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Best in Chapel Hill/Carrboro/Durham

I'm trying to compile a list of restaurants that I must try at least once while I live in CH for school. I know that there are numerous posts that people randomly list their favorite restaurants but I thought it would be nice to have it all in one place for newbies, visitors, etc.

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  1. The reason it's all over the place is that we often disagree. My advice, if you're living here, is "try everything", then go back to the places you enjoy.

    Start with Suttons on Franklin Street, get a chili cheese burger with coleslaw.

    2 Replies
    1. re: fussycouple

      Agreed. ACME used to have a really great "fancy" burger, but the last time I ate there it was so terrible I haven't been back (PLEASE, someone tell me things have changed).

      I'm a big fan of the Sunday/Tuesday night pizza + beer special at Italian Pizzeria 3.

      The Lantern serves up a delicious fried flounder (whole)...and their smoked dishes are always great.

      1. re: fussycouple

        I know that everyone has different opinions but I thought this would be a nice topic for visitors to the area and newbies to town to refer to easily.

        Thanks for your suggestion.

      2. Here's a few of my favorites in the area:

        Carrburritos - Burritos
        Tyler's Taproom - Burger, Fries, Beer
        Pepper's Pizza - House Stromboli
        Sandwhich / Neal's Deli - Sandwiches

        1. The best BBQ in the Chapel Hill area is Allen and Son, between Chapel Hill and Hillsborough on Highway 86. May be the best in the state.

          1. Whenever I visit my sister-in-law in Chapel Hill, my kids make her take us to Carrburito's!! Awesome for just about anybody!!

            1. i'd like to echo the usual recommendations like crook's corner, lantern, and allen & son.

              I only get back to the triangle a few days a year now, but when I want pizza, I go to Alfredo's Pizza Villa. It might not have the atmosphere that Pepper's does (although now that peppers has moved, im sure its not the same), but the pizza and calzones are much better IMO. When I want Mexerican food I hit up carrburritos for the nachos (so good) or El Rodeo (the brightleaf location is much better than the others). And when it comes to chicken, I go to Time Out. Time out has a well-deserved reputation for being greasy and grimey, but I really do think that they have the best chicken.

              Also, I ate at Southern Rail last time I was home and it was excellent. I hear they have juggled chefs, though. The space alone makes it worth checking out, however. It's inside an old refinished rail car, and the service was extremely friendly.

              I used to be such a big fan of acme, but havent been back in years and I hear it's really fallen off. Oh well. Happy dining!

              Also, I feel you on the squid's happy hour. Speaking of seafood, Tom Robinson's in carrboro should be getting softshells fairly soon. I cannot tell you how much I miss Tom Robinsons now that I live in a town with a harrowing and significant seafood deficiency (athens)

              2 Replies
              1. re: batdown

                Locopops, Locopops, Locopops. No list about the Triangle is complete without a reference to this place. If you think cutting edge & popsicles, don't go together, you will learn differently.

                Sandwhich is another great find. Their BLT is excellent as is most other things I've had from there.

                Panzanella: really reasonable food. The Weaver St. Market connection is nice. My wife loves their chocolate chile bread pudding.

                1. re: batdown

                  Agree on Time Out...go there for chicken instead of the extremely overpriced Mama Dips.

                2. Favorites in Durham, not in any particular order (for food and atmosphere):
                  Vit Goal Tofu Restaurant
                  Papa Mojo's Roadhouse
                  Los Comales
                  Dain's Place
                  Rue Cler
                  City Beverage (Lava Lounge)
                  The Federal
                  Magnolia Grill

                  1. A list of the best should also include some cheap eats. Merrit's General Store for BLTs and Wimpy's for a simple burger are both good eating and also cheap.

                    15 Replies
                    1. re: blewgo

                      for bbq, allen and son

                      for authentic southern cuisine, crook's corner

                      for late night mexican, cosmic cantina in durham

                      1. re: DukeFan

                        I can agree with allen and son, and maybe crook's corner, but cosmic cantina is just plan bad and over priced. With all the authentic mexican in Durham why them

                        1. re: chazzer

                          I agree about cosmic. When I was at UNC, it seemed like everyone I knew was wild about the burritos. I found them to be dry, bland, and about twice as expensive as they should have been. The quesadillas were much better (but really, have you ever had a BAD quesadilla?). I don't see why the place is still in business, frankly.

                          1. re: batdown

                            Location. There are a half dozen places on East Franklin by campus where that is the plausible explanation (Spanky's, Top of the Hill, the chains, etc.) since the food ranges from entirely forgettable to downright bad.

