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North Carolina Travel Guide
Chapel Hill-Carrboro Restaurants

Kipos Greek restaurant, Chapel HillBeing half Greek and spending several months a year in Greece I tend to go out to eat a lot. In fact when I am in Greece I go out to eat every night. When I am home in Carrboro we go out every Friday, usually on Saturday and at least once during the week and sometimes more, which often means every night. I guess when you get too old to go hear bands, going out to eat becomes your entertainment. But I am hardly a connoisseur or epicurean and atmosphere and company is as important as food which is why I usually sit at the bar. I feel really pitiful sitting by myself at a little table having my meal brought to me and trying to strike up a conversation with the waiter or busboy during their infrequent visits. Or going with my wife and staring at each other trying to make conversation until the food comes, like we can't talk at home. It is much more fun at the bar where you have the people next to you, the bar-tender and sometimes even the owner to talk to (like at the Glass Half Full, Crooks, and Acme).

So these are the restaurants I go to and why I like them. You don't have to be like me and sit at the bar. I know it can be tough when you are a family with lots of kids to sit at the bar and usually the bartender is not too thrilled in this situation since he makes his money on tips. So I have included restaurants that are just as good if you sit at a table too. Usually on Friday and Saturday nights my daughter goes out partying and Andrea and I have the evening to ourselves (like a date but usually without sex). I come down from my home office and she asks where we should go and I say I don't know and then we get into a fight before going to one of these places. You can click on the names to see the restaurant web page and menus.

Acme Food and Beverage Company

Acme restaurant, Carrboro American-Southern. This is the most likely choice because not only is the food really great but it is only about 200 yards from my house so if Andrea and I have a fight she can walk home and leave me at the bar to continue drinking until an hour that I know she is asleep and I can go home knowing that in the morning she won't even remember why she was mad at me. Acme has a decent sized bar and a couple tables in the bar area where you can watch people coming and going from the Orange County Social Club next door. Their menu is a sort of mixture of Asian-American-European-Mexican and they give big servings. They don't mind substitutions so if you want a steak and you are on a low-carb diet you don't have to have the mashed potatoes, you can have a salad or sauteed greens or whatever. The menu is broken up into three sections. First are the appetisers, some of which are a meal in themselves. If you get the Kalamari Salad for example, which is a spicy slaw mixture with fried squid mixed in, then you can probably share a main course. They have great salads made from local organic greens from Eco-Farms. The next section are the bowls but you would be surprised what they can put into a bowl. Anything from scallops on a bed of cheese grits with squash to pastas or a Korean Style Skirt Steak with mashed potatoes. Then their plates include things like Char-grilled Flat Iron Steak, Pan-Seared Pork Chops and BBQ Ribs (one item!), Southern Flash Fried Flounder, Cast Iron Skillet Carolina Crab Cakes and..... you get the idea. Very expressive names and food that lives up to it. They have a couple burgers (my daughter goes for the Kobe Burger Deluxe) and a number of deserts which I stay away from, getting my sugar intake from the wine. Kevin, who is the owner, got tired of the coming and going of chefs so now he does the cooking and I have to admit that he does a great job and the food is as good or better than it has ever been. You probably won't need reservations unless it is a weekend or some special event. Their Sunday buffet is popular, some people coming to eat, read the NY Times and kill a few hours before OCSC opens up. Acme was chosen as a Top 10 Tastes of the South by Southern Living Magazine. Acme is at 110 E. Main St in Carrboro and the phone number is 919 929 ACME.

Crooks Corner

Crooks Corner Restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC Southern. Similar to Acme (Kevin worked at Crooks for years) Crooks has the reputation as one of the best Southern  Foods restaurant in the USA. It is well deserved because the food created by Bill Smith is as good as it gets in the south. Usually we go to Crooks when we want to impress someone from the north or Europe who thinks that the south is made up of a bunch of hicks eating collards, hushpuppies and fried chicken. Usually they order the collards and hushpuppies and occasionally Bill does serve fried chicken but mostly we go for stuff like jambalaya, steaks, their famous Shrimp and Grits and Bill Smith's Soft Shell Crab. Sometimes we will just order a number of sides like their hushpuppies, fried oysters (the best anywhere), grits, cornbread and Hoppin' John and the world's second best fried potatoes. (The best are Rolando's on the island of Kea in Greece). Lots of choices in the beer and wine department and cool bartenders. Bill Smith makes an appearance in the dining room every so often and Seasoned in the South, his collection of more than 100 recipes and stories from his life growing up in Eastern North Carolina and years in the kitchen at Crook's Corner will be published fall 2005 by Algonquin. The dining room can get kind of noisy so don't come with any friends with hearing problems or they will drive you crazy saying "WHAT?!" to everything you  ask them. The Patio is a nice place to eat, though I rarely eat there since I am usually at the bar. The New York Times said about Crooks Corner: "Sacred ground for Southern Foodies... part neighborhood diner, part upscale restaurant, Crooks Corner is a nightly celebration". A Nightly Celebration. That pretty much nails it. In case you are wondering the photo is a poster in the men's room at Crooks which comes from Latvia. Crooks Corner is at 610 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, telephone: 919-929-7643.

