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Dining guide: Helen Schwab’s recommendations

Destination dining

BARRINGTON’S A tiny South Charlotte place with big style, where chef-owner Bruce Moffett leans toward oft-changing clean arrangements of a few fine ingredients: parmesan gnocchi with braised veal, for example. Dinner ($17-$35). 7822 Fairview Road; 704-364-5755;

BLT STEAK Next to the luxe lounge at the Ritz-Carlton hotel uptown is a steak place with plenty for the less beefily inclined, and an elegance befitting its setting. Don’t miss Urban Sip upstairs (15th floor) for drinks, and Bar Cocoa offers desserts-etc. Lunch ($11-$26); dinner ($16-$55). 110 N. College St.; 704-972-4380;

BLUE A Mediterranean place uptown that means it, this incorporates dishes from Morocco, Tunisia and more, with both traditional preparations and contemporary spins, in a beautiful dining room. Dinner ($19-$35). 214 N. Tryon St. in the Hearst Tower; 704-927-2583;

FIG TREE In a well-restored historic Elizabeth house resides a chef-driven menu with some flair: seasonal entrees, often using game and less-common fishes, with strong attention to wine. Dinner ($22-$42). 1601 E. 7th St.; 704-332-3322;

HALCYON Sited in uptown’s Mint Museum, this gorgeous space offers "farmhouse chic" -- a menu rich in seasonal area foodstuffs, with a playful bent. Don’t miss the cocktails. Lunch ($7-$16), dinner ($11-$37). 500 S. Tryon St.; 704-910-0865;

HARVEST MOON Since the chef co-owns Grateful Growers, an area farm known for its pork, you’ll find plenty of that -- but also produce, cheeses and other proteins, most from around here, in this historic hotel setting. Earthy and usually simple. Breakfast ($6-$12), lunch ($6-$14) and dinner ($16-$26). 235 N. Tryon St. at the Dunhill hotel; 704-342-1193;

LUCE An evocative, Murano-lit uptown haven of Italian fare from housemade pastas to veal shanks, where small plates, pastas and entrees split the lineup almost evenly. Lunch ($10-$17) and dinner ($14-$30). 214 N. Tryon St. at the Hearst Tower; 704-344-9222;

MCNINCH HOUSE In this intimate Victorian house in historic Fourth Ward are multi-course dinners by reservation only. Call and you get a list of entree choices; the kitchen sets the rest of the courses. $89 for seven courses (other options $59-$109). 511 N. Church St.; 704-332-6159;

STEAKHOUSES (national upscale chains, that is): We’ve got just about all of ‘em – BLT (mentioned above), plus Capital Grille (201 N. Tryon St., 704-348-1400;, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle (4725 Piedmont Row Drive; 704-552-5502;, Fleming’s (210 E. Trade St., 704-333-4266;, Morton’s (227 W. Trade St., 704-333-2602), The Palm (6705-B Phillips Place Court, 704-552-7256;, Ruth’s Chris (two: 222 S. Tryon St., 704-338-9444; and 6000 Fairview Road, 704-556-1115; and Sullivan’s (1928 South Blvd., 704-335-8228;

ZEBRA Contemporary French with an intriguing blend of formality and flexibility, this spot near SouthPark serves it all: foie gras au torchon, surf and turf, Dover sole amandine. Decor is black-and-white-and-wood-all-over. Breakfast, lunch ($9-$24) and dinner ($27-$44), plus multi-course packages. 4521 Sharon Road; 704-442-9525;


Bistros, trattorie, etc.

BISTRO LA BON Tucked into an unlikely Plaza Midwood strip mall, this offers a short but diverse lineup from chef/owner Majid Amoorpour; Sunday brunch buffet is heralded but don’t miss the dinner menu’s salmon or Swedish meatballs, and desserts. Dinner ($15-$29), Sunday brunch ($18). 1322 Central Ave.; 704-333-4646;

CAFÉ MONTE Casual French fare, from crepes to bourguignon, in a gold/black/white café setting with plenty of mirror. Breakfast/lunch ($8-$16) daily; dinner ($14-24). 6700 Fairview Road; 704-552-1116;

CARPE DIEM With intricate woodwork and lighting, this Elizabeth restaurant offers New American cooking, with varied influences and a noteworthy support of the vegetarian. Save room for exquisite desserts. Dinner ($10-$30). 1535 Elizabeth Ave.; 704-377-7976;

