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  • Charlie Leonard

23 Cult Favorite Restaurants in Gaston County Worth Showing Up Early For

Gaston County is no stranger to new businesses. With spots like The Wandering Cup opening in A Little Bit of Art Studio and Sammy’s Pub opening a second location in Dallas, businesses gain a dedicated following — and fast. It’s no secret that growth and expansion is on the horizon. And in the midst of these openings, many current breakfast and lunch spots have already become county mainstays — with a cult following.

Will's Doggn' It Deli and Dogs - Chris Rodarte, Gaston Outside

You can see it now; whether it's been open for generations or just adding to the mix. It can be the talk of the town and still feel like a well-kept secret, a committed crowd singing their praises at every turn. You’re comforted not only by the too-good-to-be-true dishes but in knowing, thanks to the support of its followers, that it’s here to stay.

From burgers and fries to classic North Carolina style BBQ, fried fish and chicken, even to breakfast, Gaston County’s cult classics are more than just an occasional treat; they’re your required insider eating.

Black's Grill

Burger and Fries at Black's Grill - Photo Courtesy of Matthew Tessnear

1915 Lincolnton Hwy., Cherryville

Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Gaston County has a multitude of quality burger spots, and one of the originals is Black’s Grill, just outside of Cherryville off NC-150. Open since 1947 — making them one of the oldest restaurants in Gaston County — this tiny roadside restaurant has had plenty of practice serving burgers, fries, and fried bologna sandwiches to their grateful customers. When you go to Black’s, don’t forget to bring cash and get there early.

Insider Eats: Order a Lotta Burger Basket — slaw, tomato, and pickles — and experience a Cherryville staple that’s become essential- $4.60

Blackwood’s Drive-In

Burger with chili, cheese, slaw and tomato - Photo Courtesy of Arthur Warlick

201 York Rd., Kings Mountain

Monday-Saturday 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday 12 noon-8 p.m.

The drive-in is one of the most iconic cult classics and that’s exactly the case for Blackwood’s Drive-In. They’re a well-renowned Kings Mountain staple, serving up drive-in favorites like hot dogs and hamburgers (they've got their own Lottaburger style, too), but also cheesesteaks, country-style breakfast sandwiches (all day long), and Cherry-Lemon Sundrop — a Gaston County necessity. Drive on up to an open space, they’ll take it from there.

Insider Eats: Lottaburger basket with chili, slaw, onions, pickles and tomato- $6.75

BrightStar Grill

Bright Star Grill Burger - Chris Rodarte, Gaston Outside

205 Madora St., Mount Holly

Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

Another drive-in style classic is Mount Holly’s BrightStar Grill, an homage to retro eats. Since opening in 1998, BrightStar has risen to gain the acclaim of the locals, winning Best-Of burger awards and everyone’s hearts in the process. Take a seat and enjoy the classic rock hits playing on the restaurant speakers.

Insider Eats: Essential menu items are anything “Lotta'' style like the Lottaburger, which includes cheese, slaw, tomato and ketchup. While you’re there, get a side of cowboy pickles- $9.99 (burger), $3.99 (pickles)

Cherub’s Cafe

Cherub's Cafe Chicken Salad - Chris Rodarte, Gaston Outside

23 N. Main St., Belmont

Monday-Saturday 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m.

In conjunction with Holy Angels, Cherub's Cafe in Belmont offers meaningful employment to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Since opening in the late ‘90s, their mission has been widely adored by the community of Belmont, with their food (serving both breakfast and lunch) becoming part of that sentiment. It’s good food that serves a greater purpose; what more can you ask for?

Insider Eats: A popular item, the pecan chicken salad, can be found on the menu in a multitude of formats. We recommend the croissant- $7.29

Doffer’s Canteen

Doffer's Canteen Tacos - Chris Rodarte, Gaston Outside

119 Center St., Cramerton

Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Originally opened by a former manager at Pinky’s Westside Grill in Charlotte, Doffer’s Canteen is a rising star just on the corner in downtown Cramerton. The menu revolves around a trinity of classics: Tex-Mex (tacos, burritos, quesadillas), sandwiches and local craft beer. Grab a seat on their patio/beer garden adorned with a colorful train mural and beer tap fountains.

Insider Eats: A good place to start in the Tex-Mex world is the Mojo Chicken Taco or Panini. Looking for a sandwich? The Cuban or a Philly will do the trick- $7.90 (taco), $9.70 (panini), $9.40 (Cuban), $9.90 (Philly)

Pita Wheel

Pita Wheel's Lamb & Beef Gyro - Courtesy of Pita Wheel

110 S York Street, Gastonia

Monday-Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Pita Wheel started in 2014 as a Food Truck serving tasty pita creations in the downtown areas of Charlotte and Gaston County. Since then, Pita Wheel has rolled into Downtown Gastonia where it caters out of a renovated service station complete with a beer garden and indoor seating. It serves a variety of pitas, burgers, wraps, salads in addition to craft beer and cocktails leaving everyone finding something tasty to enjoy.

