Food & Wine calls the Charlotte food scene a “plucky upstart” for a reason. U.S. census data reveals that Charlotte is one of the fastest-growing metro regions in the country—and has been for a decade. And when cities draw in young folks—a generation that spends more on food than any other—high-quality eats follow.
At the heart of the growing Charlotte food scene is a robust beer brewing culture. Hefty plates and food trucks parked outside breweries keep social life rocking. The NASCAR Hall of Fame, Levine Center for the Arts, and Discovery Place nature center are just a few of the many hot spots that ensure restaurants have families, tourists, and locals to feed, too. So, where do we start eating?
Downtown Center City / Uptown
Charlotteans call their downtown city center Uptown. Here, glass skyscrapers reach high, and Charlotte caterers deliver sweet and savory options morning to night. Amélie’s French Bakery & Café dishes up strong coffee, daily quiche, and a stacked rotating case of viennoiserie. For fresh, crispy-fried shrimp, calamari, scallops, and pepper-dusted fries, the Oak City Fish and Chips food truck delivers to offices and is often found parked Uptown, too. Chef Jamie Lynch, Thrillist‘s Best Chef of 2016, offers upscale eats at 5Church—familiar food with a twist “on its head,” including flavors from around the world. Nearby, chef Chris Coleman’s wood-fired fare at Stoke ranges from sticky pork shank to asparagus with ember-infused mayo. He uses smoke, live fire, and smoldering embers to get everything he can from the heat.
NoDa (North of Davidson) teems with old factory buildings and bright murals, as well as galleries, cafes, and breweries. There’s an Amelie’s here, too, and it’s open 24/7, so you can get your sweet fix any time. For Baja fish tacos that excite even Guy Fieri, of Food Network fame, check out Cabo Fish Taco. NoDa Brewing Company releases a new brew every Thursday, and dishes up killer nachos to boot. Thrillist calls Heist Brewery a “triple threat” for their brews, cocktails, and eats. Haberdish brings pressure-fried chicken, creamy kale grits, and upscale craft cocktails to the artsy area, too.
Like beer? The South End is for you. Wooden Robot, Unknown, Sycamore, Hyde, and Triple C breweries all call this neighborhood home. Pike’s Old Fashioned Soda Shop is the perfect place to sit for a scoop, or have the best of Charlotte catering brought to your boardroom. Southern comfort food is abundant: there’s Mac’s Speed Shop’s whole-hog barbecue, Price’s Chicken Coop’s no-frills fry-ups, and Tupelo Honey Café‘s roasted vegetable pot pie with gravy. Seoul Food Meat Company, Nikko Japanese sushi bar, and Futo Buta ramen offer Asian dishes in hip, sleek spaces.
With a streetcar, tree-lined streets, and Craftsman-style homes, Elizabeth is family friendly but never boring. One of Thrillist‘s Top 100 Burgers comes from Bang Bang Burgers and is topped with pimento cheese, sriracha mayo, or bang sauce. The Charlotte food scene brings Anntony’s Caribbean Cafe’s chicken and pork with jerk sauce, or Cajun Queen’s crawfish étouffée, straight to you. The James Beard-nominated chef Paul Verica serves seasonal, farm-driven plates at The Stanley, like chicken liver mousse with pickles, or pork chops with apples, collards, and sweet potatoes. At The Fig Tree, chef Greg Zanitsch goes upscale with escargot, foie gras, and grilled New Zealand elk chop.
Plaza Midwood blends old-school soul, vintage shops, diners, and high-end restaurants with killer outdoor spaces. Check out Bistro La Bon for locally sourced global plates, Peculiar Rabbit for casual pub fare and bar games, and Akahana for pho or sushi. Midwood Smokehouse nails regional barbecue, serving up Texas-style ‘cue in a state of North Carolina die-hards. Breakfast at Zada Jane’s Corner Café, where locals love the menu of loaded omelets, pancakes, and sweet potato hash browns and eggs.
