2022 marks the year of fast-casual restaurant in Charlotte.
From the emergence of local favorites like Milkbread and national chains like Dave’s Hot Chicken, it seems like people want to grab their food and go. But they don’t mind waiting in long lines before driving back to their work-from-home havens.
The big picture: The fast-casual trend seems to be a byproduct of the pandemic. A lot of the restaurants on our list are grab-and-go, meeting the demands set in place about two years ago when restaurant owners were faced with a challenge: adjust or fail.
- Yes, but: That growth comes with consequences for local favorites like Soul Gastrolounge and sister restaurant “Sister” in Plaza Midwood, which closed earlier this year because of rising rent prices.
- We predict the fast-casual trend will continue into 2023 but so will our need to gather in intimate settings, shifting the demand to more sit-down venues. Plus, look out for the return of local favorites like Soul Gastrolounge (in a new location), Midnight Diner and Phat Burrito.
- Keep reading about Axios Charlotte’s most anticipated restaurants, bars and breweries still to come.
Here are our picks for the 11 best new restaurants in Charlotte, listed in no particular order (this is not a ranking).
(1) Ever Andalo
The restaurant is located in the same space and owned by the same restaurateurs as its predecessor Crepe Cellar Kitchen & Pub. It’s no surprise this cozy Italian restaurant quickly became one of Charlotte’s best restaurants.
What we ate: The burrata ($16), Calabrian chili pappardelle ($24), the Bucatini all’Amatriciana ($23) and cannoli ($14) for dessert.
My thoughts: Ahead of its opening, people were skeptical but curious about Ever Andalo because Crepe Cellar was such a local favorite. That skepticism was washed away but the curiosity clearly hasn’t. Axios’ Katie Peralta Soloff and I went on a Tuesday night at 5:30, right when it opened. We didn’t have a reservation but were able to sit down. By 7pm there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.
What we’re watching: Ever Andalo owners and restaurateurs, Jeff Tonidandel and Jamie Brown, will turn the former Bonterra spot in Dilworth into a surf-and-turf restaurant called Leluia Hall. It’s set to open summer of 2023.
(2) Yunta (yoon-ta)
The Peruvian and Japanese restaurant opened in March and prime dinnertime reservations are still hard to come by.
What we ate: The Tiger’s Milk ceviche ($21), the beef nigiri ($15) and the yuca balls ($11).
- For dessert, share the Lucuma chocolate bomba ($12) or the (deconstructed) lemon pie ($12).
What we drank: The Pisco sour ($12).
Our thoughts: Restaurants like Yunta, which bring popular cuisines from around the world to North Carolina, are what make Charlotte a foodie city. Everything from the ceviche to the Pisco sour to the service lives up to the hype, as Axios’ Emma Way wrote after a visit earlier this year.
The beloved Plaza Midwood Dairy Queen building has been turned into a charming cafe.
What we ate: The hot dip sandwich ($11), the original sandwich ($9) and a milkbread doughnut of course ($2.50).
Danielle’s thoughts: “Plaza Midwood lamented when the Dairy Queen closed, but Milkbread has quickly become an essential neighborhood spot. It’s a versatile option for breakfast, lunch and dinner no matter what you’re craving, with enough outdoor tables that you can sit down and enjoy your meal. So while you won’t be able to get a soft-serve cone at the corner of Central and Pecan avenues anymore, the Milkbread doughnuts are a pretty good substitute,” Axios’ Danielle Chemtob writes.
Authentic Asian cuisine, incorporating flavors from Japan, located in the heart of Uptown. It’s one of the best places in town to get sushi.
What we ate: “I went on a date night and ordered the earth & sea roll ($26) and the nirvana ($18),” Axios’ Alexis Clinton writes.
Alexis’ thoughts: Saku is the perfect date night restaurant, but don’t just take my word for it. Netflix’s “The Ultimatum” was recently filmed there. The food is delicious, the aesthetic is great for pictures, given the murals, plus the vibe including the music and service is amazing. “Selling Charlotte” was also filmed there, so it’s definitely worth going to eliminate the FOMO.
Read more: New sushi restaurant Saku now open in Uptown
(5) Bird Pizzeria
Gourmet “East Coast-style” pizza made in a literal hole in the wall in Optimist Park. Reserve at least a day in advance — their time slots fill up fast.
What we ate: “I ordered a BYO pie with dairy-free cheese, arugula and onions ($27),” Alexis writes.
