Best Restaurants in Downtown Asheville

 

Restaurants are listed alphabetically. Price categories are per person for dinner with appetizer or salad, entree, 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.

 

Price Categories

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.

 

 

Brasilia Churrasco Steakhouse 26 E. Walnut St., Downtown, 828-785-1599, www.brasiliasteakhouse.com;  Brazilian-style Steakhouse, Expensive

 

New 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, $18.95 for lunch, $33.50 for dinner), you get all you care to eat from a 25-item salad bar (which is available separately as well), plus a variety of grilled meat brought to your table by “gauchos.”

 

Our dinner was pleasant enough.  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 bar area has been pretty much left as it was at Magnolia's. The noise level, even half-full, is pretty high.

 

We started with drinks.  My Jack and water (just $6) was a Cindarella drink, not too weak, not too stiff. My companion's cocktail -- the Brazilian special similar to a daiquiri --,was fine, and also fairly priced at $8.

 

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. There was a Caesar's salad, but it had my pet peeve, croutons that come straight out of a bag. 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!" Although Brasilia Churrasco promises 16 different meat items, I don't think we saw more than eight or nine at most.

 

I had a glass of $8 glass of Malbec with dinner, and we shared a Brazilian light pilsner beer ($5.50).

 

Bottom line:  Pretty good service, pretty good food, reasonably priced drinks, a lot of food, but nothing memorable that makes you want to come back.  It's a bit like a more upscale Ryan's. We wish the owner well and hope he makes it but somehow doubt this place has the legs to be around long-term.  There's a second Brazilian steakhouse that has announced plans to open in Asheville, but it’s hard to see how two of these can make it here.

Our dinner, with two drinks, one glass of wine, one beer, tax and our usual generous tip came to around $120. Not outrageous, but hardly a bargain.

 

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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) $6 with fries on Mondays, after 9 pm other nights $12 with fries

2. Storm & Rhum (Downtown) $14 with fries

3. Rankin Vault (Downtown) $13 with fries

4. Avenue M (North) $11 with fries

5. Farm Burger (Downtown and South Asheville) $8 with fries

6. Juicy Lucy (South) $10 with fries

7. Smoky Park Supper Club (North) $19 with smashed potato

8. Ruth’s Chris Steak House (South) available in bar only -- $8 with fries at happy hour Mon.-Fri., higher other times

9. Buffalo Nickel (West Asheville) $13 with fries

10. Universal Joint (West Asheville) $8-$10 with fries

 

Honorable Mention:

Chestnut (Downtown) $10 with fries, available lunch only

Sunny Point (West Asheville) $11-$14 with fries

Wicked Weed (Downtown) $8-$12 with fries, bison burger $13 with fries

Five Guys (South and North Asheville) $6-$8 with fries

Roman's Deli (Downtown) $9 to $10 with potato salad or chips

Early Girl (Downtown) $11 with fries

McDonald's (multiple locations) $4 for original double cheese with fries

 

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Ben's Tune Up 195 Hilliard Avenue, Downtown, 828-424-7580; www.benstuneup.com; Japanese-Southern fusion with sake brewery, dinner Mon.-Fri., brunch and dinner Sat.-Sun., Moderate to Expensive

 

The opening of Ben's Tune Up in late June 2013 was one of the most highly anticipated food events of the summer in Asheville, but it turned out that the owners and cooks, from the highly touted The Admiral in West Asheville and other eateries, apparently didn't know quite as much about running a restaurant as they thought they did. Early reviews from bloggers and diners were pretty negative, and the original chef/co-owner from The Admiral left after only about a month.

 

We visited Ben's Tune Up after it had been open for a little more than two months, long enough to work out the early wrinkles.  On a Friday night, it was busier than we expected, though it seemed a lot of people were there just for a drink and a snack, not a full meal, and the couple seated next to us got up and left after looking at the menu.

 

The menu IS bizarre, even for Asheville. Despite the changes in the kitchen, the menu still leans toward Japanese dishes, such as a Japanese fried chicken appetizer with a yuzu white BBQ sauce (a relative bargain at $8), sashimi plates with several fish items such as tuna or swordfish ($10 to $30) and yakitori skewers (a choice of hanger steak, sweetbreads, scallop sausage, chicken wings or legs and chicken livers with miso mustard, sweet soy, fermented leaks and cabbage) for $14 to $40, along with a few oddball non-Asian choices.

