Everything old is new again in Charlotte. Familiar names have pushed into new territory, adding new favorites to the culinary landscape, while new names are rising up to get attention too. North Carolina’s largest city, which sprawls from Lake Norman down to the South Carolina border, can be a hard city for outsiders and newcomers to get their arms around. Really, it’s a city of neighborhoods, with a lot of once-overlooked areas, like West Charlotte, finally challenging the busy Uptown as the place to find everything from regional classics to modern global trends.Read More
18 Essential Restaurants in Charlotte, North Carolina
From smoked brisket to oxtail stew to banh xeo
Joe and Katy Kindred’s Davidson restaurant Kindred was the area’s first to get serious (and well-deserved) national attention. But Hello Sailor, which dropped anchor in 2017, brings the fun and flare. With a menu patterned on fancier versions of fish camp classics and a dining room that brings midcentury mod and Palm Springs vibes, it’s the place to park at a waterside table on a beautiful summer afternoon with a plate of citrus crab Louie or a basket of fried popcorn shrimp with beef fat fries.
It had us at “cheese cloud,” a fluffy pile of fluffy Parmesan or pecorino that customers can add to pasta for $3. Restaurant power couple Jeff Tonidandel and Jamie Brown always pay attention to the details, and their foray into Italy is no different. The menu of six or so housemade pastas and sharing-size entrees like branzino is rounded out with small plates (toasted hazelnuts and the whole fried artichoke are standouts) that you can keep all to yourself.
Leah & Louise
Is there a serious diner in the country who hasn’t heard the raves for multiple James Beard-nominated chef Greg Collier and his wife Subrina? Their Camp North End modern juke joint has introduced eaters to bold interpretations of Southern classics inspired by the Mississippi Delta, like river chips (seasoned, fried crispy chicken skins served with “granch,” an herby dipping sauce), blackened catfish with rice grits, and the soulful pool of pork neck bisque and roasted cabbage that is Leah’s Cabbage. The menu even features a rotating PWYC (“pay what you can”) dish, so every customer can enjoy a meal regardless of financial status.
Owner Dan Nguyen and her family-run Vietnamese restaurant are so beloved in Charlotte that regulars started a fundraising campaign to keep the place open through the pandemic. It worked, and Lang Van is thriving again — and as crowded as ever. The menu at lunch and dinner still has more than 130 items, and Nguyen still uncannily remembers what customers like when they come back. Try banh xeo, a classic curry-yellow pancake filled with shrimp; com chien thom, pineapple fried rice served in a hollowed-out pineapple half; or the crispy quail, served with a little dish of salt and black pepper with lemon.
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If you want to experience Charlotte as the neighborhood city it really is, Letty’s will give you just that. Tucked into an old pharmacy building near Eastway Drive, it’s got an eclectic vibe with flea market funkiness and a menu of homey classics, like fried chicken drizzled with honey and pecans or pimento cheese fritters, plus a weekend brunch. The wine selection is a surprise, and there’s a full bar in case customers want something harder.
Chef Sam Hart never follows the rules. The original Counter, with themed tasting menus focused on cutting-edge culinary inspirations, opened in commissary space the City Kitch on Charlotte’s Westside in 2020 and held on, pandemic-be-damned, through 2022. Hart took a short break and has reopened in an elegant space on West Morehead Street that’s tucked in next to Hart’s wine bar, Biblio. The experience isn’t cheap — $175 for 10-course menus and $235 for 14 courses (most courses have more than one item, pushing the number of creations to as high as 50 bits and bites), and wine pairings can add $100 to $300. But it’s regularly selling out, proving that Charlotte eaters are willing to go all in on an experience.
Accented with brass fixtures, soaring windows, and rich leather seating, the Instagrammable dining space at Haymaker is headed by chef William Dissen, known for his restaurant the Market Place in Asheville. Full-flavored Southern classics like smoked chicken with pawpaw barbecue sauce, red wine-braised pork shank, and a smoky mac and cheese flecked with Benton’s country ham drive the farm-focused menu.
Mert's Heart And Soul
As seen on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, the traditional soul food and Gullah-inspired dishes fall in step with the bright, jazzy hand-painted decor. The soul roll egg rolls kick with black-eyed peas, rice, and collard greens. Don’t sleep on the little loaves of cornbread and the cakes.
Fin & Fino
Nestled between the Mint Museum and the tail end of the Tryon Street business corridor, Fin & Fino’s cocktails and impressive raw bar make it a seafood haven. Grilled octopus, seasonal campanelle pasta, and seafood boil paint the menu’s landscape. A noteworthy gustatory delight is the Treatment, a personalized tasting menu that includes a $5 charitable donation to an area nonprofit. Now that office traffic has returned to Uptown, the restaurant added weekday lunch as well.
