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12 Places to Pick for a Non-Boring Lunch in Charlotte

From ramen to pizza

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Trapped behind a computer screen all day? Charlotte is an easy city to pick a lunch sure to shake up the work week. From Asian Street food, to quirky deli fare, to gourmet variety, here are 12 stops to break for lunch — and maybe linger over a day beer.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Hawkers Asian Street Fare

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Come for: Asian street food

The casual, Orlando-based concept has been stirring up long waits ever since its February soft opening in South End. Noodles, rice dishes, small plates like chicken bulgogi street skewers and roti canai with curry sauce — the menu goes on. The restaurant, named for Asian street vendors and brightened by vivid wall art, serves the dishes as they’re ready. Worth noting: Hawkers is equipped with an extensive listing of menu items for dietary restrictions, sesame allergy included.

Sabor Latin Street Grill

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Come for: Tacos

Is it $5 margarita Friday yet? This Charlotte-based, fast-casual concept inspired by food from places like El Salvador and the Dominican Republic has exploded with a dozen locations from South End to Pineville. Get here before the lunch rush and tuck into street food like empanadas, tacos (try the Autenticos with a corn tortilla and choice of protein, topped with cilantro, diced onion, and a lime wedge), and burritos like the Tofu Ranchero (with organic tofu, ranchero style). Don’t skimp on the yuca fries.

Futo Buta

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Come for: Ramen cravings

Always crowded, always worth the wait. This snug ramen shop overlooking the Charlotte Rail Trail in South End features deep bowls of steaming ramen ranging from vegan to pork belly. Start with the shishito peppers and the crispy fried Brussels sprouts with light bonito flakes, and end with the soft serve ice cream of the day — miso ginger is the latest.

The Blue Taj

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Come for: Indian cuisine

For those who can handle the spicy stuff before heading back to the office, aim for this relaxed, hidden gem in Ballantyne with themed dining rooms and a bright patio. The lunch specials, from dal of the day to saag paneer, come with a side of naan, rice, and salad or soup of the day. Don’t forget to start with the mango-chickpea chaat.

La Belle Helene

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Come for: French-inspired class

First stop: The pewter-topped bar. Lunch cocktail, anyone? The Ooo La La at the elegant French brasserie, which opened Uptown in summer 2018 with design by Parisian designer Richard Lafond, features Lillet Rose, Citadelle French gin, grapefruit juice, King Cube, and a sugar rim. Lunch can swing classy with hand-chopped beef tartare, or casual with the LBH Burger Américain, comte, and signature sauce included.

Yafo Kitchen

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Come for: Build-your-own bowls

Is there anything more satisfying than picking up a dense, build-your-own-salad-bowl to-go on a work day for under $15? Work through the line at Yafo Kitchen, a fast-casual Mediterranean concept that shines as the local version of Washington, D.C.-based Cava. There are three locations — in Dilworth, in SouthPark, in Plaza Midwood — and the offerings consistently range from spreads (like babaganoush), to complementary toppings (like sumac onions), to add-ons (like roasted cauliflower), to rotisserie chicken and beyond. Build a grain bowl, build a salad bowl, or check out the signature items. Served with warm, fluffy laffah.

JJ's Red Hots

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Relaxed and cheerful, JJ’s is ideal for a lighthearted lunch outing with the kids or the coworkers. The fun variety of signature hot dogs, made with Sahlen’s smokehouse hot dogs and sausages and served on soft potato rolls, ranges from the Char Heel (with house-made chili, slaw, diced onions, and yellow mustard) to the Southern Girl (with pimento cheese, slaw, bacon, and Hot Blonde Mustard). For veggie lovers, there’s a vegetarian substitute available. While JJ’s also has locations Uptown and in Ballantyne, dog-eaters at the original Dilworth location can take any order to the rooftop to catch some sun.

Earl's Grocery

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Come for: Gourmet variety

Eclectic and gourmet, this urban market along the Gold Line in the Elizabeth neighborhood carries a melange of fine goods from bitters to cheeses, as well as a modest wine selection, craft beers, coffees, and prepared foods (sure to inspire some at-home cooking experiments). For lunch, order from the latest selections of soups, sandwiches, tacos, and bowls (a go-to is the grain bowl with wheat berries, quinoa, farro, collard/carrot tahini slaw, butternut guacamole, spice-roasted carrots, radish and dashi). Sit on the little patio, where there’s a straight-shot view down Elizabeth Avenue to the skyline.

