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Jun 29, 2012 05:23 PM

Bele Chere street food & drink rec's pls!

1st visit to NC and hitting Bele Chere Sat & Sun. Any suggestions for your good Canadian friends on what not to miss at the food court/street food joints around this festival would be most appreciated! (And btw, we can get donut burgers up here in Toronto now too (at the CNE in August).

I'm thinking more the local joints that show up as vendors at Bele Chere, etc. Oh, and also your favorite local microbrews too!! Tell us what you make sure not to miss when you hit Bele Chere. Thanks in advance NC!

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  1. i attend most years. i've found that most of the vendors aren't all that good; even those that typically would be within the confines of their regular shops any other day of the year. they are focused on, and usually overwhelmed by, feeding the crowds at their food booths, so the food at the store tends to suffer, too. my advice is to find some local places that ARE NOT vending at bele chere, and give them a try. places just a street or two removed from the festival are often nearly empty bele chere weekend. i haven't checked the schedule yet, so i can't offer any specific recs. fwiw, if they are not vending at the fair, we'll be trying mr. frogs. if you need to step away for some breathing room, nine mile is good and only a five minute or so walk down montford.

    i'm assuming the fad-o-the-moment downtown food trucks will have some presence, either at bele chere or at their regular lot. i've found them to be hit-or-miss quality wise, but uniformly overpriced (it will cost as much to eat from a truck as it will a sit-down meal, but without the perks of the latter).

    plenty of good beer, but be advised, there are no outdoor alcohol sales on sunday. bars and restos will be serving all weekend. no coolers allowed at the fair, but if you have a non-traditional-looking cooler or you'll be pushing a stroller or something around, you can usually get away with bringing your own (saves a lot of $s); you still need a wristband to drink on the street - lots of cops, uniformed & plainclothesed. you'll be downtown anyway, so barley's is a decent place to cool off and try a plethora of beers (i do not advise eating there).

    bele chere is more about music and people than food. some personal faves are yo mamas big fat booty band, kovacs & the polar bear, stephaniesid. there are many others.

    4 Replies
    1. re: mark

      Good advice from Mark. The past couple of years, my wife and I have enjoyed some very good meals at Curate, Zamba, The Market Place, etc, instead of eating on the street. Freshly prepared food, air conditioning and clean restrooms beat street food any day of the week. If you must have some street food, the local restaurants are up on Pack Square. The food court vendors at Pritchard Park are out-of-towners.

      Another good place for beers is Pack's Tavern - 30 taps. Mellow Mushroom has a boatload of taps, but I would not eat there and their service can be iffy at best. The LAB (Lexington Avenue Brewery) and Jack of the Woods have some good brews - I would expect both to be busy.

      Couple of other thoughts for a good weekend - sunscreen is a must. There is very little shade at the music stages. Form over fashion - comfortable shoes are very important. Be prepared for late afternoon thunderstorms. Be ready for a goodly amount of diversity that helps keep Asheville weird.

      1. re: mark

        mark, thank you! That is just exactly the kind of advice I needed. A quick "mr frog's" search tells me it's just our kind of place. ( They have cucumber water? Whatever that is, I'm trying it!!

        The BYO tip is also a gem. No stroller, but would it reallly be wrong to have my 12 year old carry my refreshments in his backpack? Kidding, I'm only kidding!!

        I did check out the line up and don't know even 1 of the bands but will definitely be checkiing out yo mamas big fat booty band based on name alone. That was even fun to type! Many thanks mark!!

        1. re: dameems

          Right next to Mr. Frog's is Limones. Always an excellent joint to duck into. It's right off the strip from the Biltmore Stage and most folks in town for the festival don't know about it so it's always relatively chill in every way. Hugo is a genius, and they always have great food all around, but my wife and I always make a meal out of ceviche and Mayan margaritas there every Bele Chere. Perfect for a hot summer day. Get there right at 5 for no waiting with no reservation.

        2. re: mark

          Mark, I'm happy to hear somebody else feels the way I'm feeling about the food trucks. I understand the appeal to some extent, but the idea is supposed to be "street food," which equals fast and inexpensive in my mind. I know that many of the trucks have one or two cheaper options on the menu but, like you, I've found that the wait time and inconsistency of the quality has made them largely a "meh" experience for me. I do really like the Lowdown's (the Downlow? I can't remember) sandwiches, though, AND they tend to be way speedier than many of the others. I think the trucks would be good if you're out late and are tipsy and need somethin' on your belly, but to try to make it downtown during lunch hour and then spend 20 minutes waiting for the grub to show up so you can walk or drive back to where you work so you can sit down and eat? Yeah, I don't really get it!

