Food & Drink

A Guide to Charlotte's World Cuisine

Published On 10/18/2016 Published On 10/18/2016

Food is the ultimate expression of a culture and Charlotte can show you whole swaths of the world you may have been missing. Conveniently, you don’t even need to leave the city, let alone get a passport, to experience it. Crown Town also has an array of almost every world cuisine tucked away in its city limits -- most of which is located off the beaten path in strip malls or in areas unjustly deemed unsafe or uncouth. So take a little “world tour” of the city’s unexpected global dining experiences. You might not earn any airline miles but the food will sure be better than flying economy.

German

Waldhorn

Address and Info

Pineville

Schnitzel isn’t exactly sexy; red cabbage might not get many Facebook likes; and Kartoffelpuffer doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But when summer nights get short and there’s a chill in the air here in Charlotte, a nice German meal is the perfect cure for any hungry stomach. So head on over to the Waldhorn, settle into a booth with a liter boot beer, and let the old-world charm wash over you… and maybe some Jägerschnitzel vom Schwein (sauteed pork cutlets with Hunter sauce).

Bakersfield East Blvd

SoCal tacos

Bakersfield

Address and Info

Dilworth

The humble taco is quickly becoming one of the most interesting foods in America. You take that corn tortilla and do pretty much anything to it and it'd still be delicious. Korean BBQ, corn and mango salsa, pulled pork, fried oysters -- the possibilities are endless. The menu at Bakersfield keeps things refreshingly simple, with tortas, tostadas, and tacos offered. The mole taco -- made with Oaxacan-style braised chicken, pickled red onion, queso fresco, and cilantro --  is a local favorite. It's fairly easy to eat a dozen tacos, so please remember to eat responsibly.

Korean

PePeRo

Address and Info

Matthews

If you've never experienced the simple and spicy goodness that is Korean cuisine, this is the best place to do so in Charlotte. Ordering the hot pot (a giant tabletop wok that brings all your ingredients together) is the way to get all those signature flavors in one dish. The steamed buns -- plump little dough balls stuffed with kimchee and pork -- are also a tasty addition to any meal.

Peruvian

Pio Pio

Address and Info

Dilworth

Charlotte has recently fallen in love with Peruvian rotisserie chicken because of a popular local chain, Viva Chicken. While it's definitely introduced the city to new and fresh ingredients, the more down-to-earth authentic spot in town is Pio Pio. The sauces are creamier and more flavor-forward, and the Chaufa Beef Rice dish should absolutely be your first choice on their menu. Order a guanabana drink, a sweet fruit juice that is likely to become your new favorite non-alcoholic beverage of choice.

Bosnian coffee | Euro Grill & Cafe

Bosnian

Euro Grill & Cafe

Address and Info

Plaza-Midwood

At first glance, you might think Euro Cafe is a Russian deli, but the delicious Bosnian coffee (strong enough to make you run a marathon) and Turkish delight will set you straight. Be sure to order a cevapi sandwich, a sort of sausage pita wrap. The grocery store attached is also well worth a visit for hard-to-find Eastern European food products.

Indo/Chinese

Cholas Indian Grill

Address and Info

Mallard Creek-Withrow Downs

Like sushi, the growing boom of Indian dining in Charlotte makes it hard to know if you’re getting the real deal. For flavor, price, and service, Cholas stands at the front of the line. The owners are from southern India, but the dishes that most stood out were of the Indo/Chinese variety: Gobi Manchurian (cauliflower pan-fried in brown Manchurian sauce, then topped with cabbage and carrots) and garlic shrimp, both of which have a lovely spicy flavor profile and a nice crispy crunch. This place is tucked away under the glooming hulk that is the Great Wolf Lodge, but don’t let its vicinity to this louche commercial behemoth scare you away. Fight the traffic of Concord Mills and your efforts will be justly rewarded.

Vietnamese

Lang Van

Address and Info

Shannon Park

The Southeast-Asian community is now a cornerstone of the Queen City. One of the longest-standing Vietnamese restaurants is Lang Van, the place to find the best vermicelli noodle bowl in the city (this bold statement is the result of years of conscientious research). Bun Tom Thit Nuong Cha Gio is the bowl for you: grilled shrimp, crispy pork, and imperial spring rolls nestled in rice noodles, bean sprouts, mint, and basil.

