Dining

Spicy Thai curries. Innovative cocktails. Sweet and light cupcakes. Flaky fish and chips. It's all here and it's all the best in town

Beer Selection

For the first time since, well, ever, Flying Saucer faced serious competition, as pizza joints and gastropubs all over town amped up their beer selections. The University City hangout still boasts the most brews -- more than 200 in all. But it didn't win based on sheer volume. The Saucer staff takes beer seriously, rotates selections constantly, and -- the real measure of a great beer bar -- carries the most true Belgian ales in town (more than fifteen). 9605 N. Tryon St., 704-568-7253

Surprising Beer Selection

At Duckworth's Grill and Bar, a pizza/ burger/cheesesteak emporium in the Park Towne Village shopping center, seating is tight and décor is minimal at best (at least until it moves to a larger location this summer). But beer nerds congregate here for a well-curated, oft-changing selection of craft brews. Sampling bonus: every night, at least a few of the twenty drafts are $2.50, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays they all are. 1600 E. Woodlawn Rd., 704-527-5783

New Restaurant

Charlotte's restaurants apparently didn't get the memo about the recession. New upscale spots sprouted up all over town this year, from posh, internationally known chains to local owners serving flavor from local farms. And while there were several great additions to the scene, Soul Gastro Lounge is quite simply the best. The small, second-story restaurant features flavor- packed, innovative small plates and sushi all turned out by Chef Jason Pound. The menu offers a variety of items with dishes like sashimi tacos ($8), mushroom-and-egg toast ($7), and lamp lollipops ($12, pictured) being favorites of the crowds who flock to this Plaza Midwood spot. And, yes, there are some serious crowds -- we're not the only ones who think this place is the best. 1500-B Central Ave., 704-348-1848

Brunch

The only negative thing about brunch at Lulu is that you can only get it on Sundays. Once you've had a taste of this cheerful French bistro's hollandaise- drenched eggs Benedict or crème brûlée French toast, you'll be planning your entire week around it, ensuring that on Sunday morning you're sitting on the sunny patio or in the warm, inviting dining room. 1911 Central Ave., 704-376-2242

Innovative Sandwiches

When Fran's Filling Station opened last fall, lovers of Fran Scibelli's thick, fresh, homemade bread rejoiced—and with good reason. At this funky Dilworth bistro you'll find that famed bread piled high with creative toppings on sandwich combos ($7.95) like the No. 6, a hot roast beef sandwich topped with sweet peppers and jalapeño vinegar slaw and then dipped in rich jus. Looking for something a little lighter during the summer? Try the No. 10, a lemon chicken salad sandwich with light lemon aioli, fresh lettuce, and tomato. 2410 Park Rd., 704-372-2009

Burger not at a Burger Joint

There's no question this city loves its burgers. The long lines at popular spots like Big Daddy's and the Penguin are proof enough. But one of the best burgers in town can be found at a place where you might not go searching for juicy beef and fresh buns. The Jerk Burger at Lebowski's Grill & Pub ($7.50) is piled high with pineapple- pepper salsa, "jerkiyaki" sauce, and pepper Jack cheese. Next time, skip the lines. 1524 East Blvd., 704-370-1177

Fried Chicken

OK, so it's boring and predictable, but it's tradition and it's true. Price's Chicken Coop still has the best fried chicken in town. Period. We'd explain why the deep- fried fowl, seasoned with only a modicum of salt and pepper, is the best, but our fingers are too greasy to type.
1614 Camden Rd., 704-333-9866

Gnocchi

On its own, the little lumps of potato pasta -- which are suddenly on seemingly every menu in town -- are relatively plain. But Aria chef Bill Schutz's treatment elevates gnocchi to the sublime. In the appetizer, he pan-sears the gnocchi, which enhances the texture and adds some caramelization. Then he adds sweet strips of pear and salty slices of prosciutto. Finally, he tosses it in a velvety truffle-oil-infused Gorgonzola cream sauce that's so good we'd eat it with a spoon. 100 N. Tryon St., 704-376-8880

Use of Swine

Charlotteans can't seem to get enough pork -- whether it's sweet fruits wrapped in prosciutto at upscale eateries or good, old-fashioned barbecue sandwiches served with a side of fries. The Liberty Gastropub, though, has taken a love of the tender meat to new heights with The Lucky Pig ($18), a large plate of warm, slow-roasted black Berkshire pork shoulder served with crepes, pickled pineapple, spicy peanuts, jalapeño peppers, and lettuce. Diners dig in with their hands to wrap the meat and toppings in one of the light crepes. It's innovative (spicy peanuts in a crepe with pork?) and -- dare we say it? -- puts some of those barbecue sandwiches to shame. The menu changes daily so call ahead to make sure The Lucky Pig is being served. 1812 South Blvd., 704-332-8830

Low-Key Pizza

Sometimes pizza has to be eaten in a place where the owner's name is Louie and the pies take up your entire table. That's exactly what you'll find at uptown's Villa Francesca, where Luciano "Louie" Suppa is serving up enormous New York- style slices, perfect for folding and covered in mozzarella. Want something you can't order at a chain? Go with the sixteen-by-sixteen-inch square Grandma pizza ($17.99). The twelve slices of thin crust topped with fresh mozzarella cheese and plenty of the secret-recipe "Grandma sauce" are perfect for sharing. 321 N. Caldwell St., 704-333-7447

