Asheville - 3 Questions
- LPM Aug 16, 2006 10:03 PM
(1) What do Asheville chowhounds consider the best restaurants in town?
(2) Can you get good sushi?
(3) Do you have decent grocery stores selling quality produce, meat and fish, cheeses, etc.?
I may be moving. Thanks.
1. by best do you mean fine dining? if yes I'd say Gabrielle's at Richmond hill Inn, Fig in Biltmore Village or 28806 in West Asheville
2. Yes - Zen or Wasabi
3. We have Ingles, Earthfare, Fresh Market...all carry organic, high end meats and cheeses. For best of Ingles its either Merrimon Ave or Long Shoals.
best restaurants = salsa, limones, 28806, sunny point, tomato cocina... there are more; greater detail on what you're looking for would help us give recs (for instance, we have decent thai, but not so good chinese, and no vietnamese). i know it's irritating to get this reply, but a search will turn up quite a variety of posts on asheville.
good sushi? yes. great sushi? no! i prefer zen sushi; they aren't quite so creative with roll combos, but i think they have the freshest fish & demonstrate the most consistent skill. (you will get better stuff if you know the proper names for things, rather than the americanized names. for instance, their menu lists "sushi" instead of nigiri; if you ask for nigiri, you'll get better fish with more attention to the composition.)
i've found wasabi to be very inconsistent. sometimes it's very good, but i've also been served some of the worst presented and least skillfully prepared sushi there. there's a certain element of being downtown and seeing and being seen at wasabi, which to a degree accounts for it's popularity, and serves as a substitute for quality. i strongly suggest just ordering a couple pieces of nigiri first to determine if they're on their game any given day/night.
heiwa is fairly creative with their rolls, but the quality of the fish is less than that of zen or wasabi.
sushi in asheville takes a pretty steep nose dive from there.
food shopping can be problematic (my point of reference is detroit, where i grew up; they have large polish, pan-arab, and italian, which i am, communities, among many others, and plenty of places cater to them). greenlife, earth fare and harris teeter are fairly consistent, but variety is an issue, and they can be pricey. ingles and bi-lo are ok, but stores vary greatly (some are really nasty), and you won't find anything exotic at either. excepting latin/mexican ingredients, ethnic stuff is hard to find here; mail-order is your friend. there's one pretty good asian grocer, and eastern european is represented, but i don't know how well as i'm not familiar enough with the cuisines. asheville sucks as far as meat is concerned; you'll get the occasional good cut, but it's very hit-or-miss, and doesn't even rival a mediocre butcher. larger cuts are easier to find than smaller ones; don't hold your breath for a properly butchered steak. common cheeses aren't hard to find, and the ference cheese shop out towards weaverville has a good variety of less common stuff. fish availibity isn't great; you can get decent tuna and other common fish at a variety of places, but less popular stuff will have to be procured through one of the few fish mongers, and they aren't very conveniently located (they don't have the greatest variety, but most will special order for you; make sure to check when they get deliveries, some have just one a week). good-quality, usual-suspect-type produce isn't hard to find, but more exotic stuff is. there are zero ethnic produce markets. on the plus side, asheville is a fantastic beer town with multiple breweries and good distribution of most local and other craft/micro brews. wine & spirits can be found, with better selection of the former, but they're pricey & heavily taxed; you're best off stocking up in south carolina. in short, you can usually find what you need, but it will require trips to multiple stores. i've lived here for nearly 20 years, and have learned to adjust by eating less home-made ethnic since ingredient availability is poor/inconsistent (although it has definitely improved over the years).
