Alison McLean

The Charles

Alison McLean
Across the street from Town Hearth, The Charles is nearly as over-the-top a place to see and be seen, even on Monday nights. It’s all about the spectacle here — including cheetah-print booths and a memorably wallpapered bathroom — but, fortunately, the food is just as good eaten at home. The menu here is unlike any other Italian joint in town, thanks to chef J. Chastain’s constant, creative tinkering with classics. You may not find spaghetti with meatballs, but you’ll find something interesting, and even inspired, among either your takeout containers or the sheer sensory overload of this deliciously overdecorated dining room. To-go orders, by the way, hold up surprisingly well. We loved a recent takeout box of curlicued pasta amatriciana and a properly cooked fillet of red snapper.

Top pick: The Charles has a charming habit of grilling vegetables hard, so if you like charcoal and sear marks on your greens, you can choose (seasonally) from grilled okra, broccoli or even kale.

The downside: The Charles really is best experienced in person, and one person’s dinner can easily run past $60 without ordering a single drink.