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Best of downtown Asheville

Looking for a short list of the best of the best downtown for casual good food, local brews, venues etc. to give to friends who will be vising later this week.

From all they have heard about Asheville, it is on their short list for possible future relocation. Unfortunately, this trip has to be cut short as they return home to Tennessee. They will be there for possibly two dinners, one lunch and one breakfast.

They plan on staying downtown (Renaissance/Hotel Indigo?) and would like to walk to restaurants and venues. Appreciate your help with the list.

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  1. A few of my favorite downtown spots:

    Barley's Taproom - very impressive selection of draft beers, good pizza, pool tables upstairs. What more could you want? :)

    Mellow Mushroom - yes, it's a (regional) chain, but the Asheville location is unique. Sit outside under a thick wisteria vine, or hang out inside with its trippy decor. Like Barley's, they have a nice draft beer selection and the pizza is tasty.

    Jack of the Wood - a Celtic pub, very "local" feel to the place. Just go there, you won't regret it.

    Zambra - Tapas bar, but sometimes one of those "it's so crowded no one goes there anymore" kind of places (i.e., it's very popular).

    Doc Chey's Noodle House - great spot for lunch.

    Have a cup of coffee in the converted double-decker bus (I forget the name--it's across the street from Barley's).

    Also, don't miss the Mast General Store. The old-fashioned candy section alone is worth a visit, but they have all kinds of neat things to check out, including lots of food-related items like "old timey" kitchen gadgets, cookware, preserves, pickles, honey, apple butter, etc.

    One more thing...stay away from the Chocolate Fetish. Seriously, take my advice...run as fast as you can, in the other direction. People's lives have been shattered, homes have been broken, and fortunes lost to support the addiction. The chocolate is that good. ;)

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    DOC Chey's Noodle House
    37 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801

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

    Zambra Spanish Wine Tapas & Cuisine
    85 W. Walnut Street, Asheville, NC 28801

    Barley's Taproom & Pizzeria
    25 W Washington St, Greenville, SC 29601

    1. Curate for lunch or dinner. Tupelo Honey for breakfast. Both are within walking distance to the hotels listed.

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      Tupelo Honey Cafe
      12 College St, Asheville, NC 28801

      12 Replies
      1. re: steffmal

        I would also add that being originally a former NYer, I don't love the pizza in Asheville.

        If you like fast food pizza like Papa John's or something similar, then you won't have a problem with Barley's or Mellow Mushroom.

        Here are my Asheville recommendations:

        Marco's (North and South Asheville locations) is good and so is Pizzeria Ritrovo (in West Asheville). I WOULD NOT eat at Barley's (canned tomato sauce and fake cheese) or Mellow Mushroom (heavy dough, sweet sauce, and I don't like the cheese either).

        1. re: steffmal

          ^^ Don'tcha love it when NY people try to tell us southerners what kind of pizza we should like? ;)

          I'll just say that the pizza at both Mellow Mushroom and Barley's is quite adequate in light of their ample beer selection, and leave it at that.

          1. re: arbyunc

            I don't think he was trying to say what southerners should like, he was purely stating what he didn't like, and though I haven't had pizza at Barleys (and so won't comment on them) Mellow is pretty decent, but WWAAAYYY overpriced.

            1. re: arbyunc

              I don't think Steffmal was trying to tell you what kind of pizza you should like, just pointing out that NY style pizza is different from what is found most places around here. So, if Windsor was looking a NY style, it is much harder to find.

              No different from saying that it's unlikely you'll find NC BBQ up in NY. :)

              1. re: Scirocco

                Exactly! I don't know where you live or what standard you have! I was merely pointing out the differences, and offering alternative pizza places in town. Both Marco's and Pizzeria Ritrovo have similar prices but use better quality ingredients in the pizza. They are not located downtown. And...I doubt NYC has a good BBQ place. There a few but I wouldn't expect great food at such an establishment. People don't visit NYC and expect good BBQ...maybe Italian, Chinese, etc. but even then, one can find terrible pizza and Chinese!

              2. re: arbyunc

                I'm a Southerner and I gotta say I am not a fan of Mellow Mushroom or Barley's. Of the two, MM is better based on the toppings.

                I lived in Asheville for many years and never found a pizza that I was more than 75% happy with.

                Same with Chinese food...

                1. re: meatn3

                  Same here. It doesn't have anything to do with NY style or any other style for me. Barleys and Mellow Mushroom both have mariginally decent pizza, IMO.

                  But yeah, if beer is your primary objective, Barley's has an amazing number.

                  What about the Wedge? Nobody has recommended that. I haven't been, 'cause I'm more of a wino, but the scene looks super cool, and they do have good beer. Could the OP reasonably expect at tasty food truck to pull up? Although, now that I think about it, you wouldn't really walk there from Indigo. Walking, I would....

                  Zambra (dinner)
                  Storm (lunch if they are open, or dinner)
                  Salsa or City Bakery (lunch)
                  Over Easy or Chorizo (breakfast)
                  Sante / Sazerac / wine bar on Walnut (name?) / Sky Club (drinks)
                  Chocolate Fetish (dark chocolate frog )
                  Ultimate ice cream kiosk / sisters McMullen cupcakes

                2. re: arbyunc

                  Whoa, don't mean to start another Civil War here! I guess some of you missed the winky in my post. So, in an effort to clarify...I love NY pizza as much as the next guy. And I like both MM's and Barley's pizza, but I agree that neither is the most awesome pizza in the world. If someone asked "OMG, I want to try the best pizza, where should I go?" I wouldn't send them to either place. But that wasn't the question. I think both are great places to hang out, do a little people-watching, or just to enjoy the company of good friends, and the pizza is good, even "pretty good" (not sure about the fake cheese comment above-I don't know for sure, but it doesn't taste fake to me). So I'm suggesting them not so much for their pizza, but more for their beer selection, atmosphere/ambience, and location.

                  1. re: arbyunc

                    gotcha. we didn't mean to make you feel ganged-up on ;-)

                    Mellow Mushroom (which btw, used to be a really good restaurant called Stone Soup) truely has a beautiful courtyard and people watching is a serious endeavor for me while in A'ville.

                    BTW, the wine bar is called 5 Walnut. If you can score a seat at the windows open to the street, it's prime people watching right around the corner from MM. They have small bites from popular producers all over town.

                    1. re: danna

                      If you are only in Asheville for the weekend, you'd be crazy to go for pizza anyway. There is just too much really good stuff to choose from!

                    2. re: arbyunc

                      In light of the many comments, I would like to clarify a couple of points about the pizza in Asheville. Firstly, Asheville has wonderful places to eat, but truthfully, it is not re-known for its pizza. Mellow Mushroom and Barley's both use lesser quality ingredients. To me, it is apparent in the appearance and taste. For example, the grated cheese on the tables at Barley's is the equivalent of Kraft Parmesan cheese that can be found on the supermarket shelves. I don't use Kraft cheese in my house. I buy a higher quality cheese -- imported from Italy. If you are familiar with really good cheese, then you see it and taste it immediately! I also don't like marinara sauces that are laden with preservatives like sugar and salt. Both places use a marinara with more sugar and salt just like a Papa John's or Domino's Pizza. I prefer a sauce that doesn't have hidden or not so hidden calories. For example, one can buy Ragu and then read the ingredients -- more than five! Or one can purchase Colavita and it doesn't have the extra sugar and salt.

                      Barleys is a smart business -- beer and pizza. Pizza is cheap and a high volume product. For the quality of what's being offered and the cost, I would prefer to eat elsewhere. It isn't super cheap. Once again, if you like fast food pizza, you wont have a problem with the quality of the pizza.

                      Re Mellow Mushroom, it is a nice place to people watch but so are many other restaurants in town that offer better food.

                      1. re: steffmal

                        Steff, thanks for the clarification. Just to clarify further, your "fake cheese" comment was about the parmesan on the table rather than the cheese on the pizza, correct? And while I agree that it's not the best quality parmesan, as I recall you'll find the same sort of cheese in the shakers at Ray's in NYC, no? I don't believe they have Reggiano in their shakers, so if you say "It's not as good as NY because of the fake cheese", then that's really not a valid comparison point, is it?

                        And to nitpick a bit further, is your beef really about quality, or is it more about style/preparation? I ask because to my (admittedly untrained) eye, both Barley's and MM seem to use quality ingredients. The green peppers, mushrooms, etc. always seem fresh, the meats and cheeses seem to be decent quality (as least compared to the chains and delivery places), and the crusts are fresh-made. I realize I could be wrong, though, so I'm curious what makes you question the quality. You mentioned the sweetness of the sauce, but that has nothing to do with quality--it's just a taste preference; maybe they purchase Colavita and add sugar. So I'm curious whether you really know about the quality, or if you're making assumptions because you don't like the style.

                        Don't get me wrong--I don't mean to antagonize you or anything, so I hope you don't take this the wrong way. I'm just trying to learn something if there's something I don't know--if they're serving up horsemeat I'd like to know that. I'm not a cheerleader for these places, but I do think both establishments are worth patronizing. Then again, I'm a beer drinker more than a pizza-eater, so I tend to see things through beer goggles. :)

                3. The Admiral, in West Asheville, is not technically downtown, but it is only a five min. drive. It is also the most innovative, consistent, and best value in town. You WILL need reservations, however. 828-252-2541.

                  1. We were there last weekend. I'm always amazed at the quality of food in downtown Asheville - and this visit didn't disappoint.

                    We *loved* Tupelo Honey for Friday night dinner, Doc Chey's for a quick take-out after a day of soccer on Saturday, and then we celebrated the end of the tournament with a lovely casual lunch at Chai Pani (Indian street food) on Sunday. On Saturday, my daughter and some friends managed to fit in a quick lunch at Salsa's and loved it as well.

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                    Tupelo Honey Cafe
                    12 College St, Asheville, NC 28801

                    2 Replies
                      1. re: jbyoga

                        Agreed. But they aren't downtown.

                    1. We are beer people and absolutely enjoy Barley's. With something like 40 beers on tap and custom pizza by the slice, it is always a good option. They also have soy cheese for folks who avoid dairy. Maybe not NY pizza, but I am not that picky about my pizza.

                      Zambras is very good. We always have one meal there when we visit. Tupelo Honey and Early Girl are great for breakfast.

                      Salsas is awesome! Get something with pork and you will not be disappointed. It is good for lunch and dinner. We usually choose lunch since it can be kinda heavy and we can walk it off.

                      Asheville is a great walking town. We always stay downtown and walk everywhere. On foot you can reach a number of breweries and beer pubs!

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                      Tupelo Honey Cafe
                      12 College St, Asheville, NC 28801