This year has been a busy one for Charlotte’s culinary scene. Longtime chefs have switched restaurants, while others have brought new tastes to the Queen City and expanded the local palate. Restaurants are opening and shuttering at a more rapid rate, which may be a sign that Charlotteans have developed high expectations when dining out. Many new concepts have opened since January, so we’ve highlighted the best of the best thus far.
All of the restaurants on this list are part of our ongoing quest to find this year's best new restaurants in America, and we're combing through every opening in every Thrillist city. Get involved on Instagram -- #BestRest2016 -- to let us know your picks and your favorite dishes at each of these new spots.
Located in the newly renovated Charlotte Marriott City Center, Stoke feels more like a gathering in someone’s (very large) kitchen then it does a hotel restaurant. Chef Chris Coleman developed a menu of approachable, seasonal American cuisine with locally sourced ingredients. Pull up a seat and watch as Chef Chris and his team prepare meals in their large wood-fired oven. Start off with a ham and cheese board, then order the sticky pork shank and be prepared to make an awkward moaning sound as you devour this tender meat. Don’t forget to get a cocktail from the bar -- the Bartender’s Handshake is not to be missed.
Just outside Charlotte’s city limits is the town of Belmont. While it’s worth a visit for the cute shops and places to eat, the opening of Nellie’s Southern Kitchen took the town to the next level. Named in honor of Nellie Jonas and opened by her grandchildren, including Kevin Jonas, Sr. (yep, he’s the daddy of the Jonas Brothers), the menu is based on good ol’ Southern dishes, just like Nellie made for her family. Her namesake Nellie’s Chicken N Dumplins and four-cheese mac with bacon and onions will make you want to slap someone -- but don’t, Nellie wouldn’t like that -- and be sure you don’t leave without trying the banana pudding.
Known for their Rock Hill restaurant The Yolk, chef Gregory Collier and his wife Subrina have finally brought their breakfast delicacies to Charlotte. There is something for everyone at @Dawn -- from vegan dishes such as crispy tempeh to the BEG (bacon, egg, and gouda) biscuit. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so indulge and then go home and take a nap.
Originally a Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar concept, WP Kitchen + Bar was taken back to the drawing board to answer the challenges of Charlotte’s evolving and expectant palate. The result is a menu of craft cocktails and standout items like the handmade meatballs and grilled prime rib-eye with house sauce that will make you want to lick your plate. While the menu focuses more on ingredients than pizza, the pies are still good -- especially the grilled chicken option with barbecue sauce.
The folks behind Charlotte perennial favorites Crepe Cellar and Growlers Pourhouse finally brought seafood back to Uptown. The raw-bar menu changes daily, so call ahead if you want to know what options will be, or wing it by ordering order a few oysters and “fun food” to get to know Sea Level’s style. The oyster slider and the shrimp & grits are stellar, and the truly brave will order an oyster shooter (your choice of vodka, gin, or tequila).
It’s unlikely that a restaurant in Charlotte has received so much acclaim before it actually opened, but Kid Cashew did and it delivered. The Mediterranean fusion menu includes not-to-miss dishes such as the chargrilled octopus with lemon vinaigrette, forbidden rice & mushroom paella, and the lemon-oregano chicken. Although the inside is homey, grab a seat on the patio during a nice night for extra ambiance.
Using a wood-fired oven shipped from Italy that cooks a pizza within 90 seconds, Inizio is as close to authentic Neapolitan-style pizza as Charlotteans will get without hopping on a plane. Grab a bottle of wine and order a large of one of its signature pizzas (because you know you’ll want leftovers). You can’t go wrong with any of the pizzas here, but know that you will be coming back. Start with Inizio’s top seller, the pistachio pizza, made with rosemary, sea salt, ricotta, buffalo mozzarella, and a house-made pistachio-pesto sauce.
Situated on the first floor of the Omni Hotel, Essex Bar & Bistro is another dining and cocktail option in Uptown -- and an excellent place for people watching on Trade and Tryon Sts. The gastropub features a menu with strong Mediterranean influences, and the falafel, lamb kefta sliders, and veal meatballs will have you thinking about another reservation before you’ve paid the bill. Don’t forget to try one of the cocktails; the Rob Collins No. 2 with Hendrick's Gin, mint, and prosecco is a great way to start or end your dining experience.
