Boolin’ in the Bull City

I am quite proud of that title. Just so we’re clear, “boolin'” basically means relaxing and hanging out. The youths these days!

About a month ago, Ben and I officially got MARRIED in Durham, NC. Durham was historically a tobacco-oriented city, with factories and old warehouses that are being renovated into beautiful event spaces, restaurants, shops, and offices. Bay 7 at the American Tobacco Campus is a prime example of this, and that’s exactly where we had our reception.

Photo by Jon Warlick Media

Side note, if you want to see the STUNNING video by Jon and Zara Warlick of our big day, click here. You’ll see some glimpses of the old tobacco factory and its campus.

Growing up in a small town called Wake Forest which is approximately 25 minutes from Durham, I have seen tremendous change take place in the city in the past ten years. It was fitting a month after the wedding for us to take a road trip to explore Durham, which is becoming an emerging culinary destination recognized on a national stage.

As many of us do on day trips, we tried to cram into one day. Here is everything we managed to see (and eat!) in the famous Bull City. Obviously we didn’t get to everything, but that just gives us another excuse to go back.

11:00 AM – We got into town right around 11, and found prime street parking across the street from Pizzeria Toro. When I asked around for Durham recommendations, the overwhelming majority of people said to go here. And now I understand why!
Atmosphere was incredible- open kitchen with a MASSIVE brick , wood-fired oven that these light, delicate pizzas are constantly being baked in. Lots of windows to let the natural light in (which is fantastic because natural light is unbeatable when taking pictures), industrial fixtures and details, and ingredients being displayed on the walls like art.

Ben went with a lamb meatball, and I got a “fior di latte” buffalo mozzarella and mushroom pizza. The crust was buttery, delicate, and works well with the toppings. Each part of the pizza equation equaled a beautiful pizza. You could tell everything was super fresh, which resulted in a powerful and delectable pie that was exciting with every bite. Plus you can eat the whole pie by yourself without going into a carb coma.

12:30 PM-  After we walked down the street, we popped into a nifty-eclectic thrift shop, and an underground arcade. We walked up a few more blocks and revisited American Tobacco Campus, where we had just been a month prior.

1:00 PM – Quick drive over to another renovated factory campus, called BrightLeaf Square. Here we ventured to find the legendary taiyaki, which is a fluffy pancake made into a fish that symbolizes good luck. It’s then filled with soft serve and various toppings. I cannot stress to you HOW HARD it is to find this outside of New York City, and the fact that it is in Durham is mind-blowing. Sugar Koi knocked it out of the park with theirs, which was topped chocolate soft serve. Ben got their regular “strawberry fields” ice cream and loved it!


1:45 PM – The night before we departed, Ben found a Facebook event where there would be a dog adoption event. We went to the wrong brewery, like twenty minutes away. Whoops. But Barrel Culture offers beer infused slushees, and we got the Mango and Meyer Lemon BlackBerry specials. It was humid that day, and this was the perfect way to get an afternoon beer while simultaneously cooling off. And to cool off Ben, who was irritated I took us to the wrong place.

3:00 PM – Feeling a little sluggish at this point, because we’ve been going non-stop all day. After finding parking, we walk to the Zen Succulent and afterwards to The Durham Hotel for iced coffee. We were unaware that there was a rooftop bar here (which I was SO mad about because I usually research down to a T) but we’ll have to hit that up next time.


4:15 PM- We FINALLY made it to the correct brewery for this dog rescue event. Durty Bull was poppin’, with people running around with their sours and petting dogs. Around 5ish though, we scooted over to bar and arcade concept, BoxCar. Atmosphere was unreal, with the buzz of an arcade on a weekend. There was also a walk-up counter to get brick oven, custom pizzas. Smelled like pizza heaven up in there.

6:00 PM- After a solid hour of Galaga, we went to our final destination of the day- Copa. This Cuban spot won honorable mention for Raleigh News & Observer’s “Restaurant of the Year” award. Owned by a husband (chef Roberto) and wife (mixologist Elizabeth) team, it’s an intricately created menu that combines Cuba’s rich history with incredible food. They have a “soil to table” mission, and partner with local businesses and farmers to deliver the best food possible to all that walk in through their doors.

It’s a tapas style menu, and we went overboard picking out what we wanted. We got a double order of croquetas, which I can best describe as Cuban hushpuppies with serrano ham and mojo dipping sauce on the side. Warm, gooey, savory little bites that you absolutely must order here. To balance the palate out, got an order of maduros- crispy but slightly chewy sweet plantains. Masas de puerco is a thick cut fried pork belly dish, so duh, had to have it. Ropa vieja was a must, shredded beef in a wine and tomato sauce served on cassava flatbreads. Ben opted for the “chuletas a lo Guajiro” which is a huge pork chop with seared onion.

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Pair it all with one of their cocktails on the side and you are golden. My favorite- “La Diosa Negra” with spiced rum, Cuban tobacco smoke, coffee liqueur, orange bitters, vanilla, and cane sugar. I’ll attach the menu description, because this is a prime example of Copa combining Cuban history with food.

When in an Old Havana style oasis, Cuban coffee is a must. Copa has just developed a specific type of coffee with local Durham roaster 4th Dimension coffee to mimic the robust taste and smokiness of native Cuban coffee. If you didn’t know, Cuban coffee is extremely hard to come by in the U.S. because of the embargo our country has placed on the island nation. Now that I’m out of my stash from Havana, it’s good to know I can find it nearby for an afternoon cafe con leche.


For dessert, we opted for a beautiful flan that we fork dueled over because friends, good flan is godly. Can’t wait to go back to Copa soon!

7:45 PM – we’re tired! I wanna go to bed! Homebound.

There is so much to do in Durham that I’m planning another day trip to go back again soon. We didn’t have time to visit some of my favorites that are near and dear to my heart, like Cocoa Cinnamon and Dame’s Chicken and Waffles. Fear not though, my dear readers- working on a Durham travel guide for you that will be out very soon. In the meantime, stock up on your Cafe Bustelo and look up Airbnb’s in the Bull City. You won’t regret it!




Author: seejuliachomp

Food blogger, consumer of calories, lover of carbs and wine.

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