CUSTOMSHOP Clear flavors, a little innovation and a funky wine list make this Elizabeth spot shine, but the environment -- candle- and mirror-strewn, with spare lines and attractive simplicity, makes it special. Dinner ($17-$29); Sunday brunch ($10-$15). 1601 Elizabeth Ave.; 704-333-3396;

FERN Vegetarian creativity, with an upscale-yet-chakra-conscious mindset, comes from this very green little spot in Plaza-Midwood. Look for daily "Buddha bowls" and if kale’s on the menu in any form, get it -- and those little beer donuts, too. Lunch and dinner ($9-$16). 1323 Central Ave.; 704-377-1825;

FIAMMA Uncommon Italian food, from risotti to orata to veal to pizzas (plus specials), arrives in a comfortable and family-friendly setting. Lunch ($7-$15.00); dinner ($7.50-$27.00). 2418 Park Road; 704-333-3062.

GLOBAL Chef/owner Bernard Brunet tours the globe with panache in this tiny, personal, south Charlotte spot. Dinner ($22-$31) Monday-Saturday. 3520 Toringdon Way; 704-248-0866;

GOOD FOOD ON MONTFORD Small plates but big flavors emerge from the Moffett brothers’ kitchen, with international influences and a shifting lineup (look for lamb and the signature steamed bun with five-spice pork belly). Small plates ($6-$12) with a few entree-sized dinners ($17-$20). 1701 Montford Drive; 704-525-0881;

IL BOSCO A short lineup of Italian fare, pastas to main dishes, in a handsome but comfortable Davidson setting. Lunch ($7-$12) and dinner ($9-$29). 127 Depot St., Davidson; 704-987-1388;

ILIOS NOCHE Versatile, smart and well-executed, from wood-oven pizzas to luscious lamb, the Mediterranean fare in south Charlotte bursts with bold flavor and simplicity. Lunch and dinner ($7-$28). 11508 Providence Road; 704-814-9882;

THE LIBERTY Chef-driven, beer-centric fare ranges from a top-notch burger to English fish and chips (chef Tom Condron has the heritage for it) to Wagyu short ribs in South End. Lunch ($8-$14) and dinner ($11-$25). 1812 South Blvd.; 704-332-8830;

LULU A fun list spanning duck to rabbit, steak to moules and frites, in an old-house-turned-bistro setting in Plaza Midwood. Lunch, dinner, weekend brunch ($9-$32). 1911 Central Ave.; 704-376-2242;

NEW SOUTH KITCHEN Southern fare with a touch of humor (witness the Redneck Cheese Board: terrific pimento cheese) and flair (such as N.C. shrimp and grits) in the Arboretum. Lunch ($9-$13), dinner ($9-$30) and brunch ($7-$10). 8140 Providence Road; 704-541-9990;

NOLEN KITCHEN With a tailored interior and sleek bar and patio, this Myers Park place also offers a stylish and eclectic menu, from creative sandwiches to vibrant desserts. Lunch ($8-$14) and dinner ($9-$29); brunch Sunday ($6-$14). 2839 Selwyn Ave.; 704-372-1424;

PASSION8 An idiosyncratic, Victorian-esque, dark little place (formerly a brothel!) with an emphasis on local foodstuffs and an affinity for Slow Food. Dinner (menu changes constantly, but entrees run about $18-$45). 3415 Hwy 51, Fort Mill; 803-802-7455;

ROOSTER’S Grab a seat at the bar if you want to watch this kitchen in action producing spit-fire-roasted chicken, leg of lamb, vegetables all sorts of ways and more. You can also loll at a table, but you’ll miss a good show. Lunch ($6-$13) and dinner (proteins $9-$18; sides $6-$10). 6601 Morrison Blvd., 704-366-8688, and uptown at 150 N. College St., 704-370-7667;

SANTE Comfortable, classical flavors (examples: honey-mustard-glazed salmon, beef medallions) and attentive staff make this Matthews spot noteworthy. Lunch ($8-$16) and dinner ($17-$26). 165 N. Trade St., Matthews; 704-845-1899;

SOUL An all-over-the-map menu sprawls from sushi to panini, lamb lollipops to "cupcakes a go go," and the artful interior and nightly music in Plaza Midwood have similar range -- energetic, a little chaotic and lots of fun. Dinner and Sunday brunch ($6-$20). 1500 Central Ave.; 704-348-1848;

TOSCANA Sensual in both food and ambiance, this SouthPark restaurant speaks Italian in vivid colors and flavors, from osso buco to carbonara. Lunch ($9-$17) weekdays; dinner ($17-$30). 6401 Morrison Blvd.; 704-367-1808;