 

Of course there are bowls of ramen noodles ($10 with broth, pork belly, nori and half a hard-boiled egg), which we found the least appealing of all the dishes on the menu.  We left two-thirds of the bowl uneaten. Ramen noodles were supposed to be the focus of the Ben's Tune Up menu, along with its in-house brewed sake, but we wouldn't order the noodles again if you gave them to me free. We're not sake fans, so we didn't try it.

 

Some non-Japanese dishes are on the menu, including braised pig tails ($7) and oysters on the half shell ($18 for a half dozen).

 

We have to admit the outdoor dining area is charming, although if the owners put more than $10,000 into it they got ripped off -- it's nothing but concrete block walls with a few plant containers, picnic tables (which often are shared by two or three parties) and assorted used furniture. Since 90% of the seating is open air -- and there's no roof -- we don't know what Ben's Tune Up will do in the winter.  Guess they'll use a bunch of heaters.

 

Overall, though, the atmosphere is appealing, especially on a nice cool, clear night like tonight. The waitstaff was friendly and helpful. Most of the guests seemed to be youngish, 20s and 30s, with a definite skew toward the hipster category, though there were a few tables of geezers like us.

 

A positive is the fact that liquor drinks, including good brands like Jack Daniel's, Beefeaters and Jameson, are all $6.  PBR is just $2, and local beers are most $4.

 

With a total of two drinks, one beer, two appetizers, and two entrees, plus tax and our usual generous tip, two of us paid around $75. Not outrageous, but not quite a bargain, either.

 

Revisit:

We had tried Ben's Tune-Up a couple of months after it opened this summer and were, like many others, less than thrilled by the eccentric Asian-Southern fusion menu but taken by the open air, creative "courtyard" setting.

 

Our revisit  tonight was something of the opposite experience:  Most of us really enjoyed the new menu, but sadly the courtyard isn't really an option due to the winter weather.

 

A few people braved the cool December weather in the courtyard, but nearly all the customers ate inside or in a couple of areas walled in plastic and warmed with electric heaters. Which is a shame, because the outdoor walled setting is extraordinary.

 

On the positive side, the changes in the menu under the new kitchen regime  -- basically going from Japanese-Southern-eclectic to Chinese-Southern-eclectic -- are a big improvement. We had the pu pu platter appetizer ($26 for two, but plenty for the four of us), which was full of tasty treats and the Pickle Plate ($7).  My General Ben's Chicken -- seared chicken with sesame seeds in an orange sauce with rice -- was fabulous, and a filling deal at $12. The only complaint is that it was a little too heavy on the salt. The Dan Dan Noodle bowl ($10) was good, as was the Bamboo Steamer salad ($8).

 

Service was friendly and prompt. Drinks are reasonably priced.

 

We look forward to further tweaking of the menu and the return of the outdoor seating with the coming of warmer weather.

 

On a Sunday evening, the restaurant stayed pretty full all evening. It stays open late ('til 2 pm) every night, and most nights as the evening wears on Ben's Tune-Up becomes more of a bar, though you can get food service right up until closing. It's also becoming a late-night hang out for "industry" folks, people who work in other restaurants around town.

 

In short, it looks like Ben's Tune-Up is going to make it.

 

 

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 new Aloft Hotel, where it has also has been popular.

 

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.

 

Get your meal off to a wonderful start with the fried oyster appetizer or seared scallop appetizer (each $8) The oysters are plump and juicy, the breading light, and they are perfectly fried. It's not easy to find good fried oysters, but these are some of the best you’ll ever have.

 

Unfortunately, not everything on the menu lives up to the oysters or scallops. The New York strip ($25) is just a supermarket quality steak, but the Zinfandel wine sauce and buttermilk mashed potatoes with crispy fried onion rings and sautéed vegetables make the dish. Avoid the shrimp and grits, which are ordinary.

 

You’ll hear recommendations to top off your meal with Blackbird's coconut custard cake ($8), a huge portion. We found it cold and a little dry, but it was quite tasty after heating a leftover portion at home in the microwave. The drip coffee was dark and rich. Service is very good.

 Expect to pay around $100 for dinner for two with drinks, appetizers, entrees and a shared dessert, before tip.  A recent visit at lunch with a party of five to celebrate a birthday cost around $140, but that included a bottle of champagne. Blackbird has added smoked meats and barbecue to its lunch menu.

