This year Charlotte grew like weeds -- not only the approximately 10,000 apartment complexes that opened up or broke ground, but a fleet of brand new bars and restaurants. Your new favorite eating and drinking destinations might just be among the class of 2015.
Best new cocktail bar
Punch RoomAddress and Info
This concept from the Ritz-Carlton continues to conjure up the best of craft cocktails. The Gatsby-esque space is straight out of a movie, the drinks are wild, and the eclectic small plates are the ideal complement to the booze. You’re guaranteed to have a more enjoyable punch bowl experience than that juice and sherbert concoction you had at junior prom.
Best new restaurant
KindredAddress and Info
Boasting one of the trendiest atmospheres in the area and doing the whole chef-driven thing (the chefs actually deliver food to tables), the husband and wife duo behind the acclaimed Kindred have nailed it across all fronts. The menu rotates, but the squid ink conchiglie and crispy oysters will reward you for coming sooner rather than later. The nostalgic chocolate birthday cake dessert will have you dreaming of your childhood birthdays gone by, the good ones of course.
Best new brewery
Free Range BrewingAddress and Info
A garage-turned-brewery, this industrial space is the ideal setting for a laid-back brewhouse. The solid beer lineup includes a classic farmhouse-style ale, a rich cream ale and even a bold 9.5 percent IPA, so there’s a pint for every palate that walks through the doors. Frequent food truck visits, cornhole, a sweet outdoor patio, and a kid-friendly atmosphere make this place even better.
Best new pizza
Benny Pennello’sAddress and Info
A straight up godsend for the land of PBR aplenty, this pizza joint is home to the so-called “Virginia Slice” (just go with it). The slices are huge, about two cardboard plates long, the crust is crispy, and the beer selection includes a hefty list of local cans. Open until 3am on weekends and served by the slice or the pie, this is just the thing NoDa -- and the city -- needed.
Best new wine shop
Foxcroft Wine Co.Address and Info
Wine shops can be pretentious, this one is pretty chill. Not only do you have 40 wines available by the glass, there’s also donuts with caramel and chocolate dipping sauces. Aside from the stacks on stacks of wine bottles from around the world, another bonus is the local beer taps so even your beer-loving pals have an excuse to attend Wine Wednesday.
Best new canned beer
Birdsong Brewing Co.’s Jalapeño pale ale
Brewed with, you guessed it: fresh, hot jalapeños, this beer has been a much-loved selection at Birdsong. Now, the spicy-yet-refreshing sip can be at your fingertips for any occasion you deem appropriate: tailgates, pool parties, winter nights by the fire, and... breakfast? Why not.
Best new donut
Duck DonutsAddress and Info
Churning out the most Instagrammed donut in the city, this NC franchise does fried dough right. Warm, delicious, and made to order, there are few things more satisfying than a Duck donut. With all sorts of icings -- maple, lemon, peanut butter, vanilla, etc. -- and toppings -- sprinkles, coconut, peanuts, and bacon -- you’ll never run out of flavor combinations.
Best new deli
Fūd at SaludAddress and Info
An extension of Salud Beer Shop, Fūd serves up some tasty beer-centric food. Whether you grab a soft pretzel and beer cheese (made with Birdsong’s Jalapeño pale ale) or opt for a waffle-wich like the Jason Gi-ham-brie (made with SC peaches, brie, and ham) you’re bound to enjoy whichever beer and munchie pairing you go for.
Best new pub
The Workman’s FriendAddress and Info
Once you get past the charming bicycle prop outside of this corner spot's doors, you'll feel like you stepped into a cozy, dimly lit Irish pub. Its outdoor beer garden even has a fireplace. The local beer selection is on point, the Guinness is better than ever, and the fish and chips go great with everything.
Best new Asian food
COAddress and Info
This brand new joint is the product of a bunch of Asian cuisines marrying and having delicious offspring in the form of sushi, banh mi, thai noodles, pho, and more. The communal tables offer a laid-back vibe while the abstract interior keeps it cool and modern.
Best new French bakery
Renaissance PâtisserieAddress and Info
Manned by a classically trained French chef who has worked for celebs like Oprah Winfrey and Sharon Stone, this place is the real deal. Though it's tucked away in an unassuming and not-very-French strip mall, this gem will lure you in with its delectable smells of fresh-baked croissants, tarts, turnovers, and macaroons.
