Eat & Drink

An Intro to Charlotte's International Restaurants

From authentic Korean barbecue to creamy Mexican ice cream, here’s how to dine your way around the world—without ever leaving Charlotte.

Grand Asia Market - Photo by Kyo H Nam

When you’re searching for worldly cuisine in Charlotte, don’t go looking for distinct neighborhoods; you’ll find neither a Chinatown nor a Little Italy, as in older cities. Instead, everything’s mixed. The gastronomical scene is a salad bowl, if you will, especially along post-World War II shopping strips such as Central Avenue or South Boulevard. Meanwhile, Polk Street in suburban Pineville boasts eateries and groceries from eight countries within a single mile.

Most of the city’s international restaurants and shops are intimate mom-and-pop places where you’ll find yourself chatting with the immigrant owners. Below, find our guide to exemplary eateries from every corner of the planet. Expand your palate and explore!

Queen Sheba - Photo by Kyo H Nam

Africa

Queen Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant & Bar

Noah Mesgane and wife, Eden, preside over this daytime restaurant/evening nightspot, one of half a dozen Ethiopian/Eritrean eateries in the Queen City. Start with a sambusa—a pastry pocket filled with meat or lentils. Then order any of the combination platters—medleys of savory lentils, vegetables and meat stews, which arrive on injera griddle bread.

Mama Gee’s

A small takeout restaurant in the West End, Mama Gee’s owners serve up staples from their native Ghana. Try the Jollof Rice Plate, a large spread that includes drumsticks, tomato stew and plantains.

Futo Buta - Photo by Eric Gaddy

Asia

Futo Buta

Tucked in South End, you’ll find this inventive Japanese noodle house, which opened in 2015. It’s helmed by Chef Michael Shortino, whose culinary career is extensive. The fire and ice ramen bowl, filled with a kimchi broth, hot smoked salmon, mint, cabbage, carrot, radish and black sesame, has quickly become a fan favorite. Also try the tori kara-age—Japanese fried chicken.

Grand Asia Market

Near Central Piedmont Community College’s Levine Campus, on the edge of Matthews, you’ll find this Asian supermarket, which was once a Winn-Dixie. The cafe and bakery draw crowds with specialties like barbecue pork with Chinese vegetables. Co-owner Alice Chang loves teaching how to cook her favorite dishes.

Europe

Portofino's Ristorante Italiano Pizzeria

Childhood friends from Naples, Italy, reconnected in Charlotte to open Portofino’s Ristorante Italiano e Pizzeria in 1996. This original East Charlotte spot has inspired two other locations around the metro. Sample the antipasti freddi and caldi (hot and cold) or dive right into the generous pasta dishes and flavorful pizzas.

Waldhorn Restaurant

For authentic German cuisine from a family with German roots, head to Pineville for dinner in the cozy Waldhorn. Schnitzel, bratwurst and beef roulade are all stars of the show, and they pair perfectly with a stein of beer (pilsners or hefeweizens, of course).

India

Copper Modern Indian Cuisine

Novelist Carson McCullers wrote part of her classic The Heart is a Lonely Hunter here when this was a run-down rooming house. The Dilworth neighborhood has reinvented itself, and this Victorian cottage has become an elegant destination for contemporary Indian cooking. The menu changes frequently but watch for dishes featuring duck or scallops.

Asiana Fusion

Try Chinese food from India. One of the world’s biggest Chinatowns is in Kolkata (Calcutta). Chef Michael Huang came from there to Cornelius, where he cooks Indian-Chinese favorites such as kati rolls—meat kabobs wrapped in buttery, flaky Indian paratha bread—or chicken 65—chicken nuggets fried in an Indian lentils and spices mix.

Latin America

A Piece of Havana

Cuban-born Belkis Plasencia wanted a spot for Cuban food and good times. A Piece of Havana serves up both. Try the ropa vieja–shredded beef—or camarones al ajillo—shrimp in garlic sauce. And, of course, there’s black beans and rice. On weekend evenings, you’ll likely need reservations. A lively music scene with some of Charlotte’s best Latin bands draws families and friends from across the region.

Cocos Locos

For a delightful sweet treat, opt for a scoop of Mexican ice cream at Cocos Locos, where wonderful flavors, many unfamiliar, are locally handmade in small batches. Try the mango or the raspberry—you won’t be disappointed.

Middle East

La Shish Kabob

Izzat Freitekh first owned a place just like this in Jerusalem. When one of his children came to the United States to study at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and sent back word of Charlotte’s welcoming business climate, Freitekh shut his hometown doors and reopened on Sharon Amity Road. Dip paper-thin pita bread into the hummus and tabouli appetizers. Then choose the shawarma—chicken grilled authentically on a vertical spit—the lamb shank over rice or the kabobs. You can’t go wrong.

Kabab-Je Rotisserie & Grille

The Sadek family, from Lebanon, opened this restaurant next to a suburban Costco store in 2013. Look for the small plates: kibbeh—crispy croquettes of lamb or beef—little sujuk sausages and stuffed grape leaves soaked in olive oil.

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