Charlotte, NC City Guide

by Sabrina Smelko

Perfectly positioned between quaint mini-cities, the countryside and lakes, and a short drive to mountain ranges and the ocean, you’ll find Charlotte, North Carolina, home to Anna Naphtali. After traveling the world, living overseas — and currently working bicoastal — Anna returned to the place her family has called home for generations. Boasting plenty of charm and friendly neighborhoods, the Queen City also offers rich pockets of arts and culture, which is a huge part of what keeps Anna here.

When she’s not on the road, Anna can be found in her shared studio space nestled in the heart of Historic South End, which houses her multiple creative businesses: Style Co., The Colorful Living Project / The Project Studio and Geraldine Press. “I’m living within the dichotomy of being part city and part country,” Anna explains. “I need the energy of skyscrapers and high heels and the quiet of farmland and southern fields. That’s the beauty of living here — you can have a taste of both. You’ll find everything from nature trails to sipping rooftop cocktails in this guide.”

In an area on the brink of a real estate explosion, here are Anna’s top finds that the Queen City has to offer. –Sabrina


Good Food on Montford: Small plates. Prince Edward Island Mussels, Steamed Bun, Montford Gin Sour.

Futo Buta: Rock n’ roll Ramen. Positioned right by the rail, take a seat outside if it’s nice! Fire and Ice Ramen bowl, add chili pork belly.

Luna’s Living Kitchen: A well-designed, artisanal raw food kitchen with a vegan coffee & juice bar. The flavor they create from raw plant life is truly art on a plate. Biblical Breakfast, Rawco Taco Salad and Iced Coffee with fresh Coconut Milk, extra hot sauce on everything.

Luna's Living Kitchen

Copper: Modern Indian Food in a Dilworth Bungalow.

Passions 8: Prettiest veggies I’ve ever seen!

Custom Food Shop: Yellow fin crudo, pâté, duck fat potatoes.

Bakersfield: Tacos, Tequila and Johnny Cash? Yes, please. Queso with chorizo, chips, guacamole and house margaritas.

Asbury: Southern-modern, chef Chris Coleman is an underrated, thoughtful genius.

Mert’s Heart and Soul: Soul food in the city, served with cornbread and a smile. There’s a good chance you’ll be called “baby” while you enjoy your sweet tea.

The Crepe Cellar: European Gastro-pub. Pesto Brie Fries, Hendrix Gin Sour, Bananas Foster Crepe.

Workman’s Friend: Sit outside if it’s nice. Get two bowls of pickled fried okra and call it a day.

Ilios Noche: Zucchini and eggplant chips; you have to.

Soul Gastrolounge: Watermelon and pork belly tacos.

Thai Orchid: Where I fell in love with tom yum.

Thai Taste: Intimate, cute little Thai shop, with the friendliest phone concierge ever.

Pasta & Provisions: If you’re eating in, pop into this adorable little Italian market for overseas treats and fresh pasta, cut how you like it. I recommend the gorgonzola focaccia bread and a chocolate chip cannoli to go with your bag of fresh pasta.




Kindred: On the Bon Appetite “Hot Ten National” list. Every element is perfectly curated, down to the forks. It makes my designer soul sigh with relief — even the music is perfect, and don’t get me started on that marble-top bar! Incredibly beautiful food, design, craft cocktails and there’s milk bread at dinner time. I can’t get enough. They have the best gnocchi and fried oysters I’ve ever had, their seasonal soups are extraordinary, and have I mentioned the milk bread?


If you’re in Davidson for the day, take a walk around the Davidson College Campus, grab a bite or a pastry at The Pickled Peach (their oatmeal cream cookies are delicious), and swing by Restaurant X on your way out for a piece of Banoffee Pie — it’s the most authentic version of this British delight this side of the Pacific.


North Charlotte

Heirloom: Restaurant owner and chef, Clark Barlowe, a Food Network Chopped finalist, has a genuine passion for honest, creative food like I haven’t seen. He has a unique approach to foraged finds and locally sourced foods, expressed in a beautiful tasting menu.



Heritage: Restaurant owner and chef Paul Verica is a culinary badass. You’ll have to drive, and make a reservation, but the food will not disappoint.



Portofino’s: Authentic pizza and Italian food. Their house dressing and homemade bread are worthy.

Price’s Chicken Coop: A nostalgic Charlotte staple. You stand in line, order your fried chicken (paying with cash only), and head to Latta or Freedom Park for a picnic.

Kabob Je Grille: Mediterranean, their pita bread is served puffy and hot and is one of the best breads I’ve eaten in the city. Order with the Moutabal smoked eggplant puree.

The Common Market: Deli and hipster market. The best place to sit outside, drink beer and eat candy. Red Pepper Gouda Soup.

Sabor: Quick Mexican street food.

Lang Van: Vietnamese.

Woodlands: Indian vegetarian.



The Midnight DinerAirstream Chicken and Waffles.

The Diamond: Who doesn’t love sobering-up over a basket of fried pickles?

