I love to travel to new places, but touring my hometown with visitors can be just as much fun. Hosting guests provides the perfect reason to revisit favorite Charlotte restaurants and check out new hot spots. My father visited Charlotte recently, providing a great opportunity to put my oven on hiatus and sample the latest Queen City cuisine. Our family reunions are always carefully planned around dining and cocktails, so I stocked up on wine and cheese in addition to making reservations.
For dinner on Friday night, we headed up Seneca Road to Good Food on Montford (www.goodfoodonmontford.com). This local eatery on the popular nightlife strip of Montford Rd. has great energy hidden inside an oddly designed building reminiscent of 1970’s architecture. The intimate space was crowded at 8:45 so we settled up at the bar to check out the menu and sip a pre-dinner drink. When I first visited the restaurant soon after opening last year, my menu selections did not live up to the overwhelmingly positive buzz. This time however, each of our selected small plates was delicious from grilled artichokes to fried oysters. The dishes were infused with creative flavor pairings like mussles with curry and scallops with pumpkin risotto. We shared a banana tart with caramel ice cream for dessert which was the perfect finale.
On Saturday afternoon, we ventured over to Cabo Fish Taco (www.cabofishtaco.com) in the NoDa neighborhood for a late lunch. I love NoDa’s artsy vibe and am always surprised that the trip from our home near South Park is relatively easy and quick. Cabo’s space has expanded since my last visit several years ago, and still packs in the crowd even at 2pm. We started out with their guacamole, spicy just as I like it with jalapenos. Cabo’s signature mahi mahi tacos were delectable with white cilantro sauce and perfectly cooked fish. Even though it was five o’clock somewhere, we opted for iced tea instead of the tempting margaritas.
For our Saturday night festivities, my sister and I decided weeks ago to start out with a cocktail at the new Ritz-Carlton hotel (www.ritzcarlton.com) in Charlotte which opened in October. I love how fabulous hotels evoke the feeling of an indulgent escape even when staying local. This much-anticipated new hotel has garnered lots of buzz for its modern, LEED certified luxury and restaurant BLT Steak. Upon arrival, we scoped the hotel’s Lobby Lounge to take in the modern cool decor and select a table in front of the enclosed fireplace. Our dirty Grey Goose martinis, the drink of choice for most of our group, were shaken to perfection and served with an unusual and tasty mix of bar snacks. I definitely look forward to planning a girls’ night out at the Ritz for some well-heeled people watching.
We continued on to dinner at new restaurant Vivace (www.vivacecharlotte.com), described as a “contemporary Italian Trattoria”, in the Metropolitan Center in Midtown Charlotte. Though our city offers several appealing destinations for Italian food (Coco Osteria, Dolce), I am excited about a new option in this culinary category. The restaurant’s unique modern atmosphere definitely evokes a “wow” response with its open 2-level floor plan and contrasting orange and neutral decor. Our table was in the midst of the action near the staircase but still felt cozy and intimate. For appetizers, we selected fried calamari with tomato aioli, and braised artichokes with lemon and olive oil. The apps were excellent as was bread served with a savory white bean spread. After learning that the pasta is made in-house, I chose the bucatini with shrimp, tomato, guanciale (italian bacon) and chiles for my main course. The spice in my delicious dish was a bit more than expected; so just compensated by drinking lots of water while devouring nearly every bite. I sampled the other tasty pasta dishes at the table, especially impressed with the four cheese ravioli with roasted garlic crema and tomato sauce. Vivace’s fare is very reasonably priced – pasta dishes are $13-18 and entrees range from $16-29 – and the service was exceptional. This already hot spot lives up to the hype and promises to be a top dining destination for Charlotte visitors and locals.
Our weekend of enthusiastic dining in the Queen City was well worth the extra sweat session at the gym the following week. After living in Charlotte for more than six years, a restaurant tour of the city was the ultimate way to experience a taste of vacation right here at home.