How to eat your way through Charlotte

Mar 14, 2024

It’s no secret that North Carolina is full of good eating, but its largest city Charlotte, in particular, is getting a lot of buzz for a growing foodie scene. In 2022, Food & Wine magazine named Charlotte one of the seven most exciting up-and-coming U.S. cities for food. In 2023, Southern Living said Charlotte is “leading the charge” in the state’s restaurant scene. Charlotte’s creative juices are even flowing (literally) in the taprooms and tasting flights at more than 40 local breweries.

Obviously typical Southern cuisine can be found here (we're looking at you, barbecue), but the appeal is also in the unexpected. Charlotte is home to a number of neighborhoods, whose individual vibes also lends themselves to its cuisine. From lamb tacos and ramen shops to gourmet ice cream and haute French cuisine, read on for our guide for exploring the different zip codes and the culinary ways to treat yourself while visiting. 

South Charlotte 

Queen Park Social.

Why go: Take the LYNX Blue Line light rail all the way down to the end and you’ll wind up in South Charlotte. Once there, make a beeline for Queen Park Social, where you can play free games like cornhole, darts, cards, life-size Jenga and Connect Four, foosball and ping pong while drinking a craft beer or cocktail from the bar. For a small fee, you can also go bowling or play skeeball, air hockey, shuffleboard or pool.  

Tacos el Nevado. Photo courtesy of Javier Morales.

Where to eat: South Charlotte is home to a number of authentic Latin American restaurants. Family-owned Maria’s Mexican Restaurant prepares food fresh to order; try their signature “QuesaBirrias,” which is a quesadilla/taco hybrid filled with slow-cooked beef, melted cheese, diced onions and cilantro, served with beef broth for dipping. If you’re looking for an expanded menu of creative taco fillings, look no further than Tacos El Nevado, which serves tripe, tongue, lamb, pork skin and grilled pork tacos, in addition to the usual chicken or beef ones.

Go back in time to the glamour of pre-revolutionary 1950s Cuba with El Puro Cuban Restaurant. This family-owned spot whose name is an affectionate one for father even includes the patriarch's face in the logo. No matter if you’re there for brunch, lunch or dinner, you can start with chicken or beef empanadas, dine heartily on an entrée, and finish with churros and café.  

South End 

Not Just Coffee at Atherton Mill. 

Why go: After you’ve snapped your selfie at the Confetti Hearts Wall mural, head to Atherton Mill, which first opened in 1920 as Charlotte's first textile factory. Today, this brick building bills itself as "the soul of South End" not only because it's home to shops, restaurants and a weekly farmers' market every Saturday, but also due to a robust events calendar.   

Stroll this trendy neighborhood and you’ll find luxury apartments, art galleries and boutique shops like Paddywax Candle Bar, where you can build your own candles. If you want more strenuous exercise than window shopping, head to Inner Peaks rock climbing gym; here, you can purchase a day pass for climbing or bouldering as well as the fitness room and yoga classes. Continue that health streak with an all-natural paleta at Morelia.  

Indaco. Photo courtesy of Andrew Cebulka. 

Where to eat: South End is home to a number of enticing ethnic eateries. Experience a bit of culinary history by sampling Yunta, a Peruvian Nikkei joint; the century-old practice started when Japanese immigrants began cooking Peruvian ingredients using Japanese techniques. Futo Buta is a straight-up Japanese izakaya (stay-drink-place) where patrons can dine on everything from shishito peppers to Low Country smoked pork belly buns to ramen, all served in bowls made from Carolina clay.

With a similar gastropub vibe as an izakaya, Para creates an ever-changing array of globally-influenced tapas (with a heavy lean on Asian cuisine) to come up with menu items like Korean carbonara (kimchi, egg yolk, pasta and parmesan) and short rib dumplings (mushroom dashi, radish, cilantro and chili). If you've shopped till you dropped at Atherton Mills, take a seat at Italian restaurant Indaco; in the warmer months, you can dine outside to munch on their wood-fired pizzas, hand-crafted pastas, house made salami and cured sausages.    


Mint Museum. 

Why go: If you’re looking for Charlotte’s downtown area, that’s Uptown. This is where the bankers and businesspeople go about their day in the area’s four wards, where the sports fans can head to games at Bank of America Stadium, Spectrum Center or Truist Field and where culture comes alive at Levine Center of the Arts’ trio of goodness: the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture and the Mint Museum.   

Le Belle Helene. 

Where to eat: As a major financial hub, Charlotte is no stranger to high-end restaurants to put on the corporate tab. One of the finest dining experiences can be found at the McNinch House, a circa-1892 Queen Anne style home to the Victorian-era mayor of the Queen City. The house is on the National Historic Register and even played host to President Taft in 1909. Choose from a set four- or five-course menu or splurge (even more) on the chef’s table. Swanky and French go hand in hand, and at La Belle Helene, le menu spans breakfast to dinner, with even a special midday (3–4 p.m.) snack option that includes escargot, cheese and oysters for that afternoon pick-me-up while sightseeing.