Southern Rail

Station BurgerSouthern Rail in Carrboro is where I do a lot of eating and even more drinking. It's the most interesting restaurant-bar in the Triangle in terms of decor or landscape or whatever you would call a turn-of-the-century railroad station and several old train cars connected by a big comfortable bar area that at around 11pm is filled with the coolest people in Carrboro.  Owned by Chapel Hillian Mike Benson who is famous in Washington for his popular bar-restaurant St-Ex and his bar Pilar as well as for being a colorful character and an all around friendly guy. The menu is pretty simple with maybe 7 or 8 appetisers and the same number of main dishes and I have yet to eat something that I have not liked. I am one of the early birds who comes about 7pm, has a few glasses of wine with Anna at the bar and then dinner and depending on how many friends I run into I am usually out of there by 10pm. But on those nights that I have lingered I have witnessed the transformation of Southern Rail from restaurant to hipster hangout and have seen people in there that I had to hold myself back from asking for an autograph. I won't name names so as to protect the privacy of these local and not so local celebrities but if you are one of them or want to be one, or want to meet one this is the place to come. They serve lunch all day I believe and brunch on Sunday. Standout items are the nachos and the wings which I think are the best in town, rivaling Phil's wings at the original Flying Burrito. There's a big outdoor area in the back that is fenced in so you can let your kids run free and not worry about them being run over by the occasional coal train that passes within 10 feet of the restored dining car. The old station building which was formerly The Station, a popular live music venue during the Golden Age of Chapel Hill Music is once again a live music place. Whether you are an old time Chapel Hillian hoping to run into some lost but not forgotten friends or a new-bee who wants to make friends with cool locals this is a good place to plant your roots. Southern Rail is right by Carr Mill Mall on the railroad tracks of course. Don't park in Carr Mill's lots or you will probably get towed. But there is plenty of parking in the lot by the railroad crossing on Main Street.

Kipos Greek Restaurant

Kipos Greek Restaurant, Chapel HillEpitelos! Finally! At Last! A Greek restaurant with real Greek food cooked by real Greeks for people who know what Greek food is supposed to taste like. I don't want to get too disparaging about other Greek restaurants in the area but have tried them all in various states of desperation for anything remotely Greek, I have never found one that made me feel like I was actually in Greece. Until now. Giorgios Bakatasias and his brother Terry and a handful of imported Greeks who actually know how to cook, have taken over the space of the former Pyewacket on Franklin Street and created Kypos, a modern Greek restaurant that does not lose sight of tradition. For those who know nothing about Greek cuisine beyond mousaka and kalamarakia your needs will be met. For those who have spent time in Greece and long for the home-style cooking they ate in Athens and the islands and don't have a Greek friend in town whose mother will cook for them, you should be quite happy at Kipos too. For those who miss those days of sitting by the sea eating grilled octopus and other mezedes while sipping on ouzo, well Kipos lacks only the Greek blue sea and the fishing boats going buddah-buddah-buddah. If you want a glass, bottle of even a carafe of retsina you have that option along with about a hundred of the best Greek bottled wines you will find anywhere. And if you drink Greek wine like I do you know that even though they don't get much press, they are as good as any wines from anywhere. Live Greek music? You bet. Come Thursday through Saturday and don't be surprised when some gentleman gets up from his table and dances the Zeibekiko like Anthony Quinn in Zorba or a beautiful belly dancer magically appears. Grilled meats like your favorite psistaria, plus kontosouvli, all that is lacking is kokoretsi and mayeritsa, but it is not Easter yet. Try the paidakia, (grilled lambchops) for your entree and the keftedes (meatballs) as one of your appetisers. Exciting salads that expand the spectrum of what the world calls 'Greek salads' and sadziki with plenty of garlic show that Giorgios did not open this restaurant just for tourists. The bakery has fresh breads, pastries and other Greek deserts and you can even get a spanakopita or tiropita to go. If this restaurant sticks around in Chapel Hill I may too. They are in the Courtyard at 431 W Franklin Street.

