2016 Readers' Favorites: Dining + Destinations

Your votes for the best of dining and destinations for kids in Charlotte.

Favorite Barbecue + Favorite Mac-n-Cheese

Mac’s Speed Shop

From brisket to pulled pork, Mac’s Speed Shop offers a huge selection of traditional barbecue dishes as well as dynamite side dishes like mac n’ cheese and sweet potato fries. Charlotte and Cornelius. macspeedshop.com.


Favorite Burger Joint

Bad Daddy’s

With sensational burgers, gluten-free options, and tasty build-your-own salads, this local favorite lives up to its promise of satisfying everyone in the family. Charlotte, Huntersville and Mooresville, baddaddysburgerbar.com.


Favorite Mexican Food

Cantina 1511

Guacamole made at the table alongside quesadillas, sizzling fajitas or other traditional fare hits the spot. On Tuesdays after 4 p.m., kids meals are free (one per adult meal purchase). Park Road Shopping Center and Stonecrest at Piper Glen, cantina15eleven.com.

Favorite Pizza

Aliño Pizzeria

Fast and family-friendly, with a focus on authentic Neapolitan-style pizza is the name of the game at this Mooresville gem. Enjoy outdoor seating at long picnic tables. 500 S. Main St., Mooresville, alinopizzerias.com.

Favorite Outdoor Dining

Brixx Wood Fired Pizza

People watch at the Sixth Street location uptown or let the kids run around the big fountain at Foxcroft. Multiple locations, brixxpizza.com.

Favorite Coffee Shop


This French-style café and patisserie puts a lot of love into its decadent desserts and handcrafted beverages, including gourmet hot chocolate. Charlotte and Rock Hill, ameliesfrenchbakery.com.

Favorite Cupcakes

Gigi’s Cupcakes

Freshly baked every day with a a weekly rotating menu of 30 varieties, including flavors like Birthday Cake Surprise and Texas Milk Chocolate plus at least three gluten-free choices daily. 4732 Sharon Road, gigiscupcakesusa.com.

Favorite Food Truck

Papi Queso

Gourmet grilled cheese is sure to please, from the classic Big Cheesy to sandwiches with unexpected ingredient twists like Espresso Barbecue Sauce or Caramelized Apple Butter. Locations change daily. Check @Papiquesotruck on Facebook or Twitter for details.

Favorite Farmers Market

Matthews Farmers’ Market

Open every Saturday morning except the weekend after Thanksgiving, shoppers revel in fresh, local produce available at this “growers-only” market. 188 N. Trade St., Matthews, matthewsfarmersmarket.com.

Favorite Brewery To Go With Kids + Favorite Dad’s Night Out

Olde Mecklenburg Brewery

There’s plenty of space for the kiddos to run around in the 8-acre outdoor German-style biergarten. Choose from burgers, soft pretzels, and pizza for the kids, while parents can sample from a wide selection of entrees. Fresh, local brews and a great, low-key vibe make this an ideal spot for dads on a night out. 4150 Yancey Road, oldemeckbrew.com.

SEE ALSO: 5 Baby-Friendly Breweries in Charlotte

Favorite Mom’s Night Out

Foxcroft Wine

Enjoy a worldly selection of wines by the glass or pick a bottle off the shelf at retail price in this relaxed wine bar with a gourmet kitchen that prepares bruschetta, truffle fries, and gourmet sliders. Southpark and Dilworth, foxcroftwine.com.

Favorite Mommy/Daughter Outing

SouthPark Mall

Whether your fashion tastes lean more toward American Girl or Urban Outfitters, this place is the perfect fit for moms and their girls. 4400 Sharon Road, simon.com/mall/southpark.

Favorite Place to Splash

Ray’s Splash Planet

With features like a three-story high water slide and a lazy river, this unique indoor water park offers cool fun year-round. 215 N. Sycamore St., rayssplashplanet.com.

