The Best Restaurants in Asheville

Asheville has a reputation as a rich cultural place, with tons of local art, music, beer, and most importantly—food. The restaurant scene here is one of the most eclectic in the region, with restaurants inspired by global cuisine and conscious movements like veganism and slow food. It makes scrolling through Yelp an almost impossible task for the newcomer, likely to induce option paralysis without the guiding hand of a seasoned local expert. Lucky for you, we are experts on all things Asheville, including food.

While this list is by no means comprehensive and we are likely to get angry emails from locals who say we left off the best restaurant in Asheville—and by extension the best restaurant in the whole world, we think it’s a good place to start.

Iconic Downtown Restaurants

Curate: With multiple James Beard Award nominations, a cooking competition hosting gig, and a cookbook under her belt, Katie Button is a frontrunner for Asheville’s most decorated chef. Curate offers up an ever-changing menu of Spanish tapas classics with Chef Button steering the ship. Here you’ll find an impressive selection of hand-carved charcuterie, paella, cold and hot small plates, desserts, and a massive selection of Spanish wines. With attention from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, Curate is an almost cliched must-go for tourists, but this restaurant is proof that sometimes it’s worth fighting the crowds for a table at the most popular place in town.

Zambra: Zambra is a much more subdued tapas place. Walking off the steep incline of the street into this dimly lit restaurant feels like you’re heading into a basement in some small Mediterranean village, an instantly homey vibe in stark contrast to the bright lights and floor-to-ceiling windows of Curate. The food lives up to the atmosphere, with weekly specials ranging from calamari to pork tails. It’s a great restaurant to drop in at for a quick happy hour cocktail and appetizer that is equally suited for a birthday party where everyone is passing dishes back and forth across the table. If you’re lucky, you’ll come by on a night when one of the city’s many local bands is playing in the dining room.

Rhubarb: If you’re looking for an authentic taste of Asheville’s regional cuisine, look no further than Rhubarb. The recipes on their menu are firmly rooted in the traditions of the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Kentucky, made with ingredients from local farms. Rhubarb is the go-to for some sunburst trout with hoppin’ John, sour corn grits, collards, and pimento cheese. If you don’t know what any of that means, you must not be from around here, but that’s alright too. You’ll fall in love from the first bite and see why Southern cooking is often hailed as the American cuisine.

International Flavors Across the City

Chai Pani: Chai Pani is Asheville’s most well-known Indian spot. Located right downtown in the shadow of the iconic Flat Iron building, it’s the place to go for a laidback, colorful atmosphere and delicious food. The stars here are traditional street fare and classic recipes that step outside the typical “tikka masala and rice” menu a lot of American diners are used to. The chaat selection brings Indian street fare to town with crispy potato fritters and immensely dippable chutneys and yogurt sauces. It’s an eat-with-your-hands sort of place with the bulk of the menu given to wraps and sandwiches on pav buns.

Blue Dream Curry: If you’re rolling with the type of food lovers who get really picky and can’t agree on Indian or Thai-style curry, Blue Dream is the one restaurant that will keep everybody happy. Thai yellow curry, panang, korma, masala, and rogan josh are all on the menu here with your choice of protein. The pan-Asian flavors continue on with Korean fried chicken wings, a wonderful pho bowl, and must-have naan tacos. Blue Dream almost always has an exclusive beer on tap from a local brewery as well, so it’s a necessary refueling stop for any good pub crawl.

Jerusalem Garden Cafe: For over 20 years running, Jerusalem Garden has given locals and tourists alike a mini-trip to Jerusalem with authentic Middle Eastern recipes from owner Farouk Badr. This is the place to be for hand-rolled grape leaves, kabobs, and moussaka. The central Patton Avenue location makes it the perfect place to stop in for a filling lunch spread or weekend brunch when you’re cruising downtown. Dinners are a sight to see as well—Jerusalem Garden treats diners to a must-see show of live music and bellydancing every Friday and Saturday night. The show starts at 7:00 pm and is very popular, so make sure you get a reservation beforehand.

Dinner Date Classics

Plant: A night at Plant is the definitive way to prove all the vegetable haters out there wrong. Plant has garnered acclaim from Zagat and Food and Wine, in addition to local accolades that placed it among the most romantic places to dine in Asheville. In keeping with the earth-loving spirit of the town, Plant serves an entirely vegan menu that is full of flavor and surprising twists. Their ever-changing menu makes it tricky to point you towards an entree, but the nut cheese plate and quinoa bread are essential starting points. Pair those with one of Plant’s signature cocktails and you’re off to a mighty fine start.

