Best Restaurants in Downtown Asheville
Restaurants are listed alphabetically. Price categories are per person for dinner with appetizer or salad, entrée, vegetable or other side, glass of wine or a cocktail, tax and tip. If the restaurant doesn’t serve dinner, then the price category is for a full meal at breakfast or lunch without alcohol but with tax and tip.
Very Expensive $65+ per person
Expensive $35-$64 per person
Moderate $20-$34 per person
Inexpensive $10-$19 per person
Very Inexpensive Under $10 per person
The restaurant name highlighted in RED indicates that in our opinion this is one of the best restaurants in Asheville, worthy if necessary of a special occasion or a splurge, although not all top restaurants are expensive.
Remember, the opinions on dining, and everything thing, in this guide are our own. We do NOT accept comped meals, free lodging or other gratuities, so that even if you don’t agree with us you can be sure it’s our honest opinion, unswayed by any monetary consideration.
Delivery: Among the major food delivery services operating in Asheville are BringMeThat (www.bringmethat.com), Doordash (www.doordash.com), Grubhub (www.grubhub.com), Seamless (www.seamlesss.com) and Ubereats (www.ubereats.com). Note that delivery areas may be limited to only certain zip codes or neighborhoods.
Benne on Eagle 35 Eagle St., Downtown Asheville, 828-552-8833, www.benneoneagle.com; Southern soul food, open daily for dinner (and breakfast for Foundry Hotel guests) Expensive
Let's start with the highlights. The collards here (they were a side with my Hickory Nut Gap smothered pork chop) are amazing, cooked long and well with bits of ham and full of piquant flavor. The other dish was an appetizer, the fried catfish with waffles and hot slaw. The catfish filet was huge, the size of a fat lobster, and more filling than the pan fried Sunburst trout entrée. You could easily make a meal of this, a bargain at $11.50. My spinach salad with vinaigrette and bacon dress, topped by two fried chicken livers ($11.50), also was excellent.
Our entrées were good but nothing memorable. Both the trout and the pork chop were $25. Bread is extra ($4 for the small size selection of cornbread and potato rolls, though our bread was comped due to a mix-up on the order).
Before dinner, we walked through part of the new Foundry Hotel, of which Benne on Eagle is a part. The hotel looks fantastic, with an appealing bar area with gas fireplace. The restaurant itself maintains some of the hotel's industrial look (part of the Foundry complex was originally a steel foundry, repurposed for the hotel with some exposed brick walls, wood floors, exposed ducting and pressed tin ceilings), but it is softened a little with pen and ink sketches of African-American women, who once ran restaurants in The Block, the Market/Eagle street area that was once a center of the black community (one of the illustrations is of a woman who currently works in the restaurant kitchen).
Which leads us to the confusing part. The hotel website's blurb on Benne on Eagle refers to it as Appalachian soul food, but the name, Benne usually references benne seeds, similar to sesame seeds, brought to America from West Africa on slave ships and used mostly today in Low Country and Gullah cooking. Some of the dishes on the menu are from the mountains, but a number, including the fish cake and gumbo s'herbes appetizers and the oxtail and cream peas entrée are Low Country in origin, far from the Appalachians. I guess this is a nod to the African-American history of the downtown Asheville location, but it still seems a bit of a stretch.
John Fleer is a talented chef who knows what he is doing, but I wonder if this Appalachian-Low Country soul food concept will age well? Perhaps if it mostly draws from the Foundry hotel guests it will, but I don't see locals revisiting here that often. My guess is that the menu will eventually have to be expanded, or at least changed frequently, to attract locals. I just hope they keep the collards and fried catfish on the menu!
Our meal for two, with a salad, an appetizer, one Jack on the rocks, one craft draft, a Fever Tree ginger beer, and two entrées came to a little over $90 before tip. About average for this type of restaurant, which I would say is in the same price category as Chestnut or Limones. The most expensive item on the menu was a grilled ribeye HNG steak with red eye gravy, roasted potatoes and sweet and sour green beans at $31. Most craft cocktails are $12.
BEST BURGERS IN ASHEVILLE
Ranked in order of our preference. Ranking takes into account value and quality of fires or other side. Cost shown is rounded and subject to change.
1. Bull and Beggar (River Arts District) $10 with fries on Mondays,
2. Foothills Meats Butcher Shop (West Asheville and Black Mountain) $12 with tallow fries
3. Storm & Rhum (Downtown) $16 with fries
4. Rankin Vault (Downtown) $11 to $15 with fries
5. H&F Burger (Downtown) $14 with fries
6. Avenue M (North) $11-$14 with fries
7. Farm Burger (Downtown and South Asheville) $9 to $12 with fries
8. Ruth’s Chris Steak House (South) available in bar only -- $9 with fries at happy hour Mon.-Fri., higher other times
8. Haywood Common (West Asheville) $12 with fries
9. Juicy Lucy (South) $10-$12 with fries
10. Universal Joint (West Asheville) $9-$12 with fries
Sovereign Remedies, double-patty smashburger, $13 with chips, available only after 10 pm except on Mondays when it's available at dinner
Chestnut (Downtown) $11 with fries, available lunch only
Haywood Common (West Asheville) $12 with fries
Sunny Point (West Asheville) $11-$14 with fries
Wicked Weed (Downtown) $9-$14 with fries, bison burger $13 with fries
Five Guys (South and North Asheville) $6-$8 with fries
Smoky Park Supper Club (North) $14 with fries
Early Girl (Downtown and West Asheville) $12 with fries
Blackbird 47 Biltmore Ave., 828-254-2502, www.theblackbirdrestaurant.com; New Southern, lunch and dinner daily (brunch Sun.) Expensive
This restaurant moved in late 2012 from Black Mountain, where it was very popular, to ground level retail space at the then-new Aloft Hotel.
