Charlotte’s not at the beach. You may have noticed. Fortunately, we’re not far from waters that have been sources of Carolina livelihoods for decades. Many of the remote fishing villages spotting our coastline remain unchanged by decades of growth elsewhere in the state. Carolina fishermen, for the most part, haven’t stopped doing what they do best. And we hope they never do, because that resilient tradition makes all of the Queen City’s inventive fish dishes possible.
Charlotte’s chefs don’t have to travel far to strike up lasting relationships with these old families. Our proximity to the coast means several things. We get a lot of fresh seafood, and we also get a varied catch: From mussels to octopi, yellowtail to soft-shell crab, our favorite kitchens get a nice assortment. This closeness to Carolina’s shores also means that our chefs had better be relatively fond of seafood. Thankfully—we’re looking at you, Groody, Kindred, and Verica—they’re damn-near obsessed with it.
The following dishes ensure that the Charlotte foodscape is just salty enough. We’re not a beach town, but with catches like these, we may as well be.
North Carolina Soft-Shell Crab
There’s crab, and then there’s soft-shell crab. And then there’s soft-shell crab at Kindred. Not unlike everything else you order at Kindred, this dish is both an untouchable spectacle and a savorable experience. Morel mushroom, English pea, asparagus, and flowering anise hyssop make up the base. And yes, soft-shell newbies—you eat the whole thing. By some biological miracle, none of it is bony.
This insanely crispy calamari, served with a charred tomato aioli, is abundantly shareable. We recommend getting it Rhode Island-Style, though: tossed in garlic, spicy cherry and pepperoncini peppers. Mama Ricotta’s does this flavorful dish right—by adding more flavor.
The mussels—fresh, clean, and brightly flavored—come prepared however you might want them at Georges: with white wine, dijon, Thai coconut curry, or even fiery Thai spice. Hint: They’re bottomless every Tuesday, so that’s when you need to head over to this beloved neighborhood spot.
This may be the simplest dish on O-ku’s unique menu, but it’s undoubtedly one of the best. The thinly-sliced, super-fresh raw fish comes in a light layer of tangy, sweet ponzu sauce. Each slice is dressed delicately with a tiny speck of cilantro, a subtle serrano pepper sliver, and small chunk of sweet mango. It’s light, fresh, and possibly the only carpaccio where you’ll find yourself ordering a second serving in lieu of an entree.
Depending when you order this buttery-rich salmon, it might come plated slightly differently because Chef Tim Groody sources from local farms and farmers and uses the most seasonal ingredients. But what won’t change is how perfectly cooked this dish is every single time, no matter what it comes paired alongside or what dressing Groody has prepared. If you see it on the daily menu the next time you’re at Fork!, you know what to do.
204 North does this standard seafood starter right, with a bright housemade marinara sauce, grilled lemon, fresh herbs, and a generous shake of parmesan. It’s the type of calamari that’s prepared just-so, and a dish that’s accessible enough that even those non-seafood fans can enjoy.
Heritage Food & Drink
This dish sings because of the juxtaposition of easy-to-eat fennel and apple purée, and the deliciously onomatopoeic crunch of sunchoke chips. Like everything at Paul Verica’s Heritage, this piece of art is strikingly beautiful from all angles, yet tastes, somehow, even better.
NC Golden Tilefish
We love everything about this tilefish—the flavorful roasted spring vegetables, salty chickpea miso, and bright tomato sauce that dress it, and the mild white fish itself, roasted to perfection and procured from our own state’s waters.
We know, we know. You’re at Rooster’s Wood Fired Kitchen and you’ve got dreams of beef, pork, and chicken. But the salmon—salty, charred to perfection, and fresh—is ready to be plated with all your favorite buttery Roosters vegetables and, when you’re in the mood to depart from land animals, will knock your socks off just the same as all Chef Jim Noble’s others offerings.
Cast Iron NC Trout
Say hello to trout, done the Haberdish way. It’s cast-iron seared and graced with a ladling of flavorful scallion compound butter and fresh dill. This Southern mill town kitchen can do the expected—serve up a memorable okra and a killer fried chicken—but they sure know how to do seafood right, too.
South African Prawns
South African Prawns marinated and grilled in Italian herbs, are arrayed simply with a decadent raspberry lemon glaze. This plate is designed around the little crustaceans. They’re meant to get the whole spotlight, and so they do.
Fried Lobster Tail
It’s lobster, it’s fried, and it’s possibly one of the tastiest crustacean entrées you’ll find in the Queen City. Served over whipped potatoes and fresh market vegetables, Bonterra’s tail is dressed with local North Carolina honey soy reduction and the zestiest of mustard aiolis.