When Kindred first opened in Davidson in 2015, the cult-favorite dish was milk bread — pans of golden rolls based on a Japanese baking technique. It was such a hit, it became the inspiration for the Kindreds’ breakfast and brunch cafe, Milkbread, first in Davidson and now at their stylish reimagining of the classic Central Avenue Dairy Queen in Plaza Midwood. Customers can sit down at the Davidson location, while the Plaza Midwood spot is a walk-up counter with limited outdoor seating. The doughnuts and cinnamon rolls, along with the crispy chicken sandwiches, prove that Milkbread has staying power.
El Toro Bruto
When Plaza Midwood brewery Resident Culture expanded to a cavernous space in South End, it found space for chef Hector González-Mora, whose breakfast taqueria had already attracted a following. González-Mora has thrived, and now El Toro Bruto has a full menu, from breakfast to lunch to dinner. It’s the kind of thoughtful Mexican cuisine that’s taken a while to find a home in Charlotte. Yes, there are classic tacos, but there are short ribs in green tomatillo broth, tamarind-glazed fish, and mole, too.
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Jeff Tonidandel and Jamie Brown hit every detail in their first attempt at turning an old church into a food palace (the former Bonterra in Dilworth is up next), from the cavernous dining room with a live-fire open kitchen to the polished gem of a bar next door, presided over by cocktail queen Colleen Hughes. The menu can seem pricey, but it’s packed with local ingredients and it’s all meant to be shared, like a family dinner at a table loaded with deliciousness. Wagyu pot roast, miso mac and cheese, and broccoli grilled with bone marrow butter will barely leave room for desserts like salted honey pie. But try.
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Abugida Ethiopian Cafe & Restaurant
Richly spiced stews, warm incense, and East African art make this Eastside spot feel like walking into a well-kempt home. Diners use their hands as well as rolls of the soft-as-lace flatbread injera to scoop and dip into dishes like crispy bits of beef tibs, or stewed chicken doro wat made with spiced butter, onion, and whole boiled eggs. An Ethiopian coffee ceremony perfumes the air as fresh coffee beans are roasted and poured tableside as an after-dinner treat.
Cheat's Cheesesteak Parlor
What is it about Philadelphia’s favorite sandwich that drives Charlotte so wild? Whatever it is, it drove partners Ryan Hart, Greg Balch, and Hannah Smith — all familiar names from other spots, including the Crunkleton — to stake their claims with a popular spot on the geographic cusp between Plaza Midwood and Elizabeth. It’s a walk-up counter with limited outdoor seating, and fans stand in long lines to grab a classic version of a Philly. Wit or wit-out, of course.
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Easy Like Sunday
Breezy restaurant Easy Like Sunday is a brunch lover’s dream come true — and it isn’t just for brunch on weekends. Morning diners can enjoy ricotta-stuffed French toast with berry compote and bacon crumble or a fried chicken Benedict from the comfort of one of the sink-in-and-you-may-never-leave booths. Breakfast is always on the menu and the lavender lattes are regularly touted to be the best in town. The hardest thing about Easy is finding it: It’s on the bottom level of ParkTowne Village, across from Park Road Shopping Center, tucked in at the very back.
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Little Mama’s Italian
Is there a regional cuisine that restaurateur Frank Scibelli hasn’t put his finger in? Little Mama in SouthPark is his upscale sequel to the ever-popular Mama Ricotta’s. Despite the name, it’s a little more grown-up and elegant but still focused on classic Italian American cuisine, with touches like a mozzarella bar with fior di latte or stracciatella, housemade pastas and parms, steaks, and broiled branzino. Open for lunch and dinner, plus Sunday brunch.
Charlotte has a serious sushi experience now, with Omakase in Cotswold. But if $300 for a 16-course tasting (or $150 for 10 courses at lunch) is a bit rich, consider Omakase’s little sister in Ballantyne. It’s small and classic, with a full offering of rolls, nigiri, and sashimi, plus a great list of sakes.
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Jon G's Barbecue
It’s remote, 40 miles east of Uptown Charlotte in a tiny spot called Peachland. It has limited availability, with Saturday hours only. And the line, which starts to form at least an hour before it opens at 11 a.m., is a whole thing. But the meltingly tender brisket, gutsy ribs, and specialties like Cheerwine sausage links are worth it. The style is decidedly Texas — even Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn declared, “A North Carolina barbecue joint shouldn’t be putting out Texas barbecue this good.”