As a former Carolina kid, I can tell you that there are LOTS of eating options out on Franklin Street and the vicinity. However, most of them are geared for undergrads, we're talking about cheap and basic eats. Lots of casual pizza places, frozen yogurt, pita sandwiches and subs. Decent grub but not what you'd want to eat as an adult with a dining budget beyond ramen soup! So where to go if you're visiting the University of North Carolina with your kid or maybe you've got your parents in town and want to choose a nicer restaurant? There are definitely some excellent choices for dining in Chapel Hill beyond the Franklin Street core. Read on and just make sure your parents cover the bill!
Up on Route 86 north of downtown Chapel Hill lies the barbeque landmark, Allen & Son. However you'll also find the fantastic little French bistro the Kitchen, in that same area. Parking is tight out front but totally worth the effort. Small and usually crowded, The Kitchen specializes in mussel and frites but does a great job with all their French bistro fare. On my first visit I tried out a great pork belly appetizer with greens and sweet potato hash, UH-mazing! The pork belly is as rich as you would expect but the contrast of the greens and hash balance it out well. The basque mussels were sand-free, plump and swimming in a fragrant broth; perfect for bread dipping. Along with the side of skin-on, salted fries, the mussels at the Kitchen are a great side-dish! The decor inside is upscale cafe and cozy, service is quite good here. Prices at the Kitchen are really reasonable so given the quality of food, this place is always busy. It might be wise to make reservations and give yourself extra time to find parking in their small and usually crowded lot. But I guarantee you their food is worth the effort!
Out west on Franklin Street is the wonderful Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe. Located behind Penang in a small complex, Vimala's specializes in Kerala Indian food. Walk through the small courtyard, through the wrought iron arch and enter into Indian deliciousness. Vimala's focus on local ingredients mean you get Indian cuisine that's a level up from the usual. Think plump samosas stuffed with potatoey goodness and crunchy pakora's made of fresh vegetables. My red snapper thali plate was spicy, delicately flavored bone-in fish with a wonderful assortment of small appetizers. Just like the Kitchen, Vimala's gets super busy at times and even with their large space, it'll require some patience to eat here. The staff is Carrboro hipster and not always as service-oriented as they should be which causes some of the crowd. Thankfully they've got a small patio outside to handle the diner overflow!
Moving further west is the lovely Acme Restaurant which does Southern seasonal fare. Inside Acme's got a classic look with a slightly upscale menu with steak, crab cakes and fried catfish. I've done Acme's primarily for Sunday brunch and their AWE-some eggs benedict! Whether you do the traditional eggs benedict with Carolina ham or the scallop eggs benedict, their decadent hollandaise sauce makes them both ridiculously delicious. Toss in a slice of their coffee cake with strawberry cream and you'll be in heaven. Definitely a restaurant for adults and students who appreciate great food, check out my full Acme review for more details...
And down in Southern Village you'll find the highly under-rated Merlion which specializes in Singaporean food. What say you, Singaporean in Chapel Hill? Yeah, I couldn't believe it myself but Singaporean is a blend of Chinese, Thai and Indian flavors that results in a unique taste of its own! The roti prata is a bit greasy but amazingly tasty and the char kway teow is a great flat-noodle dish similar to Thai pad see ew. Pretty authentic fare from what I can see, everything I've tried here has been excellent. With great Asian flavors for lunch or dinner, don't miss this casual little spot down in Southern Village.
And finally Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen! While Time-out Restaurant gets all the television acclaim for its chicken and biscuits, Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen is probably a better choice. Located way out on East Franklin Street, this little drive-through dishes out wonderfully fluffy biscuits with a crisp chicken filet tucked in-between. Perfect on the way out or into Chapel Hill, these folks are up bright and early making delicious scratch biscuits! And if the line gets too long, you can pop inside and grab your chicken biscuit at a cash register.
View Great Restaurants Near UNC Chapel Hill! in a larger map
Now while I'll always enjoy classic UNC restaurants like Top of the Hill, Elmo's, 411 West and Crooks Corner, sometimes it's worth the effort to go beyond the standards on Franklin Street! Like the rest of the Triangle, Chapel Hill's food scene is slowly changing and bringing some great authentic ethnic cuisine as dining options. I haven't had a chance to hit newer spots like Cholanad, the Standard and Bangkok 54 yet but they're on my To Eat list! So all you Carolina kids that have your parents coming in to visit, here are some other great options to blow your parents wallet. Just think bon appetit and make sure you're in the bathroom when the check comes out. (Just kidding!)
Dining for Adults around UNC Chapel Hill