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Southern Living names Durham hot spot one of the best new restaurants in the South

One of Durham’s most unique restaurants in years has just been named one of the South’s best new restaurants by Southern Living magazine.

Queeny’s, the second restaurant from Sean Umstead and Michelle Vanderwalker, was named one of the South’s 25 best new restaurants. The downtown Durham hot spot is only one of two North Carolina restaurants on the list and the only one from the Triangle.

In its write-up, Southern Living praised Queeny’s unconventional combination of restaurant, bar, podcast studio and community space, as well as its affordable menu of modern comfort food.

When Umstead and Vanderwalker were developing Queeny’s, they set out to update the kind of Americana chain restaurants like Chili’s and Applebee’s, but with an artistic attention to detail and fun around every corner. Vanderwalker personally made every single plate, bowl and mug in the restaurant, while Umstead packed his extensive bar expertise into well-made cocktail classics and frozen drinks, including an icy Irish coffee.

Queeny’s opened in 2021 upstairs from Vanderwalker and Umstead’s first project, the cocktail bar Kingfisher. That bar was a semifinalist this year for the James Beard award for outstanding bar program, a national award.

While Kingfisher exudes refinement and romance in its subterranean booths and bartop, Queeny’s seems built to be the kind of restaurant that always has what you need, be it a towering plate of nachos, a Big Salad or a slice of mint chocolate chip ice cream cake.

Modeled on a kind of American diner, Queeny’s also has a small library for perusing books and sipping drinks and frequently hosts community events during the week.

Vanderwalker and Umstead also opened QueenBurger near the Durham Bulls stadium, serving smashburgers and wonderfully seasoned fries whether there’s a home game or not.