Charlotte’s food and drink scene has exploded in the last five years – so much so that people across the country are noticing. Southern Living calls Charlotte “the South’s new food city,” and foodies in town – especially food bloggers – are doing their best to keep track of it all.

With so many new restaurants, breweries and cool new concepts coming to town, what’s a girl to do? Listen to her girlfriends, of course. So we sat down with some of the most popular food bloggers in Crown Town to get to know them, find out the hidden places to grab a great bite to eat, the cocktail they most love and the one dish you should absolutely be eating (or at least trying.)

Jess Bentley, Slice of Jess

What made you start your blog?

I started my blog in 2014, right after we moved to Charlotte from San Francisco. To be honest, it originally served as an online recipe reference for my friends and family to grab guidelines for preparing my home-cooked meals. Fast forward four years later, and my website has morphed into a full culinary and travel blog where I post on a regular basis. SliceofJess.com continues to be recipe-focused but mixes things up with travel destinations, restaurant features and product reviews.

Why are you such a foodie?

I’ve always been passionate about cooking and sharing memorable experiences with others through food. My main goal is to help people feel comfortable in their own kitchen. If it’s whipping up dinner or crafting a cocktail, I hope that my website inspires readers to cook with local, fresh produce and eat a more colorful plate.

Favorite dish in Charlotte?

David Quintana, the executive chef at Dot Dot Dot, makes a cold-smoked fried chicken with celeriac puree, homemade sorghum hot sauce and petit braised greens that is simply amazing.

Favorite drink in Charlotte?

I’m a big fan of Amanda Britton and Colleen Hughes – two extraordinary bartenders shakin’ things up in Charlotte. Amanda is currently the lead bartender at Bardo. Colleen is the bar manager and mixologist for Haberdish. She also created the cocktail menus for Sea Level, Crepe Cellar and Growlers Pourhouse.

Favorite restaurant?

Now that’s a hard question – Charlotte has such a great mix of talented chefs, inventive mixologists and extraordinary concepts – it’s hard to pick just one! I’ve never had a bad dining experience at Dot Dot Dot, The Asbury, Kindred (Davidson area), Haberdish, The Fig Tree or Yafo Kitchen (for fast-casual).

Favorite place no one would think to try?

Charlotte has some extraordinary food trucks with very talented chefs. Food Truck Friday (hosted by Sycamore Brewing) is a great way to try a variety of trucks all in one location. A few of my favorites: What The Fries, Papi Queso, TIN Kitchen and Yummi Banh Mi.

RELATED: 8 Charlotte Food Trucks to Put on Your Bucket List

Jess’s favorite dish: Dot Dot Dot‘s Cold Smoked Chicken | Image: Jess Bentley

Allie Papajohn, eatdrinkclt

How did you get started writing your blog?

I’ve always loved food (and taking photos of it), so when I moved to Charlotte in November 2014, I wanted a way to post about my food adventures without clogging up my personal Instagram. There were only a few other CLT food accounts back then. It was purely for my own entertainment, but a few months later, I received my first media invitation. That allowed me to fully realize that I wanted eatdrinkclt to become a resource for people looking for food in Charlotte. I created an actual blog (eatdrinkclt.com) in August 2015 to further push my brand. Fast forward 3.5 years later, and I’m still obsessed with doing this!

How did you get to be such a foodie?

My love for food runs deep, and I have to attribute a lot of it to my family. I’m Greek and Italian (both known to eat a lot!) and grew up with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who love to cook. Although I’m no chef myself, this early introduction to all types of food was very beneficial for me. It also helps that I’m not picky and love trying new things. I also have a love for beautifully prepared food and really enjoy the photography aspect of blogging. That’s why Instagram is the perfect medium for me.

Favorite drink in Charlotte?

Non-alcoholic: Spicy Mocha from Central Coffee; Alcoholic: Anything from Haberdish

Favorite restaurant?

This is so tough for me. I have to say Mama Ricotta’s for consistently delicious Italian food; Inizio for my favorite pizza; Kid Cashew for my Mediterranean fix.

Favorite place no one would think to try … and why?

I don’t think people talk about the Pasta & Provisions on Park Road enough. They have the cutest enclosed patio, and you can order sandwiches, salads and custom pasta dishes (fresh cut pasta in the style and flavor of your choice) to enjoy right on the spot. And the food is SO good.

What’s been the biggest game changer in the Charlotte food scene and why?

