Your Guide to Optimist Hall
Everything you need to know about the food stalls, shops and bars at Charlotte’s textile mill-turned-food hall.
by Arielle Patterson
The Queen City has no shortage of fantastic dining options, and many can be found at Optimist Hall. A building, formerly home to Charlotte’s largest textile mill built in 1892, was transformed into Optimist Hall, a food hall north of Uptown in the Optimist Park neighborhood. The 22,000-square-foot space has more than 25 tenants with more on the way. Before you set out to explore Optimist Hall, here’s a guide to the places to eat, drink and shop at this popular food hall.
Wood-fired pizza is always on the menu at Ava, an authentic Italian eatery that specializes in traditionally prepared Neapolitan pizza. Order a pepperoni pizza with tomato sauce, or white pizza with ricotta, and wash it down with a fizzy Italian soda.
Larry Schreiber, executive chef of Good Food on Montford, brings Asian street food to Optimist Hall by way of Bao and Broth. Pair savory, filling bowls of ramen with intricately prepared bao buns, including vegan options like the barbecue jackfruit bun.
James Beard-nominated chef Meherwan Irani founded Botiwalla to bring Indian street food to American diners. Embrace the flavors of dishes like masala smashed potatoes, grilled meat skewers and the renowned lamb burger. This is one of four tenants at Optimist Hall with its own dining room, along with an outdoor patio.
Bite into a crispy fried chicken sandwich from Boxcar Betty’s. Choose the classic Plain Jane or a more adventurous option like the buffalo chicken sandwich or signature Boxcar with pimento cheese and peach slaw. Vegetarians can swap the chicken out for a mushroom patty.
The Dumpling Lady has grown from a local food truck to Optimist Hall food stall, with a brick-and-mortar location coming to South End. Executive chef Qian Zhang showcases her family recipes through authentic, handmade Sichuan dumplings and noodles.
Modern Mexican cantina meets gaming venue at el Thrifty. Take a seat in the dining room, or on the outdoor patio, and indulge in heirloom masa tacos and other authentic Mexican entrees, like enchiladas and chile rellenos. Or grab a margarita and challenge friends to a game of shuffleboard, air hockey or mini duck pin bowling.
Experience the flavors of east African cuisine at Enat Ethiopian Restaurant. Build your own platter with traditional dishes like sambusa, a stuffed pastry, as well as stir-fried meat and vegetable tibs served with an Ethiopian sponge bread called injera. Or order a family-style plate to share.
Felix Handmade Empanadas puts a twist on this Latin American fried pastry with offerings like spanakopita, pizza, cheeseburger, Carolina BBQ and more. Finish your meal with a guava and cheese or apple crumble dessert empanada.
Nostalgia comes in the form of 1950s-style hamburgers at Harriet’s Hamburgers. A fresh beef patty and other quality ingredients are assembled between a buttery brioche bun to create this American staple. Don’t forget a side of crispy, golden fries and an all-natural soda pop.
Smooth, creamy gelato comes in Southern-inspired flavors, such as Butter Pecan Blondie, Banana Pudding and Salted Caramel Brownie, at Honeysuckle Gelato. Enjoy your gelato by the scoop, as a milkshake or in an ice cream sandwich.
Build your own bowl, pita or flatbread at Mezeh, a Mediterranean grill. Each entrée is constructed from scratch with fresh ingredients like chicken shawarma, falafel and more than 30 toppings, including spicy hummus, Turkish olives and Lebanese tabbouleh.
Savor mouthwatering hickory-smoked brisket, chopped pork and chicken, by the pound or in a sandwich, at Noble Smoke’s second Charlotte location. Complement your barbecue meat with a Southern side like collard greens and mac and cheese.
Papi Queso takes grilled cheese to the next level. This childhood favorite is elevated with options like The Pig Mac featuring pulled pork from North Carolina’s Heritage Farms and mac and cheese, the umami-packed Mushroom Gruyere and the flavorful Bacon Jalapeno made with pepper jelly.
Suárez Bakery & Barra is a Cuban-inspired bakery and sandwich counter with menu options for every meal. Start your day with a pastry and a Cuban coffee. For lunch or dinner, order a Cubano sandwich or a mojo pork bowl. Save room for dessert, including cookies, donuts and tres leches cake.
Don’t expect a typical taco from Velvet Taco. This “funky taco spot” uses tortillas as the base for creative concoctions like the Spicy Tikka Chicken, Nashville Hot Tofu and Fish n’ Chips with curry aioli. Order a side of elote and chips that takes Mexican street corn off the cob.
Clean food and raw juice are at the cornerstone of Village Juice Company’s menu. Everything from the food to the drinks are pressed, squeezed, mixed and chopped in house. It’s easy to eat healthy with options like smoothies, cold-pressed juices, salads and grain bowls.
Customize your own sushi roll, burrito or bowl, using fresh, high-quality ingredients, at Zukku Sushi. Not feeling creative? Choose from the selection of curated specialty dishes, like the Queen’s Lobster Roll with spicy tuna, asparagus, crab mix and avocado topped with a tempura-fried whole lobster tail.
At the base of Optimist Hall is Billy Sunday, a stand-alone bar that serves vintage spirits, as well as beer and wine. Sip seasonal cocktails inside or on the covered outdoor patio.
Fonta Flora Brewery brings a taste of Appalachia to its rustic taproom at Optimist Hall. Sip a farmhouse ale or barrel-aged fruit sour on the grassy outdoor patio dotted with picnic tables.
Can’t decide what to eat or shop first? Start with a drink from The Spindle Bar. Order beer, wine or a cocktail from this walk-up bar then explore the food hall at your leisure. You can even sip your drink on the spacious outdoor patio.
Start your day with local favorite coffee shop, Undercurrent Coffee. Undercurrent brews drip coffee, cold brew, espresso and seasonal lattes that deliver the caffeine boost you need to get through the day. A variety of teas, as well as scratched-made baked goods, are also on the menu.
Find everything from stationery, greeting cards and art prints to books and writing utensils at Archer Paper Goods. Little ones will enjoy the variety of adorable stuffed animals, along with toys and puzzles, for sale.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with a treat from Collier Candy Company. This shop offers a mix of vintage candy, that you’d find at a five-and-dime store, along with newer confections. Grab your favorite chocolates, puckering sour candies, gummies, sodas and more.
Peruse vintage home goods from local vendors at The Merchant. Here you’ll find one-of-a-kind wares, from furniture and light fixtures to linens and glassware, as well as a curated selection of gifts and stationery.
Plant parents won’t be able to resist a stop at Paradiso Plant Shop. This shop is filled with verdant house plants, including beginner-friendly options if you don’t have a green thumb yet. Browse terrariums and pots to house your greenery, along with books and other home goods.
While furry friends aren’t allowed inside of Optimist Hall, you can still grab them a new treat or toy from Pet Wants. Find all-natural, small-batch food for dogs and cats, as well as chews, treats and CBD products.
Parking is free for the first hour and half. After that, it will cost $5 for up to three hours and $18 for longer than three hours. Avoid parking fees by taking the LYNX Blue Line light rail to Parkwood Station then walking about five minutes to Optimist Hall.
Audited and updated by Brianna Perez in July 2023