50 Best Restaurants in Charlotte: 2018
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THIS LIST IS BASED on hours of eating, hundreds of restaurant visits, and thousands of dollars in research. It isn’t paid for or persuaded by which places have public relations companies. Visits are anonymous, and each restaurant on this list has been judged on multiple visits over the past year. To be included, establishments must be primarily a restaurant, and a local chef must have full control over the menu. Each place included in the rankings has a rating on three important aspects of dining: the food, the ambiance, and the quality of service. These ratings helped determine the restaurant’s ranking along with several other factors, such as the consistency of quality, innovation in the kitchen, and value. Also considered in the final decision were restaurants’ beverage programs. Semifinalists included nearly 100 restaurants; several of the city’s favorites narrowly missed the cut. The resulting list is our definitive ranking of the best restaurants in and around the city.
For a printable checklist version of the 2018 50 Best Restaurants list, click here.
No. 1: Kindred
Little gem lettuces with radish, feta, yeshi, and berbere-spiced pepitas.
131 N. Main St., Davidson, 980-231-5000
One evening not long after Kindred opened nearly three years ago, Katy Kindred had a thought as she passed through the dining room. Between its exposed brick walls and bright white-and-tiled bar, the Davidson restaurant she owns with her husband, chef Joe Kindred, were full tables. Yet the thought was still there.
“Oh my God,” she thought to herself as she looked around. “There’s a chance this could not work.”
“It just kind of finally struck me,” she recalls today, “what if all the sudden people stop coming?”
That, of course, hasn’t happened. Kindred and the Kindreds have earned recognition from the James Beard Foundation and Bon Appétit, to name a few. Reservations fill up quickly, and bar seats are coveted on weekend nights. Still, that thought hasn’t left them.
“I like to second-guess myself a lot, and, you know, I’ll have these moments where I think I suck,” Joe admits. “I have this huge fear of failure. And I take that as a motivating factor.”
It’s motivation to continue to learn, to always get better. Joe, Katy, and members of their staff, often including Kindred General Manager Blake Pope, travel to some of the best restaurants in the country, spending time in the dining rooms and the kitchens to learn new trends and techniques. That fear has helped push the menu at Kindred, and propelled the restaurant to the No. 1 spot on this list from its top five position in 2016, during the restaurant’s opening year. A hamachi crudo (crudo is a raw fish dish) has the citrusy sweetness of kishu mandarin, spice of serrano peppers, and an added layer of texture with black sesame breadcrumbs. The squid ink conchiglie is a stunning black pasta dish that’s served with shrimp and an umami-rich sea urchin butter.
You wouldn’t have found these dishes on Kindred’s first menu. What Joe and his staff serve today is much different from the day the restaurant opened, in both structure and sustenance. As a first-time restaurant owner, Joe stayed within the comfort of a more traditional menu; there were sections for small plates and entrées, complete with a chicken dish and a pork chop. And as diners began to trust in him, he began to trust himself more.
Top: Joe and Katy Kindred. Bottom: Hamachi crudo with citrus, pomegranate, and green coriander.
“Creatively, I was inspired by people coming in and really enjoying the food,” Joe says. “It was like, alright, well, they’re doing this, so I felt like it was my duty to the city and to the restaurant and the team and our kitchen staff to keep getting better. Learn new techniques. Find fun new ingredients.”
Nowadays, it’s not surprising to see a Kindred menu with only one or two red meat options. The recent Kindred menus help define Joe’s cooking style, one that has become evident as he whittled away the dishes he felt bound to when he first opened. What’s remained is a menu of bright, fresh flavors in the crudos, pastas, and shared plates.
“I would say you found your voice as a chef over the past two years,” Katy says, looking at her husband as he explains the path between the menus.
Both Kindreds have found their place as business owners, too. They’ve recently started taking leadership classes through their church, Mecklenburg Community Church. Joe is a damn good chef; Katy can charm even the toughest table. Yet they don’t believe that’s what makes their restaurant great. They believe their leadership is what defines Kindred.
