For over a decade I have visited my family on the outskirts of Charlotte, North Carolina for holidays and family get-togethers. And for over a decade I wondered: What the heck was my family doing there? Sure, the cost of living was lower in the suburban South than it was in the larger cities we grew up accustomed to, but it just always seemed like an odd choice for my loud and colorful Dominican family. And truth be told, I found it a bit boring. To be fair, the boredom may have been a bit self-imposed. Whenever we visited we rarely got out of the house, choosing instead to partake in family dinners, cookouts and the like. So when I decided to go on a solo trip to visit my cousin in Charlotte a few months ago, I had a singular goal: to discover once and for all why they liked it there so much. What I learned is that Charlotte is home to some really interesting museums, a host of numerous community activities and that my family isn’t the only Latinx family that lives there.
I also learned that there are a lot of Latinx businesses thriving in the metro area. In fact, if you find yourself in the Queen’s City, I encourage you to support a few of these Latinx-owned businesses and experience Charlotte in all of its glory.
Salud is an award-winning craft beer brewery that’s been around since 2017. In just two short years they’ve gone from selling local and imported beers to becoming one of the area’s most popular pubs and making their own brews. The kicker? One of the co-owners is a Dominican woman named Dairelyn Guzman-Glunt! But beer is only the beginning; they have a live DJ on the weekends and even sell art by Latinx artists. Stop by and try one of their unique brews like the Cafecito con Leche (a stout that tastes like a vanilla latte) and the Dairelynerweisse (a seasonal Heffeweissen named after the owner).
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Just up the street from Salud Cerveceria is Sabor Latin Street Grill, an eatery with a menu that features dishes inspired by a variety of Latin American countries — think Venezuelan-style arepas and fried yucca topped with shredded chicken. There are 12 locations around Charlotte, all owned by Dalton Espaillat who happens to be the brother of Dairelyn (yeah, the same one from Salud Cerveceria)! The brother and sister aren’t in business together, but they did participate on the Food Network’s “Family Food Showdown” back in 2018.
On Charlotte’s east side is Manolo’s (formerly Las Delicias), a bakery that’s popular among the Latinx and African communities in Charlotte. Owner Manolo Betancourt hails from Colombia and came to the U.S. to study political science but ended up in the bakery game in 2005. The parking lot outside of the bakery has been a target for ICE raids in recent months, which has been scaring away some customers. All the more reason to buy a pan con queso in solidarity whenever you’re in town.
Carmen Vasquez immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 17 years old with the dream of running her own kitchen. Now, 20 years later, she’s the Executive Chef and partner at Yafo on Charlotte’s East Boulevard, a Mediterranean-inspired eatery. Their pillowy soft bread is made daily on-site and they use the freshest ingredients for all of their healthy, flavorful dishes. A must-try when you’re in town!
If you’re looking for something with a more classic, fine-dining feel, then check out Poplar Tapas Restaurant & Bar. This historical Victorian building was restored by architect Lucia Zapata Griffith, a Peruvian transplant that counts herself among the restaurant’s founding partners. The food is delicious, but the cocktails are truly inspired; try Val’s Cucumber Concoction, a blend of gin, elderflower liqueur, muddled cucumber, mint, and simple syrup. While the interior is absolutely stunning, there’s something special about spending an evening seated at one of the tables on the front lawn.
There’s a quirky shop on Davidson Street called Pura Vida where you can find treasures ranging from Latin American folk art to Tibetan singing bowls and prayer flags. The focus here is on handmade, fair trade and sustainably made items, and their book section has some great selections on feminism and diverse children’s stories. Think of it as your go-to souvenir shop if you want to bring back a meaningful memento from your trip to Charlotte. You can usually find owner Teresa Hernandez working behind the counter and eager to make recommendations.
Established in 2013, Latin American Contemporary Art (LaCa) Projects has locations in Charlotte and Buenos Aires. The gallery’s mission is to use this unique combination of settings to create a gateway for connecting contemporary Latin American artists with the increasingly diversifying arts scene of Charlotte, as well as to provide a location in the Southeast region of the United States for art collectors to develop and foster an appreciation for the visually striking narrative of contemporary Latin American art. If you’re an art collector, keep in mind that everything on exhibit is available for purchase and thus supports a Latinx artist.