The Best Restaurants in Chapel Hill
WARNING: Don't read this article on an empty stomach. Here are the Best Restaurants in Chapel Hill, NC!
The town of Chapel Hill, NC is known for a few things: The University of North Carolina and its rigorous academics and successful athletic programs, world-class hospitals and medical care, and food — from perfectly southern to uniquely diverse to the ultra-fresh farm to table — this town has it all. For those of you moving to Chapel Hill, we are a local real estate company that also enjoys bringing you local content and happenings!
Here's what you need to know about the best restaurants in Chapel Hill, North Carolina!
One of the restaurants on our list is credited with popularizing the southern delicacy of “shrimp ‘n grits,” another is known for its unbelievably good BLTs, and a third is a popular family-friendly destination among residents, students, and alumni alike. Whether you’re searching for a cozy and intimate date night spot or a vibrant restaurant and bar scene, Chapel Hill has great options for you.
We’ll cover the best places to go to watch the game, to have a girl's night, to enjoy a family atmosphere, or to kick off a Sunday recovery. Of course, we have the best pizza joint and Sunday brunch spot below, too. This list is for foodies, socializers, students, or visitors — so let’s dive in.
Best For: Southern Delicacies
If you have ever heard of shrimp ‘n grits, you can thank the late chef Bill Neal of Crook’s Corner for popularizing this southern staple. He’s often credited for bringing the dish to restaurant menus across the South after his version of the fishermans’ meal appeared in The New York Times.
This iconic James Beard Award-winning restaurant offers a contemporary twist on southern cuisine that’s sure to please even the top food connoisseurs. Get your shrimp, barbeque, and hushpuppy fix at this Chapel Hill staple. Described by Food & Wine as “One of the most iconic restaurants in the American south,” Crook’s Corner is the must-try restaurant on our list of best restaurants in Chapel Hill. You can book a reservation right on their Facebook page.
Mama Dip’s Kitchen
Best For: Homestyle Goodness
Next on our list is an establishment that just screams all things comfort food. If you’re feeling homesick or just craving traditional southern food, you have to take a trip to Mama Dips. Open since 1976, Mama Dip’s Kitchen is a Chapel Hill institution, founded by Mildred “Mama Dip” Council. Located at 408 West Rosemary St., this eatery is a short walk from campus and closer to Carrboro. It is one restaurant that brings the feeling of 'home' to the table and that is the reason Mama Dip's Kitchen is on our list of best restaurants in Chapel Hill.
Grounded in simplicity, the food at Mama Dip’s resembles home cooking in its purest shape. From fried chicken, collard greens, and cornbread to chicken & dumplings, fried pork chops, and Brunswick stew — it’s impossible to leave this restaurant unsatisfied or hungry. Check out the Mama Dips Facebook page to learn more!
Best For: Fresh Eats
You can find the Triangle’s best Mediterranean food on W. Franklin St., across from the Graduate Chapel Hill hotel (formerly known as The Franklin). Mediterranean Deli (a.k.a “Med Deli”) was established in 1991 and operates as a full-service restaurant, caterer, market, and bakery — needless to say, the options are endless.
Med Deli offers a taste of authentic Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, specializing in items like hummus, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, and gyros. Your mouth will water at the sight of their full deli cases of fresh salads, seasoned veggies, and all the baked goods.
You can order full entrees, fatayers, or stuffed pitas, or deli case items by the pound, or stop in for dessert with espresso and pastries. Once you experience Med Deli, it’ll become a go-to for a healthy lunch, date night, or catered meal. Don't let the word Deli fool you, this is one of Chapel Hill's best restaurants!
Best For: BLTs
Known for its world-famous BLT, Merritt’s Grill is a Chapel Hill favorite. There’s not much better than sitting outside of Merritt’s on a sunny afternoon with some friends, an iced cold coca-cola, and a freshly made BLT. It’s a simple classic Chapel Hill experience and if you’ve never been — this is your sign to go.
“The Love Sandwich” is Merritt's perfected formula of bacon, crispy lettuce, juicy tomatoes, salt, pepper, and mayo piled high between two slices of toasted sourdough. Sure, it’s simple … but we can almost guarantee that you couldn’t make one that tastes quite like it.
