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Food & Drink Critics’ Pick Winners: Best in the Nest 2023

The best of Charlotte's food and drink as chosen by Nerve critics

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BEST RESTAURANT: Restaurant Constance

Opened in January of this year, Restaurant Constance is tucked like a book too big for its shelf into a development colored in shades of strip mall — but one that’s been repurposed for event spaces, designers and other haunts attracted to things gentrified and shiny — along a stretch of Thrift Road that exhales as it leans into Wesley Heights.

A photo of Constance's exterior and Charlotte's skyline in the background during sunset.
Constance Skyline. Photo courtesy of Constance. (Photo by Rico Marcelo)

When the light is just right, at Golden Hour plus-or-minus 20, you can see Uptown Charlotte in the distance, skyscrapers flickering to life, emerging like Oz or the Promised Land. From this point of view, we can’t imagine anything more dramatic. Except that once inside, we are overwhelmed at the transformation that has taken place.

But for the rafters, all traces of the previous restaurant tenant are gone: the self-serving soundtracks replaced with cinematic peeks into the journey the evening’s ingredients took from farm to table projected on the back wall, black curtains at the front replaced by an actual hostess stand stationed against a wall displaying album covers and family-loved trinkets.

A selection of dishes at Restaurant Constance. (Photo by Rico Marcelo)

On good days, Constance herself — the chef’s daughter and restaurant’s namesake — is there to greet those coming through the door.

The open kitchen is still there, but the dynamic is different. Diners are no longer tense at the show put on before them, kitchen cahoots have given way to sharp, Zen focus. The color palette has calmed down, too, from the walls to the seats to even the menus — whites and neutrals, with a hint of sparkle, trimmed in red and blue.

It’s Americana, but not the Americana of today — God, no. It’s classic, nostalgic and welcoming.


BEST NEW RESTAURANT: L’Ostrica

Opening over the summer, L’Ostrica has already been building a buzz from its location in the Montford Park neighborhood.

Launched by Cat Carter and Eric Ferguson, the pair came up with the name, Italian for “oyster,” over a plate of the shellfish. The menu is about so much more, however — a fusion of inspirations from Italy, Japan, France and Korea.

Inside L’Ostrica (Photo by Unify Visual Marketing)

Ferguson and Carter had the idea to open the restaurant in 2021 after frequently cooking for their friends, but they first started a fine-dining and catering business inspired by their global travels and food influences, plus Carter’s experience in food writing. Having opened the new location as a chef’s market, the pair launched their full seasonal tasting menu in early fall, with a brunch menu on the way.

“We’re very excited to be bringing our deeply personal vision to life and to be adding to the city’s growing culinary scene at the same time,” Ferguson and Carter said in the lead-up to the opening. “We share a genuine enthusiasm for cooking and hospitality and look forward to serving guests in our new space.”


BEST OLD RESTAURANT: Alexander Michael’s

In this refurbished building from the 1890s sitting in Fourth Ward you can expect to find a hodgepodge of neighborhood dwellers and town-traversers alike as Al Mike’s tends to top the lists of most popular restaurants in Charlotte. The bar and back bar are crafted from solid oak doors that were a part of the Independence Building, one of Charlotte’s first skyscrapers.

The feel of a classic tavern surrounds you as you enter and wait to be seated. The wood paneling on the ceiling, the old-school Dr. Pepper clock and Sun Spot soda signs mixed with new signage from local breweries create an eclectic atmosphere like something you may have seen in your grandfather’s basement.

Cozy up in a booth or a table, or in the side-by-side booth in the back corner of the dining area that overlooks every seat in the house, and enjoy delicious and hearty portions of local fare influenced by classic English pubs.

While the What It Is — blackened chicken breast over rotini in a Cajun cream sauce — won best signature dish in our readers’ picks, you can’t go wrong with any of their other staples including the honey chicken pasta or blackened catfish.

In the fall and winter months there is something so Christmas-esque about the space that you cannot pass up the opportunity to go once if you haven’t before. It feels familiar, feels like family, and is hopefully standing for another 100 years.


BEST OUTSIDE 485: Firehawk Brewpub

Firehawk Brewpub is a family-run restaurant in a refurbished, previously abandoned Mount Holly firehouse that serves Carolina-style barbecue, fish camp and grilled meats cooked over live fire, along with beers brewed right there in the building using home-brewing equipment. Co-owners Erin Tracy-Blackwood and Scott Blackwood, along with their staff of relatives and friends, serve Erin’s renowned mac and cheese and collard greens, Scott’s grilled meat items, and beer brewed by Erin’s brother-in-law, Matthew Young.