The influx of new restaurants has been huge. Even in the short 3.5 years that I’ve been here, the scene has exploded. We have James Beard nominees here and so many award-winning chefs, mixologists, and brewers. There’s always somewhere new to try, and I’m continuously impressed with the unique ideas and creative concepts. I know we have a long way to go, but I think Charlotte is definitely on the map.

Allie Papajohn of eatdrinkclt

Susannah Brinkley, Feast + West

How did you get started writing your blog?

In 2013, I was running my own graphic design business but itching for an outlet for writing and photography as well. During that rut, I took a road trip with my dad to Maine. We stopped in every state for each one’s most famous food. Cheesesteaks in Philly. Ice cream in Vermont. Whoopie pies and lobster rolls in Maine. It was on this trip that I hatched my idea for Feast + West, a blog about food and travel, and the ways the things we eat and the places we go are forever intertwined. So, I started my blog as a new year’s resolution in 2014 after months of planning!

How did you end up such a foodie?

My mom is a Cordon Bleu chef, so we ate well growing up. She took great care to teach me how to poach eggs and bake chocolate chip cookies. My family has always loved to travel, and we always made a point to try the best local foods everywhere we went.

Favorite dish in Charlotte?

I’m a Charlotte native and a longtime fan of Pike’s honey pecan fried chicken. It’s been one of my favorites forever.

Favorite drink in Charlotte?

In Belmont, I am really loving the Jailhouse’s smoked whiskey drinks. They are showstoppers because they smoke the hickory chips tableside.

Favorite restaurant?

One of my favorite spots is Copper on East Boulevard. I love their moody vibe paired with upscale Indian food. And I love that it’s in the house where Carson McCullers wrote The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

Favorite place no one would think to try … and why?

The Beef ‘n Bottle looks very unexciting from the outside, but on the inside, they’ve got one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten.

What’s been the biggest game changer in the Charlotte food scene and why?

Growing up, Uptown Charlotte was a dead zone. I think the opening of Johnson & Wales really helped to start the vitalization of the food scene. Charlotte is really developing a personality, and it’s been so great to watch.

Susannah Brinkley of Feast + West | Image: Kristen Abigail

Chrissie Nelson Rotko, Off the Eaten Path

How did you get started writing your blog?

Off the Eaten Path started in 2013 as a passion project to combine my loves of writing and eating. I started my blog six months after I moved to Charlotte. I had just graduated law school, moved back to the East Coast after seven years in the Midwest, moved to a new city and started a new job … as much as I didn’t want to acknowledge it at the time, my first six months in Charlotte weren’t all sunshine and rainbows. I was still trying to find my way around a new city. By starting a blog, I thought it would motivate me to get out and explore my new city and hold myself accountable to write about my experience (with no expectation that anyone other than my mom would read my food musings).

How did you end up such a foodie?

I think what it comes down to is that I just really like good food. It doesn’t matter how fancy or innovative the food is, it just needs to be delicious. I just won’t settle for mediocre food, especially when there are so many restaurants in Charlotte putting out good food. I think my inner foodiness really comes from my childhood; a lot of my favorite memories from growing up revolve around my family and food. We were lucky to travel as kids, so I was exposed to a lot of different cuisines at a young age. My mom always made us taste the food before saying we wouldn’t eat it. I was already an adventurous eater, so as I got older, I loved trying new restaurants and new dishes. I do a lot of intense research when we go on trips to make sure we are eating delicious food at every meal, with some crazy cross-referencing, lots of review reading and a handwritten list.

Favorite dishes in Charlotte?

Pork belly tacos from Soul Gastrolounge, milk bread from Kindred, cheddar biscuits from Sunflour Baking Company, the burger at Foxcroft Wine Company, pistachio pizza at Inizio, burrata from Crepe Cellar and the mushroom soup at Barrington’s

RELATED: The Best Charlotte Patios for Dining & Drinking

Favorite drink in Charlotte?

The Smoked Whiskey Sour at The Cellar at Duckworth’s. My husband and I love to get spots at the bar — the drinks are so complex and full of fresh ingredients that watching the bartenders work is great date night entertainment! And an iced chai latte at Central Coffee.

Favorite restaurant?

Haberdish. I love its versatility; it’s perfect for everything from a date night to a dinner with parents and is our go-to for out of town guests. To me, Haberdish really reflects Charlotte through really good food and cocktails at a really great price point. Right now I am also loving Lincoln’s Haberdashery … I go at least once a week, and everything I eat there is delicious.

Favorite place no one would think to try?

Tacos El Nevado. They have the best tacos in Charlotte. I love the authentic menu. The tacos are simple but really delicious, and they also offer proteins like lengua and tripa that you can’t find at the mainstream taco places (those are tounge and tripe). Oh and the spicy guacamole! Yum!

