Garlic Bread Meatball Bombs Are a Bite-Sized Italian Meal
Dolce is easy to pass on busy Kenilworth Ave, but that would be a travesty for you and your taste buds. It doesn’t have showy décor, but the food is the true star -- each dish tastes like it was lovingly prepared by someone’s grandmother. A simple caprese salad, for example, is so fresh, it tastes like the chefs just plucked the tomatoes off the vine. Likewise, fan-favorite gnocchi is only served on Tuesdays to allow other dishes to have a fighting chance of being ordered. Before heading home to fall into a carb-induced slumber, order the vin santo. You’ll rest better with a belly full of this dessert wine, served over panna cotta gelato with fresh mixed berries and whipped cream to top it off.
Plaza-Midwood and other locations
With three locations, this Charlotte restaurant knows how to create pasta dishes, pizza, and other Italian entrees. Founded in 1996 by Giosue (Josh) and Luigi (Gino), who were childhood friends in Naples, Italy, Portofino’s serves recipes from Josh and Gino’s childhood. The family-friendly restaurant serves a mean veal saltimbocca alla Romana (veal, sautéed spinach, and prosciutto with melted mozzarella) and some of the best pizza in Charlotte.
A lunch staple for Uptown workers, and a dinner staple for those going to the Blumenthal for a show, Aria is known for fast service and delicious food. To make sure the food is as authentic as possible, the kitchen staff at Aria were trained in Tuscany. Order the caramelized gnocchi with pear, gorgonzola, and truffle oil to share, or just keep it all for yourself (highly recommended). If you do go in a group, order the pasta tasting option for the table -- you’ll get to enjoy a five-course chef’s choice tasting menu. If you’re still not stuffed, try the orecchiette with sausage -- made with chilies and roasted red peppers, it has just the right amount of kick without being too overpowering.
Don’t let the fact that Fiamma is located in a strip mall deter you. Focused on Northern Italian cuisine, Fiamma makes pasta in-house, and the fish is flown in from Europe to give diners an authentic taste of Italian food. Although it serves lunch, the best time to visit is during dinner, where dim lights and flickering candles make for a very romantic setting. Start with the Polpettini di Melanzane -- eggplant croquettes served with salad and goat cheese -- or the Tagliolini alla Zafferano al Succo di Granchio (if you can pronounce the name, you’re amazing), a homemade saffron pasta sautéed in a spicy tomato sauce with crabmeat.
A Charlotte restaurant staple for almost 15 years, Mama Ricotta’s is known for a welcoming atmosphere with attentive service. Reasonably priced and always delicious, Mama Ricotta's will make you feel like you’re walking into someone’s home. The bread is made in-house, so start with either the cheesy garlic bread (it costs extra, but add the truffle oil) or the warm goat cheese and mascarpone dip served with crostini. The ever-popular penne alla vodka with sautéed pancetta in a peppery, spicy, tomato cream vodka sauce is the most popular pasta dish, and with good reason.
An intimate spot nestled at the base of the Hearst Tower, Luce is white tablecloth dining at its best. A great date or special-occasion spot, this Uptown restaurant has also become a lunch-spot staple for bankers and attorneys trying to impress clients. You can’t order wrong here, but definitely go with one of the fresh seafood dishes -- the flash-fried calamari is served with a spicy marinara and caper aioli sauce and is a great way to kick off your meal. The branzino, also known as European sea bass, is a standout seafood dish because the recipe changes daily. Be sure to order the ricotta cheesecake before you leave.
Opened in 2014, Stagioni is the third Charlotte restaurant from chef Bruce Moffett. Cozy is the best way to describe the interior of Stagioni, which is located in a historic house, as well as how you’ll feel after dining here. The menu changes with each season (in fact, Stagioni means seasons in Italian), and while the pizza is a standout, the Italian dishes with a twist are the real draw. The pork chop is served with Anson Mills polenta, braised greens, and fried pickles. The gelato is amazing, but if it is on the menu, order the Baba au Rhum, a rum-soaked brioche with lemon crema.
This casual dining spot is perfect for out-of-town guests and family because it feels more like a small neighborhood spot than a restaurant located in the heart of bustling South End. If you want something other than pasta, the eggplant Parmigiana is a perennial favorite. Even if you don’t have room, order the zeppole to go; this dessert features Italian doughnuts filled with ricotta cheese and Nutella.
With a great atmosphere and one of the best patios in the city, Vivace serves up beautiful dishes in an equally beautiful setting. The spaghetti with braised meatballs is as comforting as a hug from your grandmother. And those with gluten allergies need not fear: Vivace has an entire gluten-free menu so you don’t have to miss out on dishes such as pasta Bolognese and fettuccini. Don’t forget to end your meal with a glass of the house-made limoncello.
