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Shrimp pasta with carrots in a bowl.
Shrimp pasta from Osteria Georgi.
Forrest Mason Media

18 Essential Restaurants in Chapel Hill/Carrboro

From pasta to biscuits, here’s what the college town has to offer

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Shrimp pasta from Osteria Georgi.
| Forrest Mason Media

For decades the dining scene in Chapel Hill and Carrboro was stuck in neutral, tied down by an abiding community dedication to tradition that translated into what can only be described as a “rut.” With the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill the anchor of the entire community (unlike Durham with Duke or Raleigh with North Carolina State University), it was hard to define what was good food and what was cheap college food. Well, no longer.

A spate of downtown redevelopment has gone hand-in-hand with an exciting new explosion of restaurants in both Chapel Hill and Carrboro over the last decade. Newcomers have found their place alongside historic anchor restaurants, quite literally offering something for everyone. From fine dining to late night college eats, Chapel Hill has managed to honor tradition while forging a new and delicious path forward.

New December 2021: Osteria Georgi, Bin 54, Tesoro

(Note: while the universe of dining in the area often includes Pittsboro and Hillsborough, we have chosen to restrict this map solely to Chapel Hill and Carrboro.)

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Osteria Georgi

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Restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias’s Osteria Georgi arrived on the Chapel Hill dining scene with a splash in 2021, quickly becoming one of the Triangle’s must-have reservations. Chef Dan Jackson and his crew plate up dishes that span a range of regional Italian cuisines. The swordfish puttanesca comes with Sardinian-style couscous and roasted vegetables, while the bistecca is a New York strip steak served with white beans. All the pastas are made in house — the tagliatelle is served with a duck ragu while the bucatina all’amatriciana comes with pancetta, a pomodoro sauce, and Calabrian chilies. The bar stocks an extensive offering of Italian amari, while a carefully curated list of Italian wines and speciality cocktails round out the beverage offerings.

Oysters on a thin rectangle plate.
Oysters at Osteria Georgi.
Forrest Mason Media

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen

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Food & Wine magazine once described the biscuits at Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen as some of the best in the country, and the line of cars that snakes around the tiny building out onto Franklin Street most mornings might just be proof of that fact. Big, pillowy biscuits filled with a choice of meat, egg, and cheese combo, or topped with gravy, are the order of the day here. Sure they have sandwiches and burgers, but a biscuit is the way to go.

Time-Out Restaurant

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Early-risers, bleary-eyed Carolina students coming off all-nighters, UNC sports fans, and more have been packing into this Franklin Street staple since 1978. Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, Time-Out offers what could be called “Southern diner staples” like pulled pork sandwiches, sweet potato pie, and an all-day breakfast menu.

A biscuit and mac n cheese.
A biscuit and mac n cheese at Time Out.
Time-Out/Facebook

Sutton's Drug Store

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Another Franklin Street mainstay, Sutton’s has served classic soda-fountain-style food since 1923. Hot dogs, burgers, deli sandwiches, and more can all be washed down with a milkshake. A breakfast menu is available until 11am, and while the menu nods to more current tastes with pitas, wraps, and some vegetarian options, the soups are still good old-fashioned Campbell’s.

Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery

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Open since 1994, Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery is a bit of an institution in Chapel Hill. Know as Top-O to those in the know, the rooftop eatery brews its own beer and distills a few of the liquors behind the bar. UNC undergrads get their parents to take them here for a non-cafeteria meal, like fancy fried chicken, Southwest chicken pasta, and jambalaya. 

Que Chula Craft Tacos & Tequila

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Opened during the height of the pandemic in spring 2020, Que Chula has quickly become a favorite stop for street-style tacos, enchiladas, and both Mexican and Tex-Mex staples like carne asada, chilaquiles, and the gringa quesadilla (a flour tortilla with al pastor pork, Oaxacan cheese, pineapple, lettuce, pico de gallo, and crema Mexicana). Plenty of sharing dishes and a bevy of margarita flavors make it a great gathering place with friends.

