2016 BOB Awards: Eat!

The best of food and dining
Since opening last year in Davidson, Kindred Restaurant has gained national attention for its pastas and small plates.

» New Restaurant
Kindred Restaurant
What do you get when you mix a two-story historic building in Davidson and a food-centric power couple (in this case, Joe and Katy Kindred) with dreamy milk bread, meticulously crafted cocktails, umami-rich small plates, handmade pastas, and birthday cake with sprinkles? A James Beard nomination and a ranking among 10 of the best new restaurants in America, for starters. More importantly, diners will find a big-city experience and a taste of the future of North Carolina’s culinary standards. 131 N. Main St., Davidson, 980-231-5000

» Charlotte Classic
Alexander Michael’s
On most nights, owner Steve Casner will greet you at the door. He started here as the manager when the place opened on April 27, 1983. There were 77 customers that night. Since then, he’s greeted politicians and businesspeople and police chiefs—and one table of German men who come every Tuesday. They all get the same treatment: Al Mike’s doesn’t take reservations, not from anyone. “My own mother asked for one once,” Casner says. “And I said no.” Inside, the low lighting, wooden bar, and wood-paneled walls give the place the feel of the true neighborhood restaurants and bars in older northeastern cities like Baltimore or Philadelphia or Boston—only with all the friendliness and hospitality of the South. 401 W. 9th St., 704-332-6789

» Wine list, by the glass
This list includes more than 200 wines by the glass, thanks to a clever creation by owner John Duncan. Inspired by grocery store refrigerators, Duncan created a refrigeration system that looks like bar shelving but keeps reds and whites at their ideal temperatures. A repurposed nozzle, like those used to fill balloons, pushes a combination of argon and nitrogen into the open bottles, keeping the oxygen away from the wine and lengthening the time bottles have that just-opened flavor. 1829 Cleveland Ave., 704-333-9463

» Wine list, by the bottle
The Fig Tree Restaurant
Chef Greg Zanitsch cooks with wine in mind, and his pages-long list has won Wine Spectator awards 10 years in a row. Staff members can deliver a recommendation for nearly any combination of entrées, and when they can’t, they ask the chef himself. Spend $20 on a bottle of French white or more than $2,000 on a Bordeaux—you can’t go wrong with this list. 1601 E. 7th St., 704-332-3322

» Vegan
Luna’s Living Kitchen
Luna’s has come a long way in its six years, from a tiny café to a full-scale restaurant. A lengthy menu of vegan options reflects this, with longtime favorites such as the lunasagna sharing space with newer but equally creative dishes, including zucchini manicotti and a sweet potato sushi roll. Every dish here has a thoughtful elegance, but also a lot of flavor. 2000 South Blvd., Ste. 300, 704-333-0008

» Outdoor dining
Charlotte restaurants are often along neighborhood thoroughfares, meaning patio dining comes with the occasional interruption of motorcycles or road rage. Not at Vivace. The comfortable, cushioned seating protected by massive umbrellas overlooks the Little Sugar Creek Greenway, making for a quiet respite for Sunday brunch or an evening meal. 1100 Metropolitan Ave., Bldg. E, Ste. 100, 704-370-7755

» Brunch
Café Monte
The image of a fat chef with a big smile watches over the bright yellow dining room, setting the tone for this French-inspired bistro. The menu holds all of brunch’s best, from classics including eggs Benedict and crêpes, to heartier fare, such as steak frites. A bakery counter out front suits those looking for coffee and a croissant, but the better way to dine here is to sit, sip, and dine, just as the French would do, and take your time. 6700 Fairview Rd., 704-552-1116

» Cheese shop
Orrman’s Cheese Shop
The shop maintains a tightly curated list of cheeses from small-batch producers, many of whom are local or regional. The store also sells various accompaniments, from jams to pickles to hard salami. This is the place to visit if you want to learn more about the vast world of cheese. It’s also a great spot for a grilled cheese sandwich. 224 E. 7th St., 980-226-3025

The steaks at Evoke are tender and flavorful, customized by each diner with a tray of artisan salts delivered with the meat.

