Best Charlotte Restaurants — A Foodie Guide

Best Charlotte Restaurants -- A foodie guide to Charlotte

Charlotte is one part small town, one part big city.  The people here are friendly and the pace of life is slow, but don’t let us fool you.  Charlotte is booming.  Everywhere you look, new things are being built.  Apartments, hotels, breweries, parks, restaurants.  YES, lots and lots of restaurants.

Several times a week, an email from a stranger will pop up in my inbox asking for a list of the best Charlotte restaurants.  I’ve been here over four years now, and have dined at MANY of the restaurants in the city, so these types of emails usually result in a list of two dozen recommendations I’m hoping the stranger can cram into a two-day stay, accompanied by instructions to pack their eatin’ pants.

As part of the #DesignCharlotte campaign (details below!), and for the fun of list making, I went back through those old emails and compiled a list of the restaurants and dishes that I recommend time and time again.  A foodie’s guide to Charlotte, if you will.  I anticipate this list will continue to grow and expand with time.  Did I miss your favorite?  Leave a comment below!

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UPTOWN

Where:  “Uptown” is Charlotte’s downtown area.  It’s the hub of the city and the point of reference for all other neighborhoods.  Uptown is divided into four wards, the center of which is the intersection of Trade Street and Tryon Street.

What:  Lots of banks and bankers, plus the Epicentre, all the sports (Charlotte Panthers, Charlotte Knights, Charlotte Hornets), theaters, and Romare Bearden Park.

Things to Eat:

  • Burgers:  Cowbell.  “Artisanal burgers with a side of rock & roll.”  My picks:  Big Will’s Breakfast Burger with praline smoked bacon and over-easy egg; Umami Burger with roasted shitakes, caramelized onions, and chipotle spiced ketchup; The Jett black bean burger with goat cheese and roasted garlic aioli; TATER TOTS.
  • Dinner on a Rooftop:  Fahrenheit.  Fantastic view.  Great for date night.  My picks:  Scallops with cauliflower puree, caramelized cauliflower, pomegranate molasses (best scallops I’ve had in Charlotte, no joke); Chorizo-stuffed dates; Charlotte Potato Chip Nachos.
  • Crudo & Steak:  Evoke.  “Chic, new-age steakhouse.” Gnocchi with jumbo lump crab and smoked pancetta; Escolar Crudo; Peruvian Ceviche; Diver Scallop Crudo; beef tenderloin Bucatini; 21-day Dry-aged NY Strip.
  • Lots O’ Options:  7th St Public Market.  The market’s focus is on local and regional farmers, food artisans, and entrepreneurs.  Local Loaf (Chicken and the Egg, Ham and Brie); Pure Pizza (Slap Yo Mama Lasagna, Chorizo); Hazelnuts (ALL THE CREPES); Not Just Coffee; The Sorting Table (wine); Greeneman Farms (produce); Orrman’s CheeseTanks’s Tap (beer).
  • Small Plates:  Dandelion Market.  One of my favorite uptown spots to grab dinner with friends. My picks:  Buttered scallops with toasted macadamia; cherry-glazed lamb lollipops; sausage stuffed poblano pepper; market mac and cheese.
  • Modern Southern:  Mimosa Grill.  “Global cuisine with a unique southern twist.”  Consistently good food.  Pecan crusted chicken salad with sweet mustard dressing; Iron Skillet Roasted Salmon.
  • Southern-inspired:  Roosters.  “Relevant without being trendy.”  Awesome open kitchen.  Wood-fired grill.  My picks:  scallop salad with buttermilk lime dressing; mac and cheese; Vietnamese pork sandwich.
  • Italian:  Aria.  3-course express lunch; cheese plate; all the pasta.
  • Gyros:  Little Village Grill.  Hands down, best gyros.  They even put a couple of fries inside.
  • Swankiest night out:  Dinner at 5Church followed by drinks at the Punch Room.  

PLAZA MIDWOOD

What:  One of my favorite areas to hang out on a weekend night.  Super walkable.  Funky, gritty charm.

Where:  2 miles east of Uptown, north of Elizabeth.

