At just over three hours away, Asheville makes for a great food getaway. Avoid the interstate and take the more scenic mountain road Highway 23 through the Chattahoochee and Nantahala National Forests to get there. Long a bastion of farm-first cooking reflective of its hippie scene, the North Carolina city has diversified in recent years, becoming an even richer dining destination as well as the East Coast epicenter of the craft-brew movement. Here are 14 can’t-miss spots for your next trip.
Providing West Asheville with a daily global menu, the Admiral has a deceptively divey exterior — just a modest cinder block building — that hides its innovative culinary delights. A bevy of artful small plates allows for sharing and sampling, complementing the on-point New American entrees.
400 Haywood Rd.; 828-252-2541
This homage to the iconic Southern baked good has two locations in town, and a more recently opened Greenville, South Carolina, outpost. Order a hefty biscuit (gluten-free available too!), then select from one of seven varieties of gravy. You can also opt for a sampling from the jelly bar. Hungrier? Go for a meat- or veggie-laden biscuit sandwich.
The Bull and Beggar
Tucked away in Asheville’s River Arts District, this bi-level, industrial-chic New American offers an eclectic menu highlighting regional ingredients. A raw bar turns out an extensive selection of regional oysters, while local cheeses and charcuterie make for a fine opening to a meal, or just a good reason to stop in for a snack and cocktail at the U-shaped bar overlooking the train tracks. A popular burger's available Monday nights, and remains off-menu the rest of the week but available after 9 PM.
37 Paynes Way; 828-575-9443
Atlanta fans of Decatur’s Chai Pani should check out the original here in Asheville. You won’t find the bright colors and pop decor to the same degree as in ATL, but the food’s just as flavorful, drawing on a number of styles of Indian street food.
22 Battery Park Ave.; 828-254-4003
Spanish cuisine has been hot in Atlanta for awhile, but it’s just as popular in Asheville. From cheeses and cured meats to grilled and fried bites, this tapas bar highlights time-honored fare paired with an array of the region's wines, beers and specialty drinks. An open kitchen adds to the warm, bustling vibe in a narrow, cocoa-hued space — once a 1920s bus depot — and watch for an expansion to come in the next year.
11 Biltmore Ave.; 828-239-2946
Gan Shan Station
Chef Patrick O’Cain spent time cooking in top Charleston spots (McCrady’s, Xiao Bao Biscuit) before recently returning to his native Asheville to renovate an old gas station into an East Asian eatery with an open kitchen and verdant patio. Ingredients come from local farms, but the wide-ranging dishes (coconut squash soup, Sichuan beef, various rice bowls) draw on traditions further afield, from Singapore to China, Vietnam and Japan.
143 Charlotte St.; 828-774-5280
Caroline Whatley hand-shapes her donuts and fries them to order, creating a hot, crisp, fluffy and packed-with-personality treat that's an argument against the conveyor-belt sameness of most others. Flavors like vanilla glazed and toasted almond sesame cinnamon are always on the menu, while seasonal specials change weekly (keep an eye out for rosemary bourbon, for instance). Local coffees and teas complement the sweets.
168 Haywood Road; 828-774-5667
Atlanta visitors to Asheville should make it a point to swing by Local Provisions. They may recognize the hand of executive chef Justin Burdett, who previously cooked at Miller Union and at 5 & 10 in Athens. His way with regional produce and inventive yet identifiably Southern dishes should come as no surprise given that pedigree. The spacious restaurant is only a stone's throw from a number of Asheville's breweries and bars.
77 Biltmore Ave.; 828-424-7815
In a city with lots of vegetarian choices, chef Jason Sellers’ eatery stands out. The 100% vegan restaurant uses seasonal ingredients in thoughtful combinations, drawing on a diverse array of culinary traditions — from European to Southeast Asian.
165 Merrion Ave.; 828-258-7500
Rezaz Mediterranean Cuisine
Drawing from across the spectrum of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking, this Asheville spot wows with flavorful bites and vibrant presentations. You’ll find influences from Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Italy and Lebanon, among others, which really shine in the five-course tasting menu at the chef’s table.
28 Hendersonville Rd.; 828-277-1510
Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack
You may be in North Carolina, but Rocky’s nods to its western neighbors with its rendition of Nashville-style hot chicken. Can’t handle the peppery heat? Don’t worry, the fried chicken’s default setting is “plain,” but you can upgrade all the way to the just-for-the-bold XX Hot. Soul food, BBQ and sides round out the menu. Both branches also offer daily specials.
A new patio and expanded dining options have added fresh energy to this already lively Downtown looker. New chef Graham House brings significant focus to local ingredients and purveyors, often hosting farmers and foragers to discuss their contributions. Brunch has become a particular draw recently, with crowds clamoring in the narrow, high-ceilinged space for quality cocktails, baked goods and breakfast sandwiches.
29 N. Market St.; 828-919-9518
Tupelo Honey Cafe
This is one of Asheville’s most visited restaurants, for good reason. The Downtown spot and its multiple spin-offs turn out comforting, accessible Southern fare and all-day breakfast items, such as grits, biscuits, omelets, scrambles and a can’t-miss sweet potato pancake topped with spiced pecans and a to-die-for whipped peach butter. Since opening Downtown in 2000, the restaurant's added a Southside iteration as well as numerous regional branches — one opened in Atlanta's Sandy Springs in 2016, though it's more polished than the funky original.
White Duck Taco Shop
There’s nothing fancy about the digs at this counter-serve taqueria, but that hasn’t stopped people from lining up out the door for the globally inspired cuisine. Tacos veer traditionally Mexican, sure, but also incorporate Korean, Thai, Greek and American flavors. White Duck’s growing quickly, having opened South Carolina and Tennessee locations to complement the two Asheville spots, and there are still more to come.