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Bi bim bop at Lantern
Lantern Restaurant/Facebook

18 Essential Restaurants in Chapel Hill/Carrboro

From Southern plates to dumplings, here’s what the college town has to offer

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Bi bim bop at Lantern
| Lantern Restaurant/Facebook

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.

(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.

1. Kipos Greek Taverna

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1800 E Franklin St #16
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
(919) 425-0760
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Uber-restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias recently reopened his homage to the cuisine of his native Greece a few miles up the road from it’s original Franklin Street Location. Sister Olga Bakatsias runs the kitchen alongside Chef George Delidimos and the menu reads like a greatest hits of Greek favorites. Pastisio, souvlaki, and moussaka can all be found, and the popular herb-crusted rotisserie meats (chicken, pork, and of course lamb) all come with Greek lemon potatoes. More than two dozen small plates and salads are ideal for sharing, and the dessert list is more than just baklava. A manouri cheesecake, made with a sweetened manouri (a traditional Greek sheep’s milk cheese) is a standout on the dessert menu.

Kipos

2. Il Palio Restaurant

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1505 E Franklin St
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
(919) 918-2545
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High-end Italian fare rules the roost at Il Palio, located in the boutique Siena Hotel. Burrata-stuffed ravioli with lobster, fava beans, and a sage beurre fondue, veal saltimbocca with prosciutto, provolone, and grilled asparagus, and a rigatoni ragu for two (with beef short ribs, pork belly, and Giacomo’s sweet Italian sausage) are just a few of the options. An extensive Italian wine list is organized by region, from the Alps all the way down to Sicily, and a chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings is always available at dinner.

Il Palio/Facebook

3. Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen

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1305 E Franklin St
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
(919) 933-1324
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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.

4. Time-Out Restaurant

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201 E Franklin St
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
(919) 929-2425
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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.

Time-Out/Facebook

5. Sutton's Drug Store

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159 E Franklin St
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
(919) 942-5161
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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.

6. Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery

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100 E Franklin St #300
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
(919) 929-8676
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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. 

7. Que Chula Craft Tacos & Tequila

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140 W Franklin St #110
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
(919) 903-8000
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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.

Que Chula Tacos/Facebook

8. Tandem

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200 N Greensboro St #1a
Carrboro, NC 27510
(919) 240-7937
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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.

9. Mama Dip's Kitchen

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408 W Rosemary St
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
(919) 942-5837
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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.

10. Pizzeria Mercato

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408 W Weaver St
Carrboro, NC 27510
(919) 967-2277
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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)

11. Gourmet Kingdom

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301 E Main St
Carrboro, NC 27510
(919) 932-7222
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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, Delivery)

12. Carrburritos

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711 W Rosemary St #2315
Carrboro, NC 27510
(919) 933-8226
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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, Takeout)

13. Lantern

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423 W Franklin St
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
(919) 969-8846
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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

14. Oakleaf

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310 E Main St
Carrboro, NC 27510
(984) 234-0054
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Oakleaf’s ever-changing menu with a prix-fixe option is divided into small plates, pastas, and main dishes. Recent offerings included papardelle with n’djua ragu, chicken-fried Chesapeake oysters, and caramelized duck with toasted farro “risotto”. The menu is posted online but can change at a moment’s notice, so the Chef’s Spontaneous Tasting Menu is a great way to try whatever the kitchen is cooking up that day. Various “table shares”, like the creamy polenta with absurd amounts of parmigiano, also make for a fun dining experience.

15. Neal's Deli

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100 E Main St suite c
Carrboro, NC 27510
(919) 967-2185
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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)

16. Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe

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431 W Franklin St #415
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
(919) 929-3833
Visit Website

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, Takeout)

17. Glasshalfull

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106 S Greensboro St
Carrboro, NC 27510
(919) 967-9784
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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)

18. Jujube

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1201 Raleigh Rd L
Chapel Hill, NC 27517
(919) 960-0555
Visit Website

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.

