In all the years I've written about restaurants, if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me what my favorite restaurant is, at the very least I could finance a vacation.
Instead of having a favorite restaurant, I tend to gravitate towards menu items that evoke a sense of comfort or excite my taste buds in some way. And fortunately, when a restaurant has one of my all-time favorites, it usually turns out to be pretty good bet all around.
So with that, here’s a list of some of my favorite things to eat in and around Charlotte, and where to find them.
Brisket pimento cheese fries at Midwood Smokehouse. 1401 Central Ave., 704-295-4227; 12410 Johnston Road, 980-430-1086.
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You can't get much more southern than covering French fries in pimento cheese and barbecue. The fries are part of Midwood’s appetizer list, but they're hearty enough to serve as a meal. The fries are crinkle cut, which means they can stand up to the melted, warm pimento cheese. The pimento cheese is kept from being overly rich thanks to the mixing in of bits of smokey brisket. If you like the brisket, Midwood offers it in even bigger portions -- the Texas brisket sandwich is an excellent choice. Don't miss out on the burnt ends and you can't go wrong with the hickory-smoke infused chopped pork.
Chocolate peanut butter donut at Duck Donuts. 1710 Kenilworth Ave., 704-910-5355.
I actually had my first Duck Donut in Kitty Hawk, N.C., while vacationing in the Outer Banks. I said then it was a good thing there wasn't one in Charlotte because I'd probably go there more than I should. About one year later, a Duck Donuts opened in Charlotte. Every so often, I swing in and order one of the donuts (which are cooked to order and positively habit forming when eaten warm) dipped in peanut butter and drizzled with chocolate. It's sublime. So is the donut dipped in chocolate and covered with crushed Oreos and drizzled with fudge.
Lamb burger at Ilios Noche. 11508 Providence Road, 704-814-9882; 18426 Park Road, 704-552-1292.
Every bite of this burger highlights a different flavor profile. Sometimes it's the bite of the feta cheese. Other times it's the sweetness of the caramelized onions. You're also treated to the flavor of tangy and cool cucumber yogurt sauce. Then there's the lean New Zealand lamb burger itself which just seems to be a wonderful canvas for all the flavors. You get to choose a side. Opt for the chickpea salad.
Wings at Wing King Cafe. 13209 Carowinds Blvd., 704-504-1954.
When there's a big game or a major sporting event on television, wings are required. And if you want to order wings from The Wing King, especially if you want them for a Panther playoff game, better order early. The Wing King serves wings baked or fried. I'm partial to the fried. I also prefer the Asian flavored Ming Wing and the mustard inspired Honey Gold. If your cholesterol is behaving, then make sure to get a side of fried pickles (get the chips, not the spears) and the slightly spicy onion rings. All you need after that is a heaping pile of napkins and something cold to drink.
French onion soup at Dressler's Restaurant. 1100 Metropolitan Ave. 704-909-6295; 8630-1A Lindholm Drive, Huntersville; 704-987-1779.
No matter what the weather, this French onion soup is the ultimate comfort food. The beef broth is salty, the onions are buttery, the Gruyere cheese is creamy, and the bread is slightly chewy. It's hard to eat a bowl gracefully as the cheese refuses to part company from the bowl and spoon. But that's a price worth paying. The Thai peanut calamari is also worth eating. The calamari comes in thick, tender, lightly breaded strips. Look for puddles of a wasabi aioli that will keep your tastebuds on edge.
Lobster and crab spring rolls at Cowfish. 4310 Sharon Road.; 704-365-1922.
Over-sized, cut on the diagonal and presented vertically, the spring rolls are lovely to look at, and even lovelier to eat. The crab and lobster are teamed with cabbage, bok choy and carrots. Beneath the rolls is cilantro pesto, Thai chili sauce and a citrusy marmalade. As good as the spring rolls are, the black truffle cheeseburger might be even better. The black truffle cheese, sautéed mushrooms, shallots and garlic aioli make this one memorable burger.
Banana split at Cabarrus Creamery. 21 Union St., Concord; 704-784-1923.
Bring a friend to help share the banana split as it’s bigger than big. The lemon, banana and fudge ripple ice cream help fill up the dish nicely. You can also create your own ice cream sandwich by using one of the cookies (chocolate chip; peanut butter; oatmeal and double chocolate) the Creamery has on hand. Incidentally, the Cabarrus Creamery has been around since 1923.
Robin Domeier is owner of Nibbles Personal Chef.