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Tips for a Relaxed, Tasty Restaurant in Charlotte

My husband's 30th birthday is coming up and I want to make it a very special day for him. The most important ingredient in any of our celebrations is the food - we LOOOOOOOVE food. Finding great restaurants for him, however, is a bit tricky. He likes more complex, upscale kind of food, but he HATES formal dining. Most of the places with the best food in town are quite formal and seriously make him feel uncomfortable. Does anyone have suggestions for me? I'm looking for a relaxed atmosphere that can accomodate a group of 8+. He likes all types of food, so cuisine style isn't an issue. Most important, though, is it has to be really, really, seriously good food. Your help is much appreciated!

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  1. I'd suggest Lulu, on Central Avenue, although it may not be quite "complex" in terms of food. It is delicious and creative, however, and has a relaxed, but sophisticated atmosphere. For a group of 8 I'd definitely make a reservation, as its not a big place.

    1. Lulu is a great suggestion. The food is fantastic fand the atmosphere is comfortable and casual.

      1. I, too, suggest Lulu. It fits your requirements perfectly. It's very casual, cool, and the food is outstanding.

        Another idea is The Fig Tree. It's a bit more upscale than Lulu, but still relaxed. It's in an old, rehabbed bungalow on 7th St. The food is multi-layered and creative but expensive (great foie gras). Service is good too.

        Two other options, both owned by the same group, are Ilios Noche and Nolen Kitchen. I frequent Ilios Noche quite a bit and it's consistently good. The lamb shank w/ tomato orzo is to die for and their desserts are always mind-blowing (try the panna cotta - perfect texture).

        1. I've forgotten the exact name, but there's a great casual Southwest restaurant called Cantina 1567 (numbers I think are wrong). Inventive cooking using latino ingredients and ideas. Great tequila/mezcal list and adequate wine selection.

          1. I just thought of one other palace that would be great, Greek Isles on Bland Street. Dining room is large and comfortable, fun atmosphere and the food is fantastic

            5 Replies
            1. re: GodfatherofLunch

              I can second that one, GFL. Great food and great prices too. :)

              1. re: GodfatherofLunch

                Greek Isles and Waldhorn are the two places that sprang to mind. They both have plenty of room to accommodate a large table. (Lulu's is great but large tables throw off the balance of their intimate dining room).

                1. re: littlegirltree

                  Do you think Greek Isles and Waldhorn fit the "complex and upscale food" requirement of the poster though? While I like both places, I'd say they are both more rustic than complex and upscale.

                  1. re: HungryGrayCat

                    I haven't been to Waldhorn, but I agree completely in regard to Greek Isles. Its good, and I eat there fairly often, but I can't imagine its the type of place the OP has in mind. But, then again, maybe it is...

                    1. re: carolinadawg

                      I just had a birthday dinner at Greek Isles last night. I agree with HGC that the food is better described as rustic, but everything was delicious and the service was flawless. We had a great time. The lamb shank, leg of lamb and Taste of Greece platters(mousaka, spankopita, dolmades, gyros & pastitsio, etc) were all delicious. The octopus app and the roasted hot peppers and feta spread w/ pitas(Htipiti) were delicious. And of course it always fun watching the bursts of flames when they serve the flaming cheese app (saganaki) and everyone exclaims "Opa"! AND you always get a little gift at the end of the meal in the form of your bill - you won't believe how low it is and will likely think they've forgotten to charge you for something. The prices at Greek Isles are unbelieveably reasonable. It's a great value.

              2. Check out Restaurant i on East Blvd.

                They call themselves Japanese Fusion cuisine, but its more Japanese with French techniques than fusing the two cuisines together. Think Iron Chef Sakai from the Japanese Iron Chef show.

                The food is very innovative and good, and the atmosphere is pretty relaxed. Sushi is good too.

                Check it out at http://www.restaurant-i.com/

                1. Another vote for Lulu's, and definitely get a reservation if you have a party of 8. You can even ask for a box of crayons to doodle on the tablecloth!

                  1. I second Lulu, and for a party of 8 I highly recommend Fiamma. I would put those two at the top for what you seem to be looking for, and I would also add Rooster's and Terra (don't confuse it with Tria Terra). Rooster's is great for a big group because it's a great place to share food. Terra may seem a little more formal than the other places mentioned due to its location and its clientele, but the owner likes to promote it as a casual, laid back restaurant, which is what it's meant to be.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: ickymettle

                      I too was going to suggest Rooster's. It's informal and really good. I'd try for Lulu first though.

                      Is Las Ramblas still OK? That's also a great group spot.

                      1. re: HungryGrayCat

                        I took my wife there for her 33rd, we had a wonderful time. Great food, great service and very casual. My review is on here somewhere which was done in May.

                        1. re: friek

                          Don't forget Carpe Diem...always my fav for a good time. Website indicates a private room for up to 36.


                        2. re: ickymettle

                          Unfortunately restaurant i has closed as of the new year. It is a loss for Charlotte as I believe it was one of the best in the city.

                          1. re: billyjack

                            Wow, how sad. I didn't know. I wish I had had just one more meal there before it closed. It was very good and relatively unique for Charlotte.

                            1. re: ickymettle

                              That is a shame as it was one of my favorites, too, when I lived in Charlotte. I suspect this won't be the last worthy restaurant to close, unfortunately.

                              1. re: brentk

                                GW Fins closed thi spast weekend. More to come.

                                1. re: cltsavvy

                                  Shut up!? Wow, GW Fins had a very short life here. How awful. I mean, it didn't blow me away, but it was good and definitely a welcomed change from all the upscale chain steakhouses in the area. Very sad, indeed.

                                  1. re: lynnlato

                                    GW Fins closed??? Whaaat???

                                    Relating to the topic at hand - had dinner tonight at Pewter Rose Bistro. Very relaxed, comfortable, and great food at a decent price.

                                    1. re: Chocolate Toe

                                      I haven't been to Pewter Rose in a long, long time. I was just thinking about that place last weekend and wondering how they were doing. I know they changed things up quite a bit over there. What did u have?

                                      1. re: lynnlato

                                        I just got the crabcake sandwich, which was on a croissant which seemed like it was fried in butter to make it extra crispy. (good, just not the healthiest I'm sure). As a side I got the sweet potato hash, which seemed like cubed sweet potatoes to me. My companion had trout - it was really good. We had calamari to start, which was your typical calamari. Overall, it was good... but there were VERY few diners in there. Granted, it was a Monday night. But at 9pm we were the only ones remaining in the restaurant. The food was decent - I do love the atmosphere though.

                                    2. re: lynnlato

                                      I ate here once and thought it was pretty good, like you it did not blow mw away.
                                      Sadly I think many upscale (high Priced) restos will be hurt bad by the economy.
                                      In this market a casual ( low - mid price) place will be a much safer bet to survive..

                                      1. re: GodfatherofLunch

                                        Yep, and you know about Charlotte's long-standing love affair w/ the over-priced steak houses. Ugh. I would've much preferred GW Fins stick around and Morton's or Capital Grille or one of the other 1.2 million upscale steak restos in town bit it. Too bad, so sad.

                                    3. re: cltsavvy

                                      Heard about this in the observer today... how sad. Their cold smoked oysters were to die for.

                            2. wow - i never expected such a thourough response! thank you all SO much! i will definitely look at each of these and let you know what i finally land on. i have a feeling it's going to be a seriously hard decision....!