I’ve been eating out in 2018. A lot. I’m now poorer and fatter, but that’s OK.
Rankings are based on food, vibe, beverages, and service. I have nothing against chains and I’m a big fan of Chili’s, but to be eligible, restaurants had to be locally driven.
Gorgeous, award-winning small plate restaurant
Must-order dish: Crispy oysters with dill yogurt and Calabrian chile oil ($12).
Agenda pro tip: Order a “Barkeep’s Choice” and the bartender will surprise you with a cocktail of his/her choosing.
Creators: Joe and Katy Kindred, a marvelous young couple with three children. Last December, Joe and Katy debuted their second restaurant, Hello, Sailor, which also made this list.
Noteworthy: You’ve probably seen it on Instagram, but their milkbread is free and delicious.
Money: $$. The average small plate is about $12, and you should do at least two small plates per person.
Location and hours: 131 Main St., Davidson. Hours are 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. They’re closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Modern take on classic Italian dishes in an intimate Myers Park setting with an open kitchen
Must-order dishes: Start with the meatballs—local pork, parmesan, marinara and ciabatta ($10)—and then go with the pepperoni and sausage pizza ($16).
Money: $$. Apps and small plates run about $10, pizzas about $15, and both pastas and entrees are around $30.
Noteworthy: Pizzas are served with giant pair of scissors so you can cut it as you like. It’s fun.
Location and hours: 715 Providence Road (Myers Park). Open 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 5:30-11 p.m Friday and Saturday. Closed on Sundays.
New cozy small plate and cocktail spot loved by foodies
Must-order small plates: Top dishes include their oysters ($18), ricotta tortellini ($15), and dry aged ribeye ($23). There are only 13 dishes on the menu and a few dessert options. Portions are small, but the food is outstanding.
Cocktails: Top cocktails are their South Mint 75—Sutler’s gin, lemongrass, mint, lemon, and bubbles ($12), and the Professor Plum—Old Forester Signature, molasses, plum, and bitters.
Noteworthy: The kitchen is exposed to the restaurant, which makes for a very cool dining experience. It’s an intimate restaurant with only about 15 tables.
Creators: After 10 years of friendship and six years of talking about opening a restaurant, Jayson Whiteside and Michael Noll have opened the restaurant on South Mint Street.
Location and hours: 1508 South Mint St. (South End). Open 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday-Sunday.
#4 The Stanley
Seasonally-driven, locally-sourced restaurant by James Beard Award Semifinalist Chef Paul Verica, formerly of Heritage in Waxhaw
Menu: The focused menu typically has about a 12 small plates, five larger plates, and five sides. My wife and I ordered four small plates and a dessert. It was the perfect amount of food. If the steamed bun and the surf and turf are on the menu, get them.
Noteworthy: Yes, the menu really does change often—you can actually view the version number on the top right-hand corner of the menu. In the first month, they changed the menu about 25 times.
Creator: Paul Verica.
Location and hours: 1961 E. 7th St. (Elizabeth). Open 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Check out brunch, available 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Tiny, no-frills SouthPark restaurant where it’s hard to get a reservation without making it at least a week in advance
Must-order dish: Seared organic chicken served with creamy mashed potatoes, wilted spinach, and a garlic pan sauce ($23).
Agenda pro tip: The restaurant only has about a dozen or so tables, so make sure to call well in advance for a reservation. Also, it’s 30 yards from Foxcroft Wine Co., which makes for a great pre- or post-dinner drink.
Creators: Bruce Moffett, Charlotte’s most famous chef and owner of Moffett Restaurant Group (which oversees Barrington’s, Good Food on Montford, and Stagioni).
Money: $$. Most main courses run $30 to $35 and pastas are $17 to $19.
Location and hours: 7822 Fairview Road (SouthPark). Open 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Closed on Sundays.
The OG of Charlotte small-plate restaurants
Must-order dish: Steamed bun with Five Spice-rubbed pork belly, hoisin, and pickled vegetables ($10).
Agenda pro tip: Go with an intimate group of friends (or a hot date) and share a ton of small plates. You’ll probably need two to four small plates per person. It ends up being an expensive dinner, but worth it. Oh, and the cocktails are underrated.
Logistics: Good Food doesn’t do reservations. It’s first come, first served. But they do use the Nowait app if you’re looking to shorten your wait time.
Creators: Bruce Moffett, again. He’s good.
