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Editor's Note: This story is unlocked for everyone to read courtesy of the CRVA, our partner in nourishing culinary exploration for residents and visitors of the Queen City.

February 16, 2024

Where Chefs Eat: Puerta’s RJ Corley

Executive chef looks for comfort foods and a mix of flavors

by TM Petaccia

Folks in the restaurant industry know good food, so we want to know where they eat when they’re not cooking. In this series, we ask a local chef, bartender, restaurateur, or food artisan to share their favorite restaurants in town and what they order there.

This week, we interviewed RJ Corley, executive chef at Puerta. Corley has an established history in the Charlotte restaurant scene, with stints at Tapas 51, Suffolk Punch, and others until his arrival with 1957 Hospitality Group. “As I spend the majority of my life in kitchens/restaurants, going out is not at the top of my priorities list, much to the chagrin of my better half,” he says. “I must confess certain delivery apps may get used a little excessively at times, especially after a long day on the disc golf course. However, when I do get the opportunity to eat out, there are a few places that we frequent often.”

Pierogies at The Degenerate in NoDa. Kristen Wile / UP

The Degenerate, NoDa
A modern-day version of the corner pub with a new take on bar fare
RJ’s order: Pierogies (two orders), lettuce wraps, falafel, The Degenerate burger
RJ’s take: “Talk about a spot that stole my heart right from the name; this is it. I immediately began realizing that I wanted to try everything on the menu, and we may have knocked out about 75% of it that first visit, all of it excellent. The food remains constant as well as the service, cocktails, and the entire experience — which, as I know, consistency is often the hardest thing to accomplish in our industry.”

Moosehead Grill, Montford
Casual taproom and restaurant
RJ’s order: Fried Pepperjack cheese, Killer Bees wings, BBQ quesadilla
RJ’s take: “One of the first places I took my fiance after moving her from NY to Charlotte. When I wasn’t living in Charlotte, it was always my first stop straight from the airport. It has held a very special spot in my life for at least ten years. ”

Open Rice Asian Kitchen, Midtown / Ballantyne
A Hong Kong style experience offering classic Asian dishes
RJ’s order: Whole duck, pork fried rice, bao buns, soup dumplings, tempura talo, “all the dim sum”
RJ’s take: “This is now my go-to spot to get my Asian fix and is one of the best dim sum spots I’ve eaten at since leaving New York City. It especially warms my soul because, as a chef with a horrible shellfish allergy, I often feel uncomfortable telling restaurants about it. However, when I first went with my GM Phi (Hoang), he told them, and they not only took great care of us, I was able to enjoy a metric ton of options there.”

The Flipside Cafe, Fort Mill
An all-day restaurant (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) serving bistro dishes
RJ’s order: Lockport NY beef-on-weck, Fort Mill biscuit bake, Dirty South grit bowl, mac-n-cheese bites, Flipside burger
RJ’s take: “One of my fiance and mine’s favorite brunch/lunch spots. Every time we go, the food and service are consistent. I often have to talk myself out of ordering the entire menu. Their Beef-on-Weck is the key to my heart.”

Little Mama’s, SouthPark / Rea Farms
Classic Italian restaurant inspired by the style of Italian food in the northeastern U.S. 
RJ’s order: Lasagna, chicken parmesan, “all the pizzas”
RJ’s take: “I have a hard time limiting myself, but still did some pretty solid work on the menu. Great service and incredible food, from the moment the bread arrives.”

Bojangles, multiple locations
Charlotte-born franchise known for chicken and biscuits
RJ’s order: Chicken biscuit, steak biscuit (add egg and cheese), fried breast & thigh, Mac-N-Cheese, BoRounds with the Bo seasoning.
RJ’s take: “As a Carolilna transplant, I have more love for Bojangles than I should admit. Cook Out too.”

See where other Charlotte chefs and industry pros eat

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