“If it’s just about food and booze, that’s pretty lame,” Katy says. “That’s a lame legacy to leave. We really want to genuinely make a difference and the best place for that would be the people that work for us.”
As soon as the restaurant began turning a profit, everyone on the staff got a raise. The Kindreds started providing health insurance to their full-time employees last year. They hire not based on resume, but character, and want to make sure everyone at Kindred has a work-life balance that’s uncommon in the restaurant industry. One of the interview questions they ask is what a person enjoys outside of work; they want their staff to have something that drives them outside of Kindred.
“If you get into the restaurant business because you love food, you’re going to be really disappointed, because it has to be about people,” Katy says. “You have to care about people, because as a business owner, that’s what you’re going to be doing, frankly. Joe’s not cooking. I’m not waiting on your table. We’re managing the people who are doing that. And we love that part of the job.”
The staff loves them, too. Dine at Kindred any time and you’ll feel a sense of ownership and pride from each person who attends to your table or greets you on your way out. Dishes from the kitchen are nearly flawless, helping Kindred earn the trust of diners and enabling the small-town restaurant to serve one of the most innovative menus in the Charlotte area.
In December, the Kindreds opened Hello, Sailor, their second restaurant, in the Cornelius space formerly occupied by the Rusty Rudder. Surely, acclaim and recognition will follow for the lakeside restaurant. And the Kindreds will do their best to pass off the praise and remind us how they’re so successful and what’s really important to them: their Kindred staff.
“What I want to do is focus on how people remember me and the legacy that I helped them create for their lives,” Joe says. “I guess it’s just like I woke up one day and I learned it’s not about me.”
No. 2: The Fig Tree
Chef Greg Zanitsch
1601 E. Seventh St., 704-332-3322
This is a restaurant where you know what to expect. The menu is traditional, with appetizers and entrées served with a salad, but that doesn’t mean the dishes are basic. Chef (and co-owner with wife Sara) Greg Zanitsch takes approachable dishes and pushes just far enough to please both the adventurous and unsure. The filet mignon, for example, comes served with a polenta cake and Stilton cheese, the meat’s juices soaking into the corn-based cake and balancing the shock of the Stilton. The menu here is French in style, which means you’ll experience decadence throughout, from the always-delicious foie gras to the desserts, some of the best in town thanks to pastry chef Samantha Allen. Service has the right amount of attentiveness, and the staff’s knowledge of the hefty wine list means you can ask for pairings that will bring out the best in your meal.
No. 3: Aix en Provence
Paris-brest, a pastry with praline cream.
545 Providence Rd., Ste. B, 704-332-1886
The No. 1 restaurant on our most recent Best New Restaurants list, Aix en Provence has continued to impress. The size of the restaurant—it seats about 40 guests—allows a level of control that you won’t find in bigger dining rooms. At least one of the restaurant’s owners, Patrick Garrivier or Bryan St. Clair, interacts with diners each night, keeping a close eye on the tables. In the kitchen, chef Nicholas Tarnate serves French countryside classics, meaning the menu also draws inspiration from nearby Italy and Spain, as well. Expect classics such as cassoulet, rich pastas, and paella, each equally delicious, making this menu a tough one to choose from. Each dish during menu development has to pass the palate of Garrivier, who grew up in France and worked for renowned French-born New York chef Daniel Boulud. The owners announced the opening of a second restaurant, Le Cochon D’Or, in Waxhaw this winter, taking over the former Heritage Food & Drink space.
No. 4: Barrington’s
7822 Fairview Rd., 704-364-5755
You’ll often spot Charlotte’s old money at Barrington’s, and not because the restaurant is old-fashioned. Here, you’ll find the familiarity of a corner pub with a menu that shows serious sophistication, something regulars have discovered and returned for since the restaurant opened in 2000. Chef and owner Bruce Moffett’s first concept, Barrington’s has a New England-inspired interior, with sea-evoking blues and photographs from Barrington, Rhode Island, snapped by Moffett’s wife, Katrina. The dishes here generally get everything right, from textures and tastes to the plating. The menu is high-end yet still comforting, with humbling touches such as fried onions on the scallops or trout served with sweet potato chips. It’s a place you’ll want to come back to, and if you can afford to make this your regular spot, the familiar faces of the staff will make it feel like home.