» Steak house
Charlotte may still love its steaks, but we’re certainly no longer a meat-and-potatoes town. Cuts here are served with a tray of tasting salts, letting you play with your food (and its flavors). The kitchen also serves up ceviches, crudos, and house-made pastas. And, yes, Evoke does have potatoes—made with truffle oil. 555 S. McDowell St., 980-237-5354

» Restaurant for kitchen-watching
Rooster’s SouthPark
Rooster’s signature open kitchen makes nearly every table feel like a chef’s table. The sound track of pans and plates hitting the counter becomes white noise as the smell of the wood-fired grill (another Rooster’s signature) entices you to order the roasted chicken, cooked on that very grill. 6601 Morrison Blvd., 704-366-8688

» Family-Friendly Spot
Luisa’s Brick Oven Pizzeria 
A second-story location in a small strip off Montford doesn’t prevent Luisa’s from being a mainstay for hungry Charlotte families. Arguably a contender for the city’s best pizza as well, Luisa’s bakes its pies in an imported, wood-burning oven that yields a distinctive crust. Italian-American comforts such as eggplant Parmesan are equally satisfying alternatives at this neighborhood restaurant. 1730 Abbey Pl., 704-522-8782

» Chef
Paul Verica
Restaurant: Heritage Food & Drink in Waxhaw
Hometown: Havertown, Pennsylvania
Age: 43
Height: 6 feet 4 inches
Cooking style: Ingredient-driven, modern American
Signature dish: Heritage's deviled eggs 
Favorite ingredient: The first tomatoes of the season

The chef and owner of this magazine’s number one restaurant in our 2016 Best Restaurants issue lets the seasons dictate his menu, resulting in delicately seasoned dishes with touches of curiosity—powders, crumbles, and sauces—that enhance but don’t overshadow ingredients from local farms. 201 W. South Main St., Waxhaw, 704-843-5236


» Soul food 
Mert’s Heart & Soul
Mert’s borrows its name from a beloved customer at the Bazzelle family’s former restaurant. Each dish here is cooked with that same love (and butter). The chicken is fried, the collards are tender, and nearly everything is better soaked in gravy. The cornbread is the best in the city, baked throughout the day in small loaves for guests to smother with butter and enjoy. 214 N. College St., 704-342-4222

» Southern American 
The Asbury
Who says Southern can’t be fancy? Chef Chris Coleman’s menu uses classic cooking techniques, but with dishes such as seared scallops with Carolina gold rice and pork cheeks served with a jus made of North Carolina’s Lusty Monk mustard, it’s clear this chef is proud of his—and our—heritage. 235 N. Tryon St., 704-342-1193

» Chicken and dumplings
Blue collar or white collar, you’ll stand in line with your cafeteria tray here just like anybody else. If you love chicken and dumplings, though, you’ll want to be in that line on a Wednesday, when Lola’s serves up the best in the city. The gravy is flavorful without being over-salted or overly peppered, the chicken is tender and moist, and the dumplings are just chewy enough. Also a contender for “best lunch spot to inspire a nap.” 300 S. Brevard St., Ste. 100, 704-353-3545

» Old-School Southern
The Food Network’s Guy Fieri called Dish’s dishes “down home” when sampling its fare for his popular show, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Each entrée, such as the country fried steak or shrimp and grits, comes with a deviled egg and biscuit. Checkered tablecloths, worn seating, and red, plastic Coca-Cola cups help keep this restaurant feeling like old times. 1220 Thomas Ave., 704-344-0343

» Southern-style hot dog 
The Char-Heel, J.J.’s Red Hots 
In a red plastic basket, oval-shaped and lined with crinkly paper, a pillow-soft bun arrives with one expertly charred hot dog layered with oozy chili (the kind made for topping, like gravy), bright Eastern Carolina slaw (the white kind, not the red), diced white onions, and a switchback squiggle of yellow mustard. Or, spoken like a Carolinian: mustard, slaw, chili, ’n’ onions. 1514 East Blvd., 980-225-8880

» Latin
Tapas 51
Pupusas, tamales, tacos, empanadas. At Tapas 51, you’ll find tastes that should be associated with Mexican and Latin fare. Fresh ingredients and bold flavors combine for light dishes that stand out among the dining options around Charlotte. Even the Coca-Cola is better here: The Mexican variety comes in glass bottles and is made with real sugar. 3415 Hwy. 51 N., Fort Mill, 803-548-1612