An exterior look at Firehawk Brewpub in Mount Holly
Firehawk Brewpub opened in a former firehouse in Mount Holly. (Courtesy of JTC Marketing)

Located on North Main Street in Mount Holly along a scenic stretch of Dutchman’s Creek, a tributary of the Catawba River just over the line from Mecklenburg County, the Firehawk team continues to do what they can to preserve Dutchman’s Creek and reinvigorate the community space surrounding it while paying their employees a fair and livable wage.

Recalling how he was treated over 10 years of part-time restaurant gigs, Scott is prioritizing stability for his team at Firehawk Brewpub with a $15-an-hour minimum wage and tips pooled between all positions. Each employee gets a share of quarterly profits and flexibility when it comes to scheduling around their personal lives and avoiding burnout.

“We believe strongly that mental health is health, and we give everyone in the building the space and grace to take care of themselves the best that they can, and we do everything we can to make that possible,” Scott says.


BEST BREWERY: Gilde Brewery

In the years since pioneers like OMB, NoDa, and Birdsong opened their doors, breweries have taken over Charlotte. It’s a joke at this point; there are so many breweries in Charlotte that there’s a dive bar called Another Brewery opening on North Davidson Street.

However, one of the newer breweries in the York Road neighborhood is also the best. What sets Gilde apart is the food — instead of an overpriced, hit-and-miss food truck parked outside, Gilde features a well-crafted menu of German staples. Instead of congealed beer cheese and cold pretzels, you have fresh sauerkraut and currywurst and our personal favorite, the smoked bauernwurst. Gilde exchanges ersatz compromises for an inviting, appealing atmosphere. It’s a place you want to be. The beer’s pretty good, too.


BEST CURBSIDE: Bar-B-Q King

In March, some local news outlets reported Bar-B-Q King, a classic Charlotte restaurant located on the Wilkinson Boulevard corridor in west Charlotte, was for sale after 64 years of curbside business. The next day, owner Gus Karapanoa told QCity Metro that the reports were wrong; the lease isn’t up for another eight years.

The Bar-B-Q King. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

It was a happy ending in a growing city where newbies and natives alike plan to visit our classic food joints, but don’t get around to it until the restaurants announce they’re closing. Moral of the story: Don’t wait eight years to visit Bar-B-Q king. Don’t wait eight days. Don’t wait until you see a replay of its appearance on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Just go. What are you waiting for? It’s iconic. Go.


BEST MENU ITEM: The Cornbread Service at The Haymaker

After taking over The Haymaker located inside Ascent Uptown this summer, Chef Chris Coleman of The Goodyear House quickly revamped the menu of the Third Ward mainstay into something more aligned to his particular brand of comfort food that sings. The most exciting addition — and this is where other Charlotte restaurants need to take note — is Coleman’s cornbread service.

A skillet of sweet cornbread cooked in bacon fat arrives at the table with assorted accouterments: creme fraiche and trout roe, sweet cream and pepper jelly, country ham and a zesty, zinging relish. Mix and match, lick the skillet, yelp and cry for more. After one bite, we were texting everyone we know about it. This (praise be!) is Charlotte’s first true destination dish — good to share with friends, or to horde all alone at the bar after work with a glass (or three) of bubbles — and is more than worth navigating Uptown parking to try.


BEST NEW FOOD OR DRINK PRODUCT: Cümulo by Resident Culture

The first time we had Cümulo, Resident Culture’s perfectly legal THC-infused seltzer, we had been hanging out at Resident Culture South End, when out of nowhere, we noticed the Russian spies hiding off in the corner, watching our every move. Before we could confront them, though, there was a meteor shower inside the dining room, only the meteors were strands of DNA, which slowly came apart and revealed secrets we had to promise never to tell you.

Enjoying Cümulo. (Photo courtesy of Foil Creative)

The second time we had it, we had snuck a few cans into a late night showing of Killers of the Flower Moon. We stand by our assessment that it is the greatest movie musical of our time, and the two-hour pauses between Leonardo DiCaprio starting a sentence and ending a sentence were made so much shorter by an audio track of giggling Gremlins eating caramel popcorn.

