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Our critics' guide to recommended restaurants in Charlotte

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All Around Town

Anntony's Caribbean, 400 S. Tryon St., 704-339-0303; 2001 E. 7th St., 704-342-0749. All locations have different owners. A hint of the tropics; rotisserie chicken with Jamaican jerk sauce, ribs, Paradise Island fish special, curries, and Caribbean styled greens. $$

Azteca, 116 Woodlawn Rd., 704-525-5110; 9709 Independence Blvd., 704-814-9877; 1863 W. Franklin Blvd. (Gastonia), 704-866-7574. A favorite of many, Azteca offers a lengthy roster of flavorful dishes. $$

Brixx Wood-Fired Pizza, 1801 Scott Avenue, 704-376-1000; 225 E. 6th St., 704-347-2749; 16915 Birkdale Commons Pkwy. (Huntersville), 704-894-0044. Home of the MBA program, and the "B" stands for beer. Late night noshing on goat cheese and shrimp pizzas has become a standard. Not complicated, but consistently good. Open late. L, D $$

Fuel Pizza Cafe, 1501 Central Ave., 704-376-3835; 1801 South Blvd., 704-335-7375; 319 W. Trade St., 704-344-1767; 404 S. Main St. (Davidson), 704-896-0200. Hand-tossed New York style pizza with kitschy automobile and gas station memorabilia. Traditional and gourmet style pizzas, calzones, and chicken wings. $$

McAlister's Deli, 4130 Carmel Rd., 704-540-7199; 15201-A John J. Delaney Dr., Ballantyne Commons East, 704-542-0727; 8046-D Providence Rd., Arboretum, 704-752-9665; 19330 W. Catawba Rd. (Cornelius), 704-896-3354. Offers over 100 items including sandwiches, salads, appetizers, plus they do more with a baked spud than you can imagine. $$

Mellow Mushroom, 4422 Colwick Rd., 704-362-5335; 4100-A Carmel Rd., 704-341-8236; 5814 Prosperity Church Rd., 704-875-2418; 1225-A East Blvd., 704-371-4732. An Atlanta-based franchise with a local twist: a large selection of domestic and imported beers. The relaxed atmosphere and variety of pizzas attract all ages. $$

Midtown Sundries, 7715 Pineville-Matthews Rd., 704-541-8117; 3425 David Cox Rd., 704-597-7413; 18626 Harborside Dr. (Cornelius), 704-896-9013; 618 Kenilworth Ave., 704-358-3933. Very popular, festive spot for burgers and wings while watching a wide screen, playing pool, or listening to live music. $$

Restaurant Y Taqueria La Unica, 2801 Central Ave., 704-347-5115; 140 Eastway Dr., 704-597-1699; 1621 Walkup Ave. (Monroe), 704-282-2369. A hybrid offering fast food as well as entrees and most items feature the flavors of Mexico City. Try the sensational al pastor taco. $$

Salsa's Mexican Restaurant, Galleria Village Shopping Center, 1640 N. Sardis Rd., 704-846-3374; Carmel Commons Shopping Center, 6676 Carmel Rd., 704-759-9886. Singles and families crowd this vibrant, friendly dining room to feast on a mix of standard dishes (chimichangas, enchiladas, burritos, fajitas) with a smattering of homemade tastes. $$

The Graduate, 911 E. Morehead St., 704-377-3808; 8334 Pineville-Matthews Rd., 704-543-4020; 2014 Sharon Forest Rd., 704-532-2562. Popular hangouts with college crowd, offering good variety of dishes, subs, sandwiches, calzones and pizza. Try the cheese fries. $

Vinnie's Sardine Grill & Raw Bar, 1714 South Blvd., 704-332-0006; 142 E John St. (Matthews), 704-849-0202; 643 Williamson Rd. (Mooresville), 704-799-2090. You won't find sardines, but at this lively place the after-work crowd gathers to chow down on raw oysters, wings and more. L, D $$

