The original version of this post ran in April 2017.
Have you ever just yelled the meanest things you could think of while stuck in traffic? When they come out of your mouth they aren’t really words, but just guttural noises? It’s a weird feeling. You may even think, after congestion has cleared up enough for you to inch onto an exit ramp, that those noises were all just a momentary reaction and that they don’t represent you or your being in any way.
For those of us who have driven on Independence Boulevard, that is a reality of living in Charlotte and I forgive you (or at least my own gesticulating and hatred towards those who don’t use blinkers in this city does). With that being said, I-74 is a part of Charlotte lore and, for many transplants, a place where you could find some of the best restaurants and establishments when you first arrived in the area.
I have previously commented on the top five places to eat off of Independence, but it turns out that perhaps I missed a few while going into a fugue state and trying to get back to the ‘burbs. With that in mind, here is a list of the 10 best places to eat, now that I have time to stop at each during my regular commute:
3101 E. Independence Blvd.
There are actually two South 21s on Independence, but only one has been around for decades and still maintains the retro-themed billboards and curb service. The original South 21, located on the freeway section of Independence between Eastway and Briar Creek, still has some of the crispiest onion rings and perfectly cooked burgers in Charlotte.
3619 E Independence Blvd.
Within an hour of posting my favorite places to eat off Independence last year, there was a clamoring group who immediately called me out for missing this staple of I-74 cuisine. Having been here quite a few times growing up, I realized immediately that I had made a mistake. I consider myself an aficionado of Turkey subs, so I realized the mistake I had made. The deli turns out some of the best sandwiches and submarines in the city and I would go further, but I’m busy salivating just thinking about the last time I enjoyed grabbing a to-go order from this no-frills joint.
5112 E. Independence Blvd.
Say it ain’t so, Liberty East! The “repairs” that have led to a temporary closure have gone on for over a year now and I’m getting a bit worried. That being said, all that’s amazing about Liberty East has already been covered here, but this is just a friendly reminder that corned beef hash platters and livermush sandwiches are delicious — even if you may want a mint or three before you leave.
(Editor’s note: Liberty is rumored to be permanently closed.)
10412 E. Independence Blvd., MatthewsSweet Seoul’s Instagram
Tucked away in the Matthews Township plaza directly overlooking I-74, Metro Diner is a hidden gem if there ever was one. Step inside and feel greeted by an unassuming atmosphere, with some of the best food you can get along the way. This establishment has brought some new life into a shopping center devoid of a central location and I haven’t had a Reuben this good in years.
7146 E. Independence Blvd.Whooli’s Instagram
Whooli’s has quietly but successfully been serving patrons cold beer, hot wings and some of the tastiest fried pickles in the city since it opened in 1995. Stepping into this establishment is like taking a trip to a bygone era when people actually ventured out to Independence to find something fun to do on the weekends. You won’t find bottle service, DJs, or beard-scratching brew-bros, but if you’re looking to catch a game at an old-school favorite with pleasant and helpful waiters and bartenders, a trip to Whooli’s can be a quite refreshing and even nostalgic experience.
5622 E Independence Blvd #129The Cooking Pot’s Instagram
You should get out of here if you don’t like plantains and we should have some words and then maybe I’ll run to my car crying … oh wait, sorry … that was my thought after battling traffic to come here. However, The Cooking Pot is serving up some seriously good authentic Nigerian cuisine. This establishment is homey, friendly and while it may take a minute to get your food, you’re going to appreciate it and come back for more tomorrow, traffic allowing.
7308-D E. Independence Blvd.
This is another establishment that has been mentioned on C5. Located near the border of Charlotte and Matthews, Queen’s Soul Food is the guilty pleasure you never knew you had. Mac and cheese, fried fish, oxtail and whatever else your heart (and stomach) desires is available here and, unlike some of these other locations, this restaurant has a spacious and convenient parking lot.
2761 CPCC Ln, MatthewsPop Rock Photography’s Instagram
I get it. I promise I do. As a young man growing up in/around Matthews, I am well aware that there is a strip club practically adjacent to Hinson’s. I don’t believe that club serves brunch like the Uptown Cabaret, but that’s primarily because I can’t remember – or have never been there. With that said, Hinson’s is a lot more than just a dive establishment, as the burgers are always done better than anywhere else in the area. The patrons have plenty of stories and you may find yourself enjoying the history-laden vibe more than you’d have thought at the tail end of Charlotte’s “Independence Boulevard”.
3001 East Independence Blvd.
Home to one of the eight best meatless burgers in town, Bean is a squat, unassuming building that can only be noticed for its tall sign featuring an enormous, dark, kidney-shaped bean. The interior is just as modest, but snug, with low lighting, a cluster of tables and a small bar set in the back. The menu emphasizes Southern comfort foods, vegan-style, with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don’t overlook Southern classics like fried pickles, slow-cooked collard greens and pimento cheese dip (yep, all vegan). C5 Editor Katie Toussaint’s favorite: The Jalapeño Cheddar Burger made of gluten and soy, and served with Daiya cheddar, fried jalapeño chips and Veganaise, plus lettuce, tomato and onion on the side.
9709 E. Independence Blvd. MatthewsLocal Carolinas’ Instagram
Do you like plates of food that are the size of a hubcap? If you do, drop by Azteca, yet another uniquely built restaurant located right off U.S. 74. The garish decorations both inside and outside of the establishment make it seem like customers are filing into a lavish Mexican villa. The food itself will leave you feeling both satisfaction and a touch of regret, but the experience is one-of-a-kind.
Photos: Charlotte Observer file