Even before the stress and disruption of COVID, Charlotte restaurants closed, downsized, relocated, expanded, and experimented. With it, the city’s dining scene had to weather an even higher level of stress: longtime dine-in restaurants delivered food curbside; fast-casual eateries unveiled take-home meal kits; and rooftop bars spruced up their patios to nudge customers outdoors.
This year, restaurateurs seemed to settle into a post-lockdown swing even as the overall scene continued to expand and diversify, to the point where it was hard to keep track of all the new additions. It’s a lot to digest, but Charlotte continues to impress us with its culinary range and resilience.
Here, you’ll find 25 restaurants that opened between Nov. 1, 2020, and Nov. 1, 2021. This list is based on quality, creativity, ambience, and service, and it’s in no particular order. We invite you to get out there, try something new, and support the talented restaurateurs behind these dishes.
This may be it, the ultimate expression of New Southern cuisine: fancified versions of common-folk grub like smothered chicken and country-fried steak, along with an expansive menu of local craft beers and liquor, served in a repurposed industrial building that’s now a mixed-use development, in a town growing like kudzu in a creek bed. Chef Chris Coleman and business partner Sean Potter, who with another partner opened The Goodyear House two years ago in NoDa, established Old Town in July 2021 in the historic Lowenstein Building near the Winthrop campus in downtown Rock Hill. It’s an appealing space with dishes to match: bookshelves against one wall to honor the nearby university; and tables, booths, and cushioned bar seats beneath a high wood-slat ceiling that adds a touch of what the team calls “authenticity, elevated” to your Fish Camp Catfish with two sides or Chicken Biscuit Pot Pie. 300 Technology Way, Ste. 203, Rock Hill, S.C., 803-980-6852
Order This: Tough choice, but the Caramel Pork Shoulder with braised butter beans, “sticky greens,” and apple gastrique ($22) is nouveau-Southern on a plate.
Botiwalla, which means “the meat guy” in Hindi, stands out among the 13 food vendors and warren of stalls at Optimist Hall. So do Chef Meherwan Irani’s menus, rich with snacks like savory kale fritters and spicy potato dumplings on the “Street” menu; tasty curry and rice plates; and a lineup of entrees that includes the Chicken Tikka Roll and Botiwalla Lamb Burgers. Even the drinks offer an array of Indian flavors, from Mango Lassi, a chilled yogurt drink with mango and cardamom, to a Tamarind Cola.
1115 N. Brevard St.,
Ste. 203, 980-296-3993
Order This: The SPDP appetizer ($6.49) is “savory puffed flour crisps” filled with yogurt, two types of chutney, onions, cilantro, and potatoes, with a chickpea noodle topping.
Supperland was perhaps the buzziest opening of the year, and rightly so. Jamie Brown and Jeff Tonidandel, the spouses and business partners who own Haberdish, Growler’s Pourhouse, and Reigning Doughnuts, transformed a 69-year-old former church in Plaza Midwood into a restaurant and cocktail bar. Chef Chris Rogienski serves Beef Short Ribs and Wagyu Pot Roast family style, and guests eat off custom dinner plates embellished with birds, butterflies, and flowers. For dessert, Pastry Chef Liana Sinclair makes individual-sized pies in flavors like chocolate peanut butter, citrus, and sweet potato. The church annex houses The Bar at Supperland, where mixologist Colleen Hughes makes cocktails garnished with edible flowers. In late 2021, Brown and Tonidandel revealed yet another facet: a 10-seat speakeasy in the basement of the church annex where they host a two-hour, reservation-only “spirit experience” with bourbon cocktails and small-bite pairings. Like everything else at Supperland, they’ve fine-tuned every detail. 1212 The Plaza, 704-817-7514
Order This: The Miso Mac & Cheese ($15) topped with miso-infused whipped cream is a grown-up spin on a childhood staple.