» Sushi
New Zealand Cafe
Living on an island, New Zealand residents enjoy fresh protein from the sea and the pasture. This small restaurant off Sardis Road gives diners the same. The sushi tastes fresh, the steaks are flavorful, and the seafood is cooked just right. 1717 N. Sardis Rd., Ste. 6A, 704-708-9888

» French
Aix en Provence
French techniques guide the menu, but the food is far from predictable. Classic dishes using Mediterranean flavors create a dining experience that’s unexpected and exceptional, from the service to the sustenance. 545 Providence Rd., Ste. B, 704-332-1886

» Italian
The interior of this uptown restaurant evokes the Mediterranean, with its terra cotta-inspired walls, archways, and columns. The menu is the same, filled with handmade pastas, fish dishes, and meat entrées such as osso buco. Attentive service and a pasta-friendly wine list complete the Italian experience. 214 N. Tryon St., Ste. J, 704-344-9222

» Mexican
Tacos El Nevado
At lunchtime, Tacos El Nevado on South Boulevard fills up with people seeking hearty, affordable Mexican fare. The interior is colorful, the small bar is full while soccer games are on, and the food is authentic. 4640 South Blvd., 704-529-4477

» Ramen
Futo Buta
Futo Buta has built a significant local fan base since opening in the spring of 2015. Chef/owner Michael Shortino creates a food experience unlike any other in Charlotte. It’s in a walkable area, it’s hip, and it’s more like something you’d find in a bigger town. South End residents rave about it. The excellent ramen is the result of a long, careful cooking process that can take up to two days, from bones to broth to bowl. 222 E. Bland St., 704-376-8400

» Doughnut
Sugar Donuts
If you’re looking for an afternoon pick-me-up, this isn’t the place for you—the doughnuts will be long gone before you get there. The small shop in south Charlotte opens at 7 a.m. and stays open until its all-natural doughnuts are sold out. The menu changes daily, with specials including banana pudding and cinnamon cheesecake. The doughnuts are not too fried, not too sweet, not too heavy—just delectable, delightful doughnuts. 11914 Elm Ln., 980-214-1566

Fancy: Stagioni
Diameter: 10 inches
Slice size: Cut it yourself with pizza scissors
Price: $15-$16
Cooking method: Wood-fired oven
Cheeses used: Handmade mozzarella, provolone, and taleggio 
Best-seller: Peppero
ni and sausage
715 Providence Rd., 

Street style: Benny P's 
Diameter: 28 inches
Slice size: 14 inches
Price: $4-$5 per slice; $30-$38 per pie
Cooking method: Baked
Cheeses used: Secret six-cheese blend
Best-seller: Pepperoni
2909 N. Davidson St., Ste. 100, 980-949-8398

» Raw bar 
Started by Rappahannock Oyster Company owner Travis Croxton, RockSalt’s raw bar is one of the freshest in town. On weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. and on weekends from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., oysters are $1 apiece. That’s a pretty good reason to park on the patio for an appetizer and a drink. But the seasonal daily fish list might keep you there for a full meal. 512 Brandywine Rd., Ste. 500, 704-503-9945

» Restaurant to stay a while
Soul Gastrolounge
After you’ve waited what can be hours for a table at this small plates and cocktail lounge, you’re not going to want to give it up quickly. Soul’s chef, Jay Pound, shares his ideal tasting menu for a night at his restaurant:

First course: Guacamole stack. “It’s light, it’s clean, and it’s a great way to start the tapas momentum without getting overwhelmed.”

Second round: “The sashimi tuna tacos and Asian glazed pork belly tacos are a first-time necessity.”

Third round: Daily specials. “Our nightly features are a great way to taste a unique dish that you won’t get the opportunity to try again.”

Final round: “If you still have room, top the night off with a dessert or one of our rotating seasonal cocktails.” 1500 Central Ave., 704-348-1848

» Prepared foods
Earl’s Grocery
Most of us would welcome the chance to have a personal chef at our beck and call. Perhaps one who would whip up a smorgasbord of interesting delights such as kimchi collards with smoky Benton’s bacon, Thai-marinated pork skewers, and carrots glazed with harissa, toasted cumin, and maple syrup. Far-fetched? We think not—find all of these flavors cooked up by Chef Marc Jacksina, ready for you to purchase and take home from the prepared foods case at Earl’s Grocery. 1609 Elizabeth Ave., 704-333-2757

This article appears in the May 2016 issue of Charlotte Magazine

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Categories: In Print, The Buzz