                            1. re: brokegradstudent

                              agreed. they load up the burritos with too much rice and beans. the only good thing about it used to be that the veggie burrito was dirt cheap and fast, but i think they increased the price.

                              1. re: inmybackpages

                                I like Cosmic Cantina's burritos. The ingredients are simple, simply prepared, and I like rice & black beans and prefer them a bit "dryer" than some places like Carrburitos does them. I like their quesadillas too.

                                And I like Spanky's. Spanky's has very good quality beef, Montana ranch antibiotic-free, hormone-free, and it has good flavor and texture. Admittedly, mostly I think of it as a burger joint, and I'd probably pass on the Sunday brunch, but there are some things there that are as good as you'll get anywhere else around here. They also serve Carolina Breweries Copperline Ale.

                                Top of the Hill has good beers they make themselves, and the food is decent. Yeah, the location is excellent, and you're partially paying for that.

                                1. re: fussycouple

                                  gosh. I have to disagree with you about top of the hill's beers. their pale ales and bitters never have any bite and each one I've had tasted metallic. The other ones arent much better. The thing I really can't stand about top of the hill is that they only carry their own beer, and only present you with 3 choices or so. It's either one of the bad pale ale-style beers, some syrupy barleywine kind of thing, or a 4.50 lager style beer that's about as interesting as a miller lite.

                                  the food there is a different story though IMO. I've had some really bad dishes there (the mediterranean platter being the one that comes to mind), but also some really great stuff too, like their flank steak and their sweet potato cheese fries.

                                  I can't remember the last time I ate at spanky's but they get a pass because I don't think I could imagine franklin st. without spanky's, the rat, peppers (boo to moving it), franklin st pizza & pasta, and coffee shoppe. Out of all of those places, none are very good food-wise, but they've become local institutions and nostalgic favorites. After all, no one goes to the rat for the food, they go for the carolina spirit that oozes from every filthy corner.

                                  also, I forgot to mention one of my all-time faves in chapel hill - Charlie's Chinese. Is it still there?

                                  1. re: batdown

                                    Charlie's closed down quite a while ago. A lot of folks were sad about that one! I tried the restaurant that went into the old Charlie's space, Red Lotus, and it was fine, but I'm not sure if it is there anymore either.

                                    As for CH/Carrboro recs..

                                    BBQ - BBQ Joint, Allen & Sons...Bullock's in Durham is also worth the drive

                                    Mexican - Fiesta Grill...and we're done here...though I like a cookie-cutter Mexican restaurant like Torero's as much as the next guy

                                    Seafood - Squids for the more refined seafood or the much improved Dockside restaurant for fried/broiled platters and such

                                    Breakfast - Ye Olde Waffle Shop, Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen

                                    Steak and Cheese/Gyros - Philly Steak Factory (not technically in CH or Carrboro but close enough)

                                    I also enjoy Tallula's, but i have not been there in almost 2 years.

                                    1. re: planbee

                                      Tallula's has a new owner, and is not even close to as good as it was. Sad.

                                      1. re: planbee

                                        Red Lotus is still there....the claypot dishes are pretty good, but some of the other stuff is a bit too greasy for me.

                                        this was also a bit too greasy for me, but some of my chinese friends really like gourmet kingdom. It's new, and it's got a huge chinese menu. It's mostly szechuanese food. It's not really my thing, but I liked the tea smoked duck there.

                                      2. re: batdown

                                        The Rat closed down too. New management took it over several years ago and they changed (for the worse IMO) some things like grilled chicken for the chicken parm?!

                                        1. re: LBD

                                          youve got to be kidding me! do you know what went into the space?

                                          1. re: batdown

                                            Nothing yet. It seemed like a tax seizure finally finished them off (they've had trouble staying open the last 2 years or so)

                                            1. re: batdown

                                              Here's the explanation of why the Rat closed:


                                              I don't think there's anything there right now, but have not checked recently. All the equipment, furniture, etc. was sold at auction back in February:


                                              As it says in both links, there are so many problems with the building that it is very unlikely another restaurant will open in that space.

                                  2. re: batdown

                                    yeah. not really a fan of cosmic's. I really think the durham location is better, though. For authentic late night, I think Captain Poncho's suggested above is open 'til 4 on the weekends?

                                    I'd rather have time out chicken late night, to be honest. mac and cheese isn't so bad.