VIDA Upscale Mexican uptown means you can get spice-crusted ahi and an array of fancy tequilas, but also tacos and beer. Lunch ($9-$18) and dinner ($11-$26). 210 E. Trade St.; 704-971-8432;


Comfortable joints

AMELIE’S Open 24-7 at the 36th location, this French-ish bakery/cafe/hangout spot is known as much for its eclectic clientele as its eclectic style. Soups and sandwiches, yes, but pastries and sweet fare are more notable. Breakfast, lunch, dinner ($2-$7). 2424 N. Davidson St.; 704-376-1781; uptown at 330 S. Tryon St.; 704-376-1782;

BAD DADDY’S Burgers of many stripes and in many combinations star at this always-busy spot that began in Dilworth and now has multiple locations; try the Sam I Am burger with an egg on top. Lunch and dinner ($8-$12). 1626 East Blvd.; 704-714-4888; 15105A John J. Delaney Drive; 704-919-2700; 8625 Lindholm Drive, 704-237-4055; and the airport (run separately) at 5501 Josh Birmingham Parkway, 704-359-4316;

BOUDREAUX’S LOUISIANA KITCHEN With a lineup that’s part Cajun, part Creole, part Mississippi, part wherever, this little NoDa restaurant offers traditional goodies like a killer oyster po’ boy and gumbos. Lunch, dinner and weekend brunch ($7-$22). 501 E. 36th St.; 704-331-9898;

FRAN’S FILLING STATION Comfortable food – good fries, hefty salads, big meatballs, crab cakes, chicken Milanese – in a funky little neighborhood joint. Lunch and dinner ($9-$19). 2410 Park Road., 704-372-2009;

GROWLERS Craft beer’s the star at this NoDa cubbyhole, with everything from an oft-changed lineup to a restored beer engine (if you don’t know, ask), and a well-edited supporting menu of housemade sausages, chips and cheese-and-beer pairings. Dinner, weekend lunch and dinner ($6-$11). 3120 N. Davidson St.; 704-910-6566;

LANDMARK It’s THE place to go at when you can’t decide if you want Belgian waffles or moussaka or a burger: It has all of those, plus pages more in its menu, and a gigantic dessert case. Breakfast, lunch ($2-$8) and dinner ($6-$14) – and the place stays open until 4 a.m. Friday-Saturday. 4429 Central Ave.; 704-532-1153;

LUNA The only place in town specializing in raw food – and its notably friendly service makes this South End spot attractive for the non-raw crowd, too. Breakfast and lunch ($5-$13). 2102 South Blvd.; 704-333-0008;

LUPIE’S Coughing hot chili (with meat, beans, vegetarian soy whatever-it-is), soft mac-and-cheese, charred burgers, an assortment of actual vegetables and a diverse clientele make this joint special. Lunch and dinner ($5-$8). 2718 Monroe Road; 704-374-1232; and 101-A Old Statesville Road, 704-948-3959.

VBGB A beer garden in all its stripped down glory, teeming with specials in both brews and food (from Zweigle’s dogs from New York to housemade chips and wings) – order at the window before pulling up to the ice-railed bar for your brew. Dinner, weekend lunch and dinner ($6-$14). 920 Hamilton St. by the N.C. Music Factory; 704-333-4111;

ZADA JANE’S You’ll get a notion of the eclectic viewpoint here before you even walk in, from the shuffleboard and wild colors outside; inside, there’s everything from espresso and big bacon biscuits (breakfast is served all day) to chicken sandwiches and hummus; don’t miss Bunny Rancheros. Breakfast and lunch ($2.50-$10), dinner, but only Wednesday-Sunday ($7-$27). 1601 Central Ave.; 704-332-3663;


Local Color: ’Cue, chicken and/or history

BEEF ’N BOTTLE Landmarks topple, downtown becomes uptown and still this South End stalwart serves up steak and seafood as it has since ’78. Count on oysters Rockefeller and simple steaks. Dinner ($12-$48). 4538 South Blvd.; 704-523-9977;

BILL SPOON’S BARBECUE Whole pig cooking, Eastern N.C.-style, is what you’ll get here – nutty and rich, with just a bit of sauce. It’s a plain setup, for plainly good ’cue. Lunch ($3-$15); but it’s served until 8 Thursday-Saturday. 5524 South Blvd.; 704-525-8865;

BROOKS’ SANDWICH HOUSE Here, you’ll find a classic, old-school, well-seasoned and inexpensive burger with the tang and crisp edges only a practiced hand (and grill) can produce. No tables, but there’s a picnic table/counter outside. Breakfast-lunch ($2-$4). 2710 N. Brevard St.; 704-375-7808.