Money: $$$. Small plates range from $6 to $14.
Location and hours: 1701 Montford Drive. Open 5:30-10 p.m Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Upscale Southern comfort food with a warm, welcoming setting
Must-order dish: BBQ chicken ($13) with side of Margaux’s succotash ($6).
Agenda pro tip: Rooster’s pizzas are underrated—give their roasted chicken pizza a shot.
Creator: Jim Noble, an obsessive BBQ lover, restaurateur, and devoted Christian. Jim will be launching a new BBQ restaurant named Noble Smoke in 2019.
Money: $$. Average entrees run $14 and average sides are about $6.
Locations and hours: SouthPark (6601 Morrison Blvd.; open daily at 11:30 a.m.) and Uptown (150 N. College St.; open at 11 a.m. Monday-Friday, 4 p.m. on Sunday).
#8 Fig Tree
Sets the standard for a white tablecloth, fine dining destination in Charlotte
Must-order dish: Fig Tree’s famous elk chop ($42)—grilled New Zealand elk chop over horseradish spaetzle with smoked bacon-braized purple cabbage and boursin-dijon sauce.
Space: Located in Elizabeth, you’ll find Fig Tree inside a Craftsman-style bungalow built in 1913.
Owners: Chef Greg Zanitsch and GM Sara Zanitsch.
Money: $$$. Entrees include sea bass with lobster ($42), grouper ($36), salmon ($31), scallops ($36), ostrich ($39), elk chop ($42), filet mignon ($40), veal ($37), lamb ($35), and pappardelle ($25).
Location and hours: 1601 E. 7th St. (Elizabeth). Open 5:30-10 p.m Monday-Thursday; 5:30-11 p.m. Friday; 5-11 p.m Saturday; and 5-9 p.m. Sunday.
Chef-driven, obsessively farm-to-table-oriented spot loved by regulars and foodies
Must-order dish: HFC, Heirloom fried chicken served with truffle mac & cheese, Heirloom cabbage slaw and their rooftop honey hot sauce ($16).
Agenda pro tip: For the full effect, order their six-course tasting menu. It’s a journey for your palate.
Creator: Clark Barlowe, arguably Charlotte’s most promising young chef.
Money: $$. Most entrees run in the $20 to $25 range.
Location and hours: 8470 Bellhaven Blvd. Open 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
#10 Hello, Sailor
Creators: Owners are Joe and Katy Kindred, the couple behind the hit restaurant Kindred in Davidson.
Must-order dishes: Carolina shrimp calabash ($15.99) with remoulade. It’s a huge basket of popcorn shrimp. Order for the table and share. Or, go big with Hello, Sailor’s Lobster Roll ($29.99)—one whole lobster topped with meyer lemon on buttery milk bread.
Must-order cocktail: Yacht Club—mezcal, ruby red grapefruit, St. Germaine, lime, and jalapeño agave syrup ($11).
Space: Hello, Sailor seats about 90 inside with another 3,500 square feet of waterfront deck space out back with a tiki bar — and 20 dedicated boat slips.
Location and hours: 20210 Henderson Road, Cornelius (Lake Norman). Open daily at 11 a.m., Tuesday through Sunday.
Adventurous global small plates and amazing cocktails make this the hippest restaurant in our city
Must-order dish: Asian glazed pork belly tacos on flour tortillas with watermelon salsa ($12).
Noteworthy: Rotating DJs come on around 9 p.m. on weekends.
Money: $$. Small plates range from $7 to $20 with most around $10.
Location and hours: 1500 Central Ave. (Plaza Midwood). Open daily, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
#12 Beef ‘N Bottle
Must-order dish: 16 oz. choice-cut ribeye ($39).
Noteworthy: Instead of adding the salad toppings onto the salad, they give you a separate salad topping plate. Puts me to work and allows me to create the perfectly balanced salad and to dip the remaining veggies into my blue cheese salad dressing. Oh, and the cheese dip is money.
Money: $$$. Most steaks are around $40 and each comes with a salad and your choice of one side. Additional sides are another $5 each.
Location and hours: 4538 South Blvd. Open 5-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 5-9 p.m. Sunday.
#13 Flour Shop
Intimate 66-seat restaurant focused on pasta with a central show kitchen in the middle of the dining room.
Menu: The simple, rotating menu consists of fresh pasta and breads along with roasted and grilled meats, seafood, and vegetables. Go with the coal-roasted acorn squash appetizer ($12, and their best seller) and any pasta.