Alexis’ thoughts: I went for lunch but had to order a day in advance because they are so busy. There aren’t many pizza places offering dairy-free options to choose from so that alone is enough to let someone with a special diet feel seen and heard. Not to mention the flavor on this pizza blew me away. It’s a take-out-only spot but there are a few seats outside.
LA-based, Nashville-style chicken joint that always has a line out the door.
What we ate: “The Dave’s #2: 2 sliders with fries, served with kale slaw, pickles and Dave’s sauce. FYI these aren’t really “sliders,” they are pretty much two full-sized sandwiches, so it’s a great thing to share,” Axios’ Danielle Chemtob writes.
- A note on spice: We tried the medium, but you can order everything from mild to the reaper, which requires you to sign a waiver.
Danielle’s thoughts: Ok, here’s the thing. I didn’t WANT a fried chicken chain from California to be this good (and that’s coming from someone who grew up there). This is the South after all! The fried chicken capital! But I was hooked the moment I bit into this crunchy, juicy chicken sandwich, drenched with the addictive Dave’s sauce (and topped with the crunch of the slaw and pickles). And I don’t think I’m the only one, because the lines wrap around the door regularly. Plus, the crinkle-cut fries are perfectly crisp, and you can use them to sop up the rest of your Dave’s sauce.
What we’re watching: Dave’s will eventually have 12 locations across the Charlotte area. Its second location will be in University City.
Cheat’s Cheesesteak Parlor opened its brick-and-mortar location over the summer after a series of popular pop-ups.
What we ate: “We got a classic cheesesteak (made with ribeye steak, cheez whiz and grilled onions) and added hot cherry peppers ($14.60), plus a chicken cheesesteak (grilled chicken, cheez whiz, grilled onions, bell and poblano peppers) and added mushrooms ($14.85). And seasoned fries on the side, of course ($2.31),” Axios’ Katie Peralta Soloff writes.
Katie’s thoughts: What our cheesesteaks lack in photogenicity they make up for with their mouth-watering, bold and cheesy flavors throughout. This is one of those meals you may need to follow with a nice brisk walk (or maybe a nap). Cheat’s location is convenient and smart — it’s a compact building on Pecan between Plaza Midwood and Chantilly with only outdoor seating— making it a great choice for a hot meal on a cool afternoon.
A locally-owned, fast-casual, restaurant that offers affordable and authentic Indian fare.
What we ate: A customizable rice bowl ($11.85), masala fries with Indi sauce ($2.49), the lamb kebab burrito ($9.99), the tandoori chicken flatbread ($11.85).
- “The menu can be fairly overwhelming. It’s expansive, and everything — from the protein to the toppings — is highly customizable. If you’re someone who’s new to Indian cuisine or usually needs a few minutes to decide what you’re getting, I’d recommend reviewing the menu online beforehand,” Axios’ McKenzie Rankin writes.
McKenzie’s thoughts: If you’re a fast-casual/bowl person — like a Chipotle or Cava— IndiGrille should probably be in your rotation.
Uptown’s newest healthy takeout cafe with a Hispanic flair — offering breakfast, smoothies, panini sandwiches and coffee.
What we ate: The “el Cubano” sandwich ($11.50), a breakfast burrito ($8.50), and a slice of flan ($5.50).
What we drank: The matcha love smoothie ($7.75).
My thoughts: I will sometimes make a trip to Uptown just so I can eat Arbol. I frequently crave their “matcha love” smoothie. And, dare I say they have one of the best Cuban sandwiches in town? I think I do.
Read more: “Arbol” is Uptown’s new healthy takeout café
Two-story waterfront restaurant with views of Lake Wylie with indoor and outdoor seating.
What we ate: The braised lamb shank ($36), Chilean sea bass ($48) and carrot cake for dessert.
Alexis’ thoughts: I’ve recommended a few of my friends to this restaurant and they never have a bad thing to say. Plus, the restaurant’s always adding new menu items so you can try something new every time you go.
A market, coffee shop, bakery and restaurant from the owners of Reid’s Fine Foods, located in South End.
What we ate: The street car bowl ($13.25) and the golden broth ($6.50)
My thoughts: Whenever we post about Salted Melon on Instagram, people always rave about their broth bar and rightfully so — it was the perfect thing to have on a cold gloomy day. And the steak in that street car bowl had no business being that good.
Read more: Salted Melon now open in South End