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One night in Charlotte/NC: On the hunt for BBQ

Hounds. I have a dilemma of big proportions, and I need your help.

Within the next month, I will have 2 nights of business travel (1 night each on two trips) in Charlotte, a city I do not get to very often. I need a gameplan.

For background, I am a barbeque freak, and I appreciate virtually every style. My favorite BBQ restaurant (and maybe my favorite restaurant in the world) is Rendezvous in Memphis where a slab of dry-rub ribs is heaven, but I can enjoy brisket and sausage at County Line in Austin, and a trip through Kansas City. But NC BBQ has only been enjoyed at a distance, and I fear it hasn't been given a proper chance.

So, my dilemma has two parts:
1. While I'm in Charlotte, what are the must-dine BBQ experiences? I've heard good things about Bar-B-Q King and Bill Spoon's. I'm not looking for fancy, but I do face the Eastern/Western NC dilemma. Frankly, I'd like to try a little of each.
2. Is it worth it to break from my group and drive the hour up to Lexington for dinner one night? I can do it if it's the "mecca" folks say-- I'm one to make "food pilgrimages"-- just want to ensure the 'que is better!

So that's it. Let's say I had 2 lunches (in Charlotte) and 2 dinners (Charlotte or driving distance). How would YOU spend it?

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  1. Drive to Lexington on one night. Go to the original one on US29/70/I85Business. From Charlotte, I-85 North until you see I-85 Business. North on that a few miles, and you'll see it on the left, Lexington #1
    As far as the city, I'll defer to others... :-)

    1. Go to Lexington (but not on Sunday and not sure on Mondays, but I think many are closed.) I have not tried BBQ King, but it always has a crowd. Spoons is only open for lunch. It has its devotees as well; it is just not my taste.
      You will inevitably get recs for Mac's. Don't do it. You are obviously a 'cue connoisseur and that just won't get it done.
      Where will you be and what are your other tastes and budget for other meals?

      1. For barbecue, I think Bill Spoon's does a good version of Eastern Carolina style barbecue (although I know others will be quick to dive in to disagree; they don't cook on wood, and people do have strong opinions about that). If you really do want the real deal, it is worth a drive to Lexington for Lexington No. 1. Bar-B-King is a sweet, '50s style drive-in, best for atmosphere and onion rings.
        For places to lunch/dinner, it would help to know geography. If you're staying uptown, I'd suggest either lunch or dinner at Ratcliffe on the Green, where Mark Hibbs is having some real fun with an all-local menu, and Mert's Heart and Soul, Tick-Tock Diner or Lola's are all fun for more casual lunch. Mimosa Grill also is a really nice place for a business lunch with a Southern tinge.
        If you'll let us know what area (uptown, SouthPark, airport, etc.), we could add more specific recommendations.

        1 Reply
        1. Hounds--
          We're definitely on the right track! I'll be staying out in the "business suburbs" near 485 and 521, south of the city (near Ballantyne Resort area, I think). I figured I'd have to drive to get anywhere interesting. : )

          So, lunches will be a little tricky but I think I can swing a way to get downtown and your recommendations all sound great. As for other meals, I'm actually very versatile. I don't mind eating wacky or exotic, or it can be "down home good." My only requirements are "authentically local" and good quality. I could always use an education about what other local cuisine options are in town. Obviously a choice south of town will be more palatable if I've got folks with me! As for budget, it's likely on the company dime, so not really an issue. Don't want to overpay, but if the food's worth it...

          Thanks for all the interesting ideas! Let's keep 'em coming!

          7 Replies
          1. re: rotary11

            I HIGHLY recommend Rock Store BBQ in Stallings, actually maybe 15 minutes or so from where you're staying (just outside of Charlotte). As for style, you can have both as the bbq is not sauced til you put it on. 3 styles, vinegar, mustard, sweet + Texas Pete. Here's a link to a review. http://www.wsoctv.com/gocarolinas/107...

            It's not fancy but is so good. My husband and I LOVE BBQ (he loves Rendezvous as much as you do.) and this is one of our favorites anywhere in the state. Hope you enjoy your visit to Charlotte!

            1. re: rotary11

              For NC BBQ recs, take a look at this site: http://www.ncbbqsociety.com/trail_map... - I've only been to two on the list; one was great (The Barbecue Center in Lexington), and one was not too great (Carolina BBQ in Statesville). True NC BBQ fans will tell you that Charlotte does not have anything that will satisfy your needs. The longer I live here, the more I tend to agree. If you can make the drive to Lexington, do it!