Best new beer bar
Queen City Beer & ChiliAddress and Info
This place does two things right: craft beer and small batch chili. It's a pretty simple concept. The ever-changing tap handles feature mostly local brews, and the chili can basically be put on anything you want -- from hot dogs and burgers to nachos and fries. Have a few pints and stay awhile or fill up your growler and take the goods home with you.
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Lauren Blake enjoys writing about restaurants and bars just as much as she likes frequenting them. Well, almost as much. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @palieblake.
1. The Punch Room201 E Trade St, Charlotte
2. Kindred Restaurant131 Main Street, Davidson
3. Free Range Brewing2320 N Davidson St, Charlotte
4. Benny Pennello's2909 N Davidson St, Charlotte
5. Duck Donuts1710 Kenilworth Ave, # 220, Charlotte
6. Salud Beer Shop3306B N Davidson St, Charlotte
7. The Workman's Friend1531 Central Ave, Charlotte
8. CO4201 Park Road, Charlotte
9. Renaissance Pâtisserie2809 South Blvd, Charlotte
10. Queen City Beer & Chili135 Brevard Court, Charlotte
When a bar is on the 15th floor of The Ritz-Carlton and features gold accents, plush leather seating, and skyline views, you expect it to be good. When that spot also includes Bob Peters, an enthusiastic bartender whose creations make him more magician than mixologist, it's safe to expect greatness. Sample the daily punch, but bring your sense of adventure for one of the inventive elixirs like Carbonated Aviation, an effervescent twist on the classic, or Strange Brew made with smoked bourbon, hazelnut milk, and a coffee ice cube.
Nestled in historic Davidson, this family-owned and chef-driven restaurant never disappoints with its modern takes on Southern cuisine. Like many new American-style restaurants, this chic eatery cooks with local ingredients, rotates their menus seasonally, sticks to small portions and stuns with elegant presentation. The home-made milk break, duck fat potatoes and crispy oysters are all must-haves at dinner — order one of each and share the wealth with your entire table, that's the best way to get a little bit of everything.
At Free Range Brewing, small batch is the name of the game. In addition to a rotating selection of amazing beers, it's got a chill vibe, cold brew coffee, and farm-fresh sodas on tap, making this a spot for the whole family to kick back and enjoy a drink.
This Virginia-based pizza concept boasts 28-inch pies with slices that warrant not one but two plates to carry a single piece. Benny Pennello's, in the NoDa neighborhood, is a great casual late-night and pizza-by-the-slice spot amidst Charlotte's bar scene, and it has more than 25 brews on hand so you’ll never go thirsty. Every month the pizza specials change so be sure to check online before you go to see what the month's special is, unless you're going for a little pizza adventure.
With locations all over the Northeast, Duck Donuts serves up hot, fresh, creative pastries. The fried dough selections might look to be on the petite side, but topping choices like shredded coconut and chopped peanuts and bacon, as well as "coating" options like peanut butter and strawberry icing, will make your single treat a carbo load to last the whole day. Pair the maple frosting and bacon topping, and you've tasted heaven.
Salud has over 600 beers from around the world and a thoughtful, rotating selection of beers on tap.
Named for a Flann O’Brien poem, this pub is an authentic Irish pocket in Charlotte, South Carolina. The warmly-lit local gathering place has 16 beers on tap (primarily Irish, of course), a solid selection of whiskey (also Irish), and a lengthy menu of traditional Irish fare -- think pork & beans or shepard's pie. But perhaps most importantly, the joint is staffed with chatty bartenders, all of whom have mastered the art of the Guinness pour (an Irish necessity). The place feels something like a public living room, with two fully-functional brick fire places -- one stationed beside the bar, and another tucked into the covered backyard patio area -- and there is more than enough Irish coffee to go around.
The Vietnamese word for "feast," CO offers a plethora on dishes you'll want to go HAM on. The pan-Asian fare covers all the bases: rice dishes, ceviche, makimono, banh mi, and pho.
Napoleons, tarts, and croissants on fleek at this French bakery, helmed by classically trained chef Sylvain Rivet, who has served the likes of Oprah... How's that for street cred?