Fancy pizza

Sure, midtown's newest restaurant has plenty of other elegant -- and delicious -- menu offerings like its rich and flavorful scallop risotto ($18) or its fresh caprese salad featuring oven-roasted tomatoes ($6). But if you go to Vivace and don't try one of the ten-inch thin-crust wood oven pizzas, you've made a mistake. These lavish pies ($10) feature ingredients like garlic béchamel-and-fig puree
atop perfectly cooked crusts and have plenty of cheese. Pepperoni just got boring. 1100 Metropolitan Ave., Ste. 100, 704-370-7755

Hidden Gem

Finding Foskoskies Neighborhood Café in Plaza Midwood is a challenge. Enjoying yourself once you've arrived is not. Tucked away in a small strip of shops on a quiet neighborhood street, this 1950s-style restaurant is instantly charming with its oak bar stools and brass foot railing. The menu is comfort food at its best, featuring Southern dishes like meatloaf, honey pecan fried chicken, and a rice, broccoli, and cheese casserole. Our advice? Make sure you save room for summer desserts like the berry cobbler or Key lime pie.
2121 Shamrock Dr., 704-535-2220

Fish and Chips

NoDa's cozy Crepe Cellar restaurant may be known for its sweet and savory delicate crepes, but the neighborhood spot calls itself a pub and lives up to this claim with its traditional fish and chips dish. Cod—fried crisp on the outside and rendered tender and flaky inside—is served atop a bed of salty, hot fries. Smear the fish with the creamy tartar sauce and enjoy it alongside the purple slaw (it's made from purple cabbage). It's as good as you'll find in Charlotte—and maybe even on this side of the Atlantic. 3116 N. Davidson St., 704-910-6543

Small Plates

Steamed buns with five-spice pork belly. Gnocchetti with pancetta, piopini mushrooms, and Brussels sprouts. Falafel with cucumber relish and tzatziki. Seared scallop with pumpkin risotto. All small plates, all emanating from the equally small kitchen at Good Food on Montford. It's been two years since Bruce and Kerry Moffett redefined Charlotte's idea of tapas- style cuisine, and there are no signs of slipping. 1701 Montford Dr., 704-525-0881

Dessert Case

Walk into Big View Diner and you're greeted by two cases full of the most delectable desserts in Charlotte. Co-owner/pastry chef Frank Kaltsounis has been perfecting his culinary touch at Big View's sister eateries Nolen Kitchen and Ilios Noche. The result: amazing eat-in or take-out desserts like the diner's signature banana cream pie, black and white cookies, carrot cake, and more. From bars and tartes to brownies and pastries, the dessert case was designed to satisfy just about everyone's sweet tooth.
16637 Lancaster Hwy., 704-544-0313

Thai

While the entrées at the sleek uptown restaurant Basil Thai may be on the pricey side (the most basic noodle dish, pad thai, goes for $15.95), they're worth it. The fresh ingredients like the just-picked flavor of the basil leaf in the basil roll appetizer ($5.95) and the perfectly sweet mango in the rice and mango dessert ($7.95) are part of what makes this chic modern spot the best in town. The other part is the talent of Chef Suntorn, whose creamy curries, rich jasmine rice, and spicy seafood dishes are prepared with attention to detail and dedication to authentic tastes of Thailand. 210 N. Church St., 704-332-7212

Food Blog

There has been a surge recently in local food blogs, but none can match the devoted following of Kath Eats Real Food at katheats.com, where Kath Younger blogs about healthful living through better eating. Younger has lost thirty pounds since graduating from Davidson in 2005, so she knows of what she blogs. The base of her site is photos and recipes of dishes she makes at home, but there are also videos, restaurant write-ups, product reviews, and tips on exercise and nutrition. katheats.com

Salads

Imagine this: a lightly pan-fried Maryland-style lump crab cake coupled with a slightly sweet herb vinaigrette and fresh corn, served atop a bed of fresh mixed greens. Sound like heaven? Well, it is. And so is the Thai-style steak salad's sweet-and- savory merging of grilled steak, Asian noodles, mint, cabbage, and avocado in a tangy vinaigrette. And the seared tuna salad boasting mixed greens, mango, avocado, and a touch of ginger. There are more delicious salads at 131 Main. But we'll let you use your imagination. 1315 East Blvd., 704-343-0131 9886 Rea Rd., 704-544-0131

Frozen Yogurt

At Tasty-Yo, you won't find containers full of crushed Snicker bars or gooey hot fudge begging to be dripped over a cup of frozen yogurt. Instead, what you'll find is a more healthful alternative to the processed fro-yo you've come to know. With fixins like honey, granola, and fresh blueberries and strawberries from local farmers markets and shredded coconut and nuts, you can create a dessert that doesn't stretch your waistline but does keep your taste buds happy. 3116 N. Davidson St., Ste. 130, 704-333-4551 Village at Robinson Farm Shopping Center, 8440 Rea Rd., Ste. 110, 704-544-4545

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

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