Every year around this time, we ask our reporters a tough question: If you had to narrow it down to one best meal you ate at a Charlotte restaurant this year, what would it be?
Some of these restaurants are new, and others are old standbys. But the meals all have one thing in common: They are some of the best food you’ll find in the Charlotte area.
We also want to know the best meals you ate this year: Make sure to fill out our survey — and then check out the 23 best meals that our team ate in Charlotte this year:
Writer: Paige Masten
What I ate: Patatas Bravas, Piquillo Pepper Hummus, Paella Verduras
Price: $7.50, $8.50, $36
I went here for the first time in October with a friend, and it was absolutely lovely. We sat out in the courtyard, which is quiet and gorgeous and somehow makes you forget it’s a Saturday night in the middle of South End. (The inside, however, is gorgeous, too.) My friend is vegetarian, and there were tons of veggie options! We shared tapas and an order of paella. All three were delicious (I really recommend the hummus) and there was plenty of food for both of us. And, you can’t forget the wine! I washed the whole meal down with a glass of riesling — my favorite.
Location: 510 E 15th St, Charlotte, NC 28206
Writer: Melissa Oyler
What I ate: Red (tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil) pizza
I’ve continued to be very covid-conscious this year, and a restaurant with an outdoor pickup window is a virus-avoider’s dream. That’s not the reason Bird Pizza landed at the top of my list, though: The reason is absolutely the pizza.
I put Red as my fav (above) but the truth is, the White (fresh mozzarella, ricotta butter garlic, olive oil, basil) is equally good. I have an internal battle every time I have to choose.
Kristen Kornbluth was the first to shout out Bird Pizza as the best pizza in Charlotte, and I continue to co-sign their opinion. (Though IMO, there are others that would tie — Capishe, Inizio, Portofino’s to name a few!)
Pro tip: Order your pizza online well in advance of when you want it — as in, days in advance. Otherwise you might not get a time slot!
Location: 1322 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205
Writer: Lorenza Medley
What I ate: My best friend and I shared our meals. I had the Seafood Mac & Cheese, and my best friend had the Pork Belly.
Price: $21, $16
For my 21st birthday, my best friend took me to Bistro La Bon for a fancy meal. We both decided on small plates to save room for the cake. What we did not expect was for the dishes to be so filling. We shared our meals after seeing how the mac and cheese was bigger than the pork belly.
The creamy mac and cheese dish was flavorful and changed my mind about lobster — which, in my personal opinion, tastes like how the ocean smells. However the taste of the lobster mixed perfectly with the sauce, shrimp and macaroni. The pork belly dish was small but mighty. The juicy pieces of pork belly melted in my mouth.
I highly recommend combining these dishes when visiting the restaurant. They may seem like an odd pairing, but so are french fries and ice cream.
Writer: Philip Freeman
What I ate: House French Onion Soup, Basil Pistou Penne and Chicken & Wild Mushroom Crepes
Price: $8, $17, $15
A few months after a trip to France, my wife and I were craving French cuisine. I’d been to Cafe Monte once in 2009, but had not ventured back in over a decade. From the moment we entered, it was more charming than the shopping center parking lot suggested — the black and white checkerboard floor, soft lighting, and Eiffel Tower figurines set a relaxed mood.
The menu is versatile enough for a casual meal or a gastronomic tour of France with a range of price points. We shared soup, pasta, and savory crepes. Each dish was cooked perfectly, well-seasoned, and big enough for leftovers. The Chicken & Wild Mushroom Crepes were particularly satisfying, and I’m eager to visit again on a cold evening and be transported back to Paris — minus the indoor smoking and midnight espresso!
Location: 139 S Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202
Writer: Katrina Wilson
What I ate: Rodizio (an all-you-can-eat Brazilian style)
The rodizio experience had waiters come out with skewers of prime meat. They provided me with skirt steak, Brazilian pork sausage, garlic steak how I wanted, shrimp and more. The restaurant has an unlimited salad bar that offers more than green salad. Appetizers include fried bananas and more. For sweet lovers like me, you will enjoy the grilled cinnamon pineapple.
Location: 1800 E 7th St, Charlotte, NC 28204
Writer: Josh Bergeron
What I ate: Shrimp Etoufee
I’m always skeptical about Cajun restaurants any further than a couple hours from Louisiana, particularly when they’re not by the coast. Is the seafood fresh? Do they actually know how to make Cajun food? Good news is that Cajun Queen does. The shrimp etoufee was just as good as it would have been if I was in Louisiana.
And it was a nice touch that they have Abita beer, which is made in Abita Springs, Louisiana. It was a good taste of home in Charlotte. I would still advise against crawfish this far away from the Gulf Coast though!
