Warm tin foil cushions soft brioche buns and lets everything inside melt together perfectly. Simple circular graphics of cheese, lettuce, burgers and sauces freckle the walls and tables in bright color. The retro font and domelike floor to ceiling windows make you feel like you’re inside an old, converted garage. If the smell of fresh fries doesn’t intrigue you to try Buns, the line out the door might.
One time, I went to Buns Burgers & Fries, ordered a veggie burger and got a meat patty by mistake. Despite that incident (when I accidentally ate meat for the first time since becoming a vegetarian), Buns is still one of my favorite places to get a veggie burger in Chapel Hill.
That says a lot.
I’ve heard from my meat-eating friends that the beef and turkey burgers are pretty darn good too.
This year, I live about 700 feet from the place, so when my best friend Haylie Gordon and I were trying to decide where to grab a quick bite before a UNC basketball game, the decision was easy.
Buns is set up like a build-your-own burger fantasy land. Customers can choose the patty, number of patties, bun, cheese, sauce and toppings. If you’re not into building your own burger, you can select one of their signatures, like the “Carolina Burger” topped with chili and slaw. They also offer sandwiches, hot dogs, milkshakes and fries (sweet potato or regular).
My topping choices tend to vary, but a typical order of mine is a veggie burger on brioche with pepper jack, chipotle mayo, lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, avocado and – if I’m feeling crazy – fresh jalapeños.
I’ve emphasized the caramelized onions because they are an absolute must at Buns. They add an umami flavor. Trust me.
The quality of the veggie burger at Buns is why I keep going back. It’s homemade, generously sized and I can discern the different vegetables, beans and grains within. The bun itself is always toasted and buttery. It can stand up to a substantial burger with multiple toppings. All of the veggies on top are fresh and the sauces are consistently balanced, to boot.
And if you’re like me and like to have special sauces other than ketchup to dip your fries in, Buns offers plenty: dragon sauce (similar to a Sriracha mayo, but better), curry mustard, thai sesame and wasabi mayo to name a few.
BUNS BURGERS & FRIES: 107 N. Columbia Street
Chapel Hill, NC 27514, (919) 240-4746, bunsofchapelhill.com. Mon-Wed 11am-10pm; Thurs-Sat 11am-3am; Sun 11am-9pm. $. Call to confirm late-night hours. Credit cards accepted.