        3. I'm a few years out of date on Bele Chere as like many people who live here, we try to avoid downtown Asheville for all 3 days.

          I agree with Mark on the food as the non-local food vendors are purveying typical fair and carnival food that was never as good as you can get at state and county fairs. We do go if there is music that we like.

          And actually we prefer Sunday with the no alcohol rule as when we went a few times on the other days it seemed that the most activity going on was the local police officers hauling away unruly drunks. The normal arrest total for the weekend is quite significant although it's for minor problems and there are no public safety issues.

          I hope you're going to be here for more than that weekend as Bele Chere is not representative of what Asheville is all about. Food, cultural, entertainment, whatever; it's all better away from Bele Chere.

          19 Replies
          1. re: JTomWilson

            So it's this weekend, July 6-8? Thanks for the heads up. I'm planning to do a food truck crawl on Mon 9th with one of my friends, I sure hope the food trucks don't decide to take a day off after working Belle Chere :-(

            1. re: danna

              No, not this weekend, it's July 27-29.

            2. re: JTomWilson

              JTomWilson, I am definitely going to be staying thru til the Mon after Bele Chere, as we have read and heard so many wonderful things about Asheville and the surrounds. We are planning on a Biltmore visit and a Blue Ridge Parkway drive also. Might stay a night in Blowing Rock/Boone area as well. Any reco's on that?? Or are there other area attractions worth checking out. My tweens are all excited about checking out Hunger Games related sites, but we'll see about that!

              1. re: dameems

                A visit to the Biltmore Estate is likely to take most of a day; especially if you're interested in the gardens as well the house and activites.

                We just recommended to some guests that they drive south from Asheville on the BR Parkway to have lunch at the Pisgah Inn; nothing fancy but a great view over the mountains from the dining room. There is a rustic motel attached. We and they enjoyed the trout dinner. I think that it's about 25 miles from downtown Ashville--milepost 408.6. Cold Mountain noted in the book of that name is also on the south part of the parkway.

                If you're heading north on the parkway out of Asheville there is an excellent visitor center just north of the city next to an outstanding craft center run by the Southern Highland Craft Guild.

                I''m too impatient to drive long distances on the parkway as you'll average about 30 miles per hour, maybe less in tourist season, and the mountain views are interspersed with trees, trees and more trees. But that's just me. The Inn at Little Switzerland looks interesting for lunch and/or an overnight stay.

                Downtown Asheville is full of restaurants, galleries and local stores (no national chains) that should be back open after the Bele Chere weekend. The River Arts is also full of restaurants and crafter & artists studios that are open to the public. Many of the restaurants there are mentioned in threads on this board.

                And, with a 12 year old, Bele Chere just got better. We will always visit there if we have visitors with kids.

                We keep saying that we will visit Boone and Blowing Rock when it gets really hot in Asheville but have never made it. Since we didn't go when it was 101F the other day, maybe we'll never get around to it.

                Hope that you enjoy your trip.

                1. re: JTomWilson

                  So excited: serious food & beer, crafts, festivals, mansions w/ vineyards, moutains, all my favorites! We are going to try and do BRParkway drive early am so hopefully will avoid the gawking hordes, but not likely, as we are one of them (and son gets carsick which should make for some interesting switchbacks!) JTomWilson, I wish you and yours a wonderful July 4th! We just got back from Canada Day (Jul 1st) in Ottawa (our nation's proud capital) and kids already keen for Bele Chere. Happy Independence Day... hope you all keep cool!

                  1. re: dameems

                    Sort of OT, but where does the name Bele Chere come from? I tried a google or two, and didn't find any info. Thanks!

                    1. re: birgator

                      "Bele Chere" has no true meaning or translation. At one time, the bele chere folks tried to claim that it meant "beautiful living" but was unable to find a language with said translation.

                      To me, it means go to a good restaurant like Curate or Zambra, enjoy some good music, and the best people watching of the year.


                      1. re: Eric Panic

                        Thanks Eric -- always been curious.

                        1. re: Eric Panic

                          Hi Eric Panic... more beautiful living for us all, I hope! Just wondering, I checked out online info on both Curate & Zambra... sounds like both serve adventurous tapas. If you had to, could you chose just one? Is one potentially more 10 year old friendly? Kid are well travelled & well behaved.

