SABOR LATIN STREET GRILL | COURTESY OF SABOR LATIN STREET GRILL
Food & Drink

The Definitive Guide to Eating and Drinking in NoDa

Published On 11/01/2016
"Tiny Dog Mafia" | Courtesy of The Dog Bar

Best place to grab a beer with your pup: The Dog Bar

Want to go out and grab a beer, but don’t want to leave your fur baby at home? The Dog Bar is the place for both of you. Dogs are allowed off-leash to frolic and play while their owners can drink beer, wine, and cocktails. The bar doesn’t serve food, but has takeout menus on hand for you to order in. Word to the wise: watch your step, dogs will be underfoot.

Best place to order beer and oysters: Growlers Pourhouse

Focused on craft beer, Growlers Pourhouse has a regularly rotating beer list guaranteeing you will see something new each time you go. In addition to the beer selection, the food is not to be dismissed or missed. The oyster selection changes daily and is always fresh. Not sure what to drink with your oysters? Never fear! The bartenders will help you pair your oysters with just the right beer.

Best place to order nachos: Sabor Latin Street Grill

Sabor Latin Street Grill focuses on street food you would typically see in Latin American countries. You really can’t go wrong with anything you order here, but the nachos are on another level. There is the supreme -- which is a more standard order with guacamole, queso, pico de gallo, and choice of protein -- but the Dominican is for the more adventurous nacho connoisseur. Yuca fries smothered in shredded chicken, sautéed cabbage, pico de gallo, cotija cheese, and rosada sauce make for an unforgettable experience.

Best place to order comfort in a cup: The Smelly Cat Coffeehouse & Roastery

Since 2000, Smelly Cat has provided caffeinated fuel to those who live in NoDa, as well as those who come from all over the city for a cuppa joe. Coffee (including the signature nitrogenated cold brew), tea, and fresh-baked goods can be found at this coffeehouse with a cult following. This quirky spot also has a shady outdoor patio and open mic/stand-up comedy nights, but is also quiet enough to stay and work or study.

The Crepe Cellar

Best restaurant for a date night: Crepe Cellar

Whether for a first date, a special occasion, or just a night out with your sweetie, Crepe Cellar is the perfect date spot in NoDa. A dimly lit interior with dark wood, wallpaper, and brick walls set the tone, while the food and drinks take the experience to the next level. Order one of the signature crepes, or another entree such as the steak and Guinness pie or the mussels. Order a bottle of wine or a signature cocktail from the impressive beverage list and let the night take you where it may.

Best place to grab a sandwich: NoDa Bodega

Featuring Boar's Head meats, a selection of cheeses, beer, wine, and other stop-and-grab goodies, the NoDa Bodega has a little something for everyone. Pick up some essentials or order a sandwich to go; if you’re a meat lover, the Italian Stallion with prosciutto, finocchiona, coppa, fresh mozzarella, and peppadew relish will nearly overfill your belly. Don’t forget the daily soup specials -- the Portuguese white bean soup is a treat when offered.

Jeff McElwee

Best place to get a waffle sandwich: FūD at Salud

Didn’t know that you needed a waffle sandwich? Well, you definitely do. Nestled in Salud Beer Shop, FūD at Salud serves up delicious sandwiches, but the crowning glory is that you can have your sandwich served on waffles. The chicken & waffles with chicken salad, bacon, maple syrup, and candied walnuts is a crowd favorite, as are the specialty waffle of the week offerings.

Best place for an aggressively large slice of pizza: Benny Pennello's

Benny’s gave NoDa and Charlotte exactly what it needed, but never realized it needed -- a slice of pizza that requires two plates. If you have a small car, don’t even try to order a pizza to go or you may end up putting a 28in pie in the trunk. Pizza options range from standards like cheese and pepperoni, to more unique flavors like chorizo and queso, as well as specials that change monthly. Wash down that cheesy goodness with one of more than 25 craft brews.

Courtesy of Heist Brewery

Best brewery where you'd be an idiot not to order a cocktail: Heist Brewery

Yes, Heist serves its own delicious beers, but you also have one of the O.G. Charlotte bartenders making amazing cocktails. Stefan Huebner serves up classics like mojitos as well as new takes on classics, such as the pecan smoked Manhattan. Since it’s a brewery, there are even beer cocktails such as the Black Fog, which is made with Heist’s stout, blackberry puree, and Jim Beam Rye.

Best place to drink and swing: NoDa Company Store

Opened in the spring of 2016, NoDa Company Store features craft beer from the Carolinas in cans and on draft, as well as a thoughtful wine selection. If available, order one of the house-made sangrias or Bellinis. While the store is charming, take your drink outside on a nice day. There are picnic tables set up, but the real draw is the swingset. Sip and swing your afternoon away solo, with your special person, or with friends.