If bacon isn’t your thing, don’t worry, this grill also offers a full menu of vegetarian options, egg salad, burgers, and BBQ. Gather a group of friends or your family and head to Merritt’s for a life-changing BLT (or sandwich of choice). Sometimes simple, ain't easy and that's why Merritt's Grill is on our list of Chapel Hill's best restaurants!
Best For: Family-Friendly Atmosphere
Chapel Hill’s famous Franklin Street wouldn’t be complete without Sutton’s Drug Store. As a pharmacy-turned-grill, Sutton’s is like nothing else in town — it’s a Tar Heel tradition. Sutton’s does American fare and they do it well. It’s charming, family-friendly, and reminiscent of an old-fashioned diner. This is the type of restaurant that locals would understand and tourists would walk right by. If you're visiting Chapel Hill give Sutton's a try as it is not only one of the best restaurants in Chapel Hill, it's one of the area's best-kept secrets!
You can stop in for a cup of coffee and some breakfast and stay for a chat with the friendliest staff. If you like milkshakes, get together with a group of friends and order your favorite. The atmosphere is perfect for a family — it’s casual, tasty, and classic. You might even spot a UNC basketball player or coach enjoying a mid-day meal at this Chapel Hill landmark.
Best For: Pub Grub
If you’re looking to enjoy some craft brews, good eats, and a fun atmosphere, then Carolina Brewery is the place to go. Founded by a UNC alum, Carolina Brewery opened its doors in 1995 and has grown to be one of the top breweries in the state. House brews include Sky Blue Kölsch, Carolina Honey Brown Ale, Oatmeal Porter, American IPA, and Copperline Amber Ale — a beer for all palettes.
But Carolina Brewery’s appeal isn’t limited to their award-winning brews. Customers also rave about the food, especially their hand-breaded chicken strips. The menu spans everything from seafood to tacos, burgers to BBQ, and salads to sandwiches. This restaurant is a crowd pleaser and satisfies even the pickiest of eaters.
The atmosphere is lively and fun, making it a great place to spend an afternoon, watch a game, or catch up with old friends.
Best For: Girls’ Night
Some restaurants are just built for girls’ nights. And TRU Deli is one of them. TRU is a hidden gem tucked away off of Franklin Street. The ambiance in this restaurant is outstanding and the food matches the atmosphere. With build-your-own style sandwiches, wraps, and salads, TRU’s menu is flexible to your cravings. Split a bottle of wine with your gal pals and enjoy your sandwich and your company.
TRU is especially popular with UNC students with a midweek break or Friday night treat. Five-dollar margarita night? Say no more. Grab your group of girlfriends and head to TRU for a night of laughs and good eats.
Best For: Gameday
What Sup Dog? (Sorry, had to). The next restaurant on our list is the college-student destination for a watch party, late-night food, drinks, and socializing. Sup Dogs offers American fare and it’s best known for its specialty hotdogs, Sup Sauce, and Sup Crushes. The restaurant’s decor is fully decked out in all things UNC— yes, that includes illustrations mocking rivals Duke and NCSU.
Sometimes, all you need is a good hotdog, french fries, and a beer. And that’s what Sup Dogs does best. The prices are reasonable, the food is good, and the atmosphere is great. Even if you’re not a die-hard Tar Heel fan, it’s hard not to feel the school spirit oozing out of students in the restaurant. Look at all the happy customers on their Facebook page!
Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen
Best For: Sunday Recovery
Every college student, young professional, or whomever else partakes in a wild Saturday night needs to have a go-to spot to kick off their Sunday recovery. Chapel Hill’s best hangover elixir can be found in biscuit form at the Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen. You might be wondering what makes Sunrise the superior spot for Sunday recovery? Two things: Drive-thru only and buttery, fluffy biscuits. Need we say more?
Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen is a no-frills, simple, and reliable Chapel Hill breakfast spot, and the line of cars waiting to order on the weekends proves it. Their bigger better biscuits melt in your mouth and fix whatever ailments you might have at the time. You can order the “Bad Grampa” chicken biscuit which comes loaded with chicken, bacon, egg, and cheese, or you can keep it simple with a classic sausage biscuit. Either way, a Sunday recovery that includes a Sunrise biscuit is like none other.
