One of the country’s fastest growing cities, Charlotte's dining scene packs a big punch when it comes to diversity and culture. In recent years, big players like Bank of America Corporate Center, Johnson & Wales University and the NFL’s Carolina Panthers moved in, paving the path for an exciting new culinary scene.
Nicknamed the Queen City after Queen Charlotte, wife of the English King George III, Charlotte offers everything from fine dining to true farm to table, and of course, traditional southern cuisine. With pocket neighborhoods like artsy NoDa (North Davidson), eclectic Dilworth and bustling Uptown (also known as Charlotte City Center) it’s easy to see why Charlotte is becoming an epicurean's dream. Not to mention, the city has a booming brewery scene that rivals any other beer destination around the country.
Historian Tom Hanchett arrived in Charlotte in the 1980s when the food scene was “distinctly unexciting” with mostly meat and three-style restaurants (meaning one meat choice with three sides). Now, there are so many options to choose from, including a bounty of Latin spots. “Charlotte has grown into a veritable buffet of international choices,” he says. “Latin[ American] food led the way.”
Nowadays, you can find everything from authentic Venezuelan arepas to Mexican tamales in “salad bowl suburbs” throughout the city, as Hanchett coined them. “As immigrants have arrived in large numbers since the 1990s, they have not settled in distinct neighborhoods like the Little Italys and Chinatowns of older America.”
Charlotte is also home to noteworthy chefs like Kindred’s Joe Kindred, Heirloom’s Clark Barlowe and The Asbury’s Matthew Krenz. This inspiring trio of North Carolina natives is shaping the dining scene in a very exciting way while working closely with local farmers and purveyors to create a sense of community surrounding food.
“We have a dynamic group of chefs, artisans and farmers working together to craft a food community where we work towards quality, not quantity,” relays Krenz. “The Charlotte community is really starting to embrace a more diverse food scene and a more well-rounded food community. Our guests at The Asbury come from so many backgrounds — bankers, business travelers, tech entrepreneurs, artists, performers, locals and immigrants from around the world.”
At Heirloom, Barlowe sources everything (pottery included) from North Carolina, making it a true farm-to-table dining spot. “When I was in school here in 2005, we had chefs like Tim Groody, Bruce Moffett, and Greg Zanitsch, among others, who paved the way for what we are doing now,” he says. “It was a corporate dining town then. You can still find that now, but if you had asked me at the time if I thought the concept of Heirloom would be successful, I would have undoubtedly said no. Fast forward nine years and we are proving that a restaurant that focuses on community above all else, not only has a place but can be successful as well.”
Kindred, led by husband and wife team Joe and Katy Kindred, put Charlotte on every foodie’s radar when it was ranked one of America's Best New Restaurants in 2015 by Bon Appetit. “Being a chef right now in Charlotte and its surrounding areas is so cool because so many awesome new places and chefs are moving to our area or just working up and taking over as chefs at respective restaurants around town and creating delicious food,” chef Joe Kindred says.
The dining pairs with Charlotte's renowned craft brewery scene that’s giving beer-centric cities like Asheville, N.C. a run for their money. From German-style beers at The Old Mecklenburg Brewery to Wild Ales at Lenny Boy Brewing Co., there are enough options to keep you busy for a few days.
Craft cocktails are taking Charlotte by storm thanks to Bob Peters, head mixologist of The Punch Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte. “There are brand new incredibly talented craft distillers and craft brewers popping up every month,” Peters says, who recently approached Lenny Boy Brewing Co. to make an exclusive ginger beer for use in his Boiler Mule cocktail. “It is a very exciting time to be in the beverage industry here in North Carolina.”
From breweries and brunch hot spots to authentically local dining experiences and craft cocktail bars, the Queen City definitely has a lot to offer. No matter what neighborhood you choose to explore, expect your palate to be wowed. Browse the gallery above for a glimpse into Charlotte’s culinary world.
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