Top Ten Things to do in (or around) Chapel Hill

I can’t believe June is almost over! Here is my top ten list of things to do in or around Chapel Hill with your family:

  1. Rent a boat and go boating on University Lake
  2. Eat ice cream at Maple View Farm Country Store
  3. Visit Carrboro’s Farmers’ Market on a Saturday morning
  4. Find a family-friendly eatery on Franklin Street: Al’s Burger Shack, Buns, Mellow Mushroom, Jasmin, Mediterranean Deli
  5. Visit the Chapel Hill Public Library for movies and reading hours
  6. Mark your calendar for the Paperhand Puppet Intervention puppet shows
  7. Check out Kidzu, an indoor kid’s play museum with a new outdoor learning garden that just opened!
  8. Sign up for swimming lessons through UNC Chapel Hill
  9. Visit the Morehead Planetarium
  10. Visit the rose garden near the Chapel Hill Community Center and walk on a short trail or play on the playground.
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The best gift ever

We all know the winter holidays is one of the busiest times of the year, and one of the best gifts you can give your kid is a little extra family time. My friend just posted this Youtube video on what kids really want for Christmas (hard not to shed a tear). Here are a few of activities we’ve done together and I’ve noted an upcoming free activity at Duke Gardens which sounds like a great event to introduce your kid to a myriad of holidays.

  1. Try baking cookies with your kid, let them stir the dough or put the decorations on the cookies. I recently made this M&M cookie recipe using mini M&M’s and let my son top some the cookies with the candies.
  2. Try painting some holiday ornaments. I purchased these wooden ornaments several years ago at an after-Christmas sale at Michael’s (you can’t tell but he’s painting a wooden soldier head). Cloth, construction paper, and newspaper are also good alternatives!
  3.  Go to some ‘free’ holiday events. We brought our son to the 11th Annual American Tobacco Tower Lighting in downtown Durham and he had a blast!

On Saturday, December 12th watch the Chapel Hill-Carrboro holiday parade between 10 am and 12 pm. 

On Saturday, December 19th visit Sarah P. Duke Gardens for a Holiday Celebration: Make & Take Crafts from Around the World.

Verified Asian Restaurants in the Triangle- Part I

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Love me some thin rice noodles at Lime & Basil in Chapel Hill!

One of the nice things about working in Asian Studies is that I get to find out from my colleagues and friends which Asian restaurants are the best in our area. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these verified spots are more than enough to get you started on your Asian food tour of the Triangle!

Chinese

Red Lotus in Chapel Hill (photos below)

This is the only place my colleague has been going to for the past several years. Red Lotus has an excellent Shanghai menu and lunch menu, and they also offer other Asian dishes like curries and Singapore noodles. Over the course of our visits, we’ve had the string beans, spiced fried fish with bay leaf, Shanghai tofu dish, sesame chicken, Thai curry, and Shanghai bok choy. I loved the spiced friend fish with bay leaf (admittedly I had to brush off the hot peppers to minimize the heat). I’ve also been told the pineapple fried rice is wonderful although we haven’t tried it, yet (another reason to go back!). And my mother-in-law absolutely LOVES the hot tea they served!!!

Gourmet Kingdom in Chapel Hill

When we first arrived in the area, we were told that this was the best Chinese restaurant in Carrboro. Gourmet Kingdom serves up some great Sichuan (Szechuan) and was rated by Indy Weekly as one of the best restaurants in the Triangle. We enjoy eating their eggplant with garlic sauce, Chinese spinach (kongxincai also called kangkong in Tagalog), beef noodle soup, dumplings, and sliced beef with green onion. My Chinese friend remarked that their sliced beef with green onion was tasty (I agree!).

Dragon Inn in Durham

While I’ve only been once with a colleague, we enjoyed eating a couple of their dishes. We’ve been told that their hotpot is also delicious. Hoping to return during the winter season!!!

Happy China in Durham

Another Sichuan-style restaurant in the area with a big menu. Try familiar dishes like sesame or orange chicken, or try something spicy like minced pork with vermicelli or fish fillet with spicy Sichuan sauce aka shuizhuyu (I love this dish, but instead of translating it to ‘sauce’ it’s more like a ‘stew’)! Just ask for plenty of water or tea to put out the fire!

