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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.

                    2. My favorite bbq in charlotte is spoon's. def get the banana pudding!!

                      Other great eats are corndogs at penguin's, homestyle food at dish (next to penguin's), thai taste, the tres leche cake at il sole, seafood at aquavina, sushi at sushi 101, and DEF breakfast at eddie's place and original pancake house. oh, and pizza at mellow mushroom and anything at fredericks, lupie's and providence cafe.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: kam0424

                        my bro, a fellow hound, swears by Courtneys bbq. penquin's is ok. fenwicks is great. greek isles is good too for some authentic greek/mediteranean. also, think about going uptown, your options will open significantly. 300 East, Blue are good dinners.

                        also, i double the comment to make the drive to lexington. it's the unofficial birthplace of east carolina bbq.

                        1. re: scpierce

                          Sorry, but I have to strongly disagree with your recommendation of Fenwick's. There is nothing good about this establishment. I wanted it to be good, as I live within walking distance, but no one in our party of 4 had anything positive to say about our meals there, and we each ordered something different off the menu - including chicken pot pie (bland bland bland), steak (ordered medium rare, arrived well done), the catch of the day (no seasoning whatsoever), onion rings (way overcooked and more greasy than acceptable, even for onion rings), side salads (included iceburg lettuce) - honestly, we might as well have been eating at Shoney's. No joke. The atmosphere is cramped with zero charm. The service was average at best. Sorry, but I had to chime in on this one - I just can't let an out of towner waste a meal at Fenwick's when there are so many other good offerings in town. I know everyone has their own tastes and opinions, but...

                          1. re: mdatwood13

                            If you don't wnat to drive all the way to Lexington try M&K Barbecue in Granite Quarry (3 miles off I-85) at the Hwy 52 Exit in Salisbury. Aprrox 40 miles from Charlotte and a wood burner. Great Bar-B-Q, slaw, burgers, etc. Wink's is also good but I think M&K is better.

                      2. Bill Spoon's for BBQ.
                        Price's Chicken Coop for the best fried chicken you will ever eat.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: goodeatsinadive

                          We liked Bubba's Barbeque on Sunset.

                          For other dinners, Arpa is our very favorite place. It's tapas, but very interesting, well-done tapas - lovely. Kind of pricey, but worth every penny. Sonoma American Bistro is also very good; Arpa & Sonoma are Charlotte's two best upscale dining experiences, though neither has a stuffy or elegant atmosphere.

                          Cheers!
                          Heather W

                        2. As a native Charlottean, I agree that Charlotte just doesn't have any real good 'cue. Make the trip to Lexington--definitely worth it. Out in Ballantyne, Table is open for lunch so you should definitely check it out if you get an opportunity. Also, there's a new restaurant out there, Jade, that's asian fusion. I've only been once for lunch and enjoyed it. Enjoy!

                          1. To echo some of the previous sentiments, if you REALLY want Carolina barbecue within an hour's drive from CLT you need to head either N to Lexington (Lex #1is a good choice) or W to Shelby (Bridge's is terrific). With either of these you won't go wrong. Pretty good stuff at Courtney's in Clover SC about 20 mins or so from you but it's not really the same.

                            If you find the longer trip is not feasible you should really try Price's Chicken Coop for superb fried chicken. Warning: It's take out only and they close early. Still, I've never had better. Anywhere. Take it to nearby Latta Park and spread out at the shaded tables outside. Among the few true classic meals of its type to be had in Charlotte these days and every bit as good in its way as barbecue...

                            1. I have been tracking this thread and just re-read your post and I think you are a man after my own heart.

                              If I were you, I wouldn't let any Charlotte BBQ touch my tongue. Get in the car and drive to Lexington (make sure Lexington BBQ is open the night you go) to taste the real thing.

                              Save Eastern NC BBQ for another trip. If you ever head to the Raleigh Durham area, prepare yourself for another drive, but within an hour or two of that area, you can taste the finest examples of that style.

