Where to Eat in Charlotte Right Now
From burgers and shakes to Southern comfort classics.
When we were making our 2020 vision boards and resolutions, it’s pretty safe to say that none of us included a global pandemic in those plans. Charlotte’s culinary scene has been hit hard by stay-at-home orders and limited capacity dining rules. We’ve lost some gems in our crown, but in the past few months, we’ve gained some standout newcomers. Down, but never out, Charlotte is a resilient city and in no place is that more evident than in our restaurant scene.
Diners are beginning to venture out more and are returning to patios and restaurants. Whether dine-in or carryout, restaurants are offering a variety of cuisines at various price points. Charlotte is still establishing itself as a formidable foodie city, COVID-19 be damned. The list of restaurants below is a round-up of the newest entries to the Charlotte scene along with some of the tried-and-true options from the past five years.
The gist: Inspired by the old home-style Italian restaurants in New England from the ’60s and ’70s, Little Mama’s is the newest addition to the FS Food Group, which includes Charlotte staples Midwood Smokehouse and Mama Ricotta’s.
The food: Classic Italian-American food that pays homage to a bygone culinary time. Don’t miss the offerings from the mozzarella bar, which is as amazing as it sounds. Dishes such as the ever-popular penne alla vodka are joined by unique offerings such as the fresh fettuccine al burro made with Italian butter and brown cow parm and broiled whole cauliflower.
The cost: Starters begin at $3 for a cup of soup up to $100 for Little Mama’s big ribeye. The average price of cocktails is $12 and beer and wine run about $3.50-22 for a glass.
How to order: Make a reservation on Resy for seating or order takeout on ChowNow.
The gist: There was much fanfare in the Charlotte brunch community when Ruby Sunshine -- the latest concept from the owners of New Orleans- staple Ruby Slipper Café -- opened in South End.
The food: Only open for breakfast, brunch, and lunch, Ruby Sunshine features staples such as shrimp and grits, omelets, but also takes it to the next level by offering varieties. Want eggs benedict? You’ll have seven options to choose from. Between the food and the cocktail menu, you may want to plan for an afternoon nap.
The cost: Starters begin at $5 and then go up to $20 for a specialty dish. Coffee drinks available for about $4 and cocktails are $10.
How to order: Check your wait time on Yelp as reservations are not accepted. Order takeout from Toast and delivery via DoorDash.
Leah & Louise
The gist: The latest concept from culinary power couple Greg and Subrina Collier is a “Southern-inspired juke joint” located in the Camp North End development in the Druid Hills neighborhood.
The food: Inspired by their Memphis roots, the Colliers have fused Southern cuisine with a more modern touch and the refined touches As a James Beard-nominee, Greg is known for adding to dishes. Oxtail and dumplings, cornmeal brioche served with black garlic butter, and fried oyster sliders with brown roux aioli are just some of the standouts. For the full experience, order a cocktail created by mixologist Justin Hazelton.
The cost: Prices range from $5 for starters to $21 for pan-seared North Carolina fish. There is also always a PWYC (pay-what-you-can) option on the menu. Cocktails are all $13 and beer and wine are $7-13 for a glass.
How to order: Make a reservation on Resy for seating or order takeout on Toast.
The gist: After construction delays and COVID shutdowns, the team behind Bardo opened its second concept, VANA, further cementing its footprint in the South End area.
The food: VANA’s menu reflects a theme of rustic-comfort food combined with elegant cooking techniques from chef-owner Mike Noll. The pickled local vegetables on the starters menu are reminiscent of grandma’s endless supply of a seasonal haul from her garden. The pork cheeks served with pattypan squash are a standout, as is the whole-roasted fish. Now serving lunch, dinner, and brunch on the weekends, the spot also features amazing cocktails created by Amanda Britton and her team behind the bar.
The cost: Snacks and entree approximations are $7 all the way up to $180 for the big boy, a 40-oz Joyce Farms bone-in ribeye. Most cocktails are $12, and beer and wine from $4-17.
How to order: VANA is open for diners, but is not currently taking reservations. Call 980-819-5913 to order takeout.