Blackbird has done a great job with the design of the restaurant, with its glass front on Biltmore Avenue, high ceilings, flying blackbird accents all around and the imaginatively named "Crowbar" in the center. If full, as it often is, it can be quite noisy. Service is very good.
For this and all the other restaurants on or near Biltmore Avenue just south of Pack Square, including Cúrate, Limones, Wicked Weed, Chestnut and others, the public garage under the Aloft Hotel is an easy place to park.
Bouchon 62 N. Lexington, Downtown Asheville, 828-350-1140, www.ashevillebouchon.com; Bistro French, daily for dinner, no reservations; Moderate to Expensive
Bouchon (“cork”) advertises French comfort food. It has a great location on North Lexington Avenue. There’s dining in the little brick alley courtyard in the back, pleasant on a nice evening but perhaps a bit warm in the summer, as well as dining inside.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are “all you can eat” mussels nights – unlimited mussels prepared five different ways and one order of French fries for $15. If you’re not doing the mussels, for appetizers consider the escargot (the standard preparation in garlic butter sauce, served really, really, really hot) or onion soup. Both are good if not exceptional.
The steak au poivre ($20) in a cognac sauce with sautéed vegetables and pommes frites, is fine, but, again, short of exceptional. Ditto the bouillabaisse ($22, a bit steep for the classic French seafood stew in broth).
Bouchon offers a house "private label" wine. We tried the red, a French Syrah and Grenache mix -- not bad and just $19 ($15 on Mondays). Oddly, for a French restaurant, there is no espresso.
Street parking on Lexington Avenue is free after 6 p.m. and there’s a small “honor” lot next to Downtown Books and News across the street from Bouchon. The Rankin public garage is one block to the west.
Brasilia Churrasco Steakhouse 26 E. Walnut St., Downtown, 828-785-1599, www.brasiliasteakhouse.com; Brazilian-style Steakhouse, Expensive
Opened in early 2014, this Brazilian-style steakhouse, which has another location in Spartanburg, S.C., follows the model of national chains such as Fogo de Chao. For a fixed-price (in this case, $24 for lunch, $38 for dinner), you get all you care to eat from a 30-item salad bar (which is available separately as well), plus a variety of grilled meat brought to your table by “gauchos.”
When we arrived on a Friday night at about 7:30, the restaurant was about half full, and never got busier than that by the time we left. The renovation of the former Magnolia's bar and restaurant location did away with the outdoor seating, although the windows now are made in the garage-style so they can be opened if the weather is good. The noise level, even half-full, is pretty high.
The salad bar is a little odd, with several items such as beets and hearts of palm straight from cans, but there were many fresh items as well, such as asparagus. Since the big thing at this kind of place is the meat, you don't want to overdo the salad bar, so I skipped most of the items including smoked salmon and boiled shrimp.
When we turned over our meat serving cards, we immediately were offered four or five different grilled meats -- filet mignon wrapped in bacon, lamb shops, chicken wrapped in bacon, garlic beef and others, all in very small servings (but of course you can get more of anything, and no one is going to leave here hungry.) Everything was pretty good, but nothing made you sit up and say "huzzah!"
Bottom line: Pretty good service, pretty good food, reasonably priced drinks, a lot of food, but nothing memorable.
Button & Co. Bagels 32 S. Lexington Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-630-0330, http://katiebuttonrestaurants.com/button-co-bagels/; Bagels; 7-3 Tues.-Fri., 8-3 Sat.-Sun., closed Mon. Inexpensive to Moderate
Katie Button knows how to make bagels!
The "everything" bagel with Three Graces Dairy cream cheese may have been the best bagel I've ever had. Certainly as good as any I've had in Queens, Manhattan or Boston.
Lots of little things to like about this new spot on the first floor of the Nightbell location:
* Bagels "racked up"
* Cool bagel boxes for take-out
* Good vibe -- customers and staff
* Fantastic cream cheese from Madison County and other things from local sources such as honey from Honey & the Hive in Weaverville and smoked Sunburst trout.
Yes, at first blush the bagels look a bit expensive ($16 for a dozen) and the plain Three Graces cream cheese sounds pricey at $8 for a container to go.
But, believe us, it's all worth it.
Buxton Hall Barbecue 32 Banks Ave., South Slope, Downtown, 828-232-7216, www.buxtonhall.com; Barbecue/Southern, lunch and dinner daily, Moderate
We've been here for lunch (no reservations accepted, but it's a fairly big space so usually they can fit you in. On a revisit, we did takeout for a party of six, with six plates of pulled pork barbecue and two sides with each of the plates (mainly collards, brussel sprouts -- no longer available at lunch --and potato salad.) We bonused up the meal a little with our own cornbread and baked beans.
