Travel has made a comeback in the Queen City. Since June, Charlotte Douglas International Airport has been reporting pre-pandemic numbers of travelers, and by now, we’ve all seen the stories and complaints about passengers missing flights due to security line wait times. And if you’ve recently driven on the interstates, you’ve probably noticed that traffic has increased.
Charlotteans may be hitting the road for an escape, but many are coming to Charlotte for the same reason. Parents, siblings and college friends are heading to Charlotte to catch up with loved ones and make up for lost time. That’s great, but what do you do with them while they’re in town? And, most importantly, where do you take them to eat?
If you’re wondering what to do when your friends or family come into town, here are 10 of the best restaurants to take visitors to while exploring the Queen City:
Location: 401 W. 9th St., Charlotte, NC 28202
Neighborhood: Fourth Ward
Take a self-guided walking tour of Historic Fourth Ward with your guests and show them the classic architecture of a bygone era in the city. Featuring Victorian homes over 100 years old, Fourth Ward and its tree canopy are also home to Alexander Michael’s. Grab a seat at this come-as-you-are tavern with your guests and order one of the signature dishes, such as the What It Is, a blackened chicken breast over fresh rotini in a Cajun cream sauce.
If your guests are looking for more culturally focused activities, head to the Levine Avenue of the Arts to view the collections at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, the Mint Museum Uptown and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. After your day of culture, head to Fin & Fino for a meal as inspired as the art you just saw. Fresh seafood offerings may be the focus, but it’s the cocktail list created by BK & the Clams, the name of the fabulous bar team, that is the standout. If you’re feeling generous, don’t miss out on the philanthropically focused dish, The Treatment ($59).
Location: 309 W. 4th St., Charlotte, NC 28202
Although the city has lost many staples since 2020 (including Carpe Diem, Zack’s, Mr. K’s and Price’s), many restaurants that shaped the Charlotte culinary scene still exist. Green’s Lunch is the granddaddy of the Charlotte hospitality scene. Founded in 1926 and located in uptown, Green’s is the city’s oldest restaurant and serves hot dogs to the uptown lunch crowd. Don’t miss out on the homemade chili or pickled relish and sauerkraut. If hot dogs aren’t your thing, Green’s also serves breakfast.
Modeled after a modern fish camp, this second restaurant from restaurant power couple Joe and Katy Kindred focuses on simple food with Lake Norman as its backdrop. The seafood dishes are the stars, but the tiki drinks are standouts. Bring your guests to Hello, Sailor, sit outside and enjoy the view of the lake and the passing boats.
Location: 300 S. Tryon St., Charlotte, NC 28202
Unleash your inner French sophistication and dine at the newly re-opened La Belle Helene. If your guests want to dress up in something other than sweatpants, perhaps in some of their quarantine impulse buys, this is the spot to show off your new threads. Don’t miss out on the delicious and Instagrammable La Citron dessert ($12).
Location: 3019 Shamrock Drive, Charlotte, NC 28215
Family-owned, Lang Van feels like walking into a long-lost relative’s home and kitchen. When the restaurant announced that it was facing financial difficulty in 2020 due to the shutdown, Charlotteans past and current donated over $60,000 to ensure this beloved staple would remain open. Serving comfort food such as pho, vegetarian dishes and yellow pancakes, Lang Van showcases the character of Charlotte outside of the glitz of Uptown.
Location: 301 Camp Road, Charlotte, NC 28206
Neighborhood: Druid Hills South
Featured on numerous “Best Restaurant” lists, Leah & Louise is perfect for your foodie guests. The latest concept from culinary power couple Greg and Subrina Collier, Leah & Louise is a “Southern-inspired juke joint” located in Camp North End, also a must for out-of-town guests. The food is Southern cuisine with a more modern touch and refined touches. Don’t leave without trying Leah’s Cabbage ($8) or the Arthur Lou dessert ($7) made with Tang — yes Tang — custard.
Location: 2121 Shamrock Drive, Charlotte, NC 28205
Neighborhood: Plaza Shamrock
Letty’s is the embodiment of Southern hospitality. From the friendly staff to owner Letty Ketner herself saying hello to patrons, Letty’s serves elevated comfort food that you would swear your grandmother made. Recommended for out-of-town guests, parents or friends thinking of moving to the Queen City, make sure you get there early as some dishes, especially the desserts, can sell out.
Location: 1115 N. Brevard St., Charlotte, NC 28206
Neighborhood: Optimist Park
Keeping children busy while the adults have fun (and can talk) should be an Olympic sport. Thankfully there are options in the Queen City that will entertain the littles and be fun for adults. For picky eaters, children and adults alike, head to Optimist Hall for a variety of food stall options and lots of entertainment for the young ones.
Neighborhood: North Charlotte
A must for any visit to Charlotte is not complete without a visit to The Whitewater Center. Nestled along the Catawba River, the Whitewater Center features human-made whitewater rapids, hiking trails, ropes courses and exceptional people-watching. Bring your guests here and be pleasantly surprised with your meal at the River’s Edge, the Center’s on-site full-service restaurant. The perfect place for a bite, a beer, and to watch kayaks and rafts go down the rapids.