Mark is always a good resource...Salsa's would be the best of casual funky Carribbean/Mexican/Island fare. Limones sets a pretty high bar as well for nice upscale dining. Cocina Latina/Tomato is pretty casual and simple Salvadorean fare - inexpensive and good though.
the west side has a concentration of latin/mexican markets. it's also home to the only asian market and the eastern european markets. of course you can never have it all in that the fish markets are on the east side. the west side is also close to the farmer's market, although only the north side is really far from there. getting up to weaverville, which is to the north, for the cheese shop isn't difficult from the west or north sides.
of the larger grocers, earth fare is on the west side (i think they have a location on the south side, too; not sure 'cause i don't go to the south side often as it has a lot of traffic issues and has seen a recent boom in chain retail & restaurant development). greenlife is near downtown. ingles is a good-size chain, and has stores all over; as noted above, though, quality of any individual store is questionable. harris teeter is on the southeast side. all sections of town have seasonal, small farmer's markets.
local brews are widely available at locally owned bars/restaurants, although tracking down a favorite can be dicey. even some chains stock some of the more popular locals. some beers are available only on tap or in refillable containers at the brewery. bottled local beers are fairly well distributed to local grocers. greenlife (downtown), earth fare (west & south) and world market (south side) are good for more common wines and have ok prices. the wine guy (east side, might be another location) is good for harder to find stuff. i think there's a wine merchant downtown, too. abc stores, state run liquor stores, are in all parts of town, although it's difficult to find anything other than run-of-mill stuff.
all parts of town have their high and low points. the west side, where i live and therefore know the best, is home to young families, singles & dinks. housing costs are lower. it's a little funkier and eclectic, and home to many community-oriented, you-can-make-a-difference types. there's a small but decent food scene w/ sunny point, 28806, tomato cocina leading the way. there's an ok bar scene w/ westville at the fore, followed by lucky otter and several watering holes. it's also a very walkable area of town. on the downside, our ingles are among the worst, and we have the highest crime rate.
the north side is home to older money and the less ostentatious nouveau riche. it's also home to unca, so you have a lot of students there, although their average age skews north. decent restaurants are marco's pizza, noi's, zen sushi; i'm sure there are others i'm forgetting. the usual suspects, charlotte street grill, and asheville pizza & brewing are decent bars; the latter is also a $2 second-run movie house. drawbacks are expensive housing, traffic, and poorly-planned growth.
the northeast side is where the mall is, so lots of chains & tourists. there's a really good ice cream shop, the name of which slips my mind at the moment, and sorrento's is another good place to eat. drawbacks = traffic, chains, tourists, crowded, over development.
the east side is a paradox. it consists largely of pockets of the very well off and the fairly poor. also home to the biltmore estate, so lots of tourists. i don't eat in that area often as, in my opinion, places tend to be more expensive due to the tourist trade, and the quality is not equal to the cost. about the only place i go over there is texas roadhouse when i'm in the mood for ribs, don't have time to make my own, and can tolerate the atmosphere (which isn't a combination that occurs often). drawbacks are very expensive housing, pockets of poverty, tourists and traffic.
the south/southeast side is home to the keeping-up-with-the-jones nouveau riche and lots of expansion. the area has seen a huge amount of very poorly planned growth with lots of chain retail and restaurants. i know i unfairly give short shrift to that side of town, but much like the mall area on the northeast side, i find the negatives heavily outweigh the pluses and rarely venture over there. i'm sure there are some decent eateries and bars, but i haven't a clue. drawbacks, which are about all i'm qualified to discuss for that area, are very expensive and often shoddily built housing, bad traffic, over development, too many chains.
downtown is home to the greatest density of restaurants and bars. it's highly walkable, and fairly safe. local government and developers are doing what they can to gentrify it as quickly as possible, but there's still a good deal left of what makes asheville special. drawbacks are expensive housing or sordid housing if you want the cheap stuff. there are a lot of tourons downtown. parking is an issue if you don't know the area well.
obviously, i've given you very small snapshots of each area. asheville as a whole is pretty eclectic, and you'll find a wide range of people in all areas. asheville has seen a lot of growth over the past two decades (and is forecast to see an explosion in the next one), but it has usually been poorly planned, and the infrastructure is severely lacking to accomodate it. on the plus side, there's quite a bit of community-oriented activity, especially on the west and north sides and downtown. there are many free outdoor events in various parts of the city, especially during the warmer months. it's a pretty small town, and while i bitch about traffic, and we do have some pretty major issues, it isn't that bad if you know when and where to go to avoid it; it's just a pet peeve of mine, much like the tourists who are also fairly easily avoided.