The consensus in our group was that this pork barbecue is probably the best in Asheville. We love 12 Bones for the ribs, but this pork barbecue, especially with the vinegar sauce, is special. (Buxton Hall also has mustard-based and tomato-based sauces.)
The total came to around $87 before tip. But there was so much food we could easily have served the six of us with four plates, cutting the price by about a third. We have plenty of leftovers for another meal.
Revisit: Barbecue still good, but Buxton Hall has cut its sides size by about half, while keeping prices the same. The buttermilk fried chicken filet sandwich was good, but the bun couldn't stand up to the fried filet. We did enjoy the cheap beers before dinner at Catawba Brewing next door. Most pints at Catawba are $4, but $5 at Buxton Hall.
Buxton Hall is now part of the growing Chai Pani group.
Chai Pani 22 Battery Park Ave., 828-254-4003, www.chaipani.net; Indian, lunch and dinner Mon.-Thu., dinner only Fri. and Sat., lunch only Sun. Inexpensive
Chai Pani bills itself as serving "Indian street food," snacks that you might find street vendors in Mumbai serving. However, you don't have to buy from a street stall here. The space is pleasant, comfortable and renovated in 2018. Service is friendly and prompt. We’re partial to the pakoras, chicken nuggets fried in a curried chickpea batter. The matchstick okra fries are delicious, too, though a tad greasy. The coconut uttapam (savory crepes) are very tasty. Indian beer is available, along with a few cocktails and wines. The former MG Roadhouse downstairs now serves as Chai Pani's bar.
No reservations. The Wall Street public garage is nearby, and street parking often is available on Battery Park or around the Grove Arcade.
Chai Pani has opened an Indian spice market in Asheville and a couple of Chai Pani outlets in the Atlanta area.
Chestnut 48 Biltmore Ave., 828-575-2667, www.chestnutasheville.com; New Southern, lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat., brunch and dinner Sun. Expensive
Opened in late 2012 by the owners of the Corner Kitchen in Biltmore, Chestnut is in a 1920s building at 48 Biltmore Avenue – at one time this building was a plumbing supply store, which shows how much Downtown has changed -- across from the Aloft Hotel and next door to Barley's Tap Room. The space, designed by Samsel Architects, is pleasant, with a high ceiling made to look like pressed tin, with the usual exposed ducting and refinished wood floors. There are tables with bar stool chairs by the windows, a bar on the right with a lot of wood and some beautiful pottery on loan from Blue Spiral Gallery, rows of booths down the main room, and a fairly large open room at the back, with a starkly bare brick wall on one side.
The menu is fairly limited but changes from time to time. There’s a selection of "medium plates" that double as appetizers, priced at $9-$18, a few salads and soups and some "large plates" that range from $16 or $18 to around $38. We like the calamari salad, perfectly fried, on kale, as a medium plate appetizer. For an entrée, you’ll have choices such as a Brasstown 10 oz. Angus strip steak with herbed truffle fingerling potatoes and vegetable or Sunburst trout. The 3 oz. grilled filet with mashed potatoes and green beans is a deal at $16, and surprisingly filling. Wash it down with one of about 18 beers, mostly local craft brews, on tap. Plus, there’s an eclectic wine list with most wines from $30 to $50 a bottle and $6 to $11 a glass.
At lunch, most choices are in the $9 to $15 range, including shrimp and grits ($14) and a good burger from locally sourced beef for $11 and also a Reuben for $12.
Chestnut has become one of our "go-to" restaurants Downtown. Highly recommended.
Cultura 147 Coxe Ave., South Slope, 828-552-3203, www.wickedweed.com/location/cultura; Eclectic, dinner daily except Tues. Expensive
Opened in mid-2019, this is a project of Wicked Weed Brewing (it’s lo-cated next door to Wicked Weed’s sour beer site, Funkatorium. Billed as “new agrarian” cuisine, Cultura’s menu is nothing if not eclectic, with “Feasts” such as Swiss fondue, baby back ribs and strawberries and steak and lobsters. These go for $40 to $180 and are enough for two to six persons. Also offered are “Bacchanals,” multi-course chef-created meals for $60 to $100 per person that can take several hours to consume. In addition, there are small and large plates, with choices like octopus with inked rice and lamb steak with raw and charred vegetables. Most of the plates are around $12 to $22. The bar serves sour beers on tap and a number of interesting cocktails. You can end the evening with CBD oil cotton candy. And, yes, the decor is as interesting as the food.
Cúrate 13 Biltmore Ave., 828-239-2946, www.katiebuttonrestaurants.com; Spanish Tapas, open for lunch and dinner Tues.-Sun, brunch Sat.-Sun. Expensive
Eat here just once and you’ll find out what the buzz on Cúrate is all about. You’ll have to go back and try more, more, more of the authentic Spanish tapas. Unless you are unlucky enough to hit a bad night or an out-of-sorts waiter, which did happen to us once, what a delightful experience it is to have dinner here. There are about three dozen small plates on the menu, not including desserts. About 80% of the menu stays the same every day, though seasonal and special dishes are added.
