What it is: When I first saw the Durham location of PDQ being built, it got my interest. I immediately thought that PDQ stood for Pretty Darn Quick, but in fact, it stands for People Delivering Quality, and I gotta say, they lived upto their motto. We arrived at the PDQ in North Raleigh for the evening and immediately noticed how pristinethe lot and landscaping were. I thought the restaurant must be brand new, but it isn’t. They later talked about how they want your first impression to be the best.
They first took us on a tour of the open kitchen. The entire place has big windows and from the counter you can see straight back - they told us it’s because they have nothing to hide. While touring, they showed us their dressings, which are fresh made and refrigerated because they don’t have preservatives or high fructose corn syrup. I liked that as someone who is hopelessly addicted to sauces! Their lemonade is hand squeezed and every day they go through three cases of lemons - that’s how popular it is. The head chef who led us around told us that their tea is the same brand used in Disney world, and indeed it was yummy. And they’ll do the Coke freestyle (where you mix your own unique flavor, and can create hundreds of combinations) through the drive through. It is the only fast food restaurant I know of that does this, and they do so to be able to offer one more way of giving great customer service.
One of the features my kids liked the best was a hand-washing sink right near the drink station. It was like a fancy trough with a waterfall of water, and right at kids height. Nice and quick if you don’t want to navigate the bathroom with kids in tow. One big thing they pointed out was that there are no freezers or microwaves anywhere in the restaurant. Their chicken is delivered fresh several times a week as are their buns, and the chicken is hand trimmed and breaded with Paul Prudhomme spices just before being cooked. They use non-hydrogenated soy-bean oil for frying, no trans fats. We next got to watch them “punch” potatoes into french fries through a neat press, which my kids loved. If you go through the drive through, the large windows let you see it as you drive around so be sure to look. When they first get their potatoes in, they test two from each case with what’s called a refractometer. They drop juice from the potatoes into it to determine sugar content - if it is too high, at the level typical restaurants use, they send them back. Lower sugar content lends itself to better tasting fries, which are steamed, baked, and finally fried. I was impressed by how much time and effort it takes to make the fries, but it certainly is worth it because (spoiler alert for later) they’re awesome.
Then they took us to the drive through. Instead of a “squawk box”, customers drive right up to a window and order from an employee at the “hospitality hut”, so they can give personalized service and make sure the order is correct. After your food is delivered at the next window, the Raleigh location has a series of misters that rain down on your window as added fun and an attention getter. That location also has a private party room. Sadly, the Durham location does not have either the misters or the private party room but both locations do have a PDQ cornhole game out front to play with the kiddos!
Once we sat down, I looked over the menu carefully. They are focused on serving the best food possible, and as such they only serve 9 variations of chicken and turkey items, those being salads, sandwiches, and strips. I got one of the fried chicken salads, which has fresh, cold veggies and the chicken was crisp. My husband got a fried chicken sandwich and the kids got the fried chicken strips. I liked the salad well enough to order it again on another occasion, but the thing that makes PDQ sing? That’s those plain and simple chicken strips that most places write off, but here they made them the cornerstone of the menu and call them “tenders”. I really can’t be more clear than to say they’re the tastiest chicken strips I’ve ever had - and on top, their ranch dressing, of which I’m a connoisseur, is also my new favorite. The chicken is very tender, juicy, and just the right amount of salty and crispy, so good that it’s almost best by itself. It performs just fine in a sandwich or salad, but when I’ve gone back, I am drawn to the simplicity of the tenders and fries, which are by the way, also amazing. I would be shocked if they weren’t fantastic, now knowing the intense process that their potatoes go through to get there. The blueberry cole slaw was great, and this is coming from a gal who usually doesn’t eat the stuff. The sliced apples were delish and miles above other fast food vendor’s fruit offerings, and made even better by dipping them in toffee dip. Do not miss the cookies - the peanut butter chocolate chip was so soft and sweet. But I can’t stop there, because that would be leaving out the shakes. Dear lord, the milkshakes. This month’s seasonal is Salted Caramel, and it is spectacular. My family has also tried the chocolate and the strawberry, all smooth, creamy, and sensational.
Side note regarding allergens: upon request, they gave me a very detailed ingredient breakdown that included every allergen I’ve ever seen. There are many items they offer that are tree nut free (which is the allergy affecting my family) and, surprisingly several that are gluten free as well, which is cool since breading typically would make you think everything here would be off limits for celiacs. When I ordered my son a chocolate shake, I asked them to clean the machine first since the Heath bar shake has tree nuts. They cheerfully obliged, and that is impressive for a fast food restaurant, which typically can’t do special accommodations.
When I go to a business, I take into account their relationship with the community. I tend not to frequent places that don’t donate to local organizations or participate in events. So I was pleased to hear that both locations hold school nights, where a portion of the proceeds go to your associated school. (I would assume the other triangle locations, in Cary and Wake Forest, do as well.) They also do a lot of outreach and promotions. For example, my son’s Durham Parks & Rec soccer team will be having their end of season party there, and PDQ is giving all the players complimentary meals. There’s a lot of really good stuff here. It’s apparent that the people behind PDQ made a great effort to deliver on service, food, outreach, quality, appearance, and more. In my opinion, it’s miles above anything else like it. Give them a shot and like me, be amazed by Durham’s newest fast food option.
What we love: Everything! Specifically, I like the chicken tenders, the ranch dressing, little kid handwashing station, the milkshakes, how nothing is frozen or microwaved, the personal service at the drive thru, on and on.... :)
What we would change: Truthfully, one of the reasons they’re able to do what they do so well is because they keep the menu small so they can perfect it. However, my only bone to pick is that I’d like that menu to expand. One of my kiddos doesn’t like chicken or turkey, so we’re only feeding part of my family coming here. I know everybody does burgers, so perhaps hot dogs would be a unique option?
Website and other important information:
Address: 3301 Watkins Rd, Durham, 27707
Hours: 10:30am-10pm daily