No. 5: The Asbury
235 N. Tryon St., 704-342-1193
Chef Matthew Krenz’s intentions in his kitchen are as pure as anyone’s. His family owns a cattle ranch, instilling in him a deep respect for his ingredients and the effort that goes into producing them. Located in the Dunhill Hotel, this place is open for all meals, but really shines during dinner. It’s not unusual to find lesser-utilized ingredients, such as beef tongue or heart, on the menu, prepared in a way that makes them as approachable as possible. Such dishes help minimize waste, but if you’d rather stick to the traditional cuts, The Asbury excels in that as well. There’s depth in this kitchen with Chef de Cuisine Mike Long working alongside Krenz, allowing for consistency no matter who is on the line.
No. 6: Stagioni
Butternut squash cavatelli from Stagioni.
715 Providence Rd., 704-372-8110
Under the leadership of Chef Drew Dodd, this Bruce Moffett restaurant has become a favorite among foodies and food industry folks alike. The interior is warm, with red accents that mimic the heart of the wood-fired grill in the open kitchen. The menu can seem overwhelming with three- or four-syllable words in Italian, but they most often translate to some shape of pasta, and the staff is quick to explain them. The pizzas are crisped next to the fire and topped with things such as house-made sausage. Staff used to joke that you’d never find chicken parmigiana, a stereotyped Italian staple, on the menu here. Dodd decided to add his own interpretation, stuffed with mozzarella and fontina cheese, to the menu. It’s a delicious and popular dish, showing that Dodd isn’t above serving the expected—he just does it on his own level.
> Read about Moffett's recent cookbook deal here.
No. 7: O-Ku
Pictured is (clockwise from top center) whitefish crudo; flounder, tuna, salmon, snow crab, yellowtail, A5 wagyu, and bluefin otoro nigiri; katsu-tori; kiwi kani roll; dragon roll; South End shrimp; yellowtail carpaccio; otoro spoons; salmon and lemon roll; pork belly.
2000 South Blvd., Ste. 510, 704-594-1922
Sushi is all about the sourcing, and you can taste it’s done well at South End’s O-Ku. Michael Chanthavong is the executive chef at this Charleston import, and his enthusiasm radiates from the people behind the sushi bar to the front-of-house staff, who will help you navigate the sushi and sake selections. Don’t think that this spot is simply raw seafood, however—for the ocean-averse, dishes made with duck, pork belly, and wagyu beef are equally thoughtful.
No. 8: Good Food on Montford
1701 Montford Dr., 704-525-0881
Bruce Moffett’s second restaurant doesn’t take reservations, but the near-constant wait doesn’t deter diners looking for, well, good food. Some classics remain through menu changes—and remain must-orders, such as the Prince Edward Island mussels, served with a mild green curry broth, and the steamed bun—but the specials show the kitchen’s range. Named a James Beard Award semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant in 2010, Good Food helped convince outsiders that this is a food town—and still does.
500 S. Tryon St., 704-910-0865
Uptown hasn’t always been friendly to fine dining restaurants, but Halcyon’s ingredient-focused menu continues to draw in locals and business travelers.
Its location overlooking the southwestern entrance to uptown makes it an enchanting date night, and its treatment of expected and exotic ingredients—simply, yet with textbook technique and flavor combinations, such as its rabbit saddle or Spanish turbot, a white fish—make it a Charlotte classic.
> See where Halcyon ranked in 2016 here.
No. 10: Lumiere
1039 Providence Rd., 704-372-3335
Everything is traditional French here, from the white tablecloths to the foie gras preparation of the day. Such a classic restaurant tends to draw a crowd looking for classics, but that doesn’t mean this place isn’t for the foodies, too—understanding the foundation of cooking is an important piece of culinary education.