Most everything is worth trying, but look especially at gazpacho, the Ibe-rian ham tapas, eggplant with honey, the Galician-style octopus and the chocolate mousse with raspberry sorbet and hazelnut praline, among others. Even the home-cured olives (three or four different kinds) are special. We have been less enthralled with the croquetas de pollo (chicken fritters) and patatas bravas. There's an interesting list of Spanish wines and ports, most moderately priced, and a nice selection of cocktails
The main part of the original restaurant is long and narrow, with high ceilings and exposed ducting. Some say they like sitting at the bar, to watch the chefs cook and be at the heart of the action, but note that the bar stools don't have backs. Cúrate has doubled its space by expanding into the former Tutti Frutti Yogurt location next door.
Early Girl Eatery 8 Wall St., 828-259-9292, www.earlygirleatery.com; Casual Southern, breakfast, lunch and dinner Tue.-Sun, breakfast and lunch only Mon., reservations for dinner only Inexpensive to Moderate; a second location on Haywood Rd. in West Asheville opened in 2018, and another location is on Merrimon Avenue.
Named after an early-maturing tomato variety, Early Girl Eatery is casually Southern with a farm-to-table approach. At breakfast, choose big stacks of whole grain pancakes, a full Southern breakfast with eggs, grits, sausage, bacon, ham or tempeh and biscuits or shrimp and grits. The breakfast menu is served all day. The lunch and dinner menus include dishes such as fried chicken and bacon salad, tempeh Reuben, sautéed mountain trout with collard greens and gingered cole slaw or meatloaf with hormone-free beef, mashed potatoes and honeyed beets. Early Girl is often very busy, especially at breakfast and lunch.
Farm Burger 10 Patton Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-348-8540, www.farmerburger.net; Burgers, open daily for lunch and dinner, open late Inexpensive
Atlanta’s popular Farm Burger opened an outpost in Asheville in spring 2013. Another location off Hendersonville Road in South Asheville is also here. It specializes in grassfed burgers (around $7 for the basic burger with lettuce, tomato, red onions, Duke’s mayo, jalapeños and such, plus $1 to $3 for more exotic extras like red bean chili, fried egg, pork belly or oxtail marmalade). Handcut fries are an extra $1.95-$2.75 with the burger. Vegan and chicken burgers are also available, along with a few other dishes. There’s a popular $8.95 lunch special every day that includes cheeseburger, fries and a soft drink. Located next door to Salsa’s, Farm Burger sources most of its dishes from Hickory Nut and other farms in the Southeast. A few wines, local drafts and other beers are offered. Order at the counter and take out, or eat in of the tables inside the restaurant – the restaurant has a rustic farm decor with many photos of cattle -- or on the open-air patio out front. The burgers are cooked medium unless you prefer otherwise. While we like the idea of grassfed beef, as apparently do a lot of diners in Asheville, to our taste a little corn-fed fat goes a long way in making burgers tasty.
Food Truck Lots 51 Coxe Ave., Downtown Asheville, 80 Broadway St., Haywood St., and at other places including the Wedge Brewery and New Belgium Brewery. www.thelotasheville.com; Various Cuisines, lunch Mon.-Fri. and sometimes other times Very Inexpensive to Inexpensive, a few Moderate
The first food truck lot in Asheville, next to Wells Fargo Bank on Coxe Avenue, has been successful, with sometimes six or eight trucks trying to squeeze into space for just four trucks, despite prices at some trucks that are no cheaper than eating at a restaurant. In 2017, the vacant lot on Haywood Street, across from U.S. Cellular Center was also designated at food truck lot. There are now more than 30 food trucks operating in Asheville. Food trucks often set up at different locations around town, including at the original Wedge Brewery, Bywater Bar, New Belgium Brewery, on Depot Street in the Riverside Arts District and elsewhere. Among the food trucks are ones selling Korean, Lebanese, Mexican, Venezuelan, Vietnamese, pizza, vegetarian, specialty coffee, burgers and other items. Trucks vary day to day, and they have to meet the same cleanliness and quality standards as regular restaurants.
✷ The Greenhouse 49 Rankin Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828- 407-1946, www.noblecider.com/greenhouse; Eclectic, lunch daily except Mon., dinner Tues.-Sat. Ex-pensive
New in mid-2019, The Greenhouse is Noble Cider’s take on an upscale casual spot with a menu that holds a number of surprises. Inside The Greenhouse, located off-the-beaten-dining-path on the northeast side of Rankin Avenue across from the Civ-ic Center garage, you're struck by the verdant wall paintings and many plants, set within the context of high industrial ceilings (pipes and ducted vents and such) and polished concrete floors. The exterior main wall is mostly glass, including a glass garage door.
How about the food? In a word, delicious! It may well exceed your expectations, as it did ours. Rather than going for a large plate entrée, we ordered a number of starters and small plates, which are brought out by kitchen staff as they are finished. We had fried local mushrooms (three varieties, $12, all wonderful), the warm Greek and Span-ish olives ($5), grilled Atlantic scallops (delicious, but three scallops for $16 seemed a little steep), house fries with truffles (these have to the best best fries in Asheville, $8) and fancied-up Russian black bread ($12, really the only disappointing item we tried) and, for a kind of dessert, brisket nachos (absolutely fantastic with a cheesy sauce, burnt brisket ends and wontons instead of chips, $16).
Although this restaurant is run by cider specialists, it has a full bar, with a selection of craft beers on tap and in the bottle, a decent wine list and some special cocktails. We tried the restaurant's riff on a Manhattan cocktail, Hello Darkness, at $16 the most expensive cocktail on the menu, and a Tanqueray martini, a bargain at $8.
