The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer. I think it would be almost impossible to list the ten best places to eat in Asheville. There are so many different restaurants, with cuisine ranging from uber-sophisticated to down-home Southern, New American to South African, tapas to buffet, omnivore to vegan, and everything in between. In addition, you have to decide where you want to eat as well. Downtown? River Arts District? Biltmore Village? How do you define “best”?
Usually the guests at our Asheville Bed and Breakfast focus on dinner and James happily spends a fair amount of time with them helping them to chose among the many great options. But lunch doesn’t get the same amount of play. I guess most people assume that they will just find some place that looks good and such is the nature of Asheville that they usually do. But there are a number of lunch places worth mentioning. Some are not open for dinner (12 Bones) and some serve dinner but we think the ambiance is better suited to lunch (Early Girl Eatery). So I have prepared this list for you.
Once again, in no particular order:
The River Arts District
12 Bones Smokehouse: !2 Bones actually has two locations in Asheville but very few people take the trip out to their second location in Arden. The original restuarant is in the River Arts District and this is the place to go for arguably the best BBQ in Asheville (and you will find those who argue the point, but not many!) The restaurant is only open Monday-Friday from 11-4PM and unless you go early or late the line will be out the door. But don’t worry, it moves quickly and it will give you time to peruse the menu and chose among the many sides and sauces. Be sure and try the corn pudding and the blueberry BBQ sauce is one of my favorites. Seating is on picnic tables and mostly outside (although under cover). This should definitely be a stop if you are touring the Arts District.
White Duck Taco Shop: A relative newcomer to the River Arts District is the White Duck Taco Shop which bills itself as offering “a better brand of fusion”. The tacos range in style from Vietnamese Banh Mi Tofu to Vegetarian with a wide range of choices in chicken, beef and, of course, duck. This is the place for those who want to try some new flavours and eat a little outside the box. It’s all about the food here. You order inside at the counter and eat on a picnic table outside. I heard their business suffered a bit during the latest heat wave, but to be fair it was too hot to even walk outside, much less sit there! It not often that hot in Asheville and you can be sure that business has picked up again. They are open every day except Sunday.
Early Girl Eatery: You know a restaurant is good if locals are willing to wait in line to get in. The Early Girl Eatery is all about Southern Comfort food, with a twist. Served in a small restaurant with the feel of a local diner (if not the decor), the food is all local and prepared on-site. The menu includes vegan and gluten-free options which do not sacrifice flavor. One of my favorites for lunch here is the Fried Green Tomato Napoleon. Early Girl is a type of tomato and in the summer this is the place to go for the best in fresh tomatoes! The Early girl is open seven days a week.
Carmel’s Kitchen and Bar: If you’ve ever been to Asheville then you will know that this is a town for people-watching and Carmel’s is best suited for this. The restaurant is in the Grove Arcade with outdoor seating on a surprisingly cool street corner. The food is adequate if sometimes under-seasoned but the location is excellent! (Please note that there is another restaurant just down the street from Carmel’s which has street-side terrace seating. Sadly, we do not recommend this as a choice)
The Soda Fountain at Woolworth Walk: The Soda Fountain originally opened in the Woolworth Building back in 1938 and was restored in 2001. It’s in the same spot it has always been in and serves some of the original cuisine from its history. Egg creams, grilled cheese sandwiches, root beer floats, BLTs, ice cream sundaes, hot dogs and Reuben sandwiches are just a few of the old-time treats waiting for you– prepared the way Momma used to! The building is an arts and crafts gallery now so you will find yourself enjoying more than your lunch.
A new entry to this list is Wicked Weed. Newly opened in 2013, this gastro-pub has quickly become a favorite with tourists and locals alike. As if fabulous craft beers coupled with great food aren’t enough, Wicked Weed boasts one of the largest and most comfortable outdoor dining (and drinking) spaces in town. During the day (and evening on weekends) the tasting room downstairs will let you try some of the unusual beers on offer or you can just settle down for a long and luxurious lunch upstairs in the dining room, at the bar, outside at a private table or at the “Community Table”. Be prepared to wait and enjoy the buzz!
Chances are that you will be tempting to eat at one of the restaurants on the Biltmore Estate if you are spending the day there. And truthfully these are adequate if unimaginative options. However, if you want to take the time to leave the estate and then return, Biltmore Village, directly outside the entrance to the Biltmore, has some excellent alternatives.
Village Wayside Bar & Grille: I don’t know much about this restaurant as a Bar & Grille. We have never frequented it for dinner. But for a pleasant lunch without a long wait to be seated, it can’t be beat. Housed in the original 1896 train depot of Biltmore Village, it has a small, well shaded terrace right next to the train tracks. The service is swift and friendly; the sandwiches, salads and soups imaginative and tasty. It seems to be a “hidden gem” in an otherwise busy area.
Corner Kitchen: A more upmarket option is the Corner Kitchen. The Corner Kitchen started life as a simple sandwich shop but has since moved up the food chain (sorry!) to become a legitimate restaurant. If you don’t feel like driving to Biltmore Village from the Carolina Bed & Breakfast but would like to try some of the very good restaurants found there then lunch provides a good opportunity to do so. You can still get lighter fare at the Corner Kitchen and lunch won’t break your budget.
Elsewhere in Asheville
There are two other restaurants in Asheville worth mentioning. Neither is in a destination area but both are worth the trip.
Plant: Just outside downtown Asheville on Merrimon Avenue, Plant is a newly opened vegan restaurant which proves that you don’t need animal products to eat well. They have a good variety of foods with some hearty options for those looking for a good meal. The decor is simple but sophisticated without a touch of “alternative lifestyle” in sight. If you are traveling with someone who is vegan and/or gluten-free, this is a restaurant with something for everyone.
Tod’s Tasties: I would be remiss not to mention our own neighborhood spot. Tod’s is just a short two-block walk from the Carolina Bed & Breakfast. It’s kind of a snack bar with pretensions. You can get great coffee, lattes, and cappuccino which are served up next to the snack bar style grill. The sandwiches are to die for, french fries perfectly crisp and they even have a couple of salads for those who want to pretend they can’t see the wonderful stuff come off that flat-top grill!