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Downtown Asheville, NC - casual, good & fun recommendations?

I'll be in Asheville for four days during late October and wanted to plan a few "must try" restaurants downtown. I'm really just looking for simple, good food in a casual and fun enviornment. I'd also love a recommendation for a noteworthy brewpub, taqueria or other ethnic food eatery.

I haven't been to Asheville in over 7 years so I'd appreciate any recommendations for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Even though I know its more upscale, I'm already planning to make reservations at The Admiral and maybe The Fig at some point during my visit. Thanks 'hounds!

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  1. Barley's Tap Room is one of my favorite places ever. Great draft beer selection, very good pizza, and pool tables upstairs. What more could you want?

    Tap Room
    1740 Battleground Ave, Greensboro, NC 27408

    1. Early Girl Eatery is downtown and excellent for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Table is excellent fine dining for lunch or dinner downtown. Tupelo Honey Cafe is excellent for breakfast, lunch or dinner downtown. Lexington Avenue Brewery is fun for lunch or dinner downtown and serves cold drinks. Zambra is downtown and serves excellent Spanish small plates for dinner. Mela Indian Restaurant is downtown and serves good Indian cuisine for lunch or dinner. Jack of the Wood Pub is downtown and serves typical pub food in a fun festive atmosphere.

      Early Girl Eatery @ 8 Wall Street, Asheville, NC 828 - 259 - 9292.

      Table @ 48 College St., Asheville, NC 828 - 254 - 8980.

      Tupelo Honey Cafe @ 12 College Street, Asheville, NC 828 - 255 - 4863.

      Lexington Ave. Brewery @ 39 North Lexington Ave., Asheville, NC 828 - 252 - 0212.

      Zambra @ 85 West Walnut St., Asheville, NC 828 - 232 - 1060.

      Mela Indian Restaurant @ 70 North Lexington Avenue, Asheville, NC 828 - 225 - 8880.

      Jack of the Wood Pub @ 95 Patton Avenue, Asheville, NC 828 - 252 - 5445.

      1. simple, good food, casual and fun. OK.

        Sunny Point - nice outdoor patio means more "fun" to me than it's rivals early girl and tupelo honey. Plus I think the food is better at sunny point.

        12 Bones - you have to try their ribs w/ blueberry chipotle suace, the corn pudding, and some of the local draft beers.

        Brews - although I haven't been there yet, I'm dying to check out what's going on in front of the Wedge. Looks like people are drinking the very nice beer from the Wedge out in their parking lot in the River ARts district. Very Asheville. maybe someone else can fill you in on details.

        I suggest going to the Admiral on your first night. You may want to go back. It's everything on your list except "simple".

        3 Replies
        1. re: danna

          Ditto everything on Littleman's list (not a big fan of Table, though) and Danna's list (esp. The Admiral), and let me just add Tomato Cuchina Latina in Westgate Plaza for good Salvadorian (esp. the pupusas!).

          Sorry, no decent Vienamese, Dim Sum, or Thai--although some friends say I should try Little Bee.

          1. re: danna

            Been to Barley's many times for the killer beer. The food is fine, but nothing to rave about. That being said, the beer selection is as good as anywhere in the state. Thirsty Monk is a contender for the title. They have a new menu that I haven't tried, but again, great beer selection. I've been hearing good things about LAB.

            The reason I responded to this post was because I ate at The Admiral tonight and was blown away. Inventive menu using a lot of local ingredients. Heavy influences from Momofuku/David Chang. Really strong value. If you're a fan of honest food that pushes the envelope. Take a bus, take a cab, borrow a bike, or hitch but get to The Admiral. It's that good.

            1. re: Tom from Raleigh

              Re: The Admiral - you couldn't have expressed it better!

          2. Awesome. Thanks everyone for the recommendations. These all sound like great places!

            1. Little Bee is super-good Thai, but there's not much seating--it's located in a gas station waaaaaaaaaay on the southern edge of "town" (feels more like it's out in the country a bit to me).

              Thirsty Monk isn't a brewpub, but the beer selections are insane (upstairs devoted to microbrews, downstairs devoted to Belgian beers) and the menu, while limited, is really good and inexpensive. If you go on Wednesday night and have a featured pint, you get to keep your glass!