Wolfman Pizza, 10620-A Providence Rd., 704-845-9888; McMullen Creek Market, 704-543-9653; Cotswold Mall, 704-366-3666; 1039-A Providence Rd; 8662 J.W. Clay Blvd., 704-503-3999. Flashy wide-ranging selection of California-style pizza, with everything from the sweet-tangy Maui, to New Mexico, to Shrimp, Pesto and Goat Cheese. Also home of the Howlzone (calzone). $$

Elizabeth/Plaza-Midwood

Cajun Queen, 1800 E. 7th St., 704-377-9017. Friendly atmosphere, jazz, and terrific service highlight the complete New Orleans-style menu. D $$$

Cuisine Malaya, Malaysian Cuisine & Japanese Sushi Bar, 1411 Elizabeth Ave., 704-372-0766. Charlotte's only Malaysian restaurant serving first rate Roti Canai, Satay, Char Kway Teow and Beef Rendang. Sultry, yet sophisticated ambience and fine service. L, D $$$

Diamond Restaurant, 1901 Commonwealth Ave., 704-375-8959. Established in 1945, this is one of Charlotte's oldest restaurants. Good, solid homecooking with a down-home, almost small town touch. $

Dish, 1220 Thomas Ave., 704-344-0343. With an easygoing, yet retro, atmosphere and simple, but satisfying Southern including Low Country, Cajun and Tex-Mex fare this is the perfect neighborhood joint. $$

Ethan's of Elizabeth American Bistro, 366 N. Caswell Rd., 704-375-3007. Located in a charming old house in one of Charlotte's quaint neighborhoods, this comfortable bistro features the creative abilities of chef and owner Mark Martin who produces well-executed New American cuisine. $$$

John's Country Kitchen, 1518 Central Ave., 704-333-9551. A reminder of a culinary tradition we're quickly leaving behind. Brains and eggs, country ham, grits and gravy. Open for lunch too. Cash only. B, L $

Matthews/Southeast Charlotte

Boardwalk Billy's, Crown Point, 1636 Sardis Rd. North, 704-841-8688. This beach-styled place may look like a bar, but offers much more. Their Billy's Steam Party (enough for two) is filled with steamed shrimp, oysters, clams, crab legs, potatoes and corn on the cob. Serves food late. $$

The Fish Farm, 1200 Sam Newell Rd., 704-847-8578. Traditional fish camp food mixed with Southern country, steaks, and ribs. Set in a barn. $$$

Greg's Famous B-B-Q, 10915 Monroe Rd., 704-847-5035. The menu has everything from barbecue to lasagna, chicken to foot long hot dogs and all at unbelievably low prices. $$

Kristopher's Sports Bar & Restaurant, 250 N. Trade St., 704-845-6200. Popular sports bar with New York styled pizza, Buffalo wings, soups and sandwiches. L, D $

Mi Tierra Latino Grill & Fritanga, 11450 East Independence Blvd., Matthews Plaza, 704-845-0400. The Herrera family owns this gem which features a selection of Nicaraguan, Colombian, Cuban, and a few Mexican dishes. Feast on yuccas, plantains, flavorful grilled dishes and the Latino sauce triad: chimichurri, salsa encurtido, and mojo. $

Raucci's on East John Street, 131 E. John St., 704-841-8282. Family owned Italian restaurant serving New York-styled southern Italian cuisine. Pizza at lunch only. This is hearty, but unobtrusive fare. L, D $$$

Ruby Palace Bistro, 1806 Windsor Square Dr., 704-841-8133. Order from the authentic side of the menu to get flavorful Cantonese and Shanghai dishes, such as sizzling chicken hot pot, Dungeness crab, and seafood. A favorite party spot among Charlotte's Asian community. $$

Township Grille, Matthews Festival, 10400 East Independence Boulevard, 704-847-2480. Matthews' version of Buffalo, NY, with great wings, roast beef on kummelweck rolls and a large selection of beers, including Genesee beer and cream ale. $

Yen's, 9010 Monroe Rd., 704-845-9444. Small, family owned Chinese restaurant which prepares many Chinese cuisines and offers solicitous service. $$

