Despite the immense economic challenges of the past 18 months, some thrilling and one-of-a-kind eateries have debuted recently. Get to know them.
Bringing the streets of Asia to the Southern Part of Heaven (University Place, to be exact), Hawkers opened in the spring of 2020 and pays homage to Asian street vendors who prepare and sell family recipes from mobile stands and stalls. The colorful interior – replete with dozens of posters and neon lights – adds an extra flavor to Hawkers’ already vibrant menu of small plates, dim sum, noodles, curry, and playful cocktails. On the weekends, look for a brunch service that boasts bottomless mimosas and rosé; shrimp and “grits” (the “grits” consisting of hearty rice congee); and Korean fried chicken biscuits.
Roti Canai – two Malaysian flatbreads, served with a side of signature curry sauce
Korean Twice Fried Wings – twice fried chicken wings tossed in a garlic gochujang sauce and topped with peanuts, sesame seeds, and cilantro
Pretty Fly for a Mai Tai cocktail – refreshing and tart, featuring dark rum, lime juice, dry curaçao, simple syrup, and orgeat
Que Chula Craft Tacos & Tequila Bar
Whether you’re craving a chimichanga at lunch or a steaming platter of fajitas at dinner, Que Chula – located in downtown Chapel Hill’s 140 West and owned by first generation Mexican-Americans Jose Ramírez and Laurena Ibarra – delivers authenticity and bold flavors in a festive setting. Look for Tex Mex menu items such as chicken quesadillas and taco salads alongside more traditional Mexican fare like carnitas and chilaquiles.
The margarita tower – fun for your whole table
Empanadas – featuring picadillo ground beef, cheese, salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole
Platano relleno – a sweet whole plantain topped with skirt steak, Oaxaca cheese, avocado green salsa, and guacamole
Napoli in west Hillsborough is only open for curbside pickup right now, but that doesn’t mean you’ll need to settle for pizza that’s less than piping hot. The team recommends selecting their par-cooked option upon ordering. They cook the pizza 90 percent of the way and leave it unsliced. Customers can add it to their preheated oven (450 degrees) at home for about five minutes for the best and safest result. While wood-fired pies like the pancetta and garlic and the margherita are the star, don’t sleep on their small plates! The Nash Street location is Napoli’s third, with others in downtown Carrboro and Durham.
Burrata and tomato salad – featuring Red Hawk Farm heirloom tomatoes
The Calabria pizza, with a chili oil base, Spanish chorizo, and Calabria peppers
Napoli’s housemade gelatos, such as salted dulce de leche
This new restaurant – located on King Street in downtown Hillsborough – stays true to its name, delivering a diverse range of cuisine influenced by the owners’ travels around the world and the types of foods they’ve experienced in the process. Expect traditional ethnic dishes with a unique spin, served in a small-plate format, from samosas and steamed buns to noodle bowls.
The owners of Nomad – cousins Sejal and BJ Patel – also own and operate Viceroy in downtown Durham, known for its British/Indian dishes.
Almost a century ago, the Nomad building housed the Osbunn Theatre, and the team has designed a space that preserves as much of the movie theater as possible – with lots of exposed brick and exposed beams and ductwork.
Red Thai cauliflower – roasted cauliflower florets tossed in a zesty red Thai curry sauce, finished with toasted coconut and peanut powder
Korean vegetable dumplings – crispy fried vegetable stuffed dumplings served with chili crisp soy sauce
Hunan – twice fried chicken or tofu tossed in a gochujang honey glaze and finished with a Seoul barbecue drizzle and toasted sesame
With classic New York bagels boiled and baked on site, Brandwein’s opened to much carb-loving fanfare on West Rosemary Street in the summer of 2020. Flavors include plain, sesame, everything, poppy, salt, onion, whole wheat, whole wheat everything, egg, cinnamon raisin, and blueberry. Gluten-free bagels and bialys are also available.
You can build your own, choosing any combination of spreads like chive cream cheese or funfetti cream cheese, deli meats, salads such as whitefish, cheeses, toppings, and condiments. Or opt for a house favorite like a hot honey turkey bagel or The Lox. Recently, owner Alex Brandwein, a New York native and graduate of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, announced that the shop will expand to include the former Bread & Butter Bakery space next door.
#5 The Veggie – with roasted red pepper hummus, plain cream cheese, feta, tomato, red onion, pickled cucumber, arugula, Mike’s Hot Honey, sprouts, dill, and lemon
#7 The Pimento Club – with turkey, ham, bacon, pimento cheese, smashed avocado, lettuce, tomato, Duke's Mayo
Hillsborough Bake Shop
Tiny but mighty, the Hillsborough Bake Shop – in the heart of downtown on Churton Street – offers a rotating selection of pastries, tarts, cookies, and sandwiches. It was born out of necessity: When the pandemic closed the doors of its sister restaurant, Panciuto (owned and operated by James Beard semifinalist Aaron Vandemark), the team worked to come up with a takeout model that would remain thoughtful and unique but would lend itself to limited contact and portable food.
Look for chai-cocoa tea cakes, grapefruit and chamomile morning buns, and bacon/egg/cheese English muffin sandwiches. Pair your food with wine from Durham’s Piedmont Wine Imports or coffee from Pittsboro’s Aromatic Roasters.