Creator: Trey Wilson, the well-respected chef behind Customshop in Elizabeth.
Date night tip: Go early and then walk across the street to Dot Dot Dot after dinner for a cocktail.
Space: Flour Shop’s kitchen is literally in the center of the restaurant surrounded by a 22-seat, tiled bar. It’s the best seat in the house. In addition to the bar, there are tables that can seat up to another 44 guests. It’s not a big restaurant.
Location and hours: The Backlot (Park Road Shopping Center). Open 5-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Fast-casual Mediterranean and Israeli restaurant with healthy, fresh, and addictive food. I go there at least once a week.
Must-order dish: Shawarma—shawarma chicken, tzatziki, cucumber and tomato salad, tahini, sumac onion, and Schug ($10.99). And get the hummus, too.
Money: $$. Wraps and bowls run around $11.
Locations and hours: SouthPark (720 Governor Morrison Street), Plaza Midwood (1331 Central Avenue), and Dilworth (1231 East Boulevard; coming soon). Open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
#15 Carpe Diem
Fine dining in a non-stuffy Elizabeth neighborhood setting
Must-order dish: Grilled grape salad ($9.50) followed by the buttermilk fried chicken breast ($20).
Agenda pro tip: Eat at the bar area. It’s cool and has a cozier feeling than the main dining room. Oh, and enjoy cleansing your palate with sorbet, because you’re fancy like that.
Money: $$$. Salads are about $9, apps about $12 and entrees range from $19 to $32.
Location and hours: 1535 Elizabeth Ave. (Elizabeth). Open 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
#16 Aix en Provence
Authentic Mediterranean bistro focusing on southern French, northern Spanish, and northern Italian cuisine, nestled in a cozy space in the heart of Myers Park.
Must-order dish: Tagliatelle—bacon lardon, parmesan, and egg yolk cream ($17). Or the lobster spaghetti—Maine lobster, tomato, and parmesan froth ($22).
Agenda pro tip: Stagioni and RuRu’s are within about 250 yards of this spot if you’re looking for another cool place to hang out before or after your meal.
Creators: Chef Nicholas Tarnate, and co-owners/operators Bryan St. Clair and Patrick Garrivier.
Money: $$. Pastas run $17 to $22 and entrees are $29 to $34.
Location and hours: 545 Providence Road (Myers Park). Lunch hours are 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Dinner hours are 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.
O-Ku has the best sushi in Charlotte in a trendy urban setting that’ll make you feel like you’re in Manhattan
Must-order rolls: Spicy rainbow roll—seafood wrapped, filled with snow crab, cucumber, avocado, masago, shiso dust, lime zest rainbow tobiko, spicy aioli, eel sauce, and togarashi ($15). Potato roll—tempura shrimp and avocado wrapped with fried shoe-string potatoes, topped with eel sauce and sweet chili ($13).
Money: $$$. Most rolls are $11-$15.
Location and hours: 2000 South Blvd. (South End). Open5-10:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 5-11 Thursday-Saturday; and 5-10 p.m. Sunday.
#18 The Asbury
Modern Southern restaurant located in Uptown’s Dunhill Hotel
Must-order dishes: Start off with Maw Maw’s cast-iron biscuits with bacon jam and the deviled eggs. You can’t go wrong with any of the entrees, especially if you get a side of their cast-iron mac and cheese with cheddar, grilled piquillo peppers, crispy country ham, and goat Gournay cheese ($8).
Money: $$$. Full entrees range from $20 to $27.
Location and hours: 235 N. Tryon St. (Uptown). Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 am. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Brunch served 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
#19 The Gallery
New American fare located inside The Ballantyne hotel
Must-order dish: French onion soup with OMB-soaked gruyère and focaccia croutons ($10), or the filet with truffle mashed potatoes and charred red onion roasted garlic herb butter ($40).
Agenda pro tip: If you need a getaway, but don’t the time to travel, here’s how to do a 24-hour staycation at The Ballantyne.
Money: $$$. Most entrees range from $30 to $40. The service is outstanding.
Location: 10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway (inside The Ballantyne). Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
#20 La Belle Helene
Upscale French brasserie with stunning interiors
Space: La Belle Helene’s space is like nothing you’ve experienced in Charlotte—it’s truly beautiful. With super-high ceilings and detailed interiors that include a mixture of pewter, antique wood, and leather—it’s freaking gorgeous inside this 166-seat restaurant.