New Zealand Cafe

Sushi

New Zealand Cafe

Address and Info

Sardis Forest

In Charlotte, sushi is as ubiquitous as new apartment buildings -- there’s a new place on every street. This can make it difficult to navigate through an overwhelming sea of options, but for truly memorable sushi, the bizarrely named New Zealand Cafe is the one place you must visit. Order enough different rolls and your sushi dinner will come sailing to your table on a massive wooden replica ship. The Spicy Dragon Roll (spicy eel, cucumber with spicy salmon, crabmeat, jalapeño, smelt roe, and scallions) and the Bamboo Roll (red snapper, tuna, salmon, flying fish roe, and scallion wrapped with thin-sliced cucumber) are standouts.

Mexican ice cream

La Michoacana

Address and Info

Starmount

Mexican ice cream is like gelato, but with a higher fat content and more unique flavors. Order the mamey on a waffle cone -- this fruit from an evergreen tree that grows in southern Mexico tastes like a cross between a mango and a sweet potato. Get a liter to go and keep your freezer stocked for those late-night cravings you will most surely be having.

La Shish Kabob

Lebanese

La Shish Kabob

Address and Info

Sheffield Park

When you open the doors at La Shish Kabob, you are greeted with warm welcomes and the smell of well-spiced lamb and chicken rotating on a spit, beaded with globules of succulent fat. If that doesn’t make you swoon, wait 'til you take your first bite of the shawarma. Be sure to order the tabouli and hummus as the essential accoutrements for this sublime Lebanese staple.

Italian

Fiamma

Address and Info

Dilworth

Italian food has become such an integral part of American cuisine, it’s easy to forget that Italian is one of the most misunderstood culinary traditions in the world. There’s more to it than just giant bowls of spaghetti and meatballs. Fiamma is an elegant dining experience that will let you explore the best of Northern Italian cookery. Luxuriate over the Scottadito, a roasted lamb chop served with soft polenta and Barolo wine demi-glaze. And don’t forget to order a Piedmontese wine, the perfect pairing for red meats and hearty vegetables.

West African

Mama Gee's

Address and Info

Biddleville

A small takeout place in the West End, Mama Gee’s owners hail from Ghana and offers up that country’s unique array of food staples. If you’re new to the cuisine, try the staff’s recommendation of Jollof Rice Plate, a large spread consisting of chicken drumsticks, tomato stew, and plantains. If you’ve never had fried plantains this is the place to start eating them. The Omutuo (sticky rice balls) are also delicious.

Thai Orchid Restaurant

Thai

Thai Orchid

Address and Info

Providence Park

Frankly, Thai food in Charlotte is overplayed, with a lot of places churning out pad Thai and mee krob that’s just so-so. Thai Orchid does it right with the freshest ingredients and has withstood the test of time. The prices are great and it also happens to be perfect for a first date or family meal. Order calamari and red curry, but caveat emptor: if you order it Thai hot, you might be reliving your great meal over and over for the rest of the night.

Chinese

Dim Sum

Address and Info

Briar Creek

You don’t need to visit a nondescript dim sum hall in NY’s Chinatown for a delicious and slightly overwhelming meal. Charlotte’s Dim Sum isn’t Chinatown, but you’d be surprised at the quality choices if you know what to order. First off, stick to dim sum (appetizers). Second, go for the dumplings in all their glorious forms. The buns are also a foolproof option. And there's a secret menu in Chinese if you’re looking for the really authentic stuff.

Middle Eastern

Cedar Land

Address and Info

Sheffield Park

This grocery store --  with a small restaurant tucked away on the other side of a wall -- was once the only Middle Eastern market in town. Things have changed for the better since then, but Cedar Land has maintained its high-quality offerings and service. Order a kafta kabob, and the Cedar fish in the dining area. When you’re done scarfing it down, peruse the grocery store for teas, Turkish delight, and a vast selection of hookah shisha and accessories.

Georges Brasserie

French

Georges Brasserie

Address and Info

South Park

Americans have long stereotyped French food as stuffy, over-hyped, and froufrou. This is a serious misunderstanding of what can rightly be called the greatest food culture in the world. Try to forget that this place is in South Park and order up the escargot and bison bourguignon. What’s that, you think snails are gross? Get over yourself and dive into that garlicky-buttery goodness.

