Your Pick: Charlotte or Raleigh?
While Durham has been getting buzz as a foodie destination, two other North Carolina cities also have much on their plates to offer – Charlotte and Raleigh. These Southern metropolises are spooning out different tastes and dining perspectives that will leave visitors satisfying. Perhaps even stuffed. From food to drink, here is a culinary comparison of the best of what Charlotte and Raleigh are serving up.
First, let’s start with Charlotte.
Nicknamed “The Queen City,” Charlotte has traditional Southern specialties but also cuisines representative of cultures from around the globe plus some fun infusions.
With an adjoining bakery and breakfast café, The King’s Kitchen & Bakery is a non-profit eatery that not only provides lunch and supper picks like gumbo, catfish and baked or fried chicken, and healthy fare, but also gives their workers a fresh start and helps to feed those within the local community. With locations in Charlotte’s Uptown and Southpark districts, Rooster’s Wood Fired-Kitchen puts a European twist on scratch cooking this cuisine.
In also what’s described as “Southern-leaning American fare,” 204 North Kitchen and Cocktails in Uptown gets a little spiffy but also has a drinks list featuring fun and unique pairings and classic mixed drinks. Or go for Lowcountry cooking at Mert’s Heart and Soul, a couple-owned, colorful and soul food eatery in Uptown Charlotte. Zada Jane’s in Charlotte’s Plaza-Midwood neighborhood gives vegetarians some love, with choices that could include their non-meaty “Kool Kips” nachos and a selection of salads and sandwiches (plus some options for carnivores).
Of course, Charlotte’s barbecue joints hold their own within North Carolina, tenderly. South Charlotte’s McKoy’s Smokehouse and Saloon offers smoked meats like their pecan-smoked wings and perfected seasoned pork. Since 1963, the no-frills Bill Spoon’s Barbecue in Starmount focuses on its food with cooking up Eastern North Carolina style barbecue (with the whole pig being prepared and served with a mustary and vinegary slaw). Then, there’s Midwood Smokehouse, with three locations throughout Charlotte, whose brisket got high rankings in The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America.
Other interesting dining opportunities in Charlotte range from The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar, an infusion minded eatery in South Park, to Aria Tuscan Grill bringing refined Italian fare to Center City, to Crepe Cellar Kitchen and Pub, a Euro gastropub noted for its savory crepes.
As for the beer scene, Charlotte is also has raising the glass on breweries with some new or recent additions or long-time spots. Described as a Belgian brew pub, Heist Brewery in NoDa neighborhood is placed within an industrial setting with craft beers and pub fare.
There are German beer halls too. The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery has an eight-acre beer garden and pub, and VBGB Beer Hall and Garden puts a contemporary take on this tradition with 30 craft and import beers on top. Other noteworthy places include Birdsong Brewing Co., with lively scene serving flights, pints, and growlers; Sycamore Brewing, which also offers international eats, and the Growlers Pourhouse, with a curated beer program that rotates taps and prime bar food such as their award-winning Rueben sandwich.
Other noteworthy places include Birdsong Brewing Co., with lively scene serving flights, pints, and growlers, and Sycamore Brewing, which also offers international eats. Growlers Pourhouse has a curated beer program that rotates taps and prime bar food such as their award-winning Rueben sandwich. Free Range Brewing lets their ingredidents determine what type of beer will be produced, in brewing small batch beers in various styles.
Now, let’s see what Raleigh has to offer food-minded travelers.
Raleigh’s Breweries and Distilleries
Raleigh’s more than 25 breweries are as diverse as their sudsy creations. In the Warehouse District of Downtown Raleigh, Crank Arm Brewing Company produces three flagship brews and rotates seasonal beer styles and works with local vendors and farmers in obtaining specialty ingredients for unique flavors. With a focus on creating a place for community, Oak & Dagger Public House serves up its draft beers and an “elevated pub” lunch and dinner menu. Another neat feature: a research library where experimental, small batch brews are being concocted. Then there’s Little City Brewing and Provisions Co., described as an industry chic bar that not only serves beers but also unique cocktails and wines.
As for distilleries, Oak City Amaretto locally handcrafts this sweet Italian liqueur, and Raleigh Rum Company produces small batches of this distilled beverage. Plus, Pinetop Distillery – with its title coming from an old nickname for moonshine – offers tours of, and tastings at, their facility on Saturdays.
Raleigh’s Shops and Eateries
From Southern cooking to in North Carolina is essential. One popular place to go for breakfast or lunch in downtown Raleigh’s Moore Square District is Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant, noted for its funky ceiling fixtures and southern classics on the menu (there’s also a sister site called Big Ed’s North, located in North Raleigh). Big Ed’s also holds a Hot Cake challenge, consisting of eating a total of three large servings, and provides all-day breakfast offerings. Explore its location include the Historic City Market, with other tenants such as restaurants, cafes and bars. Best picks include Treat, an ice cream shop, and Woody’s At City Market, a long-time watering hole.
Trying BBQ is a must head to The Pit, a Warehouse District eatery serving a whole hog, pit-cooked barbecue, or Clyde Cooper’s BBQ, a Carolina-style barbecue fixture in downtown Raleigh since 1938, or fellow long-timer Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, which opened three years later!
Raleigh’s Chocolate Shops
Got a sweet tooth? In Raleigh, chocolate has quite a decadent place with a good amount of shops and factories. Azurelise Chocolate Truffles creates orders of this decadent treat and other sinfully good sweets, while Escazu Artisan Chocolates additionally prepares bars and other confections, and Videri Chocolate Factory holds tours of its facility.
So which city’s culinary scene has your mouth watering, or making you thirsty for more? To get your food-centered trip started, check out these suggested hotels in Charlotte and in Raleigh, respectively.
This post is part of Trip.com’s Underdog Cities program.