Trade and Lore - Belmont Neighborhood

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Come for: Fresh whimsy

The third location of this plant-filled, ethereal coffee shop by local entrepreneurs sits at Advent Coworking in the Belmont neighborhood. While the other locations in NoDa and Asheville are more beverage-program-focused, this latest spot will roll out a full lunch menu. Expect sandwiches like the Trade and Galore (lemon pepper chicken, fresh mozzarella, bacon, avocado, and other touches on a Duke’s potato bun), salads like the Popeye Bowl (spinach, fresh mozzarella balls, bacon, sunflower seeds, red cabbage, cherry tomatoes, and more with house honey lemon zest dressing) and small plates like avocado toast.

For now, stop in for draft tea, draft beers, orange wine, craft coffee drinks, assorted items like bagels and fruits, and a limited lunch menu.

Common Market

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Come for: Quirky deli fare

From a decorative bathtub to graffiti to mismatched furniture, the grungy neighborhood hangout can now be found at three locations: Oakwold, South End, and Plaza Midwood. For lunch, the deli counter churns out fresh sandwiches (get creative and build one), soups and salads (try the two-scoop salad with hummus and tabbouleh on a bed of greens). Ample vegetarian and vegan options are available. Oh, and grab a cup of Sexy Power coffee to power through the afternoon.

Heist Brewery

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Come for: Craft beer and brewery fare

Charlotte has more than 30 breweries — so what’s a local, springtime lunch without a craft beer? From sandwiches, to flatbreads, to wings, every item sounds just right when paired with a cold IPA on this patio in the NoDa neighborhood. Try the margherita flatbread or the black bean burger with red pepper cream, and don’t forget to split the parmesan truffle fries. Bonus: After lunch, visit the new, still-under-construction Heist Brewery and Barrel Arts Facility (and beer garden) near Camp North End.

Inizio Pizza Napoletana

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Come for: Freshly crafted pizza

Fast-casual and family-friendly, this Neopolitan pizzeria now has two locations — one in Dilworth and one in South Charlotte. Expect handcrafted pies, fresh ingredients and dough made from “00” flour. Pizzas are cooked in wood-fired ovens for 90 seconds and served hot and crisp (just look for the leoparding on the crust). The pistacchio pizza is easily the most-talked-about, with its jade-tinted pistachio pesto sauce and clouds of ricotta and buffalo mozzarella. Cool down with a scoop of gelato before lunch is over.

Hawkers Asian Street Fare

Come for: Asian street food

The casual, Orlando-based concept has been stirring up long waits ever since its February soft opening in South End. Noodles, rice dishes, small plates like chicken bulgogi street skewers and roti canai with curry sauce — the menu goes on. The restaurant, named for Asian street vendors and brightened by vivid wall art, serves the dishes as they’re ready. Worth noting: Hawkers is equipped with an extensive listing of menu items for dietary restrictions, sesame allergy included.

Sabor Latin Street Grill

Come for: Tacos

Is it $5 margarita Friday yet? This Charlotte-based, fast-casual concept inspired by food from places like El Salvador and the Dominican Republic has exploded with a dozen locations from South End to Pineville. Get here before the lunch rush and tuck into street food like empanadas, tacos (try the Autenticos with a corn tortilla and choice of protein, topped with cilantro, diced onion, and a lime wedge), and burritos like the Tofu Ranchero (with organic tofu, ranchero style). Don’t skimp on the yuca fries.

Futo Buta

Come for: Ramen cravings

Always crowded, always worth the wait. This snug ramen shop overlooking the Charlotte Rail Trail in South End features deep bowls of steaming ramen ranging from vegan to pork belly. Start with the shishito peppers and the crispy fried Brussels sprouts with light bonito flakes, and end with the soft serve ice cream of the day — miso ginger is the latest.

The Blue Taj

Come for: Indian cuisine

For those who can handle the spicy stuff before heading back to the office, aim for this relaxed, hidden gem in Ballantyne with themed dining rooms and a bright patio. The lunch specials, from dal of the day to saag paneer, come with a side of naan, rice, and salad or soup of the day. Don’t forget to start with the mango-chickpea chaat.

La Belle Helene

Come for: French-inspired class

First stop: The pewter-topped bar. Lunch cocktail, anyone? The Ooo La La at the elegant French brasserie, which opened Uptown in summer 2018 with design by Parisian designer Richard Lafond, features Lillet Rose, Citadelle French gin, grapefruit juice, King Cube, and a sugar rim. Lunch can swing classy with hand-chopped beef tartare, or casual with the LBH Burger Américain, comte, and signature sauce included.

