Whether it’s made of 100 percent freshly ground steak and covered in a layer of molten cheese, or a spicy veggie creation bursting with flavor and trimmed with aioli, a burger is a fitting finale to many an outdoor adventure. As is its natural beverage complement: While the left hand holds the appetite-busting burger, the right is often gripping a locally brewed pint.
The food scene in Charlotte has certainly seen the rise of some fantastic burger joints in recent years. But it’s time to give a nod to the culinary pioneers who are redefining small town eateries in 'burgs that surround the Queen City. Conveniently located near some of the best outdoor recreation the area has to offer, here are five must-try burgers outside Charlotte’s borders and where you can go to earn your feast.
Small Town: Cornelius
What to Try: Keeping with the cheese theme, the Cinco Cheese Burg’r (a glorious mingling of American, cheddar, provolone, pepper jack, and beer cheese) will delight the most committed caseo-phile.
Small Town: Rock Hill, S.C.
Earn It: Rock Hill Outdoor Center
In the world of outdoor sports, Rock Hill, South Carolina, has elevated itself from a smallish Charlotte neighbor to the world stage for several bicycling disciplines. The Rock Hill Outdoor Center will host some of the biggest international events in BMX, Supercross, and UCI-caliber track races. But it’s not just for the pros. Besides the velodrome and BMX tracks—where intro courses are available for all visitors—the center is also home to a challenging mountain bike course and several miles of paved greenway. Soon, even a cyclocross- and criterion-style course will be added to the list of amenities. No matter what your preferred way to ride, this is the place to empty your tank before refueling at Legal Remedy.
Refuel: Legal Remedy Brewery
The chalkboard above the bar is Exhibit A of the range Legal Remedy Brewing expresses through its beer menu. A traditional double IPA and a Belgian quad share tap space with a maple bacon Russian stout and a peanut butter chocolate porter in the converted car dealership that serves as home base. That Legal Remedy has been able to achieve consistent quality across such a varied list from a full-scale brewery established within about a year is admirable. What’s amazing, however, is the evident dedication to great food that exists alongside it.
Without many fancy options, the house burger occupies just three lines on the menu. Since the half-pound, griddle-seared affair is well seasoned and among the juiciest around, it doesn’t need much else. The fries are medium cut and textured, and it all pairs ridiculously well with a spicy IPA or hearty stout.
What To Try: As if making your own beer isn’t cool enough, LRB also offers house-smoked bacon served up in a pint glass. It’s not on the menu, but ask for one to share as an appetizer (or order one just for yourself—they won’t judge).
Small Towns: Kings Mountain and Cramerton
Earn It: Crowders Mountain State Park
One of the greatest amenities for trail lovers around the Queen City is Crowders Mountain State Park. From gentle walks around the lake to quad-burning stair climbs, the park offers a variety of hiking and running adventures.
To really build up an appetite worthy of a mozzarella-topped bacon sandwich, go for the double peak challenge. Begin at the main ranger station, referred to as the Sparrow Springs Access on park maps, and use the Crowders and Rocktop trails to surmount the first peak: Crowders Mountain. Return to the parking lot for a bathroom and refueling break if needed, then use the Pinnacle Trail to climb the namesake peak, finally returning via the Turnback Trail. A favorite training ground for hikers, runners, and backpackers, the double loop is roughly 9 miles long and includes about 1,600 total vertical feet of incline.
Refuel: South Fork Deli
Whether a burger of the veggie variety is worthy of mention among great burgers (or even deserves the burger designation) will not be debated here. Philosophical and semantic bents aside, the white bean veggie burger at South Fork Deli, Market and Café is a really good sandwich. Packed with more flavor than a carnivore might expect, and topped with basil pesto and sun-dried tomato spreads, this one is worthy of a diversion from a beef burger.
Is your inner meat-lover still not convinced? No worries: The deli also serves up a hearty peppered bacon sandwich (topped with an odd but successful mix of mozzarella and apple butter) or a heaping of pulled pork on a brioche bun. No matter what you choose, you’ll find a great beer or wine pairing from the half-dozen craft taps or mini-market.
What To Try: One of the most popular offerings at South Fork, with good reason, is a hefty, cast-iron cooked, buttermilk fried chicken sandwich.
Small Towns: Gastonia and Belmont
Earn It: George Poston Park
Besides being one of the best enclosed dog parks in the greater Charlotte area, the singletrack at George Poston Park is also an absolute gem for mountain bikers. The trail system is comprised of several, interconnecting loops, each link progressively more challenging than the last. Beginning with the Lake Loop—the easiest but not completely untechnical—and culminating in the steep Spencer Mountain Loop, George Poston is a perfect place to improve your skills. The course is generally tighter than others in the area and test boths strength and agility.
Refuel: String Bean
Anchoring of a burgeoning food scene in Charlotte’s western neighbor, The String Bean has become a go-to for locals and one of those “I keep meaning to try it” places for out-of-towners. It’s easy to overlook burgers at the Bean, as it's affectionately known as. The front-and-center meat and seafood counter holds such wonders as deep red tuna steaks, huge scallops, and gigantic bone-in ribeyes that could tip over a Flintstone car.
The burger options don't disappoint, either. A highlight is the steak burger, with a mix of ground ribeye, filet, and New York strip that join forces to create a uniquely flavorful situation. Next to pile of duck fat fries, and paired with something from the ridiculously extensive beer list, the whole experience rivals the best burger joints in Charlotte.
What To Try: The Cow-Pig, a blend of ground beef and bacon that teeters on the brink of excessive, but really isn't. (The Angry Cow-Pig, with its mixed-in jalapenos and Ghost Pepper Jack cheese, on the other hand …)
Small Town: Fort Mill
Earn It: Anne Springs Close Greenway
Don’t let the term “Greenway” fool you: Anne Springs Close Greenway is a full-on park with tons of history and 40 miles of multi-use trail. Paths range from gravel road to tight, rooty singletrack. While there’s not a ton of elevation change, a trail run at ASCG is deceptively challenging with intermittent technical sections and the ability to string together long runs. Include the Haigler and Blue Star Trails for a scenic workout. There is a cost to access the trails (funds are used for upkeep of the privately owned facility).
The first thing that stands out at Hobo’s is the décor. A cool mix of hand-hewn woodwork and sleek industrial lines create an airy feeling in the small space. Two bay doors connect bartenders to patio diners, offering a pleasant outside view from the bar.
The second thing you’re likely to notice is a server carrying battered fried chicken nestled between two Belgian waffles. The sandwich-a-saurus comes with maple syrup aioli and requires a hinged jaw to bite into. It’s certainly worth a try, but we’re here for the burgers. And they are worthy of the trip: Patties are sizable and seasoned just enough to not overwhelm the beef, which is extremely fresh and juicy. Most options are served on a brioche bun and the “build your own” list of toppings covers the basics while throwing in a few curveballs like teriyaki sauce and pineapple.
What To Try: Tater tots have grown up, figuratively and literally, at Hobo’s. The eggroll-sized tots are handmade, filled with cheese, and hit with a healthy dose of seasoning.