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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The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar

4310 Sharon Rd.
704-365-1922
thecowfish.com

The guys behind this bizarre concept are visionaries. Sure, when you tell people about it who haven’t been yet, they’re skeptical. And if you mention the word burgushi, a furrowing of the brow usually occurs. But this business is thriving, and once you’ve tasted one of the juicy burgers, a roll of the innovative sushi, or even some of that burgushi, you’ll understand why. It’s a casual spot with playful music and artwork with a clientele as diverse as its extensive menu. And on most nights, if you visit, you’ll be lining up alongside those folks just crossing your fingers for a table.

When to go: If you want to be seated quickly? Maybe in the middle of the afternoon? Or the minute they open? This place has been packed from its first week, and while reservations are available, they’re limited.

Don’t skip: The deconstructed crab rangoon dip. It’s the dense cream-cheese-based filling you find in traditional crab rangoon, served alongside crispy wontons for dipping. It’s tantalizingly good.

What to get: If you’re not adventurous enough for the burgushi rolls (rice rolls filled with burger ingredients), at least try one of the bento boxes, which allows you to sample a mini-burger alongside a sushi roll and side items.


Customshop

1601 Elizabeth Ave.
704-333-3396
customshopfood.com

Owner and chef Trey Wilson’s Elizabeth Avenue take on a Roman trattoria continues to lure food lovers and wine connoisseurs. Pillowy house-made ricotta gnocchi, flavor-enhancing sous vide preparation of local vegetables, and a carefully selected wine list to rival any in town are just a few of the reasons why.

While you wait: Order the charcuterie—it’s sliced at the bar—and soak in the 110-year-old building’s exposed brick walls and delightfully warm space.

Inside tip: The seafood offerings vary weekly. Go when the scallops are on the menu. These tantalizingly plump shellfish are grilled to perfection and served with seasonal accompaniments like fresh squash succotash.

Save room for: The apple, walnut, and caramel bread pudding, served steaming hot and topped with quickly melting vanilla ice cream.


Del Frisco’s

4725 Piedmont Row Dr.
704-552-5502
delfriscos.com

In a town where steakhouses have traditionally ruled, this SouthPark staple is king. A sweeping staircase, dramatically dim lighting, and an excess of mahogany make this gorgeous steakhouse the most elegant in town. And while its grandeur may evoke nostalgia for the city’s boom days of dining, Del Frisco’s retains its status as a place to spot the city’s most powerful with steak knives in hand.

What to get: The filet, rib eye, prime strip, or porterhouse. This menu is a beef lover’s dream, and beautifully marbled slabs of meat are perfectly cooked and simply served.

Don’t skip: The first course. The fried calamari comes in a slightly spicy Asian glaze and the steak tartare is served in a cool mound alongside slivers of crisp potato chips.

Best bargain: On Sunday nights Del Frisco’s offers its Restaurant Week menu—and therefore the chance to sample without breaking the bank—with three courses for just $30.


Fig Tree

1601 E. Seventh St.
704-332-3322
charlottefigtree.com

Owners Sara Scheidler and Greg Zanitsch (who also serves as chef) have brought stability to this beautiful old Craftsman bungalow, which had been a series of restaurants before Fig Tree opened almost seven years ago. If anything, this elegant spot has become better with time.

Don’t miss: The menu is seasonal, but if you see the delicate Apple Beggar’s Purse, which is a puff pastry stuffed with savory sautéed apples, onions, Gorgonzola, and walnuts, order it.

Chop it up: On the latest menu, you can’t go wrong with any of the generously portioned chops: lamb with a crust of rosemary and bread crumbs, Gorgonzola-stuffed pork, grilled elk, or grilled veal with shrimp.

What to drink: Wine! This is one of the best lists in town—well chosen and surprisingly affordable. Whom to bring: Your significant other.

Save room for: The absolutely perfect warm beignets, served with cinnamon crème anglais and coffee gelato. No time for a meal? Pop in for a glass of wine and an app at the cozy downstairs bar, one of the best-kept secrets in town. —R. T.


Fran’s Filling Station

2410 Park Rd.
704-631-9103
fransfillingstation.com

Chef and owner Fran Scibelli has created the kind of low-key neighborhood joint that feels like it’s been there for years even though this Dilworth spot is still relatively new. Whether you’re in the mood to indulge (hello, bacon-wrapped tater tots) or want simple, healthful fare, you’ll find it in this casual sun-splashed dining room.

Don’t miss: Pan-fried sweet corn nuggets offer a crispy exterior yielding to the moist crunch of the corn and pair perfectly with the cool goat cheese ranch dip.

Did you know: Fran used to run the now-closed Metropolitan Bakery, and her skills with bread have only improved. If a dish includes bread, you can bet it’s house made—and tasty.

Best bargain: Wednesday nights feature half-priced bottles of wine and include an appealing selection. When to go: Friday is South of the Border night. When it comes to satisfying a craving for pork carnitas and margaritas, Fran’s rivals any Mexican spot in town.