Best For: Pizza Night
Every college town is full of pizza places — it’s inevitable and it’s almost necessary. Everyone likes pizza, and if you don’t, we don’t believe you. Chapel Hill has a few great options for some ‘za and it’s a hotly debated topic among UNC students … but one stands out over the rest: Italian Pizzeria III or IP3 for short. It’s a classic Italian pizzeria, specializing in both Neapolitan-and Sicilian-style pizza.
It’s a go-to place for a late-night bite or takeout meal. IP3 is the closest you’ll get to taste of real New York pizza in Chapel Hill (and maybe even the Triangle). IP3’s menu also includes sandwiches, hoagies, burgers, and pasta dishes, so if you’re one of those rare people who aren’t pizza fans, they’ve got you covered. The folks at IP3 are more than an Italian Restaurant they are a staple in the community!
Best For: Mexican Food
Oh, Cosmic Cantina, a Chapel Hill legend, a fan favorite. Since 1999, Cosmic Cantina has served up traditional Mexican fare to the students and residents of the town with unwavering support. Whether you’re a burrito loyalist or taco fanatic, Cosmic will appease your taste buds with their no-frills options. Their menu is simple and that’s what makes it great.
Cosmic doesn’t need to woo you with long descriptions of their dishes because the charm, price, and atmosphere do the selling. Get your taco, chips, and guacamole, or quesadilla fix for cheap at one of the town’s best restaurants. For great value Mexican food, Cosmic Cantina takes the (tres leches) cake.
Carolina Coffee Shop
Best For: Brunch
Not all Sundays need a recovery meal and most Sundays are meant for brunch. Brunch is an increasingly popular social activity, especially for college students and young adults. The Carolina Coffee Shop is another Franklin Street staple that’s a must-try for college students, residents, and visitors alike. The coffee shop and restaurant opened its doors in 1922 and proudly owns the title of North Carolina’s oldest continually running restaurant.
Seriously, what’s better than decadent Cornflake-crusted French toast, coffee, and a mimosa? Maybe eggs’ benedict, hash browns, and a Bloody Mary, but it’s really just personal preference. Or, you could opt for the coffee shop’s Oatmeal Banana Pancakes and a freshly made latte. The brunch possibilities are endless. It’s a perfect place to meet up with a friend, enjoy a brunch date, or dine with your family. Head to the Carolina Coffee Shop for a real taste of North Carolina’s history (and award-winning brunch).
Best For: Date Night
To cover all of the bases and to wrap up our list of the best restaurants in Chapel Hill, we’ll end with 411 West — the best place for a romantic dinner. 411 West is an Italian restaurant located at, you guessed it, 411 West Franklin St. The atmosphere is classy, dimly lit, and quiet, making it a perfect spot for a date night on the town. This restaurant specializes in seasonally fresh pasta and wood-fired pizza, with the menu reflecting the influence of Mediterranean and Italian flavors. There's a reason it is capping off our list of best restaurants in Chapel Hill!
Even though 411 West isn’t as popular among college students, it’s refreshing to have a non-college student-focused dining experience in the middle of a college town. 411 West is perfect for couples and families looking for a slower, sit-down meal and low-key atmosphere.
Chapel Hill, Where the Sky Is Blue and the Food Is Great
Home to some of the best places to enjoy Southern food, brunch, or a BLT, in the state of North Carolina, Chapel Hill’s food scene has a ton to offer. Whatever the occasion, there’s a great local spot to enjoy a meal with your friends, time with your loved ones or a drink with your classmates.
If you’re feeling hungry after reading this list, pick a restaurant and enjoy! And if you’re not local yet, but ready to relocate to Chapel Hill or the Triangle area, contact us and we can assist you with any of your real estate questions or check out the homes for sale in Chapel Hill. We hope you've enjoyed reading our list of best restaurants in Chapel Hill as much as we enjoyed eating at each one!
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Hi there! I'm Ryan Fitzgerald, a REALTOR in Raleigh-Durham, NC and the owner of Raleigh Realty. Chances are you and I share a similar passion, Real Estate! I also have a passion for building businesses, working out, inspiring others, technology, sports, and people. Connect with me on Facebook and Instagram!