Fin & Fino bills itself as a “social seafood house,” even promising to learn patrons’ names, and has a minimum of 12 types of oysters on its raw bar menu at all times in addition to its other aquatic dishes. Aptly titled gastropub The Cellar at Duckworth’s is in an underground space dating back to 1912; offering craft beers and American fare, many of the ingredients are sourced from local farms, which means the menu also changes seasonally. Here you can pair an artisanal cheese and charcuterie board or butter basted scallops with beers like Backwoods Bastard Scotch ale, Son of a Baptist stout or Mash & Coconut brown ale.  

West Charlotte

U.S. National Whitewater Center. 

Why go: Despite being landlocked, Charlotte still offers watersports like whitewater rafting and canoeing, thanks to the U.S. National Whitewater Center and its incredible manmade feat. (Designed by Scott Shipley, a three-time Olympian slalom kayaker, and his engineering firm, the center's primary feature is the world’s largest artificial whitewater river.) Spread out over 1,300 acres, the Whitewater Center is home to 50 miles of trails as well as ziplines, ice skating, rock climbing and a deep water solo-climbing complex; deep water solo is a form of rock climbing where you fall into a deep pool of water instead of wearing traditional climbing protection. Would-be Olympiads might also recognize the center as a U.S. Olympic Training site for the nation's top athletes in canoe and kayak.

Restaurant Constance. 

Where to eat: After burning all those calories, you won’t have to go far to find new restaurants serving comfort food, especially in the Wesley Heights area of West Charlotte. Pizza Baby uses locally sourced ingredients from farmers and gardens in its creations. Restaurant Constance also relies on local food systems to create its ever-changing menu (be sure to try the kale salad even if you’re normally kale-averse); the restaurant has 10 tables and 90-minute reservations, so it’s cozy, but quick.

Chomp on authentic street tacos, quesadillas and burritos at Azul Tacos & Beer, where the choice of meats includes asada, beef cheeks and tongue. Relax in the indoor or outdoor areas of Streetcar Bar + Bites, a sports bar with a pop art theme.

Plaza Midwood and Belmont

Moxie Mercantile. 

Why go: Casual is the name of the game in Plaza Midwood and Belmont, two neighborhoods full of century-old trees, geometric-patterned crosswalks, second-hand shops and barbecue joints. Shop local and find funky souvenirs at places like CLTCH (jewelry, knickknacks and handbags), Moxie Mercantile (home décor) and Gumbo Goods (health and wellness).    

Midwood Smokehouse. 

Where to eat: You can’t go to North Carolina and not eat (one of two styles of) barbecue. As Charlotte is in the Piedmont region, expect to see a lot of Lexington-style barbecue on the menu. That means sliced or chopped pork shoulder with a red sauce made from vinegar, tomatoes and red pepper flakes with additional regional spices thrown in. Hush puppies are usually served on the side with red slaw, which is coleslaw made with Lexington-style barbecue sauce instead of mayonnaise. If you do see any Eastern-style barbecue on the menu, that uses the whole pig and the sauce contains no tomato, just vinegar and red pepper flakes.

A former gas station, Sweet Lew’s uses only a smoker to cook the meat, driving the fire with a blend of hickory, pecan and peach woods. Welcoming health-conscious diners with a few veggie dishes, Midwood Smokehouse also caters to those who really love their barbecue, offering combo platters with "well-fed" or "pig out" options. (Think Carolina smoked pork, prime beef brisket, St. Louis pork ribs and jalapeño cheddar sausage, served with two side items, hush puppies and house pickles.) 

North Charlotte

Archer Paper Goods. 

Why go: This area just outside of Uptown (which, remember, is Charlotte’s downtown area), is home to a few food halls that offer more than cuisine and are destinations in themselves. Camp North End is a former missile manufacturing site that is now an artistic hub for 40 tenants, sprawled across 76 acres. The site’s events calendar is packed daily with things like game nights, boxing lessons, screen printing classes and more.

Optimist Hall was one of the nation’s largest gingham producers at the turn of the 19th century, but it’s been reinvented into a vibrant residency for retail tenants like Archer Paper Goods, Collier Candy Company and Paradiso Plant Shop plus a craft cocktail lounge. Charlotte’s newest food hall, Urban District Market, opened last April; there are currently nine food stalls and a soju distillery to check out.

Bleu Barn.

Where to eat: You don’t have to go far. Camp North End shows off the Piedmont region with Bleu Barn’s farm-to-table cuisine. On this campus, you can also sip a unique craft cocktail at Room Service or grab a customizable popsicle made from gelato, sorbet and yogurt at Popbar. With 20 food stalls, three dine-in restaurants and a craft cocktail lounge, Optimist Hall features diverse offerings like Botiwalla Indian Street Grill; Enat, an Ethiopian restaurant; Bao and Broth ramen and bun shop; and Cuban-inspired Suárez Bakery & Barra.

At Urban District Market, try HC Burger Company, where everything (even chopping the meat) is done by hand; Stick Street for global street fare and Super, a bodega market packed with locally made items for snacking on the go before your next adventure in Charlotte. 

Ready to go? Start planning your trip to the Queen City. 

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