Insider Eats: Try the classic Lamb and Beef Gyro complete with grilled onions, lettuce, tomato & cucumber tzatziki - $8.59

Grandma Hoyt’s Country Buffet

Breakfast at Grandma Hoyt's - Photo Courtesy of Grandma Hoyt's

421 E. Virginia Ave., Bessemer City

Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday 7:30 a.m.-noon

Nothing says classic and comfortable like an all-you-can-eat buffet with country-style favorites. At Grandma Hoyt’s Country Kitchen in Bessemer City, comfort comes homemade with recipes that originated over 100 years ago from the late Grandma Hoyt herself. The menu rotates weekly, often including well-loved Southern favorites like fried chicken, country-style steak and popular sides like mac and cheese, green beans, mashed potatoes with gravy and more. On Saturdays, stop in for the breakfast buffet (and check each week's unique menu ).

Insider Eats: Not going for the buffet? Try the Blue Plate Special — one meat, three sides, bread, and dessert or, if you're in on a Saturday load up on the breakfast buffet- $9.50 (Blue Plate Special), $11.25 (buffet)

Groovy Beast

109 E. Hudson Blvd. #0849, Gastonia

Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m.-2 p.m.

Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day, and Gastonia’s Groovy Beast makes sure you’re following that golden rule. Right off U.S. 321 in South Gastonia, the Groovy Beast specializes in all things breakfast, with a vast lunch menu including burgers and more. With build-your-own breakfast sandwiches and classics like biscuits and gravy, omelets and french toast, starting your day off on the right foot is a breeze.

Insider Eats: For breakfast grab bowl or, if you’re craving lunch, get the Groovy Beast burger- $6.49-$7.45 (bowls), $8.39 (burgers)

Hillbilly’s BBQ and Steaks

Hillbilly's BBQ ribs - Photo Courtesy of

305 S. Main St., Lowell; 903 E. Garrison Blvd., Gastonia

Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. -9:30 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Barbeque is a second language to many in North Carolina with many well-versed in the dialect of Lowell’s Hillbilly’s Barbeque and Steaks. Just off of Lowell’s Main Street (and now in Gastonia on Garrison Boulevard), Hillbilly’s serves a range of barbeque favorites like pork, chicken, and beef brisket, with hand-cut steaks cooked over a live hickory flame.

Insider Eats: The crown jewel on their barbeque crown is their pork ribs served with two sides, hushpuppies and their homemade sauce - $14.99 (small), $16.99 (large)

Kyle Fletcher’s BBQ and Catering

Kyle Fletcher's BBQ Plate - Chris Rodarte, Gaston Outside

4507 Wilkinson Blvd., Gastonia

Tuesday - Friday 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Nearby you’ll find another barbeque classic: Kyle Fletcher’s BBQ and Catering. From their unassuming location on the side of Wilkinson Boulevard, Kyle Fletcher’s makes pork barbeque plates and baskets that routinely appear on Best-Of lists from around the area. In addition to pork Kyle Fletcher’s serves ribs, burgers and sides like hushpuppies, fries, slaw and onion rings. Bring cash and do like they tell you on their Facebook page: “Come and try it for yourself.”

Insider Eats: Pork plate with slaw, beans and hushpuppies - $6.79 (small), $7.70 (large)

Viva Tequis

Viva Tequis Tacos - Courtesy of Viva Tequis

238 W. Main Ave, Gastonia

Everyday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Their name translates to English as “long live Tequilas.” This Mexican street food establishment has an inspiring transformation story. Born out of the old Tequilas Mexican Restaurant that had been housed in the historic Downtown Gastonia building and closed in 2016 for renovations, Viva Tequis has reopened its doors offering a menu of tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and rice bowls. You can order online or stop inside to sit at the bar to order a Margarita and try one of their daily specials.

Insider Eats: Try the street-style Chicken Tinga Tacos-made with soft, locally made corn tortillas with onion and cilantro-each $2.75-with a side of made to order smoky guacamole, a creation of Bacon, chopped onions, chipotle peppers and salt- $4

McDonald’s Family Restaurant

617 Gastonia Hwy., Bessemer City

Monday, Wednesday-Friday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tuesday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Open since 1965, McDonald’s Family Restaurant in Bessemer City has been making their food by hand daily — and that includes hand-ground burgers. McDonald’s homemade chili is a customer favorite on both their hot dogs and burgers (bonus points for adding in their homemade slaw). Stop in for lunch and try the barbeque minced or sliced. No shortcuts here, just classic comfort food.

Insider Eats: Cheeseburger topped with chili, slaw and onions with a side of fries- $3.05-$5.85 (burgers), $2 (fries)

Papa Sammy’s Pizza

Papa Sammy's Pizza and Garlic Knots - Chris Rodarte, Gaston Outside

140 E. Central Ave., Mount Holly

Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

Papa Sammy’s Pizza in Mount Holly was inspired by the eponymous owner, Papa Sammy's, grandchildren. The dream was to create great pizza for families while having fun in the process. The restaurant features board games like checkers, Peg Solitaire, and Jenga to play with family and friends while enjoying your time in their space.

Insider Eats: Papa Sammy’s Special Pizza topped with pepperoni, ham, Italian sausage, bacon, and a mixture of assorted veggies; add a side of garlic knots to round it all out and enjoy- $14.99-$25.99 (pizza), $3.99 (garlic knots)

Riverside Fish House

Riverside Fish House flounder, shrimp, & chicken platter - Photo Courtesy of

1341 Dallas Stanley Hwy., Dallas

Tuesday-Wednesday, 4 p.m.-8:30 p.m.; Thursday 3 p.m.-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m.

Along the South Fork River is Dallas’ Riverside Fish House, another family foray. Husband and wife duo Jeff and Emily Comer opened Riverside after graduating college, and it’s now been open for almost 30 years of service. Riverside offers seafood that’s unpretentious, a staple of the classic fish camp seafood restaurants you see around Gaston County. Stop by and you may see a celebrity or two like Gastonia’s very own James Worthy or country star Jake Owen.

Insider Eats: At Riverside, they’re serving up fish favorites like fried flounder, catfish, perch, and more with hushpuppies, slaw, and your choice of potato- $9.99-$13.25

R.O.’s Barbeque

R.O.'s barbeque sandwich with onion rings - Photo Courtesy of R.O.'s Barbeque

1318 Gaston Ave., Gastonia

Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

The R.O.’s Barbeque tradition in Gastonia started after World War II and has been a staple ever since. Opened by R.O. and Pearl Black, R.O.’s BBQ has grown into a monolith of barbeque that’s known throughout the county. It’s hard to imagine the Blacks could have predicted that Pearl’s recipe for barbeque slaw would become as important as the barbeque, even spawning its own sandwich with just sauce and slaw. This Gastonia staple can be enjoyed at their flagship location or from their big-rig style food truck that can be found in and around Gaston County.

Insider Eats: Roast pork sandwich with signature slaw and a side of hushpuppies- $4.50 (sandwich), $2.75 (hushpuppies)

Shake Shop

Shake Shop Burger and Sides - Photo Courtesy of Matthew Tessnear

505 W. Church St., Cherryville

Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; 4 p.m.-8 p.m.

The origins of the “Lotta-style” that’s spread around the area can in part be traced back to the downtown Cherryville’s Shake Shop. Bought by George Jarrett in 1943, the Shake Shop has been churning out flat-top burgers with their signature slaw, tomato and pickle combo that’s fed the Cherryville locals lunch and dinner, defining a quintessential burger style in the process. While there are no longer shakes, the business has kept this iconic name and offers Cherry Lemon Sundrop for your sugar fix. Don’t forget to bring cash to load up on the goodness.

Insider Eats: Lotta Burger with slaw, tomato, pickles and cheese with a side of fries, finished off with a Cherry Lemon Sundrop - $6.50 (burger), $1.60 (fries), $1.75 (Cherry Lemon Sundrop)

RayNathan’s BBQ

RayNathan's BBQ Plate - Courtesy of RayNathan's

4571 S. New Hope Rd, Gastonia

Thursday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

RayNathan’s is a family-run BBQ joint with a big heart. Serving a variety of classic brisket, chicken, ribs, and pork sandwiches and plates in Gastonia since opening in 2019, RayNathan’s BBQ proudly serves its hardwood-smoked meats daily and makes all sides in-house. Not only does it believe in quality ingredients, the business also believes in building a strong community by giving their time and resources locally.