Tacos, and tortas, and tapas… oh my! Although Babalu is a chain, Charlotte ain't mad, which is apparent when you see the number of people waiting to be seated. Babalu may have some of the best tableside guacamole in Charlotte right now (get it with bacon and jalapeños). Other not-to-miss dishes include the beef empanada with cumin crema sauce, and the redfish taco with jalapeno-poblano vinaigrette. Babalu also offers weekend brunch, and the tortilla Española omelet -- made with potato, chorizo, bacon, and egg layered in a cast-iron skillet topped with Sriracha crema, fresh tomatoes, and scallions -- is worth waking up early.
What started as an annual food festival to celebrate burgers and beer is now ongoing at a brick-and-mortar restaurant. You will fantasize about the cheese curds and the rosemary, truffle, and sea salt fries. There are great salad options, but it’s all about the meat here: the brew-braised mushroom and Swiss cheeseburger is just as mouthwatering as it sounds, and the backyard classic burger will have you thinking of summer cookouts even in the winter.
Nestled on a quiet street in a historic home, the delightful Poplar Street Tapas Café & Bar is good for date night, dinner with friends, or a night when you’re flying solo. The menu is inspired by Peruvian cuisine and also features a simple but well-curated wine list and homemade desserts. Poplar’s arugula, avocado, and orange salad with olive oil honey lime dressing will change the way you view salads, and the ceviche is fresh, with the perfect amount of lime and cilantro flavors. Order the signature cocktail, Lucia’s Pisco Sour, and enjoy the ambiance.
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1. Stoke100 W Trade St, Charlotte
2. @Dawn2130 Ayrsley Town Blvd, Ste C, Charlotte
3. WP Kitchen + Bar6706 Phillips Place Ct, Charlotte
4. Nellie's Southern Kitchen36 N Main St, Belmont
5. Sea Level129 E 5th St, Charlotte
6. Kid Cashew1608 East Blvd, Charlotte
7. Essex Bar & Bistro101 S Tryon St, Ste 14, Charlotte
8. Moo & Brew1300 Central Ave, Charlotte
9. Babalu Tapas & Tacos Charlotte1511 East Blvd, Charlotte
10. Inizio Pizza Napoletana10620 Providence Rd, Charlotte
11. Poplar Street Tapas Café & Bar224 W 10th St, Charlotte
Housed inside the Charlotte Marriott City Center, the sleek and spacious Stoke looks like an extension of the restaurant's open kitchen, where chefs are creating seasonal American cuisine, much of which is wood-fired. There are plenty of wooden and marble tables to gather around, and if you're lucky, you'll get a seat near the kitchen so you can watch as the team pieces together beautiful ham and cheese boards, and dishes like tender sticky pork shank and smoked chicken. The bar features local craft beer and artisanal cocktails (go for the Bartender’s Handshake).
If you've experienced the magical breakfast at the Yolk in Rock Hill, get excited: you're in for equally outstanding morning treats from Chef Gregory Collier and his wife, Subrina, with their understated cafe @Dawn in Charlotte's Steele Creek. The sustainable, organic menu may feature just a handful of dishes, but it has something for everyone -- from the vegan crispy tempeh to the BEG (bacon, egg, and gouda) biscuit. It's only open until 2pm, so all of this husband-wife team's attention is poured into these scrumptious brunch creations, and it shows in every bite.
Situated in Phillips Place, WP Kitchen + Bar is a rustic-chic restaurant from Wolfgang Puck serving up a menu inspired by how the celeb chef dines at home, which means small plates, signature pizzas, and homemade pastas. There are some standout proteins, too, like handmade meatballs and grilled prime rib-eye with a tasty house sauce. WP was originally supposed to be a pizza bar before the team evolved it into a full kitchen, but the pies are still exceptional, particularly the grilled chicken with barbecue sauce.
