Favorite Spots in the Queen City

Charlotte has grown a ton before my very eyes since moving here in 2003. New neighborhoods, shopping centers, schools, and restaurants are popping up weekly and monthly it feels like. It's needed, though. The city has grown fast. Population has been booming causing highways to expand and streets to be repaired. Apartment complexes to appear on every corner. I guess we're truly becoming a big city with the soon-to-come tolls, too. Guess I'll be having to purchase one of those fast passes or whatever it is that residents have to get for those brutal things.


During all of the growth along with growing up along side it, over the past few years I've gravitated to a handful of dope shops, restaurants, coffee shops and other places I enjoy spending my time and occasionally (and unfortunately) my money at. There are tons of local businesses that attract many new residents and lifelong residents. Here are a few of my favorite local places that I spend a good amount of time at or even with the people that run them!


Lunchbox Records



At first glance you would think this popping structure would stand out like a sore thumb heading into Charlotte's Plaza Midwood area. It really doesn't though. What I first noticed about it was how pushed back in between some buildings it was. That bright blue pop I thought would SCREAM at me from the street when navigating to it for the first time. I really had to look. Which I liked. It felt like they wanted to be somewhat subtle even with their bright color choice. The way I looked at it was that the items they sold seemed to be a lost treasure in the new era. A store only to be found by those that truly want and needed it. Lunchbox opened in 2005 the day after Thanksgiving. Pretty hectic day to open a store I feel like, but it seems like they made it out okay.


They buy used CDs, DVDs, LPs, 7", 10"s. On their website, the owner states that they pay the most for the customers LPs and 7"s "especially". The Q&A on their website is actually a pretty good indication on his personality. A guy that has history and longevity in the record world. He seems pretty funny and blunt through his answers, and through meeting him at the store I can say he's a great guy. No BS presence.



Lunchbox houses a vast collection of classic music, sounds, equipment, and physical copies. Walking into Lunchbox is like getting slapped in the face with nostalgia. Vinyls, cassette tapes, CDs, cleaning supplies, DVDs, and record storage items are organized throughout the space while being categorized and labeled correctly. Being fairly new to this scene, I was appreciative of that. They even have space for bands to play as well. They sell used and brand new items! Majority of my new record collection has come from Lunchbox, actually. I personally like finding used pieces of the music I like. Looks and feels better to me. From my experience they have tons of classic rock music and a good selection of just about every genre you can think of. Artists that vary from Elton John to Grateful Dead to Dr Dre. That's pretty full circle if you ask me, haha.


What I've enjoyed is discovering some new artists I haven't listened to. There are so many artists that I have never heard of in my life. The thing that is tough and different from the world I grew up in, is that if there wasn't a record player to hear the music before you buy (which took me a few visits to see), you're gambling. I thought that's just how our parents did it back in the day if they hadn't heard it on the radio.


*look at a record or album cover and think they'll like it*


Dumb of me I know. Old heads absolutely will shake their head reading this. So yes, I gambled a few times and have been extremely lucky with my new choices. But now being more experienced, I know how to shop for records now. And Lunchbox has been my go to in the area.



704 Shop




There are plenty of apparel shops and websites where you can rep your hometown of Charlotte. Most of the time they're shirts and jackets with Panther blue and black or Hornets colors to rep the city's teams. With cool graphics and lettering, supporting the city can look fun. But over the past few years, there has been one in particular that has caught my eye.


704 Shop was started by three UNC Charlotte alums. Roommates at the time, they combined their passion for the city's culture and presented the "704" brand to a community longing for representation.


The shop is "dedicated to doing its part to bring people together to be a part of a broader conversation supporting positive change and culture."


They've done just that. What they provide is a collection of quality materials and designs, brought together to create multiple items of apparel. Whether it is an old school ICEE themed "704" design or a local campaign theme to support a group of people or event that is going on around the city, their inventory is constantly updating with fresh, new looks. I got to say, the shirt material is top notch. Some of the most comfortable shirts I have ever owned. It's the reason I wash a lot of those shirts so often so that I can rewear them.


They offer a truly unique and creative take on what a community apparel shop can and should be. They team up with local photographers, models, and respected supporters to market and share their products. Part of what makes 704 Shop special is their effort to present a genuinely local experience, which is the cherry on top. It's always good to know the story behind local businesses and why they do what they do. The passion behind the work put in to show love to a city is there.


You walk into the store that is sleek and clean. Clothing items organized by design choice, with the newest releases up in front. It is a cool shopping experience along with cool people helping you out. No nagging or eagerness to only sell you a product. Conversations can start about what part of the city you're from or where you grew up. People getting to know people. A vital ingredient to the recipe for a thriving community.


Located in the South End area, go check them out. It's also located around a bunch of great restaurants!



Central Coffee Co.


I love coffee. A lot. Pair that with a good shop and a chill atmosphere, I go back. Now, add a few food menu items like some baked goods or a quiche and you got a returning customer. That's exactly what Central Coffee has.