Jim Noble, whose portfolio includes Rooster’s, The King’s Kitchen, Copain, and Noble Smoke, opened his namesake restaurant in July in the former Nolen Kitchen space in Myers Park. He modeled it after Mediterranean trattorias and bistros, and designed a menu around wood-fired pizza and homemade pastas. Executive Chef Jason Neve and Chef de Cuisine Vince Giancarlo sling 12-inch pizzas made with 48-hour fermented dough, which makes for crunchy, airy crusts. Standout pasta dishes include Pappardelle with brisket ragu and Linguine with North Carolina shrimp. Snag a table on the sprawling back patio if you can, because dinner always tastes better al fresco. 2839 Selwyn Ave., 704-979-4242
Order This: The Funghi ($21), aka “Jimmy’s Pie,” topped with roasted farm mushrooms, taleggio cheese, and balsamic reduction.
You won’t find deep-fried sushi rolls doused with sauce at this Ballantyne restaurant. Ninety percent of the menu is raw, and about 95% is seafood-based. Chef Robin Anthony makes Edomae-style sushi, which is what you’d eat in Tokyo. He’s also a certified sake adviser who pairs the Japanese rice drink with fish the same way a sommelier pairs food with wine. Reserve a place at the 10-seat sushi bar to watch the master at work, and let him recommend a sake, even if it’s not your normal drink. Chances are good he’ll change your mind. 11212 Providence Road W., Ste. B, 980-339-5822
Order This: Do the Chef’s Choice Nigiri Tasting ($25), and let Chef Robin surprise you with eight different cuts of fish.
Anyone who’s adopted a plant-based diet anticipates underwhelming options and skimpy portions at restaurants, so it’s a luxury to visit a spot with plentiful choices and portions. The team behind Nourish Charlotte opened this food stall at Camp North End and serves a completely vegan menu of dishes like Rainbow Toast and Socca and Salad. But unlike standard steamed veggies or underdressed salads, these dishes are just plain good. 1801 N. Graham St., Ste. 101, 980-237-4855
Order This: The Falafel Tower ($15) is a nachos-style heap of pita chips layered with chickpea and beet slaw, falafel crumble, and smoked chickpea hummus.
Chef Paul Cruz, previously of Mama Ricotta’s, and Sous Chef Alfredo Galarza brought their familial love of Latin comfort food to Plaza Midwood. FS Food Group modeled Calle Sol after Latin joints in Miami and Tampa’s Ybor City, and it shows in both the atmosphere and dishes. The restaurant opened with just dinner service, but hours now extend to weekend lunch, which is better suited for the two Cuban sandwiches it offers: the Tampa Cubano and the Miami Cubano, distinguished by the salami and mayo on the former. 1205 Thomas Ave., 704-565-8291
Order This: The Aji Amarillo ($15) is a standout from the robust ceviche menu, with its titular peppers, ginger, onions, olive oil, and lime juice.
Babe & Butcher gained popularity a few years ago for its Instagrammable charcuterie boards and grazing tables. When owners Lindsay Anvik and Rob Henricks opened their first brick-and-mortar at Camp North End last year, they introduced charcuterie boxes packed with the same delectable meats, cheeses, nuts, vegetables, and fruits they previously offered on a larger scale. You can build your own box, but we suggest starting with one of their signatures, like the Pimento Box or the Take Me to Europe Box—both with a curated selection of complementary items chosen by the Babe herself, Anvik. 301 Camp Road, Ste. 102, 980-216-4723
Order This: The Butcher Box ($22): cheddar, brie, berry goat cheese, prosciutto, pickles, oranges, strawberries, and walnuts.
The cheesesteak has many self-appointed gatekeepers, but there’s a reason this onetime pop-up sold out every time it appeared at a brewery—or more recently, outside Bank of America Stadium on game days. What makes them stand out here in Charlotte? The euphoric combination of Cheez Whiz and Amoroso’s rolls from Philadelphia. The good news: Now that partners Greg Balch, Ryan Hart, and Hannah Smith have a permanent home in Elizabeth, you no longer have to creep on their Instagram page to claim a coveted spot in line. 913 Pecan Ave., 704-912-2955
Order This: How about the Cheesesteak ($15.99)?