Must-order dish: Tuna tartare ($16) with sweet corn, confit lemon, and a few pieces of popcorn on top. It was the best thing we ate.
Dessert: The baba au rhum dessert is literally cut near the table from a long log and then your server pours rum on top.
Noteworthy: La Belle Helene’s restrooms are amazing and the selfie wall is a super savvy touch.
Location and hours: 300 S. Tryon St. (Uptown). Lunch hours are 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday. Dinner hours are 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 5-11 p.m. Friday. Brunch served 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
Trendy new Tex-Mex restaurant in South End
Appetizer: For an appetizer, skip the guacamole and go with the queso fundido—broiled Monterey Jack and Chihuahua cheeses, warm tortillas and salsa cremosa ($10). Watch: Ted & Katie’s cheese pull challenge.
Cocktails: Go with the Matador—El Jimador Blanco, pineapple, lime, and cilantro, served up ($10), or try the Red Headed Stranger—Deep Eddy Ruby Red Vodka, Campari and fresh grapefruit ($11).
Brunch: Superica’s weekend brunch is a must-do experience. Order the pizza-sized pancake, trust me.
Money: $$. Unless you do the $11.99 lunch special, Superica is pricey for a Tex-Mex joint. Most entrees range from $18-$38, fajitas $20-$28, enchiladas $13-$15 and tacos $13-$16. You get it, it’s not a cheap Mexican spot.
Location and hours: 101 W. Worthington Ave. (South End). Lunch hours are 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Dinner hours are 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Friday. Brunch served 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Farm-focused restaurant led by Chef William Dissen of The Market Place in Asheville
Space: The roughly 4,000-square-foot restaurant features soaring floor-to-ceiling windows, mezzanine level seating, and a cool four-seat chef’s table overlooking the open kitchen. It seats around 120 people in the bar and lounge, main dining room, and upstairs on the mezzanine.
Dishes: Popular dishes include the NC Shrimp a la Plancha ($15), Brasstown Beef Burger ($15) for lunch, and Grilled NY Strip ($32)—and I loved the side of mac and cheese ($8).
Location and hours: 225 South Poplar St. (Uptown). Open at 5 p.m. Monday through Sunday. Brunch served 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Southern comfort food and refreshing craft cocktails
Must-order dishes: Hushpuppies ($7), fried chicken tenders ($2.50/each), mac and cheese ($6/$11), charred okra ($5/$10), and finish off the meal with their waffle and housemade buttermilk ice cream ($8).
Noteworthy: Their cocktails are delicious and feel like they’re the most Instagrammed drinks in the city.
Money: $$. Apps range from $5-$9, fried chicken is about $9.50, and sides range from $3.50 to $6. Cocktails are about $12.
Location and hours: 3106 N. Davidson St. (NoDa). Open 5-11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday; 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday; and 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday. Brunch served 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday.
Tiny roadside burger joint in NoDa that serves breakfast and lunch—no seating, just a few tables for standing
Must-order dish: Cheeseburger served “all the way,” which means mustard, onions, and their homemade chili on top ($3.75). Oh, and people forget they have breakfast sandwiches.
Money: $. You can’t find anything on the menu over $5.
Location and hours: 2710 N. Brevard St. (NoDa). Open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday.
If it’s good enough BBQ for Obama, it’s good enough for you (Yes, he really did visit the Plaza Midwood location of this barbecue spot with Hillary Clinton in 2016)
Must-order dish: Start with the pimento cheese fries ($6) and BBQ queso ($4), then go with the large Carolina pork served with hushpuppies, pickled onions, and two sides (classic mac and cheese and bacon-wrapped jalapeños).
Creator: Frank Scibelli, owner of FS Group, which also owns YAFO, Paco’s Tacos, and Mama Ricotta’s. He recently had a large Bad Daddy’s exit.
Money: $$. Apps are around $5, sandwiches around $9 and BBQ plates run between $10-$18. A whole rack of Saint Louis-style pork ribs with two sides will set you back $25.
Locations: Plaza Midwood (1401 Central Ave.), Ballantyne (12410 Johnston Road), Park Road Shopping Center (540 Brandywine Road) and Birkdale Village (16710 Birkdale Commons Parkway)
#26 New Zealand Cafe
Don’t be fooled by the strip mall location and weird decor—their sushi is the real deal and they don’t price-gouge you
Must-order dish: Rainbow Roll—California roll draped with tuna, salmon, white fish, shrimp, and smelt roe ($8.95). Agenda guide: Definitive ranking of Charlotte’s top 10 sushi spots
Money: $$. Most rolls are $7 to $10.