This industrial-chic Southern restaurant in Belmont is named for Nellie Jonas and opened by her grandchildren, one of whom is Kevin Jonas, Sr., who is exactly what you're thinking: the father of former tween heartthrob trio, the Jonas Brothers. If that's not enough to pique your interest, know that the menu is filled with classic, comforting Southern dishes made just like Nellie did for her family, including chicken & waffles, four-cheese mac with bacon and onions, and a luscious banana pudding.
Located in the Hearst Tower, the folks behind Charlotte favorites Crepe Cellar and Growlers Pourhouse bring you this sleek, contemporary seafood spot in Uptown, where the fish is top-notch and the incredible raw-bar menu changes daily. Feel free to call ahead to find out what oysters await you, but the quality never quits, whether they come from Cape Cod, Charleston, or somewhere in between. The menu also features sandwiches like a catfish reuben and a lobster roll, burgers for the land lovers, and a daily fresh catch. If you're brave enough, order an oyster shooter on the side (made with vodka, gin, or tequila).
This acclaimed Mediterranean restaurant in Dilworth serves mostly wood-fired small plates, which are inspired by local farmers and butchers, inside a homey space and outside on its popular expansive patio. Some must-try dishes include the chargrilled octopus with lemon vinaigrette, forbidden rice & mushroom paella, and lemon-oregano chicken. Long wooden tables with gaudy chandeliers overhead keep the ambience feeling communal and upbeat, as do the cocktails that never stop flowing -- from Kid Cashew's creations like the Thyme (bourbon, peach, honey, bitters, soda) to classics like side cars and martinis.
Serving creative cocktails and elevated gastropub fare with a strong Mediterranean lean (lamb kefta sliders, falafel samplers, beef carpaccio), Essex Bar & Bistro is a popular haunt for post-work drinks in the uptown area. The leather- and brick-laden locale is ideal for friends who'd like to eat their way around the world, as the menu includes variations on Pan-Latin and Asian fare. Regardless of what you order, be sure to peruse the cocktail list, which provides an array of fresh takes on time-honored classics like sage martinis, blueberry gimlets, and the standout "Rob Collins No. 2," with Hendricks gin, mint, and a prosecco float.
Craft beer, burgers, and barbecue reign at this hip Plaza Midwood that contrasts low-country décor against a gourmet food menu. Far from your average burger joint, Moo & Brew serves locally sourced and rich creations like the Farmers Daughter burger topped with applewood bacon, a fried egg, Cheddar, and house-made barbecue sauce. Beer options range from good ol' PBR to craft brews like Bell's and Legion.
The Charlotte outpost of this growing Jackson-based chain might have tacos in its name, but that doesn't mean it's an exclusively Mexican restaurant. Tapas and empanadas are on offer here, but so are fried gulf shrimp, cubanos, and a much-lauded burger. It's made with Aspen Ridge Natural Angus beef and topped with roasted Roma tomatoes, caramelized onions, white cheddar cheese, Haas avocado, smoked bacon, chipotle aioli, and served on a sweet sourdough bun. As for the tapas and tacos menu, we recommend sharing orders and starting with guacamole, which will be made fresh at your table, with sundried tomatoes.
With its two wood-fired brick ovens and wholly authentic approach, Inizio Pizza Napoletana creates pies that evoke all the robust flavor and freshness of Naples itself, right in the heart of South Charlotte. The bright, industrial-chic eatery is counter-service; after you've ordered a delicious pizza (we suggest the timeless margherita, or artichoke and prosciutto-topped capricciosa), you can post up with one of their rotating craft beers and watch in awe as the kitchen makes your pie from scratch and cooks it to perfection in the oven. Just be sure to save room for one of their homemade cannoli's -- they're creamy, rich, and not to miss.
Cozied up in the historic Morrison House in the Fourth Ward, Poplar Street offers a focused menu of Peruvian-inspired charcuterie, cheese, salads, and desserts. Insofar as entrées go, the arugula and Anjou pear salad with Gorgonzola, walnuts, and olive oil proves most popular, but the cheese and meat board winds up being a date-night favorite, especially when paired with a nice bottle of wine. The homey spot is frequented by working types zeroed in on their laptops throughout the day, but the scene changes at dinner, what with groups of friends hoping to share a meal while enjoying mellow live music.