If that’s not enough to convince you that Cümulo is the best new drink product in Charlotte, then drink one or three cans for yourself and come join us next week as we interview our pink puppy Gretchen who has not one but several bones to pick with you.


BEST LATE-NIGHT MENU: Brewton’s Cafe

Brewton’s Cafe owner Brandon Brewton built up his kitchen skills doing catering and running a successful meal-prep business in Atlanta, until he found himself back in Charlotte and the Double Oaks church where his grandmother, Pastor Barbara Brewton-Cameron, launched Community Outreach Christian Ministries in the early 1990s. He relaunched his catering and meal-prep venture, seeing enough success to launch Brewton’s Cafe out of a kitchen connected to what had since become the Barbara Brewton Hope For Harvest Youth Center.

Brewton’s Cafe owner Chef Brandon Brewton (right) and Pastry Chef Jasmine Delva (left) take a shared bite of the honey hot fried chicken sandwich. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Brewton continued splitting his time between the road and Brewton’s Cafe until 2020, when the COVID pandemic struck. Inspired by what he had learned during catering trips, Brewton began to play with the menu, which rotates every two weeks. The oxtail Rasta pasta was the first menu item that began to build buzz around the neighborhood and then the city. Another popular menu item as of late has been the lo mein, which Brewton has been working into a number of different dishes.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, Newton serves a long line of late-night customers, remaining open until 4 a.m. on Sunday mornings in a city without many late-night options.

His late-night, after-the-bars-close schedule was another aspect of the business inspired by Brewton’s catering travels.

“I got that from Philly and Vegas; they never closed,” Brewton explained. “I’m like, ‘This is the move.’ We was out 2, 3 in the morning. We might have just gotten done with a job and we can go eat. Not no McDonald’s or Waffle House; we can go eat a real meal and they’re open all night. I’m like, ‘Man, Charlotte ain’t got this.’”


BEST COFFEE SHOP: Archive CLT

Located in a shopping center at the corner of LaSalle Street and Beatties Ford Road, just over a mile from Charlotte’s only HBCU, Archive CLT connects customers across generations with artifacts from Black history. By 2021, collector Cheryse Terry was ready to open her own brick-and-mortar shop filled with ephemera that captures the Black American experience.

Three students look at a table of ephemera inside Archive CLT
JCSU students inside Archive CLT. (Photo by Tyler Bunzey)

At the behest of an investor, Terry decided to conceptually marry her interest in Black ephemera with a coffee shop. She launched a GoFundMe campaign early that year, raising over $40,000 in 40 days to help reach the $75,000 needed to open the shop.

“Beatties Ford Road is historically Black … it was literally our Black Wall Street,” she said. “So being able to be a part of the revitalization of Beatties Ford Road to restore it back to the Black Wall Street that it was, I definitely want [Archive] to be a part of that.”


BEST FOOD TRUCK: Tacos Rick-O

The profanely delicious surf & turf tacos made us instant fans of Tacos Rick-O, the food truck parked next to Hoppin’ at the corner of West Bland and Winnifred streets in South End. The tacos were bursting with grilled steak and shrimp, seasoned to the point of climax, and though it wasn’t explicitly forbidden, we dipped them into a side of heady queso we had also ordered anyway because why not and, well, the rest isn’t suitable for print.

Ricky Ortiz, the truck’s charismatic owner with a killer smile, turns his passion for his native Mexico’s street food into more than just a concept that’s perfectly suited for its neighborhood. With Tacos Rick-O, he has given us something to celebrate: food that is electric, vibrant and insanely well-conceived.


BEST NEW CONCEPT: Menya Daruma

Ramen hasn’t always been treated with the respect that it deserves in this town. It’s either a bastardized version of the Japanese original as seen through the eyes of drunk college kids, or it’s generically “Asian” and indistinguishable from Chinese, Vietnamese or even Thai noodle dishes. Menya Daruma in Elizabeth announces its intentions right at the door: the name “menya,” in Japanese, literally means, “noodle shop.”

Menya Daruma (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

In the back, ensconced in a makeshift temple with overhead lighting, customers can see a man churning out fresh noodles by hand throughout the day, his pace steady and his concentration never wavering even as the orders from the kitchen pile up. This is ramen shown respect and ramen how it’s meant to be. For a real treat, try the “Nagoya Taiwanese” dry ramen — a version rarely seen around these parts — that has a bit of everything and absolutely nothing that won’t make you immediately check on ticket prices to Tokyo.