Chocolatey sourdough babka
Blue's on Franklin
Located on West Franklin Street, Blue’s on Franklin is owned and operated by three generations of Tar Heels – the Young family. As their website says: “Grandad proposed to Grandmother on Franklin Street when they were students in 1957. This happened soon after the 32-0 men’s basketball team – known as McGuire’s Miracle – won the national championship in triple overtime over the Wilt Chamberlain led Kansas team.”
Blue’s on Franklin serves eastern-style, vinegar-based barbecue, with a side of sports and live music. Other Southern staples include collard greens and macaroni and cheese.
The Awesome Nachos – sidewinder fries and thinly sliced onion rings topped with pulled pork, smoked tips, melted white cheese, and sweet Buncombe County Q sauce
Carolina In My Mind Dawg – smoked dog, chili, cole slaw, and diced onions served with fries
Market and Moss
The dishes emerging from the Southern Village kitchen of Market and Moss are almost too pretty to eat. Almost. With a dinner menu changing daily, expect fresh, bright, and seasonal flavors, highlighting local farms and makers like Lyons Farm, Firsthand Foods, and Goat Lady Dairy.
Owner Annie Johnston also owns La Vita Dolce, two doors down. Chef Chris Rogers grew up in Rosati’s Market, a grocery store owned by his family in Ohio. After cooking for years in Nashville, he worked at Michelin-starred restaurants Contra and Atelier Crenn. He is also an alum of Matt Kelly’s Saint James Seafood in Durham.
Half-off wine by the bottle every Thursday through September – excluding bottles regularly priced at over $100
Pork Milanese – bone-in Firsthand Foods pork chop, anchovy gribiche, local greens salad, and roasted fennel vinaigrette
Chocolate Tart – dark chocolate, creme fraiche, orange zest, and smoked salt
Restaurateur Giorgios Bakatsias is no stranger to our food scene, having created Spice Street, BIN 54, Kipos Greek Taverna, and City Kitchen. His latest contribution – Osteria Georgi, located on South Elliott Road – transports diners to Italy for authentic bucatini all ‘Amatriciana, burrata, gnocchi, and risotto. Executive Chef and Partner Dan Jackson, a Chapel Hill native and UNC alumnus, ventured to the Big Apple after graduation and cooked at Eleven Madison Park and the Cafes at MoMa. He recently won Food Network’s “Chopped” by expertly handling a basket of challenging ingredients that included algae oil, black ants, and sunflowers.
Sarah McCabe’s cocktails, such as the Tarantini – featuring bourbon, Krupnikas, limoncello, and lemon thyme. Sarah was recently hand-picked by The LEE Initiative for their Women in Culinary and Spirits program.
The all-Italian wine list – carefully curated by General Manager Adam Iorfida
The lush and tranquil garden patio!
Iza Whiskey & Eats
Yung Nay has traveled all over the world, savoring a variety of cuisines and pairings to bring diners in downtown Carrboro an upscale and unique Japanese fusion experience via Iza Whiskey & Eats. In a modern atmosphere, guests enjoy small plates, sushi, ramen, whiskey, sake, and cocktails. Customers interested in to-go food are drawn to Nay’s Tonkotsu ramen kit, a rich and creamy pork bone broth with black garlic oil, wood ear mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and a soft-boiled egg. Entrees include a variety of chili garlic noodles, bi bim bap, and hibachi-style proteins. Perhaps the most fun way to dine at Iza is by steering toward small plates like fried Brussels sprouts, Shanghai calamari, firecracker shrimp, and Korean-style wings.
Chilean sea bass – miso marinated over 24 hours and served with oyster mushrooms, asparagus, and rice
Whiskey flights – four .75-ounce pours. Choose from offerings from Japan, Ireland, or Scotland.
The 007 sushi roll – spicy tuna and shrimp tempura, topped with seared tuna, eel sauce, and scallions
Dames Chicken & Waffles
The fourth Dame’s location brings it to the iconic East Franklin Street, where UNC students – and everyone else, for that matter – can delight in its sweet and savory combinations, served counter style.
More than a decade after co-founders Damion “Dame” Moore and Randy Wadsworth (who attended business school together at UNC-Greensboro) opened their first location in downtown Durham, the Tar Heel State’s love of fried chicken, waffles, and flavored butters called “shmears” (in flavors like strawberry-creme and chocolate-hazelnut) has only intensified.
Expect the Dame's classic menu offerings – and also try some new Southern comfort food such as sandwiches and grits bowls.
“Non-classic” waffle flavors – like sweet potato, gingerbread, and organic blueberry
A variety of sides – from spicy mean collard greens and Cheesy Ceci's Mac & Cheese to sautéed squash with onions.
Don’t stop at the shmear: Throw in a drizzle and nut topping too, such as sweet whiskey creme and candied pecans.
Also Add to Your List:
The Colonial Inn
Kahlovera Street Tacos
The Trophy Room at the Graduate Chapel Hill Hotel
Old East Tavern
Mosaic Cafe & Bistro
Crab House Co.
Dingo Dog Brewing Taproom
Present Day on Main
(Top Photo Credit Que Chula Tacos)