Indian

The Blue Taj

Address and Info

Ballantyne

The fact that this place is in Ballantyne may very well turn some people off. That’s understandable. Your wade through half-crazed bankers and trophy wives will soon be forgotten as a pile of delicious plates are delivered to your table. Blue Taj is the most upscale Indian restaurant in Charlotte and there’s a lot of effort put into the dishes and their presentation. Two tips: get a gin cocktail, and ask for the dessert sampling platter.

Taste of Europe Polish Cuisine

Polish

Taste of Europe

Address and Info

Matthews

Owners Agata and Michal Przyk were both born and raised in Poland, fell in love in the States, and are now doing everything they can to make Charlotteans fall in love with the food of their native land. Any menu item is sure to satisfy (especially the grilled Polish sausage and pork stew). But above all, if you want to get the whole range of flavors and dishes, ask for the Polski Talerz, the beloved sampler platter.

Salvadoran/Honduran

El Pulgarcito De America

Address and Info

Sheffield Park

"Pulgarcito" translates to "Tom Thumb" in English. We’re not sure what that’s all about, but it doesn't really matter -- this place is so good that it doesn't need a name that makes sense. If you're looking to satisfy that craving for pupusas until you bust your gut, this Salvadoran/Honduran spot is where you'll need to go. Enjoy the Salvadoran treat by ordering one of each type (maybe the pork & cheese, beans & cheese, and plain old cheese). At $1.50 apiece, they won't blow up your bank account.

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Travis Mullis is travelling around the world without ever leaving home. You can follow him on Twitter: @trex_mullis and on Instagram: @trexmullis.

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1. Waldhorn Restaurant 12101 Lancaster Hwy, Pineville, NC 28134

Beyond the traditional Fachwerkhäuser (German timber framing) architecture, what makes the Waldhorn Restaurant so authentic are the co-owners and long-time professional chefs Thomas (from Long Island) and Gitta (actually from Germany) Maier. Instead of taking over Gitta’s parents’ Waldhorn Restaurant in Germany, they wanted to bring their German heritage to Charlotte … by the way it’s pronounced “vald-horn.” In this cozy, exposed-beamed, honest to goodness beer hall, they serve the best of the best traditional German bier and unpronounceable dishes like Hausgemachte Maultaschen (German ravioli with meat, spinach, and beef broth) and Schwäbische Wurstplatte (bratwurst served with sauerkraut and home fries). Did we mention they have a beer club? Prost!

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2. Bakersfield 1301 East Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28203 (Dilworth)

Inspired by the heavy influence of Mexican culture in Bakersfield, a small southern Californian city, this eponymous honky-tonk-meets-taco-truck is just as authentic. Sit at a picnic table under the warm light of Edison bulbs and exposed wood and indulge in a taco or five. The menu features options like Pork Belly Pastor (chili marinated pork and pineapple) and Hongos (portobello, poblano, and red pepper) … but if for some unknown reason you crave something other than their crowd-pleasing tacos, they have that too. With a modest selection of Mexican beers on draft (served in a cowboy boot glass) and over 100 types of tequilas and whiskeys they have a few rotating cocktails, but their pitchers of margaritas are top notch.

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3. PePeRo 10920 Monroe Rd, Matthews, NC 28105

At first glance, you definitely wouldn’t recognize PePeRo as a restaurant because, well, it’s about as close as you can get to a whole-in-the-wall type of place that dwells inside of a family-owned and operated Korean market. It doesn’t attempt any of the ambience that your typical restaurant might with it’s unkempt appearance and plastic furniture, but after you taste the authenticity of their Korean BBQ you won’t care even a little. Walk into the market and follow your nose straight to the back, there might even be a line … but it’s worth it, so clear your schedule. Try any one of their KBBQ options like kimchi pancakes, mandu (streamed buns), homestyle bulgogi (hotpot beef BBQ), or bibimbap (rice dish).

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4. Pio Pio 1408 East Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28203

In Spanish, a chicken’s signature sound is interpreted as “pio pio;” and at Pio Pio in the Dilworth area, they specialize in rotisserie-cooking the birds the Peruvian way (they’ll have long lost their pio pio by the time they arrive on your plate). The rotisserie birds are marinated in Peruvian sauce and come out moist and tender next to rice, beans and a cucumber-tomato-avocado salad with vinaigrette. Start with a side of tostones with garlic dipping sauce or finish with some maduros (fried sweet bananas) and you’re doing it the authentic way. The food also hits on Columbian dishes, including seafood, and tilapia or red snapper and rubbed in regional spices. Vegetarian platters satisfy those who prefer to keep the pio pios coming from live birds.

