Aug 8, 2023 - News

Phat Burrito to reopen after a nearly 6-year closure

Phat Burrito

Phat Burrito is located at 3543 Dewitt Lane. Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios

The Phat is back.

What’s happening: More than six years after it closed, the landmark South End burrito joint Phat Burrito will open Wednesday, Aug. 9.

Of note: Phat Burrito is in its soft opening phase, meaning it’ll only be open for dine-in service. In about three weeks, they’ll open their bar and will start serving to-go and online orders.

What to expect: The same oversized burritos, that’s for sure. The 2,600-square-foot corner space is a bit bigger than the original location, but owner Michael Cox wanted to keep the same feel inside as the original location in South End.

  • In addition to burritos, the menu features salads, quesadillas and tacos. Cox assures us that the recipes are all the same.
  • For dessert, try a hot tamale brownie or a Mexican hot chocolate cookie from Cornelius-based Main Street Bakery.
Phat Burrito
The colorful floor tiles, metal bar and chalkboard menu are all reminiscent of the original South End location. Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios

Context: In order to keep the nostalgic vibes alive, Cox brought in Stephen Justice, the original owner, to consult on the project and ensure both the burritos and feel of the place are as close to the old Phat Burrito as possible.

  • “I’ve tried to share my experiences with him and what I think would have worked better,” Justice told us when we first shared the news of Phat Burrito’s return in 2020. “Predicting the restaurant business is a little like prophesying (laughs). I don’t claim to know what the answers are. I just gave him the best advice I could.”
  • Of note: Justice now lives in Breckenridge, Colorado, and says he doesn’t miss the work. But he does miss the “good people” — both customers and staff.
Phat Burrito
Paintings of Charlotte staples gone but not forgotten like Price’s Chicken Coop line the walls. Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios

Flashback: In the last days of Phat Burrito in 2017, people lined up around the yellow and blue building, stretching for about a block down Camden Road.

  • They were there for the burritos, of course — the oversized ones you needed both hands to lift up for a bite.
  • But regulars also flocked to Phat Burrito to get a taste of the atmosphere one last time. “It had bars on the windows. There were tears in the seats,” Cox says. “It had a certain vibe to it.”

That vibe has all but vanished in the South End of today. When Justice opened Phat Burrito in 1998, it was one of just a handful of places to eat in South End. There was no light rail, no corporate towers, no breweries.

  • It wasn’t a desirable location for a restaurant, but it was cheap.

Now the one-story brick building is home to Flower Child, a fast-casual chain. The space is clean and bright and a little corporate-y; the meals are light and healthy. Ted Williams raves about it. It’s the antithesis of Phat Burrito.

michael cox phat burrito
The beloved South End burrito joint closed in 2017. Flower Child is now open in its place. Photo: Axios archives

Bringing back Phat Burrito “feels like a long time coming,” Cox says. “It’s exciting me. It’s exciting for Charlotte.”

About: A Charlotte native, owner of Ptah Investments and son of Mac’s Speed Shop co-founder Andy Cox, Michael Cox doesn’t want to turn back the clock to the South End he grew up with. Rather, he wants to bring back a piece of it.

  • “(Phat Burrito) is what I knew. It’s what I grew up with,” he says. “And it’s part of, in my opinion, what made Charlotte great.”
Phat Burrito
Can confirm that the burritos are still massive. Photo: Emma Way/Axios

Details: Phat Burrito is located at 3543 Dewitt Lane. It’ll be open for lunch and dinner from 11am-9pm daily and eventually will extend its hours and menu. 

What’s next: General manager Lin Childers says he hopes to expand the menu to include empanadas, birria tacos and other dishes. “We’re really trying to experiment with what Phat Burrito was and evolve it to what Charlotte wants and loves,” he says.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in September 2020 when we learned of Cox’s plans to bring back Phat Burrito. It was last updated on Aug. 8, 2023. 

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