 

For this and all the other restaurants on or near Biltmore Avenue just south of Pack Square, including Cúrate, Limones, Wicked Weed, Chestnut, Seven Sows, Doc Chey’s and others, the public garage under the Aloft Hotel is an easy place to park. Normally you’ll pay just $1.50 or so for parking at dinner, unless there’s a big event at the nearby Orange Peel nightclub, when the flat rate goes to $7.

 

 

Bouchon 62 N. Lexington, 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.

 

For lighter dining, try Crepêrie Bouchon in the patio next door. We do NOT recommend the third restaurant in the group, Lafayette. Note: in late 2015, Lafayette downsized its space.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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 Asheville funky. Service is friendly and prompt. We’re partial to the pakoras, chicken nuggets fried in a curried chickpea batter ($7).  The matchstick okra fries ($5.75) are delicious, too, though a tad greasy. The coconut uttapam (savory crepes, $8) are very tasty. Indian beer is available, along with a few cocktails and wines. No reservations. The MG Road Bar, operated by the Chai Pani owners, is downstairs, serving a few snacks plus craft cocktails flavored with Indian spices. It is open evenings Tuesday-Sunday. The Wall Street public garage is nearby, and street parking often is available on Battery Park or around the Grove Arcade.

 

 

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 frequently. There’s a selection of "medium plates" that double as appetizers, priced at $9-$15, a few salads and soups and some "large plates" that range from $16 to around $32. We like the calamari salad, perfectly fried, on kale, ($11) as a medium plate appetizer. For an entree, you’ll have choices such as an Angus strip steak with smashed potatoes and vegetable ($32), apple glazed seared trout ($24) or Alaska sockeye salmon served  ($22). The 3 oz. grilled filet with mashed potatoes and green beans is a deal at $15, 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 $7 to $15 range, including a good burger from locally sourced beef for $10 and a Reuben for $11.

 

Chestnut has become one of our "go-to" restaurants Downtown. Highly recommended.

 

 

Cucina 24 24 Wall St., Downtown Asheville, 828-254-6170, www.cucina24restaurant.com; Italian, dinner Tue.-Sun., closed Mon. Expensive

 

Cucina 24 delivers a sophisticated take on classic Italian food, using locally sourced ingredients from area farms and other fresh ingredients The menu changes seasonally, but you can’t go wrong with the mountain trout, scallops and, in-season, the oysters on the half shell. The pasta is perfect, and even the beef steaks are good. Most dinner entrees are $16 to $26. Wood-fired pizzas, with unusual toppings such as bacon, grapes, radicchio and smoked fontina, are $16-$17. The atmosphere is pleasantly upscale, with low lighting and an open kitchen.

 

 

Cúrate  11 Biltmore Ave., 828-239-2946, www.curatetapasbar.com; Spanish Tapas, open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat. 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 the gazpacho ($5), the Iberian ham ($11), the eggplant with honey ($6), the fried calamari on bread ($6) and the chocolate mousse with raspberry sorbet and hazelnut praline ($6), among others. Even the home-cured olives (three or four different kinds, $4) 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. We like the Cuba Libre ($9) with Mount Gay rum and fresh lemon, served with an individual Coca-Cola in a little 8 oz. bottle.

 

The restaurant is long and narrow, with high ceilings and exposed ducting. If you want a quieter experience, try to get seated in the small roomette at the back. 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.

 

Revisited:  Great experience, no problems, check was under $100 for two beofre our usual generous tip. Only negative:  Still don't like the potatoes.

 

Cúrate announced in late 2015 that it was doubling its space by expanding into the former Tutti Frutti Yogart location next door.

 

 

Doc Chey's Noodle House 37 Biltmore Ave., 828-252-8220, www.doccheys.com; Asian Noodles, lunch and dinner daily Very Inexpensive to Inexpensive

 

 "Peace, love, noodles" is the theme of this outpost of an Atlanta noodle house. Located in one of the oldest buildings in Downtown Asheville, Doc Chey’s serves Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese and Chinese noodle bowls and rice plates fast, cheap and tasty. Noodle and stir fry dishes are under $10, and most dim sum items are around $5. It's always packed. No reservations.

