Charlotte's 25 Best Restaurants
From French fare to Southern comfort, steaks to Thai, inventive to classic, these are Charlotte's best restaurants
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For our 2015 list of Charlotte's 25 Best Restaurants,
2011 List Below
For a town that tends to focus on the new and shiny, Charlotte is relatively loyal when it comes to its restaurants. While some of the spots on this list have only recently arrived on the scene, others have been fine-dining staples for years and continue to have dining rooms—and kitchens—that bustle. These restaurants were chosen partially because of their service and value, but most importantly based on their ambience and food. Each excels.
Plus read our sit down with Restaurateur of the Year, Cassie Parsons.
Pierre Bader is perhaps uptown’s most prolific restaurateur, with three up and running now and another on the way, not to mention the handful that have come and gone. Aria may be his biggest hit. He didn't overthink this one: Simple Italian comfort cuisine done really well in a hip, urban setting.
Come for: The experience. With its warm, modern interior and views of the busy Trade Street sidewalk, Aria offers an ideal center city night out.
Don’t miss: The caramelized gnocchi app, the wild mushroom pizza, the roasted butternut squash ravioli, the Niman Ranch Pork Loin, and, well, let’s just stop there. For now.
For something different: Reserve the chef’s table, which seats eight and is practically in the kitchen.
What to drink: Bader is a wine geek, and this carefully edited Italian list is excellent. For a quiet drink: Steal away to the upstairs lounge. —Richard Thurmond
Despite its eleven-year reign as one of the city’s best upscale restaurants, this intimate bistro-style spot in SouthPark may be the coziest and most unassuming in town.
While you wait: (Because you will wait even if you have reservations. With seating for only forty-five, it’s a tight squeeze most nights.) Settle in at the small bar for a glass of wine from the predictably excellent list.
What to get: The house-made rigatoni tossed with Italian sausage is cooked perfectly al dente before being tossed in a sweet marsala spiked with a spicy tomato sauce. Topped with flakes of fresh Parmesan, this is casual comfort food with a decidedly sophisticated twist.
If only: The dessert menu were as creative and delicious as the appetizers and entrées. If you’re desperate, the Ben & Jerry’s around the corner may be just as good an option for satiating a sweet tooth.
It’s sleek, modern, and consistently filled with the city’s most fashionable crowd. With its open kitchen, red velvet accents, and airy space, this upscale Thai restaurant is as sophisticated as they come.
Don’t skip: Making reservations on the weekends. While the bar is filled with a trendy see-and-be-seen crowd, it’s often too full to even order a drink on a busy night and the wait for a table can be long.
Start with: The exceedingly fresh basil spring roll. It’s served cool with vibrant flavors of herbs and vegetables.
What to get: The pad thai features delicate noodles tightly wound around tender chicken and shrimp. This may be street food in Thailand, but its presentation and taste soars above that here—as it should for $16 a plate. Did you know: The owners, who are brothers, are originally from Cambodia but were refugees in Thailand in the 1970s.
Not too many restaurants in the same strip center as a Family Dollar make it onto “Best” lists, but this Plaza Midwood spot is full of surprises. Inside, it’s quiet, with high ceilings, modern art, and arched windows with views of uptown. And in the kitchen, chef and owner Majid Amoorpour is creating robust comfort food in gourmet fashion for a menu that changes daily.
Inside tip: The breads, gnocchi, and pastries are all house made. Order them.
Get your greens: The salads here come crisp and lightly tossed in inventive house-made dressings like lemon dill and creamy ginger. And options like the cold smoked salmon salad with tender and lightly salty salmon are large enough for a meal on their own.
What to get: The sumptuous duck breast rests on a creamy parsnip puree and English peas.
Whom to take: The kids! (Bet you didn’t see that coming.) Despite its French name and upscale cuisine, this is a kid-friendly spot with a diverse children’s menu and a Sunday brunch buffet perfect for enjoying with the family.