Dilworth’s got the Southern charm you’re looking for. Postcard-perfect historical homes meet Charlotte food scene trends. For more than thirty tears, 300 East has served classic family food to locals in a renovated Victorian. Bonterra’s wine bar and wood-fired brick oven sit in a restored 19th-century church. Big Ben Pub looks like it’s transported from Londontown, with a deep-set bar and crispy fish and chips on the menu. There’s breakfast, too, at Sunflour Baking Company, Duck Donuts, and Famous Toastery.
Now Trending in Charlotte
The poke trend is reaching its peak in the Charlotte food scene. Try the Hawaiian dish of lightly marinated fish over rice at Seoul Poke Bowl, Umami PokéRito, Poke Bar, or HI Tide Poke & Raw Bar. With toppings like seaweed, edamame, and cucumber, you can’t go wrong.
Charlotte catering restaurants know clean eating is a trend to watch. The grain bowl reigns supreme at Clean Eatz and Grabbagreen. Green Brothers and Clean Juice keep the juices coming. Luna’s Living Kitchen serves organic, plant-based food in smoothies, green shots, salads, and toasts. Pinky’s Westside Grill is known for their “low-down Southern eats,” but their vegan pimento cheese and a vegetarian and vegan burger are local favorites. Namastay Kitchen and Hangout dishes up “the world’s best beet burger sliders,” along with sweet potato falafel.
Breweries and Beer Halls
With so many amazing breweries in NoDa and South End, you’d think the Charlotte food scene has been ripe with hops and malt for generations. Not so. The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery was the first to set up shop, according to Fortune, and it’s not even ten years old. Compare brews at NoDa Brewery, Birdsong, and Bold Missy—the city’s first all-women-owned brewery. VBGB Beer Hall and Garden boasts life-size Jenga, Dinosaur BBQ sauces, and the best brats and dogs in the city. Sycamore Brewing has award-winning craft beer, cider, and wine on tap.
Thanks to a booming beer hall scene and gorgeous weather, Charlotte catering businesses take to the road. Two Chicks and a Truck serves breakfast sandwiches on flaky croissants. Spoon’s BBQ offers smoked meats, along with banana pudding and peach cobbler. The Gyro Twins turn the spit over lamb shawarma, rice pilaf, and orzo salad. And if it’s bacon Alfredo mac and cheese you’re looking for, Now Toasted is more than ready to feed you.
The National Restaurant Association predicted 2018 would be a big year for Peruvian cuisine. Until you can hop a plane, the Charlotte food scene has you covered. Viva Chicken, Coaltrane’s, and Pio Pio spin the tastiest Peruvian rotisserie for miles around. The family run Mily & Lalo offer filling entrées of chicha morada and lombosaltado, too.
When In Charlotte, Eat This!
The Charlotte food scene knows how to fry a chicken. Whether you order from Price’s, King’s Kitchen, Stoke, or the gas station on the corner (yep, that Quik Shoppe fries a mean chicken), you can’t go wrong.
Mix cheddar, cream cheese, mayonnaise, and pimentos, and you’ve got pimento cheese—a local favorite. Leroy Fox layers it on a sammie with eggs, Applewood bacon, and house dressing. Newk’s delivers a pimiento cheese ball rolled in pecans. And Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe adds diced red peppers and Tabasco to their spicy pimento cheese dip, served with crispy pita chips.
Leroy Fox tosses local corn grits with shrimp, tasso ham, peppers, and a sunny-side-up egg. Bistro La Bon’s weekend brunch menu adds asiago cheese to theirs. For Charlotte catering’s best breakfast, Soul Central Southern Home Cooking, Tasty Roots, and Johnny Q’s all bring the grit buffet to you.
In North Carolina, barbecue is served in a sweet, tangy sauce. Whether you’re a Carolina loyalist or want to branch out to Texas, Memphis, or Kentucky-style barbecue, there’s plenty of smoke on the Charlotte food scene. Try Nana’s Porch, City Barbeque, and Sauceman’s for some of the most locally loved ‘cue in town.
Fry up sweet corn with a little buttermilk and onion, and you have a tasty side for your barbecue. Midwood Smokehouse, Pinky’s Westside Grill, and Heist Brewery all offer hush puppies on the menu. Or get them delivered by chef Rocco Whalen of Fahrenheit, who dishes them up with caramelized onion aioli.
Hungry for more?