The International Food Scene in Charlotte, North Carolina
Charlotte, North Carolina has been a foodie city for nearly a dozen years now, and a great place to indulge in international cuisine. Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, I’ve watched the Queen City grow into the cultural icon that it is today with a food scene to be admired…and sampled. Here are the places I recommend trying in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the best international eats, with most of them found in the Central Avenue Corridor (Plaza Midwood) neighborhood.
Charlotte’s Coffee Rocks
You can get a perfect cup of coffee from Central Coffee. Brewed, drip, or French press, all of your coffee needs can be met at one of Central Coffee’s two locations. They serve Italian soda, hot chocolate, and non-caffeinated beverages, too.
Central Coffee proudly serves Joe Van Gogh local artisan coffee. I tried the Shorty (the most ordered drink), which is a short espresso. It was fantastic and gave me lots of energy for the day ahead!
Step inside this brick-lined wall establishment and let the smell alone awake your senses. Try one of the homemade pastries, scones, quiche, or vegan donuts, some of the best I’ve ever tried. Bonus, parking is a breeze at Central Coffee. Be sure to admire the street art on the buildings around the shop.
Latin American Pastries Anyone?
You will find every Central or South American pastry you can imagine and then some at Manolo’s Bakery! Sweets are not the only thing on the menu at this family-owned restaurant (formerly known as Las Delicias Bakery Inc); try the empanadas, croquettes, or tamales. The owner, Manolo, has been pleasing Charlotte’s sweet tooth for more than twenty years.
Select your favorite pastries from Chile, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Colombia, Peru, and the Caribbean from the enormous daily offering or try something new. The Tres leches cakes are a hot commodity, and the fruit desserts wowed me.
Try Amazing Bosnian Food
Euro Grille & Cafe sits beside a specialty market with only a few tables to choose from. The servers are truly Bosnian, which was a real treat. Everyone I encountered was happy to fully describe the dishes served there, though the menu did a excellent job of explaining the menu items. This was my first experience with Bosnian food, and I was anxious to try it for the first time.
I chose the house specialty, chevaps, a Bosnian flatbread stuffed with huge juicy sausage with homemade butter and pepper spread. Not just any flatbread, but my sandwich was on homemade billowy bread, shiny in texture, that was utterly delicious. The price of my chevap from Euro Grille & Cafe was a mere $5. I could easily have shared this filling sandwich with someone. Try the Bosnian coffee, too!
Sensational Soul Foods
Eateries like Soul Central are serving up comfort foods like what we Southerners grew up on that dare to be as good as what grandma used to make. Even though Soul Central’s space is small, there is an arsenal of foods to choose from, including Barbecue Ribs, Fried or baked Chicken, Meatloaf, Black-Eyed Peas, Collard Greens, Fried Okra, Candied Yams, and Mashed Potatoes. While these might not seem “international” to you, the owners are from Trinidad and Tobago, and fully committed to continuing the legacy of African American and Southern food traditions from their homeland.
What’s the most popular item at Soul Central? Of course, I asked. Macaroni and Cheese is the biggest seller, and though I only sampled it, I could have dove right into the serving pan. Yummy! I opted for a side of Banana Pudding, ready to take away in a small plastic dish. I’ve never had Banana Pudding quite like this! The flavors married incredibly well, and the taste was palate-pleasing. If you prefer, Soul Central also offers fruit cobblers.
Top-Shelf Mexican Fare
All cities have Mexican restaurants, but authentic ones are hard to find. Three Amigos Mexican Grill and Cantina fits the bill in Charlotte, making incredible Mexican favorites and ice-cold margaritas. The restaurant is tastefully decorated and has a separate bar area that is quite popular with the regulars. Check out the daily specials at Three Amigos, including kids-eat-free Mondays (with a paying adult) and all-you-can-eat enchilada Thursdays for a set price. Three Amigos Mexican Grill and Cantina is open to the wee hours of the morning, so that you can visit pretty much around the clock.
