What’s one thing the Triangle can confidently claim it does better than New York City? According to Cosmic Cantina connoisseurs, burritos. Those who have dined at the chain’s Durham and Chapel Hill locations, as well as its affiliate branch in New York, agree the organic Mexican food available in the Triangle surpasses that offered in the Big Apple.
Cosmic locations on Franklin St. in Chapel Hill and Perry Street in Durham are loved by townies and students for offering some of the most filling, tasty and affordable food around. And while the culinary formula is not particularly experimental or innovative, Cosmic stuffs the stomachs of hungry patrons with huge portions of staples such as grilled chicken, tender steak, rice, cheese and warmed tortillas. And your order will be ready in less than three minutes. Vegetarians also have several delicious options, as most of the burritos, nachos and quesadillas are available in a meatless variation or with tofu.
One of the best things about Cosmic Cantina is actually gratis: the hot sauce. The spicy, authentically Mexican valentina is best consumed in liberal sprinklings.
The locations have comprehensive hours, opening most days at 11 a.m. and closing not until long after bars’ last call. But beware the late-night college crowds: Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at Cosmic are famous for lines stretching beyond the doorway. Peak lunch hour can also be crowded during the school year.
If you’re in the Triangle looking for a filling and cheap burrito so big you won’t have to bother with breakfast the next morning, Cosmic is your best bet.
Chapel Hill: 128 E. Franklin St., 960-3955. Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 a.m., Saturday-Sunday noon-4 a.m.
Durham: 1920 1/2 Perry St., 286-1875. Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 a.m., Saturday-Sunday noon-4 a.m.
I loved Ben & Jerry’s when I was growing up. It appealed to the view I had of myself as a member of the generally underrepresented subset of the American psyche that could fully appreciate B & J’s trippy takes on chocolate and caramel. Flavors were modeled after bands I loved and TV personalities I watched; dessert was suddenly quirky, yet delicious.
So imagine the delight inside me when I came to Chapel Hill as a freshman, drove down Franklin Street for the first time and spotted a real-life Ben & Jerry’s outlet. I pledged then and there never to indulge anywhere else.
We all fall prey to youthful naïveté. Had I known then that a little store called Locopops existed, my enthusiasm for Ben & Jerry’s would certainly have waned. Older and wiser, I now know that those guys from Vermont just can’t compete with what is undoubtedly the best ice cream in the Triangle.
Want to know how good it is? The founder of Locopops, Summer Bicknell, learned the secret of her gourmet popsicles by apprenticing herself to a Mexican paleta maker (paletas are frozen Mexican fruit pops, the template on which Locopops is based). She spent three months leaning how to make this particular kind of popsicle, and her persistence shows.
Locopops is an incredibly thorough culinary endeavor, with emphasis in all the right places. There’s no advertising. There’s no flashy website. And there aren’t any menus just a white dry-erase board where the current flavors are scribbled in colorful marker. And under this board are the coolers: glass-topped treasure chests within which the soul of Locopops thrives.
The flavors! Some are cream-based and some water-based: cookies n’ cream, horchata, lavender, avocado, chocolate chili, jasmine lime, strawberry crème, balsamic vinegar, cinnamon raisin and cantaloupe are (seriously) just a few of the flavors.
And make sure you visit often, because many of these flavors are temporary, and you do not want to miss Nana-Nilla.
Chapel Hill: 451 W. Franklin St., 286-3500. Daily noon-9 p.m.
Durham: 2600 Hillsborough Road, 286-3500. Daily noon-9 p.m. & 117 Market St., 286-3500. Monday-Saturday noon-6 p.m.
Other recommended stops in Chapel Hill
405 1/2 W. Rosemary St., 933-5550. Daily 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
American deli-style sandwiches for all appetites. Save room for “The Ecstasy,” a scoop of sumptuous vanilla ice cream atop a heated brownie, drowning in chocolate syrup and crowned with whipped cream.
201 E. Franklin St., 827-4811. Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-3 a.m.
No frills diner food with a Greek twist. The pita burgers are a dependably satisfying stick-to-your-ribs meal that truly hit the spot after a night on the town.
147 E. Franklin St., 969-9727. Sunday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.-3 a.m., Thursday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 a.m.
A tortilla wrap grill, [B]SKI’S offers some of the most delicious portable food in Chapel Hillespecially for breakfast. The Scramble-Ski, a cyclone of scrambled eggs, melted cheese and chunks of potato, is a favorite.
711 Rosemary St., Carrboro, 933-8226, www.carrburritos.com. Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Delicious burritos available just a short walk from Franklin Street with a great variety of fillings, many of them vegetarian. Try the sweet potato tacos, and don’t miss the flour chips and fresh, homemade salsas.
127 E. Franklin St., 967-7766, pepperspizza.com. Monday-Friday and Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m.-midnight
Pizza with any topping you can imagine. Try the strombolis and calzones. Local artists’ works lining the walls complete the atmosphere. Now in a new location.
133 W. Franklin St., 929-2425. Open daily 24 hours.
When it’s 5:30 a.m. and you have no idea where to stuff your drunken stomach, Time Out is there for you. It’s not the cleanest, and it’s not the fanciest, but it gets the job done. This Chapel Hill landmark is also known for attracting some of the wackiest characters in Orange County. Make sure you grab plenty of napkins to soak up the grease.
Italian Pizzeria III
508 W. Franklin St., 968-4671. Monday-Thursday and Sunday 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-midnight
Simple yet tasty New York style pizza to pair with incredibly cheap pitchers of beer, III is known colloquially as the “pizza faucet.”
Open Eye Café
101 S. Greensboro St., 968-9410, openeyecafe.com. Monday-Thursday 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday 7 a.m.-midnight, Sunday 8 a.m.-11 p.m.
This locally owned coffeehouse serves up some of the best beans and healthy smoothies in town. Worth the short drive to Carrboro.
306 W. Franklin St., Suite A, 968-3278. gumbyspizza.com. Monday-Wednesday 4 p.m.-2 a.m., Thursday-Friday 4 p.m.-3 a.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-3 a.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-2 a.m.
As initiated UNC students know, it’s best to skip the pizza at Gumby’s and go straight for the buttery, well-seasoned Pokey Stix. The delicious cheese sticks pair perfectly with a late-night Tar Heel basketball game if you’re watching at home.
Jack Sprat Café
161 E. Franklin St., 933-3575 Monday-Thursday 8 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday 8 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m.-9 p.m; bar hours: Monday-Saturday 5 p.m.-2 a.m., Sunday noon.-9 p.m.
Coffee and drinks compliment healthy salads and panini sandwiches.
Chapel Hill Bread
The dumpster behind Panera, 213 W. Franklin St.
Is it 5 a.m.? Are you too broke even for Time Out? Chapel Hill bar hoppers have known for years that Panera leaves its delicious bread tightly wrapped and “protected” in the dumpster out back. Partakers have been known to snatch enough bread for weeks of sandwiches.