If you visit Chapel Hill when the university is not in session you wouldn’t be faulted to assume that it was just a sleepy southern town.
It is a bit like two different places when the students are in town and when they are away.
When students arrive, the population swells, and suddenly you need reservations at restaurants, parking spaces become scarce, and the checkout lines at the grocery stores are swamped.
Typical of many university towns Chapel Hill, North Carolina has come a long way over the last couple of decades when it comes to the variety of restaurants and cuisine being offered.
As student populations become more diverse, so do the offering of the foods that are available.
Without further ado, here are the best restaurants in Chapel Hill:
Asian | $$$$
Lantern is a restaurant specializing in Asian fusion flavors using very local ingredients from nearby farms and fisheries.
The creativity level of meals here is very high, and the tastes are even higher.
I have never been disappointed with a meal at Lantern.
Some of my favorites have been the ‘Vietnamese Style NC Crab’ and ‘Local Pork Spring Rolls’, or the ‘Tea and Spice Smoked Chicken’.
The menu changes often, keeping things fresh.
423 W Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC, 27516 | +1 919-969-8846 | lanternrestaurant.com
American | $$$$
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Platonic ideal of mid-summer southern supper @crookscornercafe. Cracker Plate (pimento cheese, hot pepper jelly, cream cheese, vegetables, and crackers) and Crook’s Picnic Plate (cold fried chicken, deviled eggs, watermelon wedge, cukes & onions, potato salad). #northcarolina #chapelhill #crookscorner #lastcall #lastcallbook
This is an institution in Chapel Hill, and has been around forever.
Well, since 1978.
The food is southern, pure and simple some of the best you will find in the area.
‘Shrimp and Grits’is a classic and one of my favorites, as well as ‘The Crooks’s Burger’, or ‘The Spicy Macaroni and Cheese’.
While there pick up one of the cookbooks written by the chefs of Crook’s.
610 W Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC, 27516 | +1 919-929-7643 | crookscorner.com
Elaine’s on Franklin
American | $$$$
Founded in 1999 by chef Bret Jennings, Elaine’s on Frankiln has become a fixture on the Chapel Hill food scene.
Offering a varied menu of all inhouse created from scratch dishes, Elaine’s came as a breath of fresh air with its sophisticated upmarket approach.
I love the ‘Grilled Blue Cheese Stuffed Figs, Wrapped in Prosciutto’, and the ‘Three Cheese Souffle’.
This is an award winning restaurant with the Wine Spectator awarding Elaine’s its ‘Award of Excellence’ for their wine lists.
454 W Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC, 27516 | +1 919-960-2770 | elainesonfranklin.com
Al’s Burger Shack
American, Fast Food | $$$$
Serving all natural, hormone and antibiotic free beef, and named as the best burger in America by Food & Wine Magazine, and Trip Advisor in 2018, Al’s has reached phenomenal success in a very short period of time.
Try the popular ‘Bobo Chili Cheeseburger’ and ‘Rosemary Fries’.
Local beers are also served, making for a wonderful meal!
516 W Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC, 27516 | +1 919-904-7659 | alsburgershack.com
Mediterranean, Turkish, Middle Eastern | $$$$
Talullahs is an example of the diversity of food found in this area that is not to be missed.
When in the mood for some good authentic Turkish cuisine look no further.
With a good selection of both appetizers and main dishes you are bound to find something that will appeal to you.
They also have an extensive list of drinks from the bar.
456 W Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC, 27516 | +1 919-933-2313 | talullas.com
Italian | $$$$
Since 1990 411 West has been providing Chapel Hill with original recipes from Italy.
This Italian restaurant make all their own pasta in-house, and their pizza is baked in a wood oven giving it a fire flavor that adds to the authenticity of the place.
It has a warm and inviting atmosphere where you can enjoy the many Italian inspired dishes on offer.
411 W Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC, 27516 | +1 919-967-2782 | 411west.com
Asian, Mexican | $$$$
They call it Latin-Asian cuisine with a Tequila-Sake bar.
Now what can be possible not to like about those combinations?
This is an unusual restaurant that puts an unusual twist on dishes that you may already be familiar with like ‘General Tso’s Chicken’ or ‘Pad Thai’.
Their interpretations are delicious and something you should treat yourself to.
All of this and an extensive list of drinks from the bar.
If you are a tequila fan, come here.
746 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Chapel Hill, NC, 27516 | +1 919-904-7326 | luchatigre.com
American, Steakhouse | $$$$
The one thing that really goes well with good food is good waitstaff, and Bin 54 can easily claim to have a very high standard when it comes to its service.
The food is very good, steaks are cooked to perfection.
With a nice selection of seafood, and a very good vegetable gnocchi there is something for everyone.
1201 Raleigh Rd, Chapel Hill, NC, 27516 | +1 919-969-1155 | bin54chapelhill.com
Mexican | $$$$
Fine dining this is not, but good mexican it is!
I love this place which is situated down some stairs and underground on Franklin Street.
The food is plentiful, tasty, and good value, along with a good array of drinks to keep your thirst quenched.
If you are up to a challenge you can order ‘El Gigante’ the humongous burrito they have on the menu.
If you able to finish it on your own you get a free t-shirt!
Go here, you’ll have fun.
159½ E Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC, 27516 | +1 919-967-5048 | bandidoscafe.com
Stoney River Steakhouse and Grill
American, Steakhouse | $$$$
This place has a nice warm atmosphere whether you are eating at a table or having dinner at the bar.
The menu was varied with a wide range of dishes, from steak to seafood, with lots of other comfort food favorites.
I liked the ‘Wild Mushroom Meatloaf’, and the ‘Crab Cakes’.
If you do go for steak I have found that the chefs are very good at getting the temperature of the meat just right.
I’ve always found the service to be very attentive.
University Place, Chapel Hill, NC, 27516 | +1 919-914-6688 | jalexandersholdings.com/StoneyRiver
Did your favorite make the list?
Let me know your favorite restaurant in Chapel Hill in the comments below!