                            2. Thai: Twisted Noodles in Durham (get the green curry, chicken larb, and papaya salad).
                              Indian: Sitar in Durham (mainly for the dosas... otherwise it's good but average indian food)
                              Middle Eastern: Baba Ghannouj in the Courtyard in CH is great. Best hummus in town by a mile.
                              Tacos: Los Comales in Durham. The pupusas are great too.
                              Steak: Bin 54 in Chapel Hill is fantastic, but pricy
                              Sushi: Waraji in Raleigh is totally worth the trip. There is not another sushi bar around that can compare in quality.
                              Mexican: Fiesta Grill in Chapel Hill has great whole fried fish, plus good ceviche tostadas
                              Biscuits: Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill
                              Pasteries: Gugelhupf in Durham
                              BBQ Beef Brisket: Q Shack in Durham. Great hushpuppies too.

                              I know there are places that are missing, but that should get you started.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: durhamois

                                I never noticed the fish on the menu at Fiesta Grill, what is it like? What kind of fish is it and how is it served?

                                Thanks, this is really exciting for me

                              2. Add to your list the taco trucks that park in Carrboro. We had supper at the Fitch Lumber taco truck Friday night, it was superb. Fantastic chicken tamales, pork tacos and quesadillas. Find yourself a car to lean against or opt for curbside dining on the wooden pallets next to the sidewalk. Service is fast, the people watching enjoyable, and the food's even better than Fiesta Grill.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: jnday

                                  Fitch lumber vs Cliffs taco truck - which one is better?

                                  Also, why don't they post prices? I got the impression that I was overcharged since I've paid different prices at different times

                                  1. re: inmybackpages

                                    I haven't gone to the Cliff's wagon, yet, since we're normally in there to buy chorizo for the grill. Mmmm, fresh chorizo...

                                    Anyway, the Fitch Lumber taco truck advertised their prices Friday, I think the tacos were $2, same for the tamale, and don't remember the quesadilla other than it's porky succulence.

                                    1. re: jnday

                                      props on the use of the adjective "porky"

                                      I can't wait to try one of these taco trucks when I get back into town. thanks for the heads up!

                                2. Another vote for Fiesta Grill - get the "Mexican tacos" with carnitas. For sushi, I still really enjoy Akai Hana in Carrboro, although Sushi Yoshi has some nice options too. Acme's pretty popular for Sunday brunch. I rediscovered Margaret's Cantina the other day - had an excellent dinner there. And you can't miss Mediterranean Deli on Franklin - everything they serve is incredibly fresh and tasty! Tupelo's in Hillsborough is a nice change of pace. We go west to Mebane for Mexican food fairly often - La Fiesta (Mebane Oaks Rd) has great Mexican Chicken Soup. La Cocina (Hwy 119) is famous for the camarones chipotle and an excellent salsa verde. Another favorite is Spartacus in Durham (South Square) for traditional Greek recipes.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: mcintyree

                                    Oishi at Timberlyne's also good for sushi and/or Japanese entrees.

                                  2. I gotta throw out there a very strong recomendation for Tonali.

                                    1. I agree on the Fiesta Grill. They make a pretty great ceviche, there's plenty of free chips and salsa. Hmm...I really like to go there on the weekends (that's the only time you can get ceviche). The menudo's alright, the Seafood soup is great (the only bummer here is that they use immitation crab) and the portions are big. I've liked most things I've eaten there.

                                      A lot of people say the mole there is pretty good, and I agree.

                                      My second recommendation, for tacos and tamales, is Tres Amigos. I appreciate the fresh tortillas and the fact that there's fresh tomatoes in addition to the normal cilantro and onions that you get on a taco.

                                      1. I would avoid all the chains, try each pizza place on Franklin at least once (Franklin St, Peppers, IP3), Carrburritos, Cosmic is nothing but cheap thrills but not very good to me, give the newly established Kitchen a try, and right next door hit up Fosters Market, I've only been to Acme once but it was good. Do try Bonn Soiree for a very nice date. Try Weaver Street for baked goods and a hearty weekend breakfast. Do try a BLT from Merrit Mill on Columbia and any Sandwich from SandwHich. While we are on the sandwich post, do get a Pastrami or Corned Beef on Rye from Neal's Deli. Med Deli is great for just about anything Mediterranean, Do try Mint Indian. Check out Southern Season and Weathervane. Give Saffron (in East 54) and One (in Meadowmont) a shot. Give Elaine's a try if you can budget it as well as Lantern. People swear by the biscuits at Sunrise Biscuit Company and apparently the chicken Cheddar Biscuit at Time Out. Do try the chinese menu at Gourmet Kingdom. Fiesta Grill outside of Carrboro and also Saxapahaw General Store, Try Nantucket Grill, Jujube

                                        Durham has equally exciting opportunities.. Revolution, Tylers (you can do the one in Carrboro), Federal, Pop's, Rue Cler, Vin Rouge, Watts, Four Square, Los Comales, La Vaquita, try places like Chosun Ok and Vit Goal Tofu, Mami Nora, Backyard BBQ Pit on hwy 55, Dos Perros, ScratchBake.. pretty much any of the mobile truck offerings..