 

 

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

 

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 ($8), a full Southern breakfast with eggs, grits, sausage, bacon, ham or tempeh and biscuits ($8) or shrimp and grits ($10). The breakfast menu is served all day. The lunch and dinner menus include dishes such as fried chicken and bacon salad ($9), tempeh Reuben ($9), sautéed mountain trout with collard greens and gingered cole slaw ($16) or meatloaf with hormone-free beef, mashed potatoes and honeyed beets ($15). 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. It specializes in grassfed burgers ($6.75 for the basic burger with lettuce, tomato, red onions, Duke’s mayo, jalapeños and such, plus $1 to $2 for more exotic extras like red bean chili, fried egg, pork belly or oxtail marmalade). Handcut fries are an extra $1.50-$2.50 with the burger. Vegan and chicken burgers are also available, along with a few other dishes. There’s a popular $8.50 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.  Farm Burger now also has a South Asheville location.

 

 

Food Truck Lots 51 Coxe Ave., Downtown Asheville, Masonic Temple lot, 80 Broadway St., "The Pit" on 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

 

After a long debate, Asheville City Council finally allowed a dedicated food truck lot to open in March 2012. The lot, next to Wells Fargo Bank on Coxe, 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 2013, the Asheville Masonic Temple petitioned the city to allow it to open a second lot on Broadway Street. This lot opened in the fall of 2013, but at present can only handle a couple of trucks at a time. In 2017, the vacant lot on Haywood Street, across from U.S. Cellular Center, sometimes called The Pit of Despair was also designated at food truck lot. Food trucks also often set up at different locations around town, including at the 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.

 

 

Karen Donatelli Cake Designs 57 Haywood St., Downtown Asheville, 828-225-5751, www.donatellicakedesigns.com; Bakery, closed Mon. Very Inexpensive to Inexpensive

 

This is like a small pastry shop in Europe. You can buy brioche, tarts and other pastries and eat them at one of the handful of tables in the bakery, or order and pick up beautifully designed cakes and pastries.

 

 

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

 

We had dinner at Isa's Bistro in the Haywood Park Hotel on Battery Park in Asheville tonight.

We used the hotel's complimentary valet, which is a nice touch, and our first impression of the restaurant entering from the hotel lobby side was very positive (even though the first thing we were told by a staffer was that "the main entrance is on the street." _ Duh, don't you ever have hotel guests dining here?

 

But the atmosphere and design of the restaurant are supercalifragilisticexpialidocious -- 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.

 

On a Friday night in January at around 6:30 the restaurant was only about one-fifth full, and despite the fact that Open Table claimed there were no tables at our preferred time of 7, it was never more than about a third full all evening.

 

We started with drinks (I had a Jack rocks, $8, and my wife ordered from the cocktail menu, $7.) Very reasonable prices. We then tried the Bang Bang Cauliflower ($7), as an appetizer, which was interesting but not something I would order regularly.

 

My companion had the "Three for Thirty" special, an appetizer (in our case, mussels), main (trout and rice) and dessert for $30. The mussels were fine, but the trout entree was probably the smallest serving of trout I've ever seen in a restaurant.  It might have been 2 ounces,  to be generous, on a big bed of rice.  Absolutely ridiculous. If it were called Rice with a Trace of Trout it would be more honest. Dessert was, of all things,  parsnip cake, again interesting but not something you'd come back for.

 

Stodgy old me, I ordered the Black Angus Filet with whipped potatoes and broccoli ($32).  The potatoes were perhaps the most interesting part of the meal, mashed/whipped potatoes fried in a stiff Phonecian boat-shaped batter.  The 6-oz (or so) filet was quite good, and prepared exactly to my medium rare order, but not quite up to Ruth's Chris quality.  I had a VERY generous serving of Mendoza Malbec ($10) with the meal.

 

I was tempted by the Isa burger with fingerling fries, a real bargain at $11, and highly rated in the Citizen-Times, but I wasn't really up for a burger tonight.

 

Though I'm not raving about the food experience, the meal was actually very pleasant, with near-perfect service and the lovely setting. Dinner was good, just not something to rave about, and the drinks were bountiful pours and well-priced.

 

With a total of four drinks, one glass of wine, one appetizer, two entree courses and sides and an espresso, plus tax, our usual generous gratuity plus a tip to the valet, the total for two came to about $155, reasonable for an Asheville upscale dinner.