                          1. re: dameems

                            I like both and have had several good experiences at each. To me, Curate is more about consistancy - they have their standard menu and they strive to do it as good as they can. The food at Zambra is more adventuresome - they have an extensive list of nighly specials in addition to their regular menu. Curate is typically more boisterous and has a higher energy level. Zambra has live entertainment and the occasional belly dancer. Either should be fine for your 10 year old. I do recommend making reservations.

                            1. re: dameems

                              Both restaurants have their menu's on the internet and both are on OpenTable. As a followup to the reservation suggestion by Eric, I just looked at Curate on OpenTable and there is no seating available tonight after 4:45 PM. Zambra had times available.

                              We were at Curate this past Sunday and my wife was ready to go back Tuesday (they're closed Monday's) and have the same meal all over again.

                              1. re: JTomWilson

                                Eric, & JTom, I am full on drooling!! YUMMY! I also read something about Mr Frog's recently that sounded great... have either of you be there?

                                1. re: dameems

                                  I have not been there. The chef/owner has been around the Asheville restaurant scene for quite some time so I'm sure he knows what he's doing. There has been a succession of restaurants at this location over the years; hope that this one makes it.

                                  One of the good problems about living in Asheville is that there are more excellent restaurants here than my constitution can handle so my list of new places to try is quite long!

                                  1. re: JTomWilson

                                    JTom, that is exactly why we are coming... now looks like we might stay longer, thanks to all the great chowhound reco's! Thanks again.

                                    1. re: dameems

                                      If your trip extends to Tuesday, a trip up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Spruce Pine and lunch or dinner at Knife and Fork is highly recommended.


                                        1. re: Leepa

                                          so many cute towns, so many delicious choices! OK, you've all convinced me, we're extending our stay from 2 nights! I've just rented a house for a whole week so we can check all this out (aka eat our way around town)! The kind owner tells me there are plenty of good swimming holes & public pools around the area as well so we are going to add a week in the mountains after our week at the ocean (OBX).

                      2. re: dameems

                        As you leave Asheville for Blowing Rock, consider packing a lunch from Earth Fare or Greenlife. Get on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Spruce Pine for gem mining at Rio Duce Gem mine, get back on parkway to visit the Altapass Apple Orchard (enjoy your picnic lunch, music and hayride through the historic mountain orchard)... and then head north to Grandfather Mountain.

                        End thisbusy day in Blowing Rock to walk downtown. Here is a link:

                        Best Cellar and Bistro Roca are both nice, yet casual, restaurants. Outdoor patio serving good pizza would be Mellow Mushroom on Main.

                        Enjoy your vacation.

                        1. re: Windsor

                          Windsor, that is itinerary is like a dream come true, we are all about the scenic picnics. Not to mention the coolest pizza joint name ever: Mellow Mushroom... wink. THANKS! Jeesh, I thought the outer banks was going to be the highlight of this trip but it is looking like Asheville & surrounds is going to take the cake! Thank you all so much... just love CHOWHOUND.

                    2. The Bele Chere website now has the food vendors listed:


                      The only one I would strongly recommend is Ultimate Ice Cream. Home Grown has some mean fried chicken, but I don't know if they are serving it at Bele Chere. Holy Trinity Greek Church has some solid Greek street food - nothing fancy. Their Greek festival in the fall is better. We sometimes grab something to snack on; however, we always have our meals in one of the restaurants.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: Eric Panic

                        That's a pretty weak list and definitely not representative of what Asheville has to offer. That said, for dining at BC I'd recommend Mela if you like Indian, Nick's for a gyro, or anything from Homegrown (I love that place). I'd be interested to see what Corner Kitchen was serving up too. if you can find one of the local food trucks like Gypsy Queen, Pink Taco, El Kimchi, Melt Your Heart or Lowdown, those would be good choices too.

                        1. re: miss piggy

                          O miss piggy, how will I munch on all that in my meagre 2 days at BC... oh wait, I have kids with me. I can get them to order and make them let mama taste!! I can see I'm gonna need some stretchy pants on this trip.... yay! Love the ideas... many thanks.

                        2. re: Eric Panic

                          More great tips from Eric! Thanks for the link. Does Ultimate Ice Cream do any super jazzy must-try best of Asheville flavours??

