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18 hours in Asheville


We're stopping in Asheville for an evening and morning on our way to a mountain rental, and I'm looking for dinner recommendations. We'll be arriving on a Saturday after a 9 or 10 hour drive, dropping off our stuff and freshening up at the Renaissance, and wanting to stay away from our car until Sunday. I'm typically an ovo-lacto vegetarian (I fail on Thanksgiving and Christmas), but I don't need to be at a vegetarian restaurant. I do, however, get annoyed when I'm at an outstanding restaurant that has only mediocre vegetarian entrees.

I have Salsas and Zambras on our list of possibilities for Saturday dinner. I can't find a website or menu for Salsas, so I don't know if it has good options for me. Would love more info on that. My understanding from this site is that it is a fairly casual place, which will be nice after a long drive. Please correct if wrong.
As for Zambras, there were posts earlier this year indicating that the quality was sliding. Is that still the general consensus from folks on this board? Any other recs for road weary diners in search of good food? Also, any recs for an after dinner spot for drinks and/or dessert, preferably with live jazz?

We're also looking for a brunch spot for Sunday. We're considering either Tupelo Honey or Early Girl Eatery. We had dinner last year at Tupelo Honey, loved it. We haven't been to Early Girl. Early Girl seems to get mixed reviews, but would you recommend it for someone who has already tried out Tupelo? Any other Sunday brunch recs?

One of these years we'll give Asheville more than stopover status. Until then, we'll just keep slowly sampling spots on our yearly treks down south.

Thanks for any advice...

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  1. We had tapas at Zambra's at the bar the other night. I'm still in the "so-so" frame of mind about it. You should find plenty of ovo-veg options at Salsa's but Rosetta's kitchen is quite close to your hotel and is vegetarian. You may also want to check into Mela's (Indian - high end). Some of my friends had dinner at Mayfel's - close to Tupelo HOney and were quite impressed at the quality and price. They also do breakfast. Late nite music I'd probably say Tressa's but there are always lots of options....Barley's, Jack of the Wood...though they wouldn't have jazz.
    Other places worth thinking about Limones for dinner or brunch, Bouchon (French) for a drink at the bar and maybe dinner....

    1. Salsa always has a number of vegetarian entrees. Usually one on the specials list (which I recommend) , as well as others on the regular menu.

      Zambra HAS slipped, but is still one of the best places in town. From it's heights, it had a long way to fall, IMO.

      1. I like The Early Girl Eatery, esp. for breakfast, and there are several vegetarian options, including some of the best stone-ground grits I've ever had and an interesting Vegan breakfast sausage. Great fresh-squeezed juices and local mixed-berry jam, too.

        And I second the Salsa rec. It is on my personal shortlist of Asheville's Best.

        1. Definitely agree with Salsa. We had lunch at Jerusalem Garden a few weeks ago and it was very good. They definitely have good vegetarian choices. Also, we love Tupelo Honey where they very good choices for vegie meals, too. Much prefer Tupelo to Early Girl. Where in the mountains are you heading? We have a place in Maggie Valley, so if you need any food recs in that direction, I can help there, as well. Enjoy your trip!

          1 Reply
          1. re: pilches

            We'll be in Cashiers/Highland area this year (usually Brevard area). We won't do much eating out during the week but instead will just hole up and relax. Thanks, though!

          2. I am really not a fan of Early Girl. My food has been cold there on several occassions, and the portions are very small. Tupelo is much better, and a fun, happening environment!

            1. Salsas, Mela, Zambra and Tupelo are all fabulous. Mela is a real standout if you like Indian. I would also rec Laughing Seed - it is vegetarian and I like it more than Rosetta's. Agreed...I am not impressed with Early Girl (too plain in my opinion). Check out Limones online and see if there's enough veggie for you - it is also great - and their drinks are superb. Fun atmosphere, too.

              1. We also love Limones. It's more upscale than Salsa, but absolutely delicious!!!

                1. Limones - yum. Though you may want to make reservations for a Saturday. The Laughing Seed is very good, too.

                  1. Thanks for all the suggestions folks. I think we'll stay away from the vegetarian restaurants. My partner eats meat. We don't cook it at home, so I like him to have the option when we go out to eat. I think we'll probably go ahead and eat at Salsa. Limones is on my list for someday, but I think after a day of driving it might be a little too upscale for our state of mind.

