Every smart diner has two essential things in the arsenal: a handful of classic, go-to restaurants that can always be counted on, and a handful of newer, more idiosyncratic spots with which to wow companions.
Allow us to help get you up to speed in Charlotte. Given that this year the Democratic National Convention will be in town, well focus on three key areas, so those of you living here can wow visitors appropriately.
Roosters Uptown. Vivid, Southern-influenced, seasonal foodstuffs, prepared with a chefs grace but a country boys heart, are what youll find at this strong addition to the uptown scene. 150 N. College St. 704-370-7667; www.roosterskitchen.com. Pure Pizza. Duck into the 7th Street Public Market to find pizzas made on ancient grain crust (sprouted grain: quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, whole wheat and more, with options of gluten-free or classic Neapolitan) using locally grown and organic ingredients, among them Bosky Farms goat cheese and Cottonmill Farms oyster mushrooms. 255 E. Seventh St. 980-207-0037; www.purepizzaclt.com.
McNinch House. In this house, built a century or so ago, youll eat by reservation only, so think ahead. Offerings range from rosemary- and Dijon-crusted lamb to seasonal specials; you choose the number of courses and the elaborateness of your wine pairings. 511 N. Church St. 704-332-6159; www.mcninchhouserestaurant.com.
Alexander Michaels. In this former store, also built a century or so ago, youll eat and drink in neighborly warmth, from salty fried pickles to 4th Ward Stroganoff to burgers, and revel in quirky historical details like the pole (ask). 401 W. Ninth St. 704-332-6789; www.almikestavern.com.
Sushi Guru. Streamlined decor and both traditional and innovative takes on sushi and other Japanese fare make this a great option to the more traditional stuff in this locale. Try the yellowtail with jalapeno. 6601 Morrison Blvd. 704-362-3021; www.sushiguruclt.com.
Wolfgang Puck Pizza | Bar. Whats old is new, with the famous Puck returning his brand to Charlotte with the fare that made him famous: creative pizzas and rock star ingredients. Try the smoked salmon pizza with salmon roe. 6706 Phillips Place Court. 704-295-0101; www.wolfgangpuck.com/PB.
Barringtons. Fresh, simple, fine flavors from chef Bruce Moffett have won fans for more than a decade at this intimate, handcrafted place. Look for seared organic chicken with garlic pan sauce, or mussels with crushed tomatoes and white wine. 7822 Fairview Road. 704-364-5755; www.barringtonsrestaurant.com.
Zebra. French-influenced fare from chef Jim Alexander includes a signature angel-hair basket filled with beef tenderloin, lobster, shrimp and scallops with tarragon butter. 4521 Sharon Road. 704-442-9525; www.zebrarestaurant.net.
Blue Taj. Delicate and vibrant dishes from India, from cashew-curry scallops to Goan-spiced trout, arrive in this delicate and vibrantly colored interior at Ballantyne Village. 14815 Ballantyne Village Way. 704-369-5777; www.thebluetaj.com.
Cast Iron Waffles. These are Belgian liege waffles, which means Belgian pearl sugar in a twice-raised brioche-style batter, cooked in a cast-iron press to create a crisp caramelized shell around the light interior of the waffle. Theyre not big, but theyre remarkable. 9604 Longstone Lane. 704-469-1971; www.castironwaffles.com.
ilios noche. The reliable Mediterranean spread here includes sprightly pizzas and Greek-tinged specials, and the atmosphere is casual and family friendly but handsome. 11508 Providence Road. 704-814-9882; www.iliosnoche.com.
Miro. Charlottes oldest Spanish place still turns out consistent zarzuela and paella, and still makes diners comfortable in its suburban setting. 7804 Rea Road. 704-540-7374; www.mirospanishgrille.com.