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Best eats in Chapel Hill and Durham?

l
ljero Feb 12, 2007 02:55 PM

My husband and I are coming to town (my first time) in late February. We are spending one night at the Washington Duke Inn and one night at the Carolina Inn. We need some food(ie) recs. We would love a great carolina 'cue for lunch and then some fun, cozy restaurants with great food for dinners. Price is no object, but do not want anything fancy...something cozier, an in the know locals favorite would be fun. thanks!

  1. rossgrady Feb 12, 2007 03:25 PM

    I need to start bookmarking the long threads that answer these questions. Since I haven't done that yet, avail yourself of the search box & punch in the following, which should get you started, and will probably lead you to a few threads where this subject has been addressed fairly recently:

    Chapel Hill:
    Allen & Son
    BBQ Joint
    Sandwhich
    Tallula's
    Elaine's
    Lantern
    Jujube
    Merlion

    Durham:
    Piedmont
    Federal
    Rue Cler
    Locopops

    There are a ton of good taquerias in Durham, so if you're coming from someplace with lousy mexican food, you're probably going to get more pleasure out of a taco tour than any other single thing . . .

    1. m
      mclaugh Feb 12, 2007 05:20 PM

      For BBQ and Mex/Latin American in and around Durham-Chapel Hill, Jim Leff's blog report pretty much says it all: http://www.chow.com/tour/156

      1. l
        ljero Feb 12, 2007 04:08 PM

        So disappointed! Piedmont is closed Tuesdays, the one night we are there! dubedo...what would be your second choice?

        1. r
          raleighgurl Feb 12, 2007 04:25 PM

          Magnolia Grill! It's terrific! The food was everything I expected--absolute perfection with a low key atmosphere. Not stuffy, but warm and inviting.

          1. rossgrady Feb 12, 2007 05:21 PM

            Mag Grill, Four Square & Nana's are all three about as "fancy" as Durham fine-dining gets, which is to say, not super-, but moreso than most other places. There really aren't any restaurants in the Triangle where I'd feel uncomfortable without a tie, put it that way, but I'd probably haul one out if dining at those three, just to make myself feel more comfortable with the average dress of the rest of the folks, and with the fact that I'd be dropping $22-$30 per entree.

            Of the three, I'd say Four Square is probably closest to what people say it is, vs. what it used to be 5-10-15 years ago. On the other hand, if you're coming from up north, you probably haven't been quite as overexposed to New Fine Southern Cuisine as we have, so you might approach the menu at Mag Grill more enthusiastically, and it is still quite good at what it does.

            Piedmont may not be in their league decor-wise, service-wise, price-wise (or, occasionally, execution-wise), but the ingredients and the ideas and the passion that go into the food at Piedmont make it a far more interesting & enjoyable place to dine, IMHO. Or put it this way: you will nearly always be pleasantly surprised by some aspect of a meal at Piedmont. At the others, you'll get every bit of what you pay for, which is to say respectable Fine Dining, but the fireworks, maybe not so much (except perhaps for the desserts at Mag Grill).

            But it's a moot point, if they're closed on your Durham night. If you want to go upscale, Four Square or Mag Grill will treat you right. If you want to go more neighborhood bistro, both Rue Cler and Vin Rouge have menus on their websites.

            The things I've heard lately (as in, past 5 months) about Lantern are that they're still kind of swamped from being listed in Gourmet, plus all the other coverage, so getting seated & served in a timely and hassle-free manner may be less possible than it was a year ago, although midweek it may not be an issue. Chapel Hill's a small enough town that you could check out Lantern & if it wasn't working for you, you could drive to any other restaurant in town in 5-10 minutes. I think you'd have an excellent meal at Jujube, as well, and if you're interested, they have a "kitchen bar" where you can get a closer view at what's going on.

            For BBQ, the Allen & Son's BBQ on 86 north of Chapel Hill is the most traditional (i.e. still cooked over wood) NC BBQ in the Triangle. Big article here: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-barbecue31jan31,0,3154069.story?coll=la-home-headlines

            Lunch-wise, otherwise, the mysteriously hard-to-Google Sandwhich (http://www.sandwhich.biz/ ) in Chapel Hill makes some of the best sandwiches I've ever put in my mouth. You can also get a damn good sandwich at the giant terrifying mega-gourmet-market A Southern Season, while you fill up on imported chocolate & fourteen kinds of pecan pralines or whatever. Wouldn't necessarily recommend making a trip, but if you found yourself hungry & at loose ends . . .

            For lunch in Durham, tacos may be in order. Lately I'm dying repeated small deaths of pleasure over the cabeza tacos at Taqueria Lopez (http://tacolopez.bravehost.com/ ) but none of the other meats I've tried there have really had the same effect on me yet. When head Chowhound Jim Leff was in town, here's what he did: http://www.chow.com/tour/156 (including a stop at Allen & Son as well, actually

            )

            Or, if you want a good draft beer and better food than you might've ever expected to find in a bar, Federal: http://www.thefederal.net/

            For breakfast in Durham, if you want bread/pastries/coffee, go to Rue Cler. I don't necessarily recommend them for lunch, however, as the menu is laden with land-mines of cut corners, so it's kind of a crapshoot. Wow, that was a terrible mixed metaphor. Time to quit.

