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Charlotte's 25 Best Restaurants

From French fare to Southern comfort, steaks to Thai, inventive to classic, these are Charlotte's best restaurants



Halcyon, Flavors from the Earth In Homage to Hominy, braised house-cured local pork belly is stewed in late-vine tomatoes and ham hock broth.

Taylor Mathis

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Note: For more great coverage of Charlotte's restaurants, check out our dining guide, Food & Drink section, and our most recent Best New Restaurants piece.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aria Tuscan Grill

100 N. Tryon St.
704-376-8800
ariacharlotte.com

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


Barrington’s Restaurant

7822 Fairview Rd.
704-364-5755
barringtonsrestaurant.com

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.


Basil Thai

210 N. Church St.
704-332-7212
eatatbasil.com

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.


Bistro La Bon

1322 Central Ave.
704-333-4646
bistrolabon.com

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.


Blue Restaurant & Bar

Fifth and College
704-927-2583
bluecharlotte.com

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.


BLT Steak

201 E. Trade St.
704-547-2244
bltrestaurants.com

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.


Carpe Diem

1525 Elizabeth Ave.
704-377-7976
carpediemrestaurant.com

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.


Copper

311 East Blvd.
704-333-0063,
copperrestaurant.com

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.

 

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We invite your responses and discussion. Please refrain from personal attacks, profanity, commercial promotion, or non sequiturs.

Reader Comments:
Nov 22, 2011 07:21 pm
 Posted by  PlazaMidwoodMama

Great list! But please do not recommend Bistro La Bon for kids. We tried it tonight after reading your review with some visiting guests and our toddler. They no longer have a children's menu despite listing one on their website and do not offer anything for kids (sides, etc.) other than a veggie medley or a kid sized version of Swedish Meatballs. The meatballs were served rare, which is not really appropriate for children, in my opinion. Plus the atmosphere is muted and very adult. It is not really appropriate for kids, except perhaps older kids/teens, and even then I am not sure what they would eat unless they had more adult-like palates.

Jul 6, 2013 04:33 pm
 Posted by  beefygolf1

I could not disagree more with the above comment.. when can we completely get rid of kid menus.. which offer sausage or burger and soft food.?
How will the population of the future eat nothing but fried chicken if they are not exposed to different food types when they are formulating their living patterns for adult life... .i.e. as kids.
Why are people so afraid to experiment with different flavors? I never offer my son a kids menu.. he chooses from the adult menu and is encouraged to try something different every time. As a consequence he is comfortable eating mussels, scallops, sea bass, venison, oysters kidneys, liver etc. etc. The person above who states that they are uncertain what older kids/teens would eat unless they had more "adult -like palates" is I'm afraid guilty ofnot exposing youngsters to new tastes... our kids are getting too fat eating soft prepared foods... give them a chance.. and take them to Bistro La Bon.... my 11 year old loved it !!

Dec 9, 2013 12:57 pm
 Posted by  abruzzopat

Good list overall... but Cowfish? The fact that it's so popular says a lot about Charlotte diners, and not in a flattering way.

Over the top "sushi" entrees with more colors and sauces than an old tie-dyed baby's bib. The $12 burgers are monstrosities better fit for Man vs Food than an actual meal. The wine list (predictably) has no creativity and appears to be ordered from a chain-restaurant auto-pick list.

I'm not saying Cowfish should go away, and I understand the novelty appeal, but to think it's among the 25 best restaurants in the town I live in makes me very sad.

Dec 10, 2013 09:49 am
 Posted by  Aleigh

@AbruzzoPat, check out the updated version of this story from our December 2013 issue!

http://www.charlottemagazine.com/Charlotte-Magazine/December-2013/Charlottes-25-Best-Restaurants2013/

Mar 2, 2014 07:09 pm
 Posted by  vb77

I've been to Halcyon several times now for different times of day and different meals and they have consistently been slow to serve- even at the BAR it was difficult to get attention...
Arriving as a group of three for apps and drinks at a table another night, we were given 1 menu to share among us... these are printed on paper... no shortage... they simply don't seem to want us to order...
This is further exemplified by the slow service... And I don't mean they let us linger over our conversation, etc...I mean, our drinks have run dry and we seriously began to consider chasing our server. Instead, we asked another server to help us...
For brunch- same terrible service...
The food is decent. (interesting ideas but under-seasoned and lacking flavor, generally)
The atmosphere: MAGNIFICENT... one of the best places to relax... except that you cannot because you're busy wondering if and when you will get to eat and drink!
With these fine dining ambitions should come quality food and excellent service.

Mar 2, 2014 07:11 pm
 Posted by  vb77

that comment was meant for the newer article... not sure how it was redirected here... my apologies

Add your comment:

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