Both Durham and Chapel Hill have solidly established themselves as foodie destinations over the past decade. These cities are home to incredible restaurants of all kinds! Naturally so, Durham and Chapel Hill have attracted talented chefs from all over the country to make their mark on these popular destinations that are renowned for being open-minded and diverse. These few chefs we spotlight are celebrated and revered locally, in addition to having been acknowledged nationally for their creativity and continued success.

Check out our list of Durham’s and Chapel Hill’s most highly celebrated local chefs and restaurateurs:

Giorgios Bakatsias

Mr. Bakatsias is the “godfather” of the foodie scene here in The Triangle area and has been active for over 30 years. His restaurant empire features a total of 8 unique restaurants in Durham & Chapel Hill alone. He also owns 2 restaurants out in Wake County in the town of Wake Forest, 2 in Charlotte and 1 in Asheville.

The 4 restaurants in Chapel Hill are: Bin54 Steak & Cellar, Village Burgers, KIPOS (Greek Taverna), City Kitchen American Brasserie, and over in Durham: Parizade (Mediterranean), Vin Rouge (French Bistro), Local 22 Kitchen & Bar and Nasher Museum Cafe at Duke University.

Giorgios Bakatsias is known not only as one of North Carolina’s top restaurateurs and restaurant design consultants, but also as a source of boundless energy, an unmistakable laugh, and eternal optimism.  Giorgios believes that his story proves, “if you embrace life, it will yield untold experiences and love.”

” At Giorgios Group each restaurant is more than a place to grab a bite, it is an experience, a story, a captivating memory from owner Giorgios Bakatsias’ life as an internationally recognized restauranteur…”


Giorgios Bakatsias, the Southeast’s most prolific and visionary restaurateur, boasts decades of experience in the culinary industry. He has been the creative force behind countless dining restaurants, food venues, and gourmet markets. From conception to opening, Bakatsias directs all aspects of the creative process, including concept development and branding, architectural and interior design, selection of key management, lighting, textiles, and furniture. His appreciation for the guest experience, intuitive sense of cutting-edge trends in dining, and talent for menu composition have garnered the attention and praise of local and national food critics alike.

Giorgios learned to cook at the foot of his mother’s stove in the quiet village of Karista, Greece. He immigrated with his family to the United States at the age of 12. His parents’ small diner, above which the family lived, was his first introduction to Durham, North Carolina and the American way of life. He then obtained a global culinary education, learning in the kitchens of Paris, New York, and the Mediterranean. At 23, he had already developed several restaurant properties and conceived of dozens more.

Giorgios’ 13 restaurants offer a variety of culinary samplings from every corner of the globe, and they ensure that each explores robust and powerful flavor while maintaining fresh and locally sourced ingredients. Whether it be a Bistro, Taverna, Brasserie, or Top 100 Steakhouse, each Giorgios Group restaurant unconditionally guarantees positive guest experiences through quality and service.

Mildred Cotton Council

Mildred Cotton Council, better known as Mama Dip, opened the Mama Dips Kitchen in Chapel Hill over 40 years ago. Since then, her name has become synonymous with southern cooking. Council has written two cookbooks, Mama Dip’s Kitchen and Mama Dip’s Family Cookbook that include personal stories as well as recipes. She has also been featured on The Food Network.

” Today, Mama Dip is working alongside her children and grandchildren, who carry on the tradition of one of Chapel Hill’s most beloved dining destinations…”


In 1976, Mildred Cotton Council opened Mama Dip’s restaurant, named for the childhood nickname given to her by her siblings (her height and long arms allowed her to “dip” all the way into the bottom of the rain barrel).

Born in Chatham County to Ed and Effie Edwards Cotton, Mama Dip first learned to cook by watching her family and neighbors use the “dump cooking” method of cooking by taste. While working as a family cook, and later at Carolina Coffee Shop and St. Andrews Hall, Mama Dip honed her craft, developing the recipes her restaurant would become so famous for. In 1957, she worked alongside her mother-in-law at a tiny take-out kitchen, where they made a reputation for turning out some of the best country cooking in town.

