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Charlotte, NC city guide {update}

by Grace Bonney

Charlotte City Guide Photos by Jessica Paul

Today’s Charlotte City Guide Update comes from Charlotte resident Kendra Sands. Kendra has self-admitted obsessions with sweet potato fries, Carolina Panther football, unicorns, skateboard videos, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, her nieces and nephews and good coffee, as well as a sincere love of the city of Charlotte. Today she shares the best this North Carolina town has to offer. Thanks, Kendra, for a wonderful update! — Stephanie

Read the full guide after the jump . . .

The South End neighborhood is actually called “Historic South End.” It’s filled with design centers and landmark eateries, as well as new favorites. Every weekend there is an event, whether it’s a gallery crawl, outdoor movie, or Food Truck Friday.

The Common Market: There are two locations for Common Market, but this one is my favorite. Inside is a small market with some food, candy, novelty items (think the hipster Cracker Barrel) a deli counter, and a huge wine and beer selection, including some beers on tap. Once you make your purchase, they offer to open your beverage for you, and you are able to drink at one of their indoor tables or outside on their patio. They have DJs or musicians there almost every night.

Prices Chicken Coop Prices Chicken Coop: This place is legendary. You could call it a Charlotte landmark. Price’s is a hole-in-the-wall chicken place. That’s it. But you will get some of the best fried chicken you’ve ever had.

Mr. K’s is almost as legendary as Price’s. Another tiny hole-in-the-wall place, but this is for soft serve and burgers. It’s one of the best and cheapest meals in town.

Pewter Rose: I once heard Pewter Rose described as “an eclectic gem. The perfect location for a Fern Gully brunch.”

Pike’s Soda Shop

Plaza Midwood is one of our most eclectic neighborhoods, one of those places where you can do some Saturday antiquing and then go next door to get a tattoo.

Zada Jane’s is the perfect brunch place in Charlotte. It’s bright, cheerful, and colorful. And they have coffee ready for you as you in mismatched thrift store mugs as you wait for your table. The food is perfectly southern (sweet potatoes, grits, biscuits & gravy) with great West Coast influences.

Midwood Smokehouse BBQ

Penguin and the Diamond: There is a well-known feud behind these two restaurants. Brief history lesson: Penguin has been a local dive in Charlotte since 1954. It is known for its amazing greasy food and hole-in-the-wall atmosphere. There is always a line, which I blame on the Winky Dinky Dog (chili and pimento cheese hotdog). But then . . . oh . . . then the owner fired the manager. The manager left, and took the menu with him. He announced that he would open a new place within the year. And he did — next door to Penguin. He named it Diamond, and it is just as good as Penguin. Sometimes I think it is better. So the city of Charlotte is torn: Team Diamond vs. Team Penguin (I am team Diamond myself). If you are ever in the city, these two are a must. You need to choose your allegiance.

Common Market’s 2nd location

Boris and Natasha
is a clothing boutique where you can find great high-end designers, as well as fantastic cheap sunglasses. It’s a wonderful balance.

Hong Kong Vintage
is an amazing vintage shop. They have clothing ranging from the ’50s to the ’80s, all organized beautifully by color. There is also a great housewares collection with enough fondue pots, ashtrays and coffee serving sets to supply all of the cast members of Mad Men!

Lunchbox Records Lunch Box Records is my go-to record shop. I have never left disappointed. There is an excellent used collection, as well as every new album you can think of. The guys know their stuff, too. And an appreciative nod from the manager over your purchase is the icing on the cake.

John’s Country Kitchen
has a good, cheap, greasy breakfast. It’s perfect for Saturday mornings.

North Davidson Street, or NoDa, runs from uptown into our art district and is filled with some of our favorite coffee shops, restaurants and galleries

is a 24-hour French bakery and cafe. I could just stop there; that is really enough. But in reality, Amelie’s is so much more! They make award-winning pastries. In fact, Pioneer Woman herself has become obsessed with their salted caramel brownie. All of these amazing pastries and coffees are served in the perfect shabby-chic, thrift-store treasure sitting area. Amelie’s is one of those places where you might find yourself sitting for 6 hours as you finish a book.

Crepe Cellar

Growlers Pourhouse
has a fantastic selection of local beer served with the perfect bar food. They’ll have you at the complimentary organic popcorn.

Cabo Fish Taco

Smelly Cat Coffeehouse
named after Phoebe’s famous song from Friends, Smelly Cat is the perfect local coffee shop. It has great atmosphere, and you can find a drum circle outside on most weekends.

Evening Muse
is our small coffee house-style music venue. Charlotte has a great local music scene, and you can see local bands there almost every night of the week.

