Perched in Western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is steeped in equal parts artsy innovation and Appalachian tradition. Drawing inspiration and ingredients from its lushly forested, river-veined landscape and a confluence of indigenous, African diaspora, and immigrant cultures, this city of under 100,000 people dishes up a flavor as complex and vibrant as its heritage.
Wild ingredients like ramps and mushrooms foraged in the mountains for thousands of years by Western North Carolina’s original land stewards, the Cherokee, mingle today on local menus with endless variations on Southern Appalachian staples such as cornbread, pole beans, apple butter, pork belly, sorghum, and other staples that comprised the Southern Appalachian diet. Local chefs take pride in maintaining time-honored mountain cooking practices like pickling, fermenting, smoking, and drying alongside cutting-edge culinary techniques. Paired with the deep collaborative relationships restaurants nurture with the region’s thriving community of small, family-owned farms, the end result is food with an unmistakably delicious Asheville terroir.
Welcome to Asheville
Visitors should plan on a meal at one of the many local restaurants featuring Southern Appalachian fare, such as the city’s 40-plus-year-old original farm-to-table spot, the Market Place, or the Affrilachian-focused Benne on Eagle. Beer and cider drinkers who want to experience why Asheville is dubbed “Beer City” should plan at least one stop at a local brewery — or even a mini brewery crawl. On weekends, brunch is the most important meal of the day and is the perfect reward after morning yoga in the park or prelude to an afternoon hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
For must-try dishes, visit 12 Bones Smokehouse for barbecued ribs and cornbread famously craved by Barack and Michelle Obama, Sunny Point Cafe for shrimp and grits, Cúrate for jamon iberico, and Copper Crown for buffalo fried green tomatoes with pan-roasted Western North Carolina trout.
Where to Start: Eater Carolina’s Best Maps
Eater maps are an ideal resource for finding top restaurants, bars, and cuisines in Asheville. Below, here are some points from popular maps to help visitors get started.
Essential Restaurants: If 18 Essential Restaurants are too many to choose from and if you’re planning ahead, book a sought-after reservation for Filipinx fare at new national darling Neng Jr.’s and get set for one of Asheville’s most extraordinary dining experiences.
Hot Restaurants: Consult this map to check out what the buzz is about at some of the city’s hottest spots, like Little D’s.
Beer: When narrowing down the list of Asheville breweries to visit, downtown beer drinkers should be sure to swing by Dssolvr. For a secluded riverside beer getaway not far from Biltmore Village, Cursus Keme is the perfect choice.
Pizza: Asheville’s pizza options run the gamut from the artful pies at Contrada to New York-style slices at Manicomio.
Cocktails: Upstairs from a downtown deli, Imperiál has long been one of the city’s favorite craft cocktail watering holes. This map leads to plenty of other spirited destinations for those in the mood for a bar crawl.
Brunch: Why get up early for breakfast when you can linger over Asheville’s favorite laid-back weekend meal, brunch? For a buffet with mimosas and a side of fabulosity, show up at noon on Sundays for Asheville Beauty Academy’s beloved Life’s a Drag brunch.
Food Neighborhoods to Know
These are the key areas of the city every self-proclaimed food person needs to get acquainted with — complete with what to eat and drink in each.
Asheville’s compact downtown, filled with galleries, historic Art Deco and Beaux Arts architecture, buskers, and occasional sightings of the bright purple LaZoom comedy tour bus (sometimes joined by the city’s mascot nun Sister Bad Habit riding a unicycle), makes for a pleasant and entertaining walking experience. Dozens of restaurants, cocktail and wine bars, coffee shops, and breweries nestle together within about one square mile surrounding Pack Square Park.
If the wait is too long for breakfast at local farm-to-table pioneer Early Girl Eatery, a short stroll down Wall Street to the iconic Flat Iron sculpture (aka the “Big Iron”) then down the hill on College Street leads to the Med, which has been cranking out diner classics since 1969. A leisurely Spanish lunch at Cúrate’s sister cafe La Bodega by Cúrate can be followed by a fresh pastry and coffee from Lexington Avenue neighbor the Rhu. For dinner, grab a woodfired pizza, antipasti, or handmade pasta at Italian spot Cucina 24. A craft cocktail at Top of the Monk rooftop bar comes with a stunning view of downtown and the surrounding mountains, but beer and seltzer lovers can always go downstairs to visit Thirsty Monk Brewery’s Holy Water Hard Seltzer Brewpub and Delirium Bar on lower levels of the building.
One of Asheville’s newest hot spots, South Slope was largely a collection of derelict warehouses and faded business buildings until about a decade ago when locals gave it its current moniker. Innovative chefs and entrepreneurs renovated the historic structures, making a visit to South Slope a terrific opportunity to learn a bit about the city’s past. Just a few blocks south of downtown, the neighborhood teems with breweries and distilleries, making it Asheville’s de facto brewery district.