BEST BAKERY: Vicente Bistro

You should have seen this one coming from a mile away: Vicente Bistro in South End, home of the best croissants in the world, is Charlotte’s best bakery. And it’s not just because the croissants are objectively perfect. Or because the kouign-amann — a lot more difficult to get right than you would think, considering they are nothing more than sugar and butter — are our new favorite thing to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Sam Chappelle (left) with Yerman Carrasquero at Vicente Bistro. (Photo by Rico Marcelo)

Or because even on the worst possible days, Vicente’s giant alfajores cookies can alter your reality, causing you to see the good in everything again.

No, not for any of these reasons is Vicente the best bakery in Charlotte, but because Sam Chapelle and Yerman Carrasquero have turned their bakery into something of a town square, where friends and neighbors gather to chit chat or trade gossip over cruffins, and where every customer is made to feel like family.


BEST ICE CREAM: Seemingly Overzealous

​​Seemingly Overzealous was created by partners Garrett Tichy, founder of hygge coworking, and Jessica Berresse, who met in 2020 and connected over their love for ice cream. Their first date included taste testing an ice cream flight, including one flavor created at home by Tichy as part of a new pandemic-era hobby. What began as a passion project turned into a pop-up company and evolved into a brick-and-mortar, which opened at Camp North End in May.

Three flavors of ice cream in cups with a colorful mural in the background
Seemingly Overzealous opened with 12 dairy-free ice cream flavors. (Photo by Julia Fay)

Tichy and Berresse’s focus is creating delicious dairy-free ice cream that can be enjoyed by everyone. The waffle chips and cones are also egg-, dairy-, and gluten-free. Seemingly Overzealous is known to have a rotating menu of 12 flavors to coincide with the changing seasons, but include their classics like Grey Blobbin, Paper Cup Love Notes, and Easy to Love: Earl Grey, coffee, and chocolate flavors, respectively.

The scoops are perfectly creamy; so good, in fact, that you can expect a line out the door in the middle of winter.


THE GREG COLLIER AWARD FOR BEST CHEF: Sam Diminich

At Restaurant Constance, Chef Sam Diminich cooks like his life depends on it. And that could very well be the literal truth.

To see the name Constance, to take one step inside the restaurant, is to know how much family means to him. He has recovered from well-documented addiction struggles and survives for and with the help of his family — now he cooks to bring us all together.

Sam Diminich in Restaurant Constance. (Photo by Rico Marcelo)

Knowing this means understanding, of course, that he’s the only chef in town who could conceive of pork shank in such blockbuster fashion, towering on a plate of okra, black beans and rice, eliciting gasps from the entire dining room when spotted leaving the kitchen, eliciting cries for more napkins as it soon appears on every table and every face.

Knowing this also means understanding that there had to be divine inspiration for the chocolate miso tart to come into existence. It’s a mature, confident but also deliciously rich and assertive slice of life. One bite is enough, which could be Diminich’s way of teaching us about moderation.


BEST VEGAN CHEF: Akil Courtney

If you’ve followed along with our Best in the Nest issues over the years, you’ve heard mention of Chef Joya, whose cooking and books made for cooking have been recognized in the past. But Chef Joya’s brother Akil Courtney has also been quietly building a name for himself as the owner of Ve-Go food truck, which has served the Charlotte, Mint Hill and Concord areas since Akil and his wife Paris, a pastry chef, launched it in 2019.

Recent favorites from the Ve-Go menu include the Hennessy BBQ Short Ribz, Carolina Sausage Doggs and the Bang Bang, spicy garlic and lemon pepper Shrymp. Building on three decades of experience as a vegan, Akil and paris focus on classic soul food dishes, but always with a Ve-Go twist and flare.


BEST PASTRY CHEF: Cristina Rojas-Agurcia

Known as the Batchmaker, Cristina Rojas-Agurcia satisfies Charlotte’s sweet tooth with her delicious cakes and cookies served out of The Batch House bakery in Station West in west Charlotte’s Seversville neighborhood.

