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Good Eats

Our critics' guide to recommended restaurants in Charlotte

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Mamma Lena's Pasta & Pizza, 5135 Albemarle Rd., 704-568-0000. Pizza (cooked in a wood-burning oven) and pasta are both terrific, as is the fresh crusty bread. Unlimited salad or soup with entrees. L, D $$

Mariscos La Mexicana, Mexican Seafood, 4400 Central Ave., 704-531-4500. Mexican coastal cuisine, primarily seafood, served in huge portions at reasonable prices. Bilingual menu and staff. L, D $$

Otto's Knife & Fork, 2531 N. Sharon Amity, 704-568-9711. Culinary Institute of America-trained chef and owner Robert Otto Graham owns this uniquely refreshing diner with low-key ambience offering superb Italian dishes and simple but satisfying regional fare. B, L, D $$

Pho An Hoa, 4832 A-B Central Ave., 704-537-2595. Very tasty Vietnamese soup shop. B, L, D $

Portofino Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria, 3124 Eastway Dr., 704-568-7933. Wonderful rustic Neapolitan dishes at incredibly low prices. New York Style Pizza (large is 16 inch). Take out, too. $$

Restaurante El Pulgarcito, 4816 Central Ave., 704-563-6500. A bare bones shop specializing in pupusas, an El Salvadoran treat, and other Central American favorites. $

South 21 Drive In, 3101 E. Independence Blvd., 704-377-4509. Charlotte landmark since 1955, serves great burgers, fries, onion rings, etc., and still wins awards every year from our readers. Drive in or take out. L, D $

Woodlands Pure Vegetarian South Indian Cuisine, 7128-A Albemarle Rd., 704-569-9193. Featuring excellent vegetarian idlis, vadas, sambars, and rasams of Udipi, south India, served up with a flair. $$$

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 $$$

Carpe Diem Restaurant, 1535 Elizabeth Ave, 704-377-7976. With art nouveau ambience, this locally owned spot is known for its warm goat cheese salad, pan-seared trout, buttermilk fried chicken, and comfortable atmosphere. $$$

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. $$$

Hawthorne's NY Pizza & Bar, 1701 E. 7th St., 704-358-9339. This corner spot offers stone cooked pizzas, salads, stromboli, calzones, and fried cheesecake. It's just the kind of restaurant you want to live near with a funky bar and a friendly buzz. $

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 $

Lupie's Cafe, 2718 Monroe Rd., 704-374-1232. This funky, semi-legendary place is home to an eclectic, down-home hip clientele and a kitchen full of some of the best burgers, chili and vegetarian chili in town. L, D $

Nova's Bakery, 1511 Central Ave., 704-333-5566. A great Eastern European bakery. Wonderful cranberry pecan and orange chocolate bread, focaccia, baguettes, country bread, brioche, potato pizzas and more. B, L, D $

The Penguin, 1921 Commonwealth Ave., 704-375-6959. Reopened in 2001 after being refurbished to the original red, black, and chrome 1950s interior. Menu features burgers, foot long hot dogs, Eastern-style barbecue, veggie burgers, fried pickles and pimento cheese sandwiches. $$

Lake Norman

Brooklyn South Pizzeria & Italian Eatery, 19911-C N. Cove Rd. (Cornelius), 704-948-7728. A typical New York style, family-owned, neighborhood pizzeria where items are served in large shareable portions and kept at a minimal price. $$

Dressler's Restaurant, 8630-1A Lindholm Drive, Birkdale Village, Huntersville, 704-987-1779. Proprietor Jon Dressler has a comfortable upscale neighborhood spot offering well-crafted dishes which feature steaks and seafood. Open daily for dinner. $$$

Ferrucci's Old Tyme Italian Market, 20910 Torrence Chapel Rd. (Cornelius), Shops on the Green, 704-896-3190. Great homemade lasagna, eggplant parmesan, plus fine selection of meats, cheeses and cold cuts. And to top it off, they grind their own Italian sausage. Dine-out only. $

Greg's Famous B-B-Q, 233 S. Broad St. (Mooresville), 704-664-4848. The menu has everything from barbecue to lasagna, chicken to foot long hot dogs and all at unbelievably low prices. B, L, D $

Kudzu on South Broad, 259 S. Broad St. (Mooresville), 704-663-1859. Chef-owner Chip Potts filters his culinary training in classical cuisine through his Southern heritage to arrive at a unique combination of tantalizing and mouth-watering dishes. Situated in a quaint Victorian house. L, D $$$

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