Location: 1205 Thomas Ave., Charlotte, NC 28205
Writer: Adam Bell
What I ate: My wife and I shared our dishes, chicken chaufa and ceviche.
Price: $17 and $13
Calle Sol Latin Café & Cevicheria is the best and most surprising new restaurant I’ve been to this past year. Who knew that Latin American/Chinese hybrid would be so satisfying? Chinese workers immigrated to Latin American countries like Cuba and Peru during the 19th century, and their influence is seen in delicious dishes like chaufa, a fried rice dish that is popular in Peru.
We had it with chicken, but other options included shrimp, pork and beef. The menu has a number of interesting and unusual dishes that are not only delicious but also affordable. Ceviche is also predictably excellent and comes in five different varieties.
Location: 4310 Sharon Rd, Charlotte, NC 28211
Writer: Brent Peters
What I ate: The All-American bacon double Cheeseburgooshi
The crunch is what stands out when I mouth the word cheeseburgooshi. It’s seasoned all natural beef, applewood bacon, red onion, yellow and white cheddar cheese wrapped in rice, soy paper and potato strings would convince me to give this a try. Cowfish doesn’t stop there. They then flash fry this fusion dish and then top it with ketchup, mustard, dill pickle, roma tomato and chives, set it atop of Cowfish sauce and then compliment the dish with season fries. Yes, please.
Location: 1957 E 7th St, Charlotte, NC 28204
Writer: Jodie Valade
What I ate: Fall Harvest Salad
Price: $16 (+$8 for chicken add-on)
Twenty-two-year-old me would cringe at this statement, but here it is anyway: I love a good salad. Sometimes I crave delicious vegetables, but especially when prepared in a slightly less-healthy way.
I found one of my favorite salads in all of Charlotte at a cocktail bar. The Crunkleton is known for its fancy cocktails and whiskeys (I think; I don’t drink whiskey), but they also have very tasty food. I’ve had three of my last four birthday dinners there, including this year. And I have ordered the Fall Harvest Salad at least two of those times.
I love every single item on this description on the menu: roasted beets, sweet potato, farro, goat cheese, spicy fried chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, shaved Brussels, kale salad with a raspberry vinaigrette. I added some grilled chicken to make it a full meal, and it was perfect. I was full, but not bursting and felt like I’d even consumed something a tiny-bit healthy for me.
I should admit that we also got sides of fries ($8) and mac & cheese shells ($8) to round out our meal, and I didn’t feel the least bit guilty.
Writer: Theoden Janes
What I ate: We split orders of Burrata and the Charcuterie Board with friends; I had the Kale Crumb Salad and the Sunny Cavatelli.
Price: $16, $30, $14, $25
It’s easier to get good Italian food in Charlotte than it is to get a good crepe, so when Jeff Tonidandel and Jamie Brown chose to close Crepe Cellar in January to make way for their take on the cuisine of northern Italy, I was initially bummed. I’m not anymore. The buratta, which is accompanied by orange salt and orange marmalade, is practically worth the price of admission alone — thick, luscious, creamy, heavenly. And anyone who thinks they don’t like anchovies should reconsider; perfectly salted and oiled, the umami kicks an already-delicious kale salad up a notch, from really good to amazing. The dining room can get awfully noisy, but the sumptuous flavors (and the warm, attentive service) make it forgivable.
Location: South Park, Dilworth, Waverly
Writer: Laurie Larsh
What I ate: Brussels sprout, burrata, gnocchi … and always the signature donuts
Price: $8- $28
You know that favorite pair of comfy sweatpants that every time you put them on you think — why don’t I wear these all the time? That’s how I feel about eating at Foxcroft Wine.
The menu — which changes seasonally — is not extensive but it doesn’t have to be because the dishes are consistently delicious. For shared plates, the burrata — currently prepared with pumpkin, guajillo agrodolce, arugula and toasted walnuts and served with the grilled bread — and the brussels sprout topped with yogurt, feta and chili and pomegranate honey are my immediate go-tos.
If it is an entree kind of night, the gnocchi — currently served with local mushrooms, brown butter and sage — melts in your mouth. And even if you’re just there for a glass of wine, it’s against the rules to leave without an order of the signature donuts dusted in cinnamon and sugar and powdered sugar, and served with chocolate and salted caramel dipping sauces. Expert hack —although it is not on the menu, the restaurant offers a half order of the signature donuts that is perfect for satisfying the craving without having to only be able to fit into those comfy sweatpants.
