If you’ve ever explored the American Tobacco Campus, you may feel the same way I do: intrigued and confused! Between the playground basketball court, rushing water feature, pavilion area, and the Lucky Strike water tower, there’s so much to look at. But also some confusion because whenever a new restaurant opens at ATC I’m trying to figure out exactly where it is in the American Tobacco Campus. So I’m happy to report that the new Five Star Durham is conveniently located in the front section of ATC (Reed Building) which is also the area closest to DPAC, woohoo! As a long-time Raleigh restaurant, I’ll admit that it was odd to see Five Star open up in Durham. Five Star was always a classic spot to hit up for a late-night plate of noodles or their classic crispy beef. Their original space was always dark and a bit mysterious so I was curious to see what they would be doing in their latest location, here’s the 411 on the new Five Star in Durham!
Five Star Durham – Location, Decor
Head on over to ATC and take the first right off of Blackwell Street, past the power plant and you’ll find Five Star to the immediate left across from the water tower. A very innocuous storefront of brick and some glass, double doors, the giveaway is the decorative stars up front. But step inside and you will be in for a surprise! There’s a hostess stand up front and to the left, you’ll find a large, sultry lounge area and bar. To the right sits the main dining room which is split up into two halves. A more modern and sparse section sits along the front of the space, filled with classic round tables. And then there’s a more colorful, graffiti-stenciled dining room and back wall. It’s a mix of sleek and modern vs. colorful, loud and bright depending on where you sit. But all in all, the interior design and decor are a step up from previous incarnations in Raleigh, kudos!
Five Star Durham – Menu, Food
What hasn’t changed as much at Five Star Durham is the menu! It’s a small and curated take on Chinese-American classics ranging from scallion pancakes to General Tso’s and pork lo mein. Now admittedly, as someone of Chinese descent I can confirm that Five Star serves up Chinese-American eats here but it feels a touch more authentic than what I’ve tried in Raleigh which I’ve sometimes called, American-Chinese cuisine. I’m hoping that they will continue to lean in the more authentic direction given the demanding Durham food scene. And price-wise, the starters are typically under $10 while entrees average about $15 per plate.
For starters, I recommend the scallion pancakes which are a long-time and favorite treat for me! A thin, flaky pancake layered with green scallions and pan-fried is served with some dipping soy sauce, delish! And the spicy cucumbers are nicely done. Thin-sliced cucumber bathed in a tangy, peppery, vinegar and sesame-based marinade. It’s a good appetizer to cleanse your palate a bit and prepare for the rest of the meal ahead.
For mains, Five Star’s crispy beef features thin strips that are coated, lightly fried, covered in a sweetish sauce and topped with sesame seeds and slivered carrots. The classic twice-fried string beans are wrinkly and full of flavor along with a bit of snap. A nice contrast to the meat entrees and a good vegetable-focused addition to your meal.
The popular Five Star chicken is their version of General Tso’s and features coated and fried chicken chunks (breast meat) in a sweetish sauce and served with steamed broccoli. The lo mein is a nicely fried and generous portion of soft noodles served with bean sprouts, bok choy, and scallions. Overall I’ve been impressed with the entrees at Five Star Durham. They are all well-sized and nicely presented with their garnishes!
In addition to the dining areas on the first floor, Five Star Durham has a private events area to the back left and up the stairs. The room overlooks the back entrance to Five Star from the Reed building and has a more subdued look and feel to the space in comparison to the busier, main dining room. One thing that stands out to me about Five Star ATC is the service level. I’ve eaten here several times now and the staff is very well-trained and doesn’t miss a beat in providing you with a stellar dining experience. There’s a degree of attentive service provided that belies the price points of the menu.
Five Star Durham – Service, Verdict
Given the classic status of Five Star in Raleigh, it’s pretty cool to see location #2 in the Bull City and this new location does the concept proud! Modern, colorful, and cool, it’s a fun dining spot at ATC and close to DPAC which will make for a great pre-show meal. Or any sort of meal for that matter given its affordability. So enjoy Five Star, Durham! It’s living up to its name in this latest rendition by delivering very good Chinese-American fare in a funky and colorful setting.