Myers Park

Fenwicks, 511 Providence Rd., 704-333-2750. Smaller than some bathrooms, but cozier, and a fun place. The menu runs to standards like steak and pasta, with fresh vegetables daily. $$$

The Meeting House, 801 Providence Rd., 704-334-6338. Located in a charming house in the center of Myers Park, this is a meeting place for the neighborhood crowd. Talented chef and owner Chris Zion was trained at Le Cordon Bleu, yet the dishes are American bistro. D $$$

Providence Cafe, 110 Perrin Place, 704-376-2008. Gorgeous dining room and comfortable New American cuisine offers a neighborhood spot and place to linger in Charlotte's ultimate zip code. $$$

Volare Ristorante Italiano, 545-B Providence Rd., 704-370-0208. A small neighborhood spot in Charlotte's ultimate zip code with fabulous service and fine dishes which achieve Italian cuisine's reassuring freshness, along with an exquisite layering of flavors. $$$$

North Charlotte/University

Amalfi, Italian Cuisine, 8542 University City Blvd., 704-547-8651. Small, family-owned Italian eatery with a loyal following. The owner, a native of Naples, prepares generous portions of simple and tasty southern Italian fare, everything from pastas to pizzas. Closed Monday. L, D $$

Black Oak Grille, 9311 J.W. Clay Blvd, 704-503-3335. A counter service, family friendly spot with a Culinary Institute of America (CIA) grad chef at the helm offering excellent rotisserie chicken, pot roast, ribs, sandwiches, salads, baked cinnamon apples, and a Southern selection of sides. $

Boardwalk Billy's, UNCC, Shoppes at University Place, 8933-2 J.M. Keynes Dr., 704-503-7427. This beach-styled place may look like a bar, but offers much more. Their Billy's Steam Party (enough for two) is filled with steamed shrimp, oysters, clams, crab legs, potatoes and corn on the cob. Serves food late. $$

Bombay Cuisine, 230 E. W.T. Harris Blvd., 704-549-8300, 704-503-5888. Exquisite Northern and Southern Indian dishes set before you in a setting where every detail has been noted. L, D $$$

Boudreaux's Louisiana Kitchen, 501 E. 36th St., 704-331-9898. Po'Boys and muffalettas at lunch, inexpensive, traditional Creole and Cajun dishes at dinner served in a spacious, artsy dining room. Sunday Brunch, too. L, D $$

Bubba's Barbecue, 4400 Sunset Rd., Exit 16 off I-77, 704-393-2000. Eastern NC-style barbecue. $

Cabo Fish Taco Baja Seagrill, 3201 N. Davidson St., 704-332-8868. Set in a humble NoDa historic building, these well crafted, tasty dishes will bring you back for regular feeding forays. There are vegetarian, chicken, and steak selections. L, D $$

Ciro's Italian Restaurant, 8927 J.M. Keynes Dr., #100 (University Place), 704-510-0012. Simple, New York styled, southern Italian red and white cuisine served in a lively Italian-wedding/happy family atmosphere. Enormous portions, steaming fresh baked bread, marvelous marinara, reasonable prices. L, D $$$

Di Banana Boat, 7008 E. WT Harris Blvd., 704-531-0075. Low key, inexpensive Jamaican spot serving ackee and saltfish, cocoa bread sandwiches, jerk chicken, curried goat, and more. Catering available. $

Fat City, 3127 N. Davidson St., 704-343-0240. This mainstay of the N. Davidson arts district serves a variety of sandwiches, salads and apps, with a good vegetarian selection. L, D $

Grandma's Country Kitchen, 6615 N. Tryon St., 704-598-1221. Small, make yourself at home place featuring Southern country cooking. Excellent freshly baked johnnycakes with molasses. Menu roster changes daily, but look for fried croaker, meatloaf, veggie burgers, tuna melts, fried okra, macaroni and cheese with as many as eight cheeses, collard greens, and homemade desserts. $$

The Green Tomato, 5332 Prosperity Church Rd., (Bi-Lo Shopping Center), 704-947-5678. Serving up loads of tasty Southern and New Orleans dishes, from chicken and collards, to Po' Boy sandwiches and a seasonal all-you-can-eat crawfish boil. Patio. $