Talullah's Turkish Restaurant

Talulla's Turkish Restaurant, Chapel Hill, NCA few years ago my friend Demir opened a Turkish restaurant called Talulla's which for a year or so became one of your regular hangouts. Then he sold the restaurant and as often happens when you have a friend and he sells his restaurant, you stop going there. Maybe the quality of the food goes down, maybe the service gets bad, maybe the whole thing just goes to hell and it hangs on for a couple years and then quietly disappears like everyone's favorite Mexican restaurant. Well, we would not have known because we never went back to Talulla's so whether it took a quality tumble or not I could not tell you. But a few months ago we went to Istanbul and then a couple weeks ago I had a craving for Turkish food so we went there. And then we went again. We started with the same appetisers we liked so much in Turkey. The Patlican Ezmesi, smoked eggplant puree with yogurt and tahini topped with chopped walnuts, Acili Azme, spread made of spicy red peppers, tomatoes, green peppers, walnuts and olive oil and the Kusbasili Pide, grilled lamb cuts mixed with tomatoes, onions and green peppers on what could be described as a boat-shaped pizza. We were surprised that he had Efe Raki, instead of the Yeni Raki which most places sell in Turkey and the USA. The difference is that Efe is pure distilled raki from grapes with nothing added, so if you want to call it 'healthy' go ahead. The last night we were there Andrea got the whole grilled fish, I think it was lavrak which in Greece we know as lavraki which they said was shipped from New York and before that from who knows where? Wherever it was from it was delicious. There are not many places to get a whole fish, simply grilled and seasoned Turkish-Greek style with olive oil and lemon, so go for it if the price does not frighten you. The only thing they did not have which I had a craving for was midya dolmase (stuffed mussels) which you can find on every corner in Istanbul but unfortunately not here, though the owner said he might try to do it for a special. Well, it does not really matter because as my friend Cem told me in Istanbul, "they tell the tourists not to eat the mussels they sell on the streets. But I say you should ONLY eat the mussels they sell on the streets because those are the best." Talullas is at 456 W. Franklin Street and the phone number is (919) 933-1177.

411 West Italian Restaurant

411 WestThis restaurant is our Monday night hangout because they have half price bottles of wine which allows you to drink the wines you would not normally order in a restaurant. It works out for everyone since if you get a$20 bottle of wine it is only $10 and if you order a $50 bottle of wine it is only $25. This sounds obvious but as you can see by the math you can buy a cheap wine like you would normally drink for the price of about two glasses and you can buy a bottle of wine that would normally be too expensive for the price of a cheap bottle. They have a huge bar and good bartenders who know the food and know the wines and can help you decide. They have an extensive menu with a whole section of little pizzas made in their brick oven, lots of appetisers and interesting entrees. I usually go for the Italian Pie made with house red sauce, spicy Italian sausage, pepperoni, onions, green peppers and mozzarella or one of the many pasta dishes. There are usually a half dozen or so specials every day. The clientele is a mixture of Carolina types, visiting scholars and jocks, sorority chicks of the present, past and future and young guys who look like they come from the UNC Business School and of course there is always someone I know who I have not seen in ten years, also sitting at the bar. It is easy to have a conversation with strangers because like many Carolina people do, they speak loud enough so everyone can hear and join in on cue if they want. The bar is the place to be though and getting a seat on a weekend is tough if you don't get here early. I guess in the old days you would call this a yuppie hangout. I don't know what you would call it now. Maybe one of the few places where Democrats and Republicans can enjoy good food without getting into fistfights (by just talking about the Tarheels). Plus Stephanie Miller loves 411 West and I love Stephanie Miller.
411 West is at 411 W. Franklin St. in Chapel Hill. Telephone: (919) 967-2782