Vietnamese

Lime & Basil in Chapel Hill

We’ve been here a few times but what makes me love them is that on Valentine’s Day a couple of years ago, they gifted a plastic bag of chocolate candies on the table to their diners, so very Asian-cute! My colleague says that this is the best pho establishment. I love their beef pho as well as their Saigon street noodles and bubble tea. If you plan to dine on the weekend, just remember that they’re closed on Sundays….

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Pho Super 9  in Raleigh

We were able to eat once at this place because we went shopping one day in Raleigh. I was pregnant at the time, so I think it might of been one of the few occasions I finished my whole bowl of pho! The three color dessert was also very memorable; gotta love beans in dessert!

I realize this is going to take a lot more thought for Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Asian fusion recommendations so that’s it for now. Stay tuned for Part II!

Tea Time at Honeysuckle Tea House

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A few miles from Downtown Chapel Hill is a bustling, outdoor tea house off a little known country road. Honeysuckle Tea House premises include the tea house, herb gardens, a terrific outdoor stage, and even a playground for kids! The tea house boasts of being self sustaining and grows its own produce, including the herbs in its tea. We ordered 铁观音茶 (Guanyin Tea) and coffee; I found their tea to be relatively mellow but in a good way, and I hope to return and try their popular homemade sodas and iced teas. The tables have high barstool-height chairs so that you can sit overlooking the herb gardens on one side or the musical performance on the other. On the Sunday afternoon we went, there was an eclectic mix of families, students, and artists and musicians (and pets!). My son enjoyed swinging on the tire on the playground and watching the dogs skip through the ponds.

Burger and Milkshake Cravings

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Buns in Chapel Hill

If your burger taste is a touch above the White Castle burgers of the Harold and Kumar movie, then you’re in luck, the Triangle has plenty of good quality burger establishments. I have to admit that I haven’t been to Raleigh enough to know about the scene there, but I look forward to finding out! Here are my favorites for Chapel Hill and Durham:

Buns in Chapel Hill. I’ve taken friends and family to this establishment and they all love the burger and bun! While I usually get a beef burger, there are other options such as turkey or veggie, or chicken or salmon sandwiches. My friend loves the salmon sandwich topped with wasabi mayo and Asian slaw. Buns also whips up a diverse range of dipping sauces for their regular or sweet potato fries, and their milkshakes are reasonably priced. Flavors like salted caramel and vanilla Cheerwine (cherry-flavored soda) are local favorites!

Only Burger was mentioned to us by our Durham friends when we first came to the area. They have two locations in Durham—the American Tobacco location just opened—and a food truck. Their burger meat is fresh and locally sourced. Sides like pickle chips, onion rings, and fried green tomatoes are another reason to travel the extra mile. With the unique ambiance of the American Tobacco location, and the addition of milkshakes and local craft beer to the menu, this is the only place to get a burger in Durham.

Other favorites:

Bull City Burger and Brewery (downtown Durham) has good beef and veggie burgers.

Al’s Burger Shack (Franklin St in Chapel Hill) serves burgers, hot dogs, sides, custard milkshakes, and ice cream sandwiches made with Maple View Farm’s ice cream.

Trip to Little Italy (not little trip to Italy)

Is pizza really pizza outside of New York? At the beginning of summer we attended a wedding in downtown Philly and stayed in a B&B close to Little Italy, which I didn’t even know existed! Since my husband’s father is Italian, of course he knew where the best place was to get pizza and prosciutto. I recommend heading to Little Italy Pizza, which is actually a few blocks from the Little Italy area, and there’s apparently another location on South Street!

If you’re in the Triangle looking for some tasty pizza (all moms know this is a food staple), here are a few recommendations:

Pizzeria Toro in downtown Durham (pricey, date night, girl’s night out). Kale salad is also good.

Mellow Mushroom in Chapel Hill and Durham (family-friendly, fun ambiance)

Italian Pizzeria II (IP3) in Chapel Hill has been around since 1980 is the #1 student hangout to eat pizza and watch a UNC game. The owners are Italian and much like my husband’s relatives, can be heard talking from across the room! My husband’s review is that the pizza sauce tastes similar to the NY pizza he ate growing up.

Carrboro Pizza Oven in Carrboro (local pizza joint, family-friendly)

Randy’s Pizza in Durham boasts of serving the best NY thin crust style pizza in the area!

Just wanted to add one final reading bite by food stylist Suzanne Lenzer in defense of “good” pizza for your kids here.