Coffee just like any other food or drink is an opinionated thing. Some like light roast, dark roast, Dunkin', and Starbucks. Personally I'm not too picky when it comes to coffee. This is probably because I do put almond milk in mine with the occasional flavor shot. From time to time I drink coffee black which is where I think opinions on coffee really start to come in. Their roasts and just coffee quality in general is very good.


They have multiple roasts, flavors, lattes, and teas. Yeah, they'll make little design in your coffee foam! If you like that sorta thing. Then, like I said, you can select from an assortment of scones, desserts, quiches, and some more carby items. You can even buy their packaged coffee right next to the register. That is one thing I haven't done yet just because I would rather go down the street and grab the coffee to-go or enjoy it there. Getting out of the house is always good. Plenty of seating is there, but I prefer the couch in the back if it's open. It's not loud or crammed. I like the Starbucks and Dunkin' (preferably Dunkin'), but those stores are always so loud and packed in the morning in my opinion. Don't get me wrong, Central gets slammed, but I guess it may be more bearable because it's a little less commercial? I don't know.


The people working there are engaging, helpful, and friendly. They allow for a peaceful morning, work break, or evening coffee run. It's a good coffee environment to read the news, work, edit some videos, or just talk with a friend. I mean it's literally like a block from the 704 Shop, so that's not a bad little morning hopping from one to the other.



Johnny Fly Co.


So, you're in the market for some new sunglasses or a new backpack. You aren't really in the mood for the same old common brand all your friends buy or that everyone and their mother has. But you want high quality, eye protecting, and stye enhancing travel essentials with a sprinkle of even more features. I got a store for you.



Johnny Fly Co. was founded in 2012 by Johnny Freeman, an ex-race car driver who had a distinct interest in fashion. Starting out with an interest to create wooden sunglasses which was caused by searching for quality sunglasses and realizing that most of the ones people buy were made with chemicals and materials that just weren't that great for the environment. They now carry a multitude of options including "RX" and all of their products are "made entirely of sustainable materials.



They also sell chemical free leather bags. So when Chelsea and I stumbled across their unique looking glasses last winter, I had to know what they were made of and what else the story behind the products had for us to embark on. I found out from their site and meeting Johnny that they not only look incredibly good on our faces and backs, but they are good for the environment and the city we live in.


I have a couple bags and pairs of sunglasses. I can honestly say that:


1) The sunglasses are strong sun blocking, firm fitting beasts, with many different shapes and styles

2) The travel bag and backpacks have a real classy and stylish look and feel to the

3) I absolutely love every item I own from the store


Being located in the Arts District of the city, I feel like they're in the perfect area. An artsy, cool, trendy store for the area that provides the same qualities.Very much like the 704 Shop, the people they get to market their products come right from the city as well. Another hometown shop for the hometown people. They also have a very clean, sharp looking store. Easy on the eyes, no clutter, and the glasses and bags presented in a professional looking manner.


I highly recommend if you're ever in the Charlotte area or live here now, check them out and understand my hype for them.



O-Ku


This actually is brightened. The lighting is dimmer and calmer.


I don't have too many consistent go-to dinner restaurants because we like to change it up a good bit. And like I said, new restaurants pop up left and right so there are always places we have to try. But this one has been a restaurant that Chels and I have continued to go to for date nights. If I had to pick a type of food that would be our favorite, I think it would have to be between Japanese or Mexican. She can correct me, but im confident in our likes and dislikes.


This place is an amazing Japanese spot. The reason I liked it so much at first was the vibe it gave off. The dim lighting and modern look of the restaurant was comfortable. And the one thing that hooked us on the spot was the Dim Sum Dumpling appetizer.



*Chef Kiss*


So good! They also have great sushi with options to substitute for soy paper instead of seaweed like majority of sushi restaurants. That's my preference. I can't do seaweed and I will NOT do seaweed. Their hibachi dishes are great, but my favorite sushi roll so far, and go to order, is the Potato Roll. Shrimp and avocado wrapped in shoe string potato strips with eel sauce and sweet chili mango sauce. I was skeptical with the potato strings. I was like, "That does not go together at all..."


I was so wrong. The roll in it's own weird way is amazing. I haven't ordered one bad dish so far. Although, I stay away from some menu items like the raw, raw, raw dishes. But that's not me claiming that they're bad, it's just not a priority on my taste buds' bucket list.


It's a moderately priced dinner for two. Of course, drinks and cocktails may add a bit more to that. Overall, it's a must experience dinner spot with a great ambiance for two or a group of friends.




I have a ton of spots throughout the Charlotte area that I love. These are just a few of my go to's at the moment and for some time. I try to stay away from franchises that you can go to anywhere you are in the country. It's good to not only try the new and on trend spots, but it's even better to support the local businesses and restaurants that give Charlotte its character. The Queen City adds more life every year to its already increasing reputation. I am a proud resident and love the #704. For those who have any other suggestions of their favorite places or comments on any of these, just hit me below! And if you haven't experienced any of these, GO DO SO! This week, shoot, tomorrow! You won't regret it.



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