Carrburritos

Carrburitto in Carrboro, NC This little Mexican joint is more of a weekday place for us but if you get a margarita and sit at the bar it can seem festive enough for a weekend. It is cafeteria style so you wait in line and then tell the server what you want and then pay and pick up your drinks, sit and wait and a few minutes later your food arrives. Everything is good and it is relatively cheap, very friendly and a good place to see everyone you know if you eat there often enough. Try their Pescado Asado Burrito: Grilled fresh fish wrapped in a tortilla with black beans, rice, sour cream, salsa and lettuce or the Burrito Mejor with everything on it which I usually get. Great chips, especially the wheat ones and a selection of delicious home-made salsas which are free. I like the chipolte. Very good cerviche too. Carburritos is at 711 W. Rosemary St. Carrboro right on the Chapel Hill/Carrboro border. If you want Mexican food cooked by real Mexicans, well, Mexicans and Guatemalans go to Tres Amigos at 109 W Main Street in Carrboro. They have a bar and are usually showing whatever game is on, in Spanish, and there is also a pool table. On Saturday nights they do karaoke, in Spanish and some times a Mexican folk singer plays here if he has had enough beers. The best Mexican restaurant they say is Fiesta Grill which is about 8 miles west on Highway 54. I have eaten there a few times but the drive usually deters me from going there since alcohol and deer do not mix.

Lantern

Lantern whole fish, Chapel HillAsian. As of this writing this is probably the most popular restaurant in Chapel Hill and so we don't go very often because except on weeknights it is hard to get a table. They serve Asian food which does not mean Chinese. It means anything from that part of the world though they add a contemporary gourmet twist. I assume. For all I know everyone in Asia may eat Crispy duck soup with fresh egg noodles, oyster mushrooms and scallions every night or each Asian family sits down for an appetiser of Sake and tea-cured salmon bento box with house pickled red cabbage and ginger, wasabi, miso-mayonnaise, sticky rice and nori. But I doubt it. So if you are looking for authentic Chinese food go Gourmet Kingdom(below). If you are looking for something special and gourmet, based on Asian food (which is a pretty vast category) then come here. Terrific bar in the back and you can eat there though on weekends it is so packed it is like eating a meal on the NYC subway. Come weekdays. Andrea Reusing and her brother Brendan Reusing are the chef-owners of Lantern and their goal is to present simple, authentic Asian food with the freshest available Ingredients. It is at 423 West Franklin street across from Tellula's and next to the Courtyard. 919-969-8846. Get the whole fish, as in the photo. You can't go wrong with that.

Glass Half Full

Glass Half FullThe complaint on my newest hang-out in Carrboro, Glass Half Full is that the servings are small. But so are the prices. That's because Glass half Full is what you might describe as a casual upscale tapas wine bar but I would describe as the closest thing to an ouzerie-mezedopoleon that I have found in North Carolina. In case you are wondering what exactly is an ouzerie-mezedopoleon its a place that serves small plates that go with ouzo, the national drink of Greece. Its the way I like to eat, a little at a time and wash it down with wine (or ouzo when you can get the good stuff which they don't carry in North Carolina-yet) The food is great no matter what you order and if you are worried that its not enough then order two. That being said it would not hurt to have some more substantial dishes on the menu and charging more since as we all know but are ashamed to admit, we Americans are gluttons which is why the crappiest all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant has a longer life-span than a restaurant that serves quality food and wine. If Glass Half Full were mine I would double the number of existing plates (adding some truly Greek meze dishes) and add another dozen hearty filling dishes. Its a beautiful restaurant and a great place to hang out and if you like to eat, drink and converse but don't want to get fat then this is a good place to come. Lots of wine choices by the bottle, glass or taste. Beer and hard stuff too and maybe if we can get the ABC to carry some decent ouzo this will be where all the Greeks can come and hang out and feel sort-of at home. Its a couple doors down from Wendy's and across the street from Open Eye Cafe on South Greensboro Street in Carrboro. Its got the best bar in Carrboro. If you are Greek order the Atlantis or any Santorini asyrtiko wine they have, and the frito misto and you will feel right at home. Even better ask for an ouzo. For you Americans go for the mini-burgers, antelope(tastes like steak), liver pate, fried brussel sprouts, and any of the salads.

Margaret's Cantina

Margaret's Cantina, Chapel HillMexican: If only Margaret's was closer to Chapel Hill I would spend a lot more time there. Great family atmosphere without being too family (like southern fish restaurants that don't serve anything stronger than ice-tea). Mexican Food with a twist, it began on Franklin Street then split into two businesses with Local 506 becoming a live music club and the restaurant moving out to Timberline Shopping Center. Margaret's is pretty hip and so it is packed with locals on weekends and you can pretty much expect to stand in line unless you get there early or late. Go on weekdays and you should be OK. Margaret takes a lot of pride in serving natural ingredients so it really is about the healthiest Mexican option you have. They have a full bar and make great margaritas. Yes I know it sounds weird to talk about a restaurant being healthy and show you a photo of steak and french-fries but trust me on this one.