Rojas’ baking style is inspired by her upbringing in Honduras, and she offers a unique and expansive menu filled with treats you won’t see in any other Charlotte bakery. Some must-tries from the Batchmaker include her oatmeal cream pies, mini chilenas, and s’mores brownies.The best way to order her unique cookies and bars is in batches, hence the name, but folks are welcome to stop by the bakery if they only want one or two treats, just hope she isn’t sold out.


BEST MIXOLOGIST: Roger Kongkham, Supperland

Charlotte is home to many big names in the cocktail industry. Amanda Britton. Larry Suggs. Colleen Hughes.

What has been especially exciting to witness over the past year is how a new class of expert mixologists have emerged in Charlotte under their watchful eye. Roger Kongham, Colleen Hughes’ right-hand man at Supperland and erstwhile up-and-comer, is now a name in his own right. Part of this is due to his charisma and his affinity for hospitality — fans of Supperland’s Speakeasy, where Kongkham puts in regular appearances, will know exactly what we mean when we say he is often the star attraction at one of the best shows in town.

But really what sets Kongkham apart is his drive to become a better mixologist than he was the day before by turning his encyclopedic knowledge of spirits and flavors into a time machine that can access even the most distant memories. Once, on the DL, we may have asked him to make a drink based on, of all things, I Love Lucy. We swore never to reveal the details exactly, but Kongkham had effectively resurrected the dead and had them drinking there right along with us.


BEST RESTAURATEUR: Jon Dressler

Jon Dressler, cofounder of Rare Roots Hospitality (RRH), which runs Dressler’s, Dogwood Southern Table, The Porter’s House, and Fin & Fino, saw a year of major changes across his portfolio of restaurants in 2023. In August, he closed Dogwood down in SouthPark, effectively snuffing out one of the area’s best restaurants of the past decade.

Jon Dressler (Photo courtesy of Plaid Penguin)

And while one venture was closing, new windows were opening for those of us who love Dressler’s work. Joan’s Bakery and Deli, opening near his namesake Dressler’s Restaurant at 1100 Metropolitan Ave. in Midtown, will feature Jon’s mother Joan Dressler’s famous cheesecake recipe as well as carrot and apple cake recipes from her bakery days in New Jersey.

Announced in June was Dressler’s Improv Kitchen, which now serves as the food and beverage program at Middle C Jazz Club in Uptown. And then there’s Chapter 6, another future entry into the group that will opened in The Line luxury apartment complex in South End along the rail trail, 2151 Hawkins St. Dressler’s goal with that restaurant was to capture the spirit of a coastal getaway with a menu that’s described as Spanish with a Moroccan flair and French with an Italian accent.

Also in August, Dressler announced he would close Dressler’s Birkdale location to reopen as a new Fin & Fino location in early 2024, and told Queen City Nerve the team is discussing a couple different fast-casual options.

Throughout this balancing act, Dressler has not allowed the quality to slip at any of his establishments it seems. There’s even a chance we’ll see Dogwood return sometime in the future. “I will not rule out seeing Dogwood revived somewhere down the line. It would be a crime to see Duck and Dumplings go away,” he told us, referencing one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes. It seems that all endings at Rare Roots Hospitality are simply opportunities for new beginnings.


BEST RESTAURANT WE DON’T AGREE WITH OUR FOOD CRITIC ON: Ever Andalo

While our food critic Tim may think that NoDa or North Davidson Street is somehow cursed for lasting Italian cuisine, we feel that Ever Andalo, opened by the Tonidandel-Brown restaurant group, has some sort of magic that will keep it around for some time to come.

Your entree must be accompanied by an enormous loaf of focaccia bread, and house-made ricotta with a flight of oils and salts that your server will walk you through on the best ways to prepare them. The pastas are well-cooked in creamy sauces that don’t overpower the palate and come in a portion fitting of the prices some like us may scoff at.

This affordable elevated Italian eatery is a great place for a small- or big-win celebration in life with great service, carefully crafted cocktails and food that stays on your mind well past your latest visit.


BEST LOCAL CHAIN: Chex Grill & Wings

Back in 2014 when Chex opened its first spot on Freedom Drive, it served as a hidden gem for those in the know who enjoyed their wide selection of wing flavors. Today, it’s like the Spirit Halloween store of fast-casual food options in Charlotte, with banner signs popping up on storefronts all around the city. Now with eight locations in Mecklenburg County and additional spots added in Mount Holly and Gastonia, they’ve most recently crossed the border, adding the latest location in the Mt. Gallant area in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

But it’s not just their rapid growth that’s impressive. Chex is a consistently great spot to stop in and grab some takeout. While the idea of fruit-flavored wings may be off putting at first, we highly recommend the strawberry hot. If you know you just know. While most folks who are fans of Chex are well aware of the wings’ greatness, there’s also a sleeper on the menu: the cheeseburger. Like the eatery itself, the burger is a straightforward, no-frills affair that simply delivers on each visit.


