When it comes to cuisine, Asheville is the hottest place in North Carolina. A sleepy little mountain town no more, Downtown Asheville is home to innovative twists on Southern dining, award-winning chefs, and a growing list of international options from pretty much everywhere around the world.
It’s a great town for a date night, a food-centric brunch tour, or entertaining your visiting friends and family. If you’re like us and you work downtown and like to get out of the office for lunch, you’ve probably noticed something else:
Dining in Asheville isn’t usually cheap.
If you’re not careful, those business lunches will eat up your paycheck faster than you devour bulgogi tacos at White Duck. Fortunately, we’ve become experts on eating on a budget in Asheville. We’ve spent our afternoons scouring the city for all the best deals and we’re sharing some of our favorite secrets with you. Stick with us and you’ll be the envy of the brown-bag lunch crowd while still keeping some cash in your pocket for a big night out when 5:00 rolls around on Friday.
Nothing Beats a Classic Sandwich
Fresh-baked bread, delicious deli meat, a pickle spear, and a bag of chips. Sometimes the simple classics earn their place at the table. Of course, it can sting a little bit paying $15 for a couple of slices of avocado and sea salt on some brioche.
Thankfully, Loretta’s Cafe is here for you. Their specials start at $6.50, which seems like stealing for half a cold sandwich with a cup of soup or chips and a pickle. This isn’t some little, 100-calorie sandwich half, either. Loretta’s has airy, delightful bread stacked as big as your head with delicious egg salad, pimento cheese, or pastrami and cheese. Which is to say most people are good with a half sandwich for lunch.
Of course, big eaters are set too: full cold sandwiches are $7 and hot sandwiches are $7.25. Our regular readers have seen us mention Loretta’s a few times before, and we’ll write about this place a few more times before we’re through. We cannot emphasize it enough: this little sandwich shop is an essential stop for everyone who calls Asheville home.
Fancy Dining, Diner Prices
Bargain hunters can still have a cloth-napkin lunch—if they know where to look, that is. There are a handful of great lunches under $10 at Asheville’s fine dining establishments, sometimes they’re just hard to find on the fly.
Strada Italiano’s dinner menu is comprised of Italian classics from pasta to picatta, typically in the $20+ per-plate range. Their fancy décor shouldn’t scare away midday diners on a budget, though. Look closely at their menu and you’ll find their lunch pizza special: two massive one-topping slices with a side salad or soup, all for $8 flat. Strada doesn’t pull any punches with their lunch menu, either. The soups are all gourmet offerings from the dinner menu, blends of healthy local ingredients and rich, aromatic broths. The pizza toppings range from the traditional pepperoni and mushroom to figs, broccolini, and goat cheese. It’s an exceptional experience at a more than reasonable price.
Bento Boxes in Asheville
Red Ginger is our go-to for downtown dimsum and tapas. Their steamed buns are light, fluffy, and flavorful. It’s real-deal Chinese food, but it’s also real-deal pricey for your lunch break. Most small plates here run in the $5-10 range and most tables order three to six plates. It is extremely easy to get out of hand with food this good. In fact, we recommend it! Just maybe save it for a birthday dinner.
You can still darken the door at Red Ginger between those special occasion dinners, and it won’t sting to sign the check thanks to their bento lunch deals. These deals squeak in justunder $10, but the payoff is massive. You’ll get a veggie spring roll, pork dumpling, chef’s choice appetizer, white rice, and a choice of chicken, salmon, steak, fried fish, pork chop, or you choy and mushrooms. For the uninitiated, that’s a sufficient sampler of the most popular dinner-time dishes, and they somehow can pull it off at a lower pricepoint than some of the other bento boxes in town.
Street Food From Around the World
Okay, so we don’t exactly have street food stalls like a night market. We do, however, have some international flavors inspired by street food around the world. You’ll still have to go inside and order from a counter to get it though.
Baba Nahm has Middle Eastern staples like shawarma, harira soup, and delicious hummus. The beef shawarma pita and fattoush & tabbouleh salad are the two priciest options on the menu, topping out at $8.75. Both are incredibly filling. You probably won’t need a side with either one unless you skipped breakfast. If you have a friend joining you it is worth it to split the Israeli potato fries, though. As a rough estimate, they put about 90% of the fries you’ve had in your life to shame and run a reasonably splittable $3.50 for a massive order.
Finding Lunch Deals in Asheville
There are plenty of options for lunch in Asheville. It can take a little searching to keep your bill under $10, but it can be done. We’ll keep prowling those streets at high noon for the next couple months and who knows, maybe we’ll have a part two blog ready in a couple months. Until then, keep on the lookout for deals and email us if you find any great ones!
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