Inspired by A Sunny Beginning: Breakfast Musts in the Carolinas featured in the Jan/Feb 2017 Go Magazine, we thought we’d share a few worthy contenders for your midday meal. Whether you just want to take a break from brown bagging it or are passing through these towns during a weekday road trip, here are options worth leaving your office (or car!) for.
Pinky’s Westside Grill, Charlotte/Huntersville
We have a vegan and vegetarian in our family, and it’s often challenging to find good diner food we can all enjoy. Pinky’s checks all our boxes.
Their menu includes a good variety of meatless options (many of which can be made vegan). From veggie chili and corndogs (Charlotte’s first vegetarian corn dogs, to be precise!) to black bean burgers and their Redneck Parm, there’s so much here, you won’t be asking “where’s the beef?”. Meat lovers, fear not. Favorites like the Tony Baloney, White Trash Burger, and Korean Pork BBQ Tacos definitely satisfy.
Pinky’s has two locations: 1600 West Morehead Street in Charlotte and 9818 Gilead Road in Huntersville.
Fast food here isn’t what you’d imagine with Guasaca’s Venezuelan-inspired menu. You won’t be overwhelmed with choices, as the star here is the arepa. Arepas are corn cakes split like pitas and filled with varied meats and veggies, black beans, and cheese. You can forego the corn cake and opt for a bowl or salad.
Service is “Moe’s-esque”, and food is made in assembly line form. Long lines move quickly, though, making it a hot lunch spot for locals. Everything is freshly made each day, including their Guasaca sauce — avocado chunks mixed with other diced vegetables and seasonings. You’ll want to add a side of that with chips to your order.
They’re located at 4025 Lake Boone Trail in Raleigh and on 2200 West Main Street in Durham.
Second Street Lunch, Roanoke Rapids
Family owned and operated for over six decades, Second Street Lunch provides the quintessential small town diner experience. A simple menu of staples like hamburgers, hotdogs, barbecue, chicken sandwiches, and fries have kept folks filled since 1949.
They serve both Coke and Pepsi – a real rarity in restaurants. They don’t accept credit cards, though, so make sure you have cash. Try the popular Pizza Burger and cheese fries, or go for the pork barbecue platter. Just make sure you wear your stretchy pants.
You’ll find Second Street Lunch at 22 East 2nd Street.
Elsa’s Place, Jacksonville
Consistently great reviews on TripAdvisor is one of many reasons to step into this unassuming brick building in downtown Jacksonville.
Add to that a great mix of authentic Caribbean food like jerk chicken and oxtail soup and southern staples including fried pork chops and collards. Long lines of locals testify to the quality of the menu.
Décor in the modest dining room consists of Caribbean flags, photos, and maps. Your food is cooked to order, so plan to enjoy a long lunch or call ahead for takeout.
Elsa’s is located at 610 Court Street.
Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Cafe, Columbia
Located in historic Five Points, Mr. Friendly’s opened in the early 80s. Originally comprised of sandwiches and cookies, the menu has morphed into simple and refined Southern offerings. It has also garnered accolades from Wine Spectator, Columbia Metropolitan Magazine, and others.
Choose from lunch specials like Cornmeal Dusted Lane Snapper, Famous House-Ground Meatloaf, and 10-Hour Roasted BBQ Pork Sandwich. Make sure to save room for the Crème Brulee Cheesecake. If you don’t have to return to work after lunch, enjoy a glass of wine from the extensive wine list or sample some local craft beers.
Visit them at 2001-A Greene Street.
Northgate Soda Shop, Greenville
If you’re a sucker for nostalgia, make plans to head to this time machine in downtown Greenville. Eating lunch here is like visiting a living museum of old Greenville. Open since 1947, it’s a local landmark teeming with old soda bottles, model boats, signs, and other memorabilia from the late 50s and early 60s.
Take your taste buds back in time with diner essentials like a pimento cheeseburger, tuna melts, and onion rings. Handspun shakes and homemade ice cream sodas and floats are also popular.
Find Northgate Soda Shop at 918 North Main Street.
Cliff’s Seafood & Grill, Bamberg
Located off Heritage Highway, Cliff’s Seafood might be easy to miss. The smallish building wears a plain sign and is surrounded by a huge gravel parking lot.
Given Cliff’s popularity, the size of the parking lot seems well planned. Locals and area visitors file in for reasonably priced, cooked to order seafood like crab legs, fried shrimp, and oysters.
The dining room is simply adorned – cinderblock walls dotted with nautical themed décor. Meals are served on Styrofoam plates, and there are picnic tables out back for additional seating. With friendly service, delicious food, and large portions, diners soon realize that being fancy is highly overrated.
Cliff’s Seafood & Grill is located at 12743 Heritage Highway.
Five Loaves Café, Charleston/Summerville
The Five Loaves philosophy of partnering with local farms and businesses and striving to reduce their impact on the environment is certainly reason enough to eat lunch here. Freshly prepared, healthy menu items that are also delicious are the other reason.
Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options are plentiful, and half-size plates are available for every menu item. Choose from hearty house made soups and colorful salads to chicken sandwiches and cheeseburgers. The Mediterranean Garden Burger with tzatziki feta is a favorite.
There are three Five Loaves Café locations: 1055 Johnnie Dodds Boulevard, Charleston; 43 Cannon Street, Charleston; and 214 North Cedar Street, Summerville.