Dain’s Place


There’ll probably never be complete agreement about the best burger in town, but a good bet for your top 5 is probably Dain’s Place (754 9th St.).

I love their signature burger, The Dainer ($8.25).   It is a thick burger with lettuce, tomato, 1000 Island dressing, bacon, sautéed onions, and cheddar.  You can also make your own meat sandwich, selecting from either ¼ pound Hebrew National dog, 8oz Angus burger, or marinated chicken, and adding some of the dozens of available condiments. I dig the dog with sweet chili ($3.98).


And of course, no pub would be complete without the ultimate bar food, bacon cheese fries ($5.50).  The ones here may not be the best in town (I would give that to Bull McCabe’s), but Dain’s are still very tasty.  They’ve got a cheez-whiz-y processed cheese on them that is pretty delicious for what it’s worth, but I think I prefer a real-cheese texture. The fries themselves are also especially good–according to a commenter on a previous burger discussion, they use a more expensive fry and change their oil more often than most places.


And although I just said that bacon cheese fries are the ultimate bar food, I’m now second-guessing myself in favor of Dain’s Ring of Fire, which I’ve never seen anywhere else.  It’s a basket of fries (or tater tots!  Or half of each, if you ask for it, which is probably the ideal solution) covered in cheese, jalapenos, and sweet chili.  In the end, bacon cheese fries still win out for me, but only by a narrow margin and only because of the bacon.

Rumor around Chowhound is that Dain’s also makes one of the best cheesesteaks in the area (I guess the cheez whiz goes better here, and definitely adds to authenticity).  I liked the one I had there but I have to admit it’s the only one I’ve had in town.  What are the other good ones?  Eat at Joe’s Cheesesteak List seems like where I’d start if I got around to a cheesesteak mission, but it’s a few years old.


Dain’s is one of the few non-smoking pubs in the area with an amazing beer selection.  When you add in the free wifi, the friendly bar service, and the sweet, hypnotizing fan contraption, this is one of my favorite places to hang out in Durham.

Update: Should have mentioned that Dain’s is not open on Sunday or Monday.  They’re open for lunch until late night (I think dinner stops around 10?) every other day.

Published in: on February 23, 2009 at 12:58 pm  Comments (41)  


  1. Dain’s Place is awesome. I go for the beer selection and the food is great too. (Maybe not for those on a diet…)

  2. awesome cheesesteak photo!

  3. I like Dain’s, but I have to disagree with you about the burger and the fries. Maybe I was there on a down night, but the one time I ate there my burger was dry and nasty, and the chili cheese fries had a sickening Sweet ‘n Low taste – the worst I’ve ever had. How can you screw up chili cheese fries?

    In the absence of the 1999-era James Joyce burger, which was unparalleled, I’ll take a Federal Burger and those garlicky fries (eaten outside on the patio away from the overwhelming cigarette smoke) over Dain’s any day.

    By the way, James Joyce’s new menu looks pretty interesting, and I’m excited to give their new big ass burger a shot. We tried the BBQ pork ribs on Friday, and all thought they were the best we’d had in Durham. Sorry Q-Shack.

  4. I also have to disagree with putting Dain’s even in the top-5 of best burgers in Durham. A burger is not about the toppings–it’s about the meat. The meat on the Dain’s burger tastes like it’s a frozen patty they slap on a grill. Sadly, the best burger in Durham left when Joe & Jo’s closed, but the Federal comes close.

  5. I refuse to go back to Dain’s after having visited those bathrooms. Tasteless and tacky doesn’t even begin to describe them.

  6. I don’t get what people find offensive about the bathrooms. I think they’re well thought-out and quite hilarious. Also, the ‘I refuse to go somewhere because of the bathrooms’ crowd are just a bit ridiculous, unless someone you know has died in said bathroom. Get off your high horses please. Your attitude is silly and you’re just no fun!