                    I see that Salsa does not take reservations. Any thoughts on probable wait for a Saturday dinner?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: debbiel

                      The longest I have ever waited at Salsa was about 45 minutes, but that's been a while back, so I can't guarantee it. They open at 5:30, and a small line will form before the doors open. So, if you don't want to be there at 5:30, I would suggest not getting there until at least 6:30 so you don't have to wait on a full turn-over. Tell your husband that Salsas does amazing things w/ pork, and for you, if there is a pionono (stuffed plantain) on the menu...jump on it. The tea, often hibiscus ginger is fantastic, try it (I don't normally care for flavored tea because it tastes artificial, but this stuff doesn't). The marqueritas and mojitos are good too. I usually don't get wine at Salsa.

                      For after dinner (or before), if the weather is nice, you could sit at the sidewalk cafe of the Flying Frog. It is the best people-watching spot in town, IMO, and many times various musicians will set up near there. Asheville has pretty good street musicians. IF that fails, Jack of the Woods has good beer, and live music for $5 starting around 9:30, often bluegrass or some variation. Zambra often has live music as well, you could get a drink at their romatic bar, but desserts there are not impressive.

                      OR, if the weather is unfavorable, you could get in that car (sorry) and drive up to the Grove Park to have a drink by the roaring fire in a rocking chair with dozens of your closest friends. (Personally, I'd rather bundle up and sit outside, but the fireplace seems very popular) I hope you have fun, please report back.

                      1. re: danna

                        Thanks for the additional tips. I will definitely report back.

                    2. Anyone eaten at the Flying Frog Cafe? I think we had an absolutely lovely meal there sometime ago:

                      Loved Tupelo Honey for breakfast and Zambras was good in those days ...and then there is the wonderful Mediterranean place ...http://www.rezaz.com/

                      1. We've returned from our 18 hours in Asheville, so I thought I'd give a quick report. We had a week in the mountains after our night in Asheville, so I won't remember all of the details. Sorry about that.

                        Saturday night we went to Salsa. We arrived at about 5:20 to wait in line for a table (they opened at 5:30). We were 12th in line and got a table, and service, quite quickly.

                        We started with a Perfect Margarita for me and a Habanero Margarita for my partner. I have to say that the Perfect Margarita was one of the best I've had (though I'm in no way a connoisseur). We also had wonderful pan fried plantains with guacamole for an appetizer. I had an avocado quesadilla for dinner. It included pumpkin puree and sautéed spinach as well. The flavors were wonderful together. I groaned (happy groans) after the first few bites. Everything tasted incredibly fresh and well-balanced. The worst part of the meal was that I couldn't dream of leaving anything on the plate and so was uncomfortably full. My partner had a jerk chicken dinner. I wish I could remember his sides because they were his favorite aspects of the meal. He felt the chicken was fairly bland next to the sides. I reminded him with an "I told you so" look that I had suggested he try a pork dish. We were able to finish a second round of margaritas, but there was no way we could do dessert. Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed the food, the service was great, and we liked the overall feel of the place. The only downside was the obnoxious man sitting at the table next to us, but hey, you can't blame the restaurant for that. We will likely return next time we're in Asheville.

                        For Sunday brunch we went to Tupelo Honey. We got there around 10:30 and had a 30 minute wait for a table (had we chosen to sit at the counter--which we did for dinner a year ago--the wait would have been about 10 minutes). I had the sweet potato pancake with granola in the pancake and cinnamon butter. This is an incredible deal, at only $4 ($3 without the granola). It was incredibly rich and I could only eat a little less than half of it. Though, I did manage to down a side of grits that I smothered in honey. Neither my partner nor I can remember what he ate, but he did enjoy brunch. Overall a great dining experience.

                        We'll be back in Asheville for an evening in a year. It will be tough to resist the urge to return to these two places instead of trying something new. Both were great.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: debbiel

                          Thanks for the report. I'm sure it will be tough, but next time try Limones. Glad you enjoyed!

                          1. re: debbiel

                            Thank you. I love people who report back. So glad you enjoyed Salsa. I was there for lunch on Saturday, and managed to consume a cupcake (brand new place next door) afterwards, but I took home 1/2 my entree ;-)

                            Grits with honey. Interesting. I must try that.

                            I'm glad you enjoyed Asheville's culinary offerings, and hope the rest of your stay went as well.