I am a San Francisco Chowhound who is taking an unexpected business trip to Charlotte and have tomorrow night free for dinner. I don't know where the other meals will be (someone else planned them). What restaurant would you say is emblematic of the best Charlotte has to offer, serving regional cuisine (no Italian, French, Asian, etc., all of which I can get in SF). I would prefer entrees around $20 but am willing to spend more if that's what it takes. Staying at the Hilton or the Ritz Carlton (still up in the air) and will have a rental car, but would prefer to eat within a 15 minute drive of where I'm staying.
Thats kind of a tough question, as Charlotte doesn't really have its own cuisine. BBQ is very quintessential North Carolina, but I wouldn't recommend any of Charlotte's BBQ, they're just not that good. Soul food is somewhat of a regional specialty, and Mert's (located in uptown near your hotels) does a pretty good job with that. A fancier take on soul food can be found at New South Kitchen, but its a bit of a drive from uptown. Ratcliffe on the Green, located uptown, would be a good choice...its french inspired, but has an emphasis on using local ingredients and delves into regional specialities. Ditto for Lulu, located a short drive from uptown. Perhaps the most quintesential Charlotte experience is fried chicken at Price's Chicken Coop, but its take-out only and closes very early.
Here's a post from another thread from a chowhounder named "hungry gray cat" that you may find interesting and/or useful:
"Being from San Francisco, let me offer some advice on food you can't easily get there:
Fried pickles - try these at Penguin.
Shrimp & grits - try this at Lulu.
NC-style BBQ - try this at Old Hickory House or for a hipper scene, Mac's BBQ -- get the pulled pork; this is the dish that's unique here, not the ribs or brisket.
Hotdogs or burgers with chili, onions and slaw - the burger at Penguin is good; ask for it Southern style. A good slaw dog is at Green's Lunch? I haven't been yet.
A BLT with fried green tomatoes - try this at Common House.
Fried chicken - try Price's or for a fancier dinner, the fried chicken breast at Carpe Diem is delicious.
Salt & pepper catfish - the only place I know for this is Vinnie's Raw Bar on South -- anyone else have an idea?
If you really want to get local, try some livermush for breakfast at John's Country Kitchen or some chili at Lupie's and wash it down with a Cheerwine."
I will 4th & 5th Lulu. Funky area of town, southeast of downtown and w/i the drive time OP mentioned above. Housed in a small bungalow on Central Ave. The chef is focused on local foods including some of the best pork ever. The lulu burger is slap yo momma good - topped w/ fried green tomatoes, house made pimento cheese and and a jalapeno relish on a brioche roll (i think). Good pate, mussels, etc. too.
If u want something retro casual go to The Penguin (same neighborhood as Lulu) for a burger and fried pickles and a PBR.
Enjoy your visit - oh and bring a coat b/c it's damn cold here!
Thanks all - leaning toward one of four options depending on the weather and my mood - Mert's, Mac's Speed Shop, Lulu or Ratcliffe on the Green. I'll report back and let you know.
I've been told we're eating a lunch at Mimosa Grill and a dinner at the Capital Grille. Not sure of anything else yet.
Looks like it's really cold - thanks lynnlato - I will bring a parka!
Looks like your hosts are playing it safe - but you will dine well. If you are by yourself you may want to try Andrew Blair's or Good Food,both on Montford. They are both "single friendly" with good service at the bar.
I know Rooster's isn't exactly local food but Jimmy Noble does a great job and is a stickler for local when he can get it. It's another small plates kind of place in an upscale part of town.
If you want fun - Penguin If you want cutting edge food - Good Food.
I would skip Mac's if it will be your only meal here. Good for hanging out and drinking beer, wouldn't go just for the food.
You will be happy choosing between the other 3. As much as I love Ratcliffe, I'd be inclined to steer you towards Merts and Lulu if you really want something regional. (Although perhaps check the specials at Ratcliffe, maybe they'll offer something unique that night)
For one meal, definitely don't do Mac's. It's hit and miss and I honestly usually only go there when everyone else wants to go there. Plain and simple: It's a decent spot for a crowd and a few beers.
Another food lacking in SF is Peruvian or Colombian chicken. PioPio on East Blvd. would fit the bill for this but you'll be in and out pretty quickly.
I haven't been in a while, but I love Rooster's. It's in South Park so a little bit of a drive but there's parking. It's a great place for a solo diner because you can sit at the counter and order as much or as litte as you want. Many of the ingredients are sourced locally and it definitely has a Southern touch (i.e., Anson Mills grits with bacon). Great wine list too.
All that said, I'd probably go to Lulu for my one meal based on your specifications. And really try to sneak some Penguin fried pickles in too. You may see fried pickles on a menu in SF but I guarantee they're nothing like these. (Not to be eaten if you're on a salt-restricted diet.! )
Must agree with the gang Lulu is a great cant go wrong kind of place. Macs a why bother spot indeed.
One other suggestion is a hidden gem called Mcoys Smoke house. IMHO they have the most amazing chicken wings hands down. They are smoked over pecan wood for six hours and this imparts the most tasty smoky flavor I have ever enjoyed. They are not fried at all so you can delude yourself that they are healthy, thats what I do. Seriously they are slap yo mama good.