Start the day off on a sweet note at Vortex Doughnuts, then take a leisurely art crawl to lunch, grabbing doses of beauty and inspiration — plus plenty of selfie opportunities — from the neighborhood’s numerous brightly colored murals. There are several of these public art pieces near Latin American cafe Little Chango, where arepas and yucca fries on the patio make for a hearty midday meal. For a glass of prosecco and a classic French jambon beurre on a freshly baked baguette, Mother is the place to go. Sip a late-afternoon Surf Wax IPA at one of the Slope’s original breweries, Burial Beer Co., and marvel at the latest oddities inside the taproom’s amusingly random toy and art vending machine. For dinner, head around the corner to the stunning, plant-filled dining room at Cultura. Afterward, if you still have the energy, amble down the street for a nightcap at the early 1900s apothecary-themed Antidote cocktail bar.
With an identity and character distinctly its own, visitors may be surprised to learn that 20 years or so ago, West Asheville was referred to by many locals as “Worst Asheville.” But the neighborhood has a rich past, beginning with the discovery of a sulfur spring in the early 1800s followed by construction of a trolley line that eventually morphed into one of West Asheville’s main thoroughfares, Haywood Road. Today, a charming mix of hilly, historic residential areas and quirky independent businesses make it a perfect spot for a day of sightseeing, dining, and drinking.
Embrace the flavor of the offbeat neighborhood by starting the day off with breakfast at Tastee Diner, an old-school diner from the 1940s recently zhuzhed up with eclectic punk-rock flair by chef Steven Goff. For lunch, head to West Asheville’s other main artery, Patton Avenue, for a shawarma wrap and Lebanese fries at Gypsy Queen Cuisine. Back on Haywood, the West End is a nice place to stop for a cup of coffee and freshly made pastry, or for Asian tea and a gluten-free snack, visit Dobra Tea. Dinner could be a casual spread of Indian street food at Chai Pani’s newest Botiwalla location or an assortment of small plates and wine at Leo’s House of Thirst. But for a more upscale affair with top-notch cocktails, make reservations at Jargon.
River Arts District
Sandwiched between downtown and West Asheville, the River Arts District was once home to warehouses, mills, stockyards, and tanneries, but is now the central nexus for the arts in a generally artsy town. Sprinkled liberally among the art studios and performance spaces are an assortment of coffee shops, bars, breweries, and restaurants.
Asheville’s first Black-owned coffee bar, Grind AVL is also a co-working space and a nice spot to plug in the laptop for a work check-in over an espresso or latte. For something more filling, Ultra Coffee Bar serves a full breakfast menu with cold brew coffee on tap. Eat lunch al fresco (or indoors) next to the French Broad River at White Duck Taco Shop then wander along the greenway and across the river to New Belgium Brewing Co.’s spacious Liquid Center taproom for a pint or two. If wine is the beverage of choice, Bottle Riot has it in spades, with an easy hop next door for dinner in the Bull & Beggar’s beautiful, high-ceilinged dining room. If there’s still room for a nightcap, stop by mezcal bar Anoche.
Constructed in the late 1800s and early 1900s by millionaire George Vanderbilt as an early mixed-use community to house the people who built and staffed his sprawling Biltmore Estate, Biltmore Village was designed to look like a quaint English town. Today, the walkable neighborhood of charming historic buildings is a lively, popular shopping and dining destination. Visitors staying near the Estate can leave their car parked at the hotel and spend the day lazily drifting on foot from shop to gallery to restaurant. Those with accommodations downtown will find it a short two-mile drive to the heart of the Village.
Start any day of the week off right with brunch at long-time Biltmore Village staple Corner Kitchen. After stopping by the Village’s grand, Art Deco former bank building to browse the huge selection of Southern Appalachian arts and crafts at the Southern Highland Craft Guild shop, pop next door to the laid-back Village Wayside for lunch in the neighborhood’s 1896 passenger train depot. On the southern outskirts of the Village, French Broad River Brewery will satisfy any beer cravings, then head to Andaaz for some of Asheville’s best Indian food and cocktails.