Melting Pot, 230 E. W.T. Harris Blvd., 704-548-2432. A Florida based franchise that has been around since 1975, but is now primed again to catch the latest fondue wave. You will find all kinds of fondues: cheese, beef, seafood, chicken, and chocolate. D $$$

Old Hickory House, 6538 N. Tryon St., 704-596-8014. Western-NC-styled barbecue at its finest. Sliced or chopped, served on paper wrapping, in a dining room that features a smoky hickory pit and a 60's (and TV's Bonanza) ambience. Cash only. $

Taj Mahal Indian Cuisine, 3200 University City Blvd., 704-717-9090. Flavorful northern Indian cuisine, including tandoori specialties, served in a bare bones environment. A healthy variety of vegetarian dishes. $$

Taqueria Guadalajara, 4517 N. Tryon, 704-596-2239. Inexpensive spot featuring the specialties of central Mexico including tacos, quail, and barbecue sandwiches. B, L, D $

Pineville/Hwy 51

Bombay Grille Indian Cuisine, 8706-Pineville-Matthews Rd., 704-542-3933. Spice laden entree dishes give a tasty overview of Indian cuisine. The chicken tikka masala is second to none in town. L, D $$$

Campania, 6414 Rea Rd., 704-541-8505. Charlotte's nexus to Naples. Copious portions of remarkable dishes with Italian wines to match. Beautifully appointed dining room. Pricey, but considerably less than airfare. D $$$$

Firebirds Rocky Mountain Grill, 7716 Rea Rd., 704-752-7979. This stunning facility resembles a Colorado lodge complete with roaring fire and aspen columns. Menu items, served in huge portions, are simple, straighforward and have a southwestern flair. D $$$

Formosa Chinese Cuisine, 8200-400 Providence Rd., Arboretum Shopping Center, 704-540-3779. A casual spot featuring a mix of China's regional cooking and excelling in seafood dishes. Order from the second menu if you like more authentic offerings. $$

Katz New York, 8045 Providence Rd., in the Arboretum Office Park, 704-543-4666. Hand cut fries, potato knish, matzo ball soup, housemade corned beef and cole slaw, egg creams, and well-made cold cut sandwiches, all Big Apple deli style. B, L, D $$

Mi Mexico, 10015 Lee St., 704-889-7709. Go here for Chicken Pipian or Mole Poblano. $$

Senor Tequila Cantina Grill, 6414 Rea Rd. (shops at Piper Glen), 704-543-0706. Well crafted, competent dishes which range from such typical Mexican staples as burritos, chimichangas, taquitos, enchiladas, quesadillas, and fajitas, to Pollo con Mole and grilled New York strip. Lengthy tequila list, too. $$

Trio Restaurant, 10709 McMullen Creek Pkwy., 704-541-8000. Friendly place for an imaginative and eclectic selection of entrees, gourmet pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, salads and pastas. Emphasis on creative taste combinations. L, D $$

Tsukiji, 8320 Pineville-Matthews Rd., 704-543-4081. Less expensive than other sushi restaurants, and the sushi is pretty good. Other Japanese dishes offered. $$$

Waldhorn Restaurant, 12101 Lancaster Hwy. (Rt. 521), 704-540-7047. This restaurant is located in an imposing two-story Alpine building feted with geranium flower boxes. Chef and owner Thomas Maier's attentive care may cause you to jettison stereotypic views of German cuisine. From grilled duck breast in lingonberry sauce to wienerschnitzel, it's all good. L, D $$$

Wan Fu, 10719 Kettering Dr., 704-541-1688. Upscale Americanized Chinese restaurant in which dishes are beautifully presented. L, D $$$

South Charlotte

Bangkok Ocha, 7629-B Pineville-Matthews Rd., 704-544-7770. Thai dishes of complex intensity and flavor set in a small, but polished restaurant. L, D $$$