              I love the Wedge, and as the previous poster noted, it's VERY ASHEVILLE. Totally random and diverse range of patrons, lots of dogs ambling around, super casual. No food, really, although they do have peanuts, and there's often a food vendor or two set up in the parking lot. If the taco cart guy is there, try some of his tamales--they're insanely good, especially for $3.00! I'm not a vegetarian, but his vegan tamale with sweet potato that I tried was pretty danged amazing.

              I also agree that you should try the Admiral early in your trip, just in case you want to go back....because you probably will.

              I'll always put in the good word for Early Girl, too. Some 'hounds seem to have an issue with the place, but I've never gotten a bum meal there, and they're cheaper than Tupelo. I've heard nothing but raves about Sunnypoint, too, but haven't had a chance to try it yet....I've been a frequent visitor to the area over the years and only recently came to stay. ;)

              1. THE "must try" casual restaurant is Salsa. Same owner as Zambra, and also right downtown. It's casual, fusion-y Mexican/Caribbean. Terrific fresh food, beautiful presentation, funky atmosphere, and cheap. Enjoy.

                7 Replies
                1. re: durhamois

                  The first three that came to mind when I read your title were: Admiral, LAB and now, The Southern (new place next to LAB). LAB and Southern are definitely more bars/brewpubs but the food is creative and better-than-average and the people-watching location is great. Tupelo/Early/Sunny are all good and casual but I woudn't necessarily think of them as "fun" places for a night out - I'd pick them for lunch. Zambra would be fun too, maybe a little more upscale and pricier than the others suggested, and Mela is awesome and lively if you like Indian food. IMO, skip Barley's and Salsas for the sub-par food, and while I like it personally, I'd also skip Tomato just because it's kind of a sterile atmosphere. Jack of the Wood, Wedge, Thirsty Monk are all good spots to grab a beer and I love the cocktails at Rankin Vault, The Southern, Zambra and maybe Sazerac (if they have more than one bartender otherwise service is painfully slow) if you're in the mood for a drink.

                  Jack of the Wood
                  95 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801

                  1. re: miss piggy

                    Agree with Miss Piggy on Barley's and Salsa; disagree on Sunny Point and Early Girl, neither of which has a full bar (unfortunately) but plenty of wine and beer and tasty, nonpretentious food for your "casual fun."

                    1. re: miss piggy

                      The food at Salsa's sub-par? They have one of the most innovative Latin American menus in NC. They use great ingredients, simple but creative preparation, and truly beautiful plating. When I think of their food, I think of great textures (crispy grilled tortillas, meaty mushrooms, creamy sauces), tangy goat cheese, spicy, freshly made salsas, and lots of savory/fruity flavor combinations. My only criticism is that they've really hiked their prices. I haven't been to Asheville in about a year, but unless the quality of their food has dropped off a cliff, I can't quite imagine what you mean when you say their food is sub-par. As someone who has enjoyed countless Mexican meals in Texas, Southern California, and Mexico (not to mention Durham), I'd be really interested in hearing what Mexican restaurants you think are comparatively better.

                      1. re: durhamois

                        I have bad news for you, durhamois. I was absolutely the most Salsa-loving person on the planet. It's still some of the best food I've ever had anywhere. Unfortunately, in the last couple of years, it has gone downhill quite a bit. It's probably been 6 months (maybe more...time flies) now since I've been back, and I really hope that Hector has gotten his butt back in the kitchen and fixed whatever went wrong. I've been planning to give it another try, but have not gotten around it because it will just depress me so if no improvement.

                        Now, for those who did not know Salsa in it's glory days, I'd say it's still a fine candidate for lunch. Even the most disappointed I've ever been at Salsa, it's still better than any other Carribbean or Mexican food in Asheville, IMO. (full disclosure...i've not been to pappas & beer in a'ville because the one in H'ville sucked and I can't see it being THAT much better)

                        I loved your decription of the food at Salsa, I adored the smoky pork, sweet potato, tangy goat cheese, spicy/fruity salsa combos. LOVED THEM. And again...you can still get a tasty meal there...but if you knew it when, it's going to be a bit of a pale shadow.

