Whether you find yourself in Charlotte this week for the CIAA hoop action or the nightlife, you must pause among the hustle and bustle to sample some of the best flavors of the city's restaurant scene. Charlotte has everything under the sun when it comes to dining: from food trucks to five stars, you can find anything your belly desires.
But if you're going to dine here, there are three places you should try. These establishments represent what Charlotte does best: plain, good home-cooking. Make no mistake — you won't be disappointed if you carve out some time in your schedule for visits to these restaurants.
• Mert's Heart and Soul (214 N. College St., 704-342-4222. www.mertsuptown.com) This has been a Charlotte favorite since 1998, and one of its most popular menu items is the salmon cakes. Otherwise known as "salmon patties" here in the South, Mert's version features fresh poached salmon with celery, onions, peppers and spices. This is a healthier option than most salmon cakes because they are grilled, rather than fried, like traditional salmon patties. This dish is featured both as an appetizer and an entrée. If you order it as your meal, may we suggest the collard greens and yams? These sides will take this meal from incredible to phenomenal.
• Price's Chicken Coop (1614 Camden Road, 704-333-2088. www.priceschickencoop.com) Just a short ride down the Blue Line on the light rail you'll find Price's famous fried chicken. Choose a quarter-chicken in either dark meat or white meat to find out why this Charlotte restaurant is the talk of the town. Or, if you're feeling extra hungry, try the half-chicken, which features both white and dark meat — the best of both worlds.
• Alexander Michael's Restaurant and Tavern (401 W. 9th St. 704-332-6789. www.almikestavern.com) This little restaurant tucked away in the Fourth Ward neighborhood, just a few blocks from the CIAA festivities, is one of Uptown's best-kept secrets. The menu has not changed much in 15 years. After a few mini-revolutions, the owners got the message: The regulars like the menu as-is. What's bringing the locals back? One favorite is the What It Is entrée, which is a blackened chicken breast over rotini pasta in a cajun cream sauce. Another favorite: the 4th Ward Stroganoff, which features aged beef with mushrooms, red wine, and shallots in a cream sauce over pasta. What's more, Alexander Michael's features several local craft brews on tap.
If you're looking for truly good meals that speak to the heart of Charlotte, you must include these restaurants in your CIAA plans. This food is as much a part of Charlotte as the people who live here. If you want to get to know the city, pull up a chair, grab a fork, and break some bread with us.