BEST FARM: The Farm at Dover Vineyards

The Dover family probably could have made good money by selling their real estate and farmland a couple miles north of Charlotte Motor Speedway long ago; instead, the lifelong Concord residents got into the wine industry. Farming came shortly after.

Their website is worth a visit for the ample family recipes alone. While you can visit the Farm at Dover Vineyards in Concord to feed your in-season local produce fix (and schedule a wine tasting), their Plaza Midwood Farmers Market stand next to Common Market is in the heart of Charlotte.

If you’re looking for tasty, sustainable food year-round, their community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares bring the farm to you in Plaza Midwood, University, Uptown and NoDa neighborhoods.


BEST BREAKFAST: HEX Coffee, Kitchen & Natural Wines

While HEX is known for its superb coffee, its food menu is sneakily diverse and rich in flavor — especially the Japanese-Hawaiian hybrids courtesy of chef de cuisine Obadiah Rysztak. The breakfast is vast, with items like yogurt & ‘nola, avocado tartine, the waffle, and rice porridge.

The yogurt is taro-flavored, topped with seasonal fruit, housemade granola, honey and matcha. Their avocado tartine is a take on avocado toast with daikon and nori furikake sprinkled on top while sitting atop a tomato miso paste. Their waffle consists of a white miso flavor, and their traditional rice porridge is accompanied by pork belly, a fried egg and togarashi.

The Spam musubi at HEX. (Photo courtesy of HEX)

The standout item (and chef’s favorite) is the Spam musubi. The Spam is marinated to perfection, with a perfectly balanced sweet flavor to counteract the saltiness of the nori and umami. The dish is small, perfectly sized for a light breakfast or easy snack between meals to go with their perfectly brewed coffee.


BEST BRUNCH: Easy Like Sunday

This may be the most Instagrammable brunch spot in Charlotte. The food at Easy Like Sunday is seconded only by the chic and artsy atmosphere. Its owners, Anna and Sean Maccuish, have curated a mouthwatering menu that serves American classics with unique and flavorful twists. Located in ParkTowne Village near the Park Road Shopping Center, this is the perfect place to dine if you want picture-worthy plates and delicious pancakes.

Their ube pancakes are particularly popular for Charlotte brunch fanatics and boast an eye-catching bright purple topping. Easy Like Sunday also has an impressive array of gourmet coffees ranging from lavender lattes to Kyoto cold brew. The eatery doesn’t accept reservations and can be busy on the weekends, but is well worth the wait.


BEST LUNCH: Bang Bang Burgers

Joseph Huang, who celebrated 10 years in business at Bang Bang Burgers in November, modeled his burger after Toast Uptown, a restaurant and bar where he grew up near Columbia University in New York City, using the same beef as Toast, sourced from Creekstone Farms in Arkansas.

The Hangover burger at Bang Bang Bang Burgers. (Photo by Peter Taylor)

He and his team cut the fries in the shop each day by hand and dunk them to order. His signature Bang Bang sauce is always served on the side with his best-selling Bang Bang Burger so that each customer can administer said sauce to each bite as they wish rather than spread it around the bun and overwhelm the dish.

“I think that a really good burger is one where you just have the beef and the bun and almost nothing else. And that tastes good, right? If that tastes good, then you add a sauce, then you add bacon, then you add other stuff,” he says.

He picked a thing and stayed laser-focused on doing that thing right, and it’s been working for him ever since. Here’s to another 10 years.


BEST LUNCH UNDER $10: The Sandwich Club

The best way to pass the time at The Sandwich Club — and trust us, queues are guaranteed, but they move a lot more swiftly than you’d think — is to stand back and watch how nimbly the entire operation takes place. There are no iPads or touch screen menus here. Orders are written down on paper tickets in some secret code and handed off to the kitchen along with dozens of others. What looks like lunchtime chaos is actually efficiency at its most awe-inspiring. How do they keep all the names and orders straight? We asked once, to which they replied with only a wink and a smile.

