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Jun 24, 2008 05:34 AM

Recommendations for Chapel Hill

We have a son starting school at UNC this Fall, and we would appreciate restaurant recommendations, at all budget levels and all cuisines, since we will be traveling there often the next four years. We have some familiarity with the area and have been to Crook's Corner and 411 West in the past, but do not know what is new and worthy. Thanks in advance for the input.

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  1. Upper end:

    Bonne Soiree (French, of course!), in the downtown Chapel Hill district on Franklin St. We just had a fantastic meal there last month.

    Il Palio (Italian), in the Siena Hotel on Franklin St. near University Mall. We've been here several times and enjoyed it very much.

    Elaine's on Franklin - a little more hipster, trendy food than the first two:

    A little less expensive:

    The Lantern (pan-Asian):
    I've not been here, but a lot of people seem to like it.

    More casual:

    Panzanella in Carrboro in the Carr Mill Mall:
    There are other people on this board who are more impressed with this place than I am, but it's got a nice atmosphere, the service is good and I've always liked what I've gotten there, I'm just not wowed by it. It's consistently good though.

    Carr Mill Mall also has Elmo's Diner, which I've never been to, but it's really popular. There's always a line for this place when I've been in the mall (usually weekend days), while you can always get a seat at Panzanella.

    The Weathervane, which is Southern Season's restaurant in University Mall:
    There are some folks on the board that don't particularly care for this place, but I like it quite a bit. They have good wines by the glass and I've always liked the food and the service (I typically go for lunch).

    I'll also add a shout-out for The Loop, which is a pizza/sandwich place in Eastgate Shopping Center (there's a Trader Joe's in the same center, in case you like their stuff):
    It's a small chain place, with locations in the Southern states. You line up at the counter and give your order, have a seat and pick up your stuff when they call your number, so there's no sit-down service but I do like their pizza and they offer a lot of creative combinations.

    If you are willing to venture out into Durham, there's a bunch of places there that are very good, at all price points.

    1 Reply
    1. re: romansperson

      Romans gave some good recommendations. Here are some more:

      Pizza--Italian Pizzeria III (for NY style and good subs, too), Brixx (for California style thin crust)
      Hamburgers--Buns, Sutton's Drugstore
      Diner-type--Breadman's, Elmo's
      Bar food--Tyler's Taproom
      Barbecue--Allen and Son
      Locally produced mid-level--Acme
      Dessert--Locopops, Maple View Farms Ice Cream

    2. For "dressed up" southern food I second Crook's Corner, for down home traditional southern food - Mama Dip's on Rosemary

      For traditional Mexican there is a taqueria heading south out of Carrboro called Fiesta Grill - haven't been there in a few months so I hope it's still there. It was featured in a spread in Gourmet magazine on Durham's growth in traditional Mexican fare.

      Don't forget that Durham is a short drive away with many many dining options as well. My favorites are Nana's, Magnolia Grill, Four Square (all upper scale), Q-Shack (bbq, naturally), Sunset Grill (bar food in a locally owned place close Southpoint Mall).

      Congratulations on your son's acceptance! GO HEELS!

      7 Replies
      1. re: chicaraleigh

        Yes! Yes! Hie thee to Mama Dip's. We went with a friend a couple of years ago, and loved the place.

        Crook's Corner I never went to. But I buy their grits now and again for use at home. They're sensational.

        1. re: jmckee

          Mama dips - may have been good once, but now, not so much. Don't waste your time or money.

          1. re: Soup

            Mama dips has been subpar for a few years now. It's unfortunate, but don't waste your time there.

        2. re: chicaraleigh

          I'm going to have to differ with you on Mama Dip's. We visited shortly after moving to this area several years ago, and I've rarely been more disappointed. I'm Southern born and bred, and what we were served there was some of the most lackluster food I've ever had in my life. The ingredients weren't of particularly high quality or freshness, the dishes were flavorless, and the service was wholly indifferent.

          Went back earlier this year to see if things had changed, and...well...unfortunately they haven't.

          1. re: Suzy Q

            Suzy Q, I have to agree with you. We tried Mama Dip's when my son went for orientation in June of this year and were disappointed in the lackluster food and unfriendly service, both of which go against my past experiences with soul and/or southern food restaurants.

            1. re: gb25

              If you're in the mood for that kind of food and up for a bit of a drive when you're in our neck of the woods, venture out to Fuquay-Varina and check out Joyce & Family restaurant. Great food and really great people, too.

              1. re: gb25

                Totally agree on Mama Dip's. It used to be something special when it was less known and across Rosemary St. I live in Chapel Hill and avoid the place actively. Poor service, small portions, high prices. I'd recommend K&W cafeteria instead if you want to eat this kind of food.

          2. CONGRATS to your son! GO HEELS!

            Romansperson gave great suggestions, and I would like to ad Cafe La Residence. Which I have loved for, good grief, 15-something years.

            And very, very high-end (NC's ONLY 5 star restaurant) is the Fearrington House in close-by Pittsboro. I think they also serve tea if you just want to get a "flavor" of the place. Most defintely worth a drive to the little village just to see the oreo cows grazing in the meadow.

            202 W Rosemary St
            Chapel Hill, NC 27516
            (919) 967-2506

            Fearrington House
            2000 Fearrington Village Ctr
            Fearrington Vlg, NC 27312
            (919) 542-2121

            1 Reply
            1. re: Tehama

              More good suggestions. Yes, Fiesta Grill is still open and is a great Mexican establishment (though, it's a bit west of Chapel Hill and looks like nothing from the exterior--it's in an old garage/body shop building).

              How did I forget Merritt's Store for great BLT's?

              And, yes, Go Heels!!!

            2. Go to Carr Mill Mall - go to the 'communist grocery' Weaver Street (it's a co-op), maybe your son will join and work there a bit to get the member benefits. Panzanella is OK, and Elmo's is better.

              Go to the Carborro Farmer's Market!!! Locally produced yummy-ness.

              We're headed to Jujube again tonight, and really recommend the place.

              If he eats pork he's got to go to Merritt's for a BLT.

              The special events at Carolina Inn are always good, but I've never gone for just a meal. Summer-Fridays, 12-days-of-Christmas, etc.

              The beer is better than the food at Top of the Hill, but the beer may be enough reason to go.

              1 Reply
              1. re: AreBe

                Thanks to everyone who took the time to give what appear to be great suggestions. We will do our best to follow up on all of them, and any subsequent ones that are posted, beginning mid-August when we drop him off at UNC. I'm glad to see the recommendation for Magnolia Grill. I tried it when I was in the area for business in the 90's, right after it got a great mention in Bon Appetit (or similar) and it was great. Hopefully it is still as good.
                PS Everyone in our family is a Gator, so we've been practicing saying GO HEELS!

              2. Don't forget to to add Whole Foods Market to your list of places to eat options. They've got a little cafe for eat-in, or you can purchase for takeout from their great selection of salad bar, prepared packaged foods (including great sushi), and deli counter hot/cold entrees.