  7. “More expensive fry” is about as appealing as “a better grade of instant mashed potatoes,” i.e. nothing whatsoever to be proud of. Is it really overly challenging, in a place that has basically a handful of sandwiches and fries and nothing else on the menu, to actually use real potatoes? The Federal’s burger with real, garlicky fries costs about the same. No way am I paying the same price for the Sysco-ized version that innumerable bad chains sell cheap.

  8. I’m gonna go just to see the bathrooms now. Those foodservice fries look okay too.

  9. Try the tater tots. So light and crispy. Unintentional haiku?

    Beer selection is good, especially when they have the Foothills Seeing Double IPA and/or Bell’s Oberon on tap.

    The burger is good not great (given the lack of great burgers in the area it still makes it into my top 5). The spices used in the meat set it back a little for me. Kind of goes too far towards the meatloafy part of the ground beef flavor spectrum. The toppings options on the burgers are great though.

    In my opinion the best burger I have had in the area is (sadly) in Chapel Hill at Buns.

  10. Dain told me he would prefer to cut his own fries but that there are health code regulations against it.

    The quality of the buns at Dain’s are also quite high, which to me is an important part of the experience.

    The quality of the meat is decent and is never overcooked, which I find to be the case at times at both the Fed and Bull McCabe’s (though both burgers are sometimes really good). Dain’s is more consistent.

  11. i think the dainer is the best burger in town. totally and completely delicious.

  12. While I LOVE food – I love eating food, reading about food, writing about food, and all that – sometimes I think we’ve all gotten just a wee bit too precious. It’s about going out, having a drink, getting a meal made with some kind of skill and hanging with friends or family in a place with a decent vibe. Dain’s works for me.

  13. There are health codes against cutting your own fries? Is there a way to become compliant? How do Wimpy’s burgers compare? Is there anywhere in the area where you can get a good shrimp “burger”?

  14. I haven’t eaten at Dain’s yet so I can’t comment about what I think about the burger. I’ll have to try one in the future. I can, however, relay that the Elmo burger with cheese at Elmo’s is a fantastic burger and the best I’ve had in Durham. Give it a shot you will LOVE it.

  15. There must be more to the fries story than a health department regulation against cutting and cooking a potato since other restaurants do it. Frozen can be OK if cooked right, but they don’t fool anyone since the taste and texture is nothing like the real deal (same story with potato chips). To my taste, the best fries are from the Federal and Piedmont. It would be great to add Dain’s to the list of places that care enough to serve the real thing (and a nice market differentiator for them).

    • Hello Fry Guys….Dain here. You get the city to allow me to expand (which ive tried many times and been turned down), once we expand i can add another sink in the kitchen…allowing me by healthcode to cut my own fries. Since we prepare are own meats for homemade menu items we are required to use the sink for that…and only that. So, YOU get the city to let me expand and you can have all the fresh cut fries you want

      • Dain’s also been limited in his ability to expand because of asinine parking regulations requiring him to provide more parking (presumably out of thin air) if he wants to expand.

    • The Federal’s fries are OK, but the best fries in Durham are at Vin Rouge.

  16. I have no idea what health dept. restrictions or regulations might be involved when it comes to the fresh v. frozen fries issue. But I work in the food biz and I can say that there are A LOT of rules and many of them are not obvious or intuitive. Please, though, keep talking about how Dain’s does not “care enough” about serving a quality product. Maybe that will keep the crowds down enough that I’ll actually be able to get a table.

  17. I went to Dain’s once and won’t be back. The burger was overcooked and dry. Buns remains the best burger in the area – consistently juicy and flavorful, and with every topping you could want.

  18. I went to Buns in Chapel Hill today and had the worst burger I’ve ever had in my entire life. The beef was burnt black, dried out and hard as a rock. I complained about it and the lady behind the counter told me that they are required by law to cook all ground beef to well done and if I wanted a different burger it would be cooked exactly the same as the one in my hand. I set the burger down on the counter and left. I will never be going back to Buns and will not be recommending that place to anyone.

    • AFAIK ground beef has to be cooked to at least 155F, which would be medium well.

