Best New Restaurants
Where to Eat (And Drink!) Now
5Church’s bold, industrial-chic look pushes the city’s restaurant scene to a new level of competitiveness.
CHARLOTTE has had a big year and so has the city’s restaurant scene. It’s been a year packed with restaurant openings, including fresh concepts by two celebrity chefs and a premiere effort from a new restaurant group that’s already become a local favorite, plus reinvented spaces, upscale ethnic food, and lots (and lots) of small-plates menus.
Someday, perhaps, we’ll look back on 2012 as the year Charlotte started to come into her own as a foodie destination. In the meantime, from comfort food to haute cuisine, these twelve new restaurants (in no particular order) have us excited about the future of the city’s restaurant scene. Reserve a table, sidle up to the bar, or just pop into one of these newcomers—there’s no wrong place to start.
5Church (127 N. Tryon St., Ste. 8, 704-919-1322, $$-$$$)
When 5Church opened in May, the city’s restaurant scene got a lot edgier. The first effort from MAP Management (the new restaurant group from managing partners Mills Howell, Alejandro Torio, and Patrick Whalen) is easily the restaurant phenom of the year. With its dramatic black-and-white décor, large bar and lounge area, and already infamous ceiling—hand-painted with the entire text of The Art of War—dining here is a true experience.
Chef Jamie Lynch’s New American menu is executed with precision and originality. Offerings revolve around locally sourced fresh ingredients, and the elegant, modern menu manages to be interesting without being intimidating. Dishes most local restaurants might consider risky (like the tender 60-Second New York strip steak ($32) that’s cut to order and cooked on only one side) are fixtures, while others, such as the butternut squash, caramelized onion, and ricotta pierogies ($7) with pomegranate molasses and pumpkin seeds, change with the seasons. Vegetarians have plenty to choose from, including crispy marinated tofu ($16) with sautéed spinach, kimchi, brussels sprouts and teriyaki, and kale risotto ($9) with sherry vinegar onions and Parmesan. Other standouts include the grilled flatbread ($10) with shrimp, arugula, red onion, and Boursin and the lamb burger ($13) with red onion marmalade, Gorgonzola, and arugula, both of which are also available during the restaurant’s popular Sunday brunch.
Sushi Guru (6601 Morrison Blvd., 704-362-3021, $$)
With the opening of Sushi Guru, Executive Chef Cy Santos reinvented the former Cyros Sushi with a new, more creative and versatile menu. (He was also executive chef and co-owner of the former establishment, which operated out of the same space.)
The space is still small and still jam-packed with tables, but the décor is understated—all the better to let Santos’s cuisine be the star of the show. You can find some of the city’s best sushi rolls here, but if you only order one, make it the hamachi jalapeño roll ($12). Filled with crab and avocado and topped with delicate hamachi (yellowtail) and paper-thin slices of jalapeno, the roll is finished with a drizzle of wasabi citronette for perfectly layered flavors. Don’t miss the Guru Smoked Fresh Sashimi ($9 tuna, $8 salmon, $10 yellowtail), a smoke-filled jar with slices of smoked fresh fish, and the Fujisan Roll ($10), filled with lump crab and avocado with slices of Fuji apple and topped with eel and crispy wonton strips.
10 Park Lanes (1700 Montford Dr., 704-523-7633, $$)
Yes, 10 Park Lanes is a restaurant inside a bowling alley. But what it isn’t—and this is a big point of distinction—is a bowling alley restaurant. You won’t find stale nachos and rubbery cheese here.
Instead, the reinvented Park Lanes is a happy mix of fun and comfort food. The space’s new look preserves and enhances the mod style of the original 1960s George Pappas bowling alley (think Mad Men mixed with a touch of futuristic styling à la The Jetsons). The menu has an emphasis on barbecue, including St. Louis–style ribs, chicken, pulled Boston butt, smoked sausages, and brisket-style prime rib. Tender and unsauced, it’s all ready to be drenched (or dotted) with the restaurant’s house-made barbecue sauces, including sweet and tangy Double Honeycomb, vinegary Piedmont Blond, smoky and spicy Coffee Jalapeno, and the mustard-based Chipotle Apricot.
Crispy, thick flatbreads are standouts, with toppings including smoked prime rib and Applewood bacon. But the restaurant’s specialty, Mason Jar Signature Stacks ($9)—a Southern-inspired twist on the classic meat-and-three concept—should not be missed. Choose the Mason Jar Que with pulled pork,
barbecue smoked baked beans, and slaw layered into a large Mason jar, or build your own by selecting a protein and sides.
Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen (150 N. College St., 704-370-7667, $$-$$$)
Like the original in SouthPark, Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen’s uptown location is a Southern restaurant with French, Italian, and Spanish influences and a focus on local ingredients. The concept translates well to its new, two-level urban setting—in fact, this new location is poised to eclipse its sister restaurant. From College Street, guests enter a cozy bar that has the same welcoming charm as the original. A chalkboard menu specifies bar-only choices, such as a salumi and cheese plate ($7) and lamb sausage pie ($8). Upstairs, an intimate dining room wraps around the open kitchen (a Rooster’s trademark).
Executive Chef Joe Kindred does nearly everything—from making pastas to butchering animals—in-house. The menu doesn’t vary much from the à la carte offerings that made the restaurant’s SouthPark location a favorite, but the daily specials are Kindred’s creations, and he executes them well.
Levant Mediterranean Cuisine (135 Levine Avenue of the Arts, Ste. 120, 704-333-0930, $$-$$$)
The elegant sister restaurant to owner Omar Kweider’s Kabob Grill (with locations in Dilworth and Stonecrest), Levant Mediterranean Cuisine is tucked into an intimate but lavish space on Levine Avenue of the Arts. Filigree light fixtures, geometric woodwork, and furniture inlaid with mother of pearl give it an exotic, elegant charm.
The menu is straightforward and beautifully presented, featuring traditional Levantine cuisine, representing a section of the Eastern Mediterranean from Egypt to Turkey. Much of the food here is vegetarian friendly and flavorful, especially the starters, which include creamy baba ghanouj ($8), thick, velvety hummus ($8), and mijammara ($8), a spread made of breadcrumbs, walnuts, chili pepper, cumin, and olive oil—all of which are excellent options for those unfamiliar with Eastern Mediterranean food.
Kabobs are prominently featured as main dishes, with choices of lamb, beef, chicken, shrimp, and kafta (ground seasoned beef), but if you’re seeking something a little different, opt for the fried kibbeh ($14 for lunch, $23 for dinner), small, football-shaped dumplings stuffed with a mixture of sautéed ground beef, onion, and walnuts.
If you’re unsure where to start, let the servers guide you—they know the dishes well. And be sure to check out the wine and beer selection; craft beer may have taken over the city, but there are some interesting (read: hard to find) options from the Eastern Mediterranean here.