Our dinner for two came to $160-something with tax and tip. Worth it, but probably more than you'd want to pay for a casual night out.
H&F Burger 77 Biltmore Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-417-3053, www.hfburgeravl.com; Burgers and Fried Chicken, lunch and dinner daily Moderate
James Beard Award-winning chef Linton Hopkins opened his first H&F Burger location outside Atlanta in Asheville in mid-December 2019. The site at 77 Biltmore Avenue seemed jinxed, with a string of restaurants failing there. Hopkins, one supposes, thinks he can do better. His Holeman & Finch Public House started the double-patty smashburger craze in Atlanta by bringing out just 24 burgers – not on the menu – every night at 10 pm. People would start lining up an hour earlier to get on the list. Linton Hopkins, now executive chef for Delta Airlines’ Delta One (first/business class) food service and the owner of several restaurants in Atlanta, is trying to duplicate the success of the famed burger with his Hop’s skillet-fried chicken, also served at the new Asheville location.
First and foremost, H&F Burger is about a double-patty cheeseburger (about $14 with a side of hand-cut fries), is equal parts brisket and chuck, freshly house ground, served on a Rhu Bakery bun with red onion, Kraft American cheese and house made ketchup, mustard and pickles. But the menu goes beyond burgers. There are oysters on the half shell, Hop’s fried chicken, cheeses and meats from local farms and even a prime Cowboy Ribeye. H&F Burger has a list of more than bourbons along with specialty cocktails, a few wines and a number of local craft beers on draft.
Jerusalem Garden 78 Patton Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-254-0255, www.jerusalemgardencafe.com; Mediterranean, lunch and dinner daily Moderate
Long-established restaurant across from Pritchard Park serves dependable Lebanese/Mediterranean dishes including falalfel, eggplant moussaka, hummus, grilled kabobs and lamb chops. At lunch, entrees are around $10; at dinner, around $15 to $20. Belly dancing Friday and Saturday nights.
Isa's Bistro Haywood Park Hotel, 1 Battery Park Ave., 828-575-.9636, www.isasbistro.com; New American, lunch and dinner daily, Moderate to Expensive
Located on the main level of what was once a leading department store, Ivey’s, and is now the Haywood Park Hotel, Isa’s Bistro has a menu that focuses somewhat on European bistro dishes, such as steak frites, escargot, chicken liver paté and steak tartare, but you can also get USA faves like prime rib, a burger and macaroni and cheese.
The design of the restaurant features an open layout with tables around the windows and walls, facing a bar, with tasteful touches of food-related photos and architectural pieces. We had a seat at a window looking out over Battery Park, and service from the very first was first rate.
The renovated Haywood Park Hotel is charming, with a player piano in the lobby greeting guests, and the elevators still charmingly bark out "Fourth Floor, Women's Wear" or whatever.
We have used the hotel's complimentary valet for dinner at Isa’s, which is a handy.
Kathmandu 90 Patton Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-252-1080, www.cafekathmanduasheville.com; Indian/Nepalese, lunch and dinner daily. Inexpensive to Moderate
While billed as Nepalese/Tibetan/Himalayan, the food at this small, exotic spot on Patton Avenue is more or less what you’d get in a Northern Indian restaurant. There’s a lunch buffet, and service is usually friendly. Wine and beer only.
Laughing Seed Café 40 Wall St., Downtown Asheville, 828-252-3445, www.laughingseed.jackofthewood.com; Vegetarian, lunch and dinner, Mon. and Wed.-Sat., brunch and dinner Sun., closed Tue. Inexpensive to Moderate
Laughing Seed is one of longest established and best vegetarian restau-rants in town. You'll get more than brown rice and beans here. The café bills itself as “vegetarian with an international flair,” with flavors and dishes in-fluenced by the cuisines of Korea, India, Thailand, Mexico, the Caribbean, Mediterranean and elsewhere. Many dishes are vegan or gluten-free or ve-gan. Fruits and vegetables are sourced from local organic farms. Breads are baked daily on premises. In good weather, there's outdoor dining on Wall Street. Small plates and salads are around $6 to $16, sandwiches $13 to $15, and entrees $14-$18. Laughing Seed has a full bar with many interesting cocktails, wines and local beers.
Limones 13 Eagle St., Downtown Asheville, 828-252-2327, www.limonesrestaurant.com; Mexican-California , dinner Mon.-Sat., brunch and dinner Sun. Expensive
This little narrow restaurant just half block off Biltmore Avenue is charmingly decorated, with the atmosphere of a San Francisco bistro. Dining here is always a pleasure, and we’d put in the same top category as spots like Cúrate. The dining room has pressed tin ceiling and exposed ducts, and the service level is just right, not too little, not too much. It can be a bit noisy.
Start with one of the appetizers, such as ceviche or fried calamari. The calamari is brilliant, maybe the best we’ve had in Asheville. There’s a nice selection of cocktails and wines. Don’t miss the blood orange margarita with fresh ingredients and good quality tequila.
Entrees change regularly, but you can’t go wrong with the Angus beef tenderloin, served on a bed of organic kale, with a lot of vinegar -- unexpected but a nice contrast to the beef – and the truffle macaroni and cheese. Seared sea scallops are huge, tender and delicious. Surprisingly Limones doesn’t offer espresso, but the Dynamite coffee from Black Mountain is fine.