            1 Reply
            1. re: rossgrady
              n
              Noel_B Feb 26, 2007 12:52 PM

              I second the rec for Sanwhich for lunch. The name is hard to Google because therestaurant was named after the owner Hich, thus the extra H in the name.

              Lantern is another crazily good place. Both of these are walking distance from the Carolina Inn (7 minutes walk) and maybe 2 minutes away from one another).

            2. Nab Feb 12, 2007 06:10 PM

              Okay, so I moved outta the Triangle last year, but still following this board which, I might add, seems to have developed a very decent group of intrepid hounds. I'm making a short visit back, and was thinking about the places I'd hit and you might also like this kind of agenda:

              Day 1:
              BBQ lunch at Allen & Son. I'd also consider Rub's, however, since I'm now in Texas, there's no shortage of 'cue, so I'll stick with the eastern NC specialty at A&S.
              Stop in to Locopops (Durham) for dessert, if I was able to turn down the cobbler at A&S.
              Dinner, if in Durham, might be Rue Cler or Piedmont, mostly b/c they've been highly praised around here, and are new additions to the Triangle since I left.

              Day 2:
              The absolutely essential biscuit breakfast (can't find many decent biscuits here in Austin), at either Biscuitville or Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen. Some biscuits and gravy, some ham biscuits and, well, quite possibly a mid-morning nap.
              Stop into Merritt Mill corner store for a BLT snack. Walk it off, and possibly stop into the Mediterranean Deli for lunch. Dinner at Elaine's (which I probably enjoy more than others on the board, perhaps due to it being a regular haunt for me).

              I really miss the Triangle eating; despite occasionally complaining about it while residing there.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Nab
                Nab Feb 12, 2007 06:16 PM

                Oh, another one I'll def'y try to squeeze in is Guglhupf -- either for breakfast, lunch, or simply some coffee and pastries. One place in the Triangle I very deeply miss.

                1. re: Nab
                  rossgrady Feb 12, 2007 06:17 PM

                  Yeah, I thought about mentioning Merritt's BLT, but c'mon, it's February. The tomatoes in central NC in July can be sublime, but even if they're getting half-decent UglyRipes or something, it's just not going to be Right to eat a BLT in February . . .

                  1. re: rossgrady
                    t
                    Tom from Raleigh Feb 15, 2007 10:59 AM

                    Here, here, rossgrady. You're 100% right. Tennis balls are more tasty than February tomatoes.

                    1. re: Tom from Raleigh
                      Nab Feb 15, 2007 11:25 AM

                      Good point. I've completely forgotten that it's February with these 70-degree days in Texas, although I'm sure I would've been quickly reminded just as soon as I disembarked the plane in RDU.

                      OTOH, if there ever was a Feb tomato to be eaten, it might be the one nestled inside that Merritt BLT. =)

                      Now then - my sub for the blt will be a trip to Mapleview Farms. Yes in February, and it better damn well be open !

                2. f
                  fethers10 Feb 15, 2007 11:01 AM

                  What about Mama Dip's Country Kitchen?!!! Just passed thru town the other day, tried it out, and it was superb, in this yankee's opinion! Fried Chicken and the Catfish Gumbo were near perfection!

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: fethers10
                    b
                    batdown Feb 15, 2007 12:19 PM

                    you pay way too much for way too little at dips. its all about bons.

                    1. re: fethers10
                      h
                      HeelsSoxHound Feb 17, 2007 09:36 AM

                      no offense, but 'in this yankee's opinion' says it all. stay far, far away from Dip's. In the opinion of this guy who remembers Dip's from before GMA appearances, it has not performed up to its reputation in years.

                      1. re: HeelsSoxHound
                        b
                        batdown Feb 17, 2007 11:20 AM

                        dips was great as a little hole in the wall place, when the food was still made with care and love and wasn't all about fueling a business. granted, i think miss council does wonderful things for her community and especially the black community in chapel hill and carrboro and i applaud her success as a businesswoman, but the food there is just not good anymore.

                    2. l
                      ljero Mar 20, 2007 04:19 PM

                      I just wanted to report back and thank everyone for their recs! We ended up at Four Sqaure Tues night. I have to say that the food was not very good, nor was the service and it was extremely expensive. Our appetizers had flavors that did not marry well (and we tried 3) and two fish entrees (kind of dry)...waitress was not friendly and I really didnot find the place that romantic. On the other hand, we loved Lantern. I actually liked the restuarant better than the bar, as it had the soothing green walls, little candles on the tables. Our waitress was so friendly and helpful. We loved all 3 apps we had with my favorite the salmon bento box...and the entrees had such fabulous flavor!

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