Hot Plate Soul Eatery
Location: 7260 N.C. 73, Suite 112, Denver, NC (now closed)
Writer: Evan Moore
What I ate: Gastonia Cajun Loaded Fries
Hot Plate Soul Eatery was Denver’s Black-owned restaurant, so I was really excited to try it. The food was delicious, and the portions were massive. While I ate, I couldn’t help but dance along to the ‘90s R&B songs from artists like Usher, Aaliyah and TLC playing on the speakers. Fortunately, I was the only customer in the restaurant, so no one had to witness my complete lack of rhythm in real time. The restaurant closed earlier this year, but if the owners decide to open at a different location, I will definitely be back.
Location: 2729 N Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28206
Writer: Kendrick Marshall
What I ate: Brown stew chicken with cabbage and rice
Charlotte has a plethora of solid Caribbean options from vegan fare to traditional dishes. As a foodie, Irie Nation Restaurant became intriguing through a word-of-mouth description from my Jamaican-born wife, who heard this place was the goods.
So, I went pretty “conservative” and opted for the brown stew chicken with cabbage and a heap of rice. The chicken — fall-off-the-bone tender — was smothered in this rich brown gravy that only enhanced the flavor and overall taste. The rice and beans were also sprinkled with gravy and provided a perfect savory side along with steamed cabbage.
Irie Nation will definitely be in my rotation of Caribbean go-to spots.
Location: 10 Catawba St, Belmont, NC 28012
Writer: Catherine Muccigrosso
What I ate: Zucchini frites, mahi tacos, ahi tuna tower, Limerick soup
Price: $8, $12, $12, $8
Jekyll & Hyde Taphouse Grill’s Belmont location has become one of my favorite places to head to for a meal and drinks with friends. For one, it’s close by, the other, it has a cool atmosphere with staff dressed in steampunk and consistently good, friendly service.
The menu has lots of tasty options from the burgers — like the Brekkie, with candied bacon, English bacon, cheeses and an egg on top — to its entrees of fish and chips, bangers and mash, and steaks. (Yes, the menu has lots English and Irish fare.)
But before heading to a show at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, a friend and I shared several appetizers: zucchini frites, mahi tacos and ahi tuna tower. I see the tacos and that fresh and flavorful ahi tuna tower in many of my future visits. But what really stole the show that night was the Limerick soup: The sweet onion soup soaks into the sourdough bread and is topped with melted asiago and Swiss cheese. Seriously, it’s the best! And to boot, we had told our server about our rushed plans to go uptown, and she worked with us to make sure we were served and meals wrapped up and check paid with time to spare.
And then to top off any meal is the taphouse’s own craft beers. I haven’t met a stout there I haven’t liked. But they have like 50 beers on tap, including their own and others from throughout the country. Jekyll & Hyde also has its own distillery in Matthews with its liquor available here, too.
It’s pretty family-friendly, I’ve seen long-table teen birthday parties there and it’s a good spot to catch live music, too.
Location: 301 Camp Rd, Charlotte, NC 28206
Writer: Ebony Morman
What I ate: Mud Island
My husband and I celebrated our anniversary here this summer. I ordered the Mud Island — blackened catfish, smoked catfish stew, rice grits, pickled field pea and candied pepper. The catfish was prepared expertly and my husband and I agreed it was the best we’ve ever had. I enjoyed the candied peppers and wished there were more on the plate.
Location: 601 S Kings Dr AA, Charlotte, NC 28204
Writer: Evan Santiago
What I ate: goat cheese and mascarpone, and penne alla vodka
Price: $10 and $18 ($32 for the family portion)
I love Italian food. In fact, I love it so much and consume it so often that I am a firm believer that such important matters should be critiqued with the highest standard of accuracy and objectivity. Trust me when I say no one does it like Mama’s.
Upon being seated inside the warm, charming and homey restaurant, I usually start with the insanely popular goat cheese and mascarpone appetizer. The dish comes with several slices of toasted ciabatta and a mound of goat cheese mascarpone smothered in warm tomato sauce. It’s the perfect “welcome home,” as my first stop back in the city after traveling abroad is always Mama Ricotta’s.
There will be a bit of that delicious mascarpone left after you’re done … save it! The main dish, the famed penne alla vodka, is a creamy pasta featuring bits of cripsy pancetta (and grilled chicken if you want to add it), and it’s always my go-to. On its own, the dish contains a subtle amount of heat. Since I’m not a fan of spicy food, I use that leftover mascarpone and a dash or two of Parmesan to cool it down.
Somehow, the dish becomes even creamier and 10x more delicious, which you would’ve assumed at first to be virtually impossible. In my honest opinion, this custom concoction at Mama Ricotta’s is the closest you can get to heaven.