No, it's not inexpensive. A meal for two, with a total of two drinks, one glass of wine, two appetizers, two entrées, one dessert and one coffee, was $120, before our usual generous tip. But definitely worth it.
Not a cheap evening out, but well worth the price. Limones remains one of our four or five favorite restaurants in Asheville, along with Chestnut, Bull and Beggar and Cúrate. We need to go there more often!
Limones has expanded into its former bar menu spot next door, En La Calle.
Loretta’s Cafe 114. N. Lexington Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-253-3747, www.lorettascafe.com; Sandwich Shop, open Mon.-Sat. 11 to 5 Very Inexpensive to Inexpensive
Loretta’s, which moved to a new location at the foot of Lexington, is now a little off the beaten path for the lunch crowd, but it has good sandwiches and soups. On Fridays you can get an authentic New Orleans muffaletta and gumbo. If you can’t find a muffaletta at Loretta’s, try Mayfel’s (22 College St., Downtown Asheville, 828-252-8840, www.mayfels.net), which is under the same ownership and has the Louisiana muffalettas daily, along with Mountain City Coffee.
Mayfel’s (22 College St., Downtown Asheville, 828-252-8840, www.mayfels.net; New Orleans dishes, open for brunch, lunch and dinner Thu.-Mon. Inexpensive to Moderate.
Mayfel's specializes in New Orleans such as gumbo, fried oysters and beignets, although it's not limited to that. Brunch dishes including Eggs Benedict are offered daily until 3:45 pm, except Tuesdays and Wednesdays when the restaurant is closed. The dinner menu starts at 4:30. Mayfel's has lots of outdoor seating, a popular bar and often has live music.
Mela 70 N. Lexington Ave., 828-225-8880, www.melaasheville.com; Indian, open for lunch and dinner daily Moderate
When it comes to Indian food, whether you’re a fairly conservative diner, tending to order tried-and-true dishes like Tandoori chicken, or whether you’re more venturesome, you’ll be well served at Mela. The Tandoori dishes, especially chicken and lamb, are very good, prepared in an authentic tandoor oven, and for those who like them there are spicy curries and vindaloo dishes. The lunch buffet ($9 weekdays, $10 weekends) is very popular with the Downtown crowd. The restaurant space is a delight, with high ceiling and brick walls, though it can be a little noisy and some seats are close together. Service is friendly and spot on. Drinks tend to be hit or miss, depending on the bartender, but the Indian beers are always a good choice. Tip: If you pay cash rather than use a credit card, you’ll get a small discount.
The Market Place 20 Wall St., 828-252-4162, www.marketplace-restaurant.com; New American, open for dinner Mon.-Sat. Expensive
Under founder Mark Rosenstein, The Market Place, which opened on Market Street in 1979, was a pioneer in creative, farm-to-table cuisine in Asheville. It moved to Wall Street a couple of years later. Under new owner-chef William Dissen, it has continued to live up to its reputation.
Pack’s Tavern 20 S Spruce St., Downtown Asheville, 828-225-6944, www.packstavern.com; American/Pub Food, open daily for lunch and dinner Moderate
Location, location, location. That’s a big part of what Pack’s Tavern has going for it, as it’s located next to the Pack Square Park, the Asheville City Building and the Buncombe County Courthouse, plus it’s an easy walk from the heart of Downtown, an ideal spot for government and office workers to have lunch or a lunch meeting. After office hours, easy free parking is available behind the restaurant in a city government lot. The restaurant and bar are in an historic 1907 building that once housed a lumber company and auto parts store. The original burnished wood floors have been retained. However, beneath a building is a basement and passageways used in the early part of the 20th century as a storage and distribution system for bootleg liquor. Often parked at the entrance to Pack’s Tavern is a 1930s vintage yellow pickup truck with a beer keg in the back. In good weather, there’s outdoor dining overlooking Pack Square Park and the remarkable Art Deco Asheville City Building.
Selection here is another plus, with pub food such as wings, fish and chips and sandwiches, plus a variety of burgers (beef, bison, chicken and turkey) and a number of more expensive entrees including salmon, crab cakes and baby back ribs. For those with big burger appetites, there’s the half-pound Mt. Mitchell burger with bacon, cheddar and Swiss cheese, fried green tomato, fried egg and jalapeño peppers.
More than two dozen craft beers are on draft, plus a small selection of wines and a full bar. There’s live music on weekends.
Posana Cafe 1 Biltmore Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-505-3969, www.posanacafe.com; New American, dinner Tue.-Sun., brunch Sat. and Sun. Moderate to Expensive
Posana Cafe has a prime location on Pack Square, serving what Chef Pe-ter Pollay calls Contemporary American cuisine, with mostly locally sourced ingredients. The atmosphere is light and airy. Your meal might start with hemp salad, with hemp seeds and hemp oil on local greens. Your entree could be pecan-crusted local farm-raised trout or heritage pork shoulder with grilled carrots and end with pistachio cake. Many dishes are gluten-free. Ap-petizers and salads are mostly $12 to $16 and entrees $22 to $35. Full bar with a good selection of craft cocktails and bourbons.
