Don’t Leave Charlotte Without Eating This
From pimento cheese and fried chicken to Cheerwine and moonshine cocktails, these are the things that every visitor and local to Charlotte needs to try.
by Jessica Dunham
New Orleans has po’boys. Philadelphia has the cheesesteak. Rumor has it the chimichanga was invented in Tucson. It’s believed that you haven’t really visited a place until you’ve sampled its most notable dish. Lucky you, here in Charlotte, we have more than one iconic food, some that harken back 100 years and others that claim current foodie cred. As they say, when in Rome …
Must-Try: Pimento Cheese
Pimento cheese is the dip that keeps on giving. What originated as a simple spread for crackers or a sandwich can now be found dotting sushi rolls and making appearances in cheesecake. Referred to affectionately as the Queen City’s Caviar, Charlotte’s devotion to pimento cheese runs deep—North Carolina is the country’s leading pimento cheese consumer, and Charlotte leads that charge.
Where to get it: At The Common Market, you can order a pimento cheese sandwich hot or cold for $6. That leaves money for a pint of one of the locally brewed beers on draft. For something a bit more unique, try the Whiskey Poppers (homemade pimento cheese bites) at Whiskey Warehouse.
Must-Try: Box of Fried Chicken
There’s a strong sentiment that you’re not a real Charlottean until you’ve been to Price’s Chicken Coop. No fuss, no frills, no tables, no chairs—Price’s is straight-up Southern fried fare for takeaway only. The Quarter Chicken Plate is classic, and if this is your first time, it’s the best introduction to Price’s: a cardboard box with a quarter chicken (white or dark meat), coleslaw, hush puppies and a dinner roll.
Where to get it: Price’s Chicken Coop only accepts cash, and even though there may be a line, things move quickly. Be hungry, be ready.
Must-Try: Moonshine Cocktail
Moonshine—a clear, unaged liquor but also the catch-all term for illegally distilled booze—enjoys a distinctly Southern heritage. Particularly in Charlotte, where legend has it that NASCAR was born out of the underground moonshine trade as drivers, accustomed to running from the law, moved their talents to the race track. Today’s moonshine cocktails are fresh, fruity and extremely potent.
Where to get it: Bowling alley 10 Park Lanes offers 12 varieties of the hooch and serves it in the obligatory mason jar.
Funny name, irresistible treat. The Sonker is a deep-dish pie similar to a cobbler but juicier and served with a “dip” of sweet, thickened milk. The filling can include any fruit—strawberry, peach, blueberry, cherry—as long as it bubbles up and around the chewy crust during baking. In fact, some believe that’s how the confection got its name, as the dough has the appearance of being “sunk” down on top of the fruit.
Where to get it: Haberdish nails it with their single-serving take on this regional delicacy.
Must-Try: Fried Pickles
As anyone who’s ever been to a state fair will attest, fried food—no matter what it is—tastes delicious. But fried pickles are a Charlotte favorite and a time-honored Southern dish. The now-defunct but once legendary Penguin Drive-In took the fried pickle to new heights, with crispy, crunchy breading that allowed the dill flavor to shine. Today, places like Diamond Restaurant, Mac’s Speed Shop and Pinky’s Westside Grill carry the baton, serving up some of the best fried pickles in town.
Where to get it: Food Network’s Guy Fieri raved about the fried pickles at Pinky’s Westside Grill. You will too. Order them as a side or on top of the White Trash Burger.
How can a seemingly simple soda taste so darn good? Cheerwine, a bubbly, carbonated, cherry flavored soda born in nearby Salisbury, traces its North Carolina history back to the days of World War I, when a sugar shortage is said to have inspired the family-owned company to get creative. Nowadays, Cheerwine boasts a fanatic-like cult following, with fans swearing it’s the only soda to pair with North Carolina ‘cue. There’s even a brand of Cheerwine barbecue sauce.
Where to get it: You’ll find Cheerwine at restaurants and markets throughout Charlotte, and even as an ingredient in various dishes. Head to Local Loaf and order the Chicken & the Egg: chicken tenders, aged white cheddar, poached egg, microgreens and chipotle Cheerwine sauce on a Southern buttermilk biscuit.
Must-Try: Carolina-Style Hot Dog
Not just any hot dog. We’re talking about the decadent Carolina-style hot dog, a true local treat. It seems like every city, from Chicago to New York, has their twist on a hot dog, and this one’s ours. What makes it special? The toasted bun for one. The chili on top, for two. And finally, the coleslaw, chopped onions and mustard that round out the dish.
Where to get it: JJ’s Red Hots serves a variety of hot dogs, but it’s the Char Heel that is a must-try. Your choice of an original, all-beef, veggie or turkey dog is topped with house-made chili, diced onions and yellow mustard, all on a toasted potato roll.
Must-Try: 1-Pound Doughnut
You’ve probably daydreamed about it. But did you think a full pound of sweet, cakey, fried dough could ever be a reality? At Stoke, dreams do come true. Aptly named The Doughnut, this dessert is made from brioche bread and comes topped with chocolate-bar crumbles, pastry cream and powdered sugar. Yes, it’s Instagram-worthy. But you’ll need both hands—and some friends—to eat this baby, so put down your phone.
Where to get it: Find Stoke inside of the Charlotte Marriott City Center.