As the largest city in North Carolina, Charlotte has plenty to offer visitors: parks and recreational activities, eclectic neighborhoods, destination shopping, world-class museums, local breweries, and live music and sporting events. So it's no surprise that the city is home to amazing restaurants serving traditional Southern specialties, hyper-seasonal farm-to-table fare, and international cuisine, and everything in-between. Whether you're looking for a neighborhood ramen joint, an old school steakhouse, or a contemporary Southern fine dining experience, Charlotte has a variety of restaurants for every budget and palate.
If you're on the hunt for no-frills, old-school Southern food, head to this Charlotte institution located on Wilkinson Boulevard between the airport and Uptown. Open since 1959, the drive-in was featured on Guy Fieri's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," and offers a variety of hickory-smoked barbecue plates and sandwiches as well as chicken wings, burgers, and sandwiches. Don't sleep on the sides which include crispy onion rings, macaroni and cheese, hand-battered hush puppies, and coleslaw.
Housed in a two-story brick building that once served as a pharmacy, this award-winning restaurant in the small college town of Davidson is worth the half-hour detour. True to its moniker, the husband and wife owned eatery is warm and intimate, with an ever-evolving seasonal menu highlighting house-made pasta as well as locally-sourced produce and protein. Don't miss Kindred's carefully curated wine list, which focuses on family-owned wineries and small producers. Or opt for the "barkeep's choice," and let the bartender choose your libation for the evening.
At the rustic yet refined Heirloom, farm-to-table fine dining feels familiar and friendly, not fussy. The restaurant sources everything from its coffee to its meats, grains, and vegetables from North Carolina farmers, foragers, and purveyors, with sublime results. The menu changes accordingly with rabbit and duck making regular appearances.
Halcyon, Flavors from the Earth
While visiting Mint Museum Uptown for its stellar collection of mid-20th to 21st-century craft and design art, sit down for a meal at the in-house restaurant, Halycon, for a significant upgrade from traditional museum cafe fare. With a focus on ingredients from the Carolinas, the restaurant's menu is approachable yet refined. The signature burger—with house ground beef, yellow cheddar cheese, Benton's bacon, lettuce, onion marmalade, and herb mayo—is one of the city's best.
This Uptown, chef-driven spot from William Dissen of Asheville's lauded The Market Place is known for its commitment to Appalachian and Southern food. The side dishes are also exceptional, like vegetarian-friendly collard greens. While there's not a bad seat in the bright and sleek 4,000 square foot restaurant, ask for a seat at the chef's table, which gives a bird's eye view of the open kitchen.
For a contemporary approach to the Italian classics, try Stagioni in Myers Park. The wood-fired pizzas—like the pepperoni and sausage pie with house-made fennel sausage, roasted tomato sauce, mozzarella, and pepperoni—are worth the hype. But the fresh pasta is also outstanding and come in gluten-free variations. Save room for dessert, the Zeppoli—a fried dough doused in powdered sugar served with salted caramel dipping sauce—is not to be missed.
For classic red sauce Italian, head Mama Ricotta's, a Charlotte classic. Appetizers like the goat cheese and mascarpone dip topped with warm tomato basil sauce, New Haven-style thin-crust pizzas, and family-style pastas mean there isn't a wrong choice on the menu. If you're super famished, pick one of the massive entrees (meant to serve two to three) like standard chicken parmesan or veal marsala. And save room for the house-made tiramisu for dessert.
Beef ‘N Bottle
Not much has changed at this South Boulevard steakhouse since it opened in 1958, and that's a good thing. From the dark, wood-paneled walls to the main event—perfectly juicy and tender steaks—Beef 'N Bottle delivers old-world style and service. Each cut of beef, from the six-ounce filet mignon to 16-ounce center-cut sirloin, can be augmented with three ounces of King Crab meat and comes with a house salad and choice of side. The menu also includes a decadent Fettuccine Alfredo and several seafood options ranging from fried oysters and crab cakes to salmon platters.
Good Food on Montford
When Chef Bruce Moffett opened this eatery in 2009, the name was a nod to the dearth of good food in the neighborhood. While that's no longer the case, Good Food is still worth a visit for its globally influenced small plates, which draw inspiration from locations as varied as Italy and Korea. Try the steamed buns, made with five-spiced rubbed pork belly, hoisin, and pickled vegetables.
Located in the NoDa (a neighborhood known for its quirky boutiques, varied galleries, and live music joints), Haberdish is the go-to spot for Southern classics with all the sides. Yes, they have a North Carolina trout and BBQ wings, but you're really here for the fried chicken: battered, brined, fried, and available in two-piece dark or white meat options, by the half, or as a whole bird. Snacks like smoked deviled eggs and smoky boiled peanuts (a Carolina specialty) and sides like collard greens, kale grits, and macaroni and cheese round out the menu.
Don't miss the restaurant's rotating menu of seasonal, apothecary-style cocktails, served from a 1950s-era soda fountain.
This airy, bright restaurant inside the historic Dunhill Hotel in Uptown serves modern Southern fare for brunch, lunch, and dinner. Feast on fresh scones and regional classics like a bacon and pimento cheese omelet for breakfast. Lunch options include fresh salads, sandwiches, and sides like potato salad and fried green tomatoes. The dinner menu offers mains like North Carolina beef, roasted grouper, and fried grits. Don't forget to get a round of starters like the daily cast iron biscuits with seasonal jam for the table—or just yourself.
The Fig Tree
The Fig Tree is sophisticated Charlotte dining at its best. Housed in a historic early 20th-century bungalow in Elizabeth, the husband and wife owned spot has been a city dining mainstay 2005, as has its most popular dish: grilled New Zealand elk chop served with seasonal side dishes. The rest of the menu is heavily inspired by French and Italian cuisine, which pairs well with selections from the restaurant's extensive and award-winning wine list.
Rooster's Wood-Fired Kitchen
As its name suggests, the wood-fired oven is the main event at this SouthPark spot, where everything from pizza, oysters, and pork chops to beets and corn are cooked over open flames. The menu is heavy on vegetables and proteins from local purveyors, and highlights include the succotash and the roasted barbecue chicken, served by the quarter or half.
You'll find this small, bustling ramen shop in South End along the city's popular mixed-use Rail Trail. Start your evening with some salmon belly nigiri or hamachi crudo, then move on the main event: heaping bowls of ramen. The vegetarian-friendly niwa ramen, Japanese for garden, is made with rich vegan broth, organic mushroom, bok choy, roasted and julienne leek, arugula, sesame, sprouts, scallions, golden pea shoots, and watermelon radish. It's as beautiful as it is tasty.
Fin & Fino
Located in Uptown, Fin & Fino serves some of the city's best seafood. The menu is meant for sharing with a rotating list of daily oysters, cheese and charcuterie boards, and the "Tower of Power," layered with 16 oysters, 16 shrimp, and 16 mussels. There are also several stand-out entrees, like the North Carolina mountain trout, severed with sweet potato, smoked carrots, fennel, radish, and greens. Feeling indecisive? Indulge in "The Treatment," a $59 sampling of the kitchen's best.