Where to eat during the 2012 DNC
Recommendations from someone who writes about food for a living...and actually lives in Charlotte
In the wake of numerous stories about Charlotte's dining scene and opinions about how lackluster it is (many thanks, Tom Sietsema), how lively it is (in the Boston Globe), and how it's "waking up banker's taste buds" (to quote the worst headline yet), I'd like to offer my own curated selection of restaurant recommendations.
The difference between my list and those others you've been reading? This one was written by someone who writes about food for a living, and who actually lives in Charlotte. I know. It's a novel concept. Here's my list of places in and around uptown to consider, including a few that have gotten a lot of much-deserved press (5Church and Harvest Moon Grille, I'm looking at you), and several that haven't. Warning: it's a pretty big list.
- 5Church: It's hot. It's new. To quote Mr. Sietsema, it "does not look like any other restaurant in tradition-bound Charlotte."
- Harvest Moon Grille: Owned by farmers who launched a food truck and then a brick-and-mortar restaurant, HMG's a hot destination for fans of the local food movement.
- Halcyon: A small restaurant in a museum overlooking Tryon Street, Chef Marc Jacksina's little place offers well-executed dishes with a twist and playful cocktails, too.
- The King's Kitchen: If you're craving fried chicken, don't have cash on hand (which means Price's Chicken Coop is out), and don't want to leave uptown…this is your spot.
- Queen City Q: Here, pitmaster Dan “Boone” Gibson slow cooks his ’cue every day in wood-fired smokers, serving it up with classic sides like peppery green bean casserole and three kinds of slaw.
- Mert's Heart and Soul: It's been around for more than a decade, and still as popular as ever, maybe because of the biscuits and cornbread, or perhaps the fried pork chops…or possibly the collards.
- Basil Thai: Escape to this little gem, tucked away on N. Church Street, for elevated Thai food in an upscale setting
- Malabar: Excellent Spanish tapas, including four kinds of paella and just-spicy-enough patatas bravas? Enough said.
Quick & Easy
- 7th Street Public Market: Inside you'll find an outpost of Fran's Filling Station (the original is in Dilworth), cult-favorite-in-the-making Pure Pizza, and if you need a jolt, Not Just Coffee, among others.
- Luna's Living Kitchen: Yep, the food here is raw and vegan. It also happens to be beautiful and delicious.
- The Liberty: Gastropubs as a trend may have had their moment, but The Liberty is still a hotspot, even if the service in the dining room can be a little slow. Pro tip: Eat in the bar and get there via the Lynx.
- Mac's Speed Shop: This barbecue-joint-slash-biker-bar's fun-loving atmosphere has made it a local favorite. It's popular at lunch, but best at night—especially when there's live music.
- 300 East: Good food, good service, and a good option for lunch or dinner. Get the Fall Salad. With extra port-soaked cherries.
- Bad Daddy's Burger Bar: Charlotte loves burgers, and you can do much, much worse than the ones at Bad Daddy's. (Oh, and don't be confused by the link. In a nutshell: Bad Daddy's is the place formerly known as Big Daddy's.)
- JJ's Red Hots: It's cheap, it's tasty, and it doesn't put on airs—the perfect destination for the 99%.
- Fig Tree: This fine dining restaurant is one of Charlotte's celebration destinations—you'll find a lot of couples clinking champagne glasses or birthday parties—but it's in a charming 1913 bungalow, and the food is consistently great.
- Customshop: Owner and executive chef Trey Wilson is one of the most innovative chefs in the city, and his cozy restaurant made last year's list of best restaurants.
- Carpe Diem: Carpe Diem has been a Charlotte staple since 1989, and with its art deco look and great food, it's easy to see why. (Side note: if you have end-of-season cherry tomatoes hanging around, you might want to try making the restaurant's tomato cobbler. It's delicious.)
- Zada Jane's: They serve breakfast all day, and plenty of vegetarian-friendly options, too. (It gets pretty crowded, though, so this isn't a great spot if you're pressed for time.)
- Diamond Restaurant: A diner with a particularly interesting backstory…and pig wings.
- Fern: Fern has an all-veggie menu, but I know plenty of meat-eaters who enjoy it. If the squash blossom hush puppies are on the menu, order them.
- Krazy Fish: It's quirky and dive-y, but there are 13 tacos on the menu, including the pulled pork taco with blueberry tamarind chutney.
- Cabo Fish Taco: The namesake fish tacos here made our list of 100 best dishes in Charlotte. Need another reason to go here? It's been a celebrity hotspot in the past: Lenny Kravitz and Woody Harrelson were spotted here when they were filming The Hunger Games. I'm not saying they'll be there this week, but I hear there will be some other celebs in town for the little shindig we're putting on, so…you never know.
- Crepe Cellar: There's a pretty great burger on the menu here, the fries are spot-on, and there's always a selection of sweet and savory crepes.
- Pinky's: You can't come to Charlotte and not try the fried pickles…and the pickles here are pretty fantastic. (See also: Diamond Restaurant.)
- Savor Cafe: It's usually packed for both lunch and dinner, and parking can be a little tricky, but if you're in the mood for Southern-inspired dishes and a solid roster of house-made desserts, it's worth a stop.
Honestly, I could keep going, but I think this is a pretty solid lineup. Charlotteans, weigh in! Which restaurants would you add or cut?