Courtesy of SquireFox Photography
Food & Drink

The 15 Most Essential Restaurants in Charlotte

Published On 05/05/2015

Rooster’s Uptown

Uptown
What you’re getting: Charcuterie, spit-fire roasted chicken, pan-fried corn
Veteran Chef Jim Noble captured the hearts of Charlotteans when he opened the Rooster’s wood-fired kitchen in Uptown. The den-like space, accented with wrought iron and wood, smells like a comforting campfire. The food is rustic and refined thanks to a wood-fired grill and a seasonal menu. Go for the spit-fire roasted chicken and pommes frites, and don’t skip the buttery pan-fried corn, slightly charred and tossed with fresh herbs. Mouthwatering simplicity is the essence of the whole place.
 

Courtesy of 300 East

300 East

Dilworth
What you’re getting: Windy Hill Burger, soppressata pizza, fish tacos
The inviting patio alone is reason enough to visit 300 East, the neighborhood restaurant off East Blvd, family owned and operated for over 25 years. The menu's focused on local ingredients from area farmers, including a pasture-raised burger stacked high with your choice of toppings from onion marmalade to pimento cheese. Breakfast pizza at brunch is highly recommended as are the dessert specials.

Bill Spoon's BBQ

Bill Spoon’s Barbecue

South Boulevard
What You’re Getting: Pulled pork, hushpuppies, banana pudding
Eastern Carolina barbeque is alive and well at Bill Spoon’s, the red and white building that landed in South Boulevard long before urban development filled the roads with strip malls and condos. For over 45 years, Bill Spoon’s has served hickory smoked whole hog barbeque laced with vinegar and red pepper, along with a punchy mustard slaw. Though you can’t meet the restaurant’s namesake anymore, Spoon’s grandson, Steve Spoon III, can be found carrying the torch and a friendly smile at the cash register.

Courtesy of Lunahzon Photography 

Barrington’s

South Park
What you’re getting: Handmade parmesan gnocchi, spring pea soup
After two decades in operation, Barrington's is still among the best restaurants in town. The intimate space has date night written all over it. The seasonal menu of classics is thoughtful, yet not overly complicated. Spring for a bowl of the pillow-soft Parmesan gnocchi doused in an all-consuming braised veal and porcini mushroom sauce. 

Courtesy of Michael Hernandez

Block & Grinder

Elizabeth/Myers Park
What you’re getting: Chicken liver mousse, pork belly tacos, beef tartare
Block & Grinder is so easy to love. Maybe it’s the duck ham, or the jars of chicken liver mousse, or the addictive bourbon and sorghum-glazed pork belly on cornbread pancakes. Whatever it is, the draw to return to this casual neighborhood space is strong. Of course, the rotating wild game burger and hearty steaks from the block make the case for repeat business too.

Courtesy of Bonterra

Bonterra

Dilworth
What you’re getting: Border Springs lamb ribs, fried lobster tail, salted caramel trifle
Bonterra offers classic fare and the largest wine list in Charlotte (over 200 wines by the glass, 300 more by the bottle), all inside of a 110-year-old church space. Start with the Border Springs lamb ribs and then move on to one of the seasonal specials with of-the-moment ingredients like soft-shell crabs and Appalachian ramps.

Courtesy of Frank Balthazar 

The Diamond Restaurant

Plaza Midwood
What you’re getting: Pig Wings, Winky-dink Dog, Diamond Boy 
Snag a vinyl-backed booth, put some money in the jukebox, and enjoy the hipster landscape and gritty charm of The Diamond. Daily specials will take you to lunch-lady land with marinated beef tips and comforting casserole-like sides. Try the Pig Wings late night, or grab a Winky-dink Dog covered in pimento cheese and chili at lunch.

Courtesy of Lunahzon Photography

Good Food on Montford

Park Road
What you’re getting: Steamed bun, Korean beef, P.E.I. mussels 
The eclectic small plates menu at Good Food on Montford has helped earn Bruce Moffett previous James Beard nominations for best chef in the Southeast. Though the menu changes with the seasons, staples like the steamed bun stuffed with five spice rubbed pork belly, and the mussels in a green curry coconut broth remain undeniable favorites. If you’re looking for conviviality, this is your place.

