Dish on International Flavors in Charlotte
Though Charlotte offers plenty of traditional American dishes, it’s the global cuisine that gives the city its true flavor.
by Jessica Swannie
Abugida Ethiopian Café & Restaurant
Neighborhood: Plaza Midwood
This family-owned Ethiopian restaurant is run by a brother-sister duo whose focus is on providing inventive menu items and exceptional service from friendly staff. Expect authentic cuisine, from kitfo (beef seasoned with herbed butter and spices) to fifir (injera sauteed in red pepper sauce, garlic, butter and berbere sauce). If you’re not sure what to try, the servers are often praised for their tailored recommendations based on your palate.
Order something popular: Abugida Feast (choice of chicken or beef wet with vegetable dishes and house salad)
Order something adventurous: Kitfo Dulet (finely chopped prime beef seasoned with Ethiopian butter, onion, jalapeno and mitmita; served with Ethiopian cheese and gomen)
Ararat17 is named for the biblical mountain in the Armenian Highlands — a site of many battles and capitals. Ararat is also the national symbol of Armenia. This family-owned spot was the first Armenian restaurant in Charlotte. Menu items are prepared over a natural charcoal fire, which gives the space its unique scent. Visitors can expect spicy kabobs; sandwiches stuffed with beef, lamb, chicken and gyro; and mouthwatering appetizers like dolma, fattoush, mutabbal, and hummus.
Order something popular: Ararat Chicken Cutlet (chicken breast cutlets stuffed with mushrooms, parsley, onions and mozzarella cheese; served with three sides)
Order something adventurous: Khinkali (twisted dough dumplings stuffed with meat and spices, served with butter and sour cream)
Big Ben Pub
Neighborhood: South End
You don’t need to travel far to sample traditional English fare in Charlotte. Named for the famous bell in the clock tower at the houses of Parliament in London, Big Ben Pub serves South End authentic options like bangers and mash, chicken pot pie and shepherd's pie. Make sure to order a plate of the “Bubble and Squeak,” named for the sound the sauteed cabbage greens make on the frying pan.
Order something popular: Famous South End Haddock N’ Chips (prepared in-house made beer batter and served with a side of steak-cut fries, coleslaw and a wally a.k.a. a pickled cucumber)
Order something adventurous: Westminster Steak N’ Kidney Pie (tender cubed steak and kidneys in a puff pastry in rich gravy with mashed potatoes and vegetables)
Founded in 2007, this French bakery and bistro was born out of a passion to “escape from the everyday.” Owner Monte Smith was inspired to create the concept after visiting and working in places like Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, France and China. The space now reflects his goal to provide a neighborhood home away from home, complete with farm-to-table meals prepared with French culinary traditions. You’ll find gourmet dishes like expertly-prepared pizza with premium ingredients, herb-roasted chicken and duck confit.
Order something popular: Chicken & Wild Mushroom Crepes (served in Madeira crème)
Order something adventurous: Beef Short Rib Bourguignonne (served with pearl onions, baby carrots, mushrooms and mashed potatoes)
El Pulgarcito de America
Area: Sheffield Park
Nestled in Charlotte’s Little El Salvador — a spot that occupies half a city block — is this celebrated spot that serves traditional Salvadoran cuisine as well as Mexican and Honduran options. No matter what you order, you must try the pupusa, the national dish of El Salvador. You can also get creamy chicken tossed with onions and peppers, plantains and chicharrones.
Order something popular: Shrimp Ceviche
Order something adventurous: Pupusa (corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, beans, pork or chicken)
Neighborhood: South End
Chef Michael Shortino traveled both throughout the U.S. and internationally to hone his craft for Asian fare. His rock-and-roll ramen shop showcases the union of Japanese cuisine in the South. Not only was the restaurant one of the first ramen shops in North Carolina, but the menu pays homage to the history of ramen as a regionalized dish.
Order something popular: Buta Bowl (chicken and dashi broth, double noodle, pecan-smoked pork belly, onsen egg, duck confit, spicy ground pork, ono chili sauce, sweet white corn, leeks, scallions and cayenne pepper threads)
Order something adventurous: Fire + Ice (kimchi and dashi broth, hot smoked salmon, fresh mint, bok choy, shaved carrot, radish, black sesame, leeks and scallions)
Hawkers Asian Street Fare
Neighborhood: South End
Four friends started Hawkers — named for street vendors — with a goal to redefine “eating Asian” in the United States. The Orlando-based chain opened a space in Charlotte in 2019, and has been busy since. You’ll notice touches from the owners’ childhood, like newspaper-print tables, reminiscent of meals served wrapped in newspapers, and a sign over the open kitchen that translates to “open rice” in Chinese, and means “Hey, let’s eat!” Look for classic family recipes like the Crispy Canton (egg noodles, pork, mushrooms, bean sprouts and spring onions) and Roti Canai (Malaysian flatbread served with a side of signature curry sauce).
