“Where do you want to eat tonight?”
After a busy year for Charlotte’s restaurant scene, this question got even more challenging. It can be overwhelming to keep up with the dozens of restaurants opening every month. How can diners tell where a meal is really worth their cash?
In the past, the Agenda has run this list with 50 restaurants to choose from. But this year, we chose to narrow it down to the true best of the best — the dishes you’ll dream about. The meals that are worth every penny.
Methodology: We dined at every restaurant on this list at least three times, and we always pay our own way. All of these restaurants deliver what they say they’ll deliver — in service, ambience, and quality food. They’ve all been open for at least six months, but if you prefer the new and shiny spots, check out the best new restaurants in Charlotte.
Restaurants to watch: Already, 2020 looks like a promising year for Charlotte’s food scene. Chef Chris Coleman — who won Food Network’s Chopped in November — just opened The Goodyear House. Greg and Subrina Collier, the couple behind The Yolk, one of Charlotte’s best breakfasts, will open Leah & Louise in Camp North End this spring. And Bardo’s Michael Noll is opening VANA. If they even come close to meeting expectations, there’s a good chance you’ll see some of these on our best restaurants list next year.
Key: $, most entrees under $15. $$, most entrees $15-$21. $$$, most entrees $22-$29. $$$$, most entrees $30 and up.
No. 20: Halcyon, Flavors from the Earth
$$$ | Refined restaurant that’s obsessed with local ingredients
Located inside the Mint Museum Uptown, Halcyon is an upscale restaurant with an approachable, Southern-leaning menu and a view over Second Ward. Chef Jonathan Moore, formerly of Sea Level NC, Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen, and 5Church, uses quality ingredients that are sourced locally so the menu changes with the seasons.
Must-order dish: Halcyon burger ($20), mostly because of the onion marmalade on top of the beef patty. It’s like savory jam made from caramelized onions.
Location and hours: 500 South Tryon Street (in Mint Museum Uptown). Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Sunday. Closed Monday.
No. 19: Beef ‘N Bottle
$$$$ | Old-school steakhouse
A Charlotte staple since 1958, Beef ‘N Bottle hasn’t changed much over the years. Inside, the South Boulevard restaurant is dark and cozy with wood paneling and decades-old photographs on the walls. Steaks always arrive tender and cooked to your preference (medium rare, duh), and it’s affordable ($39+) compared to most well-known chains.
Must-order dish: 16-ounce choice-cut ribeye ($39). Every steak comes with a salad and choice of one side. Additional sides are $5 each.
Location and hours: 4538 South Boulevard (LoSo). Open 5-10 p.m, Monday-Thursday; 5-10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 5-9 p.m., Sunday.
No. 18: Haymaker
$$$ | Farm-focused restaurant led by Chef William Dissen
Compared to Chef Dissen’s acclaimed Asheville restaurant, The Market Place, Haymaker is more upscale and trendy, fitting for Uptown. There are similarities, too. Both restaurants are committed to sourcing ingredients locally; the mushroom toast ($13), for example, uses mushrooms foraged from North Carolina and flour that was milled at Farm & Sparrow Mill near Asheville. The bright 4,000-square-foot restaurant also features floor-to-ceiling windows, mezzanine level seating, and a cool four-seat chef’s table overlooking the open kitchen.
Must-order dish: The North Carolina shrimp and bay scallops a la plancha was so popular as a small plate, Dissen moved it to the entreé menu ($30). “A la plancha” is a Spanish cooking technique that just means it’s grilled. The dish also comes with shiitake mushrooms and is served atop creamy grits. Order a side of smoked cheddar mac and cheese, too ($8).
Location and hours: 225 South Poplar Street (Uptown). Opens at 5 p.m., Monday-Sunday. Open for brunch 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Saturday-Sunday.
No. 17: Mama Ricotta’s
$$ | Traditional Italian restaurant
Charlotte has more than 30 Italian restaurants, but few as simple and comforting as Mama Ricotta’s. The Midtown spot isn’t about gimmicks or reinventing Italian-American cuisine; it’s focused on the classics. Penne alla vodka ($16) arrives with sautéed pancetta in a peppery tomato cream sauce. And Mama Ricotta’s lasagna ($14), with layers of ground beef, veal, sausage, and a whole lotta cheese, is so good it’s like a hug straight from nonna.
Must-order dish: Besides Mama’s pasta, try one of the restaurant’s pizzas ($10-$19.75). They’re New Haven-style, which means a thin, crispy crust, cooked in a wood-burning oven.
