Chefs at Tandoor Indian Restaurant draw on the culinary traditions of India's northern Punjab region, an area known for complex flavors and vibrant presentation. Though lamb curry, chicken tikka masala, and meat samosas have always been a staple at the eatery, a recent renovation has reinforced the feeling of stepping onto another continent. “Following the aroma of classic Indian spices you arrive at a completely refurbished place,” says the Chapel Hill News, “filled with mythological art and sculpture, newly painted doorways, metal bird sculptures and butterfly topiaries as well as new booths, rugs, curtains, covers and cushions.”
The lilting, tangled choruses of Bollywood videos drift from televisions above the paisley booths. In the kitchen, chefs work quickly around a clay tandoori oven filled with licking flames, much like a pyromaniac’s vacation slideshow. Mango-chutney cheesecake and other colorful dishes match a dining room, which the Independent Weekly says “is filled with vibrant colors inspired by owner Binda Bhupal's homeland: mango orange, Kashmiri hot pink, Bombay yellow, peacock blue.”
At Mint Indian Cuisine, it's the smallest parts of the dish that matter—the spices. With marinades, chefs infuse their meals with loud or subtle flavors that ring through the mouth like edible symphonies. A secret mixture of Indian seasonings soaks into their signature dish, the Mint chicken kebab, for a full night before the food gurus heat it in the tandoor oven. That oven also pours out freshly baked naan, which meets the standards of full flavor by donning layers of garlic or rosemary. Pounded spices accompany handpicked spinach and seasonal ingredients in vegetarian platters, which act as zestier alternatives to meat than imaginary steaks.
With so many herbs and flavors at its disposal, the kitchen experiments with Indian staples and more obscure dishes alike. Chefs cover the chicken tropical tang, for example, with a raw mango paste and a light coat of spices, simultaneously evoking and augmenting West Indian traditions. Guests can sample this and other dishes that range from fiery to sweet while live sitar music spreads a sense of serenity throughout a dining room accented by white tablecloths.
Tony, the owner of Bandido’s Mexican Cafe, learned the tricks of the trade while working at his family’s Mexican restaurant as a teenager. Today, he and his wife own and operate three Bandido’s locations, which serve sizzling fajitas, crisp tacos, and burritos stuffed with beef, chicken, pork, or sautéed spinach. The Herald-Sun's readers praised Bandido's as the Best Mexican Restaurant in 2009, and the restaurant returns the favor by awarding individuals who finish the El Gigante burrito—a massive compilation of steak and chicken fajitas, rice, black beans, and shredded cheese—with a T-shirt and gentle pats on the back. The restaurant often hosts live entertainment, and the Durham location supplements its selection of lunch and dinner fare with a Sunday brunch menu served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Talulla’s re-creates traditional Ottoman cuisine in an opulent milieu, surrounding visitors with antique rugs, vibrant draped fabrics, and waves of eclectic, ambient music. Seated on plump cushions, guests can take in an authentic dinner menu of centuries-old Turkish recipes, lovingly coaxed into being with top-quality meats, organic flour and vegetables, and upside-down belly dancing. Meals may begin with one of Talulla’s Mediterranean mezzes—small, savory plates including the patlican ezmesi ($7), a smoked eggplant purée served with chopped walnuts, yogurt, and tahini—before continuing to robust entrees such as the sebzeli musakka ($17), a layered concoction of eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, peas, onions, and potatoes, topped with cheese and béchamel sauce. Flash syrupy grins between bites of authentic desserts ($5–$7), or stop by for lunch to chow down on char-grilled lamb kebabs ($10) or Turkish-style pizza ($8–$10).
The Tedesco family draws upon freshly sliced meats and ingredients from local producers in a kitchen that fills with a jangling symphony of pots and pans. As they work, scents roll into the dining room, hinting at lobster ravioli, blackened salmon, and thin-crust Brooklyn-style pizzas. Bartenders dole out cups of wine and imported beers from brands including Peroni, and delivery drivers rush past, bearing bruschetta and shrimp scampi to diners staying in for the evening or pretending that they aren’t stuck in a hammock.
Archira Thai and Sushi's kitchen staff boasts several Thailand natives, who dedicate their efforts to reflecting the modern, 21st century culinary offerings of Thailand and Southeast Asia. An extensive menu sports classics such as pad thai, where stir fried rice noodles set the stage for an ensemble cast of chicken, bean sprouts, egg, peppered Nathan Lane, and crushed, roasted peanuts ($12). Archira's crispy duckling layers a crispy, honey-roasted bird atop a vegetal bed of bell pepper, onion, carrot, and fresh basil glazed with a sautéed garlic chili sauce ($18). Cast a net around the caterpillar roll—a tightly wrapped union of eel and cucumber with avocado, shrimp, and unagi sauce ($12). The spider roll catches unsuspecting tongues in its web of soft-shell crab and avocado ($11).