For many travelers, sampling local cuisine is as much a part of their travel experience as the destination itself. Thanks to our voraciousness for a deeper travel experience, food tours have exploded in recent years. That’s certainly the case in Charlotte.
Food tours aren’t just for tourists. They’re an ideal way for locals to learn more about the history and culture of their own city. I’m a prime example. After living in the Charlotte area for almost 19 years, I recently took my first local food tour with FEAST Food Tours. I took the Local Flavors of Historic NoDa tour. Having spent too little time in this thriving arts district of Charlotte, I was anxious to learn more.
Owner and guide Kristi Martin is amiable, well organized, and thorough. For example, someone in our group had gluten allergies. At each stop, there was a gluten free option for her to enjoy. With extensive experience in the hospitality industry and a healthy knowledge of the goings on in Charlotte, Kristi is able to weave local history and interesting facts about the area and food spots.
FEAST Food Tours offers a varied selection of neighborhood food tours. Uptown Chic Behind-the-Scenes, Soul of the South Uptown, and Dives to Dining Plaza Midwood are some examples. In addition, Kristi continues to hone each tour – adding new stops or crafting a new itinerary – which makes doing a different one every month a luring possibility for me!
This was our first stop, where we sampled the popular NoDa Pizza. I honestly didn’t want to stop eating it. The perfect marriage of global and local, it’s made with tomatoes and cheese imported from Italy, and topped with pulled pork from Grateful Growers in nearby Greenville, SC. Our beer tastings included varied selections from local breweries NoDa Brewing Company and Birdsong Brewing Company.
Located in the building that housed the local pharmacy in the early 1900s, Cabo Fish Taco was the next stop. This restaurant has actually been on my restaurant bucket list for some time, so I was stoked to check it off. We started with baskets of warm tortilla chips and freshly made salsa, and quickly dove into two ridiculously good fish taco offerings. It was difficult to choose a favorite between the BBQ Mahi Taco with white cilantro sauce and the Tavern Tuna Taco with honey wasabi. Methinks I’ll need to visit again to determine a winner.
Small plates, great beer, and incredibly social atmosphere make this brewery a shoe-in for best hangout spot. You can enjoy their craft beer creations by the glass, flight, or pitcher. I was lucky enough to grab the last sample of one of their “Not So Small Batch” selections, the Lavender Vanilla Stout. Not a beer drinker? Check out their extensive selection of craft cocktails. Texas Mule, I’m comin’ back for ya!
You’d be hard pressed to find more eclectic and diverse fare anywhere else in Charlotte. We sampled artisanal wood-fired flatbreads like Cheesy Mac, Duck, and Bruschetta (which were all spot on). Luring me for a return meal are specialties like stuffed dates (Ashe County cheddar-blue cheese, candied pecans, and Apple wood bacon ginger pear chaser) and the Baked Lobster and Scallop Cavatapi (wood fired lobster, seared scallops, lobster cream, smoked bacon and charred leeks).
Popular in New York, a bodegas is a small grocery store and wine shop. After attending culinary school in the Big Apple, owner Brian Moore opened a Charlotte version of that neighborhood staple. Brian and his wife Lisa (a Johnson and Wales graduate) serve up traditional classics with a distinctive spin. All menu items are made from scratch.
We tried the Italian Stallion, which was piled with prosciutto, finocchiona, and coppa, and topped with fresh mozzarella and Peppadew relish. We also sampled their Chipotle Pimento Cheese, which had the right amount of kick to it.
The store’s shelves are well stocked with wine, beer, and various other sundries. Whether you dine in or grab a bag for a park picnic, you should find everything you need here.
What began as a small bottle shop featuring local and craft beers, today Salud boasts 12 beers on tap and a staggering selection of craft beer and ciders. With a soon to be added in-house sandwich shop and deli, you’ll be able to grab a bite there, too. FuD Salud’s menu will also include dips, charcuturie, and cheeses.
During our time at Salud, we savored cupcakes from FuManChu Cupcakes and chatted with owner Andy Jackson. Using mostly local and organic ingredients – oh, and lots of alcohol – Jackson creates food combinations you never dreamed possible in a cupcake.
With cupcake names like Irish Car Bomb, 1055, and Blackout Stout, it’s no surprise you have to be 21 to enjoy them. And trust me, you will absolutely enjoy them!
A broad and continually evolving wine list, a solid local and regional beer selection, and cozy ambiance make Dolce Vita an immensely popular nighttime meeting place for locals. Nosh on appetizers, pizzas, or salads while you imbibe. The baked Brie in puff pastry with local honey and reduced balsamic vinegar was the perfect accompaniment to my Hayes Ranch Cabernet.
Whether you’re visiting Charlotte for the first time, as a return tourist, or just want to know more about your own hometown, a tour with FEAST Food tours is a fantastic way to see the sites while getting a true taste of what makes this area so special.
Interested in checking out more of what the Queen City has to offer? Head to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority website for tons of ideas!
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All photos courtesy of Joe Tolley