Charlotte has such an expansive food culture that you’ll never run out of new dishes to try—even if you run out of room in your stomachs. Our writers scoured the city for the best eats on the Queen City’s streets, then we sorted them into categories by craving. Read on to find a spot that will really hit the spot.
Raw food isn’t for everyone, but Charlotte’s fresh-catch scene makes the sometimes-questionable entree look good—really good. Akahana Asian Bistro, Bar & Sushi, with locations in Plaza Midwood and Fort Mill, offers one of the most extensive sushi menus in town: 30 different types of sashimi, including flying fish roe and bluefin tuna, and almost two pages of rolls.
O-Ku Sushi, servicing Charlotte’s trendy South End neighborhood, blends traditional Japanese sushi techniques with seasonal Southern ingredients, and seasonal menu additions keep patrons from slipping to a Dragon Roll rut.
Some of the most creative rolls in town can be found inside Uptown’s 7th Street Public Market at Bonsai Fusion Sushi. Grab a stool at the sushi counter, and watch the chef prepare Hollywood-inspired rolls like the E.T., a tuna, crab and avocado roll that’s torched and finished with fried garlic and shallots, or Risky Business, which tops fried calamari, spicy tuna and cucumber with bacon and a chipotle sauce.
At Upstream in South Park, West Coast-meets-Asian cuisine has brought Pacific Rim-inspired seafood and national recognition to Charlotte, garnering mentions from Esquire magazine, Wine Spectator and Zagat. House favorites include pan-roasted halibut with an edamame-shiso puree and wild sea bass marinated with sake and served alongside lobster dumplings.
On the less formal scale is Krazy Fish Bar N Grill in Plaza Midwood. The eclectic atmosphere and menu earned the Bohemian restaurant a spot on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” Choose from dishes like shrimp curry, blackened tuna or Southern fried calamari tacos.
Equally as creative, South End newcomer Wu’s Cajun Sea Food plates up an inventive blend of Cajun and Asian dishes. Try the WU Boil, which spices up traditional low country elements like corn, potatoes, sausage and seafood (choose from seven varieties) with curries, ginger-and-sesame seasonings or Cajun flavors.
With locations in both Ballantyne and Dilworth, Inizio Pizza Napoletana prepares its pizza according to strict Neapolitan standards: a wood-fired oven that cooks in 90 seconds, naturally rising dough and authentic ingredients like San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella.
Hawthorne’s New York Pizza & Bar specializes in Sicilian-style pizza. Yes, it’s true plenty of New York slices make the local chain’s menu, but the Sicilian is where it’s at, served thick and square and loaded with toppings of your choice.
Speaking of New York-style pizza, FUEL Pizza and Luigi’s Pizza are local favorites. Originating in an old gas station on Central Avenue, FUEL slices up pies so authentic that the beloved Charlotte pizzeria has now made its way to the Big Apple. And the oversized rounds at Luigi’s—they barely fit in the pizza box—regularly draw NYC transplants looking for a taste of home.
An “as seen on TV” star, Cabo Fish Taco in NoDa features tacos loaded with a variety of seafood options with flavorful sauces. The Tavarua Tuna Taco, for instance, tops blackened tuna with kiwi-pineapple fajita sauce and honey wasabi.
In Dilworth, Bakersfield specializes in street tacos, such as al pastor and mole, and taco-nnoisseurs at RuRu’s Tacos + Tequila enjoy funky folds with clever names like the Sixteen Candles-inspired Long Duck Dong (Korean sweet and spicy steak, Asian slaw and sesame seeds) on a spacious patio.
For tacos that stay true to their south-of-the-border roots, Uptown’s Que Onda Tacos + Tequila plates 12 varieties, including lengua (cows tongue) and tinga de pollo.
Like fried chicken, barbecue belongs at the top of the Southern food chain. Places like Bar-B-Q King, open since 1959, have helped to put Charlotte on the saucy, smoky map. Featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” the drive-in’s indulgent fare comes battered, fried, dipped and sliced.
Equally acclaimed, Midwood Smokehouse in Plaza Midwood has served plenty of celebrities and politicians, including the Panthers starting lineup and President Barack Obama. Although the meat is flavorful enough to stand on its own, classic barbecue plates come with your choice of sauces; try the South Carolina Mustard, the Eastern North Carolina Vinegar or the Midwood Signature.
Lexington-style barbecue makes its debut at Sauceman’s, where the slow smoked meat is almost addictive. Chow down on brisket, chopped or coarse-cut pork, sausage or ribs, or if the decision is too tough (who can blame you?), pick the South End Combo and get a few different options on one plate.
No meat-lover’s diet would be complete without places like Beef ‘N Bottle, an unassuming restaurant with cuts that could go toe to toe with any steakhouse in the country. Whether you’re looking for a ribeye, a New York Strip or a petite filet, the simple presentation—each comes adorned with a single onion ring—and mouthwatering taste won’t disappoint.
Chima Brazilian Steakhouse, too, is a carnivore’s heaven. The meat carvery in Uptown dishes out round after round of sirloin, barbecue ribs and more. Just let your server know when you’re tapping out; those cuts didn’t plate themselves, you know.