Things to Eat:

  • For all of the things:  Common Market.  Lovably grungy.  Delicious breakfast sandwiches, large wine & beer selection, random quirky snacks and chotchkies, happening patio, drink there or take it to-go.
  • BBQ:  Midwood Smokehouse.  Mac and cheese with big, curly corkscrew noodles; PULLED PORK CUBAN; BBQ tacos; Back Porch Tea.
  • Vegetarian food with flair:  Fern.  OM Burger with crispy fingerling potatoes; cauliflower appetizer (flavors change often, all are awesome).
  • International Cuisine:  Bistro La Bon.   Great atmosphere; interesting multi-ethnic dinner menu; SWEDISH MEATBALLS; all-you-can-eat brunch buffet. COCONUT MACAROONS.
  • Breakfast:  Zada Janes.  BUNNY RANCHEROS.  You won’t be sorry.
  • Rooftop bars:  Peculiar Rabbit and Whisky Warehouse.   Grab an order of fries, and enjoy the view.
  • Health-focused grocery:  Healthy Home Market.  “Locally grown, locally owned.”   Juice bar, hot bar, bulk bins.  Plantain chips!
  • Serbian/Italian:  Intermezzo.  My picks:  all the pizzas; house-made ravioli; steak & goat cheese sandwich on incredible house-made bread.
  • Swanky small plates:  Soul Gastrolounge.   “Innovative sushi, global tapas, and handcrafted cocktails.” Asian-glazed pork belly tacos; all the sushi; braised veal cheek ramen in a garlic cream sauce.
  • Comfort food:  Dish and The Diamond.
  • Tacos:  Krazy Fish.  “Seafood Fusion.”  CRAZY tacos; crazy décor; Szechuan salmon tacos are legit.
  • Coffee:  Central Coffee
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At the Chef’s Table, a Greenville Food Tour {Greenville, SC}

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Looking back over the past two posts, I’m just baffled by how much food and fun I crammed into my short weekend in Greenville!  Nichole of Gap Creek Gourmet sure knows how to show a gal a good time!  I’ve got one last post to share with y’all, and it’s food-filled doozy.

Greenville History Tours

Nearly every Tuesday night and Saturday afternoon, John Nolan, owner of Greenville History Tours, leads a group of food lovers around downtown Greenville to check out some of the area’s most popular restaurants.  He has two food tours–the At the Chef’s Table Tour and the Tastes of the South Tour–both of which cost $45 and last for 2.5 to 3 hours.  During my visit, I went on the Chef’s Table Tour, a unique, behind-the-scenes, VIP excursion on which we sampled signature dishes at five area restaurants AND met each of the chefs behind the food.  Five amazing dishes, five alcoholic beverages, time with the chefs, plus tidbits of Greenville history and architectural facts make this tour an awesome value.  If you’re looking for things to do in Greenville, I can’t think of a better way to spend the day than on this Greenville food tour!


TOUR STOP #1:  Soby’s on the Side

Each of the stops on John’s Chef Table tour are part of the Table 301 restaurant empire, and our first destination was Soby’s on the Side.  Soby’s on the Side is located right next to Soby’s (more on that restaurant below).  It’s a breakfast and lunch joint (with breakfast offered all day and brunch on the weekends), and they also handle all of the catering for the Table 301 group.

Our tasting plate featured their interesting take on steak and eggs:  filet mignon, orange marmalade, sorghum syrup, egg yolk, and green onion, with a mimosa on the side.

sobys on the side steak


TOUR STOP #2: Nose Dive

After our breakfast tasting, we headed over to Nose Dive, a gastropub that serves lunch, dinner, and brunch on the weekends.  At Nose Dive, they take the term “gastropub” seriously–they’re striving for food forwardness, to be more than just a bar.  They’ve got some traditional pub food on the menu (burgers, fish and chips, and tater tots, to name a few), but the menu also feature unexpected dishes like pekin duck, potato gnocchi, and steamed mussels, plus a dark chocolate candied bacon brownie.  Yes, please.

While we sampled a dish of hearty pot roast with creamy Anson Mills grits, sweet heirloom carrots, and blistered tomato (and a beer), Chef Craig Kunhs talked about his home gardening practices, and how he feels it helps him to better understand the products he buys from local farmers to use in the restaurant.  

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Greenville, South Carolina. Who knew?

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Greenville Downtown 2

I hadn’t a clue what to expect as I set out on the hour-and-a-half drive from Charlotte to Greenville, down in upstate South Carolina.  I’d heard some things–mostly that is was a lively city with a great food scene–but still, I was hit with an unexpected surprise when I rolled down Main Street that first time.  Downtown Greenville is ADORABLE, with its tree-lined streets, each adorned with cute little shops and boutiques plus restaurants galore.