Rat's Nest, Charlotte NC Rat’s Nest is another vintage shop, but this one has an awesome southern flair. They have an entire wall lined with cowboy boots. The owner has searched far and wide working on his collection, and it’s the only place I know of where you can find a PBR lamp next to a 1970s prom dress.

Hart Witzen Gallery

Neighborhood Theater is our most beloved music venue in Charlotte. It was scheduled to be shut down a year ago, but locals banned together to keep its doors open.

Elizabeth is one of the most established neighborhoods in Charlotte, famous for its canopy-like tree-lined streets.

Sunflower Baking Company Sunflour Baking Company has the best cupcake in Charlotte. Their peanut butter chocolate cupcake is what dreams are made of. They have a modern setup with great coffee, sandwiches, and baked goods, including homemade pop tarts.

Lupie’s Cafe

Cajun Queen

Philosopher’s Stone
, affectionately called “P-Stone,” is your typical bar/pub. It’s perfect for getting a beer and wings and sitting on the patio while playing corn hole. It’s a local favorite because it isn’t fussy.

Not Just Coffee, Charlotte NC We call our downtown “uptown,” so don’t get confused.

Not Just Coffee is one of Charlotte’s best surprises. Hidden in a market located in one of our uptown parking decks, it’s easy to walk past this place. I made that mistake my first visit. It is a stand-alone bar, with the best pour-over coffee you can find. And their espresso drinks are some of the best I’ve ever had. James is brilliant and a perfectionist. His lattes will make you cry tears of joy.

Pure Pizza
is in the same market as Not Just Coffee. They have amazing organic, gluten-free, and dairy-free options for pizza. Their buckwheat crust is so good!

Dandelion Market

NC Music Factory
is music venue that has a theater, amphitheater, beer garden, restaurants, clubs and bars all on one giant property.

Mint Museum

Dilworth is just south of uptown and a local favorite. It boasts bike paths, beautiful homes, and some of the best parks and restaurants in the city.

Bad Daddy’s is the favorite burger bar here. Everyone is a regular, which makes sense with menu items like all-natural, grass-fed beef burgers, “grown-up” milkshakes, and homemade potato chips with pimento cheese.

Dolce Ristorante Italiano
is famous for their gnocchi. Dolce is a favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant. Not fussy, but lovely.

Freedom Park is perfect for a nice walk or even a nap on the hill. It is a lovely spot to relax after a big lunch at any of these places.

Paper Skyscraper is the best gift shop in Charlotte. It’s one of those places where you end up spending way more than you planned, but it’s totally worth it.

Toast Cafe
is another breakfast/brunch gem. They serve perfect southern food (try the raspberry walnut pancakes!), including cornbread as you wait.

Sir Edmund Hailey’s, or as we call it, Sir Ed’s, might be the best kept secret in Charlotte. It’s hidden behind a local shopping center, so it’s not the easiest to find. Sir Ed’s is the perfect pub, but perhaps most famous for its jerk chicken nachos. Definitely a Charlotte favorite!

Notable Locals

  • The Avett Brothers
  • Angie Harmon (for all die-hard Law and Order fans like me)
  • Emily Maynard, from everyone’s favorite guilty pleasure, The Bachelorette

Suggested For You


  • I just moved to Philly from Charlotte-was there for 12 years and worked as an interior designer…if you ever need any help updating this guide I’d love to participate! I know all the hot spots!

  • Hi there. I see above that you plan to do an illustration of the QC. I can’t wait. I dabble in line art (and trust me it is a far cry from what you guys do)… but i do love seeing the ideas you come up with! Looking forward to it!

  • Hi. So glad I found this web-site. Been here 23 years and love finding new ideas. Lately trying hard to purchase items for home, gifts etc. that are made as locally as possible, using local materials. I love recycled glass, for example, but much glassware now that has a traditional Mexican design, is from China. Same thing with simple “green glass” pieces in a Central Ave. shop. While looking for kitchen items at Home Goods and Marshalls for my oldest daughter, I noticed even glass storage containers were from China. At Anthropologie, the french-looking bowls say, “fabrique en Chine”!(enough with the chains!) So from smaller accessories, kitchen tools, linens…. to furniture etc., I would appreciate any resources that are “local”….Charlotte, NC, USA…Art galleries are great sources, and I like crafts from different countries, but many thanks for ideas on finding local/domestic items. .Take care! Sue

  • Sadly, the Penguin’s management has changed and the managers/chef who made this place incredible have moved on. It was a high school favorite of mine and much missed.

  • Thanks for a great guide! I’m moving up to Charlotte from Orlando in a couple months and I am curious if anyone has some suggestions for areas I should look into for apartment/house to rent. Thanks!