Red Ginger 82 Patton Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-505-8688, www.redgingerasheville.com, Chinese dimsum and tapas, Moderate to Expensive, daily for lunch and dinner
Asheville is loaded with "New Southern" farm-to-table spots, but it long has been weak on Asian restaurants, especially Chinese. Red Ginger certainly isn't a traditional Chinese restaurant, nor does it limit itself to one of the several outstanding Chinese cuisines, but it's great that at last we're getting more Asian choices, including interesting places like Gan Shan Station and Little Bee Thai.
Red Ginger's is a somewhat unusual concept, extending the traditional dimsum breakfast/brunch to an all-day menu with tapas-style small plates, with prices ranging from around $5 to $17. (On the menu, dishes with a "D" are dimsum and those with a "T" are tapas. Generally, the "T" items are somewhat more expensive.)
At lunch, Red Ginger focuses more on sampler boxes and plates, while at dinner there's a lengthy menu, roughly half dimsum and half tapas.
At dinner, we had more dimsum dishes but had a couple of tapas. The hits for us were the Shanghai pork dumplings ($6), the green mushroom dumplings ($6), the steamed BBQ pork buns ($7) and the fried potstickers ($6). All the dishes easily serve at least two. The Yusiang eggplant ($6) was interesting but more eggplant than the two of us could eat.
The L-shaped space is larger than it looks, with a full bar and seating in a back area, and a long, narrow main area with seating along the dee--red wall and bar seating at the open kitchen. We sat in the banquette style seats along the wall. In good weather, there's sidewalk patio seating. Red Ginger shares an entrance foyer with Asheville Art Gallery.
For six dimsum/tapas plates, and a total of three beers (two Wicked Weed Pernicious Ales and one Tsing Tao), our tab came to $56 before tip. You could spend considerably more if you did mostly larger tapas fish and beef dishes, but for the amount of food our tab seemed very reasonable.
Service was very good. The restaurant has a pretty large staff, and items came out perfectly timed. Every dish was hot and fresh from the kitchen. We definitely recommend Red Ginger.
Rhubarb 7 SW Pack Square, Downtown Asheville, 828-785-1503, www.rhubarbasheville.com, Eclectic, lunch and dinner Wed.-Mon., Expensive
Very hip, very different, very well located. It's getting regional and national press, and the chef-owner, John Fleer, is a regular on the James Beard lists. Interior features nicely repurposed wood and tile.
Roman’s 75 Haywood St., Downtown Asheville, 828-505-1552, www.romanstakeout.com, Deli, lunch Mon.-Sat., closed Sun. Very Inexpensive to Inexpensive
Popular Downtown deli and lunch restaurant offers deli items plus sandwiches, paninis, veggie burgers, soups and more. Most ingredients are local. The beef burger uses Hickory Nut Gap meat and is terrific. Service can sometimes be a little slow, and sandwich prices are higher than at most delis. Roman’s is next door to U.S. Cellular Center.
Salsa’s 6 Patton Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-252-9805, www.salsas-asheville.com; Caribbean/Mexican, lunch and dinner daily Moderate
Salsa’s is the flagship restaurant of Asheville food entrepreneur Hector Diaz. Salsa’s, in an expanded space at the head of Patton Avenue at Pack Square, is still going great guns. It offers new takes on traditional enchiladas, tacos and fajitas, adding lots of vegetables and fruits and combining flavors in creative ways. Something called Pom Pom Pom comes in various versions – the tofu version has blackened crumbled goat cheese with pineapple, avocado slices, plantains and steamed vegetables. Even the drinks are different – try the spicy margarita. While prices are a little higher than you might expect, portions are large and many take home part of their meal for later. Salsa’s latest expansion is a new coffee and cocktail bar, Bomba. There are only about 30 seats in the restaurant itself, and they’re packed close together. (In good weather you can get a seat in the small alleyway next to the restaurant.) Expect a wait at peak times. No reservations accepted.
Best Bets for Breakfast
Sunny Point, West Asheville – best spot in town for breakfast, and it’s served all day
Taco Billies, West Asheville -- hot new spot for tortilla-involved breakfasts and lunches
Early Girl, Downtown Asheville – farm-to-table breakfasts
Biscuit Head, West Asheville and two locations South – making a name for its biscuits with toppings
Over Easy, Downtown -- organic, local take on regular breakfast dishes
Homegrown, North Asheville – natural, local and Southern
Corner Kitchen, Biltmore Village -- more upscale way to go for breakfasts, recently renovated
Tupelo Honey, Downtown -- alternative to Early Girl and similar in some ways
Suwana’s Thai Orchid 11 Broadway St., Downtown Asheville, 828-281-8151, www.suwanathaiorchid.com; Thai, lunch and dinner daily Inexpensive to Moderate
Thai Orchid, in the heart of Downtown, serves fairly standard Thai food – we enjoy the Phad Thai and drunken noodles, usually for takeout. Most dinner dishes are around $10 to $15, with some of the dinner specials as much as $23. Prices are better at lunch, and often portions are not much smaller. The owner, Suwana Cry, is from Bangkok.