Location: 1717 Sardis Road North. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Mouthwatering Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant that’s top in our city
Must-order dish: Pistachio Pizza—rosemary, sea salt, ricotta, Buffalo mozzarella, garlic, pistachio pesto sauce and pistachios ($15/$22). If you’re going to do a salad, do the sizable Italian chopped ($10) and finish off the meal with cannoli or gelato.
Money: $$. Salads range from $7 to $10 and small pizzas range from $10 to $15.
Locations and hours: Providence Commons (10620 Providence Road) and Dilworth (2230 Park Road). Open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
White tablecloth, but friendly setting serving up Southern-style dishes in SouthPark
Must-order dish: Octopus and wild boar—spaghetti squash, local peas, tatsoi, apples, cress pesto ($34).
Money: $$$. Entrees run from $21 to $42.
Location and hours: 4905 Ashley Park Lane (SouthPark). Lunch hours are Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Dinner hours are 5-9 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday and 5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Brunch served 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
#29 Mama Ricotta’s
Traditional Italian restaurant
Must-order dish: Penne alla vodka—penne pasta tossed with sautéed pancetta in a pepper vodka and spicy tomato cream sauce ($15). Also, you can’t go wrong with their lasagna— Southern Italian-style lasagna made with layers of ground beef, veal, homemade sausage, and a blend of three cheeses ($13).
Noteworthy: Pizza is a New Haven-style with a thin crust that’s crisp and bubbly, cooked in a true wood-burning oven.
Agenda pro tip: Mama’s does family-style pastas that feed approximately 2 to 3 people that are perfect for takeout.
Money: $$. Medium pizzas are $12.50 and pastas are about $15.
Location and hours: 601 S. Kings Drive (Midtown). Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Small plate restaurant and cocktail lounge
Must-order dish: The #1 most popular dish at Zeppelin is their Point Judith Calamari ($11)—Korean chile, yuzu, pickled bacon dashi gel, serranos, and shishitos. Don’t skip it when you go.
Cocktail: The most popular cocktail, by far, is The Uncle Eddy. It’s that cocktail dramatically served in a smoke-filled glass dome that you’ve seen on Instagram.
Location and hours: 235 W. Tremont Ave. (South End). Open 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Brunch served Sunday.
#31 Futo Buta
Modern, cozy space with creative ramen dishes located in the heart of South End
Must-order dish: Fire & Ice Ramen—kimchi and dashi broth, hot smoked salmon, fresh mint, bok choy, shaved carrot, radish, black sesame, scallion, and leek ($13). If you’re hungry, do the Buta Bowl—chicken and dashi broth, double noodle, pecan smoked pork belly, duck confit, spicy pork, ono chili sauce, sweet white corn, leek, scallion, cayenne pepper threads, and onsen egg ($18).
Money: $$. Steamed buns are $10, small rice bowls are $8, and ramen bowls are between $12-$18.
Location and hours: 222 E. Bland St. (South End). Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
Upscale new American dishes served in a restored 19th-century Dilworth church.
Must-order dish: Fried lobster tail—whipped potatoes, market vegetables, local N.C. honey-soy reduction, and mustard aioli ($39). If you’re more of a steak lover, go with the embered asparagus and cast iron hash browns dry aged 12oz Kansas City strip steak ($38).
Agenda Pro Tip: If you’ve got a group, ask for the 10-person private dining space in the cellar.
Money: $$$. Salads and apps are about $10 and entrees range from $24 to $41.
Location and hours: 1829 Cleveland Ave. (Dilworth). Open 4:30-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
#33 Viva Chicken
Peruvian rotisserie chicken joint well known for its dishes and yellow, green, and red sauces
Must-order dish: 1/4 chicken with cilantro-infused rice and plantains ($8.75). Also, grab a quinoa-stuffed avocado—organic quinoa, avocado, red pepper, rocoto mayo, and balsamic vinaigrette ($7.95)
Noteworthy: Shockingly, Viva Chicken may also have the best fried rice in town ($6.95).
Money: $$. Dishes are about $9.
Locations: Elizabeth (1617 Elizabeth Ave.), Ballantyne (12206 Copper Way), Park Road (4500 Park Road) and Waverly (11641 Waverly Center).