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5. Euro Grill & Cafe , Charlotte, NC

The owner of this Bosnian favorite came to the United States in 1998, opening up the green-walled room and next-door market to showcase the street food of his homeland. The place is dubbed “home of the che-vap” for a reason: They specialize in cevapi, small and skinless sausages made from a beef and veal blend topped with diced onion, served as a sandwich on lepinje (flatbread), dolloped with ajvar (spicy red pepper puree) and kajmak (like sour cream with margarine). Phyllo pastries here should be paired with Bosnian coffee, which is ceremoniously plated on copper with a matching brew vessel and traditional sugar squares(which you should bite and hold under your tongue while sipping, in true Bosnian form).

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6. Chola's Indian Grill 10099 Weddington Road Ext , Concord, NC 28027

Named for the Chola dynasty, among the longest-ruling families of Southern India (where the owners emigrated from), this expansive Indian restaurant with patio seating and a full bar is devoted to specialties from the region. Steamed rice cakes are served with coconut chutney, and an assortment of dosas (a staple crepe made of rice and lentil) are topped with cottage cheese and spinach, gongura paste (made from garlic and chili-spiced leaves) and chunks of chicken tikka. Indo/Chinese-leaning dishes are notable, especially the Gobi Manchurian (cauliflower pan-fried in brown Manchurian sauce and topped with cabbage and carrots).

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7. 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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8. New Zealand Cafe 1717 Sardis Rd N, Charlotte, NC 28270

This casual space serves cuisine from New Zealand, China & Japan. Count on a great selection of sushi and hibachi options.

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9. La Michoacana Paleteria 6301 N Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28213-8067

When you think Mexican delicacies, be honest, your mind shoots right to tacos, enchiladas and other arrangements of meat and cheese on corn-based circles, right? Add ice cream and frozen popsicles (“paletas”) to the list, because La Michoacana does them like they do down south, with flavors and variations brimming with fresh fruit that would make an insular American’s head spin: grosella (red currant), mamey (like a Mexican pear) and guabana (soursop). Mexican ice cream, which can be likened to gelato but fattier, is made in the back and can be taken home by the quart.

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10. La Shish Kabob 3117, Charlotte, NC 28205

La Shish Kabob takes meat on a stick seriously with preparations that would smell and taste like home to eaters from Jerusalem, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Falafels fly out of this clean and casual counter-service restaurant, in addition to traditional plates like chicken shawarma, hummus and baba ghannouj. The signature platter, a mixed grill of beef, lamb and chicken skewers on a mound of basmati rice, gives carnivores the best sampling of the fare. A lentil soup side rounds it out, and can be washed down with a cold Moussy (a bottled Malt beverage that was born out of Switzerland but is popular in the Middle East).

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11. Fiamma 2418 Park Rd, Charlotte, NC 28203 (Dilworth)

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.

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12. Mama Gees 509 Beatties Ford Rd, Charlotte, NC 28216

Residents of Biddleville get a small window into West Africa in this take-out spot owned and operated by a Ghanan family. Get ready for rice, and lots off it: served under fried chicken drumsticks, swimming in tomato stew, alongside black-eyed beans and providing a bed for kelewele (chunks of sweet and spicy fried plantains). Tilapia are grilled whole and topped with tomatoes, green peppers and onions and peanut soup comes with hunks of goat meat. American diners can depart from the familiar with Ghanan staple banku, a smooth white paste made from fermented corn and cassava dough that is served in fist-sized wads. Most are comfortable with a turkey dinner, but here you can experience a different part of the bird: tsoofie (turkey tails) are all the rage.

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13. Thai Orchid 4223 Providence Rd, Charlotte, NC 28211

If you didn’t already know the name of this Thai restaurant, you certainly could guess it as soon as you walk inside, with a wall covered in orchid wallpaper, floral table cloths and potted orchids dotting the dining room. Specialties range from mee krob (crisp rice noodles with sautéed shrimp, chicken and water chestnuts rolled into a lettuce leaf burrito) to pad Thai. Try the pla lard prik kaeng: a whole fried fish topped with red curry and mint. Tofu stir frys and traditional noodle dishes make this a vegan- and vegetarian-safe zone (as the annual VegCharlotte awards keep reaffirming).

