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Food & Drink Critics' picks

Best of Charlotte 2006

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Best New Restaurant (Opened in Last 12 Months): Nolen Kitchen and Crescent Bar and Lounge
2839 Selwyn Ave
704-372-1424

A first for Creative Loafing: Chef-owners (and graduates of the Culinary Institute of America) Stratos Lambos and Angelo Kaltsounis have done it again. Like winning a second Oscar a la Sally Field, this team has opened Nolen Kitchen and Crescent Bar and Lounge, which gets our nod for this year’s Best New Restaurant. (Their first restaurant, Ilios Noches, won Best New Restaurant in 2004.) Nolen’s Kitchen produces dishes that are uncomplicated yet perfectly balanced, creating flavors that are lucid and compelling. It’s true, we do like you.


Best Closed Restaurant (Closed in Last 12 Months): (tie) Ethan's and Meeting House

Two chef-owners will be missed. Like so many others, I enjoyed chef Mark Martin’s easy style at Ethan’s and Chris Zion’s precise dishes at the Meeting House. Now students at the Art Institute will benefit from Martin’s skill. With regret, gentlemen: auf wiedersehen.


Best Special Occasion Restaurant: Barrington's Restaurant
7822 Fairview Rd.
704-364-5755

Any occasion, for that matter. Chef and owner Bruce Moffett’s deference to food is well known and his kitchen achieves tastes that are sensational. Moffett is one of the most talented chefs in the city and makes any dining occasion — even a bite at his bar — special.


Best Late-Night Restaurant: The Penguin Drive-In
1921 Commonwealth Ave.
704-375-6959

Whether it be for a foot-long dog, fried pickles and a martini, or sweet potato fries and a burger after hours, the Penguin has become the old standby for grazing in the dark.


Best Restaurant Wine List: ZEBRA Restaurant and Wine Bar
4521 Sharon Rd.
704-442-9525
http://www.zebrarestaurant.com

What’s black and white and read all over? The 700-plus bottle wine roster (13 pages) at Zebra.


Best Southern Country/Soul Restaurant: Mert's Heart and Soul
214 N. College St.
704-342-4222
http://www.mertsuptown.com

We have gracious plenty contenders in this category, but James and Renee Bazelle’s spot always steals our hearts for their good food at low prices right in the center of downtown.


Best Gourmet/Specialty Food Store: Pasta & Provisions
1528 Providence Road
704-364-2662
http://www.pastaprovisions.com

Not only is owner Tommy George one of the nicest guys in town but he owns an outstanding shop filled with homemade pastas, freshly made mozzarella, Italian wines, breads, groceries and an addictive artichoke gorgonzola spread. What we love the most about P&P, though, is the old-fashioned screen door, which evokes a small-town grocery store feel.


Best Health Food Store: Earth Fare (chain), Home Economist (local)
5410 E. Independence Blvd.
704-536-4663

Yes, Earth Fare’s a chain, but it’s kinda local, since it originated in Asheville. We especially go for its raw milk cheeses and flours. It also has a good organic wine and beer selection.

The Home Economist (three locations) is headquartered in Charlotte and offers the amazing Amish Select chicken, which is free range and free of hormones.


Best Barbeque: Old Hickory House
6538 N. Tryon St.
704-596-8014

A repeat winner. The Carter family, and ‘cue lovers across the state, suffered a loss this year with the death of patriarch Gene Carter, but the clan continues its operation with a grandfathered pit — one of the last left in this part of the state. You can enjoy real Southern barbecue near the pit and watch part of North Carolina’s culinary history before it goes up in smoke. Sandwiches come sliced (for you Georgian and Alabama folk) or chopped (for Tar Heels). Their succulent hickory smoked pork ribs have customers clamoring for shipment across the US.


Best Coffeehouse: Caribou Coffee (East Boulevard)
1531 East Blvd.
704-334-3570

First of all, it’s in a great location, nestled toward the quiet end of East Boulevard, which means you don’t have to fight for parking. This Caribou is spacious and cozy at the same time, with patio seating overlooking East. Great for people-watching and plain ol’ daydreaming. It’s a less pretentious atmosphere than some other chain coffeehouses, and has a smoooooth selection of Joe. Now that the weather is heating up, a Caribou Cooler is on our list of favorite afternoon pick-me-up treats.


Best Takeout: Thai Thai
1412-C East Blvd
704-347-8886

Thai cuisine relies on the eye and palate of the cook rather than a step-by-step recipe, and Chef Tony Kwok has a first-rate palate. Those who loved Phim and Tony at their now-closed restaurant The King and I rejoiced when the couple opened a takeout-only Thai shop in Dilworth this year. Their fragrant Gaeng Panang Curry is the best in town.


Best Sidewalk Stand: Roger's cart in the Gateway

The people who work in the BOA operations center in the Gateway (as well as Johnson & Wales University faculty, staff and students) love Roger. He’s known for his witty repartee as well as the chili on his dogs.

Roger’s cart, near the Gold Rusher turnaround in front of the DoubleTree Hotel


Best Pizza: Luisa's Brick Oven
1730 Abbey Pl.
704-522-8782

A repeat winner. Luisa set the bar high when she introduced her brick oven baked Italian pizza 15 years ago. It’s still hard to beat.


Best Deli: Common Market

2007 Commonwealth Ave
704-334-6209

Common only in name (‘cuz it’s on Commonwealth Avenue), this place defines the very concept of a neighborhood market. Grab a beer, hang out for a bit, check out the community bulletin board — and then leave happy, with a gourmet sandwich or two from the deli. With so many sandwich and soup choices from which to choose, you’ll have good reason to stop by every day.