Ace No. 3
The gist: With its menu of burgers, fries, and onion rings, Ace No. 3 is a departure for Andrew Chapman and Paul Manley, who are known for Charlotte seafood staples The Waterman and Sea Level. Not even a year old, the restaurant has quickly established itself as one of the best burger joints in the Queen City.
The food: Burgers, fries, and shakes… oh my! Don’t let the simple menu fool you. The burgers are juicy and gooey with cheese and the shakes can be made with booze if you want, and are a throwback to bygone days of soda shops. The Ace is the burger to order -- with two patties, American cheese, steamed onions, house-made pickles, comeback sauce -- but you can also build your own.
The cost: The signature Ace burger is $8.65, but the build-your-own burger options can be $11.65 or more for a triple burger with add-on toppings. Beer starts at $2.75 with canned wine options at $9. Boozy shakes are $8.75.
How to order: At this time Ace No. 3 is only open for dining on its patio (first come, first served) and carryout and delivery options are available from Toast.
The gist: Bardo is the older, fancier sister restaurant of VANA. Perfect for dates and special occasions, Bardo specializes in shareable and unique dishes.
The food: Chef Michael Noll and his team can be seen from the exposed kitchen at the back of the dining room preparing small plate dishes such as sea trout with compressed watermelon and delectable desserts like the brown butter cake served with charred pineapple and white chocolate ice cream. Bartender Amanda Britton creates cocktails meant to bring out the flavors of Noll’s dishes, such as the Paradise Paloma made with Illegal Mezcal, kombu, watermelon, and lime.
The cost: Dishes, meant to be tapas-style or not if you don’t want to share, range from $10-25. Cocktails are about $13, and beer and wine run from $4-17.
How to order: Dine-in options are now available, as are carryout options from Toast.
The gist: It was like sharks circling the water for a few months in 2018 as Charlotte anxiously awaited the opening of the Crunkleton. For many of us, we had no idea why there was almost a frenzied excitement for a restaurant that had a $10 per year membership. When it finally opened at the end of 2018, the rest of us understood.
The food: The Crunkleton serves up Prohibition-era inspired cocktails and a menu that ranges from its Really Good Burger to an enormous 36-ounce dry-aged ribeye. Don’t forget a dessert before you leave. The campfire s’mores made with bourbon marshmallows, Snickerdoodle cookies, and chocolate ganache is the perfect way to end the experience.
The cost: Food ranges from $11 up to $140 for the ribeye. Cocktails are about $13 and specialty barrel-aged cocktails are $18. Beer and wine are $4-19 per glass.
How to order: The dining room is open for reservations only, which can be booked on Resy. Curbside pick up orders can be made via ChowNow.
Fin & Fino
The gist: Tiki-inspired cocktails and an impressive raw bar make Fin & Fino, nestled between The Mint Museum and the Knight Theater, a must. Expect quality seafood, a standout oyster selection, and one of the best wine and cocktail programs in the city.
The food: The star of the Fin & Fino is, as expected, the seafood. Fish and shellfish are delivered daily and are all sustainably caught or raised. The raw bar features an impressive lineup of oyster varieties, but if you really want to go all-in, order the Penthouse, a large tower featuring 16 oysters, 16 NC shrimp, 16 mussels, snow crab cluster, a six-ounce lobster, and shrimp salad. If you’re tired from all that is 2020 and don’t want to think about deciding what to order, The Treatment is for you. Your server will create a personalized menu tour for you for $59 (this includes a $5 charitable donation to the nonprofit of your choice).
The cost: Oysters start at $3 each and the average entrée is about $17. Cocktails are all $15 and wines start at $5 for a three-ounce pour.
How to order: The restaurant is currently open for dine-in and reservations can be made on OpenTable and takeout orders can be made on Snappy Eats.
The gist: Located in the Backlot of Park Road Shopping Center, Flour Shop is an intimate restaurant where the kitchen is located in the middle of the dining room -- allowing guests to be immersed in the preparation of their meals.
The food: Flour Shop is known for its fresh, handmade pasta, and locally sourced meats. A standout starter is the dates stuffed with buttermilk blue cheese, wrapped with Benton’s bacon, and served with almonds and honey. If you’re in the mood for pasta, the rigatoni and grass-fed Bolognese is a fan favorite. And if you want to be adventurous, the squid ink alla chitarra with tomato, chorizo, shrimp, and jalapeños is a bold and memorable entree.
