In March, UNC-Chapel Hill alums and current students alike mourned the loss of Spanky's Restaurant, a Franklin Street institution beloved for its classic American food and its wall adorned with quirky caricatures of UNC-Chapel Hill legends. Spanky's successor, Lula's, aims to fill the void for nostalgia-inducing Southern fare with its signature shallow-fried chicken and homey Southern staples such as stewed okra, egg salad sandwiches, and tomato plates. The restaurant is named after executive chef William D'Auvray's great-grandmother; D'Auvray, formerly of bu•ku and Fins, pays homage to Lula's cherished family recipes with a menu of what he calls "simple food made the hard way."
Vibe: Outside tables are at a premium and boast prime Chapel Hill people-watching on the bustling corner of Franklin and Columbia. But the interior offers plenty of natural light, with sun spilling through the windows and reflecting off the exposed brick walls, creating an open, cheery vibe. D'Auvray writes weekly specials on the back wall mirror, nicknamed the "lipstick" specials. Pull up a chair at the intimate, sleek hardwood bar for a solo dinner, or sip a cocktail while you wait for the rest of your crew.
Menu: The lunch and dinner menus are the same (in scope and price) and are divided into five sections—chicken, sandwiches, salads, plates, and sides. For a casual weekday lunch, opt for a sandwich or salad featuring the signature fried chicken. On nights and weekends, plan a relaxing dinner to savor the "lipstick" specials, which incorporate heirloom produce and North Carolina-raised meats, and pair with a seasonal craft cocktail. Drinks are sweetened with house-made syrups in classic flavors like ginger and hibiscus as well as playful takes like Cheerwine, another nod to the Old North State. Dessert options rotate, but don't miss the homemade cinnamon sugar donuts topped with vanilla bean cream.
What to order: The shallow-fried chicken (dark or white meat) is the star of the show, appearing alongside or atop a biscuit, on a bun with spicy pickle slaw, or as an optional salad topper (go for the kale salad with sweet potatoes and Ashe County cheddar cheese). My go-to order, which is also a good choice for first-timers, is the quarter chicken and biscuit (I'm partial to the white meat breast-and-wing combo). The fried chicken preparation—brining, marinating, drying, and cast-iron skillet frying—spans multiple days and produces perfectly crispy skin. (Deep-fried chicken dredged in gluten-free flour is also available.)
Seasonal specials are a sure-bet, such as a watermelon salad scattered with feta cheese and fried peanuts, and then drizzled with white balsamic vinegar. For the fried-food averse, there's an excellent smoked pork chop with grilled peaches and a cider-mustard glaze. If your meal doesn't already come with a biscuit, be sure to order at least one. Biscuits are baked throughout the day and served warm, boasting a crunchy exterior that gives way to a fluffy crumb. They're served with spun sage honey, a creamy, whipped, herb-infused honey that's so addictive it should be sold by the bottle.
Price point: A quarter-fried chicken and biscuit is $8. Sandwiches and salads are $6 to $8. Large plates are $10-$17 and come with one side; a la carte sides are $3.50. Specials are $5.50-$8.
Perfect for: A leisurely lunch; a casual dinner with friends or family; a Tarheel victory feast; a classic Southern supper