Also home to Charlotte’s most breathtaking assortment of potato chips, The Sandwich Club — located in The Green — has proven to be the best lunch around for under $10. Go for the B.L.A.T. with added banana peppers (paired with any of the half-dozen varieties of sweet potato chips), or any one of the weekly specials, which sometimes, if you’re lucky, feature a hearty homemade pimento cheese.


BEST DINNER: Customshop

In a town like Charlotte, discerning eaters of food live with the very real fear that their favorite places will come under the undue influence of influencers, or worse, that the undiscerning and unduly influenced will just ruin it for everyone. Thank goodness for Darwinism, though, and ultimately, the triumph of taste.

Nevertheless, food this wonderful needs to be celebrated, and in Customshop, chef-owner Andres Kaifer and general manager Alex Bridges — who in the summer of 2022 bought the space from Trey Wilson — find themselves at the helm of a restaurant, very much like Leah & Louise and Supperland, that will add yet another twinkle to Charlotte’s rising star on the national food scene.

A man in a black t-shirt and a chef's apron smiles for the camera, posing in the empty dining room at Customshop
Chef Andres Keifer at Customshop. (Photo by Kenty Chung)

One will be hard-pressed to find a better flavor combination than duck breast and cherries, so come to Customshop where they say “Fuck it” and throw some walnut crumble into the mix. Those nutty crunches become the sweet dulcet tones underlying what turns into a symphony, where duck rendered just-so melds into dark cherries cooked down just-so, which then seep into sunchoke purée that’s really there as a security blanket when emotions without fail begin to run too high.


BEST SIDE ITEM: Potato Pave at The Green Room

The Green Room, Amanda Britton’s secret weekend cocktail den just inside the entrance of Lincoln Street Kitchen in South End, does what many bars do and offers up a bit of food to line its customers’ stomachs. But unlike most bars, The Green Room’s small menu of even smaller bites can go toe-to-toe with Britton’s expertly crafted libations. In particular, the potato pave — fiendishly decadent little Lego-sized blocks of fried potatoes topped with creme fraiche and caviar. They are an entire mood, one that leans toward the extravagant and begs to be experienced, at night, while dressed to the nines. If you go, when you go, be sure to say hi to Barbie for us and tell her we sent you.


BEST BURGER: Sliders at The Artisan’s Palate

The Artisan’s Palate — NoDa’s whimsical Bohemian enclave that’s part art gallery, part restaurant and part venue for the best drag queens in town — also happens to have the best burger in Charlotte. Or burgers; do sliders count as more than one? Don’t ask the kitchen that question, though.

Believe us when we say we’ve asked, on more than one occasion, whether they could just make one proper burger instead of three little ones, and (le gasp!) we were summarily dismissed each time. Is this anarchy? No more so than what appears at the table.

The sliders at The Artisan’s Palate. (Photo by Timothy DePeugh)

Three perfectly molded mini-patties of ground beef, still oozing, still gushing, are each topped with pickled red onions and the most orange of American cheeses. Nothing more, nothing less. These days, as far as burgers are concerned, there is anarchy in such simplicity.

And, oh honey, the flavor — rambunctiously beefy, albeit sadly ephemeral as one slider is gone in two bites. At The Artisan’s Palate, food becomes philosophical: Is their burger(s) a culinary comment on the impermanence of things? Is this NoDa? Add a drag queen to the mix, and it certainly is.


BEST PIZZA: Bird Pizzeria

Pizza in Charlotte for the most part is an afterthought, the stodgy stuff of after-hours parties and weekend sports viewing. When it tries to be more, it tries too hard, and we end up with Detroit-style travesties or some sad, floppy mess by way of Sicily. In fact, it wasn’t until Kerrel and Nkem Thompson came to Charlotte and opened Bird Pizzeria off East 15th Street in Optimist Park that we were finally treated to a true artisan’s take on the subject — and, oh, how we’ve been changed for the better.

Bird Pizzeria (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Each pizza here is edited down to the bare essentials — only a simple list of toppings is available, the better to highlight that impeccable crust, made from a recipe Kerrel developed over two years in order to get the perfect amount of crisp. Pre-orders are encouraged at Bird — it’s a literal walk-up window with zero indoor seating, and only a table or two outside for those eager to eat these beautiful craft pizza pies fresh out of the oven.


