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Theoden Janes

Why is the restaurant scene in University City so mediocre?

By Théoden Janes

tjanes@charlotteobserver.com

March 03, 2017 11:01 AM

UPDATED March 03, 2017 12:12 PM

Dear People Who Run Truly Delicious and Imaginative Restaurants in Charlotte:

Hello. I live in University City. Have you heard of it? Sometimes I’m not so sure, and I say that because it seems like you’re all in business virtually anywhere but here.

Some evidence:

▪ About two months ago, the Observer published an article titled “9 things we love about Charlotte restaurants lately.” It listed more than two dozen restaurants; zero are in University City.

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▪ In January, Charlotte Five’s 2016 “C5 Awards” honored 11 restaurants, none from University City.

▪ Yelp’s 2016 list of the Top 50 places to eat in Charlotte included exactly two University City restaurants: Le’s Sandwiches & Cafe and Due Amici Pizza.

▪ And of the top 300 restaurants for all of Charlotte on TripAdvisor, just five are in University City and none cracks the top 100: Ciro’s (103), Boardwalk Billy’s (140), Flying Saucer (169), Edgewater (187) and Giacomo’s Pizzeria (295). Granted, the website is for tourists... But still.

Anyway, the reason this is all so odd and troubling and just-plain-frustrating is because roughly 160,000 people live in this area. That’s a lot of people by most measures. To give you an idea of just how “a lot” that is, here’s another fact: If University City were to secede from Charlotte, it would become the seventh-largest city in North Carolina.

Recently, I informally polled more than a dozen of those 160,000 people, and you might find the responses interesting. I asked people who live in University City a simple question: What do you think of the restaurant scene in our area? I didn’t lead them in any particular direction, and I asked electronically, so I wouldn’t influence them with facial expressions or vocal inflections.

Here’s a sampling of responses:

“Totally sucks.” “(Expletive) horrendous.” “There’s a restaurant scene?” “There is no restaurant scene.” “Not good choices at all.” “Way too many sports bars, fast food and chain restaurants.” “We usually go uptown or towards Huntersville.” “We go to SouthPark or the Ballantyne area.” “We really don’t have any high-end or eclectic restaurants like south Charlotte or the South Boulevard, East Boulevard or uptown area has.”

But this was the one I want you guys to hear loudest and clearest:

“We are being overrun with mediocre choices. Make it stop!” this person wrote to me. “We’re here. We’ve got money. Put a place here that’s on the level of stuff on Montford, in Plaza Midwood, Dilworth, or South End, they’ll get a ton of my business.”

Alas, the biggest and buzziest restaurant opening near my neighborhood last year was IHOP. Later this year, the new Prosperity Village Square a couple miles from my house (anchored by Publix, on the edge of Highland Creek) will get a Papa Murphy’s Pizza franchise, an American Burger Co. franchise and a Salsarita’s franchise.

I mean, nothing’s wrong with any of these places, per se. But I’m not gonna be able to convince my friends in south Charlotte to fight traffic for an hour on a Friday night so they can join me for a stack of smiley-faced pancakes or a burrito bowl.

And look, I trust you have your reasons for not opening your Comida here, or your Cowfish, or your Kindred. But on behalf of the 160,000 people who live in University City, I’m very curious to know:

What are they?

Charlotte chefs reading their negative online reviews

Ah, the ignominy of being compared to McDonalds, being told that Lenior isn’t Tuscany and hearing that your $30 Restaurant Week offering wasn’t worth it. Note: Contains graphic language.

Peter Taylor Photography

Janes: 704-358-5897;

Twitter: @theodenjanes