Insider Eats: Try the chopped brisket sandwich made of black angus brisket smoked with RayNathan's rub and served with one of their sides, like mac and cheese, fried okra, or collard greens- $8.99

The Shrimp Boat

The Shrimp Boat's Fried Chicken - Photo Courtesy of The Shrimp Boat

120 S. Broad St., Gastonia

Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Thursday-Friday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

For four decades The Shrimp Boat on Broad Street just outside of the ever-growing downtown Gastonia has been serving comfort favorites in the form of fish and chicken. Though the name may suggest seafood only, a box of Shrimp Boat fried chicken, made with natural herbs and spices, is a must-have for first-timers. Their go-to fried chicken, as either a combo plate, sandwich, or in a box of up to 100 pieces, is a must. Pick some up with a side of the peel-and-eat shrimp or deviled crabs to feast on the land and the sea.

Insider Eats: Chicken breast dinner with french fries, cole slaw and a roll- $5.70+

Tommy’s Drive-In

Tommy's Drive-In Dessert - Chris Rodarte, Gaston Outside

2708 Gastonia Dallas Hwy., Dallas

Sunday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

Opened by Tommy Gibson close to 70 years ago, Tommy’s Drive-In between Dallas and Gastonia specializes in diner-style fare that’s as timeless as its retro red booth seating and checkerboard-wrapped food baskets. Tommy’s serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner with dishes like burgers, hot dogs, homemade chili, and barbeque plates, to name a few. Diners are as cult-classic as it gets and Tommy’s easily fits the bill. Find them directly off U.S. 321 and look for their red, white, and blue sign.

Insider Eats: Start with a burger with lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard and ketchup and end with a hot fudge cake, complete with a cherry on top- $3.99 (burger), $3.99 (hot fudge cake)

Tony’s Ice Cream

Chocolate Milkshake - Photo Courtesy of

604 E. Franklin Blvd. #7111, Gastonia

Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

Tony’s Ice Cream in Gastonia, now over 100 years old, originally opened during World War One in 1915 and has been a Gastonia mainstay ever since. Tony’s Ice Cream’s 28 flavors of ice cream can be found in restaurants, coffee shops, and businesses throughout the region and beyond.

Insider Eats: At their Franklin Boulevard restaurant, the milkshake is king, made with whole milk and your flavor of choice (we suggest a classic chocolate or chocolate-peanut butter) with a hot dog and a side of fries- $4.75 (milkshake), $2 (hot dog), $2 (fries)

Twin Tops Fish Camp

Twin Tops Fish Plate - Photo Courtesy of Yelp User

4574 S. New Hope Rd., Gastonia

Tuesday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-8:30 p.m.; Friday, 4 p.m.-9 p.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m.-9 p.m.

“Where Friends Meet to Eat,” is the motto that drives Twin Tops Fish Camp in Southeastern Gaston County, dedicated to all things seafood since the late ’60s. They’ve got the fish camp classics like founder, catfish, perch, and shrimp, as well as dishes like Alaskan white fish, salmon, fresh sea scallops, and crab legs. Between the baskets of hushpuppies and tartar sauce (brought out as you’re seated) are never-ending, all-you-can-eat specials and a multitude of combo plates ensure there’s no way you can leave feeling anything but full.

Insider Eats: Overwhelmed by so many options? Try a combination platter of flounder, green shrimp and scallops with a baked potato and coleslaw and a cup of sweet iced tea- $16.75 (combination platter), $1.99 (tea)

The Woodshed

The Woodshed Steak and Fries Plate - Photo Courtesy of Arthur Warlick

210 S. Main St., Stanley

Tuesday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m.

Originally a sandwich shop with a dance hall is now The Woodshed, a steakhouse opened by Bill Withers in 1985. The Woodshed has become known for their steaks in the tradition of Little Big Horn, a previous steak and live dancing venture on the Withers family homestead.

Insider Eats: Try one of their popular cuts like the ribeye after enjoying their iconic marinated tomato and onion sandwiches- $27.95-$31.95 (ribeye), $1.95 (onion and tomato sandwich)

Will’s Doggin’ It Deli and Dogs

Hot Dog and RC cola - Chris Rodarte, Gaston Outside

1301 Spencer Mountain Rd., Gastonia

Tuesday-Friday, 10:45 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday , 10:45 a.m.-5 p.m.

Originating in New York as Will Patrignelli’s hot dog cart, Will’s Doggin’ It Deli and Dogs has taken up residence in Ranlo since 2011 and brings in visitors from around the region. Favorites like the pretzel dog with a choice of mustard or a classic Carolina dog with chili, mustard, onions, and coleslaw are well-loved classics while deli sandwiches like the New Yorker, the Reuben, Italian meat combo, and Philly cheesesteak, have quickly made a name for themselves. Enjoy Will’s for lunch or dinner — you won’t go wrong with anything on the menu.

Insider Eats: Try a hot dog with chili, cheese, slaw and red onions- $2.39