Amelie’s: If you’re pulling an all-nighter studying, or if you need a place to break up with someone at 4 am with a kitschy Parisian setting to soften the blow, grab a hot baguette and pull up a seat. The NODA location is open 24 hours. They’re known for their salted caramel brownies, but their soups are delicious, too… and of course I like the baguette with butter, cornichons and liver.

Benny Pennellos: Pizza slices the size of your face until 3 am on the weekends.




Punch Room: For a swanky night out, located in the Ritz Carlton, home of the nationally acclaimed mixolgist, Bob Peters — whose drink-making has been called everything from wizardry to heavenly. The soaked bing cherries taste like Christmas and the sorghum slow buffalo will leave you feeling sparkly inside.

ThePunchRoom 4b

The Thirsty Beaver: Dive. Homemade pickle-backs, pool in the back, bras on the wall and a mixture of friendly, old biker-men.

Sir Ed’s: A pub dungeon that Will Ferrell said was his favorite place in Charlotte. It’s a somewhat hidden pub down some stairs behind the Park Rd. Shopping Center. Guinness stout chocolate pudding is legit.

Growler’s Pour House: If it’s late and you need fries with your whiskey, please, by all means, add beer cheese. Thai Chili Wings, ½ off on Sunday & Wednesdays and their Spicy Margherita.



The local brew scene here is out of control in the best way. There are over 100 wineries and breweries in NC alone, and some of the best beer-makers are in Charlotte. There are beer-crawls, detox & retox yoga & beer classes, Instabeerups (a meet-and-greet event that feels like network speed-dating with beer in-hand), biergartens, sausages, cornhole and more. There are too many to count, but I like Old Meck for the European atmosphere; Currywurst and Biergarten reminiscent of Oppenheim; Sugar Creek, pale ale and mocha java porter; and if you’re a Kombucha freak, we’ve got Lenny Boy on tap. But there are so many more worth exploring.



National White Water Center: Zip lining, rafting, climbing, paddle boarding (my favorite), and much more.

Charlotte Parks: When the weather’s nice you’ll find everyone gathered around the pond at Freedom Park. There are ducks to feed, a mini Panther’s play area where kids can clock their runtime, volley, b-ball and soccer fields. Many scenes from The Bachelor were filmed there during Emily Maynard’s season. A few other parks to visit include Romare Bearden, surrounded by the Charlotte skyline; Latta Park and The Green Uptown have summer splash parks; Reedy Creek Park to get away, play softball, picnic or walk the trails; and Jetton Park for lakefront views.

Running Trails: There are many hidden trails dispersed amongst the city — one of my favorites is across the Trader Joe’s off Rea Rd. This used to be my secret spot for surprising wildlife beauty. Throw on the Last of the Mohicans playlist to complete the experience!

Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens

MintMuseumUptown 3


The Mint Museums: There’s an uptown location and a Randolph location. Randolph has a sweet mini-park, which is a great place to sketch, paint or read. The Uptown location has free entry and open kids crafts on Wednesday nights.

Other great spots include The Bechler MuseumThe Foundation for the Carolinas and McColl Center.

Freedom Park 5


The Blumenthal: The best ballets, plays and concerts.

The Manor Theatre: When I want to feel like a chic, educated Parisian, I sneak off to this tiny theatre to catch an indie or foreign film; and I have been known to pop into the Laurel Market for a box of cloves. Queens University is across the street, so take a drive or an evening walk through the quintessential Southern, tree-lined streets after your flick.

Charlotte Symphony: A must-visit place for symphonies.








Sweets (I’m talking about food again, but that’s a part of shopping, right?):

Suarez Bakery: Amazing glazed donuts, sugar cookies, and handmade Elsa cakes that you can watch the bakers ice through the pastry window.

Renaissance Patisserie: Authentic, drop-in French bakery with the best cannele I’ve ever had.

Va Da Vie Gelato: If they have the one with ricotta in it, get it.

Independent Bakers: Milk Glass Pies, The Cookie Cult, Whisk and Wood, Gold Mine.



Not Just Coffee: Not Just Coffee is a coffee bar with three prime locations. They pretty much rule the scene in Charlotte. Pretty much every celebrity, or artistic individual with an appreciation for style and caffeine, has hopped up to the bar for a cortado while passing through. Their chocolate, carmel and vanilla sugars are homemade.

NotJustCoffee 6

Rush Espresso: Sometimes you need a chocolate lava cake with your Viennese coffee.

The Daily Press: Artisan coffee “cocktails” served in a whimsically-grunged theater.

Central Coffee: Get the Shorty.

Clean Juice: Their Cashew Milk Latte: a game-changer.

Juice Bar: They sell Nashville-based Gretchen’s Coconut Joy. The best GF sweet snack, seriously.



Hex Coffee & Waffles: Nitro brew, cold brew, cocktail-coffee served with seasonal waffles crafted with local beer… they’re fluffy on the inside and crispy and sweet on the outside — but you’ll have to come early to get one.

