After spending years hiding in the shadows of Charleston, Nashville, and Atlanta, the Queen City has quietly emerged as a vibrant Southern culinary destination worth paying attention to. Because so many people relocated to the area during the pandemic – making it one of the fastest-growing U.S. metropolises – the local community has never been more diverse, creative, or hungry for original, independently-owned spots to eat and drink. “As Charlotte grows, it’s entering a second renaissance where the people want to experience something unique that can only be found here,” says Kerrel Thompson, who co-owns Optimist Park’s Bird Pizzeria with his wife Nkem. “There are so many restaurants opening every week.”
So below, 5 new and noteworthy restaurants and bars you can’t miss during your next visit to Charlotte.
There’s no mention of sourdough, hand-crushed San Marzanos, or wood-fired anything at Bird Pizzeria by partners in work and life Kerrel and Nkem Thompson. Rather, the couple lets their plain, white, and vegan pizzas – which you can customize with classic toppings like pepperoni and Calabrian peppers – speak for themselves. But instead of specializing in a particular style, Kerrel bases Bird’s versions “off of characteristics I loved when I was little.” That means refreshingly fuss-free pies with crispy, foldable crusts, bright tomato sauce, and mild mozzarella. The only downside? They’re only available for takeout or dining on the snug sidewalk patio – a small price to pay Charlotte’s very best pizza.
Bar à Vins
Longtime pals and sommeliers Natalie Stewart and Jeff Kellogg came up with the idea of Bar à Vins for a simple reason. “We created a space where we would want to hang out,” says Kellogg. “It is the wines we want to drink, the snacks we like to eat, the music we like to listen to, and the glassware we like to drink from.” But perhaps more important, this understated, European-inspired natural wine bar designed by beloved area restaurateur Katy Kindred champions inclusivity – which is sadly, still not the industry norm – and education. Because the staff is so welcoming and “receives actual mentorship” by Stewart and Kellogg, you’ll be in good hands no matter when you swing by.
The Royal Tot
After a successful run as the Rumaway Cove pop-up at Refuge, Charlotte’s coolest place to stay, Ashleigh and Scott Gadd – they’re the duo behind Stroke and The Ice Trade – opened The Royal Tot in Belmont earlier this year. Every detail, from the whimsical design (imagine pink banquettes, tropical leaf wallpaper, and raffia pendant lights) to the snack and food menus, honors tiki culture through and through – but with some surprising twists. Where else can you wind down with the city’s largest rum collection, while digging into crispy rice squares topped with Spam and Yum Yum sauce? As Ashleigh puts it: “We want to bring fun, excitement, and adventure to everyone the best way we know how.”
Bruno Macchiavello, Cinthya Garcia, and Randy Garcia first introduced a Peruvian staple, rotisserie chicken, to Charlotte in 2013 with the fast-casual Viva Chicken. And with the newly-opened Yunta in the city’s South End, they’re spotlighting another culinary Peruvian contribution, Nikkei cuisine. “Hopefully, people will feel like they stepped out of Charlotte for a bit when they dine with us,” comments Cinthya. The design is dark, sleek, and modern. There’s DJs spinning house music over the weekends, and the food is where Peruvian ingredients meet Japanese techniques. (Don’t miss the passion fruit-infused salmon tiradito and tuna nigiri sprinkled with with crunchy Peruvian corn).
Though Jeff Tonidandel and Jamie Brown – they also own city stalwarts Supperland and Haberdish – had tinkered with the idea of an Italian restaurant for years, it took the pandemic to finally set things in motion. After a speedy, but thoughtful renovation of what used to be Crepe Cellar, the couple unveiled Ever Andalo in March. Kitted out with cozy touches like lace curtains, flora and fauna wallpaper, and vintage-style floor tiles, the inviting space sets the stage for a feast of comforting, crowd-pleasing plates. For your first visit: try Tonidandel’s favorite, the Calabrian Chili Pappardelle. “It’s a dish that really shows our philosophy because of the homemade components, the freshness, and the chili peppers which we bring in from Calabria,” explains Brown.