                                        I guess if it were me now that I'm looking at what I'm writing.. I'd say try to sample as many of the non chain places in the area as you can. I tend to stay away from Spanky's and places like that.. don't know why just do. If you like beer, try all the microbrews too like Top of the Hill and Carolina Brewery.

                                        Rue Cler Restaurant
                                        401 E Chapel Hill St, Durham, NC 27701

                                        Vit Goal
                                        2107 Allendown Dr Ste 101, Durham, NC 27713

                                        Four Square Restaurant
                                        2701 Chapel Hill Rd., Durham, NC 27707

                                        Los Comales
                                        2103 N Roxboro St, Durham, NC 27704

                                        Vin Rouge
                                        737 9th St, Durham, NC 27705

                                        711 Rosemary St, Carrboro, NC

                                        General Store Cafe
                                        39 West St, Pittsboro, NC 27312

                                        Time Out
                                        131 S Herlong Ave, Rock Hill, SC 29732

                                        Biscuit Company
                                        722 S Main St, Lexington, NC 27292

                                        Gourmet Kingdom
                                        301 E Main St, Carrboro, NC 27510

                                        Nantucket Grill
                                        5826 Fayetteville Rd, Durham, NC 27713

                                        Neal's Deli
                                        100 E Main St Ste C, Carrboro, NC 27510

                                        Fiesta Grill
                                        45 Newnan Station Dr Ste C, Newnan, GA 30265

                                        Dos Perros
                                        200 N Mangum St. Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701

                                        1. Try Bonne Soiree for a true culinary experience. Chip is a master chef and Tina is wonderful with her mastery of the front of house and wines! Let her select for you, trust me.

                                          Med deli
                                          Neals deli
                                          Crossroads at the Carolina inn
                                          Allen and son
                                          Orange leaf for frozen yoghurt
                                          Crooks corner
                                          Southern rail
                                          Tylers visit the beer store next door
                                          Ye olde waffle shop
                                          Carolina brewery
                                          Tandoor Indian
                                          Fiesta grill
                                          Tres amigos in carrboro
                                          Anything at the carrboro farmers market wed afternoon, sat mornings
                                          35 chinese
                                          Gourmet kingdom
                                          Amante for the best pizza
                                          Sunrise biscuit kitchen
                                          Jimmy johns
                                          Top of the hill
                                          Any of the taco trucks
                                          Provence in carrboro best fish dishes
                                          Spotted dog
                                          Baileys for pool and football,
                                          Kitchen in timberline

                                          Bonne Soiree Restaurant
                                          431 W Franklin St Ste 10, Chapel Hill, NC 27516

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: Bayard

                                            I was not a fan of Spotted Dog or Tandoor and I'm not sure how Jimmy Johns fits on the list of must tries? It is a national chain and seems out of place.

                                            1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                              I wasn't aware that I couldn't place on the list places I like and didn't know about until I moved here. I'll be sure to secure your approval first next time. This is someone who is going to be a freshman so I figured some non-expensive places that have been consistently good would be appreciated. Again I'll try to ask you first before I post my opinions to make sure they're okay.

                                              1. re: Bayard

                                                Sorry that came about the wrong way Bayard. Was definitely not trying to be a dictator. Just figured the OP was looking for things that weren't a chain, but if that were the case I'd have to tell him not to try Krispy Kreme. I'm sorry for coming across as rude.

                                                Krispy Kreme
                                                2706 Watson Blvd Ste A, Warner Robins, GA 31093

                                              2. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                                Yeah, I really wanted to like Spotted Dog, but just couldn't. And for me Top of the Hill was kind of like dining on a cruise ship or Holiday Inn - low on atmosphere and very middle of the road food.

                                                Bayard - that is why they make chocolate AND vanilla. We all have different likes and dislikes. I don't think BF was trying to disparage you.

                                              3. re: Bayard

                                                how about Artichoke Basil for Pizza? I tried them, seems, I like pretty much everything they have!