SUSHI 1300 South Blvd., 704/370-0100, www.nikkosushibar.net
HOURS: Mon.-Tues. 11:30 A.M.-2:30 P.M. and 5-10 P.M., Wed.-Fri. 11:30 A.M.-2:30 P.M. and 5 P.M.-midnight, Sat. 5 P.M.-midnight, Sun. 5-10 P.M.
If Brad and Angelina lived in Charlotte, Nikko would be their favorite place to sip sake and nosh on California rolls. The traditional sushi restaurant is the recipient of numerous best of awards and regarded as one of the hottest hangouts in South End. Owner Joanna Nix turns up the heat when she dons her black cowboy hat and dances on the bar. The restaurant upgraded from its cramped quarters down the street to spacious new digs, where the only thing better than the contemporary Asian decor is the menu, which includes authentic Japanese cuisine, an extensive selection of sushi, and 150 bottles of fine wine.
RU SAN’S JAPANESE SUSHI OO2440 Park Rd., 704/374-0008, www.rusans.com
HOURS: Mon.-Thurs. 4:30-11 P.M., Fri.-Sat. 4:30 P.M.-midnight, Sun. 3-11 P.M.
If cramped tables, loud conversations, and even louder music aren’t your thing, avoid Ru San’s. The raucous atmosphere is one of the reasons the Dilworth sushi joint is so popular; cheap sushi is the other. The menu has 60-plus varieties of nigiri, maki, and temaki, with prices starting at just $1 for one piece. The other options”two dozen different sushi combinations and several pages of yakitori and tempura”are priced just as low. The low prices draw huge crowds, so waiting for a table is inevitable. Once you’re seated, it’s your server’s goal to have you finish fast so the next group of sushi-craving diners can take your place. It’s not a place to linger.
FOSKOSKEES OO2121 Shamrock Dr., 704/535-2220
HOURS: Mon.-Thurs. 11 A.M.-2:30 P.M. and 5-9 P.M., Fri.-Sat. 11 A.M.-2:30 P.M. and 5-10 P.M.
The milkshake machines are gone, but the charm and great service remain in the space formerly occupied by Pike’s Old Fashioned Soda Shop. Foskoskies still serves up some of the same dishes that were on the Pike’s menu, including the much-loved broccoli casserole, but the rest of the menu is original. It’s Southern comfort food at its best: buttermilkpecan fried chicken, crab cakes, and turkey potpie. Save room for dessert; the creme brulee gets rave reviews.
THE PENGUIN Q1921 Commonwealth Ave., 704/375-6959
HOURS: Mon.-Sat. 11 A.M.-2 A.M., Sun. noon-2 A.M.
It’s not an exaggeration to call The Penguin the most iconic restaurant in Charlotte. Need proof? Just take one look at the lines that wrap around the building. The nondescript restaurant has been sitting on the same corner since 1954, serving up hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, fried pickles, and cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. It’s long been a place for the working class to grab a beer and a bite after work. There was much concern when the original owner, Jimmy Ballentine, sold The Penguin in 1999, but much to the relief of locals, the new owners”Greg Auten, Brian Rowe, and Jimmy King”were committed to preserving the Charlotte landmark. Even after an extensive renovation, the partners maintained the original look and feel of The Penguin, including its wood paneling and red and black checkerboard floor. It is now just as it was: a restaurant serving good food and cold beer at reasonable prices. Go ahead and wait in line; you won’t regret it.
The Penguin is hailed as having the best burgers in town.
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