Charlotte’s center city may be brimming with shiny skyscrapers, elite sports centers, and a thriving entertainment scene that draws international acts. But it’s the charming neighborhoods just outside of the city’s center where you’ll find a true taste of Charlotte’s character. Whether you’re in the mood to sip a freshly brewed craft beer, dine at a family-run restaurant, or peruse a local shop, these five ’hoods are packed with great ways to soak in the city. Consider this your guide to exploring a few of Charlotte’s top urban neighborhoods.
To Know: This historic neighborhood to the south of uptown was Charlotte’s first streetcar suburb and was established by Edward Dilworth Latta in the 1890s. Today, it’s home to some of the city’s top shops and restaurants as well as some its most alluring residential streets. Its central thoroughfare, East Boulevard, features a mix of eateries, boutiques, homes, and businesses. And with new spots opening all the time, the hood only continues to gain prestige.
To Eat: Some of the city’s most established restaurants are here including the original Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar location, Fran’s Filling Station, Bonterra Restaurant & Wine Room, and 300 East. And in recent years newer eatery additions have made Dilworth a foodie favorite. Grab a bite in spots like Kid Cashew, Bakersfield, and The Mayo Bird for a fresh taste of the neighborhood.
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To Drink: For a casual evening out, order a local beer (and a dog) on the rooftop of JJ’s Red Hots or on the patio at Dilworth Neighborhood Grille. The best spot to indulge in a drink in Dilworth, though, may be The Summit Room. In addition to an impressive wine and craft beer list, the restaurant features an array of tasty cocktails named for the world’s tallest mountain peaks. Enjoy one of the icy concoctions in a rocking chair on the restaurant’s front porch as you soak in the neighborhood scene.
To Do: If you enjoy shopping, you’ve found the right spot. Shops like Petal, Vestique, or Sweet Repeats feature chic looks for women, while Revolve offers upscale consignment for the guys. The most popular shop in Dilworth though caters to everyone: Paper Skyscraper is the ultimate gift shop with a stylishly curated selection of books, cards, candles, and all the things you didn’t know you needed—but just can’t live without.
To Know: This small, primarily residential neighborhood is tucked between Little Sugar Creek and Myers Park, just on the edge of the city. Established in 1891, it was one of the first historically African-American neighborhoods in Charlotte and was likely named for the cherry trees that once grew on its hillsides. Today, Cherry’s close proximity to Uptown and its historic charm have made it a top spot for new homes—all within walking distance of some of the area’s top attractions.
To Eat: Just at the edge of Cherry you’ll find Kings Drive’s restaurants, as well as those in the Metropolitan shopping center. Settle in for an Italian dinner at Mama Ricotta’s or Vivace. Enjoy some of the city’s best sushi at Pisces or experience the flavors of India at Maharani. In the mood for something more casual? Stop in at newer spots like Taziki’s Mediterranean Café or Pizzeria Omaggio.
To Drink: If you prefer your cocktails with a view, you’ll want to pull up a seat at the Metropolitan’s Greenway-side restaurants. Indulge in one of Vivace’s cocktails with house made cellos or settle in for a glass of wine on the patio at Dressler’s restaurant.
To Do: While Cherry itself is mostly residential streets, the neighborhood is just steps away from the popular Little Sugar Creek Greenway. Hop on one of the B-Cycle bikes at Metropolitan and ride along the Greenway into Freedom Park and beyond. At the edge of Cherry you’ll find the Kings Drive Farmers Market selling seasonal and local goods most weekends. And nestled in the center of the neighborhood is the two-acre Cherry Park, which offers basketball courts, a softball field, and a playground.
To Know: Named for North Davidson Street, which runs through its center, this is Charlotte’s eclectic arts district. Long known for its live music venues, popular breweries, and creative residents, it’s the kind of lively neighborhood where you’ll find artists and musicians on the sidewalks many evenings. Keep an eye out for construction in this hood. The LYNX Blue Line light rail extension will begin running through NoDa in 2017 and the neighborhood is growing fast in anticipation of this new easy access into uptown.
To Eat: From tasty below-the-border fare at Cabo Fish Taco and Sabor Latin Grill to the giant, foldable pizza slices at Benny Pennello’s, these streets are filled with inventive restaurants. Stop in the cozy Crepe Cellar for its sweet and savory takes on the French treat, and be sure to plan a lunch indulging in one of the city’s best burgers at the casual Brooks Sandwich House. Amelie’s French Bakery original location, though, with its 24/7 schedule and decadent salted caramel brownies, may be NoDa’s most beloved edible option.