Best Asian: Copper, Modern Cuisine of India

311 East Blvd.
704-333-0063

At long last, an upscale Indian restaurant in Charlotte. Copper is 100 percent Indian in a modern way. Restaurateur Pannu Singh offers a three-tiered menu: “Traditional,” “Modern” and “For the Gourmands.” Along with this unique menu comes a well chosen wine list, with the wine served in Reidel glasses. Impressive.


Best European: Waldhorn Restaurant
12101 Lancaster Hwy. (Rt. 521)
704-540-7047

Some go for the beer and camaraderie, but CIA-trained chef-owner Thomas Meier makes outstanding German food, including his schweine lendchen mit jägersosse. The apple strudel’s not too shabby, either.


Best Latino: Delicias Colombian Bakery & Restaurant
212 North Polk St.
704-889-5328

If you’ve never tried Colombian food, Delicias is a treat. The empanadas are outstanding and the entrées are enormous and inexpensive. Plus, they have a bakery and takeout section; in fact, they were last year’s winner for Best Takeout.


Best Ethnic (Not Specified Above): Meskerem Ethiopian Cuisin
601 South Kings Dr.
704-335-1197

Choosing best ethnic (other) is like choosing among our children. However, we’ve been sending friends and readers to Meskerem since it opened. Favorites include tib wat, a darkly tempting beef chili stew, and miser alecha. Dishes are filling, inexpensive and served communally.


Best Steak House: Ruth's Chris Steak House
6000 Fairview Road
704-556-1115

New to Charlotte this year, this expensive steakhouse has Charlotteans waiting in line and drinking mojitos. Ruth’s offers thickly cut steaks and chops, cooked with precision, oozing with fatty, rich flavor — even if sitting in a pool of sizzling butter. Ah, the renowned Ruth’s Chris sizzle.


Best Restaurant for Vegetarians: Ben Thanh Vietnamese Restaurant
4900 Central Ave
704-566-1088

Clean, herbaceous flavors are the hallmarks of Vietnamese cuisine, and Ngan Nguyen (who used to cook for her daughter at Lang Van and now cooks for her youngest son here) prepares traditional dishes that are competent and delicious. The menu offers dozens of vegetarian choices.


Best Sushi: Nikko Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar

1300-F South Blvd.
704-370-0100
http://www.nikkosushibar.com

Owner and Itatame Joanna Nix produces irresistible, deftly cleaved rolls that taste sparkling fresh at her SouthEnd location.


Best Smoothies: Carolina Smoothies (East Boulevard)
1408-D East Blvd
704-358-0006

A frequent past winner. For 10 years now, Carolina Smoothies has been satisfying local taste buds with fresh blends of juices, yogurt, fruits and “add-ins” like the “protein pack” or the “energy pack.” Even, ahem, “cooler” is that it’s locally owned, with three other locations. Not bad for a concept that started when the owners were creating concoctions to beat hangovers!


Best Locally Made Desserts: Anywhere Pastry Chef Frank Kaltsounis is


Kaltsounis, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, specializing in pastries, cut his teeth at Kyma in Atlanta. Now, he’s merely the best pastry chef in town. You can’t miss with any of his desserts at either Nolen Kitchen or Ilios Noche.


Best French Fries: Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries
14021 Conlan Circle
704-544-5996

OK, it’s a chain, but these potatoes, with their Idaho birth place announced at the fry line, are hand cut, fried in peanut oil, and served two ways: regular or with Cajun spice. The surrounding brown paper bag is dotted with hot grease. These fries, the outer ones (with skin), are cooked to perfection.


Best Fried Chicken: Price's Chicken Coop
1614 Camden Rd.
704-333-9866

Price’s is the annual winner of this award (is there enough room on the wall for all the certificates?) and has also been cited as a great spot for cardiologists to scout for patients. The chicken dinners (seafood and barbecue, too) are packaged in cardboard boxes that are almost as famous as their contents. Price’s chicken is the fried chicken that made the South famous.


Best Hamburger: Arthur's

4400 Sharon Rd.
704-366-8610

Native Charlotteans use this spot to meet and chow down on these old-timey burgers topped with onions, peppers, mushrooms, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes.


Best Hot Dog: Green's Lunch
309 W. 4th St.
704-332-1786

Slathered with cole slaw and chili. Yum.


Best Ice Cream: Dolce Ristorante Italiano
1710 Kenilworth
704-332-7525

You can have your cake and lick it, too, with their house-made tiramisu and cheesecake gelato. Or get the affogato — two scoops of gelato in espresso topped with whipped cream.


Best Wings: Wing Stop (Carmel Commons location)
7629 Pineville-Matthews Road
704-540-8311

Taking wings to a level beyond the hot and spicy Buffalo variety.


Best Sandwich: Lamb Sausage at Lulu
1911 Central Ave
704-376-2242

It’s hard to select other lunch items at Lulu when this sandwich is still on the menu. This superb item comes on a crusty baguette slathered with creamy goat cheese and filled with spicy lamb sausage and sweet pepperonata.


Best Bakery: Nona's Sweets
The Terraces at University Place, 9601 N. Tryon St.
704-717-6144

This Italian bakery offers many treats, including sfogliatelle, Italian cookies (including apricot shortbread), Italian cheesecakes, tiramisu, a two-layer almond butter cream cake, and the Duomo, a dome-shaped caked filled with strawberry, chocolate, amaretto or peanut butter mousse. Mama Mia — I mean Nona (grandmother) Mia.

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