(Updated August 2018) 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!
One of the newest and best options on Franklin Street is the new Hops Burger Bar! Known for its great beer and gourmet burger options, Hops Burger Bar is offering up excellent eats at a reasonable price. Try their weekly special burgers which could be the Caprese burger with mozzarella, arugula and tomato chutney along with fried string beans or build your own custom burger! Hops Burger Bar has an array of bun, meat and toppings options that will dazzle you. Along with waffle fries, sweet potato fries, onion rings and more. Their draft beer options are excellent and it’s just a very comfortable space for a quick meal.
MidiCi Italian Kitchen is another great new choice for Chapel Hill residents! This full-service Italian chain has a menu of solid Neapolitan pizzas, pastas, calzones and cream sodas. The space is reminiscent of a lovely Italian garden complete with open kitchen and beautiful gold pizza ovens. MidiCi Italian Kitchen uses great, fresh ingredients prepared with a very gourmet touch. With most everything reasonably priced at $15 and under, it’s a great option for a meal in a very central location near campus (Franklin and Columbia Streets).
Over in University Place you’ll find the hip and delicious bartaco (next to Silverspot Cinema). A small chain specializing in fusion tacos and a laidback beach vibe, bartaco is a wonderful spot to get your taco on! Choose from great tastes like glazed pork belly, fried rock shrimp, baja fish, carnitas and more, the tacos at bartaco are small but tasty. Paired up with the cool environment, fantastic cocktails and beautiful patio, you’re bound to have a great meal here at bartaco.
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, crab benedict 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 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’ll be updating this post with new spots like Oakleaf, Al’s Pub Shack, Bonchon and more. Enjoy these great eats around UNC Chapel Hill and just make sure you’re in the bathroom when the check comes out. (Just kidding!)
Dining for Adults around UNC Chapel Hill
Oakleaf (American Seasonal)