Pro tip: Mama’s also offers family-style pastas that feed two to three people that are ideal for takeout.
Location and hours: 601 South Kings Drive (Midtown). Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday.
No. 16: Dogwood Southern Table & Bar
$$$ | White tablecloth, but friendly setting serving Southern-style dishes in SouthPark
Dogwood’s menu is representative of the dishes common across the South, from Harmony Ridge duck breast from Winston-Salem to Sunburst trout from North Carolina’s crisp mountain rivers. And the SouthPark restaurant also has one of the best bar programs in the city.
Must-order dish: Duck ‘n’ dumplings ($16). It’s listed as a small plate, but the portion of confit duck leg is substantial. The real stars of the dish are the pillow-like dumplings soaked in a buttery broth.
Location and hours: 4905 Ashley Park Lane (SouthPark). Open 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m., Monday through Wednesday; 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5 p.m.-close, Thursday and Friday; 5 p.m.-close, Saturday; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m., Sunday.
No. 15: Fin & Fino
$$$ | Seafood and small plates in Uptown with a fun cocktail program
It’s hard to compare Fin & Fino and Dogwood because they’re owned by the same restaurant group, Rare Roots Hospitality. We’ll give Fin & Fino a slight edge in part because of its innovative and quirky cocktail program led by Brittany Kellem, and its unflinching focus on serving Charlotte’s best seafood. If you can’t decide what to order, splurge for “The Treatment” for $59. It’s a chef-driven tour of the entire menu, and $5 goes to charity. Every night it’s a little different, but guaranteed you’ll leave stuffed.
Must-order dish: “Tower of Power” ($95) is an over-the-top seafood dish that includes oysters, shrimp, blue crab, mussels, two lobster tails, and tuna and salmon poke.
Location and hours: 135 Levine Avenue of the Arts, Suite 100 (Uptown). Open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-9 p.m., Monday; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-10 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-11 p.m., Friday; 4:30-11 p.m., Saturday. Closed Sunday.
No. 14: Flour Shop
$$$ | Intimate 66-seat restaurant focused on pasta with a central show kitchen in the middle of the dining room.
Flour Shop’s simple, rotating menu consists of fresh pasta and breads, along with roasted and grilled meats, seafood, and vegetables. Trey Wilson, the well-respected chef behind Customshop in Elizabeth, opened Flour Shop in Park Road Shopping Center in 2018. Choose a seat at Flour Shop’s bar and watch the chef prepare your dishes in the restaurant’s central kitchen. It’s like a dinner and a show in one.
Must-order dish: Burrata toast ($14) with a herb and butternut squash pistou, a French sauce similar to pesto.
Pro tip: After dinner, walk across the parking lot to Dot Dot Dot for a nightcap.
Location and hours: 530 Brandywine Road, Suite A, The Backlot (Park Road Shopping Center). Open 5-10 p.m., Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.
No. 13: Haberdish
$$ | Southern comfort food and refreshing craft cocktails
This NoDa restaurant — created by the same team behind Crepe Cellar Kitchen & Pub, Growlers Pourhouse, and Reigning Doughnuts — is an ode to the neighborhood’s textile mill past. Dishes like charred okra and fried chicken are Southern classics perfected. And Colleen Hughes’ cocktails are some of the most innovative and beautiful in the city (think flower petals frozen into ice spheres).
Must-order dishes: Every meal should begin with Haberdish’s hushpuppies ($7) served with a sweet tea butter. If it’s your first time, order fried chicken ($10-$27 or $3 each for chicken tenders).
Location and hours: 3106 North Davidson Street (NoDa). Open 9 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-11 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; 9 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5 p.m.-1 a.m., Friday; 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m., Saturday; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday. Closed Monday.
No. 12: Hello, Sailor
$$ | Kindred’s fun, waterfront kid sister with bountiful fried food
Hello, Sailor is not as polished as Kindred in Davidson, but what it lacks in elegance, it makes up in fun. The Cornelius restaurant’s location on Lake Norman makes it an unbeatable spot on a sunny day. Its menu is nostalgic with fried food galore like its Calabash-style shrimp. On a hot day, order one of Hello, Sailor’s cocktails, which arrive in luau-themed glassware with colorful umbrellas.
Must-order dishes: Carolina shrimp calabash ($15.99), which is essentially a huge basket of popcorn shrimp. Order for the table and share. Round out the fried food with a side of watermelon ($4.99), which is served with sea salt and al pastor seasoning.