BEST PLACE NOBODY TALKS ABOUT: 10 Seconds Noodles

Does anyone willingly go to Ballantyne? For any reason, really, but especially to eat? That, of course, is a rhetorical question, which alone goes to explain how 10 Seconds Noodles has managed to stay well under the radar. Tucked into a strip mall that is so generically south Charlotte that it even has Tesla chargers, 10 Seconds Noodles’ gloriously flavored Chinese-style soups are possibly the city’s best-kept secrets.

There’s something for everyone here, and that’s by design. Think of the soups here as personal-sized hot pots. In the mood for something feisty? Try the pickled cabbage soup with fried fish. In the mood for something wholesome? Try the tomato soup with beef flank. All come with rice noodles made fresh daily, and all come with pickles, tofu and other delicious bits that you can throw into the pot to ramp up the flavor and fun even more. If you’re in the mood for a real treat, request a side of the fish maw, an ingredient little seen in Charlotte, that adds a creamy level of umami you’ll never want to forget.


BEST EXPANSION: Open Rice

Ever since Dim Sum Chinese Restaurant on Central Avenue closed, we’ve been looking for a worthy replacement.

At first, Open Rice wasn’t a contender. The Hong Kong-influenced fusion menu was great, but the restaurant was all the way down Providence Road, south of I-485. Now, however, they’ve opened a second location in Midtown Charlotte at the Metropolitan. It’s a worthy, convenient dim sum option with a more modern atmosphere, a larger variety of main dishes, and a significantly larger beer and wine list than their spiritual predecessor on Central.

“Newer” and arguably “better” does come with higher prices, but after a couple years without good steamed pork buns in our lives, we’re willing to compromise.


BEST SUSTAINABLE EATERY: The Teal Turnip

Small plates eatery The Teal Turnip is “fine dining in a T-shirt” according to executive chefs Taylor Kastl and Steve McGinley. The establishment’s mission is to be the change they wish to inspire. What that looks like is minimizing food waste, encouraging composting and recycling, practicing acceptance and inclusion, feeding neighbors experiencing homelessness, and paying their staff a living wage.

The Teal Turnip (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

The eatery operates on a seasonal menu and sources its ingredients from local farmers, rotating the menu five times a year for each season and one “swing season” timed to celebrate North Carolina’s harvest season. Teal Turnip is located in the Oakhurst Shopping Center on Monroe Road and asks diners to make reservations. (Note: The establishment is, respectfully, child-free.)


BEST HIDDEN GEM: Nirvana II

Blink and you’ll miss it, as Nirvana II is located under the shadows of office buildings along South Tryon Street in Uptown, and if you do happen upon it, you might wonder if you’re hallucinating. You would be forgiven. Nirvana II looks to have popped up in an abandoned storefront, and most of the interior looks to have been reclaimed from former tenants.

It may not be the most inviting setting, to be sure, but not allowing yourself a look-see would mean denying yourself some of the best (not to mention, best value) Indian food in Uptown. White rice and two sides start around $10, or for a few dollars more, you can upgrade to biryani. The sides change daily — assorted dals, creamy butter chicken, a variety of paneers and even spicy Manchurian fried chicken. We’ve seen the lunchtime lines grow from two or three people to several deep at peak lunchtime hours, so clearly the word is getting out.

Go now while Charlotte’s best takeout is still one of Charlotte’s best-kept secrets.


BEST RELAXATION LOUNGE: The Pauline Tea-Bar Apothecary

Sherry Waters opened The Pauline Tea-Bar Apothecary in 2019, implementing her own blend of experiences — decades spent working in the nonprofit sector, a Master’s degree in Practical Theology, an expertise in spiritual care counseling — to create a space hyper-focused on restorative healing and community building. Everything about the business, from the rotating art displays to the seating to the lack of Wi-Fi, is meant to cultivate a sense of serenity.

Sherry reaches for a large jar filled with loose-leaf tea.
Owner Sherry Waters peruses the tea selections at The Pauline. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Waters and her staff offer $5 pots of tea, selected from an in-depth menu that includes not only tea type and the benefits of each option but a complete overview, list of ingredients and suggested uses for each tea.

“Every single thing that we’ve done — even the furnishings coming from second-hand stores, antiques — has been about bringing home that feeling of home, bringing a place of belonging and making people again feel like they belong here,” Waters says. “I never want people to walk away without a good experience.”


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