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Charlotte and North Carolina: Restaurants, Wine and BBQ

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Charlotte is North Carolina's most populous city, and you'll find a thriving restaurant scene in town. But while that's fun to explore, it's even better to jump in the car (and you will need a car) and visit the state's temples of charred meat, otherwise known as barbecue. It's also worthwhile to check out North Carolina's emerging wineries -- it's still early days, but the state may eventually give its southern neighbors (I'm looking at you, Virginia) a run for its money.

Charlotte Restaurants

Charlotte's restaurant scene has its critics and its fans -- it's been called "grim" and it's been called "a revelation". (See the story here.) The truth is somewhere more towards the revelation side of things --this is an up-and-coming cosmopolitan city with a dining to match. There's plenty to sample here, from down-home favorites like Price's Chicken Coop, a to-go only fried chicken establishment that you smell before you see, to funky creative Zada Jane's best known for brunch where you can get your proteins in soy versions should you so desire, to upscale Halcyon, in the Mint Museum, best known for its cocktails.

For more restaurant ideas, check out the Charlotte Observer's restaurant critic's comprehensive list of dining picks. Also check out the restaurant coverage in Charlotte's alternative newspaper.

Another great way to explore Charlotte's restaurants is to visit during the city's Restaurant Week, called Queen's Feast. (Charlotte's nickname is the Queen City, as it was named in in Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife of British King George III.) Although it takes place during the sultry summer -- the last edition was in July -- more than 100 restaurants were offering three course dinners for $30. For more details on the Restaurant Week concept, check out this primer.

North Carolina Barbecue

Guns, religion, politics and barbecue -- all potentially touchy subjects in the south, but for barbecue, North Carolina is particularly fraught.

While most southern states have an allegiance to certain style of barbecue, usually relating to the type of meat, the cut of meat, and the composition of the sauce, North Carolina is a house divided by an invisible line that divides the state from west to east. From Charlotte, it's easiest to sample Western style barbecue in the town of Lexington. Learn more about the North Carolina barbecue wars, as well as restaurant picks so you can make up your own mind. One smart choice is a place known as Honey Monk's, although it can be very difficult to find. Details here.

North Carolina Wine

There are interesting things happening in North Carolina's emerging wine industry. The state's native grape (and its official state fruit) is one you've most likely never heard of, called "scuppernog". It's more musically known by its species name, Muscadine. Duplin Winery, in Rose Hill, North Carolina, is the largest producer of Muscadine wines in the world. It's a sweeter wine, and yes, there is a lot of sweet wine happening in North Carolina. But in the state's three AVAs, which include the Yadkin Valley, Swan Creek, and Haw River Valley, wineries here grow Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon,Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah and Viognier, and many have a great amount of sophistication and depth. Which means you should add wine tasting to your next North Carolina trip.
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