Revenge of the Strip Mall


By Laurie Paolicelli

Chef Sera Cuni, Owner of Root Cellar, Chapel Hill.

One mile from downtown Chapel Hill is a small gathering of a remarkably diverse and lively collection of businesses, virtually all of them locally owned. It’s called the Midtown Market. Seven lovely shops offer books, crafts, and one-of-a-kind kitschy-yet-glamorous gifts. And some surprisingly amazing food. Here’s a rundown on what’s to be found in Midtown.

Bombolo creators Garret Fleming and Eleanor Lacy.


Bombolo creators Garret Fleming and Eleanor Lacy are the brother and sister duo who operated former fan favorite Big Belly Que before opening Bombolo. “At Bombolo, we’re giving ourselves the freedom to explore our favorite dishes and cooking styles,” says Fleming. As co-owners, Fleming serves as executive chef and Lacy oversees the dessert and wine program. The pasta is made-from-scratch, and the menu features Italian classics like Rigatoni all’Amatriciana and Mafalde & Turkey Neck Ragu. A menu section called “Proper Plates” gives patrons options from across the globe, while the dessert menu is curated by Lacy with classic European recipes. Located in the site formerly held by Kitchen Restaurant.

Flyleaf Books offers smiles and serious customer service to all.

Flyleaf Books

Flyleaf Books is an award-winning, locally owned and operated bookstore hosting numerous writers and readings every week. Lovingly and thoughtfully curated, the knowledgeable, friendly staff will hand sell you the book of your dreams or order it for you. Get on their mailing list so as not to miss a thing.

Cinco De Mayo at Luche Tigre in Midtown Market Chapel Hill.

Lucha Tigre

Lucha Tigre is a bold and innovative Latin and Asian fusion restaurant. Owner Khoa Dinh lived in Vietnam until he was seven. He came to North Carolina in 1995 and has been in the restaurant business since he was 17, working his way up in the industry, Lucha Tigre being the first restaurant of his own. The idea for a Latin and Asian fusion restaurant arose over dinner conversation between Dinh and his friend Lily Contreras. Contreras was born in Mexico City, and the two bonded over the similar flavors and ingredients found in Mexican and Vietnamese dishes. And thus a dream was born. Oh, and that Avocado Citrus Salad? “Best salad ever. That dressing is amazing,” says Sally Mack, neighbor.

The Root Cellar, Chapel Hill.

Root Cellar

In the early 2000s, Chef Sera Cuni left the icy winters of the North behind to settle in North Carolina to be near her immediate family. Hired by restaurant owner and cookbook author Sara Foster to lead the kitchen of her signature Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill, Sera and her wife Susan purchased the Chapel Hill location in 2013 and rebranded it to the Root Cellar Café & Catering in 2014. The Root Cellar specializes in scratch-made sandwiches, salads, soups, and desserts, as well as locally roasted coffees.

Sally Stolmack, Owner Operator of SallyMack.


When customers walk into an eclectic retail shop in Chapel Hill, they eventually forget about the outside world. A stroll through SallyMack uncovers a mix of jewelry, handbags, home goods, and gifts with pop culture references, uplifting messages, or irreverent quotes. SallyMack is not a big box store. It is a cultivated, intimate way to find things you will love for your home or a friend’s, “things that I have picked out because I love them, too,” says Sally. “Whatever your budget, it’s my goal to make SallyMack a place you can shop. The range of goods shares one thing in common: they’re all objects that spoke to me, that I love enough to display in SallyMack.”

Hunam Chinese Restaurant, Chapel Hill.

Hunam Chinese Restaurant

Generations of students have graced the roomy booths at Hunam. Eggplant Hot Pot, Beef Chow Fun, Seafood Tofu soup, Chicken & Szechuan Cabbage Soup, Pepper Salt Fried Scallop – they have it all. Hunam is open six days a week (closed Mondays) and offers delicious Chinese food for takeout and delivery.

Chapel Hill Needlpoint beloved by visitors and locals.

Chapel Hill Needlepoint Company

Chapel Hill Needlepoint is a fifteen-year-old, full-service needlepoint shop and the loyalty to this shop is impressive. Needle pointers are committed to their craft and many visitors find the local Needlepoint shop whenever they travel. “We have a wide range of visitors, including those with family at the hospital, dedicated needlepoint fans, and those who are curious about the craft,” says Nancy McGuffin, Owner. The shop offers designer canvases, threads, finishing, and special orders.

If you haven’t checked-out Midtown Chapel Hill, add it to your list. It’s shopping the way it used to be done, when we left our homes and ventured out to discover on our own the joys of exploration in the retail world. Midtown offers food, coffee, literature, and gifts, along with loads of free parking. And if all this weren’t enough, there’s a laundromat, as well.

Midtown Market
Parking lot, M.L.K. Jr Blvd
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Avocado Citrus Salad at Lucha Tigre.

Laurie Paolicelli is executive director for the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, a position she has held since 2005. Laurie has worked in tourism and marketing for twenty-five years, having served in leadership roles in Houston and California convention and visitor bureaus. She is a native of the Twin Ports of Duluth, MN/Superior Wisconsin. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and Communications from the University Wisconsin-Superior and graduate certification in Technology In Marketing from the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

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