What’s been the biggest game changer in the Charlotte food scene and why?

When I moved to Charlotte in 2012, it was still the beginning of the local food movement here; while we had several really good local restaurants, looking at it from a large scale, we were transitioning from a city of chains to creating a Charlotte food identity. I’m not sure if Charlotte has a food identity yet, but I feel lucky that I’ve been able to witness a shift in Charlotte to see the community supporting local chefs and local ingredients and really embracing Charlotte food (whatever that means). That, in turn, has pushed chefs to be more experimental, has pushed the culinary scene to grow, and I love seeing the community celebrate the great food our city has to offer. I think there is still room to grow, I think there is still room for more great restaurants, but the Charlotte food scene is very different (in a great way!) than it was when I started blogging five years ago.

Chrissie Nelson Rotko of Off the Eaten Path

Heidi Billotto, Heidi Billotto Food

How did you get started writing your blog?

I am a perfect example of how one thing always leads to another.

After two years of teaching kindergarten in Charlotte, I started with a kitchen shop and cooking school here called The Charlotte Russe. From that came my own television show called “Easy But Elegant Cooking” on WTVI, and as a result, I started teaching cooking classes in the late 1980s.

In the early 1990s, I got a call from The Leader Newspaper to see if I wanted to be their food writer. Food and recipe writing led to writing about restaurants, too; so for several years, I wrote a column called “The Wandering Gourmet,” which put me on the map as one of the then-three or four food and restaurant writers in Charlotte. Since then, I’ve written for many other local and regional publications and now am the food and restaurant editor for Charlotte Living magazine. I started my blog in 2009 as a regular way to stay connected to readers, and it has proven to be a fun way to share the news about all that is local, delicious and worth my readers’ while.

Why are you such a foodie?

Inspired by Julia Child when I was young and encouraged on by my parents to try new things, I have always loved to cook and have always loved to entertain. I have a degree in early childhood education and am a good teacher – writing about food and blogging is a spin-off of that. Working with the NC Department of Agriculture and meeting local farmers and producers along the way has led my niche to become more and more about local product – food, drink, proteins and produce, and I love sharing the story.

Favorite dish in Charlotte?

Right now I am loving all that comes off of the new Streamline Kitchen food truck, a breakfast dish called The Darning Egg at Lincoln’s Haberdashery on South Boulevard, the crafted coffee drinks at the new Good Cup Coffee on Saturdays at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market, the crab cakes from the Baltimore Crabcake Company food truck; Luca Annunziata’s egg yolk ravioli; any of the soups that Bruce Moffett creates at Barrington’s; and any of the seafood entrees at Global Restaurant in Pineville. So hard when you make a list – there is a lot to love about the way Charlotte chefs cook.

Favorite drink in Charlotte?

I love the cocktail promotion that chef Clark Barlow is doing with several local bloggers at Heirloom this summer. He has a “Heidi’s Sazarac” on the cocktail menu and, at my request, a portion of the proceeds go to the Second Harvest Food Bank Backpack Program to help feed hungry kids. The cocktail was created to my specifications all with local ingredients and spirits. What the team at Heirloom couldn’t source locally, they handcrafted in-house – the drink is pink, potent and oh so delicious!

Favorite place no one would think to try … and why?

For Indian food, seek out Chaupaati in South Charlotte and Tamarind in Matthews. For pho, run, don’t walk, to Doan’s on South Boulevard.

But if I had to mention one off-the-menu item readers need to know about and probably don’t, it’s the raw lamb kibbeh at Kabab-Je Rotisserie and Grille in the Sycamore Plaza Shopping Center in Matthews. It’s a lamb tartar of sorts with capers, pickled veggies, hot pita and EVOO. You have to call three days ahead and place it as a special order. Once they know you are coming in for dinner, they start making it to order when you walk in the door – unbelievably fresh and of decidedly delicious melt-in-your-mouth proportions. #TellThemHeidiSentYou

What’s been the biggest game changer in the Charlotte food scene and why?

The fact that Charlotte chefs really do work together with each other and with local farmers. This is not the case in many cities, large or small. Chefs often see each others as competition, but in Charlotte, it seems to be a team effort to raise the bar and make Charlotte the food city of the Carolinas.

Heidi Billotto of Heidi Billotto Food

There should be no shortage of places to head and dishes to try. Enjoy eating your way through Charlotte, and thanks to these Charlotte Food Bloggers for all of the ideas!

For more scoop on local Charlotte eats, click here!