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Food & Drink: Critics' Pick

Best of Charlotte 2005

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BEST NEW RESTAURANT (OPENED IN LAST 12 MONTHS)

Restaurant i Japanese Fusion Cuisine

Restaurant i Japanese was named by one of the owner's daughters. The "i" is from the Japanese word ai, which means love. This is a restaurant in which you can taste the passion of classically trained chef and co-owner Masanori Kokubo. His talent reaches into the plate to reveal the primary flavor of each dish in a big way. From immaculate sashimi to a sleek tataki prime sirloin appetizer, dishes are glorious.

1524 East Boulevard. 704-333-8118.

BEST RESTAURANT WITH A VIEW

Bentley's on 27th

Whether you love heights or fear them, the view from Bentley's on 27th is undeniably stunning. Iridescent lights go past SouthPark, and the manmade spectacles of the BOA Stadium, the arena, the downtown towers and the ever climbing center city condominium buildings seem more alive at night. Bentley's main dining room wraps around three sides, with 100 seats near the floor to ceiling windows.

201 South College Street, 27th floor. 704-343-9201.

BEST RESTAURANT WINE LIST

Bonterra Restaurant & Wine Bar

JD Duncan, owner of Bonterra, hangs with the wine crowd, and you can tell with his well-chosen wine list and gazillion wines by the glass.

1829 Cleveland Avenue. 704-333-9463.

BEST SOUTHERN

Charleston House On The Plaza

Charleston native Ron Goodwin opened his latest restaurant venture by transforming an old Plaza building into a bit of his hometown, setting the stage for a rustic Low Country feast. The menu reflects the soul and comforting favorites of that cuisine: she crab soup, crab cakes, Edisto shrimp and grits, barbecue ribs and the ubiquitous mac and cheese.

3128 The Plaza. 704-333-4441.

BEST GOURMET/SPECIALTY FOOD STORE

Dean & Deluca, SouthPark

Go for the fish, anchovies, pates and the cheese selection. They will give you a sample of cheese if you're undecided and will help you design a well-balanced cheese tray.

6903 Phillips Place. 704-643-6868.

BEST PLACE TO FIND EXOTIC SPICES

Oriental Foods

The owners are bilingual and will help you navigate the crowded aisles to find inexpensive spices and other ingredients, as well as make helpful suggestions. Some flavorings, such as kiffir lime leaves, are in the freezer section.

4816 Central Avenue. 704-537-4281.

BEST ORGANIC FOOD OUTLET

Matthews Community Farmers' Market

If you want to know where your food is grown and who's growing it -- or if you're just interested in getting the freshest produce available -- there's no better area market than Matthews Community Farmers' Market. More than half the farmers are dedicated to organic farming, and at least one family member must be in the booth to answer your questions. Be there by 7:30am for the best selection.

Downtown Matthews, Saturday mornings seasonally.

BEST BARBEQUE

Old Hickory House

James Carter's joint is the only place in town -- maybe the region -- where diners can actually watch and smell pork slowly cooking in a barbecue pit. If you like -- or know -- what outside brown is, Old Hickory is your kind of place. The outstanding succulent hickory smoked pork has kept most folks coming back for decades.

6538 North Tryon Street. 704-596-8014.

BEST TAKEOUT

Delicias Colombian Bakery & Restaurant

Let's face it, in the takeout category, Price's Chicken Coop has entered the Best of Charlotte Hall of Fame. However, a spot which has the Latino community (and others) driving the distance to pick up treats is Delicias Colombian Bakery & Restaurant. From the assortment of Colombian baked goods to the thinly crusted corn meal meat empanadas (and let's not forget the deep fried plantains stuffed with cheese), it's all good.

212 North Polk Street. 704-889-5328.

BEST SIDEWALK STAND

Victor Werany, The Chili Man

Victor Werany is one of those colorful locals who make a city what it is. His regulars love him and his dogs and brats are exceptional. Even though he's from upstate New York (which is why, I suppose, he puts beans in the chili), Werany can make a mean Southern dog smile.

4th & Tryon Streets.

BEST PIZZA

Luisa's Brick Oven

It's the thin crust baked in a brick oven that keeps folks coming back after nearly 15 years.

1730 Abbey Place. 704-522-8782.

BEST DELI

Katz New York

Now celebrating their fourth year is Katz's NY, which is actually a restaurant as well as a deli. Katz' quintessential cold cut sandwiches are just the thing.

8045 Providence Road. 704-543-4666.

BEST DINER

The Penguin

Good food and an ABC license. What more could you want?

1921 Commonwealth Avenue. 704-375-6959.

BEST ETHNIC RESTAURANT

Cuisine Malaya, Malaysian Cuisine & Japanese Sushi Bar

With more than 100 Chinese food vendors, 100 Latino eateries, 30 Japanese spots, and a dozen restaurants each of Vietnamese, Thai and Indian, choosing the best overall ethnic restaurant was difficult. But Cuisine Malaya is one of my favorite restaurants, with its melt-in-the-pot blend of southern Indian, Chinese, Thai and Malaysian (plus a dash of Arab ingredients). Cuisine Malaya has added a full-fledged Japanese menu.

1411 Elizabeth Avenue. 704-372-8766.

BEST EUROPEAN CUISINE

Ilios Noche

The 2004 winner of Best New Restaurant still has us smiling. Chef-owners, and graduates of the Culinary Institute of America, Stratos Lambos and Angelo Kaltsounis produce food that is as compelling as it is flavorful, while Frank Kaltsounis, the French Culinary-trained pastry chef, makes whimsical desserts in-house.

11508 Providence Road. 704-814-9882.

BEST STEAK HOUSE

Palm Restaurant

What's great about Palm is the non-stuffy ambience. Of all the corporate steak houses, their service team, especially the bartenders, are the best in the city.

6705 Phillips Place Court. 704-552-7256.

BEST SOUP

Ben Thành Vietnamese Restaurant

Nothing will make you feel better faster than a large bowl of Ngan Nguyen's Pho, a Vietnamese beef soup. Nguyen has been cooking for Charlotteans for more than a decade at her daughter's former restaurant, Lang Van, but since the family sold that restaurant last year, she's been in her son's kitchen at Ben Thành.

4900 Central Avenue. 704-566-1088.

BEST SUSHI

Restaurant i Japanese Fusion Cuisine

Fish is selected by one partner in NYC and shipped daily to this extraordinary Dilworth restaurant. No gimmicky, beginner sushi here.

1524 East Boulevard. 704-333-8118.

BEST DESSERTS

Sugar Buzz Pastry Shop

Summer is almost over and so may be your diet if you make your way to Pastry Chef Jeff Blount's Sugar Buzz, a boutique-styled bakery, in Denver.

1464 North NC 16 Highway, Denver. 704-483-2855.

BEST HAMBURGER

Arthur's

Native Charlotteans use this spot to meet with family and friends for weekend lunches, but any time is the best time for this old-timey burger topped with onions, peppers, mushrooms, lettuce and tomatoes.

Belk basement, SouthPark Mall. 704-366-8610.

BEST FRENCH FRIES

Fairview Grill

Exceptional hand cut fries.

5124 Park Road. 704-527-8566.

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