Sea Level NC
This roll is an excellent example of how well our city’s eateries can adopt the cuisines of other regions—in this case, a decidedly Northeastern one. It’s a staple at Sea Level for a reason: The New England lobster roll works for lunch or dinner, and it’s Uptown.
Shrimp and Grits
Smoke BBQ Grille
This classic dish gets a smoky update. Smoke throws smoked sausage into the mix with their juicy Gulf shrimp. Served over Adluh Mills grits, this bowl of pork and shrimp goodness is finished with a hearty BBQ gravy.
Shrimp and Mussels
This shellfish beauty finds its base in fluffy Carolina rice grits and a sofrito sauce that’s as flavorful as it is fragrant. Salsa verde and ember aioli round out this luscious dish with zest and heat: In Stoke’s shrimp and mussels, Carolina catch meets Latin America bite.
Seared Sea Scallops
These deliciously seared little towers find their base in glorious caramelized sweet potato. Then they’re moated with mushroom dashi and topped with the acidic bite of bok choy kimchi, making for a bizarre—but delicious—stackable Asian fusion.
Oysters on the Half Shell
Growler’s has one of the best selections of oysters in the city, with varietals from the Northeast to the West Coast, and even a few shells from our own North Carolina beaches. You can choose, based on your liking, from some of the cleanest, most mild flavors, right down to the briniest bivalve. Every oyster was just harvested and cracked open at Growlers, placed on ice for you to dress however you choose. Cheers!
The Suffolk Punch
These mussels are sauté pan simplicity met with a with a complex smattering of flavor profiles. Shallot confit, garlic confit, chorizo, and celery goes into the pan with the shellfish. The Suffolk Punch kitchen reduces the mix with some white wine, before finishing it all with a fluffy, savory fumet, refortified with scallops. Like everything at The Suffolk Punch, this bowl is a marriage of artistry and mad science.
Robin of Loxley
FūD at Salud
Lovers of lox, gather ‘round. This tasty breakfast sandwich contains the classic delectably thin-cut smoked salmon, onions, and capers. But, Salud kicks it up a notch and uses a massive waffle instead of your typical bagel. These guys understand the many and varied good things wafflewiches can do for society.
Roasted North Carolina Mountain Trout
This fresh-off-the-butcher’s-block trout is everything Kid Cashew purports to be—farm-fresh and local. It’s a simply prepared seafood plate, but more than a little flavorful. We like it paired with the red and white quinoa salad for a healthy, fresh meal you can count on.
We love a traditional ceviche, and this is anything but. Instead of the zing of cilantro and crunch of onion, you get a sweet, buttery, tropical-flavored ceviche served in a coconut milk base. Forget tortilla chips, and expect thick plantain chips instead. To be honest, once you have this ceviche, you might not want to go back. It’s refreshing, summery, innovative, and intended to be shared.
Trout Roe Oyster
Leave it to Fig Tree to take something typically brown and boring and make it neither of those things. This oyster rests on a bed of cucumber emulsion and frozen lemon mignonette, under a vibrant blanket of trout roe and lemon zest. It’s probably the most colorful bivalve you’ll see—but it’s also among the tastiest.
Custom Shop Handcrafted Food
A massive zested tentacle sprawls over a bed of hot smoked duck fat potatoes. Graced with black garlic vinaigrette, lemon aioli, and a dusting of paprika, and peppercorns, this dish subverts every seafood expectation with an elegance few others muster.
Diver Scallop Crudo
Evoke’s twist on this classic seafood dish is surprisingly refreshing, with a few unexpected twists. The chef plates the fresh crudo with a bite of thai chili, a little twist of celery leaf, and crunch from the fresh apple. The dish is finished off with a splash of citrusy juice. If you’re looking to start your dinner at the Le Meridien off right, this crudo does it.
The King’s Kitchen
This dish is just fresh, locally caught crab made into a characteristically savory Jim Noble entree: It’s crabcakes made from North Carolina crab and remoulade, but as with all King’s Kitchen French-inflected Southern plates, this one isn’t just what the menu says it is. It’s everything great about seafood flavor, condensed.
Aix En Provence
This classic Provençal fish stew isn’t easy to make: It’s an amalgam of carrots, leeks, fennel, saffron, orange peel, Star Anise, Yukon potato, PEI mussels, whole lobsters…and the list goes on. Despite all the ingredients required, this bowl is probably your cheapest means of transportation to Marseillaise.