Besides being the premier outdoor playground in Charlotte, the U.S. National Whitewater Center also hosts a wide array of ever growing food and drink options. Sit down for a huge burrito, grab a burger and picnic near the man-made rapids, or just choose a pint of local beer in the Biergarden.
What Makes It Great
The longest part of a day outdoors is the drive to the restaurant afterwards. Rumbling stomachs and dry mouths dream of the first bite of food and sip of beer. With lots of options to find an ice cold pint of local craft beer and a plate of sweet potato fries, at the USNWC the wait to satiate your hunger is minutes, not hours.
For a sit down, “proper” meal, the Rivers Edge Bar and Grill is the place. Choose a table indoors (or “beer adjacent”), or outside and watch the sun set behind the tree lined Catawba River or the band during weekly Riverjams. The full service menu offers plates like smoked pork, chicken, or turkey. The burritos are fairly hefty and come with a choice of sides such as mac and cheese, sweet potato fries, or the surprisingly tasty basil green beans. There are plenty of gluten free and veggie options as well. The beer list has substance and variety, incorporating a mix from heavy to dark craft beers and tap, bottle, and in the can.
Sometimes you want to grab your food and go, so the Center also offers an option for a fast sandwich or snack at The Market. Located next to Rivers Edge, The Market serves hot and cold sandwiches, snacks, drinks, and a small selection of locally canned craft beer. This is a perfect option for a DIY picnic on the grass.
New for this year, the Pump House Biergarten is a remarkable covered, outdoor space with a huge bar and fantastic list of some of the best craft beers to be found. Located on Belmont Abbey Island, in the center of the man-made whitewater channel, the Biergarten provides an alternative view of all the goings on at the center. The grill menu is simple, dogs and burgers, but the Idaho cut fries are pretty awesome. Note that around the back of the structure, down towards the water, are a much needed set of bathrooms.
Also located on the island, a few steps past the beirgarten, the USNWC food truck puts out a variety of tacos while the Pump House Press is your place for a pannini and a small selection of beer.
It seems like that would be enough options, but given the popularity of the center on the busiest of days, you can’t have enough places to find beer. Tucked away at the Trail Center, the USNWC’s full service bike shop, you can grab a cold drink or beer from a couple taps. But one of the greatest additions is the Gear Shed. A simple repurposed shipping container that sits at the back of the main parking lot, near the adventure pavilion and trail entrance. This is where you go when you rent a bike. It’s also where you stop on the way into the center for a cold can of local craft beer while everyone else waits in line down below.
Note that not all options are open during all hours of operation. Many, like the food truck and Gear Shed only serve during the busy days.
Who is Going to Love It
A mountain biker, with telltale "dirt socks" is lounging on a rock near the rapids, sipping a NoDa Hop Drop and Roll. At the sit-down resteraunt, a family watches the sunset over burgers and sweet potato fries. And over at the bike center USNWC employees draw a draft for soggy kayakers. The food and beer choices at the USNWC keep just about everyone in mind.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There is a parking fee, even for those just coming out to grab some food. During summer popular evenings - like Fourth of July and during Thursday and Saturday River Jams - parking can get tight. Expect to walk a bit. Dogs are well cared for all over the center.