As always this post comes with a disclaimer: this list of the ten best restaurants in Asheville, NC is our opinion only and will probably change as new restaurants open in town and chefs move from kitchen to kitchen. (Asheville is a foodie town not just for the diners but also for the cooks!) One of the great perks of owning our Asheville Bed and Breakfast is the need to try (and retry) to eat at as many of the independent restaurants here as we can. It is part of the service at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast to provide our guests with personal recommendations for dinner (if asked). So here goes:
The first stop on your evening out isn’t a restaurant per se and doesn’t count on the list but it is so good and so unique that I have to include it. You should plan on either starting or ending your night at the Battery Park Book Exchange Champagne Bar. Where else can you sit in a comfortable couch or armchair, surround yourself with hardcover books of all types and sip on champagne, wine or coffee? There is a often live music of a gentle type and, if you need something to nibble on, an excellent local cheese platter is available. For atmosphere and style this place is unique.
Asheville prides itself on fresh, local food. But don’t get the idea that this means we don’t have a wide range of cuisines for you to choose from. One of the most popular restaurants in town with locals and guests alike is Limones. Tucked away on a quiet side street, Limones’ Chef Hugo Ramirez brings his training in French-influenced Californian Cuisine back to the roots of his Mexican home. This lively restaurant bustles with activity so if you are looking for a romantic tete-a-tete, this may not be the spot for you. But if you would like an exciting variation on the classic Margarita Cocktail followed by innovative cuisine with fresh, bold flavors Limones will almost certainly please you. Be sure to book ahead and be prepared for a wait!
A little closer to home, Seven Sows Bourbon and Larder promises to bring you “Renaissance and Modern Cuisine of the American South”. What exactly does that mean? It means that the Chefs source all of their food not only from local farms but also from producers who use traditional methods and heirloom ingredients. An example of the marriage of old and new would be Buttermilk Fried Chicken in which the chicken is cooked sous-vide in buttermilk before being fried in the traditional manner. Add to this an extensive range of bourbons and you are in Southern Heaven!
Not too far away from Seven Sows you will find Blackbird restaurant on the ground floor of the Aloft Hotel Building, completing the trifecta of great restaurants in up-and-coming Downtown-South Asheville. Blackbird is new to Asheville but not to Western North Carolina as this once “destination” restaurant relocated from Black Mountain in 2012. With its windows thrown open wide to let in the summer breezes, it’s a popular choice for lunch as well as dinner. Did I mention that chefs in Asheville seem to play musical chairs? A recent addition to the staff at Blackbird is Englishman Graham Overall who was lured away from The Jack of Hearts in Weaverville. Graham is bring some European style to the “low and slow” Southern cooking of this favorite.
Continuing with the local theme and located in the center of town, a little closer to the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, is an established favorite, Table. Table has recently added an upstairs bar, Imperial Life, which bills itself as a “grown-up bar”. They snagged the mixologists from the Magnetic Field when it closed and you can now enjoy their selection of seasonal craft cocktails a little closer to home. Mixologist is a trendy word but these two are more than just bartenders. In addition to the wonderful drinks, the restaurant below supplies upmarket bar snacks and charcuterie plates to the bar. Downstairs, Table continues to provide innovative and unexpected food to its diners. The menu changes daily and it is driven by the market, not what’s cheap or left over from the day before. If you are feeling daring you may want to try a Roasted Bone Marrow Salad or Carolina Lambs Belly. The more conservative at your table will find plenty to eat as well–at the very least a burger and fries is always available. And you can bet that it will be one of the best burgers of your life.
Another downtown favorite is Zambra. Zambra was an early entry in the small plates game here in Asheville. Unlike some of the others which stick strictly to Spanish Tapas (at New York prices!), Chef Adam Bannasch puts a modern local twist on the flavors of the western Mediterranean and North Africa. Try the pomegranate braised pork spring rolls or prosciutto wrapped dates with goat cheese and honey. The atmosphere is comfortable and friendly and if you are lucky enough to score one of the couch tables in the corner, you may find yourself lingering on longer than intended.
Venturing out of the downtown area, we suggest The Junction in the River Arts District. Now I’m not a big burger person but the Junction Burger alone is a good reason to go there! They bill themselves as a “neighborhood eatery” but their neighborhood is mighty big as people from all over Asheville and beyond make the trip down to the riverside for the pleasure of eating there. The chefs at the Junction know that it matters if you make things yourself. They make their own ketchup and bacon, smoke their own pears and visit the local tailgate markets personally to source the freshest ingredients. An added plus is the presence of local art for sale on the walls–you may bring home more than a full belly!
My next restaurant is not technically in Asheville but ten minutes away in nearby Weaverville. Stony Knob Cafe has been around since 1966 and had its origins as a Greek Diner. The diner is still part of this funky restaurant. You can choose to dine in the traditional diner room or in one of two additions, each with its own distinct style. The food reflects this mash-up. Choose between Carolina Style Shrimp and Grits, Trota Rosta (Italian Style Roasted Trout), Lamb Tacos or Gryos among many others. Ordinarily I would steer clear if a restaurant with so many choices and such a muddled food philosophy but somehow at Stony Knob it works. A pleasant drive will let you see a little bit of the countryside surrounding Asheville and place you among the knowing locals for an evening that is more fun than fine dining but still delicious.
Perhaps you don’t feel like Southern food or a big dinner. Maybe you are in the market for something a little more familiar or comforting. Asheville has more than its share of places to suit your needs.
James is the pizza lover in our family. Ever since he left New York City, he has searched for what he calls a decent pizza in the New York Style. He has promised to write a blog about the many different pizzas here in Asheville but until he gets around to it, I will tell you that so far the winner in this hunt is Circle in the Square. There are two: one in downtown Asheville and one a bit outside on Merrimon Avenue. We tend to frequent the downtown location. You can walk there from our inn, sit at the bar and enjoy your pizza and a baseball game at the same time. It’s also just up the street from the Fine Arts Cinema which makes it perfect after a good movie.
Sometimes you just need to go Thai. Having spent 17 years living in Southeast Asia, we can be a little picky about Asian food. I am happy to say that Asheville has a better than average Thai Restaurant: Suwana’s Thai Orchid. This is authentic Thai food and, if you ask for it, you can get it “Thai spicy”. Of course, if you can’t handle the heat, they will be happy to tone it down so you can enjoy the delicious flavors of lemon grass, coriander and spices which make Thai food so popular without the pain!
This final recommendation pays homage to Asheville’s tolerance and willingness to embrace all sorts of lifestyles. Plant is a vegan restaurant which serves food so delicious as to make the designation “vegan” superfluous. You don’t need to be vegan, or even vegetarian, to enjoy Plant. Sometimes good food is just good food.
And there you have it- a snap shot of ten of the best restaurants in Asheville at this particular moment on May 6, 2013. I am reasonably sure these restaurants will still be here in a year or so but they will almost certainly face some stiff competition from newcomers. There are at least two very exciting restaurants set to open in the next few months. And when they do–James and I will try them out and let you know all about it!