7 Iconic Chapel Hill Dishes

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Photo by Mackenzie Brough


Originally published in the 2013 Relocation Guide



To most born and bred Chapel Hillians, Mama Dip’s tastes like home. But nostalgia aside, there is a reason Mama’s has remained a mainstay over the past 35-plus years: It is darn good. The chicken and gravy takes their already excellent fried chicken to the next level of deliciousness by smothering it in scrumptious brown gravy. The hard part comes when choosing two sides, although the mashed potatoes and gravy – because there’s no such thing as too much gravy – and greens are always a winning combination. Complete the meal with an order of fried green tomatoes for the table and leave with a belly full of comforting goodness. –Mackenzie Brough



Remember those old commercials touting a cereal’s ability to stay crunchy in milk? Well, substitute “waffle” for “cereal” and “syrup” for “milk” and you’ll have a good idea what makes Breadmen’s Belgian waffle so popular. How does it retain that structural integrity while flooded with the sweet stuff? Who knows. And, really, who cares? Chapel Hillians haven’t spent these past decades pondering that question. They’ve simply enjoyed the end result – a perfectly cooked, crunchy-but-soft staple of the breakfast scene. (If you’re feeling ambitious, order the Belgian Breadmen, which adds eggs, bacon and sausage.) –Evan Markfield


$5.55 single, $6.65 double, $7.95 triple

At Merritt’s, a line forms outside the tiny kitchen every day, and three customers to one go for the famous BLT. The hardest decision may be how many layers to choose. A single layer has four slices of bacon, a double has six and a triple has nine. Yes, nine slices of thick bacon. Mmmmm. There’s no secret formula to this BLT, just vine ripe tomatoes (which come from local growers in the summer), green leaf lettuce, salt, pepper and mayonnaise on toasted sourdough bread (or choose another type of bread, if you prefer). All orders are cash-only and take-out only, but heed manager Robin Dubeau’s advice on your way out the door: “You need napkins.” Messiness never tasted so good. –Andrea Griffith Cash



It’s best known as late-night fare, but there’s really no wrong time for Time-Out’s chicken and cheddar biscuit. It’s a big square biscuit that’s fall-apart soft loaded simply with a fried chicken breast and a slice of cheese. (Note: Chomp carefully. There’s usually a small bone in that breast, which is chopped right off the wing while you watch.) It’s salty and Southern, a favorite of both longtime Chapel Hillians and newcomers. Even UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham made this biscuit his first meal in town when he got hired. –Evan Markfield



Sutton’s has been a staple on Franklin Street since 1923hinted to by the hundreds of vintage photographs of smiling diners plastered to its walls. In fact, when you stop in for lunch, you’re likely to spot a group of UNC athletes huddled in a booth plunked down amid shelves of aspirin and orthopedic insoles. You might have to wait in line for a seat at the counter, but once you’re there, order a hot dog and one of these classic Oreo milkshakes. Served in a simple Styrofoam cup, the milkshake has no unnecessary frills – just thick, creamy consistency and sweet, satisfying flavor. –Kelsie Allen



Crook’s Corner is much more than just a restaurant with a pig on its roof: The iconic Chapel Hill eatery is known for being the birthplace of shrimp and grits. Before the late Bill Neal received attention from The New York Times for his delicious recipe, most restaurants reserved the southern dish for breakfast menus only. Today, Chef Bill Smith continues to serve the wildly popular dish, which contains succulent, lightly browned shrimp served over hot cheese grits with a few crumbles of bacon, sliced mushrooms and scallions, and a lemon wedge on the side. You’ll try it the first time just to say you’ve had it – but you’ll order it again and again because it’s simply the best. –Kelsie Allen


Price $5.75

Some tips for eating at Allen & Son, Chapel Hill’s own temple of ‘cue: Go to the N.C. 86 location (Some say the meat’s smokiest here, but the main reason is the cozier atmosphere.) Avoid the lunch rush if you’ve got somewhere to be anytime soon. Order the chopped pork sandwich. Made with pork shoulder smoked with hickory wood that owner Keith Allen chops himself, it’s some of the most tender, smokiest, most flavorful ‘cue in the state. Douse your barbecue with a heavy dose of Allen & Son’s own vinegar sauce. Always finish with the peanut butter icebox pie. –Emily Matchar

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