Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Queen City Restaurant Favorites

I often receive emails from readers who are planning a trip to Charlotte, aka the "Queen City," and are looking for recommendations on where to dine. I absolutely love this city and all that it has to offer and could probably turn this into a series of posts, but instead I will try and stick to a few restaurant highlights. Charlotte pretty much offers everything from good ole' southern comfort food to high end french fare (and everything in between). You can even find some of the very best meals from various food trucks around town. 
 
If you ask any other Charlotteon what their favorite restaurants are they may even give you a completely different list. These are just some of my tried and true favorites in town -- the places I blurt out before Matt even finishes asking "where do you want to eat?" and the spots I always make sure to introduce my visitors to when they are in town.
 
Bad Daddy's Burger Bar ($): I had to start off with this one because I just love the giant build-your-own salad topped with a turkey burger from Bad Daddy's so much. In fact, just 3 days after Caroline was born this was the first place we left the house for. I've never had a better burger in Charlotte at a comparable price. And others must agree because this kid-friendly neighborhood restaurant has expanded to multiple locations around Charlotte and even has a location inside the airport now. The customizable options are endless, the fries are perfection (award-winning, actually) and the price is cheap!
 
Zada Janes ($$): There are tons of great breakfast/brunch options around town, but Zada Janes is personally my absolute favorite. Tucked in the heart of Plaza Midwood, a hipster neighborhood, Zada Janes consistently wins awards each year for their delicious organic, local foods served in a funky, laid back atmosphere. I always order the Booker T.'s East Side Hasher and have even attempted to recreate it {post here} in my own kitchen. If you're planning to grab breakfast here on the weekend, get there early or be prepared to wait a bit (they don't take reservations). The staff and patrons don't take "laid-back" lightly, so you may find yourself playing several rounds of shuffle board or corn hole before your table is ready.  

Cabo Fish Taco ($$): Located in NoDa (Charlotte's colorful artsy district), Cabo Fish Taco is famous for well, their fish tacos! Anytime we have guests staying with us we make sure to squeeze in a round of fish tacos with them. From the moment you are seated you receive bottomless chips and corn based salsa which is the very best way to start off any amazing dining experience. From there, you must try their fresh margaritas or local beers before making the very hard decision of which tacos (or wrap/burrito) to order. And a small tip - you can mix and match your taco choices if you're having a hard time deciding between flavors! No matter what you order, you are guaranteed a generous portion of the freshest and most flavorful fish and delicious side item all for around ten bucks, a seriously good deal. And if my recommendation isn't enough to sell you, Guy Fieri from Diners, Drives and Dives also loves this place.  

Cowfish ($$$): One of Charlotte's most popular restaurants (and for good reason), Cowfish is hands down one of my favorite places to grab a delicious food combination in a unique atmosphere. The menu is so big that it can be a bit intimidating for first timers, but there is something for everyone from sushi to burgers (or burgushi - a combination of both). You can't order wrong here. Everything is delicious, including the cocktails and desserts. Personally, my favorite things to order are the Crab Rangoon Dip or Seared Sesame Tuna for an appetizer, the Bento Box (a sample box that includes the burger of the day, a specialty sushi roll, sweet potato fries, edamame & marinated cucumbers) for dinner and The Moose is Loose or Fresh Berry Tall Cake for dessert! Notorious for it's very long wait (usually 45+ minutes), try to arrive early for dinner or grab a late lunch if you're short on time. But I promise you, it is so worth the wait! Also, this is a great place to celebrate birthdays (we celebrate mine here every year) and you get a free dessert and birthday song at the conclusion of your meal.

The Fig Tree ($$$$): If you're celebrating a special occasion or are looking for an upscale dinner, The Fig Tree is the place to dine. Charlotte is packed full of fine dining yet we find ourselves coming back to The Fig Tree for all of our celebrations because it's just that good. The service is always spot on, you have several seating options (inside the Lucas House, on the charming porch or down a few steps to the front yard patio) and the food is excellent.

Cajun Queen ($$$): Located in Elizabeth and is a great place for live jazz music in the evenings and great Cajun food. Cajun Queen does take reservations and I recommend asking for the upstairs seating when you call so you can be close to the live music. They also have a great Sunday brunch. 
 
Good Food on Montford ($$$): The name really says it all -- this is seriously GOOD FOOD and has become my latest and greatest obsession for date night. This tapas restaurant serves simply perfect plates in a warm and cozy atmosphere. The restaurant is small and the tables are limited so make sure to get there early and do not, I repeat, do NOT leave without trying the steamed bun.
 
Dogwood Southern Table ($$$): This restaurant is currently my favorite in Charlotte. The atmosphere, the food and the cocktails are some of the best around. Make sure to start off with the pimento cheese dip appetizer!
 
The restaurants above are my all-time favorites but here are a few other great options we frequent (some more than others) that are worth mentioning based off of food type or location.
 
Italian: Mama Ricotta's ($$$) or Vapiano ($) 
BBQ: Mac's Speedshop ($) or Midwood Smokehouse ($)
Mexican: Pacos Tacos & Tequila ($$) or Vida Cantina ($$) 
Sushi: Room 112 ($$$), Nikko ($$) or Soul Gastrolounge ($$)
Pizza: Mezzanote Brick Oven Pizzaria ($$), Pizza Peel ($$) or Revolution Pizza & Ale House ($$) 
Uptown Dining: Dandelion Market ($$), Fahrenheit ($$$), Vida Cantina ($$), Vapiano ($), Room 112 ($$$)
Other: 131 Main ($$), Tupelo Honey Cafe ($$$) or Leroy Fox ($$)


*Pricing guide by Urban Spoon: ($) Cheap Eats, ($$) Moderately Priced, ($$$) Higher Priced, ($$$$) Fine Dining
**Disclaimer: This post is exclusively my opinion and no goods or services were exchanged for reviews.
 