Order something popular: Steamed Baos (choice of Seoul hot chicken, roast duck or pork belly)
Order something adventurous: Chee Cheng’s Char Kway Teow (rice noodles, chicken, shrimp, bean sprouts, spring onions and eggs)
Kabab-Je Rotisserie & Grille
A staple for Charlotte Lebanese food, Kabab-Je Rotisserie & Grille was opened by the Sadek family in 2013. Lebanese food is known for its use of grains, olive oil, nuts, mixed vegetables and lean meats. You’ll find that all the menu items are prepared fresh and are designed to encourage a healthy lifestyle. Look for small plates like warak inab (stuffed grape leaves) and a host of tasty kebabs, shawarma and fish.
Order something popular: Meshwi Mshakal (combination of charcoal-grilled meats including kafta, chicken and lamb kebab)
Order something adventurous: Kafta Kish Kash (charcoal-grilled skewers of seasoned minced lamb with onion and parsley in a tomato and hot chili sauce)
Area: Independence Square
Simple, yet straightforward. The name says it all: Here, you’ll find incredible authentic Korean dishes served in a dolsot (a stone pot). Bonus: It’s in the back of Super G Mart, so you can shop for international ingredients after your meal.
Order something popular: Bibimap (vegetables, beef and egg over rice served in a dolsot)
Order something adventurous: Bulgogi - ask for it spicy (served with rice)
Las Margaritas Mexican Restaurant
This under-the-radar Mexican restaurant on the east side of Charlotte is a must-try if you love authentic food and large portions. The vibrant, old-school interior is decorated in splashes of color and the restaurant is known for its entree sizes and friendly staff. You’ll find a large menu to accommodate Mexican food cravings such as carnitas y camaron (pork and shrimp), pork carnitas and burritos.
Order something popular: Carne Asada (skirt steak, rice and beans, onion, hot peppers and guacamole)
Order something adventurous: Ceviche
Area: Fort Mill
This little spot in Fort Mill offers both American-Chinese dishes (think: General Tso’s chicken) as well as authentic Szechuan and Cantonese dishes. Whether you’re craving something familiar like Mongolian beef or want to branch out, there are iPads in the restaurant to help you decide which dish will open your taste buds to new flavors. There are also hibachi and sushi options as well.
Order something popular: Spicy Chili Chicken
Order something adventurous: Seafood Hotpot (on the secret menu)
The Mad Greek of Charlotte
Area: South Charlotte
Family-owned and operated since 1991, The Mad Greek started when brothers Chris and George Limberakis immigrated to the United States from Greece. Both dreamed of opening a restaurant — a dream that came true with the debut of Hugo’s Diner, the former restaurant that occupied their current space. During a brief period where the brothers leased the space to a local restaurateur, the building underwent a color change. When the Limberakis brothers got the space back, Chris was angry at the vibrant color selections, thereby coining the restaurant's current name: The Mad Greek. Chris’ son, Peyton Limberakis, now runs the restaurant. When you visit, you’ll find authentic Greek food like pitas, kebabs and salads.
Order something popular: Gyro Dinner (served with pita bread, Greek salad, fries and tzatziki)
Order something adventurous: Moussaka Dinner (served with pita bread and Greek salad)
Area: Historic West End
Coined “the best place to taste Ghana in the Carolinas,” this beloved takeout spot first opened its doors in 2013. Family-owned, the team is led by owners Mama Gee and Papa Gee. Look for authentic dishes like jollof (tomato-sauteed rice) and beef, waakye (rice and beans) and chicken, and bofrot (Ghana donut).
Order something popular: Jollof and Chicken (Mama Gee’s tomato-sauteed rice, sweet plantain, chicken or meat of choice)
Order something adventurous: Dirty Chicken (Mama Gee’s Ghana-style baked jerk chicken with tomato, green pepper, onion and a ton of heat)
Pasta & Provisions
Neighborhoods: Myers Park, Madison Park, Wilmore
If you’re craving fresh, homemade pasta, look no further. Pasta & Provisions dates back to 1992, when owners Tommy and Debbie George created a space for quality pasta and gourmet food. This pasta shop doubles as an Italian market, where you can pick up ingredients to prepare your own Italian feast or pick from pre-made favorites and pantry items like homemade pasta, focaccia, cheeses and wines. There’s even a full Italian deli and a frozen meals section that you can take and prep at home.
