Though Charlotte’s been recognized as a major banking and sports hub for decades, during the COVID-19 pandemic people across the country picked up on The Queen City’s other perks – including its mild year-round climate, diverse culinary scene, affordability, and overall booming growth.
“Charlotte’s not just about football and finance,” says two-time James Beard nominated chef Greg Collier and co-owner of the buzzy restaurant Leah & Louise. “We are a city full of mind-blowing creatives, good weather, and possibilities. We ain’t just the cookie-cutter South.” Celebrated hairstylist Dhiran Mistry, who relocated his family from New York City – where he worked at Manhattan’s posh David Mallett – this past spring, agrees: “Charlotte has everything you want from a big city, but with a small town feel.”
So below, a handy guide on where to stay, shop, and eat when visiting The Queen City.
Where to Stay
JW Marriott Charlotte
Opened in August in the Uptown neighborhood, JW Marriott Charlotte is the luxury hotel the city needed and deserved, and the first JW Marriott property in the Carolinas. Throughout the 23-story structure, you’ll notice subtle nods to the city’s namesake Queen Charlotte – from the dramatic lobby chandelier reminiscent of ornate lace shawls she’d wear, to the original artwork accenting the 381 rooms and suites. As for the accommodations, they’re appointed with neutral tones, contrasting materials, and sleek furnishings for a minimalist vibe. But the biggest draw to staying here? The abundance of natural light, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows.
Outside the comfortable rooms, you have everything you need to work out and wind down. Adjacent to the outdoor pool on the fifth floor is the fitness center, which is open 24/7 and kitted out with best-in-class equipment, including a Peloton bike. After breaking a sweat, reward yourself with a pampering session at the small, but mighty six-room Spa by JW, where classic treatments meet seasonal ones like the Autumnal Body Treatment, an hourlong session that exfoliates, renews, and hydrates from head to toe.
Dining wise, there’s three distinctive options for every appetite and occasion. On the ground floor, Dean’s Italian Steakhouse turns out perfectly charred steaks alongside handmade pastas in a sophisticated setting, while the breezy, indoor-outdoor Caroline’s Oyster Bar has quickly become a city hotspot for its pristine raw bar and familiar seafood dishes (think shrimp and grits and fish and chips). And for unbeatable views of Charlotte and craft cocktails made with fresh botanicals, zip up to Aura Rooftop.
Wellness and Shopping
Charles Proper & Co.
Tucked away in Southend, Charles Proper & Co. is the city’s newest (and arguably chicest) spot for precision cuts and color. The light-filled space – which is kitted out with books, art, and even a bar – feels more like a hip artist’s studio then your ordinary salon. Though you can’t go wrong with any of the talented stylists or colorists, Dhiran Mistry is quickly establishing himself as the city’s best with his thoughtful and highly personalized approach to dry-cutting.
Though she’s based in Charlotte, Toska Husted is one of the most in-demand aestheticians in the country, and regularly works with celebrities including Jennifer Aniston, Kim Kardashian, and Jennifer Lopez. And at Toska’s gorgeous new Southpark spa, you can indulge in one of her signature firming and lifting facials – which marry traditional modalities and cutting-edge technologies like Biologique Recherche’s Remodeling Face Machine – or a facial bar mini-treatment, which takes just 30 minutes and costs $99.
For Tiny Gods owner Mary Margaret Beaver, jewelry is about far more than accessorizing. “We specialize in connecting clients with meaningful pieces that reflect their own individual style and personality,” she explains. That means scouring the globe for truly spectacular, often one-of-a-kind, high quality pieces that won’t just look sharp now – but for years to come. Plus, the design of her Eastover boutique is positively pretty.
The Golden Carrot
At this adorable shop in Atherton Mill, owner Nicole Corriher – who first found success at the original Golden Carrot in Hoboken, New Jersey – specializes in handmade jewelry from up-and-coming and independent designers. Whether you’re looking for something charming, like Sofia Zakia’s Veil of Stars Ring, or cheeky, like the phallic Quartz Schwartz, you’ll find a bauble to suit all budgets and styles.
When Laura Vinroot Poole opened her visionary women’s clothing boutique, Capitol, back in 1998, she quickly established herself as one of of the South’s preemient entrepreneurs and style mavens. And at Tabor, her menswear shop in Myers Park that shares its space with SOCO Gallery, Poole continues her vision by stocking classic and contemporary brands such as Thom Browne, Engineered Garments, and Raleigh Denim.
Leah & Louise
“Leah & Louise is one hundred percent who we are, and where we’re from,” explains chef Greg Collier of the celebrated Camp North End restaurant he and his wife Subrina opened last year during the pandemic. (It earned the number two spot on Esquire’s Best New Restaurants in America in 2020.) The menu features imaginative riffs on Southern staples that honor the Mississippi River Valley foodways, like the popular River Chips (fried chicken skins smothered with a salty-sweet seasoning and green ranch) and Arthur Lou (oat crust pie filled with Tang custard). The colorful and quirky design is as warm and approachable as the Colliers and their food.
The Good Year House
“Imagine what your grandmother would have cooked if she went to culinary school.” That’s how Charlotte native and executive chef Chris Coleman describes his philosophy at his lively NoDa restaurant, The Goodyear House. The menu is equal parts original and comforting, as evidenced by the best-selling shaken fry bags (fresh fries tossed with your seasoning of choice) and goopy burger (a seriously craveable riff on everyone’s fast-food version), and the setting in a renovated 1900s mill home is downright charming.
Perched atop SouthPark’s Hyatt Centric hotel is Mizu, the latest addition to The Indigo Road Hospitality Group’s portfolio. Despite being open a few months, the sophisticated Asian-inspired eatery led by chef Michael Chanthavong is perpetually packed thanks to an expansive menu with something for everyone. The robata grill fires up smoky skewers of chicken and jumbo shrimp, while the open kitchen turns out craveable shared plates of salmon tataki and softshell crab sliders. Wash everything down with a glass of sake or two.
Optimist Hall stands out from other urban food halls with its sheer scale (22,000 square feet), thoughtful architecture – you’ll notice the original flooring and beams in the historic gingham mill – and diverse mix of retail shops and food stalls. Your best bet is to drop by during off-peak hours to avoid the crowds, and support locally-owned merchants like Harriet’s Hamburgers and The Dumpling Lady, where handmade dumplings are steamed to order and finished with housemade Sichuan chili oil. And soon to open is Enat Ethiopian, which will dish out classics such as Tibs and Injera.
Because there’s never a bad time for barbecue, check out one of Midwood Smokehouse’s three locations in town. Even though chopped, vinegary pork might be the state specialty, the other meats smoked in-house (including the cola-glazed burnt ends and fatty brisket) and appetizers – don’t pass on the bacon-wrapped jalapenos – are no slouch. Round out your meal with some collards and hush puppies, and naturally, an ice cold pint of local beer.
From Jayson Whiteside and chef Michael Noll, the duo behind city staple Bardo, comes Vana. Opened last year, this more casual and rustic concept in South End lets the wood-fired hearth takes center stage. The menu skews crowd-pleasing and hearty, with flatbreads, grilled whole fish, and rotating steaks, while the cocktail menu by mixologist Amanda Britton brims with original libations like Rose-Tinted glasses, a bracing blend of Old Forester bourbon, rose, lemon, and mint.