HomeFood and DrinkThe Queen City on a Budget

The Queen City on a Budget

Ideas for eats, arts, culture and fun on any budget in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Known for being a national financial hub and its two athletic teams, Charlotte is a Southern city full of history, charm and delicious food. Josh Howard, co-creator and owner of 2BRokeGuys, a blog that focuses on travel and adventure on a budget, shares his favorite spots in the Queen City, some requiring no cash at all. And in celebration of the publication of 27 Views of Charlotte: The Queen City in Prose & Poetry this month, we’ve paired up a few of his listings with quotes from the book. Pick up a copy from Eno Publishers to learn more about Charlotte’s storied history, from its stint as capital of the Confederacy to headquarters of the “New South.”

Price Guide: $ = $0-$10, $$ = $11-$20, $$$ = $21-$30, $$$$ = $31 and up


Mattie’s Diner
Located in the unique NC Music Factory district, this around-the-clock diner serves up a wide variety of food that will satisfy the night owl and the experienced foodie. I stuck with meatloaf, the all-American classic. Topped with a rich tomato sauce and piles of onions, Mattie’s Diner knocked it out of the park for only $9. Extra delight: If your stomach has the capacity, fill it up on one of their signature shakes.  $

7th Street Public Market
This place is ideal for the person who loves to have options when it comes to food. Also, it’s great for the pocketbook. In this urban market, you’ll find a butchery, sandwich shop, authentic sushi and handcrafted pizza.  After touring the open market full of groceries, craftsmen and artisans, I decided on “The T-Rex” at Pure Pizza. The epically named pie featured cheese upon cheese, bacon, ground beef, sausage, pepperoni and added mushrooms for good measure. The organic pizza shop has several options on its menu, but after asking around, the T-Rex seems to be king.

My market tour wasn’t complete until I pulled up a stool at Not Just Coffee. The hipster-clad baristas elevate the cup of Joe into a euphoric experience here. While I usually enjoy keeping my coffee simple with a dark roast, I splurged for a caramel cortado, full of indulgence. Because the food options in the 7th Street Public Market are fresh and local, the costs are slightly higher, but the freshness and flavors are unparalleled and worth every penny. $-$$

One day, nearly thirty years ago, I walked into the Coffee Cup — and fell in love with Charlotte.” – “A Cup of Grace & Comfort” by Fannie Flono in 27 Views of Charlotte 


The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar
We’re used to catfish in the South, but we could all expand our horizons when it comes to Cowfish. Located in a suburb of Charlotte called SouthPark, the creatively named restaurant greets you with pop art attributed to its title and the largest aquarium ever seen in an eatery. When you dine in, go big and for the box. I’m referring to the fusion of burger and sushi at its finest called “The Ultimate ‘Brento’ Bento Box.” It comes with a slider, sushi resembling the flavors of a burger and your choice of sides. This is the most unique surf and turf around Charlotte.  $$

Amelie’s French Bakery
Brownies are my ultimate favorite, and Amelie’s might have given me a new best friend. I’m referring to its infamous salted caramel brownie. The chocolate bar is dense, sweet and has the right amount of bite. Seriously, get it and do not worry about a diet or the line. Also noteworthy, the 24-hour bakery is in one of the coolest art spots in town called NoDa, short for North Davidson. $




Levine Center for the Arts
Located among the beautiful architecture and landscape of Uptown is the Levine Center for the Arts.  Encompassing the artistic triad of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and the Mint Museum of Art, the center anchors Charlotte’s culture mile, and each museum serves a unique experience in itself. Packaged together, they provide tourists and art enthusiasts access to some beautiful masterpieces for 48 hours for just $20. $$

For Charlotte, the Civil War was just the beginning. The Confederacy ended here, and the New South began. And the Levine Museum of the New South is doing just fine, thank you.” – “A Capital City” by David Goldfield in 27 Views of Charlotte

Billy Graham Library
Legendary evangelist Billy Graham is world-renowned for his teachings and advising to several of our nation’s presidents. Before his legendary spiritual career began, Graham lived on a dairy farm on the outskirts of Charlotte. Tucked away from a highway bearing his name is the library featuring his personal book collection, a prayer garden, dairy bar and a reconstruction of Graham’s childhood home. The library is free to visitors and a heartwarming experience for those from all walks of life. $



NASCAR Hall of Fame
Gentlemen (and ladies) start your engine here at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Even though Daytona Beach is home to much of the origins of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), Charlotte and surrounding North Carolina cities are key gears of auto racing’s history during Prohibition. Many of NASCAR’s top teams such as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew at Hendrick Motorsports still reside in Charlotte. The Earnhardts and the complete, rich history of the sport can be seen at this enormous, interactive complex. If you have ever enjoyed playing with Hot Wheels, the life-sized versions in this museum will surely rev up your spirits. Also, visitors are able to get into the driver’s seat and/or be a member of the pit crew with a few of the attraction’s simulation activities for a few extra bucks. $$-$$$

The building of Charlotte’s big speedway will endure three snowstorms, a stubborn slab of granite, and, perhaps not at all surprisingly, a little gunplay. It is the story of how NASCAR was built here, not with grandeur but by ordinary men with ordinary goals — to make something a little faster, a little bigger, a little more profitable.” – “A Wild Ride” by Peter St. Onge in 27 Views of Charlotte 


U.S. National Whitewater Center
About 20 minutes outside of Charlotte lies an outdoor activity center suited for the adventure seeker. Rock climbing, kayaking, ziplining and stand-up paddle boarding are a few of the activities available at the Olympic Training Center. One of the center’s best attributes is its water feature, the largest manmade whitewater river in the world. In addition to outdoor activities, the center also provides some educational opportunities for teams and avid outdoorsmen. The options, along with the accompanying prices, vary, but provide each guest a full and active experience.

In Charlotte, our trees give us a sense of place. Like pickles on hot dogs in Chicago. Or music in Memphis. Some of our trees have been around for more than 150 years, longer than the buildings in our pop-up skyline and much longer than any of us.” – “Rooted” by Virginia Brown in 27 Views of Charlotte 

Needing a bite to eat or want to just relax at the Whitewater Center? Dine at the center’s River’s Edge Bar & Grill. For an extra bonus at no additional cost, you can hear some incredible sounds from artists such as Marc Broussard at the outdoor River Jam on Thursdays and Saturdays from May through September. $-$$$$

Charlotte has something for everyone and for every budget. Grab your fork, some comfortable shoes and a spirit of adventure. You won’t be disappointed.

Photo credits, from top: Charlotte skyline courtesy of CRVA and taken by Patrick Schneider Photography, Cowfish Brento Box by Josh Howard, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art from museum Facebook page and U.S. National Whitewater Center by Josh Howard. 

Josh Howard is the co-creator and owner of 2BRokeGuys, a site dedicated to two adventure seekers who support community efforts and fun activities on a budget. He received his bachelor’s in public relations from Louisiana State University and is currently pursuing his master’s from the Manship School of Mass Communication. Josh recently graduated from the Leadership of Greater Baton Rouge’s class and was named Baton Rouge’s Most Eligible Bachelor.

At the Southern Lite
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  • Patrick / September 30, 2015

    Also try Kai’s Kookies and More Bakery with two locations in Charlotte. They have Southern favorites with a twist like Banana Pudding Cheesecake and Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies.