Charlotte's 25 Best Restaurants—2013
From French fare to Southern comfort, inventive to classic, these are Charlotte's best restaurants
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127 N. Tryon St., Ste. 8
Since bursting onto the scene in 2012, just in time to capitalize on the Democratic National Convention, 5Church has held its own. It reigns as the best example of the city’s recent influx of venues that seamlessly mesh restaurant with bar.
Come for: The experience. 5Church’s swanky décor, edgy atmosphere, and creative dishes from executive chef Jamie Lynch draw a crowd that wants to see and be seen.
Don't miss: Pierogies. The filling changes seasonally, but the result never disappoints.
100 N. Tryon St.
Restaurateur Pierre Bader has shuffled his restaurants roster several times over the years, but he’s held on to Aria since opening it in 2010, and for good reason—it’s his best.
Come for: Simple Italian comfort food that sometimes has a bit of a Southern accent.
Don't miss: Reserve the chef’s table for special occasions. It seats eight and is the best table in the house.
Bistro La Bon
1322 Central Ave.
Executive chef and owner Majid Amoorpour saw potential in this humble strip-mall location in Plaza Midwood. He’s created a destination; when you dine here, it’s easy to forget that the world outside even exists.
Come for: Global flavor combinations that are hard to find elsewhere, such as the crispy avocado and asparagus small plate, paired with a tamarind and sweet chili balsamic glaze.
Don't miss: Sunday brunch, which has its own well-earned reputation for pastries, chocolate waffles, and a buffet (house-smoked salmon and Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce are frequent offerings).
Blue Restaurant & Bar
206 N. College St.
The menu here spans the globe—Italy, France, Greece, North Africa, and Morocco are all represented. Executive chef Gene Briggs swaps out the specials four times a year, giving you plenty of time to come back and try a few of them before the next menu comes out.
Come for: A meal when family is in from out-of-town. This menu is a crowd-pleaser.
Don't miss: Arancini (risotto balls stuffed with pancetta, sweet onions, and mozzarella with a sweet tomato sauce), fragrant chicken tagine, and, recently, pan-seared jumbo scallops and oxtail ragu—an interesting take on traditional surf and turf.
1323 Central Ave.
The Mother Earth Group took a risk opening a vegetarian restaurant in a city that’s packed with burger joints and steakhouses. But Fern has proven to be a great fit for Plaza Midwood—and with dishes like the recent sweet potato Reuben, made with shaved sweet potato “pastrami,” it continues to win over both vegetarians and omnivores.
What to get: If you’re not adventurous enough for beer-battered tofu or miso-glazed tempeh, start with the OM Burger (toppings vary seasonally) or one of the flatbreads, made with 200-year-old sourdough starter from Duke’s Bread.
10000 Ballantyne Commons Pkwy.
(Inside The Ballantyne Hotel)
Hotel restaurants are often plagued with mediocrity and inflated prices. Gallery is an exception. Here, quality holds up to prices, and dishes like seared flounder with roasted purple sweet potatoes and caramelized onion puree are worth a drive to south Charlotte.
Come for: A romantic date night.
Don't miss: The desserts. Selections from executive pastry chef Keli Fayard are exquisite, from s’mores crème brûlée to house-made ice creams in flavors like espresso almond and dark milk chocolate.
4620 Piedmont Row Dr.
With vivid red booths, oversized mirrors, and striking vintage French posters and photographs, it’s easy to enjoy dining at Georges Brasserie. But the décor is only half the story at this graceful French spot.
Come for: Traditional French fare such as escargot, five preparations of mussels, and bouillabaisse.
Don't miss: The raw bar, which offers oysters, clams, shrimp, lobster, and three sizes of sampler plates.
Good Food on Montford
1701 Montford Dr.
The second concept from the Moffett brothers, Good Food is younger brother Kerry’s playground. But this is no Barrington’s lite—its focus on creative small plates has a much more playful side than its formal sibling.
Come for: The experience. Good Food is a great date-night destination, a place to share dishes like a confit lamb belly with beluga lentils and roasted tomatoes or roasted shrimp arepas with red cabbage slaw.
Stay for: The mixology. Recent selections on the seasonal cocktail menu include the Fig Bourbon Smash, pairing Bulleit Rye Whiskey with orange bitters, brown sugar simple syrup, lemon juice, and a muddled fig.
Harvest Moon Grille
235 N. Tryon St.
Once the driving force of the local food movement, Harvest Moon has matured into a restaurant that now simply leads by example. Founding chef and pork farmer Cassie Parsons recently left to start some new ventures (including a USDA-inspected meat-processing facility for local farmers), but the restaurant hasn’t swayed from its commitment to the farm-to-fork model.
Come for: Dishes like the Harvest Moon cassoulet, made with smoked chicken, goose confit, braised rabbit, and house-cured meats—almost all of which was sourced within 100 miles.
Did you know? Harvest Moon started out as a bright-orange food truck before transforming into a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Malabar Spanish Cuisine
214 N. Tryon St., Ste. 3
By now, diners who were disappointed by the closing of Augusto Conte’s Coco Osteria have no doubt been won over by the fragrant dishes emerging from the kitchen of its Spanish tapas replacement. (It doesn’t hurt that many of Coco’s most popular dishes are still available across the Hearst Tower plaza at Luce.)
Come for: Authentic Spanish dishes, including four types of paella—but be warned, each takes 35 minutes to prepare.
If only: The restaurant were a bit larger. On nights and weekends, there can be a wait, even with reservations, and when it’s full, it can feel crowded.
McNinch House Restaurant
511 N. Church St.
In some ways, the McNinch House is a relic—and not just because it’s housed in a late-1800s Victorian. It can be romantic, with hushed candlelit dining rooms and classical music. The food is solid, but if you’re looking for inventiveness or creativity, you won’t find it here. Instead, simple dishes, elaborately presented, reign.
Come for: The setting. It’s a treat to dine in such a magnificently restored Victorian, and the formal-to-a-fault service makes you feel a bit like royalty.
The details: McNinch House offers only prix fixe menus. Choose from five, seven, and nine courses—but be sure to share any food allergies or preferences when you call to make your reservation.
3415 Hwy. 51, Fort Mill
Passion8 has plans to drop the “Bistro” and move to Elizabeth Avenue in 2014. In the meantime, however, the restaurant still resides in a former brothel (no kidding) and is worth a visit. Knowledgeable servers know the names and locations of the local farms that supply fresh produce and are great at helping indecisive diners navigate the constantly changing menu.
Come for: Wine and cocktails (designated drivers recommended). The wine list, while small, includes hard-to-find wines (a recent wine flight included a few excellent Lebanese wines), while an inventive specialty cocktails list will please discriminating palates.
Don't skip: Signing up for the restaurant’s email list so you won’t miss out on special dinners like Dining in the Dark, the restaurant’s recent Halloween event that presented a three-course meal to blindfolded diners.
6401 Morrison Blvd.
Focusing on authenticity and service, Augusto Conte’s first Charlotte restaurant opened in 1998 and remains one of the city’s best options for an authentic Tuscan meal.
Come for: Great al fresco dining in the restaurant’s expansive courtyard at Specialty Shops on the Park.
Don't miss: Grilled portobello with tomatoes, goat cheese, and Tuscan fries; lasagna with Bolognese sauce and béchamel.
1100 Metropolitan Ave., Ste. 100
When it opened in 2009, Vivace had a great thing going: skyline views, a sophisticated menu, and a contemporary interior. It slipped a bit after the newness wore off, but a reinvigorated menu and approach in 2012 thrust the Midtown eatery back into its early glory as one of the best restaurants in town.
Come for: Brick-oven pizzas—the prosciutto, fig, Gorgonzola, and arugula is a standout—plus starters like potato gnocchi with braised pig cheeks, smoked Parmesan, roasted carrots, and a soft egg and pan-roasted scallops with caramelized Brussels sprouts, guanciale, root vegetables, and salsify.
Pro tip: Get here in time for sunset to see great views from the patio overlooking the greenway.
Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar
6706-C Phillips Place Ct.
For a restaurant that focuses on something as ubiquitous as pizza to make this list, it must be doing something right. Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar’s signature items are its creative toppings, such as chicken and broccolini with caramelized onions, chilies, and roasted tomatoes. The rustic setting is both family-friendly and chic.
Come for: The pizzas, of course, but also for dishes like grilled Italian sausage with polenta and pepper jam and ravioli with ricotta cheese, pine nuts, basil, and a tomato cream sauce.
Did you know? The house-made pizza dough, created specifically for this restaurant, takes nine days to mature, including two pre-fermentation steps to give it a sourdough-like depth of flavor.
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