Greenville Downtown

My first stop on the trip was to meet up with my new friend Nichole of Gap Greek Gourmet.  It was a cold and rainy day, so the subterranean oasis  that is Coffee Underground felt especially cozy while we enjoyed a quick warm up of the caffeinated variety.  I loved the place so much, that I came back once more during my short time in Greenville for a cappuccino and warm cinnamon chip scone while getting in some computer time.  It was fun and nostalgic sitting there listening to the conversations of the Greenvillians (did I make this term up?), many of whom were college students studying for what appeared to be an upcoming history exam.

Greenville - Coffee Underground 2Greenville - Coffee Underground Scone

After coffee, Nichole and I headed above ground to check out some of the shops on Main Street.  We stopped into the infamous Mast General Store, and I was super excited by their candy selection.  Every time I see Mallo Cups, I think of my mom (since they were one of her favorite childhood candies), and Mast had dark-chocolate mallo cups!!?!  I managed to exercise some self-control since I had a feeling I’d be eating my face off later that day, but I’m kicking myself for not picking up a pack!

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Fervent Foodie featured in Creative Loafing Magazine

Creative Loafing

Recently, Keia Mastrianni of Charlotte’s Creative Loafing magazine asked me how I define the word “foodie.”  Admittedly, I was a little frazzled by the question.  Define foodie?!  Let me counts the ways…  For me, “foodie” is all encompassing.  It’s me.  It’s my world.  It’s my everything.

Check out Keia’s article below, or click here to view a PDF version.

Update:  the article is also posted to the creative loafing website.

 

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Foodie Penpals

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What is it about getting a package in the mail that makes me squeal with excitement?  Just the sight of a box on my doorstep makes a Cheshire cat smile spread across my face.  As I carry the box inside I start playing the guessing game.  I wonder what’s inside?  Who’s it from?  I know I ordered a book on Amazon four days ago, and since this is an Amazon box that’s probably what’s inside… but maybe it isn’t?!  (p.s. it was.)

I think this package induced excitement is a large part of the allure and success of online shopping because deep down we’re all little kids dying to tear through that brown mailing paper.  Occasionally (when I find a free shipping promotion) I’ll partake in an online shopping spree and buy hundreds of dollars of clothes only to return each and every piece at my local mall the following weekend.  When will I learn that nothing I buy online fits?  Even if I buy one of every size available, one size will inevitably be too small and the next size up is absurdly large.  And since they don’t make clothes in half sizes…  Yes, it all goes back.  (My sincere apologies to both Banana Republic and the Limited for the large deficits I’ve created in your sales figures over the years.)

I recently realized this obsession with packages was a little pathetic (and neurotic), so I starting seeking other more respectable means of receiving packages in the mail.  I considered Cravebox and my local CSA, but decided both of those required too much commitment.  Then I found my answer:  Foodie Penpals.  The concept is simple—you send a package full of foodie goodies to your assigned foodie penpal, and then a different foodie sends you a package too.

Kim, who blogs at This Healthy Endeavor, was my foodie penpal, and she sent me a TON of goodies from a store in Cincinnati called Jungle Jim’s.

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Jungle Jim’s is new to me.  Have you heard of it?

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Italian take #2

Yesterday afternoon, we arrived in Charleston.  In an effort to save $$$, I booked us a studio apartment rather than staying in a hotel in the historic district.  This saved us about $400, but we are about 1-2 miles out from most of the restaurants and sightseeing we want to do.  I think the savings offsets the distance, plus with all the eating we’re doing the more walking the better!

We have a full kitchen, washer dryer, and nice dining area too:

While Jarrod was in Belgium he said all he wanted was some decent Italian food, and there was none to be found near his worksite.  So, I grudgingly complied with his request to get Italian for the second night in a row….  😉 Just kidding–Italian is my fav too!

After some googling, we decided to go to Bocci’s in Historic Charleston because their menu had a lot of different dishes we had never tried.

Typically, when I go to the store to buy wine I end up with Cabernet about 90% of the time.  So in an effort to keep trying new things we went with Bocci’s special wine of the night:

This wine was FANTASTIC!  I’m so glad the waitress recommended it.  It was full bodied and had a great spice to it.

For the appetizer, we really REALLY wanted to order the bruschetta….  But we decided to push ourselves outside our tomato-basil-cheesy-bread-goodness comfort zone and instead ordered the Arancini.  The arancini is an arborio rice ball made with sausage, parmesan, ricotta and roasted red peppers, fried to golden brown and served with marinara sauce:

And it was absolutely delicious!