GREEN’S LUNCH Serving up for 70+ years, Green’s uptown does hot dogs like no one else. Get one “all the way”: ketchup, mustard, fine-chopped sweet slaw, onions and orange-staining, fine-textured chili. Breakfast and lunch ($2-$6). 309 W. Fourth St.; 704-332-1786;

KING’S KITCHEN Chef-owner Jim Noble runs this bastion of well-turned-out Southern classics (notably skillet-fried chicken and killer cakes and bread from next-door King’s Bakery) as a not-for-profit, aiming to help the hungry. Lunch ($6-$13) and dinner ($9-$24). 129 W. Trade St.; 704-375-1990;

MAC’S SPEED SHOP Renovated transmission shop becomes biker-barbecue joint, with fancy motorcycles up front and smoky chopped pork, along with Texas-style brisket, smoked wings and more. Lunch and dinner ($2-$20). 2511 South Blvd.; 704-522-6227; 19601 Liverpool Parkway, Cornelius; 704-892-3554; 2414 Sandy Porter Road; 704-504-8500;

MERT’S HEART & SOUL Southern food from varied influences – soul food to N’Awlins favorites to updated hybrids – brighten the plates here, as does the sprightly decor. Cornbread, salmon cakes and perfectly cooked cabbage are standouts. Lunch ($8-$12), dinner ($10-15), weekend brunch. 214 N. College St.; 704-342-4222;

MR. K’S Soft-serve ice cream and fabulous, corny onion rings are standouts at this classic family operation, in business more than 30 years. Lunch and dinner ($2-$6). 2107 South Blvd.; 704-375-4318;

OLD HICKORY HOUSE Dark with paneling and dotted with lamps made to look like little covered wagons, this institution (it began at a different site) has served sweet and sloppy barbecue for 40 years. Lunch and dinner ($6-$18). 6538 N. Tryon St.; 704-596-8014.

PRICE’S CHICKEN COOP Some of the best fried chicken in town since 1962, this Dilworth landmark offers takeout only; you run in from the street to get it, and it’s worth every grease spot on the cardboard box. Lunch and dinner ($2-$11). 1614 Camden Road; 704-333-9866;



International flavors

BASIL THAI Thai goes uptown in this elegant space, with a smartly edited menu of classics and few less usual dishes thrown in. Lunch ($11-$23) and dinner ($12-$25). 210 N. Church St.; 704-332-7212;

BIG BEN’S Fans of British classics will find them reasonably rendered here, with friendly service and a pubby atmosphere in South End. Lunch ($7-$10), dinner ($12-$19), weekend breakfast ($7-$10). 2000 South Blvd., 704-817-9697;

CHO WON GARDEN Korean fare, from bulgogi to kimchee, comes toned down but with staff help for newcomers, in a comfortable east Charlotte setting. Lunch ($8-$13) and dinner ($11-$40). 2501 Crown Point Executive Drive, 704-845-6119.

COPPER Indian cooking, from contemporary to traditional to fusion-esque, emerges from the kitchen in this stylishly renovated historic Dilworth house. Lunch ($9-$13) and dinner ($15-$29). 311 East Blvd.; 704-333-0063;

CUISINE MALAYA A well-edited introduction in Elizabeth to the composite that is Malaysian food, from satays to the thin bread called roti canai to beef rendang – plus sushi! Lunch ($7-$16) and dinner ($9-$25). 1411 Elizabeth Ave.; 704-372-0766;

GENARO’S Peruvian delights, from the big-kerneled corn called choclo to rotisserie chicken to sauce made with the yellow chile calle aji amarillo, are served in a spare, diner-like setting, with warmth. Lunch and dinner ($8-$15). Two: 10405 Park Road, 704-752-1987; and Indian Trail at 14039 N.C. 74 E., 704-893-2744;

GREEK ISLES A real cross-section of Greek food – lush seafood to staples like spanakopita and mousaka – and amiable service produce a great South End introduction for those new to the cuisine. Lunch ($7-$11) and dinner ($10-$22). 200 E. Bland St.; 704-444-9000;

INTERMEZZO This little Plaza Midwood place serves a lot of nice thin-crusted pizza, but look for Serbian specialties like the cabbage rolls called sarma and ajvar, the red-pepper-eggplant sauce. Lunch and dinner ($8-$14). 1427 E. 10th St.; 704-347-2626;

LEMPIRA Hondurean offerings at this South Boulevard spot include marvelous and inexpensive baleadas (thick tortillas encasing fillings such as beans, fresh cheese and crema, or complete-breakfast-style sausage, eggs, beans and cheese) and tamales. Lunch and dinner ($7-$19). 5906 South Blvd., 704-552-1515.