If you do end up here on a weekend (some people only eat out on weekends, don't ask me why) and you don't feel like waiting in line go to Oishii Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar(below). Yes I know that when you are going out for Mexican food you may not be in the mood for Sushi but Oishii is friendly and has an endless menu and at least you have not wasted a trip to Timberline if you find a new restaurant to eat at. (This is how we found it)

Oishi

Oishi Sushi Restaurant, Chapel HillImagine a sushi-master who looks like a Korean Elvis who takes the art of sushi-making to a whole new level. making food so beautiful you want to photograph it before you devour it. If there is a better sushi master than CJ, I have yet to meet him. Sit at the bar and watch him work his magic and you may be rewarded with a free appetiser, perhaps something that you would not have thought of ordering but will ask about next time you come in. His volcano-roll looks like no sushi dish you have ever seen. It looks like a volcano, and tastes even better. But sushi is only some of what they do here. The menu is extensive and there will probably be twenty or more things that you will want to try so plan to come back. I have been to sushi restaurants everywhere I have visited and lived and this is the best. It is located in Timberline shopping center right next to Queen of Sheeba Ethiopian restaurant which is also great if you decide you are not in the mood for Sushi as sometimes happens. (C.J. is gone. I don't know how the food is without him so if you go please let me know)

Akai Hana

Akai Hana Japanese Restaurant in Carrboro Japanese. In a town like Carrboro where you can get Sushi at Weaver Street Market or Harris-Teeter Supermarket for half of what it costs in a restaurant why go to a Sushi restaurant? Because sometimes you want to sit at the bar and watch the food being prepared and enjoy the atmosphere, rather than go home with your little plastic container with fake grass and tubes of soy sauce and chop-sticks that splinter in your mouth. Plus there is a lot more than Sushi and atmosphere at Akai Hana. There is a reason you can't get tempura at a supermarket. Because it would be disgusting if they cooked it up in the morning and stuck it on the counter all day with the raw fish and rice. Tempura is one reason to go to Akai Hana. Also their fresh sashimi-grade salmon grilled and served with teriyaki sauce and steamed vegetables, or their noodle soups or their hot sake. If you are going to a show at the Cat's Cradle this is a good place to go for dinner because you won't have that bloated feeling you have after a Mexican or large American meal that makes you want to just go home and watch TV and go to sleep. A nice Japanese meal and you are ready to party all night. The sad thing is that I don't see Josh's friendly face anymore or hear him playing the piano, having moved on to wherever it is that we all go eventually. But for me Josh still lives at Akai Hana. It's at 206 W. Main St., Carrboro right at the intersection of Jones Ferry Rd. 919-942-6848.  

Captain John's Dockside

Captain John's Seafood Restaurant Seafood. This converted steak-house in Chatham County is often overlooked by the kalofages and epicurians of Chapel Hill. In fact if you walked in and saw the dining area that looks like a college cafeteria on acid you might be a little confused. But here is the story: Captain John, who is not really a captain and whose name is Yannis, was a partner in what was your typical fried seafood, hushpuppies, and ice-tea, heart-attack producing North Carolina restaurant. He bought out the other partners and began adding to the menu Greek and Italian specialties, broiled fish, some new wines and then got his pal Clyde Jones, the Pittsboro folk artist, to decorate the place. He transformed the restaurant while at the same time he did not alienate his older customers who could still come for their mountains of fried flounder, catfish, shrimp, hushpuppies and fries. A couple times a week he has specials like a monsterous plate of large fried shrimp or all you can eat crab legs or baby-back ribs. I have to be honest and say I have never been here on a weekend when for many Chatham County residence going out for a fish dinner is as wild as it gets. But this is a good place for a weekday meal with your family and it is inexpensive too. It is on 15/501 between Chapel Hill/Carrboro and Pittsboro.

