Whether you’re road tripping through the South, enjoying a brief stopover or traipsing around the Tarheel State, your adventures will probably take you to its biggest city, Charlotte. Bustling and modern, Charlotte is America’s second-largest banking center. It houses a number of prominent academic institutions and is home (once more) to the Charlotte Hornets.
Though the city carries a sleek and modern appearance, its friendly, hard-working inhabitants still display trademark traits of warm, traditional Southern hospitality, cheerfully striking up spontaneous street-side conversations and indulging in casual bar banter, more than happy to provide their favorite local recommendations and point those lost in the right direction.
This distinctly Northern financial hub in the heart of the South creates an interesting dynamic in the city’s cuisine. Though staple dishes and flavors carry predominantly Southern roots, numerous restaurants offer an interesting twist, whether it’s in the venue’s vibe and atmosphere, or upscale presentations of the food that would put some artisan New York venues to shame.
In true Tarheel spirit, we recommend five of Queen City’s tastiest eateries below. Don’t miss ’em when you’re in town!
Queen City Q
Queen City Q serves up truly tasty BBQ. Located across North Carolina in four separate locations, the Charlotte branch sits conveniently located next to a train station in Downtown. Boasting friendly, knowledgeable staff, a warm atmosphere (even during the brutal winter when we visited) and ample seating, this Southern-flavored barbeque joint has a wide variety of pork, chicken and beef on offer, dished up in a variety of styles (platters, burgers and quesadillas, to name a few); a true haven for carnivores.
Their slogan “Best BBQ in Town” is agreed upon by local magazines and customer review alike, and it’s not hard to see why – their signature “Q Platters”, comprising of your choice of tender pulled pork, sausage and/or juicy ribs are to die for, and their Texas brisket is truly Texas. Want some topping on your meat? No problem – Queen City Q has six varieties of sauce on offer, including the Lexington Dip (a vinegary regional favorite), a South Carolina-style mustard and their “Queen City Signature” sauce.
Try their “Best Mac n’ Cheese” as a solid side dish, a thick and gooey interpretation which lives up to its name. You won’t leave this place hungry.
Mert’s Heart & Soul
Also located in Downtown Charlotte, Mert’s Heart & Soul is a colorful, vibrant venue that dishes up traditional Southern comfort food at its finest, as well as Low Country and Gullah-style bites like shrimp and grits and Charleston red rice. Founded in 1998 by James Bazzelle, an entrepreneur from Georgia, Mert’s is another Queen City restaurant which plays host to a warm atmosphere, friendly service and indulgent local flavor.
Get ready for glistening helpings of Southern staples like hot, fluffy cornbread and fragrant collared greens, and their generous chicken and waffles platter does not disappoint. Other treats on offer include salmon cakes, lemon pound cake and soul rolls – egg wraps packed with black-eyed peas and diced chicken. Good eatin’, in our book!
Price’s Chicken Coop
Recommended by every other Queen City native we ran into, Price’s Chicken Coop is famous city-wide. Don’t be fooled by their modest, traditional storefront or old-school website; if you’re in Charlotte and you like fried chicken, do yourself a favor and head to Price’s. The frequent lunchtime line of customers that extend out of the store and into the street is a testament to this eatery’s quality and popularity. Decide on your order before visiting and bring cash – though service is friendly, this efficient, to-the-point operation runs like clockwork and doesn’t like to mess around.
Price’s iconic fried chicken is served hot, fresh and golden brown in an unassuming brown cardboard box, with a side of slaw, tater tots and dinner roll. Despite the simplicity of it all, to quote Aretha Franklin in The Blues Brothers, it might just be the “best damn chicken in the state”!
Cowbell Burger & Whiskey Bar
Decked out with a funky wooden decor and an abundance of pop culture memorabilia, Cowbell Burger & Bar is a lively establishment that sits on Tryon Street, which offers a fantastic selection of great food and local beer. Reputedly, the restaurant’s beef is hand-ground by a fourth-generation butcher. Cowbell’s specialty? Modern interpretations of burgers, utilizing ingredients like Guinness beer cheese, apple slices, candied bacon and pineapple sriracha. Most of them are named after music legends: “Elvis”, “Jimmy’s Page”, “Jerry Garcia” to list a few.
Grab one of their knockout “Spiked Shakes” to complement your meal – your choice of a vanilla or chocolate milkshake infused with rum, whiskey, Kahlua or vodka. Also on offer are an array of hot dogs, wings and sandwiches, if you’re looking for something different. Worth a try, but not the purpose of visiting a burger and whiskey bar, in our honest opinion.
7th Street Public Market
If you’re after something lighter or are looking to detox after bingeing at Queen City Q, 7th Street Public Market is where you need to be. Located right next door to QCQ, here’s a trendy, laidback hangout with a generous range of offerings. Numerous vendors offer a wide variety wholesome bites, including homemade bread, crepes and pizza, fresh sushi and sandwiches, as well as fruit-infused health juices from Viva Raw and green produce.
Stroll through and pick up some artisan Italian eats from Zia Pia, or have a seat and relax with craft beer at Tank’s Tap. We stopped by for morning joe at Not Just Coffee more than once; their single-origin espresso hits the spot!