LEVANT The most easygoing of Middle Eastern fare, smooth hummus and smoky baba ghanouj to lamb chops, arrives in a quiet uptown setting of mother-of-pearl-inlaid furniture. (More-casual-sibling Kabob Grills work, too.) Lunch ($7-$13) and dinner ($8-$35). 501 S. Church St.; 704-333-0930.

LOS PAISAS proffers typical Colombian fare in Pineville, from a variety of arepas (little filled white-corn cakes) to picada (fried green plantains with meats) and more. Lunch and dinner ($7-$16). 8318 Pineville-Matthews Road; 704-542-5477;

MALABAR Spanish tapas, including Iberico ham, in pleasant profusion and varied price range, plus a few entrees (including paellas for two), make this uptown spot approachable. Lunch ($6-$18) and dinner (tapas and entrees $5-$18). 214 N. Tryon St.; 704-344-8878;

MESKEREM Ethiopian basics (lamb tibs, fitfit, doro wat and the lovely, crepe-like injera, in which to wrap bites of it all) arrive in a simple Midtown setting, served with warmth. Lunch and dinner ($9-$13). 601 S. Kings Drive; 704-335-1197;

MUSASHI A lengthy sushi lineup, plus a full complement of traditional Japanese fare, make this simply appointed Pineville landmark worth bookmarking. Lunch and dinner . 10110 Johnston Road; 704-543-5181;

TAQUERIA MEXICO Authentic Mexican in a plain, plain South Boulevard setting; don’t miss braised pork tacos and chile verde. Lunch and dinner ($2-$9). 7001 South Blvd.; 704-552-2461.

VIETNAM GRILLE Lovely renditions of this cuisine’s classics, from bun to pho to lemongrass squid, in a simple and spare South Boulevard atmosphere. Lunch and dinner ($7-$15). 5615 South Blvd.; 704-525-2408.

WALDHORN It’s a little secluded, but this spot in Pineville (pronounced “Vahldhorn”) offers traditional and contemporary German food (plus some American stuff): Yes, there’s a sausage plate and lots of beers. Lunch ($7-$11), dinner ($10-$25); Sunday brunch buffet ($17). 12101 Lancaster Highway; 704-540-7047;

WOODLANDS PURE VEGETARIAN CUISINE The staples of south Indian cuisine, plus non-southern dishes, are done with verve and a warm welcome in this east Charlotte place. Pancake-like dosas, filled with onion and potato, are noteworthy. Lunch ($4-$12) and dinner ($8-$21). 7128-A Albemarle Road; 704-569-9193;




The BROOKLYNs This family of half a dozen pizzerias offers old-fashioned New York style and a family feel, from dough you can watch being tossed to “Nonna’s” pie. Lunch and dinner ($6-$22). Locations near SouthPark in Charlotte, Cornelius, Denver, Indian Trail, Mooresville and Wesley Chapel;

LUIGI’S With pizza heritage coming from both Italy and Bensonhurst (New York), the pies that emerge here are big, brash and delicious. Lunch and dinner ($2.50 a slice to $16.75 for a 20-inch cheese pizza). Two: 8170 S. Tryon St., 704-504-2015; and 13551 Steelecroft Pkwy., 704-587-6010;

LUISA’S BRICK OVEN Its wood-burning oven produced thin-crust pizzas with sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and Gorgonzola before anyone else in these parts, and still does a nice job. Lunch buffet ($8); dinner ($8-$17); a 15-inch plain cheese pizza is $11.75. 1730 Abbey Place; 704-522-8782;

PURE PIZZA Locally grown and organic ingredients are trumpeted at this spot, appropriately lodged in uptown’s 7th Street Market. Lunch and dinner ($6 for salads-$22 for 16-inch combo pies). 255 E. 7th St., 980-207-0037;

WOLFGANG PUCK PIZZA | BAR What some might call California style pies are rendered here with bubbly, toothsome crusts and creative toppings (signature: smoked salmon, salmon roe and dill cream). Pastas, sandwiches and more also available. Lunch and dinner ($8-$28). 6706-C Phillips Place Court; 704-295-0101;






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