  • Hey! wondering if anyone has suggestions for places to stay while visiting…i couldn’t find anything on the site and its hard to trust the tiny photos online!

  • Thanks for all the good info. I hope we can get to see and do some of the things you mentioned. Alexis have you been there

  • I live just outside of Charlotte and go there almost every week…It’s an amazing place with amazing people and I’m so glad you guys featured it on D*S!

  • I’ve lived in Charlotte for years and didn’t know about half these places! Thanks for telling us about them Kendra!

  • I recently moved from Charlotte to Houston and this post was totally a bit of nostalgia for me. People don’t realize just how awesome Charlotte really is. I miss it every day!

  • Great guide! Charlotte is my hometown and this is definitely a great list of all the things they have to offer! I would agree with some other commenters’ suggestions to include more from Uptown, Southpark, etc. For instance, the Bechtler Museum, Mint Museum Uptown (formerly Mint Museum of Craft + Design), the Epicenter, Junior League Wearhouse (in Plaza Midwood), definitely Montrose Blvd, the Booty Loop (biking route off Queens Rd) the list goes on and on! Definitely a great guide!

  • If you are in Southend you should also check out the Atherton Market at Atherton Mill. It is now open 5 days a week, and has a lot of local produce, meat, milk, cheeses, eggs, and prepared foods. They also have a great coffee bar that just started offering espresso drinks, as well as pour over and whole bean coffee. On the weekends fresh seafood is available and there are many artisans offering handmade wares. Check it out!

  • Being from Los Angeles i felt i kept holding Charlotte up to a standard it couldn’t meet. However, i recently moved away and then moved back and have a new feeling for it. It does have a lot to offer and it’s had a lot of growth. I think the price of living has gone up a lot because of its growth, but overall it’s got potential.

  • I live in Charlotte and love your list!!! We have so many great restaurants in our friendly city! I love living here!!

  • So, now I have more reasons to visit Charlotte than the obvious. Who knew there was so much outside of the airport?

  • This post came at the most perfect timing! I just returned from a trip to Charlotte after learning I will be relocating to the area by the end of the year. Can’t wait to check out these places. Not to mention, all these fantastic comments are getting me real excited for this new adventure. Thanks, everyone!

  • Note that when the owners of the Penguin moved down the block, they didn’t just name their new place “Diamond.” The Diamond, a classic neighborhood meat-and-two with ripped vinyl booths and waitresses with uniforms and plastic nametags (vintage in the 80s before vintage was cool) had been operating on that site for decades. The Penguin folks bought the building when the original Diamond finally had to close, refurbished it, and replaced the chicken fried steak with fried pickles.

  • Lived in Charlotte 28 years and it has become more fun and beautiful by the minute. Favorite habitual haunts: In Myers Park, on Elizabeth Street, The Elizabeth Creamery–ice cream and many concoctions thereof, made right there ,with an astonishing array of flavors. A couple of doors down, the Visualite Theater, as essentially Charlotte as The Chicken Coup but with fabulous big name musicians and off-the-wall indie entertainment.Also in Myers Park on Providence Road, The Manor Theater, featuring indie, edgy and artsy stuff. Go early to get a seat. Finally, Dilworth Coffee in Dilworth, in the Harris Teeter mini shopping center on East Blvd. (very close to very hip above-mentioned Paper Skyscraper store)– locally owned, fabulous coffee and all its permutations.

  • If you’re visiting Charlotte, Amelie’s is a must. Be sure to smirk at the sulking, inked and pierced staff. Just don’t smile – smirk. Smiles are soooo 90’s. Then try and find a seat at one of the many tables that will be taken by one or two sulking, inked and pierced customers. They could sit together and share a few big tables…but again…sharing is soooo 90’s.

  • I am surprised there is no mention of Modern Fabrics on Camden Rd. in South End. 3 mins walking from Lynx stop on Bland, this store is an upholstery fabric heaven. Top end fabric from Kravet, Schumacher, Donghia, Maharam, Knoll and the likes grace the warehouse-like store at a very deep discount. Everyone was cheerful and eager to help. Dana located some fabulous fabric for the project I had in mind, including luxurious mustard yellow linen velvet fabric.

    I will definitely be back the next time I visit Charlotte. Then again, maybe I will simply splurge on their online store collection….

  • The old Pewter Rose space is now occupied by Tupelo Honey Cafe – a FANTASTIC addition to the Charlotte restaurant scene. The original location is in Asheville, NC. Tupelo Honey offers casual, Southern cousine. No matter what time of day you go, you will be greeted with a fluffy biscuit and a side of honey!

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