10 hidden-gem restaurants, ranked — and what to order

While I adore the ever-popular Kindred in Davidson and the always-busy-on-the-weekends Paco’s Tacos + Tequila, there are quite a few lesser-known gems studding the Charlotte restaurant scene.

Don’t miss out. Here are 10 gems (ranked), and what to order when you get there:

(10) Pizza Peel Cotswold

4422 Colwick Road

If you’re barreling toward that overflowing Chick-Fil-A on Randolph Road, you’ll whizz right past this neighborhood hangout tucked away from the traffic. This location feels like more of a dive bar than the sleeker Plaza Midwood Pizza Peel — and it has live local music on Thursday nights. (I have yet to explore the Matthews location.)

What to order: A bottle of Malbec (only $26) and a hummus platter (featuring roasted garlic hummus topped with peppers and olives, baba ganoush, veggies and pita). If you’re aiming for a whole pizza, go crazy with the Sorry for Partying Supreme (with pepperoni, sausage, ground beef, mozzarella, green and red peppers, banana peppers, onion and mushrooms).

(9) NoDa Bodega

1200 E 36th Street A

This cute little market served homemade sandwiches and soups from 2012 to the spring of 2016 in a small building on 35th Street in NoDa, before shifting to its current, more spacious home on 36th Street. Soak up the natural light from the tall windows, and the pops of color from the local art on the walls.

What to order: Try a featured sandwich like The Hot Mess (with hot pastrami, smoked gouda, Russian dressing, tomato and lettuce on a toasted pretzel bun), or perhaps The Basic Wild (with pesto-marinated mozzarella, peppadew peppers, caramelized onions, roasted tomato spread and jalapenos on a baguette).

(8) Sir Edmond Halley’s

4151 Park Rd A

This dark little pub in Park Road Shopping Center’s Backlot has daily happenings from trivia to half-priced bottles of wine. For sunlight seekers, there’s a spacious patio visible from the Backlot.

What to order: The shockingly good vegetarian curry (with organic tofu, cauliflower, chickpeas and onions on basmati rice). For a more traditional pub meal, aim for the Classic English Fish & Chips (with tartar sauce and malt vinegar).

(7) Punta Cana Grill

5230 South Blvd.

This festive spot off of South Boulevard has a bright interior and flavors from the Caribbean/Dominican Republic. Friday and Saturday have late-night hours, with service until 2 a.m.

What to order: Stewed eggplant with a side of fried plantains, or a seafood mix with mofongo (fried and mashed plantains).

(6) Fran’s Filling Station

2410 Park Road

While the quaint interior design seems fit for fine-dining, the sidewalk patio is casual and the menu is approachable.

What to order: For a higher-end meal, try Seared Yellowfin Tuna with seasonal risotto. For a home-cooking craving, get Fran’s Meatballs (with mozzarella, pecorino, pomodoro and cheesy orzo or braised greens). Salad lovers can’t skip the Ribboned Tuscan Kale (with cranberries, shaved parmesan and almonds). Don’t forget your glass of wine.

(5) Soul Central

2903 Central Ave.

Come expecting Southern home cooking and a few small tables. Take-out is more popular here.

What to order: You can’t go wrong with comfort foods like meatloaf, mac-n-cheese and collard greens.

(4) Krazy Fish

2501 Central Ave. 

Sit down in the casual, funky interior and tuck into the diverse range of dishes, heavy on the seafood.

What to order: Green Thai Curry Mussels or Southern Fried Calamari (served with nuoc cham and spicy aioli) for your appetizer. If you’re craving tacos, Buffalo Fried Shrimp (with blue cheese) and Crispy Ceviche (marinated in lime) are on the list. Prefer something different? There’s Neptune’s Platter (with Southern fried fish, shrimp, calamari, Southern fried vegetables, scallops, Krazy slaw and cornbread), or a veggie plate option (hello, cactus salad and jalapeno cheddar grits).

(3) Room 112

Hidden off of North Tryon Street, this modern, lounge-like space seeks to roll out chic Asian fusion fare.

What to order: Sushi lovers can get adventurous with the Pink Floyd roll (tempura shrimp and spicy crab in soy paper, with avocado, masago, tobiko and combination sauce), or go easy with the Rainbow roll (crab, tuna, cucumber, salmon, yellowtail, avocado). The dinner menu also stretches to dishes from the wok (like the Rainbow with broccoli, mushrooms, snow peas, asparagus, zucchini and other veggies in brown or white sauce, served with a choice of meat), plus noodles and fried rice (Pad Thai is here, yes).

(2) Lang Van Vietnamese

3019 Shamrock Dr.

Don’t be surprised if you pull into the parking lot of this modest building off of Shamrock Drive on the weekend and see a line out the door. There are regulars who flock here religiously (and get hugs from the staff) — and there’s a reason for that.

What to order: Don’t be disturbed by the overwhelmingly enormous menu  — it’s just an excuse to come back. Start with the Summer Rolls (and peanut dipping sauce) while you ponder, then move on to the almost maple-y Cary Tom curry with tofu (order vermicelli to pair) and a Tom Vietnamese Hot Pot (with shrimp and flavors like coconut, pineapple and lemongrass). Don’t overlook the little peanut butter cookies that come with your check.

(1) The Red Sea

4301 Monroe Road

Housed in one of the most nondescript buildings on Monroe Road, this brightly lit restaurant rolls out an Eritrean and Ethiopian cultural experience. Come prepared to dig in with your hands.

What to order: Start with the Lentils Sambusa (fried, triangular bites), and go big with the Red Sea Combo (with chicken, boiled eggs, veggie items and beef stew) or vegetarian dishes like Alitcha (a variety of vegetables with onion, curry, green pepper and spices) and Timtimo (saucy lentils) — and start scooping it with spongey injera bread.