Fit For a Queen: A Look at Charlotte, NC's Food Scene

By Allie Papajohn

By Google Arts & Culture

Charlotte, North Carolina, nicknamed the Queen City after King George III’s wife Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, is home to over 900,000 people as well as professional sports teams, a thriving banking community and, perhaps most excitingly, a fast-growing culinary scene. 

Noble Smoke Barbecue by Kate MageeCharlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA)

In the last four years, Charlotte has celebrated multiple James Beard Award nominations, including Best Chef: Southeast noms for Joe Kindred of Kindred (Davidson), Paul Verica of The Stanley, and Greg Collier of Leah & Louise. If the city’s recent track record of nominations is any indication of what is to come, it won’t be long until we see a winner come out of North Carolina’s largest city.

Joe Kindred by Elizabeth CecilCharlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA)

But what makes Charlotte’s food scene so special? It is the combination of classic burger joints combined with good ol’ southern BBQ spots. It’s the fact that folks will never agree on who makes the best fried chicken. It’s the mix of inspiration from up north with breakfast tacos from the west coast. Essentially, it is the mesh of old and new. And every bite is something to remember.

Bang Bang Burgers by Kyo H NamCharlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA)

Take burgers, for example. Since 1975, family-owned Zack’s Hamburgers has impressed guests with their simple 100 percent ground-beef double-patty burger with special sauce. Right down the road, you’ll find an even older establishment: Mr. K’s, which opened in 1967 and is known for burgers, hot dogs, and milkshakes. Others swear by South 21 Drive In, an even older restaurant slinging burgers, BBQ plates, and fried chicken since 1955. 

South 21 Drive In by Kyo H NamCharlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA)

And no mention of burgers in Charlotte is complete without Brooks’ Sandwich House, specializing in burgers “all the way” with beef chili, mustard, and onions. But if you’re into more of a “gourmet” burger, you’ll love Bang Bang Burgers (try the one with pimento cheese and fried pickles) in South End and Elizabeth or Reid’s Fine Food’s steakburger (made with house-ground filet, sirloin, and ribeye) at one of their many locations.

Bang Bang Burgers by Kyo H NamCharlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA)

Naturally, Charlotte has an impressive lineup of BBQ restaurants, too. In 1963, the city was introduced to Bill Spoon’s Barbecue, known for Eastern North Carolina-style ‘cue and complimentary hush puppies. Frank Scibelli’s Midwood Smokehouse is home to some of the best pit masters around smokin’ up beef brisket and burnt ends.

Bill Spoon's Barbecue by Kyo H NamCharlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA)

 Another popular hangout is Sweet Lew’s BBQ, which churns out NC chopped pork, spareribs, and all your favorite Southern fixin’s until they sell out for the day. And last year, Jim Noble’s Noble Smoke opened with a splash, known for its smorgasbord of meats, sides, and fry pies. 

Noble Smoke Barbecue by Kate MageeCharlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA)

Getting a meal on wheels is a pretty popular choice among Charlotteans during work lunch breaks and weekend brewery trips. Hungry guests go wild for What The Fries, known for loaded French fries, tater tots, and bread pudding, and Papi Queso, your source for all things grilled-cheesy. The Dumpling Lady is a (literally) hot option serving up spicy dumplings and noodles, and Ace of Spuds will quickly fix a carb-craving with loaded potatoes and home fries.

Dumpling Lady by Kate MageeCharlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA)

So, what’s on tap in the Queen City? Beer – and lots of it. It’s hard to keep track of how many breweries exist in the Charlotte area, but the number currently hovers around 50. Locals and visitors alike love gathering at taprooms to unwind for happy hour or enjoy some Southern summer sun.

Sycamore Brewing by Kyo H NamCharlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA)

However, there is no shortage of craft cocktails around the city, either. Whether you’re enjoying a drink by Amanda Britton at Bardo, a tasty concoction by Justin Hazelton at Leah & Louise, or anything dreamt up by Bob Peters, you’ll find unique spirits made with thoughtful skill and true passion.

Craft Cocktail at La Belle Helene by Kate MageeCharlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA)

Have we convinced you to pay Charlotte, NC a visit? Pack those stretchy pants and hit the road. The Queen City has a plate waiting for you.

NoDa Brewing Company by Kyo H NamCharlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA)

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