My wife and I are going to a conference in Charlotte -- never been before -- and we'd LOVE some advice about where to eat. We're apparently staying in a chain restaurant area (P.F. Chang's, Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, etc.) and that is decidedly NOT what we're looking for. Something funky? Something unique and local? Something authentically Southern (as we're coming from Boston)? We'd appreciate anything you can recommend: many thanks!!
The restaurants you list indicate you are in the Southpark Mall area. If that is the case, you are in luck as there are some excellent choices.
First, by authentically Southern. are you talking corn bread, black eyed peas, fried chicken, biscuits, etc? While Charlotte is in the south, we don't have the upscale Southern food you can find in Charleston. That said, we have some pretty decent places that I would suggest for lunch if you have time away from the conference: The Coffee Cup and Simmons 4th Ward, both in downtown Charlotte. For dinner, slightly more upscale Southern inspired cuisine can be found at Dish in Plaza Midwood and Mert's Heart and Soul in downtown. None of these establishments do everything well, but they all do certain dishes quite well.
If you want barbecue, your best bet in Charlotte is Bill Spoon's on South Boulevard near Archdale. Spoon's has the closest thing to Lexington, NC style cue in town. Many folks on these boards like Mac's Speed Shop - I am not one of those people, but I will admit the atmosphere is fun and they are open for dinner, while Spoon's is not. Spoon's also is a cash or check only establishment (NO credit/debit cards). When was the last time you paid for a meal by personal check?
If you just wants some damned good fried chicken and really sweet iced tea, go to Price's Chicken Coop - take out only and closed on Mondays. They often run out of chicken in the evenings and their sides are forgettable, but their fried chicken is the real deal. I love, love love their fried chicken livers and gizzards!
Near Southpark you have some excellent fine dining options. My first and top suggestion is Barrington's http://www.barringtonsrestaurant.com/, followed by Nobles Restaurant and then Zebra. Jim Noble also owns Rooster's Kitchen adjacent to the mall, which gets very good buzz. I have not tried Roosters pulled pork, but they have some great veggies. http://www.roosterskitchen.com/menu.html
I'm more in the Mac's Speed Shop category than Bill Spoon's - I've been to both and I didn't care for Bill Spoon's at all.
Also, I'd try for a trip to a local fish camp, which one, I'm not sure. Also, a southern burger would be a good choice. Maybe the LuLu burger?
I know that this sounds strange, but I would point them to Bojangles. If I ever left the South, I would miss it. When I run into Charlotte ex-pats around the country, their eyes glaze over when they ask if it's still as yummy as they remember.
Actually, I'd probably recommend the places I'd yearn for if I left, Bojangles, Showmars (Old Fashioned Pita Burger w/ chili, onions and slaw), Mac's, Roasting Company and anywhere with good hushpuppies.
For "funky" definitely go to Penguin in Plaza Midwood. I recommend the fried pickles, the burgers (get 'em "Southern style") and the banana pudding.
It does sound like South Park. In that area I would second the rec on Roosters. Good food, good wine, good atmosphere.
Also in the area:
Earth Fare - this is an organic grocery store out of western NC - they have great food for lunch in the deli/salad bar area
Barringtons (see hazardnc reply)
Portofinos, Park Rd (down the road a bit) - good pizza
Sir Edmund Halleys Park Rd Shopping Center (down the road a bit further) - really good bar food
Outside of the area, I totally agree on Mac's, dish, and Penguin.