Three tacos on a plate.
Tacos at Que Chula Craft Tacos & Tequila.
Que Chula Tacos/Facebook

Husband and wife team Younes and Emma Sabouh helm this Carr Mill Mall restaurant serving brunch, lunch, and dinner with truly global flavors. The saffron chicken tagine with Carolina Gold rice is a nod to Chef Younes’s Moroccan heritage, while the “Steak for 1,” a 14-ounce Angus ribeye, with smoked potato puree, market vegetables, and bone marrow dip, is pure steakhouse comfort. The brunch menu is also varied, with items like shakshuka, shrimp and grits, and a fried chicken Benedict all vying for attention.

Mama Dip's Kitchen

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Mildred “Mama Dip” Council’s legacy lives on in her restaurant, where the motto is “The tea is sweet, the chicken is fried, and hearts are full.” Fried chicken is indeed the order of the day, served with a choice of two sides and your pick of cornbread, biscuits, or rolls. Other classic Southern dishes include chittlins, chicken and dumplings, and grilled liver. There’s always pie for dessert, but the rotating fruit cobbler is also a good choice.

Pizzeria Mercato

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Owner Gabe Barker might be descended from Southern food royalty (Ben and the late Karen Barker of Magnolia Grill), but he’s found his success with Neopolitan-style pizzas and market-driven Italian cuisine. Wood-fired pizzas anchor a menu that also includes antipasti (marinated and roasted olives, Italian wedding soup, and pork rillettes), an extensive vegetable menu, and comforting main dishes like lasagna al ragu. The crecina is a chickpea batter crepe that comes with eggplant roasted in the pizza oven, tahini, spiced yogurt, pickled cauliflower, and pistachios. Larger family-style take and bake dishes are also available.

(Takeout only)

Gourmet Kingdom

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Gourmet Kingdom is the place in town to go for that Szechuan mouth-tingle. Shredded tripe in chili sauce, twice-cooked pork, dan dan noodles, and of course mapo tofu are on offer. Those used to more Americanized Chinese fare can branch out and try specialties like sweet and sour jellyfish, Szechuan spicy conch, or winter melon with white sauce. The cultured sticky congee flavored with bittersweet osmanthus tea is a unique dessert option.

(Takeout and delivery only)

Carrburritos

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Cali-style tacos, margaritas, and burritos the size of a small child’s head are the draw at Carrburritos. The mejor burrito is the standard order and filling choices range from carnitas, chorizo, and pollo asado to pure de papas (sweet potatoes pureed with caramelized onions) or tofu a la Mexicana (tofu stewed with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and fresh jalapeños). Margaritas can be enjoyed al fresco in the outdoor seating area or taken to-go.

(Outdoor dining and takeout)

Pasta is the name of the game at chef David Peretin’s intimate 18-seat Carrboro eatery. The menu is divided into shareable small plates (like a half dozen North Carolina oysters, a radicchio salad, or cannellini beans in broth with sauteed greens and focaccia croutons), pastas, and sweets. Peretin changes the menu quite frequently, but expect to see pastas like spaghetti, bucatini, and gnudi to make appearances. A recent menu included mafalde, a ribbon-like pasta with frilly edges, served with a spicy lamb ragu.

Lantern

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Chef Andrea Reusing’s ode to Asian-inspired, locally-sourced Southern cuisine was at the forefront of Chapel Hill’s restaurant revitalization and remains a favorite today. Dumplings, small dishes, and entrees like whole steamed wild North Carolina black bass and Japanese steakhouse-style steak are all inspired by the bounty of local farmers Lantern has been partnering with since day one. Although currently closed for in-person dining, the restaurant has been doing one-off takeout pop-ups; check their website to see what the next theme will be.

(Currently pop-up only)

Lantern

Neal's Deli

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Matt Neal, son of the late Bill Neal (of Crook’s Corner fame), and his wife Sheila operate this small breakfast and lunch deli that offers classic sandwiches like muffuletta, chicken salad, and a pastrami reuben. Hot dog fans will like the El Completo, the national hot dog of Chile. It comes topped with mayonnaise, sriracha, Neal’s kraut, and avocado salsa. Currently only offering lunch to-go, in pre-COVID times Neal’s also churned out massive breakfast biscuit sandwiches and piping hot coffee to Carrboro’s morning commuters, and will likely return to that soon.