Gourmet Kingdom

Gourmet KingdomIts one thing to find a Chinese restaurant in NYC where all the clientele are Chinese and feel that you are eating somewhere authentic. But when that happens in Carrboro NC it must be really special. There was an article in the New Yorker about this legendary Chinese chef who turns up at these hole-in-the-wall restaurants in the south and the foodies search for him and try to find where he is cooking before he moves on. Maybe he has found a new home at Gourmet Kingdom. Recently this restaurant was named one of the 50 Best Chinese Restaurants in America by CNN Travel. I love the whole crispy fish in black bean sauce and the fish filets in Szechuan sauce. In fact I had the leftovers for breakfast after spending the night thinking about it. The menu is mostly in Chinese. The clientele is mostly Chinese. The staff barely speak English. The food is mostly amazing. The sauteed green chile peppers are actually stuffed jalapenos and were too spicy for most of the people at our table but not for me. The pig's ears were about what you would expect pig's ears to be like. Worth trying just for the sake of water-cooler conversation but probably not a staple. The Chinese greens and green beans make a healthy and delicious side dish. I have only been here three times (twice this week) but as I become more familiar with the restaurant I will add more favorite dishes. And make sure to get the Kung Pao Lotus Root and if you want the most amazing main course you have ever eaten get the Fish Filet in Ba Shu Sauce. It comes in a giant bowl full of noodles and seaweed and things you have never seen or tasted before. A student could order this and take it home and eat it for a week. Check the specials board when you come in. The restaurant is at 301 E Main Street in Carrboro right across from the Cat's Cradle. Don't come on Saturday night because it gets crazy here. Walk over to Jade Palace which has a more Americanized Chinese menu and serves brown rice on request.

Tyler's Taproom

Tylers ribsDid I forget to mention Tyler's? Some people say it is more popular because of its beer selection which rivals Milltown. But I have had some really good food here too. Recently I had their Baby-back Ribs which were on special and there was so much food I brought half of them home and Andrea and her mother made a whole meal out of them. They came with slaw, the amazing Tyler's fries, and collards. Most of the stuff that is probably bad for you is what makes Tyler's so good. Stuff that goes with drinking lots of beer like their Carolina Nachos which is pulled pork and sauce on chips, or their regular nachos, or wings, or fried pickles or best of all the home-made potato chips. They have a half dozen different burgers and they come with the garlic fries. If you want to eat healthy there are plenty of options. The Pear Salad with or without blackened chicken is a good place to begin. Try the Mahi Tuna with Asian Slaw as an appetiser. It comes as an entry too. The fried chicken strips are great though if you are my age you will have to avoid a cholesterol test for a month after eating them. As them to make your pizza extra crispy. Best of all is the beer and on Tuesday night they have pint night and you get to keep your glass, or glasses. My family got sets of beer glasses for Christmas last year. Tyler's is in Carrboro on the corner of Main and Greensboro Street. Their beer store next door has free beer tastings on Thursday nights.

The Weather Vane

Weathervane RestaurantThis restaurant serves a really good breakfast, brunch and lunch as well as an extensive dinner menu which is similar to Crooks and some of the other good restaurants in town without being redundant. You can take your parents here and be pretty sure of having a good meal in a nice atmosphere. Grilled Delmonico Ribeye Steak  with sauteed mushrooms, green beans, and gnocchi in a buttery red wine sauce goes for about $18. Roast Half Duck perched atop dirty rice pilaf with a light creole mustard cream, Granny Smith apple golden raisin salad, and sauteed seasonal vegetables goes for $16. Lots of appetisers and salads and of course deserts and coffee. In fact being part of A Southern Season, which has to be the world's largest Gourmet Food store, they have a larger choice of wines, coffee, and beer than most places. The place to be though is the bar which is run by barman Mark Formatto who we all remember from the Pyewacket Restaurant. If you miss the Pyewacket you may have found yourself a new home. Even jazz-great Scott Sawyer is playing here. Drink and wine specials make this a good place to spend several hours in the same stool or chair. With FREE wine tastings  every Monday-Thursday, 6pm-9pm in the wine department you can get a nice head start beforehand. Located at A Southern Season in University Mall. 919 929 9466.

Kitchen

The Kitchen restaurantIf you have not gone to Kitchen which is on Airport Road (Martin Luther King), between Flyleaf Books and Lucha Tigre, then you are missing out. Nice little beer and wine bar if you are solo and don't feel like looking pitiful at a table by yourself with very cool bartenders. But you may want to come with people so you can try everything, because everything we had was good. Sort of a French/Belgian menu, like Milltown but a bit more sophisticated, though not pricey. Next door is a Mexican-Chinese hip tapas place called Lucha Tigre which I have been to three times for their cerviche and each time I went they were out of it. The second time they gave me free guacamole and they actually made the cerviche while I waited and it was worth it. The third time they were out again and I told Miranda the cool, amazing, beautiful bartender that the last time they made it for me and gave me free guacamole. She came back with the guacamole but they didn't make me cerviche. This played right into Andrea's hands because she only wants to eat at the Kitchen and just goes to Lucha Tigre because I want to at least try and give the impression that I am a responsible food writer. So now we have been to the Kitchen three extra times because of the inability of Lucha Tigre to keep up with the cerviche demand. But I am not complaining because now I think the Kitchen is one of the best restaurants in town. I don't even have to list the standout items because everything is good. So if you are like me you will go to Lucha Tigre for a drink and maybe an appetiser and then go next door to the Kitchen for dinner. And if they don't have the cerviche have your appetisers at Kitchen too.

