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Jan 30, 2008 12:37 PM

Charlotte Drive-Ins

will be visiting and staying in the Ballantyne area next week and in my research for food I have come across two drive-ins: BBQ King and South 21. Since I have never been to a drive-in I thought it might be fun just to have a casual meal at one of them. Does anyone have a preference for one over the other? Is the food any good or should I just skip the whole idea and go elsewhere? I am from NYC and have had really good burgers, so will I just be disappointed or is it worth the novelty? TIA

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  1. South 21 is great. My husband and I used to go there for "dates". But if you are only in town for a short while, I wouldn't recommend it. There are too many other good spots to try.

    1. We recently ate at The Penguin which was on the Diners, DriveIn and Dives show on the Food Network. Had the fried dill pickles which were great and also very good burgers.

      1. Really like BBQ too was featured on Diners, Drive-In's and Dives. The BBQ chicken is very's fried chicken dipped in the home made bbque sause..

        2 Replies
        1. re: Hapy

          That is where I first saw it too! I have read that it is in a rough neigborhood these days since the area has gone downhill. Is that true?

          1. re: G3B

            It's not the best neighborhood, but once you pull in the drive in, it's like going back in time...the car hops/food delivery guys are out in the parking lot all the time. I'm a female and go there on dinner break at night alone and feel safe. South 21 on South Blvd is closed, but the locations in the university area and on Independence are still open.

        2. I don't think South-21 lives up to its reputation. I have never tried BBQ King, but I drive by it on my way to the airport. Wilkinson Blvd. is not as scary as it used to be - certainly, daytime would be fine.

          To get something down here that you just can't get in NYC, you need to make a day trip to Lexington for barbecue. It's not that far of a drive - maybe an hour and a half from Charlotte - and you can get a real trip to the old days.

          1. IMO the Penguin is worth the drive over BBQ and 21 South combined. From what I remember, their patties were thin, flat & flavorless. Penguin burgers are sooo much better. They use fresh ground beef that's hand pattied everyday. And I've gotten to know almost all burger joints in town - I'm 37 weeks prego.

            Anyway, the Penguin has been around for over 50 years and those guys pack that place in everyday for a reason - good, quality food, almost all of it made in-house. Try the fried pickles - I HATE pickles, but will eat them there. I always get a take out order of their banana pudding to enjoy for later.

            Good luck, hope you enjoy your CLT visit!

            4 Replies
            1. re: pinogirl14

              I absolutely love the Penguin, but it is not really a drive-in anymore. I think the original poster is looking for a place that has the old-fashioned drive-in with car hops.

              1. re: hazardnc

                I realized that when I responded - but I just couldn't make a rec. for either South 21 or BBQ King - isn't it the food that's important? At least for me it is!

                (The Penguin needs to add the Charlotte Roller Derby girls as car hops - how cool would that be?)

                1. re: pinogirl14

                  after reading everyone's responses and looking at the menus again, i am re-thinking the whole thing about the drive-ins. at first i thought a drive-in would be cool to go to having never been, but if the food is going to taste bad, not sure if it is worth it, especially when we are not crazy about this kind of "greasy spoon fare" in the first place. maybe i should just save a meal at one of the many other places on my list which is growing longer and longer. :>) i guess better stop doing research soon.

                  1. re: G3B

                    You could always look around for fish camps and bbq in the outskirts of town. Drive-Ins in Charlotte are pretty non-existent. The last great one in town, Herlocker's, closed a few years ago. HOWEVER. I highly recommend that you try a What-A Burger if you can, they can be found within an hour's drive into Nascar country, in Cabarrus, Rowan and Stanley counties. This local chain of What-A Burger's IS NOT affiliated with the TX chain. The NC chain is a true "Carolina burger" place...slaw, mustard and onions on a burger wrapped in wax paper.

                    The soda creations are interesting. I love the cherry-lemon sundrop, a mix of a local lemon lime soda, cherry juice, crushed ice, garnished with maraschino cherries and lemon wedges. It is truly a thing of carbonated beauty. My DH likes a witch doctor, which is a mix of all sodas on tap garnished with pickle chips. Yep. Pickles and soda.

                    Here's a link to the menu (for the Mooresville branch) and a pic of the What-A-Burger sign:


                    Here's a blog someone wrote. A loveletter to What-A-Burger, if you will:


                    Oh, and it's pronounced "water-burger", ya'll.