So it was with much experience, and a crowd of people already looking forward to eating there, that Mama Dip’s first opened on a Sunday in November 1976. But it wasn’t with much money – that first day, the restaurant had $40 for purchasing food and $24 to make change. It worked out fine that day, and it’s only gotten better as Mama Dip’s celebrates its 40th year!

Andrea Reusing

Andrea Reusing is best known for her award-winning Chapel Hill restaurant, Lantern. Lantern serves Asian-inspired cuisine and is listed as one of America’s Top 50 Restaurants by Gourmet Magazine. Reusing won the coveted James Beard Award in 2011 for Best Chef Southeast. She also published her own cookbook that same year, Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes. Most recently, Reusing has brought her talents over to Durham. She’s opened up a restaurant at The Durham Hotel, which serves classic, upscale American dishes.

” Lantern was opened in January 2002 by brother-sister team Andrea and Brendan Reusing, along with help from many friends…”


Lantern is a marriage of Asian flavors and North Carolina ingredients sourced mainly from local farms and fisheries. It has been named one of “America’s Top 50 Restaurants” and “best farm-to-table restaurants” by Gourmet Magazine, as one of “America’s 50 Most Amazing Wine Experiences” by Food & Wine and as “Restaurant of the Year” in 2009 by The News & Observer.

Chef-owner Andrea Reusing was named one of “15 Green Chefs” on Grist’s international list, has written for Saveur, Domino, Fine Cooking, and the News and Observer. She serves on the boards of the Center of Environmental Farming Systems and Chefs Collaborative.

Many of Lantern’s alum now own/operate delicious restaurants and food businesses in the area:

  • At Scratch in downtown Durham, Phoebe Lawless bakes empanadas and sugar pie.
  • At J. Betski’s in Raleigh, John Korzekwinski and Jeremy Jennings serve homemade pierogies and kielbasa along with their Pichlers and Prüms.
  • In Carrboro at Neal’s Deli, Sheila and Matt Neal make their own pastrami and farmers market sides.
  • At the Carrboro Farmers market, April McGreger can be found with her Farmers Daughter brand scuppernong preserves and Russian dills.
  • In downtown Durham at Toast, Billy and Kelli Cotter serve bruschetta, panini, tramezzini and don’t forget crostini.
  • In Chapel Hill at The Pig, Sam Suchoff cooks whole hog pasture-raised BBQ and fries up homemade bologna.

Jason Smith

Jason Smith is a North Carolina native who trained with elite chefs in foodie meccas such as New York City and Charleston in South Carolina. He has since opened restaurants throughout the Triangle, but set his sights on Durham for his latest venture, Harvest 18. Harvest 18 features a seasonal menu, and 80% of their food products are sourced from local farms, ranches, and fishmongers.

” Independently owned and operated by executive chef, Jason Smith, 18 Restaurant Group operates two restaurants in Downtown Raleigh, 18 Seaboard and Cantina 18, as well as Harvest 18 in Durham, and a second Cantina 18 in Morrisville”


Chef & Proprietor Jason Smith is native to Raleigh with family roots invested in this capital city. Jason’s passion for the gastronomic world grew from his life-long exposure to the fine art of southern cooking through his grandmothers’ influences and was honed by his worldly, first-rate culinary training. After training with the culinary elite in his field, including Magnolia Grill in Durham N.C., Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café and Gramercy Tavern in New York City, and the Peninsula Grill in Charleston, S.C., chef Jason Smith returned to his native city, Raleigh N.C. and invested in his hometown community.