                        1. re: danna

                          1. It pains me to agree with Danna re Salsa, esp. since the "Spliff Roll" was once my favorite appetizer ever.

                          2. For innovative Cali-Mex (not really Carribean), I now go to Limones, although it too has fallen off a bit in recent years. (Not as much as Salsa, though.)

                          3. Papa's & Beer in S. Asheville has different ownership than the other two. It's cheap, sloppy Americanized Mexican, but if you order carefully (tortas, carnitas, "street tacos") I still say you can get a pretty decent meal there...

                          1. re: danna

                            That's just heartbreaking to hear. I spent a summer in Asheville in 1998, and I ate at Salsa's almost every day. I made frequent trips to Asheville until about 2003, but I have only been there a handful of times since then. The last time I visited Salsa, however, I still had a terrific meal. But I'm certainly not there frequently enough to judge their food if it has truly changed.

                            I have been hoping beyond hope that Hector would open up a Salsa's in Durham. It would do fantastically well. I was also hoping that Dos Perros would serve similarly creative, fusion-y food, but that's not what they're doing. In any case, I hope that Salsa's manages to rebound, as that's a big loss to Asheville if they are no longer top notch.

                            Dos Perros
                            200 N Mangum St. Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701

                            1. re: danna

                              Danna, the PnB on Brevard road is like apples and oranges to HVL. Please go - You'll be super happy you did!

                      2. Just wanted to check back in and thank everyone for all the great recommendations. Since the main reason for my trip to Asheville this past weekend was Moogfest, I didn't end up having time to eat as many dinner meals as I'd originally planned, but had some great meals nonetheless. Here are the places I made it to:

                        The Admiral --- Wife and I had reservations for Friday night at 5:00pm, but went early to sit at the bar for a few pre-dinner drinks. I had an outstanding IPA from Wedge Brewery. The wife had a dark and stormy made with an awesome house-made ginger ale. Friendly people at the bar. For dinner we went with some small plates (which were actually pretty large): (1) Baby arugula salad with humbolt fog, (2) spicy pumpkin soup with peekytoe crab, (3) sturgeon over risotto with truffle oil and (4) braised pork cheeks with baked egg and grilled asparagus over (blue corn!) Anson Mill grits. Sweet baby jeebus, everything on that table was just outstanding! We cleaned our plates and then were too full to eat dessert, so we took a slice of peanut butter mousse to go. BEST MEAL OF THE TRIP and, yes, I did really want to go back again the next day.

                        Skybar --- Rooftop bar with excellent views of the sun setting over the mountains. There seemed to be a light food menu, but we were too stuffed from The Admiral to shove any hummus or salsa in our faces.

                        Lexington Avenue Brewery (LAB) --- Good beer, much better quality and more creative food than you'd expect at a typical brewpub. Good people watching from the front "porch" area.

                        Jack of the Wood --- Went in for a couple of very tasty beers, but didn't have anything to eat. Very comfortable Irish pub vibe.

                        Bier Garden --- Late night eats. Nothing chow-worthy here, but we were starving at a late hour and this was a nice stop for nachos during our trek between music venues.

                        Early Girl Eatery --- Waited 20 minutes to get in here on Sunday afternoon. Good looking stuff on the menu, but I must have done a poor job ordering. I got the Early Girl Benny and it was good but not especially noteworthy. In fairness, its probably too late in the season to expect anything special from the tomato gravy that topped my benny. Outstanding apple upside-down cake.

                        Barley's Tap Room --- Had a few (extra large) slices of very respectable pizza before heading out for the evening. It was hard to get a feel of the vibe of this place since it was Halloween night and it was insane in there. Everyone was really friendly and there was a great selection of local beers.

                        Tupelo Honey --- Went for lunch and everything sounded so good, my wife and I had a terrible time deciding what to order. Since we had a great view of the kitchen area, we ended up making our ordering decisions based on what looked the most attractive coming out of the kitchen. She went with the tomato soup and grilled cheese, I had the veggie melt and goat cheese grits. Really simple, good stuff.