The first of these “casual-upscale” steakhouses opened in a Mooresville building constructed in 1888. The second, which opened in November 2020, is more contemporary, in an urban village development that’s leased space only since 2016. The overall effect is the same, though, designed along classic steakhouse lines: dim light, Sinatra through the speakers, and a proper bar. The wine rack takes up the entire back wall—the list takes up nine pages, in small print, of a drink menu that also details 58 bourbon and 22 Scotch options. But the stars here are, of course, steaks, of which Epic serves eight varieties. The chefs grill them Pittsburgh-style, at temperatures up to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, to char the meat’s exterior but leave the inside pink and juicy. The treatment gives each bite a slight, satisfying crunch that complements the tender interior. 1365 Broadcloth St., Ste. 101, Fort Mill, S.C., 803-548-3742
Order This: The Ribeye 104 South ($29), an aged 14-ounce ribeye topped with roasted garlic brie butter and smoked salt. Includes choice of side (Jalapeño Cheddar-Jack Cottage Fries recommended).
Uptown pizza lovers rejoiced when this business, which originated on the Jersey Shore, opened at The Market at 7th Street last summer. Everyone will (rightfully) tell you to order the Grandma Pie, but don’t ignore the more traditional Jersey-style pizzas on your second visit. The decadent Chicken Parm Pizza blends shaved Parmesan and mozzarella, while Geno’s doughy crust is the ideal base for the Deli Pizza’s ham, sausage, salami, tomatoes, and garlic. Geno D’s recently introduced Breakfast Pizza, too, with eggs, cheese, and peppers. 224 E. 7th St., 704-900-5202
Order This: Yes, you still need to try the rectangular Grandma Pie ($12) first.
Xiao Bao, which means “little one “ or “little bundle” in Chinese, is chef and owner Joshua Walker’s nickname for his wife, Duolan Li. After their honeymoon traveling across Asia, they created Xiao Bao Biscuit in Charleston in 2011 to satisfy their cravings for Asian food. In 2021, they opened its sister concept, Xiao Bao, in Optimist Hall, where Walker serves dishes like Glass Noodle Pork Salad and Mango Sticky Rice in the 564-square-foot food stall. 1115 N. Brevard St., Ste. 14, 980-309-0670
Order This: Fried Mochi Dumplings ($6) stuffed with caramelized pork are comfort in three bites.
A Denver-based group called Sage Restaurant Concepts opened this restaurant inside the UNC Charlotte Marriott Hotel & Conference Center in late March. But General Manager Jim Ragin is a 22-year Charlotte resident who appreciates a Southern-inspired menu. Executive Chef Ben Lacy serves Nashville hot chicken Deviled Eggs, Buttermilk Fried Shrimp Po’ Boys, plus desserts like Banana Puddin’ and Pineapple Upside Down Cake. This lineup puts standard hotel bar food to shame. 9041 Robert D. Snyder Road, 704-417-0400
Order This: Nashville hot chicken deviled eggs ($9) are equally good at dinner and brunch.
When 5th Street Group reopened La Belle Helene in uptown last year, they resuscitated one of the most gorgeous dining rooms in Charlotte. The restaurant, modeled after a French brasserie, closed in June 2020 after less than two years. The interior needed just a few retouches, and the menu sticks to French classics like Steak Tartare, Crispy Duck Confit, and Boeuf Bourguignon. Top Chef alum Jamie Lynch put his spin on a few dishes like the ratatouille, a chilled vegetable casserole that’s appeared in countless Instagram feeds. But the integrity of La Belle Helene remains, as the place you take out-of-towners you want to impress. 300 S. Tryon St.,
Ste. 100, 980-209-0941
Order This: Boeuf Bourguignon ($38) is a hearty helping of braised short ribs, veggies, and marble potatoes that will keep you warm all night.