The ambiance of the restaurant was fantastic.  It was low lit, and had a series of small rooms with sporadic tables of all shapes and sizes.  It reminded me of restaurants I visited in Europe back in college, especially with the huge doors that opened up to the outdoors.

For our main entre, we went with the Chicken Conchiglia:  Large pasta shells stuffed with chicken, three cheese mix, and herbs, topped with tomato basil sauce and baked:

These were so tasty — and super filling!  We ended up brining 3 of the 5 shells home with us.  I think we might make them into sandwiches later today 😀

Charleston has so much character (and so much humidity 😉 ). 

Since I’ve been gone, two of my friends from home have decided to try out overnight oats (and send me pictures)!  I think they miss me 🙂

Tim tried oats + almond milk + cinnamon + brown sugar + banana + peanut butter:

In his words they were: “mmmm OMG perfect!”

Jessie decided to try oats + almond milk + peanut butter + cinnamon + brown sugar + strawberries + blueberries:

In her words:  “OMGGGGG.  These rocks my socksssss”

😀 So if you haven’t tried them based on my raving, now you have two additional ravers to back up my love for overnight oats!  I think that’s the first thing I’m going to eat when I get home!

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Pita Pizza & a Green Monster

Some nights I am really amped to try out a new recipe…. And some nights, I just want pizza.  Tonight was one of THOSE nights. 

I decided to use a Joseph’s Middle East Bakery Low Carb pita as my base.  I topped that off with:

  • 1/4 cup Classico Fire Roasted/Tomato Garlic spaghetti sauce
  • Sprinkling of garlic powder, onion powder, dried parsley, dried oregano, black pepper, and red pepper flakes
  • 1 ounce thinly sliced grilled chicken (leftover from the batch I grilled up sunday night)
  • 1 light babybel cheese sliced into four super thin discs
  • 1 tbsp fat free ricotta
  • thinly sliced red onion
  • a couple thinly sliced cherry tomatoes

Popped it into a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Then, I topped it with some chopped basil from the back yard garden:

I served the pizza up with a side salad that consisted of romaine, cherry tomatoes, red onion, banana peppers, and 2 tbsp Ken’s Steakhouse Lite Northern Italian dressing with Basil and Romano:

The salad was delicious.  That Ken sure does know a thing or two about dressings 😉

And the pizza was..  in a word… Umm…. YUM.  Ok, that’s two words, but regardless this pizza really hit the spot:

Soooo goood!!!  Why don’t I make pizza more often?!

Check out this huge banana pepper I’ve got growing in the back yard:

He might have to go on my next salad 🙂

Stats on the pizza: 197 calories, 20g carbs, 6g fat, 20g protein, 5g fiber 

Stats on the salad:  97 calories, 13g carbs, 5g fat, 3g protein, 4g fiber

All together now:  294 calories, 33g carbs, 11g fat, 23g protein, 9g fiber

 

I’ve previously eluded to the fact that I’m a messy cook.  Given the simplicity of my dinner tonight, you’d probably assume that my kitchen would be in pretty good shape.  Whelp, you’d be wrong! 

Take a look at this monstrosity:

I wish I were kidding.  Can you imagine the disasters I could create if I had a big kitchen?

After dinner, I couldn’t wait for late-night snack time to roll around.  I decided earlier in the day that I’d make up a green monster smoothie for my snack to give me lots of energy for my run in the morning.

Threw the following into the blender:

  • 1/2 cup Almond Breeze Unsweetened Almond Milk
  • 1/4 cup Oikos plain Greek Yogurt
  • 1 packet Truvia (stevia) all natural sweetener
  • 1/2 cup fresh frozen strawberries
  • 1/4 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup fresh SPINACH
  • 3 ice cubes

It’s green.  It’s delicious.

Mmmmm…

Thankfully, the green monster gave me the energy I needed to clean up that disaster kitchen:

Stats on the green monster: 105 calories, 18g carbs, 2g fat, 9g protein, 5g fiber 

Blog Updates

I recently updated my About Me page to incorporate some comments I had posted on the blog.  I also added a Foodie Q&A page where I plan to keep a running list of questions readers ask.  And as always, I am continuously linking all my recipe posts to the Recipe Page.  This page is actually getting pretty long, so I think I’ll be reformatting it in the near future.

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