Uptown Charlotte has a ton of great local places to eat that almost always have better tasting food for roughly the same price as national chains. Unfortunately many people don’t patronize the local joints because they just aren’t aware of how great they are.
So here’s a field guide of sorts to eating local in Uptown. Like the “Eat This Not That” book series, except my recommendations carry dubious nutritional qualities. For more of me telling you why you are wrong, check out Volume One and Volume Two.
Where you go: Dean & Deluca
Why you go there: You’ve got cash to burn and you like feeling fancy. Dean & Deluca is a business school case study on premium pricing. I’m not even mad at them, I’m just impressed. To charge what they do for basic deli fare and get away with it with such astounding success, you just have to marvel at them. The reason you get coffee here is to impress whoever you’re meeting and make them think you are fancy. That’s it. It’s certainly not for the speedy service or because the coffee is anything special.
What you get: Medium Latte
Where you should go: Bar Cocoa at the Ritz
Why you should go there: Bar Cocoa isn’t a “four times a week” place to get your caffeine fix, but when you’re meeting someone for coffee and plan on lingering, you can’t beat Bar Cocoa and the Ritz lounge. It’s much more spacious than the four or so tables at Dean & Deluca, and the lounge is one of the most comfortable, cozy spots in all of Uptown. The coffee is more than passable and it’s actually less expensive for a latte than most places. Literally the only downside is that you’ll have to summon all of your willpower to not binge on gelato or a cupcake and justify it as your breakfast. If you enjoy the Punch Room for a cocktail, you’ll enjoy Bar Cocoa for a coffee.
Where you go: McDonald’s
Why you go there: Unlike pretty much everyone in the world apparently, I still enjoy eating McDonald’s every once in a while. Especially breakfast. It scratches an itch that nothing else can scratch. And save me the stories about how bad it is for me. I don’t care. I’ll read the McRib deconstructed website whilst eating my sausage biscuit and have a merry old time, thank you very much. But the McDonald’s in the Overstreet Mall is terrible. The queuing situation in that place is a logistical nightmare. You have to ask virtually every other customer if they are already standing in line, and then while you’re waiting for your food, you will be asked by every new arrival if you have ordered yet. It’s the circle of life. Put up a sign already.
What you get: Sausage Biscuit
Where you should go: King’s Kitchen
Why you should go there: Ohhhh man. King’s Kitchen. Where to even begin. I’m going to assume you already know the inspiring backstory and noble cause at the core of this place. I’m also going to assume that you’ve been before for lunch and had some of the best southern food that the city has to offer. But did you know that King’s Kitchen also serves breakfast? They do, and it’s spectacular. You can get an absolute feast for $9, and I promise you it’s as good as any catered breakfast you’ve ever had. If you’re making a list of places to have an expense account breakfast meeting in Uptown, the list is King’s Kitchen, then 7 miles, then any other option. Including the Charlotte City Club. If I’m your client and you take me to Taste for breakfast instead of King’s Kitchen, I am seriously questioning your general decision-making skills.
If you don’t have time to sit down, according to their Twitter handle, they’ll be opening a grab & go counter on June 15th. So now you have even less of a reason not to regularly eat breakfast there.
Where you go: Subway in Independence Center
Why you go there: Because you’re easily swayed by TV commercials featuring athletes on the decline? Because you lost a bet? I would say more here about how gross the idea of Subway avocado or Subway pulled pork barbecue is, but I think I lost a little healthy livin’ credibility by singing the praises of McDonald’s a few paragraphs ago.
Side note: Jared from Subway has the greatest agent of all time, right? That guys’ been on commercials for seventeen years, just because he went on a diet. Who else has that kind of staying power? He should have been on the Sanjaya career fame arc at best, but here we are in 2015 and he’s still around. Insane.
What you get: Some sandwich abomination. Just don’t get the pulled pork. Not in North Carolina. I beg of you. Think of the children. Won’t someone think of the children.
Where you should go: Ri Ra Sandwich Shop
Why you should go there: These two restaurants are actually what gave me the idea for writing these comparison articles. The Subway in Independence Center has a line that goes down the stairs nearly every day, and when I worked in that building, I would walk by on my way to Ri Ra Sandwich Shop and marvel day in and day out at the people who would choose to subject themselves to mediocrity when a sublime sandwich experience was literally across the street. The contrast between Ri Ra Sandwich Shop and Subway is probably so stark since there is so much that is similar between the two operationally. The menus are essentially identical. You order the sandwich and select the ingredients you’d like to include, and you can get in and out quickly. But that’s where the similarities end. The sandwich makers at Ri Ra Sandwich Shop use a carving board for cutting actual meat for your sandwich, as opposed to Subway where they pull cellophane off your cold cuts, fresh from the industrial freezer. There are considerably more bread options, and while I can’t claim there are no dubious chemicals in the Ri Ra bread, it just tastes better than the slabs of yoga mat materials at Subway. I’ll put it this way: Ri Ra Sandwich Shop is what you would get if you made yourself a sandwich in a test kitchen with virtually every fresh ingredient known to man, and Subway is what you would get if you needed to make the cheapest possible food product for the world’s largest restaurant chain
Last-Minute Gift Buying
Where you go: Walgreens in the Plaza
Why you go there: “Oh crap Valentine’s Day is tomorrow and I haven’t done anything.” “Wait, Mother’s Day is this Sunday?!? I thought I had a whole other week!” “What do you get someone for a work baby shower? I’m a 27 year old man what do I know about buying gifts for pregnant coworkers”
If you’ve had any of these thoughts, then the Walgreens in the Plaza has probably been a godsend for you before. To their credit, they do a pretty good job of keeping their seasonal items stocked for forgetful gift-buyers.
What you get: The 2nd most expensive box of holiday-appropriate Russell Stover candy
Where you should go: blis Boutique in Founder’s Hall
Why you should go there: blis has everything you need to make it look like you spent countless hours scouring the internet and organizing focus groups to determine the best possible gift for someone. They have a great combination of local items like cards and Towne & Reese jewelry (zomg Emily Maynard wore it on The Bachelorette!), but also the standard boutique items that you come to expect like coasters and mugs with witty sayings about how much you like wine and your dog. I guarantee that you’ll find a gift that fits the personality of the person you are shopping for better than you could at Walgreens. It seems to me like they refresh their inventory fairly frequently as well, so depending on the time of year you are shopping, you have different things to choose from, which is helpful if your gift recipient has a long memory.
So there you go. #CharlotteFirst at these places and I guarantee your life will be better for it.