Mariposa—Spanish for “butterfly”—replaces Halcyon, the farm-to-table restaurant at the Mint Museum that closed last December. The space got a sexy makeover with prism chandeliers, velvet couches, and murals by local artist Owl, while Executive Chef Jonathan Moore serves “world-to-table” dishes like Elote Corn Fritters, Ceviche Aguachile, and Gullah Paella. For dessert, Pastry Chef Sam Carrasquero-Chappelle makes a Manjari Torte garnished with raspberries, mint leaves, and edible flowers that’s so beautiful, you’ll still dream about it days later. 500 S. Tryon St., 704-910-0865
Order This: Gullah Paella ($35), a skillet of rice pilaf, andouille, chorizo, Gulf shrimp, fresh daily catch, oysters, soffritto, and saffron.
This 4,000-square-foot Dilworth space housed Fran’s Filling Station for more than a decade, but a sales slump during COVID compelled owner Fran Scibelli to reboot. She reopened in April with a new name and a walk-up doughnut window, where a dessert case brims with maple bacon doughnuts and confetti cookies straight from the oven. The dining room got a splash of red paint, new wood tables, and a revamped menu with loaded burgers, sandwiches, and salads. But don’t worry, Scibelli kept a few old favorites, too. You can still order the New South Fried Chicken Sandwich and her famous Bacon-Wrapped Tater Tots. 2410 Park Road, 704-372-2009
Order This: The Fat Franny ($15) is a sweet-and-savory monstrosity of a sandwich: a beef burger or fried chicken smothered with cheese and onion rings lodged between two maple bacon doughnuts.
Mizu, which translates to “water” in Japanese, is the rooftop restaurant and bar SouthPark didn’t know it needed. Since it opened in late August, it’s been nearly impossible to snag a Saturday night dinner reservation. Chef Michael Chanthavong (formerly of O-Ku) serves a seafood-focused menu that uses a centuries-old Japanese barbecue method. Grab a seat at the chef’s counter to watch the Robata grill sizzle with lobster, duck breast, and charred vegetables. You can reserve a table or booth in the dining room and order maki rolls, chilled and raw dishes, and desserts like a coconut parfait and Robata-grilled pineapple. If you don’t end the night with a cocktail on the rooftop patio, you’re not doing it right. 3100 Apex Drive, 9th Floor of the Hyatt Centric SouthPark, 704-981-9299
Order This: Splurge on the Robata-Grilled Lobster Tail ($30).
The Atlanta-based restaurant’s Double Stack Burger already had a cult following and a write-up in Forbes when it opened in Atherton Mill in late June—and it lives up to the hype. BOCADO—Spanish for “bite,” “morsel,” or “mouthful”—also serves small plates and craft cocktails, plus a prime location along the Rail Trail in a cluster of South End hot spots like Trolley Barn, Indaco, and O-Ku. 2000 South Blvd., Ste. 530, 704-248-4848
Order This: The Double Stack Burger ($12.95) is heaven between two sesame buns.
Owner and sommelier Jaffer Kovic, who renovated the old Dilworth Billiards space on East Tremont Avenue in 2016, opened the second DTR in February 2021 in what was Corkbuzz’s spot in Sharon Square in SouthPark. It has a more expansive interior, with a patio in front instead of a cozy nook in back, but the focus remains on “low-production” wines; the list of bottles alone takes up eight pages in a leather-bound binder, always a good sign. DTR also serves beer, cocktails, cheese and charcuterie boards, appetizers, and entrées inspired by Kovic’s Croatian heritage. 4905 Ashley Park Lane, Ste. J, 980-938-4959
Order This: The Seared Salmon ($27), with a spiced honey glaze atop a generous side of vegetable fried rice.
It’s not easy to stand out among SouthPark’s sea of steakhouses, but Steak 48 does that and more. The 11,500-square-foot restaurant has an in-house butcher shop, 6,000-bottle wine vault, a raw bar, and private dining suites. The massive dishes match the scenery; generous portions include family-style sides and USDA prime steaks still sizzling when they arrive. It’s the kind of place ideal for special occasions, but you’ll be making up new ones to return. (“Honey, it’s been one whole month since I tried that Alaskan King Crab & Rock Shrimp Mac & Cheese. Let’s go celebrate.”) 4425 Sharon Road, 980-580-4848
Order This: Special occasions call for special toppings. Cap your Bone-In Ribeye ($68) with a Black Truffle Sautéed Maine Lobster ($44).