Brooks Sandwich House

Best place to grab a burger: Brooks' Sandwich House

Brooks’ Sandwich House has served Charlotteans breakfast and lunch for more than 40 years. At this family-owned institution, patrons can order a cheeseburger “all the way” with mustard, onions, and thick homemade chili for $3.75. Extra napkins will be needed.

Best place to grab some gumbo: Boudreaux's Louisiana Kitchen

Serving Cajun and seafood dishes, Boudreaux's Louisiana Kitchen is a great spot for something different. The gumbo is the star of the menu, but you can’t go wrong with any of the Cajun classic dishes, especially the mulatte, tilapia topped with rice and etouffee.

Courtesy of The Blind Pig

Best place for late-night Skee-Ball: The Blind Pig

The Blind Pig is where the big kids go to play. You could spend hours playing your favorite old games such as Skee-Ball, Jenga, foosball, and the claw (just try getting a stuffed animal after a couple drinks). This is a watering hole through and through, with a craft beer tap to match. There is a $1 annual membership fee because it doesn’t serve food, but with all the other restaurants within walking distance, we know that you won’t go hungry.  

Best restaurant to cure a hangover: JackBeagle's

If you had a little too much fun in NoDa the night before (it happens to the best of us), head to JackBeagle's. If it’s the weekend, order the Bucho’s breakfast hoagie, which was created specifically to fix your hangover. Seriously, it says so on the menu. Scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, grilled onions, cheddar cheese, and breakfast taters served on a foot-long Italian hoagie will cure all that ails ya… or it may just make matters worse.  

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The Best Burgers in Charlotte, According to Our National Burger Critic

Published On 05/03/2017
C harlotte surprised me. I’ve been to Charlotte several times before, and I must admit I didn’t love it much in the past. Most of what I’d seen was new and sponsored by Bank of America -- the whole Downtown scene felt contrived and shaped out of some conventional vision of what a Downtown city should look like. And so I figured this would translate into some uninteresting cookie cutter burger joints. But man, I was very, very wrong.
In my 24 hours eating my way through Charlotte’s burger scene, I was able to see a huge range of classic places with long histories in beautiful areas I’d never ventured into. And that doesn’t even count my side trip to Davidson. After talking with chefs and food writers, I pared down a list to seven essential burgers.
In case you’re new to my rankings, here are some guidelines: If the restaurant had multiple burgers, I tried to order its signature burger, or if that was too outlandish and stunt-y, the closest to a classic cheeseburger. If it came with options, I always picked American cheese and grilled onions. If you think I missed a place, please hold up a poster detailing the names of the places at the next Charlotte Hornets game, and attempt to hand deliver it to center Frank Kaminsky afterwards. He knows where to find me. In the meantime, here are the seven best burgers in Charlotte:
Small Block Burger with Cheese "all the way" | Laura Sumrak/Thrillist

7. Small Block Burger w/ Cheese “all the way”

Diamond Restaurant

Address and Info

Plaza Midwood

You see the term “all the way” thrown around a lot in North Carolina burger joints, but as you’ll see later, it doesn’t always mean the same thing. Diamond, a sort of retro-refreshed diner that originally opened in 1945 and has been through three different ownership groups in the past 70 years, uses the term to mean “lettuce, tomato, onions, mayo, and pickles” on the burger.

My Small Block burger was good. The hand-formed, irregularly shaped patty had solid crust from the griddle and a pleasingly loose grind, but was overcooked and slightly under-salted. The composition of the toppings was balanced, but it lacked any sort oomph factor to move it higher. Still, if you’re starting with this burger at the bottom, you’re in pretty good shape.

Single Beef Burger | Laura Sumrak/Thrillist

6. Single beef burger w/ American, caramelized onion, and roasted garlic mayo on white bun

Kickstand Charlotte Burger Bar

Address and Info

Plaza Midwood

Poor Kickstand. There was construction right in front of the building when I drove up, and it took me two passes to figure out how to actually get into the restaurant. All of the signature burgers here were too stunty, so I opted to create my own. The flavor of the beef in the patty was good, the meat was cooked to a perfect, pink medium, and the roasted garlic mayo blended in with the American cheese. The meat gave the burger a solid balance, but there were a few issues: the bun, though well toasted, was too big and bulky for the size of the patty; and the caramelized onions were slightly underdone. Much like Diamond, the burger was good, but lacked an “it” factor to push it even higher.

jumbo cheeseburger | Laura Sumrak/Thrillist

5. Jumbo Cheeseburger

South 21 Drive-In

Address and Info

Elizabeth

Man, I loved coming to this spot.  As you drive up, you see a giant sign that says “serving Charlotte since 1955” in big red block letters. The billboards in the back of the restaurant alone are a reason to visit. Many of them hype the “Super Boy” burger, which is two patties, mustard, onions, lettuce, and tomato, but when I pushed the button to order, I opted for the Super Boy with cheese, which is sadly called the Jumbo Cheeseburger.