Order something popular: Garlic Rosemary Pasta
Order something adventurous: Sfogliatella (Italian pastry)
Sabor Latin Street Grill
Cuisine: Latin American
Neighborhoods: Elizabeth, NoDa, Wesley Chapel, Indian Trail, Steele Creek, SouthPark, Fort Mill, South End, Uptown, plus more locations
Started by brother-sister team Dalton and Miriam Espaillat, Sabor Latin Street Grill offers authentic menu items from El Salvador, the Domincan Republic, Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia. The family started the concept to deliver fresh food that takes visitors where the best cuisine is experienced in the streets. Here, you’ll find street food, tacos, nachos and burritos.
Order something popular: Arepas (choice of traditional, Barepa or Gordita)
Order something adventurous: Salvador Fries (yuca fries with shredded chicken sauteed with tomato and onion, topped with cabbage, pico de gallo, cotija cheese and rosada sauce)
Neighborhood: Wesley Heights
Sun's Kitchen is best known for their authentic, homestyle Chinese food. Owner, Brian Sun, grew up on the streets of Beijing surrounded by the sights and smells of Chinese street food culture before bringing his love of food to Charlotte. With dishes like sesame noodles, garlic shredded tofu and dumpling sample flights, there are plenty of options to suit all tastes.
Order something popular: Dumpling Flight (dumplings included are pork and chive, beef and carrot, chicken and mushroom, veggie and shrimp and chicken)
Order something adventurous: Ma-La Shredded Tofu (Ma-La is a spicy flavor used in Szechuan cooking made from Chinese peppercorn, chili pepper and various spices simmered in oil)
Neighborhoods: Dilworth, Matthews, University City
Thai Taste was Charlotte’s first Thai restaurant, and has served the community since 1988. The casual, cozy setting has garnered a local following, with regulars that enjoy the rotating lunch specials and go-to favorites.
Order something popular: Pad Thai (noodles sautéed with eggs, bean sprouts, green onions, ground peanuts and Thai spices)
Order something adventurous: Pad See Ew (rice noodles stir-fried with broccoli, carrots, Napa cabbage, soy sauce and egg)
The Blue Taj
A recipient of numerous culinary awards since its inception, The Blue Taj is a go-to spot for Indian cuisine in Charlotte. Appetizing scents waft throughout the cozy, modern space. There’s also a wine cellar with hand-picked selections housed in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment. No matter what you’re in the mod for, you’ll have the choice of upscale Indian fare including seafood, tandoori, chicken, lamb and vegetarian dishes.
Order something popular: Chicken Tikka Masala (chicken tikka and tomato-cream-Fenugreek sauce)
Order something adventurous: Leek Kofta (potato-leek croquettes and cashew tomato sauce)
The Cooking Pot
Cuisine: West African/Nigerian
This cozy spot in the Independence Shopping Center is known for its authentic African food. Here, you’ll find favorites like akara (made from peeled beans formed into a ball and deep fried), jollof, shaki and even the occasional peanut butter soup.
Try something popular: Jollof Rice or Fufu
Try something adventurous: Peanut Butter Soup
Neighborhoods: Ballantyne, Elizabeth, Park Road, Waverly
This Peruvian rotisserie chicken restaurant has specialized in pollo a la brasa since its inception in 2013. Expect fresh, flavorful and vibrant dishes with recipes inspired by those you’d find on the streets of Peru. The recipes themselves have been passed down from co-founder Bruno Macchiavello’s family. Local favorites include rotisserie chicken, yucca fries and quinoa avocados as well as delicious sauces and drinks.
Order something popular: Half Chicken + Two Sides (recommended: plantains, yuca)
Order something adventurous: Arroz Chaufa (fried rice, red peppers, green onions, eggs, ginger, Peruvian soy sauce and pulled chicken)
Looking for traditional German fare and 40 brands of beer? Make the Waldhorn Restaurant your next stop. The family-owned restaurant, started by Gitta and Thomas Waldhorn, has been serving Charlotte since 1999. Both of the owners are professional chefs; they attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York. Gitta grew up in Germany and was the only one of four children to pursue the culinary arts. Now, you can enjoy German staples like Bratwurst sandwiches, Hausgemachte Maultaschen (traditional pasta pillows) and Geräuchertes Forellenfilet (smoked trout).
Order something popular: Schwäbische Wurstplatte (Bratwurst, Knockwurst and Bauernbratwurst served with sauerkraut and home fries)
Order something adventurous: Jägerschnitzel vom Schwein (sauteed pork cutlets topped with traditional Hunter sauce, served with spätzle and red cabbage)
Zeitouni Mediterranean Grill
Nestled in South Charlotte, this family-owned spot is known for its old-world Mediterranean dishes. Look for kebabs seared over an open fire, Lebanese beer and flavorful Greek sandwiches.
Order something popular: Shish Tawooq (chicken kebab)
Order something adventurous: “Special” Chicken Sandwich (secret menu item)