SouthPark Italian restaurant in a Tuscan-themed space with a charming outdoor patio
Popular dishes: Buttera pasta (my favorite)—tubular pasta, Italian sausage, and sweet peas in a tomato cream sauce ($22). And their Osso Buco—Milano style, slow-braised veal shank with saffron risotto ($37).
Money: $$$. Pastas are about $20. Meat and seafood dishes are around $35.
Location and hours: 6401 Morrison Blvd. (SouthPark). Lunch hours are 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday. Dinner hours are 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 5:30-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.
#35 Bistro La Bon
Small plates and tapas restaurant located on the corner of a strip-mall in Plaza Midwood
Must-order dish: P.E.I mussels and frites–pan broth, leeks, tomatoes, and saffron aioli ($13).
Money: $$$. Small plates range from $8-$14 and entrees range from $18-$33.
Location and hours: 1322 Central Ave. (Plaza Midwood). Open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
Top burger joint located in a low-key strip mall in Elizabeth
Must-order dish: Bang Bang Burger ($9.50)—American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, homemade pickle, and Bangburger sauce with fries. A double will cost you an additional $3. Backup order is the Cowboy Burger—sharp cheddar, bacon, and homemade BBQ sauce with fries.
Money: $$. Most fancy burgers will run you about $10.
Location and hours: Elizabeth (2001 E. 7th St.) and South End (235 W. Tremont Ave.). Both locations open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Upscale seafood and sushi restaurant in Phillips Place
Must order appetizer: The Rock—NY Strip with soy ginger marinade, cooked tableside ($12).
Money: $$$. Small plates are about $12 and entrees are around $35.
Location and hours: 6902 Phillips Place (SouthPark). Open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 5:30-9 p.m. Sunday. Brunch served 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
New American restaurant with wood-fired dishes
Must-order dish: Sticky Pork Shank with chili-sorghum glaze, peanuts, and benne ($26).
Appetizer: Watermelon (looks like sushi) with goat cheese, peanut, spices, and seeds ($6).
Money: $$$. Entrees are about $30.
Location and hours: 100 W. Trade St. (inside the Marriott, Uptown). Open 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily.
#39 McNinch House
Set menus and tasting menu served in a Victorian home located in Fourth Ward
Must-order dish: Order the jumbo lump crab cake appetizer with Louisiana-style remoulade, lemon ash, and apple-carrot salad. For your main course, do the filet mignon with hot German potato salad and cognac bordelaise. Most menu items rotate every quarter.
Noteworthy: The Victorian house was built in 1892 and now-owner Ellen Davis (who personally greets each table) lives upstairs.
Money & Menus: $$$. Here are your options:
- Premier Menu – 5 courses ($89): Choice of two appetizers, sorbet, entree, and dessert.
- Grand Menu – 7 courses ($109): Choice of three appetizers, sorbet, entree, cheese, and dessert.
- Chef’s Tasting – 6 courses ($185): Six chef’s choice courses and wine pairings.
Location and hours: 511 N. Church St. (Uptown). Open 6:30-11:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
Our city is obsessed with Sabor’s Latin street food and if you’ve never been, you’re crazy.
Must-order dish: Supreme nachos — tortilla chips, choice of protein, refried or black beans, queso, lettuce, sour cream, pico, guacamole and cotija cheese ($7).
Noteworthy: Sabor’s weekly specials are amazing. Our favorites? $1 Taco Tuesdays, Kids Eat Free Wednesdays, $4 margaritas on Fridays, and tacos are only $1 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. every weekday.
Creator: Dalton Espaillat, who once told me they’d “like to take over Chipotle” with a straight face.
Money: $. Tacos are about $3, street food $6, burritos $8 and nachos are $7.
Locations: 11 in total. Elizabeth, NoDa, Wesley Chapel, Indian Trail, Steele Creek, SouthPark, South End, Fort Mill, Huntersville, Davidson and Pineville.
#41 Lang Van
Must-order dish: Pineapple and pecan special with protein served in a half pineapple.
Agenda pro tip: If you’re a pho newbie, order the pho dac biet, a huge bowl of beef noodle soup.
Location and hours: 3019 Shamrock Drive (East Charlotte).11 a.m. to 10 p.m Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Our city’s go-to Indian restaurant located in a historic Dilworth bungalow.