Beef n' Bottle, 4538 South Blvd., 704-523-9977. A homegrown spot, beloved by many, with a traditional menu featuring aged Black Angus beef, oysters Rockefeller, and seafood, including frogs' legs. Dark, dated interior. D $$$

Bill Spoon's Barbecue, 5524 South Blvd., 704-525-8865. For nearly 40 years, this 65-seat pork parlor has been packed at lunch. The place to go for die hard Eastern barbecue aficionados. $

Bourbon Street Station, 6101 Old Pineville Rd., 704-522-0231. Good Cajun-style food is served up here, with an emphasis on a fun and friendly ambience. You can't miss; just keep your eye out for the old train. L, D $$$

The Cupboard, 3005 South Blvd., 704-523-9934. One of the busiest of Charlotte's many home cooking restaurants. Great daily specials (don't miss the chicken pan pie) and legendary coconut pie. B, L, D $

Don Quijote, Restaurante Espanol, 4640 South Blvd., 704-529-5959. Exceptional Northern and Southern Spanish cuisine. One could readily make a meal by choosing a variety of the 15 tantalizing Tapas items. And there's more: paellas, fabulous fish dishes, Spanish wines, and a large deck. L, D $$$

Harrigan's Gourmet Deli, 5033-K South Blvd., 704-522-3550. Traditional cold cut sandwiches on round bread, specialty "Dilbert" sandwiches, homemade salads and daily specials. B, L $

Jaipur Indian Cuisine, 5909 South Blvd., 704-643-1421. Don't let the exterior put you off. Inside you'll find balanced Indian dishes from all parts of the subcontinent. Reasonably priced, too. A great weekday lunch buffet, and a great dinner buffet on weekends. L, D $$$

Luisa's Brick Oven, 1730 Abbey Pl., 704-522-8782. Brick oven-baked pizza plus other Italian dishes. Pizza available with innovative topping alternatives. Take out orders prepared quickly. $$

Mai Japanese Restaurant, 5906 South Blvd., 704-522-1515. Sushi chefs produce deftly cleaved wondrous rolls that taste sparklingly fresh. Robata grill, too. $$$

Monsoon, Thai Cuisine Restaurant, 2801 South Blvd., 704-519-0066. The lush kang panang with chopped kaffir lime leaves and holy basil is a gift to the senses. The key to eating well here is going with friends and sharing a spate of dishes. $$$

Nectar, 1730-A E. Woodlawn Rd., 704-519-4174. A delightful neighborhood spot to refuel on global, but gussied up, fusion foods. Appetizer dishes to try include the Caribbean crab and shrimp cakes, and heady shrimp and chicken spring rolls. L, D $$

Paluso's Pizzeria, 400 North Polk Street, 704-889-5050. This take out/delivery only place is not to be missed. They offer New York style pizza with freshly made dough, an outrageous meatball sandwich, and one of the best Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches in town. $

The Peaceful Dragon, 12610 Steele Creek Rd., 704-504-8866. Chef Geoff Bragg, a Johnson & Wales culinary graduate, presents delightful Asian dishes, which are not only pretty on the plate, but good for you - in this vegan restaurant. $$

Pho 98, 5937 South Blvd., 704-643-1243. You may not find all the Vietnamese dishes you like here, but what is offered sparkles with freshness and flavor. $$

Portofino Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria, 5126 Park Rd., 704-527-0702. Wonderful rustic Neapolitan dishes at incredibly low prices. Served in a casual atmosphere. New York style pizza (large is 16 inch). Take out, too. $$ L, D $$

The Press Box, 1627 Montford Dr., 704-523-4981. With a pub-like interior, this meeting place is a Charlotte tradition for burgers, sandwiches and salads. L, D $$

Restaurante Mi Tierrita, 5033-G South Blvd., 704-525-5781. The place is simple. The food is simple and is, perhaps, more comfortable with village tradition. But this is a fun place to explore rural Colombian cuisine. $$

The Roasting Company, 1601-A Montford Dr., 704-521-8188. Rotisserie chicken that falls off the bone and melts in your mouth. Excellent cornbread. L, D $

