meals are take-out friendly and include exciting options everyone will enjoy, like black bean burgers, pulled jackfruit sandwiches, Spanish burritos (using non-GMO soy protein), and OG chikin sandwiches made from air fried oyster mushrooms, which are all served with chips and their house sofrito salsa. They also serve a Southern-style vegan brunch, with biscuits, pancakes and more, on Sundays from 11am-3pm.
Located at: 2534 S Roxboro St. Durham, NC
Ethiopian food naturally lends itself to a healthy vegetarian and vegan diet, including their staple spongey and sour injera bread (made with teff flour, a grain) which is used to scoop up the food in bite-sized pieces. Goorsha’s vegan platter is a fabulous deal in which you choose three options from kik alecha (yellow split pea stew), gomen (collard greens), yemisir kik (stewed red lentils), tekil gomen (sauteed cabbage, carrots, and potatoes), metin shiro (ground chickpea stew) to fosolia (green beans and carrots). Everything is cooked with traditional Ethiopian spices that create rich bold flavors. Be sure to check out their café next door, Gojo, as well, where you can order a vegan bowl for lunch.
Located at: 910 West Main St. Durham, NC
For more amazing African vegan-friendly eats, visit Zweli’s Zimbabwean restaurant on Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd. Piri-piri (a chili pepper used in their marinade and as a spice) is typically used on chicken, but piri-piri flame-grilled tofu is a perfect vegan substitute. Pair it with a couple of Zweli’s signature sides, of which the majority are vegan, including chakalaka and dovi collards, jollof rice, zim-style coleslaw, or lemon pepper asparagus. Most of the appetizers are vegan as well, such as piri piri and rosemary dusted chips, veggie samosas, fried plantains, and crispy avocado baked fries—a sides platter option allows you to choose three of these delicious items as your main meal.
Located at: 4600 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd, Ste. 26 Durham, NC
7. Lime & Lemon Indian Grill & Bar
Indian food is another naturally vegan-friendly cuisine and Lime and Lemon has some of the best in town, featuring a mix of dishes from all regions of the county. You can’t go wrong with their incredibly filling dosas (lentil and rice “crepe”) stuffed with masala or spring veggies, or their onion or mixed veggie uttapam (lentil “pancake” with toppings). Their colorful vegetable masalas, kurma, and tofu vindaloo are also packed with spices and savory flavors you’ll crave time and again.
Located at: 811 9th Street, St 150 Durham, NC
8. Happy & Hale
Happy and Hale has several locations across the Triangle, including two in Durham (on 9th Street and University Hills Plaza). They specialize in fast causal healthy food— from salads to bowls, smoothie to juice—made with fresh ingredients. Some of their custom vegan options include the “Incredibowl” with shredded kale, quinoa, roasted butternut squash, black beans, roasted beets, pumpkin seeds, avocado, mint, lemon tahini dressing and lime, or their filling falafel grain bowl with mushroom and herb-baked falafel, roasted butternut squash hummus, kale salad, warm black lentils, topped with cilantro pepper vinaigrette. You can also create your own custom bowl just the way you like it!
Located at: 703B Ninth St. Durham, NC
9. Parts & Labor
A local bar may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think about plant-based bites, but Parts & Labor at Motorco Music Hall in Downtown Durham has always served a satisfying variety of creative vegan dishes. All four of their salads are vegan, including the popular sesame udon salad with crispy tofu, along with lots of tasty appetizers, such as beer-battered cauliflower wings, scallion pancakes, veggie samosas, crispy tofu-banh, and vegan tacos with masala eggplant and tofu. Order a bunch and share them on the lively outdoor patio with friends.
Located at: 723 Rigsbee Ave. Durham, NC
10. Refectory Café
From brunch to dinner, the Refectory Café offers a delightful selection of vegan dishes like tofu scramble, vegan pancakes, black bean burger, vegan ratatouille, or warm bowls of Indian dal or vegan chili. This charming café off of Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd is the perfect place for a relaxing and leisurely day or night out.
Located at: 2726 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd. Durham, NC
Amber Watson is the creator and writer of the local Durham food news blog, Bites of Bull City (bitesofbullcity.com). Follow on social media @bitesofbullcity.