Honorable Mention or Just as Good or Better:

Dips Restaurant in Chapel Hill, North CarolinaI could keep adding restaurants forever and writing enough about each one to fill up the space next to the photo but I am getting tired of thinking up colorful things to say about food so I will just mention a few more that should not be overlooked.

Mamma Dips Kitchen is probably the most well known restaurant in town serving down home southern food from their new larger location on Rosemary Street. I have not been there in awhile nor have I been to Breadman's or Elmo's Diner but these three are probably the most popular family restaurants in Chapel Hill and Carrboro and to leave them out would make this page incomplete. All three have good food and in the case of Elmo's you have to wait on line to get a table on Sunday morning, probably because they have a better website. Il Palio at the Hotel Sienna is good too, though more upscale than your normal Italian eatery. The previously mentioned Lucha Tigre, the Mexican-Asian fusion restaurant which I have eaten at several times since my cerviche disappointment is a fine place for a date, or dinner at the bar. And the last few times they have had cerviche. Lots of appetisers and different varieties of tequila. Mixed is a Korean Bistro at the bottom of Franklin Street near the intersection of Estes Drive. It is a casual modern looking place where you order at the counter and choose your ingredients and then sit down and wait and before you know it the server brings you a hot bowl of Korean beef, pork, fish, brown rice, vegetables and whatever else you decided to put in there. Then you mix in your sauces and chances are you will be eating something you have never tasted before and will probably want again. If you are not sure what to do you don't have to worry. Their staff will coach you through the process and next time you can come back with your friends and impress them with your expertise.

Pazzo's in Southern Village is an Italian bistro with a romantic atmosphere, a nice little bar and great Italian food including brick oven pizzas from their pizzeria next door. On Monday nights they have half price bottles of wine. Good place to go for a date and then a movie at the Lumina next door. Chef-owner Seth Kingsbury is not Italian, (unless his name is anglicized), but they would probably make him an honorary citizen if any Italian officials ever ate here. And he did live in San Francisco. He has been a chef at just about every notable Italian restaurant in the area including Nana's, Magnolia Grill, 411 West and Pops' Trattoria. I would put this in my top five.

 Mediterranean Deli is owned by my old pal Jamel. It is unlikely I would come here for dinner unless I just had to get out of the house and did not want to spend a lot of money but was really hungry (mainly because they don't have a bar). But it is a great place for lunch with middle-eastern and Greek dishes, sandwiches, salads and a whole grocery store. It's on Franklin across from the Franklin Hotel. 

Venable SteakI have to include Elaine's and the only reason it is not up there with my faves is because every time I have gone it has been packed and we never feel like waiting in line. But that is because we always try to go on weekends. I managed to squeeze into the bar once and the food was great and I vowed to come back. But I haven't. I will though. And don't forget Milltown in Carrboro where John Edwards had his farewell to the 2008 campaign party and incidentally has great food and an even better beer selection. I spend a lot of time here and can recommend the mussels which change weekly and are always good, the chicken wings which are plump and juicy, and the nachos which may be the best in town when the chefs are not too busy. The whole menu is geared for beer drinking though they have some nice wines as well and Ethan, perhaps the most knowledgeable guy in town about beer, also knows a lot about Scotch and Whiskey. Venable has a really nice long bar and big screen TVs and an American bistro style menu. I ate here the first week I came back from Greece several times because I had such a craving for American food. That's their steak in the photo. They have a great menu and even better specials. I eat here all the time now. Spotted Dog has been good every time I have eaten there. Nice place for people who like to eat healthy too. Squid's has cheap oysters on the half-shell from 4:30 to 6 or something like that. It's a nice bar and the seafood is good. It is not just the best oyster bar in town, it is the only oyster bar in town. They say the ribs at Spanky's are the best. I have yet to eat there but I have only been in Chapel Hill thirty something years. Two years longer than Spanky's. But one of these days.