              My favorite pulled pork sandwich in Charlotte is at Lupie's (http://www.lupiescafe.com/start.html), but it's not really "authentic;" it's just tasty. I've talked about Mac's on this site before, and it's a good spot for what it is, but it's not an authentic BBQ joint by any means - it's just a fun place to go enjoy some much better than average bar food and drink beers from one of the best beer menus around. I recommend the chicken wings, hush puppies, and chicken quesadillas - there burgers look pretty good too...

              In Ballantyne, I can't recommend from personal experience, but trustworthy sources tell me that Table Restaurant & Bar (http://www.bluerestaurantandbar.com/t...) is very good. Like Ratcliffe on the Green, the chef makes an effort to use local/seasonal ingredients. I don't believe Table is open for lunch. That's all I know about Ballantyne - I don't make it to that area too much.

              I second the rec for Ratcliffe on the Green - they are open for lunch and dinner, but I recently discovered that the lunch menu isn't as focused on local as I would have hoped. There is usually a burger from local grass-fed beef producer Baucom's Best on the lunch menu though. I buy their beef at the farmers market and love it, so you wouldn't go wrong ordering that. Dinner at Ratcliffe is pricey but worth it, and the dinner menu is very focused on local ingredients. Lunch is more reasonably priced, but outside of the burger, there aren't too many special (or local) offerings.

              I also recommend Mert's Heart and Soul downtown for a very good, reasonably priced meat and 2/3 - soul food experience... the collards are out of this world, and the fried chicken and blackened catfish are very good as well.

              If the mood strikes you to eat Indian food while you're in town, Copper on East Blvd is outstanding modern Indian cuisine - pricey, but well worth it.

              Hope this helps a bit... Good luck, and report back after your trip!

                1. re: mdatwood13

                  I had lunch at Ratcliffe earlier this week and there was a lot on the menu that was local. I had the farmer's market vegetable bisque and the Spinach Goat Cheese burger -- local spinach in the mixture, topped with local lettuces. As the season cranks up, I think Mark is adding more local wherever possible. I can't lay my hands on my copy of the menu at the moment, but I'm sure there was more local in the meat-based entrees than just Baucom's.

                  1. re: kathleen purvis

                    II love Ratcliffe on the Green - definitely one of my top 5 picks in Charlotte. But I was disappointed to see that they had Atlantic salmon on the lunch menu. That is neither local nor sustainable. Why use farm-raised Atlantic salmon, when NC has so many great trouts and other options? I'm sure most of it is due to consumer demand, the low price of salmon, and the fact that it's an easy fish to cook for lunch, but I was saddened to see them put it on the lunch menu. However, I would still highly recommend Ratcliffe on the Green.

                  2. re: mdatwood13

                    I travel frequently (at least two or three times a year) to Charlotte, but rarely venture out of the downtown (well, actually, what they call "uptown") area.......but you have me about convinced that next time I'm there I need to grab an adventurous friend or two and head down Lexington...sounds great!!

                    I have eaten several times at Mert's Heart and Soul and definitely recommend it. Try the coconut cake for desert if they have it, and yes, the collards are good.

                    How pricey IS Copper? I've heard good things about it, and one of my Charlotte friends loves Indian so I'd like to be able to take him there.....how far is it from my usual haunts? (City Center Hilton)....

                    I'm also going to try for Ratcliffe on the Green for dinner some time....but its a little over our group's usual budget so I'll have to pick a special occasion....

                  3. re: rotary11

                    I know the business park you're near. It used to be a wasteland but has developed rapidly. Nearby is Bombay Grille and Thai House, both solid lunch options. Avoid McAllisters like the plague, though it is close and will be crowded (same for Jason's Deli). Greek Isles (near uptown tho) is worth a mention. There is an Italian place in Ballantyne that is supposed to good, but I am unsure of the name. Others on here may help with that.

                  4. If you get on 485 towards Matthews and take the Providence Road exit and head south, you will quickly run into a strip center with Ilios Noche on the right. Maybe 10 minutes max from where you are staying.

                    While I have been out of the Charlotte market for a year, IMO that was the best place in town south of 485.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: brentk

                      I secound the rec for ilios noche. I've never been disappointed there. Fresh, local ingredients, w/ mediterranean/italian flare. As for bbq, Charlotte is somewhat of a disappointment, I'm afraid. I do like The Penguin, for it's location, atmosphere, people-watching, and simple fare.... decent bbq & fried pickles. PLEASE, steer clear of Thai House.... ick.