The cost: Prices range from $8 for starters to $28 for an entrée. Cocktails are around $12 and wine ranges from $10 per glass to $140 per bottle. Beer selections start at $5.
How to order: Reservations for dine-in can be made on OpenTable and takeout is available Monday through Thursday by contacting the restaurant.
The gist: Chef Michael Shortino’s Futo Buta offers patrons made from scratch authentic Japanese dishes.
The food: Due to COVID-19, the menu is limited, but the ramen (12 options), gyoza, and donburi (rice bowl dishes) are some of the standouts.
The cost: Food offerings range from $2-18. Alcohol is available for pick up and ranges from $6 for a beer to $140 for a bottle of sake.
How to order: At this time, Futo Buta is only open for carryout through ChowNow.
The gist: Paying homage to the mill workers who lived and worked in NoDa years ago, Haberdish focuses on Southern comfort food.
The food: Haberdish is known for its fried chicken. You can even add crispy chicken skins to your mac and cheese. The chicken is great, but we recommend the cast iron NC trout served with dill and scallion compound butter, and end your night with banana pudding that would make your mom proud. But if you leave without trying one of Colleen Hughes’ cocktails or mocktails, you’re not living your best life.
The cost: Snacks start at $5 and entrees range from $5-30. Cocktails range from $8 up to $48 for punches.
How to order: Dine-in options are available and reservations are recommended. If you want to get something to-go, you can order carryout from Toast.
The gist: From Charlotte chef and restaurateur Bruce Moffett, NC Red is Rhode Island shore food meets Southern classics.
The food: Experience the fusion of New England and Southern staples with menu items such as lobster rolls, collard greens with smoked bacon, New England clam chowder, and fried North Carolina catfish. Order a cold Narragansett and some oysters from the raw bar (dine-in only) and finish your meal off with banana pudding.
The cost: Raw bar oysters start at $2.25 and entrees run from $10 for the fried chicken sandwich to $27 for the fish of the day.
How to order: Dine-in is open and takeout is available from Toast.
The gist: Charlotte’s first food hall located in the Optimist Park neighborhood just outside of the bustling NoDa neighborhood. Tenants offer everything from coffee to cocktails and sweet treats to spicy dumplings.
The food: Go from stall to stall and sample food and drinks from local and national restaurants and artisans. Charlotte staples The Dumpling Lady (dumplings, noodles, and Sichuan street food), Papi Queso (delicious variations of grilled cheese sandwiches), and Suarez Bakery share space with national brands such as Velvet Taco, soon-to-be-open mezeh, and Honeysuckle Gelato.
The cost: Prices vary from tenant to tenant, but you could spend $1 on a shortbread treat from Suarez, or$55 for a family combo meal including four ramen bowls from Bao and Broth, an Asian street food-inspired concept.
How to order: Dine in is open and carryout is open for all tenants via ChowNow. Delivery service is available for some tenants.
Sweet Lew's Barbeque
The gist: Chef Lewis Donald’s Sweet Lew’s BBQ is a restaurant focused on honoring North Carolina’s long history with barbeque.
The food: All meat is cooked over hickory, pecan, and peach wood in a large smoker. Pork, ribs, chicken, and brisket are on the menu along with sides such as boiled peanuts and collard greens.
The cost: Combo plates start at $11 and daily smoked meats, sold by the pound, start at $13.
How to order: Sweet Lew’s BBQ is open for dine-in, curbside pickup through Bentobox, or delivery through DoorDash and Postmates.
The gist: Yafo Kitchen is a fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant with Israeli influences and is part of the FS Food Group. In less than five years, Yafo has expanded into four Charlotte locations because it is just that good.
The food: The lamb, yogurt dressing, tahini, falafel, and the Israeli hot chicken have all become mainstays in the Queen City. Build your own salad, laffah, or pita.
The cost: Build your own items start at $8.99 and chef specials start around $10.
How to order: Yafo is open for takeout and limited dine-in options. Order ahead for takeout from Toast or order delivery from DoorDash.