Charlotte’s vegetarian and vegan offerings make greens and grains the main attraction. In South Park and South End, Living Kitchen’s zesty Fire and Brimstone burger comes as a quinoa patty slathered in sunflower seed hummus, guacamole and hot sauce.
Find hearty dinner classics at Dilworth’s Fern, Flavors From the Garden, which cooks up entrees like spaghetti with “meat” balls and chimichangas. The restaurant’s full brunch menu rotates, but on it, you’ll find the Southern-inspired Chik’n biscuit as well as North Carolina Plum and Crumble pancakes (banana oat pancakes topped with plum compote and almond crumble).
For quick vegetarian meals, Berrybrook Farm Natural Food Pantry on East Boulevard is the ideal option. Inside the cheerful red building, sandwiches, smoothies and soups curb lunchtime appetites. Zizi’s Awesome Vegan 2 Go also offers fast fixes for hungry herbivores.
Ramen savvy Futo Buta in South End ladles up a rotating selection of dishes filled with traditional Japanese meats and flavors. Pecan-smoked pork belly, egg, roasted leeks, bok choy, rich sauces, fiery peppers and more make these noodle-heavy soups sing, not to mention the restaurant’s chicken, pork and vegan broths.
The cheekily named iPho, located on Park Road, has dozens of types of pho, of course, but you should also make it a point to sample their vermicelli and fried rice. Ramen Soul in Mooresville is also worth the drive; among the restaurant’s beautifully prepared noodle bowls is All You Need is Lamb, which features smoked lamb bacon, greens, a soy-marinated egg, nori and sumac oil, all simmering in pork broth.
While you’re on a sugar high, seek out the city’s most popular fruit salads, aka acia bowls, found at Rico’s Acai. Order the Rainbow Bowl and choose from a combination of bananas, strawberries and pineapple or mango, kiwi, blueberries and raspberries—both versions come with granola and acai puree.
For raw fish’s latest craze, poke bowls (a Hawaiian raw fish salad served on a bed of rice), visit CO in Park Road Shopping Center. Poke can also be found on the menu of several sushi-forward restaurants like The Cowfish, Love Sushi and Sushi Guru.
NoDa Bodega’s Down South Grilled Cheese smothers chipotle pimento cheese on a ciabatta roll and its Bodega Rueben marries turkey, Swiss, marinated slaw and mustard. And at the Mayobird on East Boulevard, you can eat Food Network-famous eats like the Chicken Roll, which places a chicken salad of your choice atop a buttered and grilled New England roll.
At Local Loaf in 7th Street Public Market, find hearty sandwiches with thoughtfully paired ingredients. The Hot Steak, for instance, dresses marinated steak with horseradish aioli, aged white cheddar and arugula, while the Turkey and Brie burger layers on house-roasted duck ham, apricot compote and pickled apples.
No sandwich sojourn would be complete without grilled cheese. Orrman’s Cheese Shop at 7th Street Public Market amps up the childhood staple with options like the Gouda and plum chutney sandwich, which comes with pickled green tomatoes on top of sourdough, and the smoked mozzarella and prosciutto, served with roasted tomatoes on focaccia.
In Kings Court Shopping Center, Maharani Indian Cuisine serves a variety of biryani rice, tandoori and Indo-Chinese dishes. Opt for a selection from their popular lunch buffet, or challenge your taste buds to the murg vindaloo, a combination of chicken, peppers and spices in a fiery gravy. Balance out the heat with a side of garlic naan.
Another Indian option, Copper Restaurant on East Boulevard tests the palate with traditional and modern Indian dishes served in a turn-of-the-century bungalow. Choose your spice level for popular curries, tikka masala and chicken mirchi-malai.
Woodlands off Albemarle Road offers a totally vegetarian Indian menu with extensive gluten free and vegan options. Choose flavorful Szechwan noodles or organic mixed vegetable curry. The flaky spinach samosa, packed with leafy greens, potatoes and peas, is a meal in itself.
At Hibiscus, located across the street from Park Road Shopping Center, Asian classics are enhanced by an oil house made from dried Thai chiles. Try the Bangkok Curry Noodle, a zesty chicken curry dish made manageable by potatoes and a number of vegetables, or opt for a chef specialty, like Grandma’s Bibimbap, which is served with spicy chili paste safely on the side.
Get a taste of Thai street food at South End’s Rai Lay Thai. Ready your palate for an order of pad prik, or experience spicy basil, Thailand’s most popular street dish.
With two Charlotte locations, entrees at Basil Thai Cuisine run the gamut from spicy barramundi (Asian sea bass) to salads that pack a punch of flavor. Many of Basil’s hottest dishes make use of their green and red curry, including Chef Suntorn’s signature dish, the crispy red curry duck.
Test your creativity at Dilworth’s Crisp, where you can choose your toppings and make a meal all your own. If you’d rather leave the work to the experts, make a selection from one of 12 house-designed salads.
Find healthy eats at fast-casual b.good’s three Charlotte locations. The eatery plates entrees that reflect the crops that are currently in season. (Think watermelon salad in summer.) Add grilled chicken, organic tofu or egg to your dish to pump up the protein, or splurge on another cold addition: a milkshake made with ice cream from Hillsborough, North Carolina. You ordered a salad; you earned it.
List compiled by Allison Hancin, Lauren Levine and Bryan Richards. Updated by Cassie Townsend.