Charlotte friends, where are your favorite places to eat? Make sure to share your response(s) in the comments for our visitors!
 
Updated December 2016
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27 comments:

  1. awesome roundup! i'll have to remember this post... i've been wanting to visit charlotte!! xo jillian - cornflake dreams

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  2. While I don't live in Charlotte, my best friend Cory is a pharmacist at CMC and EVERY time I visit I make him take me to Soul Gastrolounge in Plaza Midwood for tapas and sushi! So delicious and a great atmosphere!

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  3. Love this list!! Sounds like y'all have some really great places to choose from!

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  4. LOVE Pacos Tacos and Tequila! Also, another great BBQ place is Jim n' Nicks. I'm a bad Charlottonian because there were a few places I haven't even heard of...I know where our date nights will be this year :)

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  5. Oh, I miss Charlotte!! I will have to check out some of these newer places when we come down again!

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  6. Really great list - saving this post for a future trip!!! xo, Biana - BlovedBoston

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  7. A friend of mine lived in Charlotte for years and these were some of her recs too! Hoping to make a trip there soon rather than just driving past it to PA! :)

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  8. Excellent list! You named some of my favorite places and menu items! :-) We also love Beef & Bottle--great steak, great price, great atmosphere. Another favorite place for celebration meals is Bonterra. Excellent food and a wine list to die for. Cheers!

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  9. We visit Bad Daddy's at least once a week. It's easy and you can expect to always have a great meal. Plus, how can you turn down tater tots and spiked milkshakes?!?

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  10. YUM! We go drive to Charlotte a few times a year, and I can't wait to go to a few of these! I've heard fantastic things about Cowfish and Cabo Fish Taco! Haven't gone yet, but can't wait to go! YUM!!

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  11. Love these! I'm always a sucker for Bad Daddy's too. We also love Deejai for Thai!!
    xx

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  12. What a great list! I'll have to check & see if any of these are included for Queen's Feast... would love to go to a new, good place :)

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  13. This is a great list!! My boyfriend and I are taking a road trip to the Carolina's next fall, so I will for sure be saving this for when we are there.

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  14. I actually live in charlotte and have never heard of, nor visited any of these restaurants! Thanks for the review! Will check this list out for our next date night ;)

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  15. I moved to Charlotte at the beginning of 2014 and I agree with this list 100%. So many yummy places to eat! My only addition would be Toast Cafe for breakfast/brunch...my absolute favorite!!

    xoxo

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  16. Such a great list!!! I'd also add Maverick Rock Taco (on Montford), Alexander Michael's and Bentley's on 27 (uptown)!! Oh and Cantina 1511, even though its gone downhill, I am still addicted. I've been wanting to try Good Food on Montford for a while...maybe during Charlotte Restaurant Week?! Thanks for all of the suggestions...next time we have a date night (in like 5 years, haha), I'll have to pull up this post! :)

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  17. My mouth is watering! You hit most of my absolute favorites from when we lived in Charlotte. I would trade every burger joint in SC for one Bad Daddy's. I would add Amelie's for the salted caramel brownies.

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  18. Love all of these, especially The Fig Tree- best lamb I've ever had!! xo

    Kristina
    medicineandmanicures.com

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  19. Great list! For sushi I love Nikko in South End, and we can't stop going to Doan's for Vietnamese/pho - it's pretty non-descript in a strip mall on South Blvd, but the food is so delicious and addictive. I'm ashamed to say I've never been to Zada Jane's!

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  20. Cameron and I have been traveling to Charlotte for his work meetings (and I just tag along). Definitely going to reference this next time we go! Last time we went we ate at Aria and both loved it!

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  21. Cajun Queen is great... especially when you get the Groupon deal ;). Cowfish is yummy too.

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  22. I agree with all the spots on your list!! I love, love, love Zada Jane's and Midwood Smokehouse, and wrote a post about them a few months ago. I still haven't been to Cajun Queen or Good Food on Montford, but plans are in the works to go to both over the next few months (our Good Food date is already set in stone!!!).

    I blog about Charlotte restaurants, so here are a few other of my favorites besides the ones you listed:
    Portofino's (Italian)
    Azteca (Mexican)
    Kickstand (burgers)
    Sushi 101 (sushi)
    Hawthorne's NY Pizza (pizza)
    Heirloom (farm to fork, date night) definitely my new favorite Charlotte restaurant and worth the trip!
    and my absolute favorite is Soul Gastrolounge! The wait can be long, but it's totally worth it (and they text you when you're table is ready so you can grab a class of wine or beer at the art gallery downstairs).

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  23. We LOVE bad daddy's. They opened one in Winston and we may or may not be there once a week...

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  24. So I'm not from Charlotte, but my husband's best friend, Craig, lives there. He is a chef with a catering company, yummy food cart that is usually parked by Duke Energy Center, and also teaches cooking classes. His business is called Roots and he is committed to working with local farmers to bring the freshest, locally sourced ingredients to Charlotte! Please check him out and tell him I sent you!

    http://rootsfarmfood.com/

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  25. We ate at Cabo Fish Taco the last time we were in Charlotte and not only was it tasty, but they had the best jalapeño beer. Seriously would go back just for that beer! Jenn at East Meets South

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  26. Ohhh Mac's Speed Shop is our FAVORITE!! I lived in Charlotte for 5 years :)

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  27. Great post idea...I may need to do this for Richmond! I have visited Charlotte a few times and always have enjoyed it...will have to come back to this post if I ever go again!

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