To Drink: Local craft beer. Imbibing in brew is a must in this neighborhood, which is home to NoDa Brewing Company’s original location, Birdsong Brewing, Heist Brewery, and Free Range Brewing. Enjoy the on-tap option at any of the breweries or stop by Salud Beer Shop for an ever-changing selection of craft beers. The hood’s latest top spot for libations is the charming NoDa Company store where picnic tables in the grass beckon to spend an afternoon in the sun—wine or beer in hand, of course.
To Do: Catch a live show at the Evening Muse, a small indie music venue at the corner of 36th Street and North Davidson, almost any night of the week. On Saturday mornings grab a coffee at Smelly Cat or a mimosa at NoDa Company store and peruse the local farmers market in the parking lot between them.
To Know: Just to the east of town, this vibrant neighborhood is home to historical destinations from Van Landingham Estate and Charlotte Country Club to the original Fuel Pizza gas station location and vintage Dairy Queen. Leafy residential streets filled with 1920s bungalows border a buzzing commercial area. Often simply called “Midwood,” this is a bohemian mix of old and new with stylish restaurants and upscale developments alongside diners and dives.
To Eat: If you’re looking for trendy tapas and a speakeasy vibe, stop in the second-floor Soul Gastrolounge. In the mood for tacos and tequila? Snag a seat on the patio at the SoCal inspired Comida. Midwood Smokehouse is a local favorite—and was a recent stop for President Obama—for its tender and tasty barbecue. Zada Janes draws family-friendly crowds for its eclectic brunch menu, while Workman’s Friend features a relaxed pub vibe perfect for post-work bites. And if you’re craving a slice, you’re in the right place. Pizza Peel, Fuel Pizza, and Pure Pizza are all serving up some of the best in town.
To Drink: There’s no shortage of nightlife options in Midwood where Whiskey Warehouse and Peculiar Rabbit offer their sips alongside impressive skyline views from rooftop bars. For a casual night out, join in the games on the patio of Thomas Street Tavern or soak in the edgy scene on the patio of Common Market. Or, for a more sophisticated evening, linger over the art on the walls of Gallery Twenty-Two wine bar before heading upstairs for some of the city’s best cocktails at Soul Gastrolounge.
To Do: Plaza Midwood is one of Charlotte’s most walkable neighborhoods with vintage shops, galleries, bakeries, tattoo parlors, home décor stores, and music venues all within a few blocks. And keep an eye on the calendar. Events like Food Truck Friday gatherings, exhibitions at The Light Factory photography gallery, and Saturday morning markets behind Pure Pizza often draw crowds to this active neighborhood.
To Know: This former mill community just to the south of Uptown is one of Charlotte’s most flourishing and fast-paced neighborhoods. The LYNX light rail running through the center of the neighborhood into uptown has made this a favorite for the young professional set. And, of course, the trendy retail, restaurants, bars, and breweries haven’t hurt.
To Eat: Locally owned restaurants like Mac’s Speed Shop, The Liberty, and Futo Buta are popular spots for a lunch or dinner bite. But you can get a little more adventurous in South End. Check out some of the city’s best vegan dishes at Luna’s Living Kitchen and meander down the aisles of the adjacent Atherton Mill market for local fresh fare. Or for a more nostalgic meal, grab some of the fried chicken at the historic Price’s Chicken Coop and then head down the road for a milkshake at the counter at Pike’s Soda Shop.
To Drink: Breweries reign supreme here with spots like Wooden Robot, Sycamore, Triple C, Unknown, and Olde Mecklenburg being among the top picks. But you’ll also find the city’s first cidery, Red Clay Hard Cider, its first distillery, Great Wagon Road Distilling, and its only kombucha brewery, Lenny Boy, in South End. Spend an evening at one of its popular bars like The Broken Spoke, Good Bottle Co., The Brass Tap to get a taste of it all.
To Do: While South End’s streets are busy most days, the neighborhood is especially lively during its South End Gallery Crawls on the first Friday of each month. During the evening crawl, the neighborhood’s many galleries and studios stay open late and offer a peek inside their artistic spaces. This is a constantly bustling neighborhood, though. From Triple C’s run clubs and Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s yoga nights to Chef Alyssa’s cooking classes in Atherton Market, South End seemingly always has something new to explore.
Sarah Crosland is executive editor of the Observer’s Magazine Division.
2016 LIVING HERE GUIDE
Coming in print and online on Sunday, Sept. 18, your full guide to living in the Charlotte area. Discover the natural riches of our region; the diversity of neighborhoods; places to dine, hike, watch sporting events; partake in theater, music, a mug of local brew, and so much more. Mecklenburg County passed the 1 million population mark in 2014, and development in the region continues to boom. Even if you've lived in the area for many years, there are many new experiences to discover.