 

The renovated Haywood Park Hotel is charming, with a player piano in the lobby greeting the few guests who brave January in Asheville, and the elevators still charmingly bark out "Fourth Floor, Women's Wear" or whatever, just as in the days when my Aunt Dean worked at Ivey's.

 

 

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 restaurants in town. You'll get more than brown rice and beans here. The café bills itself as being a “global fusion” restaurant, with flavors and dishes influenced by the cuisines of Korea, India, Thailand, Mexico, the Caribbean, Mediterranean and elsewhere. Many dishes are vegan or gluten-free or vegan. 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. Most lunch and dinner entrees are $8 to $14. Laughing Seed has a full bar with many interesting cocktails, wines and local beers.

 

 

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LONGTIME ASHEVILLE, CHEF, CATERER, ACTIVIST AND

AUTHOR LAUREY MASTERTON DIES

Laurey Masterton, who operated Laurey's on Biltmore Avenue for many years, died February 18, 2014, at age 59 after a long battle with cancer. Besides running a popular café and catering business for more than 20 years, Masterton was the author or co-author of several cookbooks. She was an avid bicyclist and beekeeper and had been an activist against cancer. Masterton was first diagnosed with uterine cancer when she was 25 and had since had other types of cancer. To raise awareness for ovarian cancer, she once rode her bicycle 3,100 miles across the country. Masterton, whose Asheville catering business began in 1987 and her café in 1990, was a spokesperson for the National Honey Board and most recently in 2013 had published The Fresh Honey Cookbook: 84 Recipes from a Beekeeper’s Kitchen. She also was an outspoken supporter of diversity and the LGBT community in Asheville and an advocate for sustainable, local agriculture. The former Laurey's is now 67 Biltmore Eatery & Catering, which offers lunch and does catering.

 

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Lex 18, 18 N. Lexington Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-575-9494, www.lex18.avl.com; Eclectic, dinner Tues.-Sun., afternoon tea Fri.-Sat; Expensive

 

We decided to go to Lex 18 for an early dinner before the Asheville Symphony. Our reservations were for 5:45, to be sure we had enough time for a relaxed dinner before the 8 pm Symphony start,  and we were the first to arrive. We were seated promptly at a small two-top and given an interesting history lesson on the building (it has been owned by the same local family for more than a century). A German silent film on Nosferatu, because Halloween is coming up, was playing on the walls.

 

Other guests started coming in immediately, heading either to the bar or to the restaurant seating area (they are accessed by two different doors off Lexington), and by 6:30 on this Saturday Lex 18 was virtually full.

 

As others have noted, the dining room really is a tiny space, with tables placed very close together. At around 6:30, a two-piece jazz ensemble (bass and piano) began playing, but while the sound level was fairly high it was never too noisy to talk.

 

I'm not sure exactly what I expected, perhaps something a little more upscale, but the decor is a little more kitschy than I thought it would be. The speakeasy, jazz club atmosphere with lots of candles (real and electric), knick-knacks, pressed tin ceiling and bordello-ish knick-knacks and the silent movies projected on the walls is, well, a bit too precious for me, but taste is personal, and I understand many people think it is romantic and interesting. Lex 18 definitely has character, which is good.

 

Despite the bar/restaurant's reputation for moonshine cocktails, for some reason we weren't given a moonshine menu. That was fine with me, because I'm not a fan of the grain alcohol taste of moonshine, even the trendy $50 bottles distilleries are doing these days.  I had a well vodka Gibson up (a real bargain at $6) and my companion had a "New Fashioned" (fairly pricey at $13) with Knob Creek bourbon and ginger ale instead of soda. The large square ice cube in the New Fashioned was frozen with bitters and orange juice in it, a nice touch. My Gibson was perfectly made, except that the bartender committed the cardinal sin of martini making -- it wasn't ice cold.

 

With drinks we shared an appetizer -- the fried oysters with cornbread breading ($12). They were delicious.

 

For an entree my companion had the catfish with haricots verts ($19), which she liked very much.  I had planned to try the burger, as I'm on a continuing search to find Asheville's best burger -- so far the winner is the one at Bull and Beggar in the RAD -- but this night's version was a lamb burger.  Sorry, for me that's not a real burger. Instead I went with the waiter-recommended hanger steak medium rare with parmesan potato wedges and haricots verts ($28), and it was perfect. With it I had a glass of pinot noir ($10). The wine list is fairly short, and wine by the glass is a little more expensive than at most Asheville restaurants.

