Charlotte is a largely affluent city and home to a wide variety of cultures, so you’ll find everything from sushi to Indian. Rather than a fancy-dress kind of town, casual with a hint of style is the rule of thumb – especially when it comes to cuisine.
Seek out North Carolina specialties like BBQ sauce with a vinegar base; fried pickles and fried cornbread; burgers topped with pimiento cheese; shrimp and grits; boiled peanuts; and even Pepsi, a homegrown product that went global.
While food trucks are gaining ground in Charlotte, the following five restaurants are favorites with both locals and tourists, and will offer a rounded introduction to the city’s Southern food scene:
5Church (127 N. Tryon, 704-919-1322) may well be the only restaurant in the world with the entirety of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War hand-painted on its ceiling, but it’s certainly one of the most raved-about restaurants in Charlotte. This black-and-white industrial space features handmade communal tables and a hopping bar and DJ lounge beneath soaring ceilings. Try the signature pierogies and the enormous steak seared only on one side, or settle into the popular Sunday brunch.
Set between the Mint and Bechtler museums, celebrity chef Emeril Legasse’s e2 Emeril’s Eatery (135 Levine Avenue of the Arts, Suite 100, 704-414-4787) offers lunch and dinner in a LEED-certified building with a sidewalk patio. Serving the rich Southern cuisine that has made Legasse famous, standouts here include a gumbo-of-the-day, a chicken thigh on a buckwheat waffle with sorghum molasses, and gulf shrimp and grits. Kids’ and gluten-free menus are available.
NoDa’s neighborhood favorite, Growler’s Pourhouse (3120 North Davidson, 704-910-6566), is home not only to a slew of craft brews and a 1936 beer engine, but also one of Charlotte’s best sandwiches, the sriracha-and-Russian-dressed GPH Reuben. The first and third Fridays of every month are popular Gallery Crawl nights in NoDa, and on Saturdays, any house-made sausage is $4 until 6 p.m.
Featuring curb service from “car hoppers” and a P.A. system from the 1950s, Bar-B-Q King Drive-In (2900 Wilkinson Blvd., 704-399-8344) is just about as old-school Southern as you can get in this town. About 15 minutes west of Uptown, this cash-only local haunt (there’s an on-site ATM) specializes in fried chicken that stays crispy even with the addition of vinegary North Carolina barbecue sauce. Be sure to eat the fries right away (they are preservative-free and will quickly go soft), know that pickles come with absolutely everything, and try -- knowing you might fail – to leave room for the apple pie.
In Plaza-Midwood, Dish (1220 Thomas Ave., 704-344-0343) is a friendly throwback to Southern diners of the 1950s, but with a few modern twists. Open since 2001, they pride themselves on their flaky biscuits, fried green tomatoes, deviled eggs, sweet potato mash, and homemade chicken and dumplings, but you can also find an array of burgers (with pimiento cheese, the traditional Charlotte way) and fresh green salads here, as well. In nice weather, try to snag a table on the outdoor patio.