(Takeout only)

Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe

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Southern India meets North Carolina at Vimala’s, where finds from nearby farms are transformed into comforting classics like lamb rogan josh, pork vinadloo, and mixed vegetable pakoras. All of the chutneys and pickles are made in house, and Vimala’s dosa batter is available by the quart for fresh dosas made at home. Dishes like kerala beef, tandoori chicken, a daily Kerala-style fish curry are also available chilled to take home and reheat.

(Outdoor dining and takeout)

Glasshalfull

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A Mediterranean-inspired menu and extensive wine list are the draws at Glasshalfull. Ordering options include the three-course take-and-bake menu or an a la carte menu with dishes like potato leek soup with smoked salt and double cream, lemon and herb risotto with Hillsborough Cheese Company goat cheese, and braised short ribs with potato and carrot kugel. Many items are gluten-free, and can be paired with a bottle of wine from the restaurant’s in-house wine shop.

(Takeout only)

Think tapas-meet-dim sum-meet-Pan-Asian steakhouse when considering Jujube’s menu. An extensive offering of small plates like pan-fried chicken and shiitake dumplings, beef short rib and goat cheese wontons, and five spice duck confit spring rolls are perfectly suited for tables who like to share, while larger mains like Lemongrass grilled hangar steak or pan-fried crab and shrimp cakes might please those who want something all to themselves. Asian-influenced cocktails like the Bangkok Fever Mix (tequila or mezcal with a Thai chili-infused passionfruit syrup and cinnamon-salt rim) are available, as are family style to-go meals.

Bin 54 Steak & Cellar

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Featuring high-end takes on classic steakhouse fare, Bin 54 has been a Chapel Hill go-to for power lunches and celebratory dinners for years. There’s filet mignon, New York strip, and porterhouse steaks but also braised short ribs, wood grilled duck breast, and a massive double cut pork chop. Familiar sides of creamed spinach, sauteed asparagus, and mashed potatoes are available as well as a truffled four cheese macaroni, a mushroom ragout, and onion rings served with a smoked onion remoulade. Other menu highlights include a seared ahi tuna crusted with Szechuan pepper and coriander, two tartares (steak or tuna), and the house-smoked bacon served with hot honey and charred red onion. Bin 54 consistently wins Wine Spectator “Best Wine List” awards, and the cocktail list includes classic sips, newer concoctions, and a margarita for two.

Osteria Georgi

Oysters on a thin rectangle plate.
Oysters at Osteria Georgi.
Forrest Mason Media

Restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias’s Osteria Georgi arrived on the Chapel Hill dining scene with a splash in 2021, quickly becoming one of the Triangle’s must-have reservations. Chef Dan Jackson and his crew plate up dishes that span a range of regional Italian cuisines. The swordfish puttanesca comes with Sardinian-style couscous and roasted vegetables, while the bistecca is a New York strip steak served with white beans. All the pastas are made in house — the tagliatelle is served with a duck ragu while the bucatina all’amatriciana comes with pancetta, a pomodoro sauce, and Calabrian chilies. The bar stocks an extensive offering of Italian amari, while a carefully curated list of Italian wines and speciality cocktails round out the beverage offerings.

Oysters on a thin rectangle plate.
Oysters at Osteria Georgi.
Forrest Mason Media

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen

Food & Wine magazine once described the biscuits at Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen as some of the best in the country, and the line of cars that snakes around the tiny building out onto Franklin Street most mornings might just be proof of that fact. Big, pillowy biscuits filled with a choice of meat, egg, and cheese combo, or topped with gravy, are the order of the day here. Sure they have sandwiches and burgers, but a biscuit is the way to go.

Time-Out Restaurant

A biscuit and mac n cheese.
A biscuit and mac n cheese at Time Out.
Time-Out/Facebook

Early-risers, bleary-eyed Carolina students coming off all-nighters, UNC sports fans, and more have been packing into this Franklin Street staple since 1978. Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, Time-Out offers what could be called “Southern diner staples” like pulled pork sandwiches, sweet potato pie, and an all-day breakfast menu.