Saigon Cafe, 15105 John J. Delaney Dr., 704-542-7080. An inventive combination of French, Vietnamese, and Thai featuring the combined talents of chef Axel Dikkers and Be Phan in the kitchen. $$

Saigon Palace, 5215-B South Blvd., 704-529-0098. Delightful frothy tropical fruit shakes and hardy bowls of steaming pho are among the array of delicious items to try from the menu. Chinese buffet at lunch, but Vietnamese menu items are always available. $$

Sir Edmond Halley's Restaurant, 4151-A Park Rd., 704-525-2555. Quaint neighborhood pub ambience, but the food here is good. Caters to beer savants pouring seven drafts including Watney's and Whitbread. L, D $$

Sushi 101, Noodle & Sushi Bar, 1730-F East Woodlawn Rd., Shops at Woodlawn Rd., 704-672-0990. This upbeat spot offers a balance of conviviality, energy and informality with dishes that are uncomplicated and well-priced. Patio. Delivery available. $$

Villa Antonio, 4707 South Blvd., 704-523-1594. A wide ranging, expertly prepared selection of Northern Italian specialties and a fine wine list. Great service tops it off. $$$$

SouthPark/Cotswold

Baoding, 4722 Sharon Rd., Suite F., 704-552-8899. Named for Charlotte's sister city, this place offers funky, haute Chinese with an emphasis on fresh ingredients and unusual vegetarian selections. $$$

Barrington's Retaurant, 7822 Fairview Rd., 704-364-5755. Place is small, the wine list brief, but the food is powerful. Chef and owner Bruce Moffett achieves sensational tastes while creating simple and honest New American cuisine dishes. $$$

Hotel Charlotte, 705 S. Sharon Amity Rd., 704-364-8755. This comfort-food port with Cajun and Creole specialties has a loyal, neighborhood following. Known for its mammoth beer selection. L, D $$$

Il Nido Italian Restaurant, 4219-3 Providence Road, 704-364-4445. Small, 50 seat, intimate family-owned restaurant where you won't be a stranger twice. Co-owner and Italian native Manuela Baron's Tuscan recipes are worthy of frequent visits. L, D $$$

Manzetti's Bar & Grill, 6401 Morrison Blvd., 704-364-9334. A SouthPark landmark bar known for salads, onion rings, and Pittsburgh-style steaks. L, D $$$

Noble's, 6801 Morrison Blvd., 704-367-9463. A local version of award-winning Triad restaurant featuring American Regional cuisine in a graceful interior. L, D $$$$

Original Pancake House, 4736 Sharon Rd., 704-553-8364. This is a chain restaurant, but the pancakes are so good. The apple pancake is a huge, puffy affair big enough for at least two people. There are plenty of other flavors, too. Expect to wait in line on weekends. B, L $$

P.F. Chang's China Bistro, 6809-F Phillips Place Court, 704-552-6644. Arizona chain. Upscale ethnic eatery, very popular with SouthPark work crowd. L, D $$$

Palm Restaurant, 6705 Phillips Pl. Ct., 704-552-7256. National chain excelling in such classics as Clams Casino, Maryland crabcakes, Caesar salad and of course, the all-American steak. Relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere and popular bar. $$$$

Phil's Deli, Strawberry Hill Shopping Ctr., 704-552-7256. Authentic NYC-style deli (without NYC prices) with friendly service, fresh breads and sumptuous cold cuts. $

Shun Lee Palace, 4340 Cotswold Rd., 704-366-2025. A neighborhood tradition for dependable Hunan, Mandarin, and Szechuan cuisine. $$$

Upstream, 6902 Phillips Place Ct., 704-556-7730. Streams have always been an important component of Charlotte's geography and this stylish interior reminds one of a mountain stream. Executive Chef Tom Condron's dishes are delightfully harmonious and visually pleasing. L, D $$$$

Zebra Restaurant & Wine Bar, 4521 Sharon Rd., 704-442-9525. Chef and partner Jim Alexander's cooking is classical and luxurious, and the wine list is deep. Although located in an office building, the pine paneling and fireplace give it an intimate feel. B, L, D $$$$

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