France. Italy. Morocco. North Africa. Spain. Greece. Chef Gene Briggs continues to bring the very best of the Mediterranean to uptown Charlotte with this elegant restaurant. Once known for its cocktail hours and big-spending banker crowd, the restaurant has settled into its status as a favorite of longtime Charlotteans and visitors looking for a twist on the ordinary.
Drink up: They’re serious about the martinis here, and while the fruity and sweet ones are alluring, the well-made dirty martini, with blue-cheese-stuffed olives, pairs well with the menu’s salty appetizers like lightly fried calamari and olives.
What to get: Slow-roasted lamb shank simmers in an aggressively seasoned blend of apricots, dates, carrots, chickpeas, saffron potatoes, and squash in the lamb tagine.
Did you know: Blue offers a late-night alternative bar food on the weekends. Gourmet offerings like crisp arrancini or olive tapenade with warm pitas are served until midnight.
It’s just as sophisticated and urbane as you’d expect from a French-bistro-meets-steakhouse located off the Ritz-Carlton’s lobby. With posh cocktails, rich French fare, and steakhouse offerings, this uptown restaurant courts all appetites.
Freebie we’d pay for: The steakhouse’s famed poppers are crusty hunks of bread stuffed with melted Gruyère cheese. Breaking them open and smearing creamy butter on the dense, steaming bread is an experience to be relished.
What’s new: The swanky spot recently added sidewalk seating just off its College Street entrance, making it a top contender for best people watching in the city. Drink up: The Rosemary Margarita, made with Herradura Silver tequila, may just be the restaurant’s best use of herbs.
Don’t skip: The sides. Mashed potatoes are infused with a fiery jalapeño. Creamed spinach offers a hint of sweet nutmeg. And smoky Brussels sprouts seared with bacon are nothing like the ones you picked around on your plate as a kid.
The art nouveau décor may be Parisian, but the food is distinctly American at this Elizabeth restaurant run by two sisters. The dishes here—many of which have been on the menu since 1989—are reliably delicious and served with style.
Get your greens: On the warm goat cheese salad, a longtime favorite here, the tangy cheese is coated with a hazelnut crust and rests on mixed greens lightly tossed in a semisweet apricot jalapeño vinaigrette.
What to get: The crispy and golden buttermilk fried chicken paired with creamy Yukon mashed potatoes has been one of the restaurant’s best sellers for years for a good reason. It’s the kind of soothing Southern comfort food that needs no improving.
Go when: The scallops featuring a light vanilla essence served atop a luscious almond risotto are on the menu.
Inside tip: The desserts are made here from scratch daily and it’s difficult to pick one of the sugary confections that’s not mouthwateringly good. But if you have to choose, select the decadent peach and raspberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream.
While the city’s ethnic food scene has drastically improved since Copper’s arrival in 2006, this elegant Dilworth restaurant continues to set the standard for upscale Indian food with a modern twist. Dining rooms in vibrant reds with interesting art offer views of East Boulevard and evoke a sense of romance. Plating at Copper is an art form in itself with interesting geometric arrangements and angular serving dishes, designed to delight the diner.
Whom to bring: Your vegetarian friends. With unusual choices like makai kofta (spinach and corn dumplings), veggie lovers can indulge without missing out on flavor.
Don’t skip: The chicken tikka masala—no matter how adventurous you’re feeling. This traditional chicken dish arrives bathed in a perfectly spiced velvety sauce.
Slow down: On the complimentary warm naan bread served with mint, mango chutney, and raita dipping sauces. It’s good, but not worth filling up on when there are multiple courses to enjoy.
Drink up: The wine list here is more European than Indian with more than fifty bottles, each chosen with the cuisine in mind and all served in Riedel stemware. What to get: If it’s the exotic you crave, masala lamb chops in a peppery achaari curry sauce are enlivened with intricate combinations of spice and served with vegetable biryani.