Owner and Rock Hill native Rob Masone promises that every plate is Instagrammable—#phoneseatfirst is the house hashtag—and that every dish will delight. He serves refined versions of childhood favorites: meatloaf, but smoky, wrapped in bacon, and served with crispy Brussels sprouts, smooth mashed potatoes, and cilantro crème fraîche; fries, but tossed in Parmesan and rosemary and topped with a tomato malt vinaigrette reduction that subs for ketchup. “Chef Rob” refreshes history in a more meaningful way, too: Kounter, which opened in December 2020, honors the Friendship Nine, a group of civil rights demonstrators arrested and sentenced to 30 days in jail for daring to sit at this very lunch counter in the segregated Rock Hill of 1961. 135 E. Main St., Ste. 101, Rock Hill, S.C., 803-328-7333
Order This: The Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf ($13, lunch and dinner) is what you wish your mama had made—and it’s topped with “Funyun dust,” which is exactly what it sounds like.
This sushi, steak, and seafood restaurant opened in the former Inishmore space in April. This seemingly prime location on East Boulevard has seen a lot of turnover in the past five years. Before it was Inishmore, it was The Rogue; before that, East Boulevard Bar & Grill. But Konnichiwa caters to both sushi fanatics and non-sushi eaters with a menu of bento boxes, ramen noodles, and hibachi bowls, plus a roster of Charlotte-themed rolls like the Juicy Jay, Hornets, and CLT Rolls. The dining room still has the same approachable, sports-bar sensibility, but the food far exceeds mediocre pub grub. 1315 East Blvd., Ste. 130, 980-498-0420
Order This: Hunky Dory Roll ($15) is a mouthful of flash-fried tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and avocado topped with spicy tuna, spicy aioli, and kabayaki sauce.
Six years after Jamie Barnes and Greg Williams launched their wildly popular food truck, the chefs and co-owners opened their first storefront in south Charlotte. Order food truck favorites like the Shrimp and Steak Hibachi Fries, plus rotating specials like the Cheeseburger Quesadilla, Clam Chowder Fries, and Purple Yam Milkshake. They’ve also got different pudding tots each week in flavors like salted caramel, pecan pie, and strawberry cheesecake. If you need a cheat day—or you want to bribe your kids for good behavior—this is the place to go. 10707 Park Road, Ste. F, 980-207-4814
Order This: Lobster Mac & Cheese Fries ($22)—because the only thing better than an oversized heap of comfort food is an even bigger heap of two of them.
Detroit-style pizza began popping up throughout the city before Emmy Squared opened in August. (They’re the square pies with thick, crispy crust.) Yet, like fellow boutique chain Snooze AM Eatery, Emmy Squared opened to long lines and fanfare, as it had previously been labeled the best Detroit-style pizza in Boston and Louisville. The pizza menu is split between Reds (topped with sauce and mozzarella) and Whites (topped with just mozzarella), with the latter’s Hot Chicken pie being a major hit. 1508 Central Ave., 704-672-0993
Order This: The Vodka ($14) from the Reds menu has a house-made vodka sauce, basil, and salty pecorino cheese.
A wave of new Italian restaurants has crashed over Charlotte in the past two years, but Paul Verica shows that the city still has an appetite for pizza and pasta. The two-time James Beard semifinalist opened this casual Italian spot in the Novel NoDa project in February. Don’t expect oversized American portions—these dishes are much daintier than anything you’d find at a chain restaurant, and Verica isn’t heavy-handed with the olive oil or any of his sauces. Everything has just enough of each ingredient, so you’ll leave satisfied but not stuffed. 416 E. 36th St., Ste. 600, 980-938-0080
NOTE: After this issue went to press, Orto closed in NoDa.