This hidden gem is tucked away so only the true lovers of Italian cuisine know about it… until now. For over a decade, Zio has served made-from-scratch dishes to Charlotteans and transplants alike. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are available, but meat eaters can rejoice at this restaurant. The meat lasagna will silence you for the rest of your meal because you will want to savor every bite. When you visit, don’t miss out on the chance to see where some of your food comes from and visit the garden where Zio grows fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
1. Dolce Ristorante1710 Kenilworth Ave, Charlotte
2. Portofino's3124 Eastway Dr, Charlotte
3. Aria Tuscan Grill100 N Tryon St, Charlotte
4. Fiamma2418 Park Rd, Charlotte
5. Mama Ricotta's601 S Kings Dr Ste Aa, Charlotte
6. Luce Restaurant & Bar214 N Tryon St, Charlotte
7. Stagioni715 Providence Rd, Charlotte
8. Luciano's Ristorante Italiano1910 South Blvd, Charlotte
9. Vivace Italian Restaurant1100 Metropolitan Ave Ste 100 Bldg E, Charlotte
10. Zio Casual Italian116 Middleton Dr, Charlotte
Located on Kenilworth Avenue, this casual eatery is beloved by Charlotte locals for its hearty Italian comfort food like veal marsala, eggplant rotolini, frutti di mare, and time-honored small plates. The gnocci -- undeniably the house signature, with your choice of sage butter, beef bolognese, four cheese, or pesto -- is so popular that it's only served on Tuesdays as to give the other dishes a fair chance at being ordered. Dolce also doubles as a relaxed wine bar, offering a robust list of Italian and Californian bottles.
Portofino’s, located in a quiet shopping center, is a family-owned business serving up a solid Italian pie. It's the perfect spot for when you want to get take-out and enjoy the delicious pizza, with options like the Arrabiatta, a salty-savory dream layered with spicy marinara, prosciutto, mushrooms, tomatoes, kalamata olives and mozzarella cheese.
There’s pizza, and then there’s wood-fired pizza; there’s great cocktail bars, and then there’s cocktail bars that are so dedicated to mixology that they make their own Limoncello in house. It’s safe to say that Aria is one of the latter: a market-driven restaurant devoted to authentic Tuscan comfort food, served with modern presentation in a sultry, contemporary environs. It’s just a stones’ throw from the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, so consider making a reservation if you’re trying to impress a date with a popular pre-concert dinner.
This Dilworth spot is so committed to offering an authentic Italian experience that it has fresh fish flown in from Europe on a daily basis, handmakes its pastas in-house everyday, and sources local ingredients to make brightly flavored, hearty sauces. From its goldenrod walls and rustic décor, to its elegant takes on time-honored classics like saffron pasta in a crabmeat-tomato sauce, bolognese pappardelle, calamari misto, and beef carpaccio, Fiamma is probably the closest you can get to Tuscany without leaving Charlotte itself. The bar crafts classic cocktails like negronis and old fashioneds, but we suggest you opt for the wine list: curated and featuring a variety of Italian bottles, it's designed to pair with the food menu and enrich the overall dining experience.
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.
From its polished, Venetian-inspired interior to its elegant takes on time-honored fare like beef carpaccio, handmade pastas, frutti di mare, and Milano-style osso bucco over risotto, Luce offers one of the most authentic and upscale Italian dining experiences in Charlotte. It's the ideal locale for an intimate date night, important business dinner, as the price point lends itself to special occasions. The wine list features an array of Italian and Californian wines, but regulars tend to rave about the cocktails at Luce -- you can never go wrong with an expertly-made Manhattan.
This is an updated take on a classic Italian bistro, with European elegance and a restrained seasonal menu. Using all local produce and proteins, the chefs at Stagioni craft a list of small, sharable plates inspired by classic Italian flavors, along with wood-fired pizzas and handmade pastas. There's no guarantee what'll be there when you go, but definitely keep an eye out for the creamy housemade burrata and hand-rolled gnocci. There's definitely an upscale vibe within the space itself, but the atmosphere is relaxed an causal—no need to get dressed up. You will want to make a reservation, however, as this place gets rather busy. The upscale-yet-relaxed dining room features an Italian-inspired menu of surprising small plates and seasonal entrees along with wood-fired pizzas and handmade pastas.
With its intricate deco ceiling, white linen-covered table tops, and cozy ambience, Luciano's has the feel of an old-school, neighborhood locale. Meals here are a lively affair, abuzz with guests who return time and time again for standout plates like veal osso buco over saffron risotto, eggplant parmigiana, braised beef agnolotti, and wood-fired flatbread pizzas (they're all pretty delicious). It's an upscale ambience, so consider leaving the kids at home and indulging in an intimate dinner over hearty Italian fare and a bottle of wine.
Go straight for the patio at this Midtown Charlotte joint — the stunning views of the city skyline serve as a backdrop for some of the most authentic Italian fare around. Come for a killer brunch of gourmet egg dishes, short rib hash and chicken & biscuits, or stop by for dinner to watch the sunset over a cripsy, thin crust pizza, traditional pasta dish or whatever seasonal fish is available (expect swordfish and salmon). You can also get cozy in the sleek lounge for a signature, seasonal or classic cocktail or a glass of wine from its decent-sized collection.
Boasting an romantic, flora-laden patio and bountiful herb and produce garden, Zio offers authentic Italian fare unparalleled in freshness and flavor. Here you'll find loaded salads, hearty house-made pastas (pro tip: try the penne alla vodka), and wood-grilled flatbreads, all made from family recipes hailing from Italy itself. The brick-walled, homey eatery is a hidden gem tucked away in Myers Park, frequented by "in the know" locals for its amicable ambience and refined-yet-relaxed dinners. As an added bonus, there's an array of gluten-free and vegetarian options available, ensuring that everyone can partake a flavorful feast.