Good Food on Montford

1701 Montford Drive
704-525-0881
goodfoodonmontford.com

Lucky for us, Bruce Moffett was not satisfied with running Barrington’s, long one of the best restaurants in the city. He and his brother Kerry wanted a place where they could get more creative in the kitchen, so they gave us Good Food. We’ve been thanking them ever since.

Don’t miss: The menu changes often, so go soon to ensure you get the seared scallops in a sweet potato, bacon, and apple-raisin chutney. Also? The five-spice pork belly on a steamed bun will be one of the city’s best dishes until the unfortunate day it leaves the menu. Want to go big? The menu here is mainly small plates, but the entrée-size braised beef short rib is a standout.

Note from a beer geek: Duck Rabbit Milk Stout on draft? Yes. Served in a frosty glass? No. Nice touch: The patio lounge offers a touch of sophistication to the otherwise-fratty Montford Drive scene.

Start with: The mint julep, made with house-smoked bourbon. End with: The decadent ganache hot chocolate, spiked with vanilla vodka, warm spices, and chilies. —R. T.


Halcyon, Flavors of the Earth

500 S. Tryon St.
704-910-0865
halcyonflavors.com

The name may be over the top, but this restaurant just off the entrance to uptown’s Mint Museum flawlessly pulls off earthy and chic at once. Chef Marc Jacksina gets creative in the kitchen with locally sourced dishes, while contemporary décor lends itself to upscale business lunches and stylish date nights.

What to get: Delicate house-made crepes are re-created seasonally and generously stuffed with fillings like creamy sweet potato and house ricotta.

Drink this: House mixologist Maggie Pierce’s English Garden Gin puts a new and improved spin on iced tea with Earl Grey brewed with lavender, mixed with Tanqueray and served over ice with lemon.

Bargain beat: Halcyon’s “Grazing” menu offers small, reasonably priced plates perfect for sharing before the theater or after the museum tour. Nibble through exquisite and often local cheeses on the cheese board, which changes daily.

Inside tip: Don’t skip the bread. The butter is house made and is infused with inventive flavors like pumpkin or saffron.

Harvest Moon Grille

235 N. Tryon St.
704-342-1193
harvestmoongrille.com

In the most unorthodox of ways, this simple uptown restaurant has led the local food movement. From a farmers market stand, to a food cart, to an unlikely location off the lobby of a historic hotel, chef and proprietor Cassie Parsons has brought her locally raised goods to Charlotte. Here, the décor isn’t fancy and the dishes are simple. But fresh flavors shine through to create delicious dishes.

Don’t skip: The pork. It’s all from Parsons’ Lincoln County farm and is featured in many of the menu’s best dishes. When to go: Lunchtime is busy with uptown workers and dinner offers a convivial atmosphere, but breakfast, which is served daily, features freshly baked biscuits with the city’s best pork sausage.

Did you know: Almost everything on the menu comes from independently owned farms within 100 miles of Charlotte.


The Liberty

1812 South Blvd.
704-332-8830
thelibertycharlotte.com

When longtime local restaurant guys Matthew Pera and Tom Condron announced they’d be opening a gastropub in South End, good things could be anticipated. When they announced they’d serve nineteen craft beers on tap and another sixty by the bottle, good things were a given. But what’s become clear since the Liberty’s opening is that while beer may be important here, food is the focus. With a menu ranging from soft pretzels to seared scallops, the dishes vary greatly, but are consistently delicious.

While you wait: Soak in the vintage beer posters lining the wall of the bar area as you sip on a locally brewed beer and munch on the light and puffy crisps of the barbecue pork rinds.

What to get: You needn’t be an anglophile to fall for the English Fish & Chips. They’re prepared by an Englishman (Condron), and served with malt vinegar and hot, crispy fries. They go down especially easy with a pint from one of those nineteen taps.

If only: The servers didn’t try so hard to push the burger at lunch. Yes, it is delicious and densely flavored, but the menu offers plenty of better options.


Luce

214 N. Tryon St.
704-334-9222
luceristorante.net

The host greets you with an Italian accent. With its Murano lights and Venetian plaster, the interior appears to have been snatched from a side street in Rome. And the food? It’s flawlessly prepared by Italian Chef Gabriele Grigolon, and tastes as authentically northern Italian as it comes on this side of the Atlantic. Don’t skip: The bread. Not for the fresh, crusty concoction itself, but for its olive oil and cannelloni bean accompaniment.

What to get: The buttera pasta features house-made tubular pasta tossed with succulent Italian sausage and sweet peas and smothered in a smooth tomato cream sauce.

The service: Could be the best in town. Servers are charming and helpful, and food consistently arrives with perfect timing and just the right amount of flourish.

When to go: During the week, a two-course lunch is offered for $11.95 and includes most of the pastas as well as meat and seafood offerings. And if you can find a patio table, you’ll have plenty of people watching opportunities next to the always-busy entrance of Hearst Tower.

 

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