A biscuit and mac n cheese.
A biscuit and mac n cheese at Time Out.
Time-Out/Facebook

Sutton's Drug Store

Another Franklin Street mainstay, Sutton’s has served classic soda-fountain-style food since 1923. Hot dogs, burgers, deli sandwiches, and more can all be washed down with a milkshake. A breakfast menu is available until 11am, and while the menu nods to more current tastes with pitas, wraps, and some vegetarian options, the soups are still good old-fashioned Campbell’s.

Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery

Open since 1994, Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery is a bit of an institution in Chapel Hill. Know as Top-O to those in the know, the rooftop eatery brews its own beer and distills a few of the liquors behind the bar. UNC undergrads get their parents to take them here for a non-cafeteria meal, like fancy fried chicken, Southwest chicken pasta, and jambalaya. 

Que Chula Craft Tacos & Tequila

Three tacos on a plate.
Tacos at Que Chula Craft Tacos & Tequila.
Que Chula Tacos/Facebook

Opened during the height of the pandemic in spring 2020, Que Chula has quickly become a favorite stop for street-style tacos, enchiladas, and both Mexican and Tex-Mex staples like carne asada, chilaquiles, and the gringa quesadilla (a flour tortilla with al pastor pork, Oaxacan cheese, pineapple, lettuce, pico de gallo, and crema Mexicana). Plenty of sharing dishes and a bevy of margarita flavors make it a great gathering place with friends.

Three tacos on a plate.
Tacos at Que Chula Craft Tacos & Tequila.
Que Chula Tacos/Facebook

Tandem

Husband and wife team Younes and Emma Sabouh helm this Carr Mill Mall restaurant serving brunch, lunch, and dinner with truly global flavors. The saffron chicken tagine with Carolina Gold rice is a nod to Chef Younes’s Moroccan heritage, while the “Steak for 1,” a 14-ounce Angus ribeye, with smoked potato puree, market vegetables, and bone marrow dip, is pure steakhouse comfort. The brunch menu is also varied, with items like shakshuka, shrimp and grits, and a fried chicken Benedict all vying for attention.

Mama Dip's Kitchen

Mildred “Mama Dip” Council’s legacy lives on in her restaurant, where the motto is “The tea is sweet, the chicken is fried, and hearts are full.” Fried chicken is indeed the order of the day, served with a choice of two sides and your pick of cornbread, biscuits, or rolls. Other classic Southern dishes include chittlins, chicken and dumplings, and grilled liver. There’s always pie for dessert, but the rotating fruit cobbler is also a good choice.

Pizzeria Mercato

Owner Gabe Barker might be descended from Southern food royalty (Ben and the late Karen Barker of Magnolia Grill), but he’s found his success with Neopolitan-style pizzas and market-driven Italian cuisine. Wood-fired pizzas anchor a menu that also includes antipasti (marinated and roasted olives, Italian wedding soup, and pork rillettes), an extensive vegetable menu, and comforting main dishes like lasagna al ragu. The crecina is a chickpea batter crepe that comes with eggplant roasted in the pizza oven, tahini, spiced yogurt, pickled cauliflower, and pistachios. Larger family-style take and bake dishes are also available.

(Takeout only)

Gourmet Kingdom

Gourmet Kingdom is the place in town to go for that Szechuan mouth-tingle. Shredded tripe in chili sauce, twice-cooked pork, dan dan noodles, and of course mapo tofu are on offer. Those used to more Americanized Chinese fare can branch out and try specialties like sweet and sour jellyfish, Szechuan spicy conch, or winter melon with white sauce. The cultured sticky congee flavored with bittersweet osmanthus tea is a unique dessert option.

(Takeout and delivery only)

Carrburritos

Cali-style tacos, margaritas, and burritos the size of a small child’s head are the draw at Carrburritos. The mejor burrito is the standard order and filling choices range from carnitas, chorizo, and pollo asado to pure de papas (sweet potatoes pureed with caramelized onions) or tofu a la Mexicana (tofu stewed with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and fresh jalapeños). Margaritas can be enjoyed al fresco in the outdoor seating area or taken to-go.