                        I really wanted to check out the Wedge brewery, but that will have to be on my next trip. Thanks again for the recommendations, we had a blast in Asheville!

                        Tupelo Honey Cafe
                        12 College St, Asheville, NC 28801

                        Early Girl Eatery
                        8 Wall St, Asheville, NC 28801

                        Jack of the Wood
                        95 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801

                        Bier Garden
                        46 Haywood St, Asheville, NC 28801

                        1. Only get to Asheville 2 or 3 times a year, but yesterday I ate breakfast at Sunny Point and it was the best sausage, eggs, and French toast I have had in a long time.Even the OJ and coffee were super (and make sure you try the jam on your biscuit) Today we headed over to the Southern for dinner, and it was locked up without a sign--hmmm--maybe MoogFest was too much and they were giving their employees a break. So we tried LAB next door--the lentil soup and fish tacos were great--beer selections were enjoyable, but Barleys's is definitely on my list for beer and pizza at next visit. Good town just to wander a little downtown and pick a place on a lark. My wife isn't adventurous from a culinary standpoint, but I am. Suwana Thai on Broadway is a must stop for me every visit. Little Bee Thai is also super for carry-out, but call ahead well before you arrive. What a unique foodie town !

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: KyMikey

                            Try the huevos rancheros next time you're at Sunny Point. Best I've ever crammed into my gob...

                            1. re: Jeff C.

                              Thanks again to everyone's great suggestions last year. Now, I'm plotting this year's food tour of Asheville in advance of Moogfest 2011! I'm trying to hit some of your recommended places that I didn't make it to during my last trip.

                              Any suggestions for new or noteworthy downtown restaurants is appreciated! The only caveat I'm trying to work with this time 'round is to land at restaurants that have gluten-free offerings or can otherwise accommodate my wife's new gluten-free diet.

                              Here's what I'm tentatively planning:

                              Friday: I've got reservations for The Admiral. Absolutely loved this place last year and really looking forward to our return visit.

                              Saturday: I'm thinking maybe Sunny Point Cafe for a late breakfast or lunch. Then maybe Chai Pani or Limones for the evening meal. Also going to try to make it out to the Wedge brewery at some point for a few drafts.

                              Sunday: Laughing Seed Cafe for brunch then maybe Zambra or The Southern in the evening?

                              13 Eagle St, Asheville, NC 28801

                              Laughing Seed Cafe
                              40 Wall St, Asheville, NC 28801

                              1. re: ToothTooth

                                Posana offers gluten free and is very good. Centrally located on Pack Square.

                                Posana Cafe
                                1 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801

                                1. re: NANCY

                                  I wanted to thank you, NANCY, for the Posana Cafe recommendation. We had a really good brunch experience there this past Saturday morning. So good that we went back for lunch on Monday before leaving town.

                                  My wife was pleasantly surprised to find that 100% of the menu is gluten- free. She was really excited to have the option to order things that she hasn't been able to eat for a long time. Things like sandwiches, biscuits, muffins, scones, etc.

                                  I was a little worried about what a gluten-free focaccia sandwich bread might taste like, but it was practically indistinguishable from "normal" focaccia. Overall, the food was really good and fresh, plus the staff was very friendly.

                                  Posana Cafe highlights: Quiche, chef's breakfast bowl, scones, and sweet potato fries!

                                  As for the rest of our visit, we had a disappointing brunch at Laughing Seed Cafe on Sunday morning, but we had another great experience at The Admiral for dinner on Friday night.

                                  Laughing Seed Cafe
                                  40 Wall St, Asheville, NC 28801

                                  Posana Cafe
                                  1 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801

                                2. re: ToothTooth

                                  Your list looks good...definitely Limones over Chai Pani, and I'd go Zambra over Southern...Southern would be fun for pre-Moog cocktails though. Their basement downstairs has a kickass jukebox.

                                  Bar-hop and try Wedge and Bywater for drinks! Bywater is on the river and a lot of fun...not too far from the also fun Wedge.

                                  13 Eagle St, Asheville, NC 28801