Nine Mile: In an informal survey of every local this writer has ever met, this is the place to go on a Friday night. The line is out the door, the bar is packed, the open kitchen is loud, and they’re usually blasting a solid soundtrack of dub and reggae hits. Sure, it’s not the most romantic atmosphere, but it’s an absolute blast with some of the most unique dishes in town. The massive menu has something for everybody, riding a fine line of Jamaican classics, Italian fusion, and traditional Western North Carolina recipes. Where else are you going to find trout in a searing sweet and spicy sauce over a bed of linguine? It’s a combination that only makes sense in Asheville, and once you try it, that’s the only kind of sense you’ll ever want anything to make.

Avenue M: Avenue M is a little more traditional as far as date nights go. Dimly lit, quiet, stylish, and just a quick jaunt north of downtown, it’s the ideal place to wind down and delight in the company of your dining partner. The menu is fairly eclectic so you’ll find something for everyone. There’s a couple vegan options, steaks, pasta, tacos, Asian-inspired stir fry, and a solid handful of other entree options. The unifying element here is quality, with recipes that hit all the right notes no matter which part of the globe they’re borrowed from. If you’re thirsty, there’s an expansive wine list, signature cocktails, and a strong selection of martinis from the minds of Avenue M’s bartenders.

Hidden Gems

Taco Billy: It is easy to literally sleep on this West Asheville hotspot: they are open from 7:00 am-3:00 pm, Tuesday-Sunday. It’s worth waking up for, though. Taco Billy brings all-day breakfast tacos with plantain tortillas and innovative twists on classic Mexican recipes to the table, served alongside local beers at an astoundingly affordable price. A big chunk of their menu is local as well. Taco Billy’s meats are from non-commodity purveyors like Brasstown Beef and Heritage Farms, so no mystery meats on the menu here.

Universal Joint: First off, if you’re going to fit in here, just call it the UJ. This funky building is in the trendy part of West Asheville, where you’re more likely to dine alongside locals than tourists. It’s a neighborhood joint, with a menu of wings and bison burgers, trout reubens and tater tots. It’s a casual place to knock back a couple of beers on the outdoor patio with a couple friends. They’re dog and kid-friendly too, so make it your base camp to return to for lunch after a morning hike with the whole family.

Gypsy Queen: Gypsy Queen is located in a strip mall right in the heart of the most confusing intersection in Asheville. If you’re new in town you probably will miss the entrance the first time you’re cutting across lanes to get from I-26 to the parking lot. It’s worth it to turn around, trust us. Gypsy Queen has a couple tables, a little market, and a kitchen cooking up Mediterranean and Lebanese street food that will have you forgetting the crazy drive to get there with the first bite. It’s easy to over-order and have a table full of so much falafel, tabbouleh, and baba ganouj you and ten friends couldn’t dream of eating it in one sitting, but don’t worry—they’ll let you take it home.

 

Comfort Food

Homegrown: You can’t make a list of restaurants in a North Carolina without at least one place with classic Southern comfort food. After you’ve explored the culinary world of tapas, Indian street food, and vegan fine dining, sometimes you just want a big old plate of fried chicken. Homegrown is a cozy counter-service spot in North Asheville where you can get burgers, grits, meatloaf, and blackened catfish—all locally sourced, all delicious, and all remarkably affordable.

Waku Waku: Just a little ways up the road from Homegrown you’ll find a different type of comfort food. Waku Waku is hidden away in an office park on Merrimon Avenue, and is the only place in town you’ll find Japanese food like this. There’s no sushi, no Benihana-style theatrics with your meal, only the best simple, cozy dishes that will make you feel like you’re getting a home-cooked meal in a sleepy town a few hours outside Tokyo. We’ll admit the menu can be intimidating for the non-initiated, so here’s some tips: the chicken katsu don is savory fried chicken with tasty rice, the croquettes are deep-fried mashed potato balls, and udon is a wonderful noodle soup. If you’re lost, just ask for help.

El Que Pasa: Sure, there’s a time and a place for cutting-edge fusion and sushi burritos, but sometimes, you just want a taco. El Que Pasa offers simple, no-frills California-style Mexican food at affordable prices in a casual environment perfect for families. It’s a no-stress place where you can order fajitas for two, some table-side guacamole, and a couple margaritas and feel right at home. There is also a massive salsa bar with spice levels and flavor profiles for every palate to keep you entertained while you’re waiting for your entrees. This is a family-owned and operated place where they take immense pride in their menu. Really, when it comes down to it, that’s what Asheville is all about.

 



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