You can’t come to a Mexican restaurant and not have Queso Dip, chips, and salsa. I found the Queso Fundido spot on at Three Amigos. For lunch, I tried the Beef Gordita on a grilled flour tortilla. It was a great choice. The Gordita and Queso Fundido cost around $10.
Next time I visit Three Amigos Mexican Grill and Cantina, I will try the enchiladas. They looked and sounded delicious!
Loving the Latin Food
El Salvadorian and Honduran foods are being served at Plaza Midwood’s El Pulgarcito De America as fast as they can make them. No matter when you visit, the restaurant is sure to be packed.
Try the soft and fragrant Fried Plantains and the vast array of Pupusas (thick corn tortillas stuffed with savory fillings). I opted for the pork and cheese Pupusas (only $1.50 each) with a side of plantains, tomato salsa, and curtido, a fermented cabbage relish. The plantains were enough for sharing and priced at $3.99.
If you haven’t been to an ethnic restaurant of this type, step out of your comfort zone and try something new. The staff speaks little English but enough to communicate about the food. I highly recommend El Pulgarcito De America for your journey through the international food scene in Charlotte.
Delight in High-End Asian Cuisine
Charlotte has oodles of Asian food, but for me, splurging on a fine-dining experience involving Pacific Rim cuisine is a must. I go to Upstream, serving Charlotte’s best seafood, for this. An offering that is sure to dazzle the discriminating diner is the omakase tasting, which allows the chef to pick your dishes for you. Chef Gene Keto has a way with unique course options, so be sure to keep an open mind and let the taste of the food speak for itself.
My favorite items in the omakase tasting were the Smoked Hamachi (sashimi yellowtail with onion, tomatoes, and a zesty Vietnamese vinaigrette) and Angry Crab with baked king crab Gunkan. Though the Hamachi was only three bites, it was a little slice of heaven on a plate. The Angry Crab roll melted in my mouth, and the flavors were delicate but scrumptious. Be prepared for the exotic taste of the fabulous Seabass, in a banana leaf with tomato chutney and a sweet and palatable mango papaya salad.
The Deliciousness Continues
Have you ever cooked your food tableside? That is what we did with The Rock, another part of our omakase tasting, by placing our New York Strip slices marinated in soy-ginger on our heated rock to cook the meat to the temperature of our liking. I like my steak medium-rare, so it was cooked to perfection with about four quick flips of the meat. The quality of this beef is unbelievable and will knock your socks off!
We finished our meal with two desserts, the Asian chocolate-filled doughnuts with green tea semifreddo mousse and triple strawberry sorbet. I cannot remember having so much trying new food combinations and eating so many awesome things. Upstream is definitely for the discerning foodie!
Still want more? Check out more international restaurants in this guide from Southern Foodways.
Looking for a Hotel Recommendation?
The Hampton Inn & Suites Charlotte South Park at Phillips Place isn’t what you think of when you think standard hotel chains. It is closer to a luxury resort with impressive furnishings, gorgeous linens, and impeccable service. There is even a baby grand piano in the lobby. Since my family has had good experiences with the Hampton Inn & Suites Charlotte South Park in the past, I chose to stay here for this visit as well.
My suite was huge, with a living room area, stately marble desk, and a wheeled chair that was fantastic on the hardwood floor. The bed was super comfortable, and I was crazy about the mirror TV in the bathroom.
My room also had a microwave, coffee maker, and mini-fridge. Amenities at the Hampton Inn & Suites Charlotte South Park are a fitness room, outdoor swimming pool, plus free breakfast and Wi-Fi. You can also spend time at the European-inspired Phillips Place shops and restaurants only steps from the hotel’s front door.
Charlotte: A Tasty Little Number
If you haven’t discovered the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, steeped in traditions and world-class attractions, shops, and restaurants, you should add it to your travel calendar. There is something to do year-round and indeed a noteworthy international food scene in Charlotte.
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Thanks to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority for hosing my eating excursions through these vibrant neighborhoods. As always, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased.
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