Post ordering, in one of the more meta moments of the trip I said, aloud to myself, “I missed my opportunity to say Super Boy aloud!”

As for the Super Boy with cheese, it is a very solid diner burger. The thin patties have great char, but not a ton of meat flavor. The main components you really taste are the mustard and onions, and that acid and tang could sometimes overwhelm the meat, but if you caught it just right, you’d get a delicious, salty, meaty balance, and feel pretty damn good about yourself. I am going to write Super Boy one more time just because it’s so enjoyable. Super Boy.

4. Skillet Burger

Kindred

Address and Info

Davidson

If you asked me to envision the most aesthetically pleasing neighborhood restaurant, it might not beat Davidson’s gloriously handsome Kindred. Long a darling of the national media, Kindred has all the instantly Instagrammable touches: beautiful leather on its bar chairs, a perfectly scuffed brick back wall, white tiles on the floor, and the sort of blue door you’d find in Bermuda.

I’d been here once before for dinner and knew the burger was only available on the lunch menu, so I made a point to stop into Davidson for lunch as I drove from Charlotte to Asheville. The Skillet Burger is a double burger, and though the two patties aren’t wide in diameter, they’re of a sort of middle width between a steakhouse burger and the diner version. The meat itself was victual glory -- salty, perfectly cooked, and buttery with a loose grind. The cheddar had some age and nuttiness to it as well, but there were a few small quibbles -- the aioli lacked a lot of flavor (it served more as a lubricant for the bun), and the “quick pickles” were too damn quick to provide suitable acid to combat that rich beef and cheese flavor. I think some slower pickles would go a long way here.

The Bang Bang Burger, single | Laura Sumrak/Thrillist

3. The Bang Bang Burger, single

Bang Bang Burgers

Address and Info

Elizabeth

I didn’t want to like Bang Bang. For one, it was in a strip mall that seemed designed to make it impossible to find parking. Second, its Black Angus beef is from NYC’s Pat LaFrieda, and that made me feel like it was a carpetbagger of sort (“Find some Carolina meat, dammit!” I shouted internally while looking at the menu, absentmindedly waving my fist).

But dammit if the burger wasn’t pretty damn delicious. The bun was perfectly griddled, toasted on the inside and soft on the outside, and the homemade pickle and “Bangburger” sauce had just the right amount of acid to balance the meat. I’ll be honest here, folks. There’s a reason LaFrieda is the most famous butcher and meat purveyor in the US: He knows what the hell he’s doing. That patty was seared up to a perfect medium, and the grind was spectacularly loose and salty and the beef flavor came through cleanly. Just a really, really solid burger. I just suggest you maybe walk there or something.

the zack's special | Laura Sumrak/Thrillist

2. The Zack’s Special

Zack’s Hamburgers

Address and Info

South End

Zack’s was the first place I went after getting off the plane from Charleston. I got there by 11:30am, and there was already a line snaking around the back of the restaurant, filled in equal measure with office workers and construction guys in neon vests. I sighed audibly and thought that this would mess with my finely tuned schedule, but somehow, after about 10 minutes of waiting in line, I got my Zack’s Special burger exactly seven minutes after ordering.

I sat under the red and white umbrellas outside and inhaled this burger, which tasted almost exactly like the homemade version of a Big Mac. Great grind on the patties, a well-toasted sesame seed bun that stayed the hell out of the way, shredded lettuce blending in with the sauce, hamburger dill pickles providing acid. Zack’s is a legend for a reason: It makes one of the truly great diner-style burgers in all of North Carolina.

Burger with cheese "all the way" | Laura Sumrak/Thrillist

1. Burger with cheese “all the way”

Brooks’ Sandwich House

Address and Info

NoDa

Have you been to Brooks’ Sandwich House, friends? Have you pulled up to a dusty red shack behind an overpass across from trendy developments on a patch of dirt and shrouded by trees, and looked at this little house with black bars on the windows and wondered just what sort of culinary witchcraft was happening inside? Did you see 20 people of every stripe -- hipsters and office workers and auto mechanics still in their jumpsuits -- all standing outside, patiently waiting for a specific number? Did you go inside and order the burger with cheese “all the way” and realize belatedly that this meant something different than you’d originally thought?

When you finally heard your number called, did you let out a cry of glee and retreat to the standing tables outside? Did you make weird audible groans of ecstasy as you bit into a burger with some of the best char you’ve ever seen mixed with the rich meaty flavor of a thick, subtly smoky chili, the crisp tang of diced white onions, and the acid from yellow mustard? Did you raise your hands in victory after you finished the burger and proclaim to yourself in your rental car that this was definitely the best burger in Carolina, and maybe one of the best in country?

Well then, it seems we shared similar experiences at Brooks’.