Just north of downtown lies a swath of residential areas encompassing the Montford Historic District and the University of North Carolina-Asheville, all the way to the Omni Grove Park Inn. Here, between the busy thoroughfares of Montford Avenue, Merrimon Avenue, and Charlotte Street, stately mansions rub shoulders with more modest bungalows along tree-lined streets, while hybrid cars jockey for parking spaces at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
True to its name, All Day Darling in Montford can start you off with coffee and a breakfast bowl at the crack of dawn then turn tuck you in at the end of the evening with a glass of wine. Make an early pass through the drive-thru at Taco Temple for breakfast tacos on the run, or stop by the outdoor window or indoor counter at lunch for tinga or birria tacos and horchata. If you’re in the mood for a slower, more upscale type of afternoon meal, it’s worth taking the time to track down Eldr’s fairytale stone building among the winding lanes around the Omni Grove Park Inn for some pastas, local meats, and seasonal veggies. In the evening, head to Plant for a dinner menu of impeccable vegan fare, or try to get a table at popular newcomer Tall John’s. Little Jumbo is a sweet spot to close out the day with craft cocktails, including some offered with fancy table service.
Asheville Glossary of Terms
Originally the tasty result of Southern Appalachian mountain folks’ resourcefulness, chow chow is a tangy, pickled relish traditionally made from the summer and fall garden harvest. Finely chopped green tomatoes, onions, cabbage, and bell peppers are all likely ingredients, although recipes vary according to the chef and their garden. Chow chow is the perfect accompaniment to cornbread and pinto beans or black-eyed peas and is so integral to the cuisine of the region that Asheville’s premier culinary festival bears its name.
Kentucky writer Frank X Walker coined the term “Affrilachia” in the 1990s as a way of highlighting Black culture in the Appalachian region. Affrilachian cuisine often features pickled, dried, or fermented foods and ingredients that were historically grown and used by families in Appalachia, including beans, corn, okra, collard greens, sweet potatoes, cabbage, and sorghum. Downtown Asheville restaurant Benne on Eagle features many Affrilachian flavors on its menu, paying homage to the people and vibrant culture of its historically Black neighborhood, the Block.
Asheville native Hanan Shabazz owned a restaurant in the 1970s in the city’s historic Black community, the Block, then went on to mentor and train generations of chefs and home cooks in the traditions of soul food and Affrilachian foodways. She guided chef John Fleer in the opening of Benne on Eagle and was honored by the Southern Foodways Alliance as the 2020 Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame.
A traditional food of the Cherokee, ramps are wild alliums that grow prolifically in the mountains around Asheville — and are eagerly foraged by local food lovers — in March and April. With a pungent flavor that’s like a mix of leeks, garlic, and spring onions, they herald spring in Western North Carolina with their annual debut at tailgate markets and on restaurant menus.
Restaurateur Meherwan Irani opened Asheville staple Chai Pani in 2009 and has expanded his Indian food empire ever since. He recently opened Botiwalla in West Asheville, but he and his team also have outposts in Charlotte and Atlanta. In 2022, Chai Pani was awarded Outstanding Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation.
Native to North America’s west coast, rainbow trout were brought to North Carolina in the late 1800s by logging companies to restock streams damaged by their activity. From there, commercial trout farming evolved as trout gained in popularity as a local food item. Now up to five million pounds of trout are produced each year in Western North Carolina, making it the fish of choice on many Asheville menus.
After kicking off her culinary career in José Andrés’s now-shuttered restaurant Café Atlantico, Katie Button went on to work at the world-famous elBulli in Spain, Jean-Georges in New York, and the Bazaar in Los Angeles before settling in Asheville to open the James Beard Award-winning Cúrate in 2011. She has since opened a number of popular restaurants, including the most recent, La Bodega by Cúrate. A major driver of Asheville’s restaurant community, Button co-founded the Chow Chow culinary festival and is the host of the Magnolia Network television program From the Source.
A culinary legacy of Western North Carolina’s German immigrants from the 1700s, livermush is cooked, ground pig liver and head parts mixed with cornmeal and spices, shaped into a loaf, and then refrigerated. After being sliced and fried, it’s often served for breakfast with grits and eggs or on a sandwich for lunch. It can be sought out at some small, local diners, and the town of Marion, just outside of Asheville hosts its own Livermush Festival annually in early June.
Known as one of the trailblazers of Western North Carolina’s local food movement, Mark Rosenstein opened Asheville’s original farm-to-table restaurant the Market Place in 1979. Since passing the Market Place torch to chef William Dissen in 2009, Rosenstein has continued to influence Asheville’s restaurant scene through consulting and food-centric nonprofit efforts.
John Fleer honed his Southern and Appalachian cooking skills for well over a decade as executive chef of Blackberry Farm in Tennessee before relocating to Western North Carolina in 2009 to help open Canyon Kitchen in Cashiers. In 2013, Fleer opened Rhubarb in downtown Asheville, followed later by the Rhu. He worked with the Foundry Hotel to open Benne on Eagle with the collaboration of chef Hanan Shabazz then left that partnership in 2023.
Reservations to Make in Advance
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