Raleigh-based, James Beard-nominated chef is opening a restaurant in Durham

Oscar Diaz, the James Beard-nominated chef behind some of Raleigh’s most celebrated restaurants, will open a restaurant in Durham this spring.

Little Bull, described as a “neighborhood restaurant and bar,” will open in March.

The restaurant will be located at 810 N. Mangum St., in Durham’s Old Five Points, a space previously occupied by Jetplane Coffee. It will mark Diaz’s first restaurant in Durham.

“I’ve been wanting to come to Durham,” Diaz told The News & Observer by phone Tuesday. “I want to expand.”

The Durham restaurant will be a partnership between Diaz and Mezcalito, a popular Tex-Mex, tequila and mezcal restaurant with locations around North Carolina. It will be independent from his Raleigh restaurants — notably The Cortez and Cuya — where he is partners with Charlie and Hector Ibarra.

Little Bull menu to offer ‘pocho cuisine’

As executive chef and partner at Cortez, the coastal Mexican restaurant on Glenwood Avenue, Diaz has earned acclaim and celebration — including national media attention from Time Magazine and two semifinalist nominations for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Southeast, in 2019 and 2022.

But Diaz said Little Bull in Durham won’t rest on those achievements, instead aiming to find its own place in the Durham dining scene.

“I feel like everything I’ve done in Raleigh, I’m really proud of and I’m really happy, but I don’t I feel like I’m bringing that with me, right?” Diaz said. “My accolades and anything that’s ever happened, I’m not resting on those laurels. I’m here, and I owe it to myself and to my business partners and the city to come in and bring my ideas.”

The menu at Little Bull will offer “pocho cuisine” — the food of “people that are Mexican that are not born in Mexico,” Diaz said, and that represents his journey from his native Chicago, to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and now to the Southeast.

“Food has always been part of my lexicon and part of my palate,” Diaz said. “So I think that’s what I’m doing right now, is I’m trying to bring all those things together and create the story for the menu, of things that I’ve come to basically consider comfort food for myself.”

The Cortez Seafood + Cocktail, owned by Charlie Ibarra, left and Chef Oscar Diaz, is bringing a chef-driven seafood menu to Glenwood Avenue.
The Cortez Seafood + Cocktail, owned by Charlie Ibarra, left and Chef Oscar Diaz, is bringing a chef-driven seafood menu to Glenwood Avenue.

The restaurant will use a wood-burning grill, offering charred meats — and maybe some game — plus plenty of local ingredients, allowing the menu will change seasonally.

Visually and aesthetically, the space will be a departure from his Raleigh restaurants, too.

Where Cortez and Cuya, its upstairs sister cocktail bar, offer coastal and tropical aesthetics and menus, Little Bull will offer a darker — yet still warm and inviting — feel, similar to an old study or library, which felt right for the space, Diaz said.

“We’re just kind of going for this neighborhood place, that can be a quaint, little spot to hang out at and have a great meal,” Diaz said. “We really want to be part of the community.”