Yafo Kitchen

Come for: Build-your-own bowls

Is there anything more satisfying than picking up a dense, build-your-own-salad-bowl to-go on a work day for under $15? Work through the line at Yafo Kitchen, a fast-casual Mediterranean concept that shines as the local version of Washington, D.C.-based Cava. There are three locations — in Dilworth, in SouthPark, in Plaza Midwood — and the offerings consistently range from spreads (like babaganoush), to complementary toppings (like sumac onions), to add-ons (like roasted cauliflower), to rotisserie chicken and beyond. Build a grain bowl, build a salad bowl, or check out the signature items. Served with warm, fluffy laffah.

JJ's Red Hots

Relaxed and cheerful, JJ’s is ideal for a lighthearted lunch outing with the kids or the coworkers. The fun variety of signature hot dogs, made with Sahlen’s smokehouse hot dogs and sausages and served on soft potato rolls, ranges from the Char Heel (with house-made chili, slaw, diced onions, and yellow mustard) to the Southern Girl (with pimento cheese, slaw, bacon, and Hot Blonde Mustard). For veggie lovers, there’s a vegetarian substitute available. While JJ’s also has locations Uptown and in Ballantyne, dog-eaters at the original Dilworth location can take any order to the rooftop to catch some sun.

Earl's Grocery

Come for: Gourmet variety

Eclectic and gourmet, this urban market along the Gold Line in the Elizabeth neighborhood carries a melange of fine goods from bitters to cheeses, as well as a modest wine selection, craft beers, coffees, and prepared foods (sure to inspire some at-home cooking experiments). For lunch, order from the latest selections of soups, sandwiches, tacos, and bowls (a go-to is the grain bowl with wheat berries, quinoa, farro, collard/carrot tahini slaw, butternut guacamole, spice-roasted carrots, radish and dashi). Sit on the little patio, where there’s a straight-shot view down Elizabeth Avenue to the skyline.

Trade and Lore - Belmont Neighborhood

Come for: Fresh whimsy

The third location of this plant-filled, ethereal coffee shop by local entrepreneurs sits at Advent Coworking in the Belmont neighborhood. While the other locations in NoDa and Asheville are more beverage-program-focused, this latest spot will roll out a full lunch menu. Expect sandwiches like the Trade and Galore (lemon pepper chicken, fresh mozzarella, bacon, avocado, and other touches on a Duke’s potato bun), salads like the Popeye Bowl (spinach, fresh mozzarella balls, bacon, sunflower seeds, red cabbage, cherry tomatoes, and more with house honey lemon zest dressing) and small plates like avocado toast.

For now, stop in for draft tea, draft beers, orange wine, craft coffee drinks, assorted items like bagels and fruits, and a limited lunch menu.

Common Market

Come for: Quirky deli fare

From a decorative bathtub to graffiti to mismatched furniture, the grungy neighborhood hangout can now be found at three locations: Oakwold, South End, and Plaza Midwood. For lunch, the deli counter churns out fresh sandwiches (get creative and build one), soups and salads (try the two-scoop salad with hummus and tabbouleh on a bed of greens). Ample vegetarian and vegan options are available. Oh, and grab a cup of Sexy Power coffee to power through the afternoon.

Heist Brewery

Come for: Craft beer and brewery fare

Charlotte has more than 30 breweries — so what’s a local, springtime lunch without a craft beer? From sandwiches, to flatbreads, to wings, every item sounds just right when paired with a cold IPA on this patio in the NoDa neighborhood. Try the margherita flatbread or the black bean burger with red pepper cream, and don’t forget to split the parmesan truffle fries. Bonus: After lunch, visit the new, still-under-construction Heist Brewery and Barrel Arts Facility (and beer garden) near Camp North End.

Inizio Pizza Napoletana

Come for: Freshly crafted pizza

Fast-casual and family-friendly, this Neopolitan pizzeria now has two locations — one in Dilworth and one in South Charlotte. Expect handcrafted pies, fresh ingredients and dough made from “00” flour. Pizzas are cooked in wood-fired ovens for 90 seconds and served hot and crisp (just look for the leoparding on the crust). The pistacchio pizza is easily the most-talked-about, with its jade-tinted pistachio pesto sauce and clouds of ricotta and buffalo mozzarella. Cool down with a scoop of gelato before lunch is over.

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