A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

[caption id="attachment_165369" align="alignright" width="300"] Chef Ashley Boyd.[/caption] When award-winning Chef Ashley Boyd of 300 East was growing up in Charlotte in the 1980s, the food scene was dominated mostly by

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

[caption id="attachment_165369" align="alignright" width="300"] Chef Ashley Boyd.[/caption] When award-winning Chef Ashley Boyd of 300 East was growing up in Charlotte in the 1980s, the food scene was dominated mostly by

7 Places to Indulge in Charlotte’s Culinary Scene

Chef Ashley Boyd. Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

When award-winning Chef Ashley Boyd of 300 East was growing up in Charlotte in the 1980s, the food scene was dominated mostly by national chains. But a growing city is a changing city, and Charlotte’s food scene has taken off, thanks to a creative community of chefs and residents that are game for a culinary adventure. Now, 300 East, with its cozy ambiance and eclectic menu, is one of many local restaurants delighting the Queen City’s ever-expanding palate.

“Charlotte today has a much bigger audience for chefs who want to innovate in the kitchen or explore very specific concepts — and there’s support for all of it,” Boyd says. “It’s really exciting!”

Whether you’re after high-concept dining or creative casual fare, Charlotte’s ever-growing food scene has you covered.


Restaurant Constance: Farm-inspired Flavors

They may call themselves a “no concept restaurant,” but there’s a clear driving force behind Restaurant Constance: local farms. “Our local food system is all connected,” explains Chef Sam Diminich. “We just have to find where it begins and bring that to the table.”

What lands on Diminich’s table rotates seasonally, but expect flavors like coffee-rubbed pork tenderloin with sunchoke, cipollinis, parsnip, and smoked onion. Or dive into their new raw bar and refreshingly creative nonalcoholic beverage list, which Diminich clearly had fun dreaming up.

The space itself is warm, bustling, and bright, a place, Diminich says, that “makes you feel right at home,” with an open kitchen that’s a feast for the senses.


Lupita’s Carniceria y Tortillaria: Authentic Mexican, To Go

When the Jaramillo family moved from Mexico City to Charlotte, they had been perfecting juicy carnitas and fluffy tortillas for over 30 years.

The Queen City has welcomed their expertise with enthusiasm; people from all walks of life are drawn to Lupita’s high quality and authenticity — and to the Mexican-pop soundtrack at both shops.

Order cheeses and meats to cook at home (they’re famous for their chorizo), or lean into what’s made Lupita’s a hit with the locals: a to-go meal. Choose carnitas, barbacoa, or chicharrón by the pound and snag a stack of tortillas right off the press, then choose salsas and garnishes from a cooler at the register.


Counter-: Storytelling for Your Senses

A reservation at Counter- promises more than a meal: It’s an invitation to a full-body experience, and a meticulously choreographed one, at that. The restaurant itself — intimate, with clean lines and muted colors — is a blank canvas for the rotating stories told there through art, music, and of course, food.

“It’s all a conversation between the best-tasting plates we can conceive that intertwine with the story being told,” says Executive Chef and owner Sam Hart, a 2023 James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast.

Recent themes include modern art and mental health—all narrated by the chefs as they prepare and plate each of the 10-14 courses behind the eponymous counter.


Greg Collier wanted Leah & Louise’s interior to resemble a Memphis juke joint. Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

Leah & Louise: Southern Soul, Singular Hospitality

It’s not often that you encounter creative Southern cuisine in a small-plate format, but Leah & Louise honors the foodways of the Mississippi River Valley in style, with a deliberately welcoming spirit.

Explaining his “modern juke joint” concept, Chef Greg Collier — a three-time semifinalist for the James Beard Awards’ prestigious Best Chef: Southeast — points to the late 1800s: “Black folks had to find ways to have entertainment, as we weren’t allowed in white establishments.”


That safe space and make-do spirit, he says, are at the heart of a juke joint, and are “as central to the experience as the curated music and spirits.” On the menu, you’ll find fresh interpretations of Southern classics. Collier recommends a crowd favorite, Leah’s Cabbage: “I love savory with a small sweet note.”


Cold Hearted Gelato: Inventive Scoops with Local Flair

Try a scoop of something adventurous at Cold Hearted Gelato. photograph by Katey Shehan

Chef Elinn Hesse loves her craft because it’s got nothing to hide. “Gelato is the perfect vessel to showcase pure flavor,” Hesse says. At Cold Hearted Gelato, you’ll see a few familiar flavors behind the case, plus many more options that you won’t see anywhere else, all made with locally sourced botanicals and herbs.

Hesse recommends pairing something classic with something adventurous — maybe a scoop of Frozen Hot Chocolate with a scoop of Roasted Banana Cardamom or Burnt Honey Old Bay. The space itself is perfect for a night out. Hesse has created a calming mid-century feel that abounds in natural light, plants, and cozy nooks that invite you to grab a friend, get comfy, and enjoy a scoop or two.



Order a dozen at Reigning Doughnuts. Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority


Reigning Doughnuts: Treats for Your Imagination

Who doesn’t love doughnuts? The Queen City has two options that elevate the classic staple beyond the breakfast table.

In the heart of the NoDa neighborhood is Reigning Doughnuts — a tiny oasis of sweet treats, made to order. Once a storage closet in the back of Growlers Pourhouse, their charming walk-up window and twinkle-lighted trees invite you to linger. And whether you try a classic like Cinnamon Sugar or give their more adventurous seasonal flavors a whirl (BBQ Pork, anyone?), you’re sure to find a new favorite.

For even more doughnuts, head over to Camp North End, where Jasmine Macon’s B.A.D. — that’s Beyond Amazing Doughnuts — offers up creative brioche-based doughnuts, with a constantly rotating menu. Formerly the pastry chef at Leah & Louise, Macon has a passion for community building. She sees her creations as a way to bring people together and tell her story as a Black pastry chef. Try the Pineapple Upside Down Doughnut or, if you’re feeling brave, the Black Garlic Everything Doughnut. “Sounds bizarre,” says Macon. “But it’s freakishly good!” B.A.D. is currently a pop-up at Hex coffee, with plans for a brick-and-mortar space in progress.


At 300 East, the food is almost too pretty to eat. Almost. Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

300 East: Quaint, Creative, and Always Beautiful

Housed in a cozy Victorian home and operating continuously for more than 35 years, 300 East is where history meets Charlotte as it is today. The steadily evolving American-eclectic menu includes creative sandwiches (many of which are long-time crowd favorites) and healthy, hearty mains, like the Bronzed Sesame Salmon with shoyu glaze, brown rice, and sautéed kale.

Chef Ashley Boyd, locally lauded for her incredible touch with sweets, is a sculptor and pastry chef by training, so her approach to every dish is as beautifully plated as it is full of flavor. She recommends that you don’t skip dessert: Try the sweet potato cheesecake, inspired by the North Carolina crop. “It has the perfect balance of sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy, and that hint of bitter from the maple and charred marshmallow,” Boyd says. “We’re keeping it around as long as we can!”

This story was published on Feb 28, 2023

Susanna Klingenberg

Susanna Branyon Klingenberg is a writer and editor based in Raleigh.