Location and hours: 20210 Henderson Road, Cornelius (Lake Norman). Open daily at 11 a.m., Tuesday-Sunday.
No. 11: Futo Buta
$ | Modern, cozy space with creative ramen dishes in South End
This intimate restaurant along the Rail Trail would be easy to forget it exists if it wasn’t so darn good. Owner and chef Michael Shortino’s giant bowls of ramen ($12-$18) are among the best in Charlotte, which explains why this spot is almost always busy.
Must-order dish: “Fire & Ice” ramen ($13) with kimchi and dashi broth, hot smoked salmon, fresh mint, bok choy, shaved carrot, radish, black sesame, scallion, and leek.
Location and hours: 222 East Bland Street (South End). Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday-Saturday; noon-10 p.m., Sunday. Closed Monday.
No. 10: Good Food on Montford
$$$ | The O.G. of Charlotte small-plate restaurants
As the story goes, Bruce Moffett wanted to open his second restaurant on Montford Drive when a barista told him, “There’s no good food on Montford.” Moffett proved us all wrong when he opened Good Food in 2009. Since then, dozens of other Charlotte restaurants have latched on to the small plates approach to dining, but none do it with as much versatility as Good Food, with influences from Greece, Korea, Italy, and more. As a bonus, the spot now takes reservations through Resy so no more long waits.
Must-order dish: Steamed bun with Five Spice-rubbed pork belly, hoisin, and pickled vegetables ($10).
Location and hours: 1701 Montford Drive (Montford). Open 5:30-10 p.m, Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.
No. 9: Rooster’s Wood-fired Kitchen
$$$ | Upscale Southern comfort food with a warm, welcoming setting
2019 was a rollercoaster of a year for the Noble Pursuits restaurant group. Jim Noble opened his BBQ restaurant, Noble Smoke, and chicken sandwich joint Bossy Beulah’s next-door. Then in October, a fire in Rooster’s Uptown kitchen temporarily closed operations. There’s no word on when Rooster’s Uptown will reopen, but thankfully, its loyal following of diners can still visit the SouthPark location.
Must-order dish: BBQ chicken ($13) with side of Margaux’s succotash ($6).
Locations and hours: 6601 Morrison Boulevard (SouthPark). Opens daily at 11:30 a.m.
No. 8: Barrington’s
$$$$ | Tiny, no-frills SouthPark restaurant that helped establish Charlotte’s culinary scene
As one of Charlotte’s first chef-owned restaurants, Barrington’s is a staple in the local food scene. Barrington’s was Bruce Moffett’s first venture in Charlotte, and it’s still hard to get a reservation here without making it a week in advance.
Must-order dish: Seared organic chicken served with creamy mashed potatoes, wilted spinach, and a garlic pan sauce ($23).
Location and hours: 7822 Fairview Road (SouthPark). Open 5:30-10 p.m., Monday-Saturday. Closed on Sundays.
No. 7: Soul Gastrolounge
$$$ | Adventurous global small plates and amazing cocktails
Soul Gastrolounge was already one of Charlotte’s hippest restaurants, but with the recent addition of KiKi and the tiny Tattoo Bar, this block of Plaza Midwood got even cooler. On weekends, listen to a local DJ spin records and try the dishes you can’t get anywhere else in the city — like bone marrow and a flaming Greek cheese called saganaki. Don’t miss Soul’s sushi list either.
Must-order dish: Asian glazed pork belly tacos on flour tortillas with watermelon salsa ($12).
Location and hours: 1500 Central Avenue (Plaza Midwood). Open daily, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.
No. 6: Stagioni
$$$ | Modern take on classic Italian dishes in an intimate Myers Park setting with an open kitchen
Stagioni’s pizza scissors get all the buzz — as they should, it’s fun — but Myers Park restaurant also should be celebrated for fresh pasta dishes and excellent slow-roasted meats, including the meatballs. After chef Andrew Dodd moved from Stagioni to another Bruce Moffett-owned restaurant, NC Red, chef Eric Ferguson stepped in, bringing along loads of experience in Italian restaurants around the world (including in Umbria, Italy).
Must-order dishes: Start with the meatballs — pork, parmesan, marinara, and ciabatta ($10) — and then order the pepperoni and sausage pizza ($16).
Location and hours: 715 Providence Road (Myers Park). Open 5:30-10 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 5:30-11 p.m, Friday-Saturday; closed Sunday.