Where is the Eastern European market in W. A'ville and do you remember its name?? I've been in Hendersonville for two and a half years and I didn't realize there was one up there. I'd love to seek it out. Thanks
I'd just like to add a few more recs. to Mark's usual spot-on list:
Rosetta's Kitchen & The Laughing Seed for funky vegan/vegetarian lunch fare (both also have al fresco dining options).
Doc Chey's (a small area chain) for fast, fresh, cheap Asian.
Tupelo Honey & The Early Girl Eatery for nuevo Southern cuisine featuring fresh, local ingredients.(Excellent breakfast dishes, esp.)
One caveat re local grocery shopping: I would AVOID Ingles for anything other than beer, wine, and pre-packaged foods. (They have begun offering more organic options of late, however.)
The European Market is next to Jersey Mike's behind Sonic's on Patton. Even though I am a bit biased I think saying "avoid Ingles" is a bit harsh. Lots of organic options - same as what Earthfare has but less expensive. Good to excellent produce and the Merrimon ave store is where I usually buy seafood.
there may also be another european market on n louisiana, unless they moved to the location by jersey mike's, in which case they're one and the same. if it is still there, it would be on the left if heading north from patton, just past cashwell's appliance parts in a little strip of stores/offices.
i, too, think avoiding ingles is a little harsh. if you figure out when they restock you can get some good produce; i especially like the bundles of fresh herbs they're selling now. these herbs are in better condition, much cheaper, and last longer than the "fresh" ones sold in the plastic clamshell containers that seem to turn brown the second air hits them. i think the herbs are even organic. ingles biggest downfalls are the meat and deli departments and the abominably bad fish/seafood. unless you're exclusively a fan of small roasts or ground meats, ingles meat selection leaves a ton to be desired. the quality of the meats and cheeses in their deli is also poor; what i would give for boar's head without having to traipse across town. the fish? i don't understand why they even stock it, it's that bad (possibly the merrimon store is an exception). ingles does have pretty good prices on wine; not much selection, but what they have is reasonable, often on sale, and i think they give a half case discount (even if it's mixed bottles). basically, with a little observation and strategy ingles is acceptable; it's not a place to just run in and expect to be able get what you need when you need it.
leah, may i ask why you're biased about ingles?
1. Salsa, Zambra, Sunny Point, Fig
2. I never have, but I haven't tried REAL hard
3. I can't understand why there's not been more talk of Greenlife. We drive up from Greenville to shop there. We used to do that for EArth FAre, but I haven't walked in there since Greenlife opened. (actually, we don't run up to Greenlife nearly as often since Whole Foods opened in Greenville this spring) I think it's by far the best food shopping in Asheville. Gourmet/organic. I can't speak for the seafood, but the bread,meat,produce, cheese, chocolate, dairly selections are good.
Otherwise, the real treats in Asehville are the tailgate markets...one at Greenlife, one at the Coop on Biltmore, one in a parking lot not far from Greenlife (north side). Beautiful organic produce hand-nurtured by hippies. You just can't get that in Greenville ;-)
Fairness compels me to add that I've never shopped at any of the Buncombe County Ingles. The ones in Henderson COunty, however, are horrid, esp. the meat and seafood.
And I would agree with Danna about Greenlife grocery. For a store that is roughly half the size of your average Whole Foods market, the quality and selection is pretty great. They have the best beer and wine selection of any small market I've ever visited anywhere--and helpful hippies to assist you in finding anything your little heart desires.
One more restaurant to consider if you like Thai food - Thai Cuisine Express on Patton Ave. in W. Asheville. I live near Noi's on the northside but after having a completely bland Pad Thai, I've never been back. Thai Cuisine Express, on the other hand, serves very tasty curries (try the panang). The place is a bit of a dive with only 3-4 tables, but it is some of the best take-out in town.
An alternative for good meat is to just buy directly from a farmer. There are several local food guides and, if you have a chest freezer, you can get good quality organic meat straight from the farm.
i have to agree with you leah. thai express was very good when they opened and for a few months thereafter. however, on my last two visits, the food was swimming in so much oil that i couldn't eat it. gave up on them after the 2nd oil-saturated meal. it's been a while, so maybe they changed, but i doubt i'll check it out any time soon.