Sandwhich is no longer hidden away inside the courtyard. It has a new home on Franklin street right next to McDonalds and has the best choice of sandwiches in town, like Grilled Marinated Chicken with juicy grilled red onions, fire roasted red peppers, homemade pesto, and provolone on a ciabatta, or Grilled Gruyere, or a good old BLT. With beer and wine on the menu you can walk in, order your food and eat it at one of the tables they share in the courtyard with 3-Cups Coffee Shop. Lots of homemade desserts, salads, soups and lots of personality. Check it out for lunch or dinner.

Weaver Street MarketWeaver Street Market: Who cares if the hot food is a step up from the prison cafeteria and changes almost as often as the seasons. On a spring or fall night there is no better place to eat than outside on the picnic benches on the lawn at Weaver Street Market in Carrboro. The food though unimaginative is decent and you have an entire supermarket and deli to choose from so you are not restricted by a menu. Go inside and buy a bottle of wine or some imported beer, some cheeses, pates, chips, salsa, sushi, or get something from the salad bar (while someone guards your table) and pay very little for a nice meal. You can even see some of your neighbors on shopping trips and invite them to join you. If you are a social person then Weaver Street is the best choice for dinner. But they really gotta work on their menu. They need a serious chef and they need to pay him to stick around. All they need to do to improve the deli is to send a spy to Whole Foods and watch what they do. On Thursday nights in the summer they have live music on the lawn and it is a gathering place for the whole community with some kind of dinner being grilled by an organization of some sort, while there is a wine and beer tasting. The problem is that these Thursday nights stop just as the weather gets nice in mid-September. There is no reason they can't continue all the way to Thanksgiving and start again in April. But even if they don't we can still come there on Thursday nights to eat and drink. They also do the same thing with Jazz on Sunday.

Neal's DeliFor lunch in Carrboro you can't beat the sandwiches at Neal's Deli right between Open Eye Cafe and Tyler's Speakeasy. Especially his home made pastrami. Don't forget that Matt Neal is the son of Bill Neal, only the greatest southern chef in history. Make sure to eat at The Pig on Weaver Dairy Road which if you can't guess by the name serves whole hog barbeque which is great as are pretty much all of their sides. I guarantee you won't find better salads at any BBQ joint in North Carolina. If you were around back in the days when Crooks Corner first opened and miss that early incarnation you will love The Pig. For those who crave real southern barbeque served by real southerners there are two Allen and Son's, one on 86 north and one on 15/501 South. General consensus is that the southern one is better. Just drive towards Pittsboro and when you see a bunch of pick-up trucks on the left you have found it. Andrea loves Lime and Basil and asked me to mention it too. It serves Vietnamese Food. There. I mentioned it. You can also get a decent lunch at Fosters if you order their salad plate. They give you a choice of three salads. They also have sandwiches and pizza. But it is not called Fosters anymore.

Cholanand DolsaI know I will get hate mail if I don't include Vimalla's Curry Blossom Cafe in the Courtyard, which is the best and the most popular Indian restaurant in town, at least according the fans who have a sort of religious reverence for the place and preach to the uninitiated. Nearby, Cholanad is a South Indian restaurant, so different from the others that you might not even think of it as Indian. But it is and it has wonderful appetisers and dosa rolls(photo), a fermented crepe or pancake made from rice batter and black lentils, crispy and stuffed with different things. Within a block of both restaurants are two more Indian restaurants, Mint and Guru. Mint is the fancier of the two. I think they are both good but I am not Indian. For me I am happy if the onion and mint chutney are tasty and the papadams are crispy and the garlic nan are garlicky. More often I go to Tandoor which is down at the bottom of Franklin Street near the intersection with Estes, mostly because the owner seems nice and I like their saag. There is one more Indian restaurant which was called Saffron but is now called Raaga. It is a little more upscale than the others but that could be because Chef Durga Prasad came from Dehli's premier fine dining restaurant, Buhkara, then moved to NYC where he was nominated for the James Beard Award while working with the Taj Hotel Group as an ambassador for Fine Indian Cuisine. He has cooked for US presidents and International dignitaries allover the world. If this does not make you at least curious you have been living in Chapel Hill too long.

Where else can you get some good exercise, have fun, enjoy tasty morsels, learn first-hand about unique restaurants & insights about the downtown areas of Raleigh and Chapel Hill / Carrboro? TriangleFood Tour Offers two Walking Food Tours in Downtown Raleigh & Chapel Hill / Carrboro.  Guided food tasting tour with historical tidbits and unique insights are scheduled on Saturdays at 2:30pm, $28 + svc chg.  Tickets must be purchased in advance. Tours typically fill up a week ahead.  See www.trianglefoodtour.com for additional information, available dates and tickets.

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