It’s that time of year again when James and I review our recommended restaurant list which we compile based on our experiences as well as that of our guests at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast over the past year. As always there are some new restaurants which need mentioning and there are some which sadly have been removed. I am not even going to try to assign a numerical order to the list. There are so many good restaurants in Asheville that it is hard to narrow it down to just ten. So this should not be considered a definitive list by any means. These restaurants made the list because they offer exceptional food along with a special atmosphere that reliably pleases the diners. For your convenience, the list is organized by neighborhood.
ZAMBRA: Zambra was the original small plate restaurant in Asheville. It’s not classic tapas (you can go to Curate for that) instead their dishes celebrate the tastes of Western North Carolina. A special favorite of the crowd are the Pomegranate Braised Pork Spring Rolls. The atmosphere is lively and comfortable. If you snag one of the sofa tables in the corners you may never want to leave and they won’t mind if you linger. Order one plate and then another in true tapas style. I don’t think we have ever had a guest who didn’t like it! www.zambratapas.com
CURATE: Curate is the “other” Tapas bar in town. But this is serious Tapas. Chef Katie Button has gained nationwide acclaim for her dishes. They are bright and to the point, experimental yet true to the classic tapas style. You can take a chance and maybe snag a seat at the bar but better to be safe and reserve well in advance, especially on weekends and in October. It will be busy and you may spend more than you wanted to but you will not be disappointed. https://www.curatetapasbar.com
LIMONES: California fusion with a heavy bow to Mexico. This is where you take a bite and think “Wow, that’s good!” Also noted for a range of excellent Margaritas (try the Blood Orange one). Limones is popular with locals as well as visitors. It will be crowded and you will need a reservation. This is a small restaurant and it can be very noisy so it’s probably not the best choice for a romantic meal ,unless your idea of romance includes delicious food! http://www.limonesrestaurant.com/
TABLE: One of the first of Asheville’s cutting edge restaurants, Table remains a staple on this list. The food is seasonal and local as a point of pride: the menu changes daily according to the market and the whim of the chef. The service is impeccable, although not at all pretentious, and the “New American” food justifies Chef Sessom’s James Beard Award Nomination. http://tableasheville.com/
WICKED WEED: Wicked Weed refers to hops as Henry VIII allegedly stated “Hops are a pernicious and wicked weed”. This brewery, bar and restaurant is Asheville in a nutshell. The family friendly, dog friendly atmosphere is warm and informal. The food is local, seasonal and innovative. And Beer is king. On any given day you may find up to 20 different craft beers ranging in style from big hoppy beers to Belgian-style ales. The beers change often and are always interesting. Valentine’s Day this past year featured a chocolate-raspberry Saison and October is replete with Pumpkin and Apple notes. During the day tasting flights are available. On cool evenings the patio is warmed by a fire-pit as well as by the delicious food. I never liked Brussel’s Sprouts so much before Wicked Weed! http://wickedweedbrewing.com/
LEX 18: Lex 18 is a newcomer on the list. Their niche is the food and music of Prohibition Era Appalachia: jazz, moonshine, and (can you guess?) local food. In addition to live music on a regular basis they also have late night supper shows and theme nights. Definitely worth taking a look at what is happening during your upcoming visit and booking ahead if you are interested. Food is bright with good flavors. The bar has a large array of top-class bourbons and whiskeys. http://lex18avl.com/
River Arts District:
THE JUNCTION: If I were going to assign a numerical order to these restaurants, I would be tempted to put The Junction at the top of the list. Maybe it’s because they are located in the River Arts District or maybe it’s because they staff their kitchen with young, eager and inspired chefs from our local community college, A-B Tech, but The Junction marches to a different beat. They are consistently innovative without following the trends. They call their food “Southern” but it draws heavily on local produce, marrying the two into something altogether different. You have not lived until you have tried a Pecan Pie Fried Pork Rind for dessert. As if that weren’t enough, Courtney, their award winning bartender, is always creating new and interesting ways to start your meal. A recent favorite of ours featured a ball of frozen craft beer which dissolved slowly into the surrounding cocktail presenting an ever-changing flavor! Not to everyone’s taste, the food can be a little out there, but if you are a true foodie you might want to give this one a try. thejunctionasheville.com
CORNER KITCHEN: The Corner Kitchen (and its sister restaurant downtown, Chestnut) is a reliable and upmarket place for a meal. This is where President Obama had dinner the last time he was in town. The crowd tends to be older, pulling heavily from the estates around Biltmore Village, but the food is excellent. The menu is more traditionally American, not drawing as much on local dishes (although using local produce) as some of the other restaurants on this list. Both of these restaurants are on the top of my list for a light lunch with some really delicious salads and soups. http://www.thecornerkitchen.com
THE ADMIRAL: No restaurant list in Asheville would be complete without The Admiral. Intended as a restaurant for the locals in West Asheville at a time when there was little to offer there, The Admiral quickly gained national attention for the excellence of its dishes. While Asheville has benefited from the steady supply of excellently trained Admiral chefs who have moved on to their own restaurants, The Admiral holds a steady course of its own. It is still located in a cinder block building in a only marginally better area then was there when the restaurant started. The food is still wildly creative. The staff still caters to a local crowd but puts up with out-of-towners with good spirit. Reservations are a must here. http://theadmiralnc.com/
AMBROZIA: Even more off the beaten track is Ambrozia. You will find it almost on the outskirts of town in a little strip mall near Beaverlake. Why is this great chef here instead of in the busy downtown area? Because here he has a house behind the restaurant and can easily get home to see his family. And downtown Asheville’s loss is the local’s win! Almost every time I eat here I come away with an idea. The restaurant is small. It is “neighborhood oriented and kid-friendly”. But the food is filled with heart and features little twists that make eating here so much fun. Some places serve Chicken and Waffles, here it is Quail! It is farm-to-table, of course and Southern with a twist. http://www.ambrozia-avl.com/
This list does not even begin to cover all of the great restaurants in our town. Asheville has something for everyone, from Vegetarian (The Laughing Seed) to Vegan (Plant) to Gluten-Free (Posana), restaurants a short walk from our inn (Nine Mile and Chiesa), BBQ (who could forget 12 Bones) and so much more. If you don’t see something you like here or if you have heard of a restaurant and want to know more about it, James and I will be happy to help you. Trying new restaurants and re-visiting old ones is one of the great joys of our job!