 

Service was excellent throughout dinner.

 

With tax and tip our dinner for two, with one shared appetizer, one cocktail each, one glass of wine for me and two entrees came to a little over $110, about what you'd expect for this kind of restaurant in Asheville, but not a cheap night out.

 

We easily finished by 7 and while we weren't hustled out, we didn't feel comfortable taking up a table in such a small restaurant, so we walked around Downtown before the Symphony. This is not a restaurant where you can linger over a long dinner.

 

As almost always, Downtown was packed with locals and visitors. It was chilly but not cold, a near perfect fall night.

 

The Asheville Symphony, by the way, was excellent. The program included a short piece by contemporary Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov;  Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1, the best-known piece of the otherwise fairly obscure 19th century composer Max Bruch with guest violin soloist David Kim; and Robert Schumann's 1846 Romantic Symphony No. 2 in C Major. I'm not particularly a lover of the Romantic period (in more ways than one, I guess), but the fourth movement was extraordinary. Conductor Daniel Meyer did his usual amazing and energetic job.

 

Dinner and a Symphony -- a perfect fall evening in Asheville!

 

 

Lexington Avenue Brewery (LAB) 39 N. Lexington Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828- 252-0212, www.lexavebrew.com; Brewpub Plus, lunch and dinner daily, open late Moderate

 

The owners did this place right. The shiny brass brewpub equipment and 92-feet-long curved bar alone must have cost a fortune. The menu goes beyond the usual bar snacks, with items such as blackened salmon, am12-ounce strip steak and eggplant lasagna. However, you can also order more typical brewpub food, such as beef sliders and a reuben. The house-brewed beer selection is sizeable, and new brewmasters arrived in 2013. There’s also wine and a full bar. Unless the weather’s really bad you can sit in a covered open-air patio area at the front. A soundproofed music stage area is at the back. If it’s late and you’re having too much fun, the same owners have the Sweet Peas upscale hostel upstairs, with access from Rankin Avenue. Parking is available in a private lot across the street from LAB at the intersection of Walnut and N. Lexington, and the Rankin Avenue public garage is about a block behind LAB.

 

 

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 Fig, Zambra and 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, so you might want to come early and try to get a table by the windows at the entrance.

 

Start with one of the appetizers, such as ceviche or fried calamari (both $9). 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 ($11) with fresh ingredients and good quality tequila.

 

Entrees change regularly, but you can’t go wrong with the Angus beef tenderloin ($29), 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 ($25) 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 entrees, one dessert and one coffee, was $120, before our usual generous tip. But definitely worth it.

 

Revisit

Oh, the flavors! Oh, the atmosphere! Oh, the humanity!

 

We've been celebrating birthdays for the past week, including revisiting some of my old favorites, such as Fig Bistro and Ruth's Chris in Biltmore Village. Last night, we went back to Limones and by FAR it was the BEST meal of our birthday week.

 

The only reservation we could get on a Saturday in February was at 5:15, but we grabbed it and didn't mind eating early. We love the atmosphere and ambiance of Limones. You just feel good sitting here.

 

The restaurant is going to be closed for two weeks at the end of February 2016 for remodeling. We hope the main area with its mirrored walls, pressed tin ceiling and funky Mexican masks and such doesn't change too much. I can see that the kitchen and restrooms can use a re-do, though. And I hope they will add some draft beer taps at the bar, as all you can get now are bottles and cans.

 

As usual, we started with Limones' signature margaritas. Two of us had the Caliente ($10), with a berry start and a habanero finish and I had the Blood Orange ($12.50). Wonderful! And a good pour, too. Two of us also had the carrot habanero

 

With drinks we ordered the ceviche sampler ($14) appetizer, last night with corvina, scallops and tuna ceviche. I preferred the corvina but all were good. We also had the brussel sprouts appetizer ($10), which was good but I don't think I'd order it again as an appetizer.