Location: 1401 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205
Writer: Mary Ramsey
What I ate: Midwood Grilled Cheese with chopped pork and sides of fries and hush puppies
Price: $14.50 plus tax and tip
One of the things I was most looking forward to when I moved back to the Carolinas earlier this year was getting back to good barbecue. So I was thrilled when family friends in Charlotte introduced me to Midwood Smokehouse, conveniently located down the street from my new apartment, shortly after I got to town.
This sandwich — an elevated but simple take on a childhood favorite featuring two types of cheese, smoked onions and a tomato spread on thick slices of Texas toast — quickly won my heart. Add chopped pork to the sandwich and treat yourself to fries and hush puppies on the side to make the meal extra hearty.
Writer: Shannon Greene
What I ate: Crab cake benedict, served with home fries, and The Moving On specialty cocktail
Price: $14.50, $9
I’ve never been a brunch fan. Usually, I’m the one eating a chicken sandwich while everyone else piles their plates with eggs, bacon and the works. But this summer, I decided to try out this new cozy café in downtown Huntersville. And wow! I’m officially converted to a hard core, brunch-loving gal. There were so many great options on the menu, but I went with the crab cake benedict. Best. Thing. Ever. Mouthwatering doesn’t even cover it. The sweet and flaky crab cakes — impeccably seasoned and covered in a light hollandaise sauce —paired perfectly with poached eggs that just melted in my mouth and a toasted English muffin.
As amazing as that was, the real star of the show was The Moving On, a specialty cocktail made from Stoli blueberry vodka, lemonade and fresh muddled blueberries. We sat in the garden patio area and the temperatures were quickly rising, so this cool beverage hit the spot. This delicious and refreshing drink was a perfect blend of juices and alcohol, not too sweet like many spiked lemonades. I’m picky about cocktails, and I can say with authority it was the best drink I’ve ever had. I’m thirsty just writing this and can’t wait to go back.
Location: Blakeney Town Center, 9882 Rea Road, Suite F, Charlotte, NC 28277
Writer: Heidi Finley
What I ate: Beef Chow Fun
Open Rice is my oldest daughter’s favorite restaurant, so I’m no stranger to its menu. She gets the lemony take on Bang Bang Chicken ($17.95) every time. One order that sticks out in the crowd for me, though, is the Beef Chow Fun, packed with beef, onions, scallions and bean sprouts. And I’m pretty sure that’s why the savory noodle dish hits the spot — I love all those things and the mix of textures you get in a bite. The flat, wide rice noodles feel pretty indulgent, and they aren’t something you’ll see in a lot of other restaurants.
(I’ll also go on and note that I stole more than a few slurps of my younger daughter’s Tonkotsu Ramen, as well, ($14.95) and it was heavenly. Broth full of flavor, plenty of char siu — it’s the kind of ramen that will warm your soul on a cold day.)
Writer: Joe Marusak
What I ate: Pasta Campagnola (Fusilli pasta with chicken, mushrooms, onions, peas and sun-dried tomatoes in a pink sauce), preceded by a huge fried-calamari appetizer.
The entree was ginormous. I stared at it when it came out and so did nearby patrons. The ingredients were so healthy and fresh and blended perfectly with the sweet-tasting homemade sauce.
Writer: Rana L. Cash
What I ate: Key lime pie
As a native born Floridian, I have a special affinity for all things citrus. Near the top of that list is key lime pie. When prepared properly, the smooth, chilled blend of tart and sweet on a flaky pie crust dances on my palate. I was delighted to discover the perfect slice is served right here in Charlotte, and I don’t have to cross the Seven Mile Bridge to Key West to get one of my favorite treats. Southern Pecan in Phillips Place does a lot of things well, not the least of which is key lime pie.
Location: 4715 Central Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205
Writer: Hannah Lang
What I ate: Quesadilla with Barbacoa and an agua fresca
It is impossible to describe how good this meal was. My roommate and I made our first visit to Tacos El Nevado on Central Avenue after moving to east Charlotte this fall. We’ve since become regulars‚ and while you really can’t go wrong on the menu, this meaty-cheesy-crispy quesadilla stole the show. I have dreams about it. Every bite is more heavenly than the last. I can’t describe it, truly, you just have to try it. And everything else on the menu, while you’re there — washed down with an agua fresca or a Jarritos, of course.
Writer: DeAnna Taylor
What I ate: Chicharron (crispy pork belly w/ sweet potato), shrimp croquettes, hotate nigiri, Pulpo Anticuchero (grilled octopus) and pisco punch (cocktail).
Price: $12, $12, $15, $20, $12.
Description: The menu can be overwhelming so the best way to do things is to just order a little of everything. I honestly think about the chicharron once a week. The pork belly was crispy on the ends and the mild sweetness of the sweet potato balances the salt of the pork belly. It’s perfection.
This story was originally published December 22, 2022 5:45 AM.