18 Restaurant group was formed with the opening of 18 Seaboard in 2006, followed by Cantina 18 in 2010, and Harvest 18 in 2014. Located in the Southpoint area, Harvest 18 is a unique neighborhood eatery offering chef-driven cuisine with a majority of the foods sourced from local farms, ranches, and fishmongers. Chef/Owner Jason Smith, leads a culinary team focused on creating fresh, seasonally inspired menus.

Designed by JS Architecture and Dan Fulkerson, this 3,000 square-foot space offers 70 seats, exclusive of the bar and outdoor patio section. At the heart of the kitchen is the restaurant’s signature wood-fired grill, an integral component of the menu preparation.

The craft beer list includes favorites from local breweries in addition to national popular craft brews. The seasoned wine list highlights a rounded selection of both foreign and domestic bottles and a large selection of wines by the glass. Harvest 18 supports the area’s natural resources by reinvesting over $500,000 annually through local purchases.

Jason proudly serves on the board for the Downtown Raleigh Alliance and the North Carolina Symphony. In addition to these roles, he continues a family tradition of supporting philanthropic endeavors. In 1992, Jason’s mother was a founding organizer of SAFEchild, a North Carolina non-profit focused on preventing child abuse and neglect. Following in her footsteps, Jason’s wife Lauren serves on the board of SAFEchild today, continuing the Smith family’s dedication to the betterment of our community.

Seth Gross

Seth Gross was already a familiar name in the Durham foodie scene, as one of the founding partners of Wine Authorities, a popular Triangle area wine shop. Gross turned out to be more than just an oenophile. In 2011, he left the partnership to open Bull City Burger & Brewery. The beers are made right there in the restaurant, and the burgers are made with pasture-raised beef, which he is really passionate about. Bull City Burger & Brewery is the oldest Brewpub in Durham.

In 2014, he opened his second Durham based restaurant, Pompieri Pizza, a casual Neapolitan-Style pizza restaurant in the heart of downtown Durham with a fine dining approach to the food. Pompieri means firemen or firefighters in Italian.

Both restaurants are beloved throughout the Bull City by the locals and visitors, and we can’t wait to see what Seth Gross comes up with next.

Scott Howell

Scott Howell has been called a “Visionary” and “One of the best chefs in America.” However, his path to chef stardom hasn’t always been easy. He was raised mostly by his single mother in Asheville after his parents divorced and then attended the prestigious Culinary Institute of America which is located in New York. He was fortunate enough to work in kitchens run by James Beard winners, so he has had plenty of on-the-job training. After working in restaurants all over the world, Howell returned to North Carolina and opened his first restaurant, Nana’s, in 1992.

He then spent the next two decades opening other restaurants with mixed success. Unfortunately, Howell suffered a severe leg injury in 2014 that sent him spiraling through depression. His family and friends stood by him though through his complete road to recovery. He also started a website, Chefs with Issues, to encourage open discussion about mental health. Over the years, he has opened several successful ventures in the Durham area, such as NanaTaco, Bar Virgile, and NanaSteak which are popular local spots with Durhamites.

Howell has also inspired another generation of local rock-star chefs and restauranteurs that are steadily making their names well known in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill as well as on the national stage. Howell protege Seth Kingsbury opened up Pazzo, a Chapel Hill Italian spot, in 2002. Another former employee of Howell’s, Mattie Beason, opened up two Durham restaurants: Mattie B’s Public House and Black Twig Cider House.

One of his most notable alums from over the years also includes Ashley Christensen, who owns over a half dozen successful restaurants in Downtown Raleigh, including Poole’s Diner and Death & Taxes. With so much talent and inspiration in the Durham and Chapel Hil areal, we can’t wait to see what the next top chef will bring to the table in 2018 and beyond!

So what are some of your all-time favorite restaurants in Durham and Chapel Hill from these great local chefs? Please be sure to hit us up on Twitter @919BlogNC or visit our Facebook page at and let us know! We would love to hear from ya.

This post was created in collaboration with the Downtown Durham Blog editorial team and 919 Blog contributor Amy Howard for exclusive digital publication via TBN