No. 5: The Fig Tree
$$$$ | Sets the standard for a white tablecloth, fine dining destination in Charlotte
Husband-and-wife duo Greg and Sara Zanitsch opened The Fig Tree in 2005 after a year of renovations to a historic Craftsman-style bungalow in Elizabeth. That attention to detail comes through in the dishes and service, too. The Fig Tree isn’t focused on what’s new or trendy, and that’s evident in the restaurant’s longstanding signature dish, the elk chop, which has been on the menu for nearly 15 years.
Must-order dish: Fig Tree’s famous elk chop ($42) — grilled New Zealand elk chop over horseradish spaetzle with smoked bacon-braized purple cabbage and boursin-dijon sauce.
Location and hours: 1601 East 7th Street (Elizabeth). Open 5:30-10 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 5:30-11 p.m., Friday; 5-11 p.m., Saturday; 5-9 p.m., Sunday.
No. 4: The Stanley
$$$ | Seasonally-driven, locally-sourced restaurant by James Beard Award semi-finalist Paul Verica
After Heritage in Waxhaw closed, people couldn’t wait to see what chef Paul Verica would do next. The Stanley was part one of that answer; next is Verica’s venture into Italian cuisine with Orto opening later this year. The Stanley is a warm space in Elizabeth with cozy, cranberry-colored booths and plenty of natural light from the front windows. Verica changes the menu often so you’ll rarely see the same list more than once — you can even view the version number on the top right-hand corner of the menu. But some dishes, like the surf and turf tartar ($17), are standbys for a reason.
Must-order dish: Surf and turf ($17) — beef tartar, fried oysters, veggie slaw, and truffle aioli.
Location and hours: 1961 East 7th Street (Elizabeth). Open 5-9 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; 5-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday brunch.
No. 3: Bardo
$$$ | Cozy small plate and cocktail spot loved by foodies
Chef Michael Noll is still a relative newcomer in Charlotte’s culinary scene, but in just a couple years, he’s already raised the standard for creativity in kitchens across the city. Noll came to Charlotte by way of Chicago, where he worked in the underground dining scene. Each dish from Bardo’s open-air kitchen feels like a work of art. Don’t miss Bardo’s cocktails, either. And expect that inspiration and imaginative approach to carry on when Noll and co-owner Jayson Whiteside open restaurant number two with VANA soon.
Must-order dishes: Top dishes include oysters ($18), grouper ($17), and dry-aged ribeye ($23). There are only 12 dishes on the menu and a few dessert options. Portions are small, but the food is outstanding.
Location and hours: 1508 South Mint Street (South End). Opens 5-10 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., Friday-Sunday.
No. 2: Peppervine
$$$$ | Progressive American restaurant from the owners of Banner Elk’s Artisanal, now open in SouthPark.
The newest restaurant on our list, Peppervine has its one-year anniversary in March 2020. The SouthPark fine-dining establishment has an experienced team behind it: Bill and Anita Greene, who are also the couple behind one of North Carolina’s most picturesque restaurants, Artisanal, located in a converted barn in Banner Elk. Ahead of Peppervine’s debut, Food+Wine Magazine listed the restaurant as one of the most-anticipated openings in the country. Just like Artisanal, Peppervine is beautiful. The Greenes partnered with Shain Gallery to display art on a rotating basis.
Must-order dishes: Start with the fluffy yeast rolls ($5). Then order big eye tuna tartare ($18) and squid ink bucatini with Spanish octopus ($18).
No. 1: Kindred
$$$ | Gorgeous, award-winning small-plate restaurant
Kindred defends its title as the best in the Charlotte area for another year. Located on Main Street in Davidson, the two-story restaurant has a charm you won’t find at most city spots and unparalleled service from the moment a free loaf of milk bread hits the table. Joe and Katy Kindred, who also own Hello, Sailor in Cornelius, have received numerous accolades for Kindred. Joe, the chef, has been James Beard semi-finalist three times, and Kindred was named the best restaurant in North Carolina by Southern Living in 2018.
Must-order dish: Crispy oysters with dill yogurt and Calabrian chile oil ($12).
Agenda pro tip: Order a “Barkeep’s Choice” and the bartender will surprise you with a cocktail of his/her choosing.
Location and hours: 131 North Main Street, Davidson. Open 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Looking for more Charlotte food and drink guides? Here’s a complete list of Agenda guides including best burgers, best bars, best sushi, best new restaurants, best weekly specials, best pizza, best cocktail bars, and best brunch.