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Owners of 2 of Chapel Hill’s most popular restaurants will team up to open taco joint

The owners of Al’s Burger Shack and Italian Pizzeria III will open Yellow House Tacos, named for the yellow building behind their West Franklin Street restaurants.
The owners of Al’s Burger Shack and Italian Pizzeria III will open Yellow House Tacos, named for the yellow building behind their West Franklin Street restaurants. jbanov@newsobserver.com

For the love of tacos, two of Chapel Hill’s most popular restaurants are joining forces.

Al’s Burger Shack and Italian Pizzeria III sit side by side on West Franklin Street, one home to what’s been called America’s best burger, the other a Chapel Hill institution built on countless thousands of pizzas.

Together they’ll open Yellow House Tacos later this year, named for the yellow building behind their Franklin Street restaurants.

They call it the happy corner of Franklin Street, and who can blame them? Al’s Burger Shack, owned by Al Bowers, makes burgers in the roadside tradition, griddled on a flattop and more often than not accompanied by rosemary-kissed crinkle cut fries.

IP3, as it’s known, is a quintessential college town pizzeria and a shrine to UNC triumphs through the ages, owned by brothers Vincenzo and Angelo Marrone for more than two decades.

Yellow House Tacos will open later this year at 104 N. Graham St., next to the Tin Cup Joe coffee camper and near Beer Study and the Baxter Arcade.

How does pizza plus burger equal taco? Vincenzo and Bowers, who sat down for an interview in March, say it comes down to a love of tacos.

“We’re big fans of tacos and we always wanted to do something together,” Vincenzo said. “This house could be a big potential for a restaurant.”

tacohouse2.jpg
The owners of Al’s Burger Shack and Italian Pizzeria III will open Yellow House Tacos, named for the yellow building behind their West Franklin Street restaurants. They will paint the currently abandoned building a bright yellow. Jessica Banov jbanov@newsobserver.com

The yellow house is currently vacant, with plywood on the windows, but Marrone said they’re shooting to open in late summer, possibly by September, and hopefully before students return to town. Bowers said the current hue on the building, a soft yellow one might call Muted Sunshine, will get the brightness turned up all the way.

“You’re gonna need sunglasses when you drive by,” Bowers said. “We’re going to paint the house an obscene yellow. And the roof, we’re going to paint it red. It’s gonna be bright colors, because we want it to be authentic.”

For inspiration, they said they drew on the popularity of Asheville’s White Duck Taco Shop, aiming, they said, for a balance of authentic and inventive menu items.

“It’s something that Franklin Street needed,” Bowers said. “Besides food trucks, it would be nice to have an authentic Mexican taco place. We want more of a street taco you get in Mexico City.”

While the Marrone brothers and Bowers have decades of restaurant experience between them, making some of the foods most readily consumed by Americans, in pizza and burgers, a taco shop is still unexpected. Marrone said the restaurant is an ode to food they like to eat.

“We know what’s good, what we like to eat, but it will be our spin on it, Marrone said. “We like to challenge ourselves with new foods. In the U.S., a lot of people learn how to make pizza, not just Italian. ... What we can guarantee is it’s going to be good.”

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.

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