                              1. GREAT replies! I feel like I'm getting a good sense for what to look for. I think I'd like to make my way up to Lexington #1 my first night in town. Only question is, how late is it open? If I had a flight land at Charlotte around 8pm, any hopes of getting up there before they close?

                                My trip's coming up next week, so I'll keep y'all updated...

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: rotary11

                                  It's open until 9:30pm. But that's awfully tight if you're scheduled to land at 8pm. Even without a delay if you're renting a car you need to catch a shuttle and then drive a good hour to the outskirts of Lexington. Also it's not the easiest place to locate and the dark won't help. Also, frankly am not sure what the product is like that late in the evening...

                                  1. re: rotary11

                                    If you are thinking about BBQ on your first night, you might consider going to Bridges in Shelby. It will be easier to get there than Lexington from the airport (probably a 30-40 minute drive) but I have no idea how late they are open.

                                  2. I have to vote for Mac's...if you're a huge fan of dry-rub you are not going to like the vinegar based BBQ of Eastern Carolina. Another good one, Tic-Toc of Thursday's for lunch...the line is wrapped around the block...but it's worth the wait.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: JCleo

                                      I wonder if the first barbecue I ever ate in a small hole in the wall is still around in Charlotte? Has to be some 15 years ago, and was close to Metrolina and Sunset -- we were at the antique show, and the motel staff gave us directions. I remember crossing railroad tracks and ending up in a small place with a huge pit with sweating pit bosses (or is that casino?) with bandannas around their heads cooking in the middle of the restaurant. My kids still talk about that first cup of Brunswick Stew they ever had ... Does that ring a bell with anyone? Would love to find it again! And it may not have been up to my current BBQ standards, but it sure was memorable.

                                      1. re: birgator

                                        From the geographic description, I'd bet that's Bubba's. It has a lot of fans. (And they're usually called pit masters.)

                                        1. re: kathleen purvis

                                          Thanks kathleen! Next time in Charlotte, that's one meal for sure.

                                    2. "521 BBQ" out on Hwy. 521 near Sun City Carolina Lakes Retirement is the place to go. We own a bakery and bake brownies for them a couple of times a week. The BBQ sells out about as fast as the brownies do. Good Luck and get there early! You'll have to get a combo plate so you don't miss out on the ribs. They are presently closed on Sundays, open for lunch and dinner.

                                      1. Well, you guys certainly have me interested to extend my trip to Charlotte! : )

                                        So, one final question. My first night's flight time got moved. Now I'm landing at 9pm. Pretty much rules out a first night roadtrip. I'm staying near the airport so wouldn't want to travel too far, but anyone got ideas for takeout I could take back to my room? Anywhere within 15 minutes or so of the airport would help me beat hotel food. Will report back later in the week!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: rotary11

                                          You might as well just head downtown - downtown is about 15 minutes from the airport via wilkinson blvd to 277. Not sure who will be serving food by the time you get down there, so I would call ahead to anywhere that peaked your interest in the above posts to see how late their kitchens are open. Good luck!

                                        2. Lexington #1 if you're up for the drive OR head over to Bridge's in Shelby.

                                          There are 2 Bridges. One is Red's, which is on 74 (aka East Dixon Blvd). The other is Alston Bridges BBQ, located on Grover Street in Shelby. I love both though the one on Grover Street treats me better (Seem to get more for your dollar). I'm just getting used to red slaw...

                                          Oh, I have an office in Shelby, i you need directions to either of the Bridge's let me know. I'm usually there a couple of times per week.

                                          1. REPORT BACK: First Charlotte Trip

                                            Well, fellow Hound friends, thanks to you all I had a very good food day today. I was worried it wouldn't be-- my flight into Charlotte was very late last night and I was getting a bad omen. Even though I didn't get dinner last night, today made it worth it.

                                            For lunch, we went to Jade, an Asian fusion/sushi place near the Ballantyne complex. (Thanks, carolinagirl71!) We had sushi that was far above my expectations for Charlotte, and I'd happily go back there anytime.