Favorite Place to Play Outdoors + Favorite Place to Picnic

Freedom Park

Whether they’re climbing on the recently renovated playground equipment or racing through the Carolina Panther’s sponsored Play 60 KidZone, this centrally-located green oasis has plenty of space for kids to burn off excess energy, and a 7-acre picturesque pond makes a lovely place to picnic. 1900 East Blvd., charmeck.org.

Favorite Suburb

Huntersville and Matthews – TIE

Just a short commute to Charlotte, readers favor Huntersville (population 50,000) in the north and to the southeast, Matthews (population 30,000), as great places to raise a family. huntersville.org, matthewsnc.gov.

Favorite Animal Attraction

Lazy 5 Ranch

This ranch feels like a safari adventure with its unexpected assortment of exotic animals. Kids and adults can tour by wagon or personal car, feed animals, and have a ton of fun. Cash only. 15100 Mooresville Road, Mooresville, lazy5ranch.com.

Favorite Kid-Friendly Festival

Matthews Alive

One of the area’s biggest festivals happens every Labor Day weekend. Kids can do hands-on art projects at the Kids Craft Pavilion, ride a train or pony, plus take a spin on the many Midway rides. Bonus: Proceeds benefit local nonprofit organizations. Downtown Matthews, matthewsalive.org.

Favorite Place to Jump

Sky Zone

Kids and grown ups are literally bouncing off the walls at this indoor trampoline park. Open jump sessions are available seven days a week. 10200 Centrum Parkway, Pineville, skyzone.com.

Favorite Live Theater

Children’s Theatre of Charlotte

Outstanding professional productions for young audiences make this a favorite destination for families. Offering a slew of classes and summer camps, its award-winning programs offer onstage and behind-the-scenes action. 300 E. 7th St., ctcharlotte.org.


Favorite Performing Arts Group

Charlotte Ballet

World-class performances, ranging from classic to cutting-edge, and its nationally recognized educational programs introduce kids ages 3 and older to the magic of dance. Family favorites include the “Nutcracker” production and Matinee Magic subscriptions. 701 N. Tryon St., charlotteballet.org.

Favorite Greenway

Four Mile Creek

This paved trail runs from downtown Matthews to the popular Squirrel Lake Park and through various nearby neighborhoods. Parking available at Squirrel Lake Park, 1631 Pleasant Plains Road. charmeck.org/greenways.

Favorite Place to Workout With Kids


With 19 branches in the Charlotte area, including 16 outdoor pools and waterparks, it’s no wonder people love Charlotte’s YMCAs. Many locations offer free drop-in child care service, or get your workout in while they are in swim class or at soccer practice. Multiple locations, ymcacharlotte.org.

Favorite Place to Take Out of Towners

U.S. National Whitewater Center

There’s never  a dull moment at this outdoor sports mecca, located only 20 minutes from uptown Charlotte. Choose from more than 25 different activities with the AllSport Pass as you hike, bike, raft, climb, canoe or zip line your way around the grounds, plus there’s a riverside restaurant. 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway, usnwc.org.

Favorite Pumpkin Patch

Hall Family Farm

In between picking pumpkins and navigating the 5-acre corn maze, kids can bounce around the grounds and check out free activities like the mini-maze, sand boxes, and rubber-ducky racing propelled by old-fashioned water pumps. 10713 Providence Road W., hallfamilyfarm.com.

Favorite Daddy/Son Outing + Favorite Family Sporting Event

Charlotte Knights

From April to September, the new uptown stadium provides the perfect place for guy bonding and a family-fun outing with tickets that are reasonably priced. Kids can run the bases after Sunday home games, play in the Kids Zone or romp around on the grass behind left field. BB&T Ballpark, 324 S. Mint St., charlotteknights.com.

Favorite Children’s Museum + Favorite Summer Day Camp: Academic

Discovery Place

Connect to groundbreaking larger-than-life inventions, touch a python, explore the rainforest, and see a 3D movie at the IMAX. Its summer day camp programs get kids preschool to rising eighth grade fired up about science, engineering, math and arts. 301 N. Tryon St., discoveryplace.org.

SEE ALSO: 2016 Readers' Favorites Shopping + Services