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14. Dim Sum Chinese Restaurant 2920 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205

One of the few dim sum restaurants in Charlotte, Dim Sum Chinese restaurant is by far the best. It may not be China, or even Chinatown, but it certainly has the appeal of an authentic dim sum restaurant as you sit under the ceiling tiles on upholstered deli chairs with the glow of a neon sign on the extensive menu in front of you. You feel the immense pressure to try as much as possible while you watch waiters push around carts piled high with 15 or so plates of varying dim sum orders. Pro tip: the steamed pork buns and shrimp dumplings are to die for. Don’t be afraid to try something totally new, like stuffed duck feet. Dim me sum of that!

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15. Cedar Land Restaurant & Specialty Grocery 4832 Central Ave Ste D, Charlotte, NC 28205

If you are actually able to just walk past the olive bar, tantalizing aisles of mediterranean sauces and spices, bake case of baklava, and honestly anything that they sell in the mediterranean market, you might make it to the little restaurant portion just beyond the wall. Sit in an upholstered red booth and order from an entirely authentic Middle Eastern menu that features all kinds of hummus, pita, delicious oils, greens, and more. Take your time, but we made up your mind for you: try the lentil soup, grilled chicken kebabs, stuffed grape leaves, or the delightfully crisp, rich falafel. If you are really feeling like waiting until you get home to unceremoniously scarf it all down at once, order takeout right from the grocery counter.

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16. Georges Brasserie 4620 Piedmont Row Dr, Charlotte, NC 28210

You may want to skip The Cheesecake Factory down the road once you check out the elegant environs at the expansive Georges Brasserie, where traditional and modern French plates are served amid white table cloths, red leather banquettes and black-and-white photos of French architectural landmarks. The owner Giorgios Bakatsias scored a James Beard nomination for Outstanding Restauranteur, so you know you’re in for a serious dining experience. Vintage Vogue posters hang in the lounge, where a large bar with a circular head seats diners before raw seafood and crustaceans on beds of ice as they review the solid wine list. Warm weather affords you the opportunity to eat patio-side in true bistro fashion, while a Sunday brunch buffet satisfies with chorizo-sprinkled shrimp and grits and a classic croque monsieur, which can and should be followed by as many sugared beignets as you can fit in your purse or pockets.

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17. The Blue Taj 14815 Ballantyne Village Way Ste 170, Charlotte, NC 28277 (Ballantyne)

The Blue Taj is what happens when authentic Indian cuisine meets a sleek nightclub atmosphere in Ballantyne. A really popular spot for weekday lunch, this spot's dark eating space is lit mostly by blue and green neon and is adorned with long, sleek black tables, making it a prime destination for a change of scenery on lunch breaks. You can order something quick from the express lunch menu, but given your surroundings, you'll want to stay as long as you can to savor the lentil dish of the day, chicken tikka or Kerala-style curry.

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18. Taste of Europe Polish Cuisine , Matthews, NC

A couple is doing Polish right in an eight-table Matthews strip mall stop. It shouldn’t have to be said, but order the pierogis, those starchy mashed potato-filled dumplings that are the darlings of Eastern Europe: the sampler platter gives an adequate survey with beef, spinach, mushroom & sauerkraut and cheesy potato each making a cameo. Dip in sour cream liberally. Kielbasa (like a hot dog in look and flavor, just bigger) comes grill-marked, cabbage is served stuffed with an herbal rice and ground beef and a brilliantly purple-red borsch is earthy and light. Does the NATO alliance with Poland need any other justification than that?

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19. El Pulgarcito De America 4816 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205

Charlotte’s Little El Salvador, smaller than a full city block but full of life, is home to El Pulgarcito de America, where the nation’s specialties are served in an unglamorous diner-like atmosphere. The offerings are broad, with creamy chicken tossed with onions and peppers over rice, halved plantains cooked to golden brown and cilantro-sprinkled seafood soup with crab legs curling over the side of the bowl; but pupusas should be your primary purpose when visiting. The corn tortilla pockets are packing warm helpings of cheese, pork or beans. Try the chicharrones (crisped pork) with a cold Corona.

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