                                            After work, we went to happy hour at Table, and while I thought the menu was just a touch pretentious, the food was very good. We tried a few of the appetizers-- calamari, a veggie pizza, and a lovely cheese plate-- and all of these passed muster with my fellow diners. Also enjoyed some well-mixed mojitos.

                                            So, this took us to around 7:30pm when our little group broke up. Rather than drive the 10 minutes to the hotel, I put on some music and drove to Lexington for a second dinner-- I was not to be deterred!

                                            The drive was shorter than I had expected, and it was very easy to spot. Rather than be a tiny shack, this is full-fledged establishment. I'll admit, I was considering telling you all how much I liked it (regardless of whether or not I did!) because of the investment of time to get out there. But thankfully, no need to lie-- it was excellent! I got the "large tray" of sliced and chopped pork (with hushpuppies and slaw, of course). The pork was moist and delicious (especially the chopped pork), the sauce was sweeter and more tomato-based than I had expected (that must be the western Carolina style), and the pork didn't always need it. The slaw was interesting and very good, and a great pairing with the sweet tea. I got a peach cobbler to go (on the recommendation of the waitress) and it was OK, but looked like they may have used canned peaches.

                                            Overall, it was a simply excellent experience-- checking out the smokers in the back after dinner made me appreciate it even more. Well worth the trip! Next time (next month) I may make it out to Bridges to try something a little different, or explore out a little further east to get the different styles. But to all those who haven't been out to Lexington, go! It's a must for any real 'cue lover.

                                            THANKS to you all for your great recommendations-- my co-workers and friends felt I knew more about Charlotte dining than they did!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: rotary11

                                              Sorry I missed this...I would have told you head out of Charlotte just about
                                              10 minutes to a place called EB's....a former competition team that opened
                                              their own place a few years ago...it's fantastic.

                                              more here

                                              http://www.mfbb.net/viewtopic.php?t=8...

                                              or if that link doesn't work, go to www.CarolinaBBQJoints.com

                                            2. Our family will be in Charlotte, NC in a few days and have a Monday night and Tuesday lunch to fill with something great....should we do Bar-B-Q King and then Bill Spoon's the next day...or what is this I have been hearing about Mert's Heart and Soul? Also--does anyone know the best days to go to any of these wonderful restaurants. I believe that we will be staying in the Executive Park/ South Park area. I don't know a thing about it! However, we are good at getting anywhere we want to go! Thanks so much! TWEETYkaren

                                              1. I work in Ballantyne and eat BBQ at least once a week.

                                                It's about time someone updated this report on South Carlotte BBQ. Let's get a few housekeeping items out of the way. If you are staying in the Ballantyne area:

                                                1. Lexington is 90 minutes away.
                                                2. Rock Store BBQ in Stallings is 30 - 40 minutes depending upon traffic.
                                                3. We now have the following BBQ places in the area: Dickey's, Sticky Fingers (both within 5 minutes), Elwoods (8 minutes), Shane's (10 minutes), and 521 BBQ (20 minutes).

                                                Dickeys and 521 have the best beef brisket, but 521 only offers it on Tuesdays. They all do good pulled pork bbq (not chopped). Brisket is good chopped, but Pork needs to be pulled. Pulled pork has a much better texture than chopped. All offer a ribs and chicken too.

                                                All 5 have several sauces to choose from. Sticky Fingers has the most sauce selections.

                                                Dickey's best side is their Fried Okra. 521 has good hushpuppies. Sticky Fingers and Elwoods will give you cornbread upon request. Elwoods will allow you to get their beef brisket chili as a "side" item instead of say, fries. The best slaw is likely Sticky Fingers (sliced, not chopped into little bits like KFC).

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Topher

                                                  Thanks for the update. I've had 521 pork bbq several times. It's good stuff and is smoked over hickory wood. I like their hushpuppies too. I haven't had their brisket though. We'll have to give that a try soon.

                                                  The best smoked butts, ribs and brisket in these parts, sadly, can't be bought commercially. They are the ones smoked by my better half, my husband. ;)