Must-order dish: Murgh tikka masala—roasted chicken breast chunks, creamed tomato sauce, and fenugreek ($17).
Money: $$. Entrees range from $15-$27.
Location and hours: 311 East Blvd. (Dilworth). Lunch hours are 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Dinner hours are 5-10:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 5-9:30 p.m Sunday.
#43 Paco’s Tacos
Casual Tex-Mex joint with more than 100 tequilas near SouthPark Mall.
Must-order dish: Outlaw steak fajita—giant portion of wood-grilled marinated skirt steak cooked to order on a wood-burning grill ($20). Fajitas are served with onions, green peppers, charro beans, lettuce, red rice, pico de gallo, sour cream, guacamole, jalapeños, shredded cheese, Mexican butter, and warm homemade flour tortillas.
Agenda pro tip: If you’re a queso person, give their Volcano Queso a shot—blend of cheeses melted with pineapple, jalapeño bacon, onions, and poblano peppers ($10).
Money: $$. Most dishes are in the $10-$15 range.
Location and hours: 6401 Morrison Blvd. (SouthPark). Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
#44 Seoul Food
Southern BBQ restaurant with a heavy Korean inspiration, hip urban vibe, Instagrammable cocktails, and an amazing back patio in South End
Must-order dish: Kimchi fries—a mound of french fries, covered with carnitas (pork), kimchi, cheese, and toppings ($4).
Agenda pro tip: Mondays through Thursdays, Seoul Food runs a special from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. where all sides (normally $4) are $1.
Money: $$. Wings are about $1 each, tacos are $4 each, and meats run $9 to $15. Cocktails are excellent and will set you back $8 to $12.
Location and hours: 1400 S. Church St. (South End). Lunch hours are 11:30 a.m.to 3 p.m Monday-Friday. Dinner hours are 4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday-Thursday. Open 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to midnight Sunday.
#45 Crepe Cellar
European gastro pub in a cozy, chill setting
Must-order dish: Pesto brie fries, hand-cut and twice-fried ($8).
Location and hours: 3116 N. Davidson St. (NoDa). Open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m Tuesday and Wednesday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.Thursday; 11:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m Sunday. Closed Monday.
#46 Sea Level
Top seafood restaurant in the heart of Uptown
Must-order dish: Start your group off with a 5th Street Tower—cold cooked mussels, clams, shrimp cocktail, and oysters with cocktail sauce, horseradish, and migonette ($75). Then order the lobster roll ($22).
Money: $$. Oysters are about $3/each and fish dishes range from $21 to $33.
Location and hours: 129 E. 5th St. (Uptown). Open 11:30 a.m to midnight Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.
#47 La Shish Kabob
Authentic Middle Eastern food in a strip mall off Independence Boulevard
Must-order dish: Lamb shank and rice with a side of their cucumber and tomato salad ($13).
Money: $. Most dishes are about $12 and portions are huge.
Location and hours: 3117 N. Sharon Amity Road (East Charlotte). Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
#48 Dumpling Lady
This food truck that serves up locally-sourced, authentic dumplings will be a relief to your belly
Must-order dish: Pork and chive dumplings. $9 for 10 dumplings.
Dumpling Options: Pork and chives, sweet pork belly, chicken and mushrooms, crab and chicken, shrimp and chicken, or veggie.
Money: $. It’s about $9 for 10 dumplings.
Location: Permanent locations are NoDa Company Store (11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.Saturday,), One Wells Fargo (11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday,) and Resident Culture (5-9:30 p.m. Friday), but remember, it’s a food truck, so follow them on Instagram to view their current location.
Famous fried chicken
Must-order dish: 1/4 chicken dark—comes with cole slaw, french fries, hushpuppies, and a roll ($6.85).
Money: $. Prices range from a $2.15 hamburger to a $10.90 1/2 chicken dinner. You can also purchase bulk items if you’re feeding your whole crew.
Location and hours: 1614 Camden Road (South End). Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
The ideal neighborhood tavern, serving unpretentious food in historic Fourth Ward. “Al Mike’s” for those in the know
Must-order dish: What It Is—blackened chicken breast over fresh rotini in a Cajun cream sauce ($16.75).
Money: $$. Sandwiches cost about $9 and entrees are around $17.
Location and hours: 401 W. 9th St. (Fourth Ward, Uptown). Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Cover photo courtesy of Kindred. Rankings are based on food, vibe, beverages, and service.