Table 48 College St., Downtown Asheville, 828-254-8980, www.tableasheville.com; New American, dinner daily, brunch Sat. and Sun. Expensive to Very Expensive
Table is an intimate restaurant, serving New American cuisine, with a strict farm-to-table philosophy. You enter and wait for your table right beside the open kitchen, and the main dining room is surprisingly small, with a high noise level. A swank “grown up” bar is on the second floor. The Imperial Life Bar serves craft cocktails, small batch spirits and a small plate menu. The Table menu changes frequently and on any given evening there’s enough choice to please most everyone in your party – for example, from a New York strip to roast quail with cauliflower to NC flounder. With appetizers, drinks or wine, entrees and desserts, plus tax and tip, you’re going to spend close to $100 per person. The cast of “Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me” NPR show had dinner here, trying the rabbit meatloaf.
Tupelo Honey 12 College St., Downtown Asheville, 828-255-4863, www.tupelohoneycafe.com; New Southern, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily Inexpensive to Moderate
We’ve never quite figured out why Tupelo Honey is so darn popular and so highly rated in social media and by food critics. It certainly serves tasty Southern food, but New Southern food is now everywhere in Asheville and the region. It must be the consistency, the varied menu, the farm-to-table focus, the central location across from Prichard Park and the reasonable prices (though these days you can pay up to $23 for an entree at dinner). The Tupelo Honey marketing isn’t anything to scoff at either – it has a popular new cookbook and was named in a group of the first 16 “Green Restaurants” in America. Most of all, we guess, it’s just hard to get a bad meal here, although not everything will knock your socks off. A second, suburban location is in South Asheville (1829 Hendersonville Rd., South Asheville, 828-505-7676) and the growing little chain also has locations in Greenville, S.C., in Johnson City and Knoxville, Tenn., and elsewhere
White Labs 172 S. Charlotte St., Downtown Asheville, 828-974-3868, www.whitelabs.com; Pizza, Lunch and dinner Tues.-Sun. Moderate
Four of us tried White Labs on a Friday evening. There was a short wait for a table, and the parking lot was nearly full. The crowd seemed mostly young, with the typical Asheville vibe. The noise level was HIGH, as there are no soft surfaces to catch the sound. The waitstaff was friendly and helpful.
It's kind of a quirky place. It has about 28 beers on draft, but when you order you realize that all but three are White Labs beers, identified not by name but by the kind of yeast used. (White Labs, headquartered in San Diego, is primarily a national provider of brewers yeasts to home and craft brewers.)
Two of our party had the wood-fired pizza ($15 for the pepperoni, big enough to share), which was quite good. The appetizer cheese and garlic bread was basically a pizza ($7) and REALLY garlicky.
But two of us had the SD Morgan Farms cheeseburger. It is described as "Local spent grain-fed beef, port onion jam, fontina, pepperocini aioli, arugula, pickles, house bun" and costs $13.
Frankly, the burger was a disaster. I was told there is a new chef who is making some changes, and one appears to be the burger. The new version is a single patty rather than double patty. It has way too much "stuff" on it, like the onion jam and sauce, and with the thick doughy bun was literally too big and messy to eat, though the beef itself was good and cooked to our order. The fries, however, were excellent, and the serving was very large.
Wicked Weed Brewing 91 Biltmore Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-575-9599, www.wickedweedbrewing.com; Brewpub, lunch and dinner daily, Inexpensive to Moderate
Wicked Weed opened in late 2012 on a high-test section of Biltmore Avenue in a former auto repair shop next door to the Orange Peel nightclub. Our first reaction was, “Wow, they've done a great job with the space!” High ceilings, lot of raw brick walls, glassed-in open kitchen on the main floor, along with a bottle shop, There’s a beer bar and the original 15-barrel brewery downstairs. The exterior looks great, too, with a busy patio in front.
The upstairs restaurant serves mostly pub food with a twist, deals like a fried chicken sandwich with peach habanero sauce, and several burgers including a bison burger, but for dinner the Weed has more real restaurant stuff, such as shrimp and grits, a grilled strip steak and phyllo-wrapped salmon.
In 2017, Wicked Weed was bought by international beverage giant AB InBev, its first craft beer acquisition. This caused some pushback in Asheville. However, the purchase has meant better regional and even national distribution for its beers. The brewery also operates the somewhat upscale Cultura, the Funkatorium for sour beers and Wicked Weed West, a taproom in Enka where it also has a 50-barrel production brewery.
Zambra 85 W. Walnut St., 828-232-1060, www.zambratapas.com; Spanish Tapas, dinner daily Moderate to Expensive
After a lapse of a couple of years, recent revisits to Zambra exceeded our expectations. Everything we tried was interesting, with some creative taste combinations, with the basis in Spanish tapas but with Southern influences. Prices are reasonable, and servings are surprisingly large for a tapas restaurant. The atmosphere hasn't changed -- still dark and cave-like but not uninviting – but the food is better than ever.
It’s tough to decide what are the best tapas -- possibly the braised pork spring rolls , the trout or the beef heart. The patatas bravas (crispy potatoes with a tomato sauce) are wonderful.
Zambra is another of the many Asheville restaurants that for some reason don't serve espresso. The restaurant has good Counter Culture coffee, but we don't understand why a local restaurant serves out-of-town coffee (from Durham, 225 miles away).
Dinner for two with drinks and a gaggle of tapas came to around $85 before our usual generous tip. A fair price. Easy parking is available at the nearby Rankin public garage. Don’t park in the private lot behind the restaurant, because you may be towed.
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