Independence Boulevard has been in the midst of a makeover for more than 25 years, and it’s wiped out many of the businesses that used to reside along this road. But Independence still has some great places — new and old — serving up food that tells the story of Charlotte’s past and its future.
Here are my entirely subjective, completely biased top five choices, in no specific order.
3101 E. Independence Blvd., Charlotte.
There are actually two South 21s on Independence, but only one has been around for decades and still maintains the retro-themed billboards and curb service. The original South 21, located on the freeway section of Independence between Eastway and Briar Creek, still has some of the crispiest onion rings and perfectly cooked burgers in Charlotte.
5112 E. Independence Blvd., Charlotte.
All that’s amazing about Liberty East has already been covered here, but this is just a friendly reminder that corned beef hash platters and livermush sandwiches are delicious — even if you may want a mint or three before you leave.
7146 E. Independence Blvd., Charlotte.
Whooli’s has quietly but successfully been serving patrons cold beer, hot wings and some of the tastiest fried pickles in the city since it opened in 1995. Stepping into this establishment is like taking a trip to a bygone era when people actually ventured out to Independence to find something fun to do on the weekends. You won’t find bottle service, DJs, or beard-scratching brew-bros, but if you’re looking to catch a game at an old-school favorite with pleasant and helpful waiters and bartenders, a trip to Whooli’s can be a quite refreshing and even nostalgic experience.
Queen’s Soul Food
7308-D E. Independence Blvd., Charlotte.
This is another establishment that has already been mentioned on C5. Located near the border of Charlotte and Matthews, Queen’s Soul Food is the guilty pleasure you never knew you had. Mac and cheese, fried fish, oxtail and whatever else your heart (and stomach) desires is available here and, unlike some of these other locations, this restaurant has a spacious and convenient parking lot.
9709 E. Independence Blvd., Matthews.
Do you like plates of food that are the size of a hubcap? If you do, drop by Azteca, yet another uniquely built restaurant located right off U.S. 74. The garish decorations both inside and outside of the establishment make it seem like customers are filing into a lavish Mexican villa. The food itself will leave you feeling both satisfaction and a touch of regret, but the experience is one-of-a-kind.
Sure, Independence has its fair share of Applebee’s and Chili’s. And I’m sure you’ve already read countless Yelp reviews about how healthy and progressive Bean Vegan Cuisine is, too. The establishments on this list are all about adding to the collective experience of living in this city, though, and the unique offerings they serve are both delicious and truly Charlottean.
Photos: T. Ortega Gaines/Charlotte Observer; Corey Inscoe