1. Kipos Greek Taverna

1800 E Franklin St #16, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Kipos

Uber-restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias recently reopened his homage to the cuisine of his native Greece a few miles up the road from it’s original Franklin Street Location. Sister Olga Bakatsias runs the kitchen alongside Chef George Delidimos and the menu reads like a greatest hits of Greek favorites. Pastisio, souvlaki, and moussaka can all be found, and the popular herb-crusted rotisserie meats (chicken, pork, and of course lamb) all come with Greek lemon potatoes. More than two dozen small plates and salads are ideal for sharing, and the dessert list is more than just baklava. A manouri cheesecake, made with a sweetened manouri (a traditional Greek sheep’s milk cheese) is a standout on the dessert menu.

1800 E Franklin St #16
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

2. Il Palio Restaurant

1505 E Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Il Palio/Facebook

High-end Italian fare rules the roost at Il Palio, located in the boutique Siena Hotel. Burrata-stuffed ravioli with lobster, fava beans, and a sage beurre fondue, veal saltimbocca with prosciutto, provolone, and grilled asparagus, and a rigatoni ragu for two (with beef short ribs, pork belly, and Giacomo’s sweet Italian sausage) are just a few of the options. An extensive Italian wine list is organized by region, from the Alps all the way down to Sicily, and a chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings is always available at dinner.

1505 E Franklin St
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

3. Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen

1305 E Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

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.

1305 E Franklin St
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

4. Time-Out Restaurant

201 E Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
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.

201 E Franklin St
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

5. Sutton's Drug Store

159 E Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

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.

159 E Franklin St
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

6. Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery

100 E Franklin St #300, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

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. 

100 E Franklin St #300
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

7. Que Chula Craft Tacos & Tequila

140 W Franklin St #110, Chapel Hill, NC 27516
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.

140 W Franklin St #110
Chapel Hill, NC 27516

8. Tandem

200 N Greensboro St #1a, Carrboro, NC 27510

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.

200 N Greensboro St #1a
Carrboro, NC 27510

9. Mama Dip's Kitchen

408 W Rosemary St, Chapel Hill, NC 27516

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.

408 W Rosemary St
Chapel Hill, NC 27516

10. Pizzeria Mercato

408 W Weaver St, Carrboro, NC 27510

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)

408 W Weaver St
Carrboro, NC 27510

11. Gourmet Kingdom

301 E Main St, Carrboro, NC 27510

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, Delivery)

301 E Main St
Carrboro, NC 27510

12. Carrburritos

711 W Rosemary St #2315, Carrboro, NC 27510

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, Takeout)

711 W Rosemary St #2315
Carrboro, NC 27510

13. Lantern

423 W Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27516
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)

423 W Franklin St
Chapel Hill, NC 27516

14. Oakleaf

310 E Main St, Carrboro, NC 27510

Oakleaf’s ever-changing menu with a prix-fixe option is divided into small plates, pastas, and main dishes. Recent offerings included papardelle with n’djua ragu, chicken-fried Chesapeake oysters, and caramelized duck with toasted farro “risotto”. The menu is posted online but can change at a moment’s notice, so the Chef’s Spontaneous Tasting Menu is a great way to try whatever the kitchen is cooking up that day. Various “table shares”, like the creamy polenta with absurd amounts of parmigiano, also make for a fun dining experience.

310 E Main St
Carrboro, NC 27510

15. Neal's Deli

100 E Main St suite c, Carrboro, NC 27510

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)

100 E Main St suite c
Carrboro, NC 27510

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16. Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe

431 W Franklin St #415, Chapel Hill, NC 27516

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, Takeout)

431 W Franklin St #415
Chapel Hill, NC 27516

17. Glasshalfull

106 S Greensboro St, Carrboro, NC 27510

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)

106 S Greensboro St
Carrboro, NC 27510

18. Jujube

1201 Raleigh Rd L, Chapel Hill, NC 27517

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.

1201 Raleigh Rd L
Chapel Hill, NC 27517

Related Maps