If you’re an adventurous eater, with a palate for a wide variety of flavors, there’s no better way to explore the best options in Charlotte than with a nice drive down Central Avenue.
Along the way, you’ll pass dozens of authentic, family-owned restaurants featuring everything from German to Mexican to Vietnamese. And while some of these cuisines may be a bit intimidating for the uninitiated, they’re worth the visit. So dive in here with a world tour down Central Avenue.
Mama’s Caribbean (Jamaican)
Where: 1504 Central Avenue
What: Authentic Caribbean food in the heart of Plaza Midwood, Mama’s is reliably good for veterans or novices, with special attention to some of the great side items like mac & cheese, collards and coco bread.
For the newbies: You can’t go wrong with the jerk chicken or wings. Get an authentic taste of Caribbean spice without venturing too far from your comfort zone.
For the refined palates: The curry goat is more rich than spicy and is one of Mama’s signature dishes. And don’t miss the ackee and salt fish, the national dish of Jamaica.
Euro Grill & Cafe (Bosnian)
Where: 2719 Central Avenue
What: This cafe with a walk-up window and a small dining room adjacent to a European market features Eastern European-inspired dishes, including lipinje, a homemade Bosnian flatbread best stuffed with ćevapi.
For the newbies: As a Philly native, I’m easily annoyed by people who claim to have a Philly cheesesteak that is nothing of the sort. But cheers to Euro Grill, which goes so far as to provide a Bosnian name for it — Američki — while providing a sandwich that’s delicious, if not particularly Philly. There’s also a wide assortment of German and Mediterranean-style dishes.
For the refined palates: If you’re here, you really should be getting the flavorful ćevapi, a classic skinless sausage dish that does not disappoint.
Where: 3007 Central Avenue
What: Family-owned restaurant serving authentic Ethiopian food traditionally eaten without utinsels and instead scooped up with injera, a spongey flatbread. On Sundays, the matriarch of the family offers Turkish coffee with brunch.
For the newbies: Go for the vegetables. You can get a vegetarian ensemble that comes served in a large platter of injera (a spongey East African bread), and it’s all terrific. But the lentils… you’ll still be thinking of those days after you’ve finished them.
For the refined palates: For a bit of spice and authenticity, try the wat, a traditional stew with a deep, rich blend of spices. It’s not exactly an intimidating dish even for newcomers, but it definitely has a bit more kick than the less adventurous fare.
Dim Sum (Chinese)
Where: 2920 Central Avenue
What: Maybe it’s just us, but finding good Chinese is a tough task in Charlotte. Dim Sum was a local favorite before it abruptly closed last year. Then, miraculously, it opened again under new management last summer. The main draw is dim sum, a style of Chinese dining featuring lots of small, bite-size portions, but the new ownership has also expanded the menu to include traditional full-size entrees, too.
For the newbies: The dim sum and traditional Chinese menus both offer plenty for beginner. Shrimp dumplings, beef noodle crepes, pork buns — you’ll find something you like no matter how limited your tastes.
For the refined palates: Duck feet, pork intestine, squid, jelly fish — knock yourself out. If you’re looking to push the envelope with some dishes you won’t find in any mainstream Chinese take-out place, Dim Sum has you covered.
Pho Hoa (Vietnamese)
Where: 3000 Central Avenue
What: We could have a long argument about the city’s best pho (personally, I lean toward Lang Van) but the point is that Charlotte has its share of great options. Still, you could easily make the case that Pho Hoa belongs at or near the top of the list.
For the newbies: The nice thing about Pho Hoa is that it makes it easy for the beginners to find their way — including menu options specifically labeled by experience level. Our pick: Meatballs and brisket. Yum.
For the refined palettes: Texture tends to be what separates the experienced diners from newbies when it comes to pho. You like fatty meats? OK, you’re good to go here. Tendon, tripe and fatty flank (rare or well done) are all on the menu.
Tacos El Nevado (Mexican)
Where: 4715 Central Avenue
What: Central Avenue is home to plentiful Mexican options — from widely known favorites like Three Amigos to under-the-radar gems like the tortas at Sav/Way to authentic baked goods at Las Delicias. But travel just a bit further east, and you’ll find arguably the best taco stop in the city at El Nevado.
For the newbies: There’s plenty to explore here, but start with the tacos, which are the reason you probably came. Steak, pork and chicken offer routine options, but at least roll the dice on chorizo for a little extra kick.
For the refined palates: No need to go beyond the tacos to get a little outside the norm. How about beef tongue tacos? Or pork skin? Or tripe? Yeah, there’s a lot to try here if you’re willing to explore.
Supermercadito El Salvador (Salvadorian)
Where: 4729 Central Avenue
What: Like the name suggests, this is a market with a few rows of traditional Mexican, Central and South American retail fare, but the real treats are made in the in-house restaurant. There’s a full menu of great options, from carne asada to chili relleno, along with a fantastic array of baked goods.
For the newbies: None of the food on the menu should be intimidating, but the menu itself — entirely in Spanish — makes things more of a gamble. You’ll have no trouble identifying the more Mexican-influenced options that you might find on the menu at some of the nearby restaurants.
For the refined palates: Finding menus or reviews online is tough, but check the responses on Google, for example, and the majority are translated from Spanish and reflect the authenticity of the menu (“brings back memories,” one commenter writes). So the real advice here is to just explore the menu. Some of it changes regularly. Be adventurous and get a real taste of El Salvador.