Food & Drink

The 15 Most Essential Restaurants in Charlotte

Published On 05/05/2015 Published On 05/05/2015
Courtesy of SquireFox Photography

Charlotte is a city that grows on you: approachable and friendly, uncrowded, and mildly mannered. The absence of gaudy flash and overt sizzle makes it a Southern city that often flies below the radar if you don’t know where to look, especially, when it comes to food. We picked 15 essential restaurants that represent the dynamic pulse of the city, from longstanding neighborhood institutions, to high-end experiences, to ethnic gems, and greasy spoons.

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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Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Rooster's Uptown 150 N College St, Charlotte, NC 28202 (Uptown)

Mouthwatering simplicity is the essence of the Rooster's Uptown. The space rustic and refined, thanks to worn-wood tables, booths, and bars illuminated by candlelight, and its food follows suit with a wood-fired grill and a seasonal menu. Given its name, you won't be surprised to find this spot's specialty is chicken (doused in herbs, roasted), but a wide array of other mains like duck, pork chop and steak are there to match your side of buttery steamed spinach, succotash or fire roasted beets, too.

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2. 300 East 300 East Blvd, Charlotte, NC (Dilworth)

This neighborhood restaurant has been charming locals and winning awards for over a quarter century, offering farm fresh ingredients and plenty of cozy atmosphere. Housed within an old Victorian and featuring a stunning (and private) backyard patio, the restaurant is as beautiful as the food is delicious. 300 East, owned and operated by the same family since the beginning, sources all their ingredients from local farms, including their meats. Their signature grass-fed burger uses beef and bacon from two different farms, topped with sautéed local mushrooms & leeks, and the rest of the menu features similar upscale American comfort food dishes like pizzas, sandwiches, steaks, and seafood. This inviting spot is rather popular, so make sure to make a reservation.

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3. Bill Spoon's Barbecue 5524 South Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28217

Eastern Carolina barbeque is alive and well at Bill Spoon’s. 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 son, Stephen, can be found carrying the torch and a friendly smile at the cash register.

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4. Barrington's 7822 Fairview Rd, Charlotte, NC 28226 (Southpark)

Barrington's has been a Charlotte staple for over two decades, and it's still one of the best restaurants in town. The elegant, intimate space is perfect for date night, with a menu of approachable bistro classics and a wine list that's second to none. The menu changes seasonally, as the chefs and owners are committed to using the best of what's grown in and around Charlotte. There's no guarantee what you'll get, but there's sure to be fresh seafood, handmade pastas, and local meats on the board. This restaurant just gets more popular with age, so definitely make sure to make a reservation.

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5. Block & Grinder 2935 Providence Rd, Charlotte, NC 28211 (Myers Park)

Block & Grinder opened in Foxcroft in 2013 and brought a relaxed farm-to-table concept to Charlotte’s dining scene. Its modern twists on traditional favorites (like fried chicken confit) may be an atypical technique, but the results are just as coveted. Fresh ingredients add immense flavor to seasonal, Southern sides, and here, every meat you’ll find on the menu has been hand-cut by the staff. Look out for constantly rotating wild game burger offerings. An added bonus: you can purchase meats cut to order at the restaurant’s butcher counter to take home with you.

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6. Bonterra Dining & Wine Room 1829 Cleveland Ave, Charlotte, NC 28203 (Dilworth)

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.

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7. Diamond Restaurant 1901 Commonwealth Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205 (Plaza Midwood)

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. Breakfast is served all day, and the restaurant is open until 4am on the weekends, so you can keep coming back for those deep-fried pork shanks covered in cinnamon-chipotle sauce, aka the Pig Wings.

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8. Good Food on Montford 1701 Montford Dr, Charlotte, NC 28209

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, just look at the mishmash of patterned brick walls, colorful tile and sleek light fixtures.

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9. Intermezzo 1427 E 10th St, Charlotte, NC 28204

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. The staff here rarely changes, and customers feel more like good friends, which is why locals have been known to keep the martini bar inside Intermezzo well oiled.

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10. Luna's Living Kitchen 2102 South Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28203 (South End)

Enlightened folks, or those looking to recover from a few bad decisions, flock to this popular raw-foods cafe centered around plant-based creations. The best thing to order at Luna's Living Kitchen in the South End is the popular rawco taco salad, which includes a generous heap of organic lettuce is topped with avocado, pico de gallo, tomatoes, cashew sour cream, and a walnut-almond crumble that could very well be taco meat. No matter what you get, make sure to slather it with Luna’s homemade hot sauce.

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11. Lumiere 1039 Providence Rd, Charlotte, NC 28207 (Myers Park)

Lumiere in Myers Park is Charlotte's go-to for classic French dining with a modern twist. Of course you'll find dishes like duck l'Orange and Foie Gras on the menu, but here they've both been sourced from local farms and accompanied by seasonal vegetables. The atmosphere here is also classic French elegance: candlelight, low conversations, and an intimate space. The prices are distinctly more reasonable than most fine dining restaurants, which may be due to its location in a strip mall, but the prices only enhance the experience. A bevy of red, white, and sparkling wines are available to complement your meal, with a concentration on bold French reds. For a special occasion or a big date, this bistro is sure to impress.

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12. Price's Chicken Coop 1614 Camden Rd, Charlotte, NC 28203 (South End)

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 — order by the quarter, half or whole chicken and go nuts with a slew of Southern-staple sides like gizzards, hush puppies, slaw and potato salad. White collar, blue collar, no collar — this place attracts people of all types who find solidarity in the possession of Price’s coveted grease-stained takeout box.

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13. Mama Ricotta's 601 S Kings Dr Ste Aa, Charlotte, NC 28204

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.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
14. Lang Van 3019 Shamrock Dr, Charlotte, NC 28215

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.

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15. Sabor Latin Street Grill 415 Hawthorne Ln, Charlotte, NC 28204 (Elizabeth)

Dominican-owned Sabor is bringing joy to those craving Latin street food in Charlotte with hand-held tacos on corn tortillas, 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) — let's not forget the affordable specialty margaritas, too. Order at the counter and then pick your poison at the hot sauce bar before your meal hits the table.

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