 

For entrees, one in our party had the shrimp "meatballs" ($22), which had an unusual texture but excellent flavor. Two of us chose to go with a pair of small plates as our entree. I had the potato soup with lemon oil and a bit of a kick ($8).  I think this is the best potato soup I've ever had in my life. I could make a whole meal out of it with bread. I also had the Three-Cheese Chile Relleno ($10), which again was full of rich flavors. Another of us had the lobster nachos ($10) and the braised scallops ($11) small plates. The scallops were great. I know how popular the lobster nachos are, but I've never really understood why. There's not much lobster, with individual flavors overwhelmed by the glop of guacamole, sauce and such.

 

Our waitperson, Mathew, who has been at the restaurant for eight years, was extremely knowledgeable.

 

With a total of five margaritas, two appetizers, one Bohemia beer, one entree and four small plates, with tax and tip our meal for three came to around $190. Not a cheap evening out, but well worth the price. Limones remains one of four or five favorite restaurants in Asheville, along with Chestnut, Bull and Beggar and Cúrate. We need to go there more often!

 

 

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. In 2013 Loretta’s opened a downstairs area with espresso bar. 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.

 

 

Modesto 1 Page  Ave. #38, Grove Arcade, 828-225-4133, www.modestonc.com; Italian, open for lunch and dinner daily. Expensive

 

Our meal started fine, with friendly service, a decent pour of Jack and water ($9) and a pretty good Sidecar (but not a bargain at $12.) The Calamari Fritti appetizer, which we shared, had squid that was fried perfectly.

 

But we were very disappointed with our entrees. My companion had heard the Eggplant Parmesan ($17) was excellent.  However, she barely ate a third of it and felt it wasn't good enough to take home. My wood-fire grilled Veal Chop, despite our waitress' recommendation, was one of the worst dishes I have ever had in Asheville. The chop looked huge but was mostly bone and fat, tough, and the delicate veal flavor was overwhelmed by some kind of marinade sauce, I assume balsamic vinegar-based. The brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes under the chop weren't even close to being cooked -- they were hard as bricks.  An awful dish, and grossly overpriced at $28. The recommended wine ("our most popular red," the waitress said) also was overpriced at $13 for an average glass.

 

With one shared appetizer, two mains, a total of two cocktails and one glass of wine, with tax and tip our meal came to about $113.  It makes me mad to pay that much for a third-rate meal in Asheville, where there are so many good restaurants. If you're going to pay this much for a dinner, you deserve more.

 

The narrow main room at Modesto doesn't have much charm, and it was too cold to eat outside. The new hotel construction going on across the street won't help restaurants along Page Avenue, on the east side of the Grove Arcade.

 

We will not be back and do not recommend Modesto at this time. Too bad Hector Diaz has gotten back the vision and hands-on quality he had at Zambra before he sold that.

 

 

Nightbell  32 S Lexington Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-575-0375, www.thenightbell.com; Eclectic/Bar, open for drinks and dinner Wed.-Sun., Moderate to Expensive.

 

Nightbell, owned by the nationally lauded Cúrate folks, opened in February 2014 as an upscale bar but didn't quite make it.  Apparently, it is too hoity-toity to carry Jack Daniels, the favorite drink of Frank Sinatra, who traveled with several cases of this great old Tennessee whisky. Instead, Nightbell serves cocktails like the "Serious Inquiries Only" -- made with Noah's bourbon, Barolo Chinato, Green Chatreuse and barrel-aged bitters (whatever they are) for $20.  No wonder Nightbell couldn't make it as a bar. On our visit, I did end up having a Bulleit Rye, a good 2-oz. drink at a good price ($9).

 

Now Nightbell has become more of a restaurant cum lounge.  Apparently it's doing better.

 

The second-floor space on South Lexington, sort of behind Cúrate, up a fairly steep flight of stairs, is interesting in a brick-walled warehouse kind of way.

 

 

 

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., hours may expand in-season Moderate to Expensive

 

Posana Cafe has a prime location on Pack Square, serving what Chef Peter Pollay calls Contemporary American cuisine, with mostly locally sourced ingredients. Your meal might start with hemp salad ($8), with hemp seeds and hemp oil on local greens. Your entree could be pecan-crusted local farm-raised trout ($21) or organic flank steak with pommes frites ($18) and end butterscotch cheesecake ($7). At dinner, small plates are $12 to $15 and entrees $17 to $23. Full bar. When Posana was open for lunch, we heard some complaints about the tiny portions.

 

 

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.