Papi Queso Cheese Truck: I followed this truck for a mid-afternoon old fashioned grilled cheese; the only disappointment was that I didn’t order two. Classic Big Cheesy dusted with sea salt, add smoked tomatoes.

Joe’s Doughs: They sell out fast, their fresh and unique flavors are worth watching for.

7th Sreet Market: Not Just Coffee; Orman’s Cheese Shop, raclette grilled cheese; Assorted Table, great little wine shop; Pure Pizza, order a chorizo, shaved radishes, cilantro and lime (they have GF crust), and local honey to dip it in — grab one and head to the new 1st Ward park.

Vintage Charlotte Pop-Up: Seasonal Vintage Pop-up Market to shop local makers and vintage collectors.

Future & Flame: Local designer adult and kids t-shirts and apparel.


For Things:

Paper SkyScraper: Adorable little shop to peruse funny greeting cards, check out a curated collection of magazines and books, smell candles, and touch designer knick-knacks. Recently rated the No. 1 independent gift shop in the US on Yelp.

Atherton Mill: I like to grab coffee at NJC, or fresh juice at Luna’s, pick up some fresh carrots and beets for dinner that week, and wander Anthropologie and the Savory Spice Shop.

For Antiques:

Clines: The Avett Brothers shot one of their music videos here. It’s a country junkyard where I’ve found some of my greatest styling treasures.

Metrolina Expo: Monthly seasonal flea market. The best dates to go are their “Extravaganza” weekends.

Gibson Mill: Located in Concord’s historic giant mill, this place is a fun little dip into the past to rummage booths under old factory windows and skylights. I love getting lost there.

Sleepy Poet: You don’t have to drive far for this one… and don’t forget to grab a bag of free popcorn while you wander.

More shopping:

South Park Mall: Everything you need, even an American Girl Doll store, OMG.

Phillips Place: I like to run into Dean and Deluca for a treat, browse the circle of high-end designer shops, and then catch a movie for the experience finale. Phillips Place is a European-esque courtyard with a selection of designer shops in South Park. I like to walk through Restoration Hardware to house-daydream and spend entirely too long at Paper Source “stocking my studio” with Kate Spade paperclips and Rifle Paper Co. stationery.

For more clothing boutiques, visit Boris and Natasha, CapitolCoral and The Frock Shop.

Manifest: When my brother got his license, and was our ride to school, we spent many hours sifting the CD collections. Questlove said it was his favorite place to buy music.

Rat’s Nest: Western vintage delight.



The Dunhill Hotel: A charming, historical boutique hotel in the heart of Uptown, it has a classic, cozy vibe with views of the city and complimentary European breakfast. Some of their bathrooms are adorned with marble décor accouterments that resemble a tiny Parisian apartment. Makes me want to get out the cloves again. It’s walking distance to theaters across the street, The Discovery Place and museums, and has a lovely in-house restaurant.

Dunhill Hotel Bkfast in Bed 7

Reserve a table at Asbury before your Uptown excursion for an artful meal, and if you only have time to grab a drink before walking over, order the deviled eggs, garnished with a fried pickled cornichon, and sip The Lavender Blossom for something nuanced and bubbly; or The Sage Advice Grapefruit & Tequila.

And if you get hungry in the middle of the night, order some “sticky biscuits” drizzled with goat cheese icing.

Airbnb: I recommend the Dilworth, South End area so you can walk to parks and hop on the light rail to take a quick trip uptown.

The Duke Mansion Historical: Southern, fancy and nestled in a wealthy, charming neighborhood.

Hampton Inn & Suites (Phillips Place): Stay here, walk to shops, see a movie.

Ballantyne Hotel: The Obamas stayed here during the DNC. You can get a massage or treatment and spend the day by the spa pool, even if you aren’t staying there; a great place to get away and be pampered.

Omni: Luxury located uptown.

Westin: Upscale, modern, uptown.

Hyatt Place: The Hyatt is located Uptown Charlotte and houses the only rooftop restaurant on the 21st floor, Fahrenheit. The hotel will let you visit the rooftop restaurant even without a reservation. If you want to sip champagne overlooking the city, this is where to go.

Uptown Charlotte

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  • Love this! My husband travels for work and Charlotte is always his layover stop, so we’ve talked several times about meeting there for a long week. This is perfect!

  • I luv, luv, luv this. What a great guide! It makes me want to get out and discover all that is new about Charlotte and revisit all the other places and things that I love.

  • Wow love this list!! Definitely love me some Va Da Vie Gelato, Asbury and Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen!

  • Thank you for this great guide! You may want to add in something sports related since we have the Panthers stadium and the BB&T Ballpark right there in uptown. A Charlotte Checkers game or a Hornets basketball game would also make a good addition to this guide. Thanks for capturing the coolness of Charlotte in this guide!

  • I am a fine artist and designer with a particular focus on interior products, such as wall decor. I am considering relocating from Detroit, MI (to escape the automotive industry) to Charlotte, NC where I understand there is potential for someone with home decor and interiors interest. Can you please offer places or industry job advice for me as I seek to reinvent my career?