  19. I think the NC rule is(as said above) to cook ground beef to 155. Unless the resto grinds their own meat, in which case they can serve at any temp.

  20. Went to Dain’s yesterday. The waiter forgot my cheese, which was annoying, but overall the burger was good. I go to Buns regularly and I’ve never had a bad experience there. Their fries are fresh and their burgers are amazing.

  21. I’ve not been to many local burger joints and can’t comment on which I prefer and which I don’t. I’ve always had good burgers and fries from the chain known as 5 Guys (didn’t mean to rhyme)

  22. In my opinion, not only does Dain’s have the best burgers in town but also the best beer selection, hands down. Plus, Dain himself is an awesome guy to talk to, if he’s working (which he almost always is).

  23. I went once and enjoyed it. So did my wife.

    Upon viewing these buger-glamour shots we have decided to make this Friday date night at Dains.

    Collective “mmmm-burger.” And beer to boot!

  24. 1. Dain’s burger rocks, you can get him to cook it medium rare if you’re a regular.
    2. Ring of fire is awesome, though the chili is a bit sweet for my tastes.
    3. Love the drawn figures in the bathroom, it’s like graffiti masquerading as art.
    3. Although I make it a habit not to frequent nonsmoking places, the fact that this place is so small and you can take your drink outside while you smoke makes it OK.

  25. I’ve never had a burger at Buns or Dain’s, but here’s my soapbox/2 cents….best burger is at City Beverage (great beer selection, my fav is highland gaelic) and when paired with a blackend blue cheese burger, oh yeah, just try one and you’ll be a believer. As far as cheesesteaks, I’ve got a dog in this fight b/c I went to UPenn and I’m singing the praises of Randy’s Pizza on MLK (and it’s Geno’s if in Philly, yeah boyee)…..anyone try these places? – a durhamite carnivore.

  26. The Old West Durham Neighborhood Association holds its ‘First Thursday’ gatherings at Dain’s Place every month. Dain has always been a consummate host and all-around great guy.

  27. One thing left off here is the soup. Their steak soup is amazingly yummy!

  28. Dain’s is the BEST! Period!

  29. I’ve been here twice now, and its pretty delicious. I had their italian sausage hoagie contraption the other day, and it was really good, I liked the fact that it was spicy and impossible to eat with my hands.

  30. Try the steak and cheese sandwich at Bull McCabes — awesome. Their late night burgers are different than the normal ones, so try to eat before 9pm for a fair comparison. I only wish the restaurants in this town would stop assuming I want a heart attack on a bun and would quit it with the 1/2 pound burgers already.

  31. I realize I am not the target audience here since I don’t eat meat – so, I am forced to comment on Dain’s veggie options… which are pretty good.

    I have eaten the salad at Dain’s – and was very satisfied. And also, love the non-smoking aspect… – blazing a trail for the inevitable.

  32. I had the burger, which I thought was pretty good. I’d give it a 7 out of 10, good, and very enjoyable, but not the best I’ve ever had. Another drawback, I would have loved to have fries rather than potato chips as the side. Do they always include chips instead of fries with the cheeseburger? My previous opinion stands firm, so I still highly recommend you folks eat the Elmo cheeseburger at Elmo’s if you are looking for an awesomely-good cheeseburger in Durham. I would say that many of the times when I’ve had that Elmo’s cheeseburger with coleslaw on top it’s been a 9 out of 10. If you like slaw on top of your burgers/cheeseburgers make sure you request it, I can’t remember if it comes with it or not.

  33. Had my first Dainer today, and while it was very good, it didn’t quite have that special addictive something that an OnlyBurger or an In-n-Out Burger has. But the atmosphere, service, and beer selection are all great. I’ll definitely go back.

    • Yeah, Dains sold me on atmosphere when I went in on a rainy sunday and they played Tom Waits.

  34. I ate a portable difibulator in 3.5 mins (beat that!) on saturday. It was too fast to really taste it. Dain’s place has a lot of character that can not be reproduced in any bar. Stop by if you’re in town!

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