While tooling around in Charlotte looking for a late dinner, Jessica and I happened across this place called Punchy's Diner. The main draw of the restaurant was that it looked like an old timey diner. It seems the owners may also own the auto parts store nearby (also named Punchy's), which makes them credible to prepare my food in my book. Inside the diner, they had a couple of old cars on display along with all of the usual diner paraphernalia. I could not resist getting this chili dog. For most places, chili dogs are a simple equation: hot dog + chili + bun. This restaurant chose to give the chili dog a North Carolinian flavor by topping it with cole slaw. The creamy deliciousness of the cole slaw helped to cool the chili, but also let the meaty chili pair with the hot dog. And steak fries are always a welcome side item.
New to Charlotte is an Ikea store. If you are in need of reasonably priced furniture or accessories or just want to get inspired, you should definitely stop by your local Ikea. Take as long as you want in the store, because they have a small cafeteria for all of your dietary needs. Now, Sweden may not be top of your list for your next international foodie adventure (we all have them, right?), but the food at Ikea is pretty good. My first choice was an obvious one: Swedish meatballs. The meatballs are served with some mashed potatoes and slathered with a light gravy, all of which forms a plate of tasty wonder on its own, but they added some lingonberry (I think) jam on the side. Like cranberry sauce with turkey, this jelly added a bit of sweetness to the savory meat.
To wash down our plate of pre-dinner, we drank from these juice boxes. I preferred the chrysanthemum drink to the lingonberry one (the latter tasted a little like grape juice). A nicely nostalgic way to rehydrate for more shopping.
Now to revisit a previously posted restaurant: No. 1 Panda. The first time we ate at this restaurant, we had a good time and I took ok pictures with my phone. This time was even better and I remembered my camera. I will admit, the service is still not optimum, but the food and the friendliness of the family working there more than make up for this. Two friends and I split three entrees that ended up coming out successively instead of all at once. This may have actually been better for us as communal eaters. First to be served was a beef brisket "casserole." Casserole in this context means a Chinese hot-pot beef stew. The beef and mixed veggies came out simmering in one of the most flavorful beef sauces I've ever had. This is my new favorite way to eat brisket. There's no way to describe all of the levels of flavor packed into this dish, so you'll just have to try it yourself.
The middle dish was a seafood medley. Clams, calamari, fish, and probably some other parts were combined in a light but delectable sauce that was perfect for table-wide picking. You can't lose with fresh seafood cooked just right.
Last but not least is crispy duck. I was expecting more Peking-style duck, but this one had a sturdy breading on the outside (sturdy enough for the duck to be fried whole and then cleanly chopped into pieces). Warning: this is the dish that took the longest to prepare, so buyer beware. At first, I thought the breading was salty, but then I came to realize that the duck meat itself may have been brined beforehand. The salty crispiness made me covet each piece a bit more, almost like Gollum from Lord of the Rings. I don't get to eat duck that often, but when I do I make sure to get it somewhere that knows what they're doing.