                          1. re: dameems

                            Ultimate Ice Cream typically has a several unique flavors at their shops (the one at Charlotte Street is close to downtown). They typically have a couple of standards (which are still very good) and a couple of slightly more interesting ones. The good news is it's peach/blueberry/blackberry season down here and their peach ice cream is great.

                            1. re: Eric Panic

                              PEACH ice cream... now that's worth a drive up the mountain! Awesome...

                            2. re: dameems

                              Ultimate ice cream is amazing! I'm not even a big ice cream fan (for me it is simply a vehicle to hold the good fudge, butterscotch, etc). However I LOVE Ultimate! Their plain old chocolate is fantastic. It actually tastes LIKE deep rich chocolate. Image that. LOL But, in the more interesting category, I love their maple bacon. Don't know if they carry that in the summer though. You can ask for a taste of anything too. One person in our group found the coffee flavor a bit too strong, so opted for Peach instead (which she loved), so she was glad she tasted it first.

                              1. re: Scirocco

                                Sounds like this is going to be a multiple visit situation! MMMmmmm. Thx Eric & Scirocco!

                              2. re: dameems

                                they used to do a beer flavor. i haven't seen it in so long I don't know if they still do it, I think it was called Mocha Stout or something like that. I've been going to the one on Charlotte street lately, so maybe the original Original on 70 might have it. Anybody know?

                                1. re: danna

                                  Sounds weird, good weird. I had a very decadent Guiness chocolate cupcake the other day (but that was here in Toronto)... probably similar?

                            3. I'd love to hear an update on how your trip went!

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Leepa

                                Thanks for the reminder Leepa! We are back home in Toronto, happily recovering after nearly a month on the road, including 2+ weeks in NC.

                                Loved our Asheville week and so glad for all the advice this thread brought us. Staying on for the week after Bele Chere was so relaxing and delicious too. Hit up the good stuff at the festival and ended up staying very near Ultimate Ice Cream on Charlotte and my kids were in heaven. We thought the BC festival food was great and it was so nice to have corn dogs, bloomin' onions in Pritchard Park, and then head to Pack square later in the day and hit up Corner House (spinach salad with fried oyster!), Mela and Home Grown in Pack Square. We were impressed with the offerings from Taste of Asheville and the whole festival experience (music shows, buskers, art, locals in the condos above downtown having fun) was superb. Perfect weekend of action! Just what we needed after lolling around at OBX.

                                The rest of the week we were dutiful tourists and enjoyed the Blue Ridge Parkway (also great ice cream in Blowing Rock) but did manage a couple nights of great Asheville cuisine. Did a real tapas stroll around downtown and hit both Curate & Zambra one night with kids. We all loved both, such very different approaches to the concept of small plates. Curate is obviously the "in" choice, being packed every night of the week all night long. We enjoyed the hubbub there and the classic jamon sampler, etc very much. As good as any Spanish tapas we've eaten anywhere. Zambra blew us away with the wacky combos that seem overly ambitious but are neatly executed and pulled off every one. We didn't think we were hungry when we arrived but the inventive menu du jour lead us to keep ordering for a couple hours with hit after hit of great tastes. They do "rice croquettes" in SE Asian style in exactly the way that my Laotian mother in law does in her own genius of a kitchen. That blew us all away as we live in an Asian food mecca here in Toronto but have never eaten that dish anywhere but chez Grandma. Asheville knows it's foods of the world!

                                We also hit up Tupelo Honey Cafe for a great brunch, as well as Mr Frog's for soul and creole. As a result, I'm completely hooked on Shrimp & Grits, both places doing their own versions and both superb. I've seen a lot of complaints float by about the wait time at Tupelo but we found they were organized and pleasant about it and since it's right across from the park, it was a pleasant wait and worth it for the delicious and relaxing brunch we enjoyed.

                                We were so impressed by all the local brews we tried too. Too many to name but since we didn't enjoy the tap water in Asheville (why so much cholorine? the mountains are super clean, non?) are wondering where the secret springs that feed these breweries??

                                1. re: dameems

                                  Thanks for the report, dameems. So glad you had a good time!

                                  1. re: dameems

                                    Nice report and glad you had a good time and good eating. In regard to the tap water, I don't think the difference in taste is attributable to chlorine...according to each city's website, they have virtually the same level of chlorine in the treated water. Most likely the taste difference is due to things like the acidic nature of the soils in western NC and the granite bedrock that the water flows through. I think Asheville's water has a very minerally-taste.