(Outdoor dining and takeout)

Tesoro

Pasta is the name of the game at chef David Peretin’s intimate 18-seat Carrboro eatery. The menu is divided into shareable small plates (like a half dozen North Carolina oysters, a radicchio salad, or cannellini beans in broth with sauteed greens and focaccia croutons), pastas, and sweets. Peretin changes the menu quite frequently, but expect to see pastas like spaghetti, bucatini, and gnudi to make appearances. A recent menu included mafalde, a ribbon-like pasta with frilly edges, served with a spicy lamb ragu.

Lantern

Lantern

Chef Andrea Reusing’s ode to Asian-inspired, locally-sourced Southern cuisine was at the forefront of Chapel Hill’s restaurant revitalization and remains a favorite today. Dumplings, small dishes, and entrees like whole steamed wild North Carolina black bass and Japanese steakhouse-style steak are all inspired by the bounty of local farmers Lantern has been partnering with since day one. Although currently closed for in-person dining, the restaurant has been doing one-off takeout pop-ups; check their website to see what the next theme will be.

(Currently pop-up only)

Lantern

Neal's Deli

Matt Neal, son of the late Bill Neal (of Crook’s Corner fame), and his wife Sheila operate this small breakfast and lunch deli that offers classic sandwiches like muffuletta, chicken salad, and a pastrami reuben. Hot dog fans will like the El Completo, the national hot dog of Chile. It comes topped with mayonnaise, sriracha, Neal’s kraut, and avocado salsa. Currently only offering lunch to-go, in pre-COVID times Neal’s also churned out massive breakfast biscuit sandwiches and piping hot coffee to Carrboro’s morning commuters, and will likely return to that soon.

(Takeout only)

Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe

Southern India meets North Carolina at Vimala’s, where finds from nearby farms are transformed into comforting classics like lamb rogan josh, pork vinadloo, and mixed vegetable pakoras. All of the chutneys and pickles are made in house, and Vimala’s dosa batter is available by the quart for fresh dosas made at home. Dishes like kerala beef, tandoori chicken, a daily Kerala-style fish curry are also available chilled to take home and reheat.

(Outdoor dining and takeout)

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Glasshalfull

A Mediterranean-inspired menu and extensive wine list are the draws at Glasshalfull. Ordering options include the three-course take-and-bake menu or an a la carte menu with dishes like potato leek soup with smoked salt and double cream, lemon and herb risotto with Hillsborough Cheese Company goat cheese, and braised short ribs with potato and carrot kugel. Many items are gluten-free, and can be paired with a bottle of wine from the restaurant’s in-house wine shop.

(Takeout only)

Jujube

Think tapas-meet-dim sum-meet-Pan-Asian steakhouse when considering Jujube’s menu. An extensive offering of small plates like pan-fried chicken and shiitake dumplings, beef short rib and goat cheese wontons, and five spice duck confit spring rolls are perfectly suited for tables who like to share, while larger mains like Lemongrass grilled hangar steak or pan-fried crab and shrimp cakes might please those who want something all to themselves. Asian-influenced cocktails like the Bangkok Fever Mix (tequila or mezcal with a Thai chili-infused passionfruit syrup and cinnamon-salt rim) are available, as are family style to-go meals.

Bin 54 Steak & Cellar

Featuring high-end takes on classic steakhouse fare, Bin 54 has been a Chapel Hill go-to for power lunches and celebratory dinners for years. There’s filet mignon, New York strip, and porterhouse steaks but also braised short ribs, wood grilled duck breast, and a massive double cut pork chop. Familiar sides of creamed spinach, sauteed asparagus, and mashed potatoes are available as well as a truffled four cheese macaroni, a mushroom ragout, and onion rings served with a smoked onion remoulade. Other menu highlights include a seared ahi tuna crusted with Szechuan pepper and coriander, two tartares (steak or tuna), and the house-smoked bacon served with hot honey and charred red onion. Bin 54 consistently wins Wine Spectator “Best Wine List” awards, and the cocktail list includes classic sips, newer concoctions, and a margarita for two.

Related Maps