One of my absolute favorite things to do ever, with my husband, is to visit small, slightly upscale restaurants.
With five little ones at home, we don't eat out like your average American. But we always make special occasions "extra special" by leaving the kids at home and venturing out to another restaurant we've never before tried.
The rules are thus: it cannot be a chain restaurant, (and if it is, it has to be a very very small chain) and it can't be anywhere we've gone before.
We only do this two-three times a year (vday, anniversary, and restaurant week). We sometimes do go back to a few of the "not so pricey" restaurants during the year.
Here's our list of restaurants you have to try before you die: ($-affordable, $$-mid-range, $$$-pricey)
Carpe Diem (Elizabeth) $$$
Only been here once, but this place left such an impression on both my heart and my stomach. The atmosphere is beautiful and warm. (I kept staring at the ceilings.) The service is exceptional and the food is...well, I'm still talking about it three years later. Just ask my husband.
5 Church (Uptown) $$
Looking for something trendy and eclectic? Look no further. Okay, you may find me strange again, but I also stared at the ceiling in here too. (There's writing everywhere, so it's hard to miss.) The food is pretty good, and the service is awesome. Ask for a window seat. The people watching is almost as lovely as the food.
The King's Kitchen (Uptown) $-$$
This place. If you haven't been here yet, I may shed a tear for you. Southern, fresh cuisine? Check. Friendly service? Check, check. Welcoming, casual atmosphere? Check. Non/profit? CHECK!
This place has a story and a mission. You can't find a better combination than all of that, PLUS amazing Southern comfort foods!!! I mean, the fried chicken, the sweet tea, all of the starchy, veggie, meat-crazy items that you would expect from a Southern menu. It's the most perfect restaurant. Read more here:
Amelie's French Bakery (NoDa) $-$$
Okay, I'm cheating a bit. Not a restaurant, technically. BUT, they have very edible things here, sooooo....it counts. Plus, who wouldn't want to visit one of the top 10 bakeries in the entire WORLD?! Yes, it's true.
And their cheeky decor. Yes, please. Also, the ceiling. Yes. What is it with the ceilings?!
In fact, if it wasn't so inconvenient for me now, I'd drive here daily to write my book. I'm so serious.
Magnolias (Charleston, SC) $$-$$$
Another cheat. Sorry. But I have to mention this place. It's amazing. AhhhhhmayyyyyZING!!!! Service is so good. (I literally left with a new friend.) The food. I can't even talk about it without stuttering it was THAT good. If you go for brunch, please please please just get the BBQ hash. Goodness gracious.
Emma's (Salisbury) $$
We discovered this quaint little house a year ago while driving around our new-to-us town. The house is exactly that, an old remodeled house from the turn of the century. Each room is for seating and boasts cozy fireplaces. There's even a lovely back deck to sit at when the weathers nice.
Small menus are my favorite and this menu is just divine. We've since been here several times and have about tried it all. Amazing southern cuisine. Fresh. From scratch. Love. It's the perfect date spot.
And now, our restaurants to avoid...cause we've had as many bad experiences as we've had good ones....
Upstream (South Park) $$$
If you enjoy awkward atmosphere and big price with tiny portions, go here. We almost hated everything about it. The food was mediocre and if you're dying to try it, go during Restaurant Week when you won't be overspending too much, cause no matter what, you'll be overspending.
Rocky River Grille (Embassy Suites Concord) $$
Eh. I guess I should've expected a hotel restaurant to not be so great. If you wanna try it, I recommend just saving some money and drive a bit further to PDQ and get real fresh, delicious food for much cheaper.
Bentleys On 27th (Uptown) $$$
The food is so-so and the atmosphere is too upscale for my tastes. It's a nice looking restaurant, but the elevator ride alone to the 27th floor gave this mama an eye full of tears. Yes, I'm extremely terrified of heights and so sitting five feet away from a gigantic window that was a constant reminder of how high we were, was not a good time. Overpriced.
La Cava (Salisbury) $$-$$$
We were so looking forward to dining in this eclectic, old church building. The service was...weird, slow, and just, weird. The food was okay, but overpriced. We may give it another chance someday, but that's only if it's the-only-restaurant-open-because-all-of-the-other-restaurants-around-it-decided-to-take-the-day-off-and-we-don't-want-to-drive-to-Charlotte-and-we-have-$100-to-blow-for-funsies. (Whew! That was a mouthful...)
Chima Brazilian Grille (Uptown) $$
Beautiful restaurant. Cool setting. Weird buffet. Even weirder atmosphere. You sit kinda close to other patrons if you get the booth. And unless you're looking to get the meat sweats, just don't.
Cabo Fish Taco (NoDa) $-$$
I have a feeling a lot of you want to stone me right now, but I hated this place. The wait was ridiculous. The atmosphere was LOUD, cramped, and hot. The food was good, but not amazing and the service was...well, what you'd expect from the area it's in. But everyone goes here. And if you haven't gone here yet, you should, just so you can say you have been. You may love it, but I didn't.
Afton Tavern (Afton Village) $-$$
Two words: cookie skillet.
Newks (Uptown/Rock Hill) $-$$
The Mac 'n Cheese!!!!
Tupelo honey cafe (South End) $-$$
Atmosphere is so fun. The food is yummy. Service is great.
Alinos Pizza (Mooresville) $
Best pizza. Awesome atmosphere and speedy service. Such a fun place.
Waldhorn (Pineville) $$
The beer. The Spaetzel. The beer. The Spaetzel!!! Did I mention, the Spaetzel?!
Restaurants we're dying to try:
The Prickly Pear (Mooresville)
The Cajun Queen (Elizabeth)
Heirloom (Mountain Island Lake) Just got reservations here!!
Many of these restaurants can be visited during Charlotte's Restaurant Week which is being held January 22-31st! Go here http://m.charlotterestaurantweek.com to make reservations and view a list of participating restaurants!
Share with us your faves or hates? What have been your experiences at these places? Any suggestions?! We LOVE to hear from you!!!