 

 

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. Diaz, originally from Puerto Rico, also operates Chorizo and Modesto at the Grove Arcade (neither of these is highly recommended, however). 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.

 

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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

Tastee Diner, West Asheville – world-class country ham biscuits (still $2.50) in a friendly, blue-collar atmosphere(closed weekends)

Early Girl, Downtown Asheville – farm-to-table breakfasts

Biscuit Head, West Asheville and South near Mission Hospitals– 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

Bojangles -- best fast-food biscuits around, Cajun Chicken Filet Biscuit recommended

 

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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 $9 to $14, with some of the dinner specials as much as $21. 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, lunch and dinner Mon. and Wed.-Sat, brunch and dinner on Sun., closed Tue. 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. Table has been open Downtown since 2005. In 2012, it debuted a swank new “grown up” bar on the second floor. The Imperial Life Bar serves craft cocktails, small batch spirits and a small plate menu. The main Table menu is a fairly short one, but it 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 ($32) to roast quail with cauliflower ($26) to striped bass with mashed turnips ($28). With appetizers, drinks or wine, entrees and desserts, plus tax and tip, you’re easily going to spend close to $100 per person. Lunch is more affordable, with sandwiches and entrees from around $9 to $14. In 2013, 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., and in Johnson City and Knoxville, Tenn.

 

 

Vortex Doughnuts 32 Banks Ave., South Slope, Downtown, 828-552-3010, www.vortexdoughnuts.com; Doughnuts, Mon.-Thu. 7-4, Fri.-Sun. 7-7 Inexpensive to Moderate

 

Vortex doughnuts are okay. Prices are outrageous.

 

We did a dozen for takeout (a baker's dozen, true), one each of most of what Vortex had at the time, and the total was around $28. Six of us sampled the doughnuts and without exception the reaction was "what's so special?"

 

We do get that most people just come in for a coffee or tea and a donut, and you expect to pay five bucks or more at a pastry place or a specialty coffee shop. Okay, so do that. But go to Dunkin'  or a supermarket for a dozen.

 

We also think it's kinda sad that a place that boasts being local sells out-of-state specialty coffee, from Georgia. There are good local roasters here. An Asheville bar or restaurant would be ashamed to have nothing but out-of-state craft beer on tap, but restaurants seem to think it's okay to serve non-local coffee.

 

 

Wicked Weed Brewing 91 Biltmore Ave., Downtown Asheville, 828-575-9599, www.wickedweedbrewing.com; Brewpub, lunch and dinner daily, tasting room downstairs opens mid-afternoon 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, with the tasting room and brewery downstairs. The exterior looks great, too.

The upstairs restaurant serves mostly pub food with a twist, deals like a fried chicken sandwich with kimchi and fish and chips with brussels sprouts, but after 4 pm the Weed has more real restaurant stuff, such as Sunburst trout, a grilled strip steak with fries and a pork chop with hash. Full meals are around $18.

 

Our calamari appetizer with romesco and coriander ($9) was a clue that this place has its act together – the squid was nicely fried, not heavy or greasy. The Wicked Weed’s classic cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles and mayo on a toasted bun is one of the better ones in town, and a real bargain with loads of shoestring fries for just $7.50.

With a flight of six four-ounce Wicked Weed beers ($9) and two 16-ounce full pours, a porter and an ale,  ($4.25 each), our bill came to $45 before our usual generous tip.  Sure can't complain about the prices!  Service was very good, friendly and prompt. Wicked Weed tends to stay busy, even at off-peak times. The noise level is energetic but not painful.

 

 

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.

 

One evening we started with cocktails, and we love that Old Overholt rye is just $5.  It’s tough to decide what are the best tapas -- possibly the braised pork spring rolls ($7.50), the trout ($10.50) or the beef heart ($7.50). The patatas bravas (crispy potatoes with a tomato sauce, $3.50) 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.

Lex 18

All content copyright © Lan Sluder except selected photographs used by permission and brief quotations or other fair use text, which are owned by the copyright holder.

We have made every effort to confirm the accuracy of information on this website, and in the Amazing Asheville book and ebooks, but travel information is subject to frequent change, and no warranty is made, express or implied. Please notify us of any errors or omissions, and we will attempt to correct them as soon as possible. All opinions expressed are those of the author, Lan Sluder, unless otherwise noted.