Intermezzo Cafe Charlotte

Intermezzo

Central Avenue
What you’re getting: Sarma, wood-grilled fungi pizza, beef burek
Intermezzo is the kind of place you run toward when the weather gets crappy. Emanating warmth and comfort from its brick facade, this Serbian-owned restaurant is just as much a pizza joint at it is a bistro. Go for some sarma, warm, fermented cabbage rolls stuffed with rice, ground beer, and spices, or spinach burek, the Serbian version of spanakopita. Locals have been known to keep the martini bar inside Intermezzo well oiled.

Keia Mastrianni/Thrillist 

Luna’s Living Kitchen

SouthEnd
What you’re getting: Rawco Taco salad, Living Burrito, gingerade
Enlightened folks, or those looking to recover from a few bad decisions, flock to this popular raw-foods cafe centered around plant-based creations. Order a fresh-pressed juice with the Hola Granola bowl for breakfast which includes your choice of almond, hemp, or coconut milk. We also recommend the Rawco Taco salad for lunch: walnut-almond crumbles and cashew sour cream on a bed of greens served with avocado, pico de gallo, and Luna’s killer house-made hot sauce. 

Courtesy of Lumiere

Lumiere

Myers Park
What you’re getting: Butter poached lobster salad, modern duck a l’Orange
Veteran Chef Tom Condron went for the gusto last year when he opened Lumiere, a classic French dining experience. It goes back to the glory days of dining when chefs donned toques and sauciers were necessarily employed. Here, there’s duck l’Orange and whole fish sauced tableside. Prepare for a lavish experience laden with butter and foie gras dreams.

Flickr/Krista

Price’s Chicken Coop

South End
What you’re getting: Fried chicken
Grab a wad of cash and head to Charlotte’s one-and-only fried chicken institution where not much has changed over 50 years. The chicken is deep fried, hot, and crispy, just be sure to keep to the right once you walk through the doors. White collar, blue collar, no collar -- the place attracts people of all types who find solidarity in the possession of the Price’s coveted grease-stained takeout box.

Mama Ricotta's Restaurant

Mama Ricotta’s

King’s Drive
What you’re getting: Warm goat cheese dip, linguine alle vongole, pollo romano
Mama Ricotta’s is one of Charlotte’s well-loved spots owned and operated by Frank Scibelli, the Queen City’s kingpin restaurateur. Mama’s, as it’s fondly called, is a place where groups can gather around big plates of pasta served family style, or an authentic wood-fired pizza. The food is as consistent as the day is long, which is why Mama’s remains a city favorite after all these years.

Courtesy of Tonya Russ Price/PopRock Photography 

Lang Van Vietnamese

Shamrock/The Plaza
What you’re getting: Fresh rolls, Vietnamese yellow pancake, vermicelli with shrimp and pork 
If there was a Vietnamese restaurant version of Cheers, it would be filmed at Lang Van. While this ethnic gem is located off the beaten path, you'll still find a packed house full of locals, and an attentive staff and owner that can remember your order every time you walk in the door. The Vietnamese dishes are traditional and fresh, from bun, to pho, and Vietnamese yellow crepes, which are not to be missed. 

Courtesy of Sabor

Sabor

Elizabeth
What you’re getting: Tacos Autenticos, Dominican nachos, Elote Loco
Sabor is bringing joy to those craving Latin street food. It's Dominican-owned, which means that in addition to hand-held tacos on corn tortillas, you can get things like arepas stuffed with hot, melty cheese and Dominican nachos (Yuca fries topped with shredded chicken, cabbage, and Sabor pink sauce, aka ketchup and mayo mixed together). Order at the counter and then pick your poison at the hot sauce bar before your meal hits the table.
 
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Food & Drink

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

Published On 05/12/2017
Kickstand Charlote Burgers N Bar | Laura Sumrak/Thrillist
Food & Drink

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’.