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Foodiest City: Asheville, NC vs Charleston, SC (or possibly Savannah, GA?)

Which city in the southeast has the most variety of ethnic food?

If you were to pick a city that would appeal to both foodie tourists and (that has the most culinarily "aware" locals) which would it be (outside of Atlanta, GA)?

Also, If you wish to throw the Research Triangle into the mix, so be it, I'm all ears.

I live in the northeast and hands down (outside of Boston) the award goes to Portland, Me.

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  1. I don't think Savannah even comes close to those cities you mentioned or to Research Triangle area. And really? Portland, Maine as compared to parts of New York? Some how I don't think so.

    1. Besides ATL and in order...
      1. New Orleans
      2. Miami
      3. Charleston
      4. Asheville
      5. Nashville
      6. Louisville

      I agree with burgeoningfoodie, Savannah is not (yet) a "foodie" town.

      4 Replies
        1. re: Jeff C.

          What area's comprise the South East? I don't generally think of Kentucky or Missou as South East and same for New Orleans. I don't consider Florida the South if we are talking about something more like cuisine types but if she is asking about as far as location/direction than yeah it is... if that makes sense.

          1. re: burgeoningfoodie

            Good question. I assumed "southeast" meant the entire region.

            1. re: Jeff C.

              I'm assuming SE refers to the parameters of this board.

              I also assume NE is within CH parameters, hence NYC not being part of the equation.

        2. Thank you for the replies, sorry for the confusion. Basically I meant the "Southeast" as specified by this board. Miami, New Orleans, Florida, Kentucky and Atlanta all have their own categories. so I didn't include those. So, it seems the consensus is Charleston first, then Asheville, with Savannah coming in at a distant third.

          Yes, I should have written Northern New England (not Northeast) when mentioning Portland, Maine.

          Doesn't Asheville have more brewpubs and more of a farmer's market scene vs Charleston? It also has three or four Indian places, does Charleston have that many?

          What about ethnic markets, taquerias, spice shops, etc? I know Charleston has a Whole Foods and Trader Joes over the bridge on Mt Pleasant, does Asheville have any decent markets in town?

          3 Replies
          1. re: bewley

            I'd say Asheville as far as variety of "ethnic" food. Charleston has a lot of good food, but is there a variety of ethnic foods or restaurants?

            We (Ashevillians) have two Earth Fare markets as well as Greenlife Grocery (bought out by Whole Foods and a sort of Whole Foods Lite) and a Trader Joe's under construction within two blocks of downtown. We have some Asian markets and many Latin markets. There is also have a market that specializes in Eastern European ingredients. There are fabulous farmer's markets - mostly on the weekends but also a few during the week.

            Hope that helps.

            1. re: Leepa

              Charleston has an unbelievable amount of excellent restaurants in a concentrated area, but I don't think it has the ethnic variety of Asheville. Farmers markets operate in different areas on different days of the week. The climate is such that the growing season is long, so fresh beautiful stuff is available year round. There are a couple of brew pubs in Charleston but not as many as Asheville. And, while Savannah has great restaurants too, I didn't see lots of ethnic variety during my short stay there. Charleston has all the WF, EF, TJ's too.

            2. re: bewley

              North Carolina is (and I may be saying this wrong) the largest exporter of beer or has the most brew pubs.

              I think RTP has more diversity than Charleston, but with Charleston I can only think of southern and gullah style foods. And I know that the farmer's markets of RTP area are ranked better than Asheville or Charleston.

              As far as restaurant establishments that are foodie worthy, I think probably Asheville and Charleston exceed there.

            3. That is a very tough call. I've spent time in both cities, and each certainly in terms of ethnic food has a great variety of it spread out across each area. Charleston recently had a nice explosion of new ethnic restaurants to add to it's already fairly solid list of ethnic food, including some great food trucks like Refueler's (filipino) joining oldies like Roti Rolls. Some new stuff like Xiao Bao Biscuit and new Vietnamese restaurants along with a giant wave of banh mi have made a strong case for Southeast Asian food. There's a few French staples and European restaurants throughout the pennisula along with strong Southern restaurants that we all know and love by now (FIG, Husk, McCrady, SNOB, etc.). Asheville is no doubt a wonderful mecca for ethnic food in the culture district and just a great, great eating town in general. I would not throw one above the other, they are fantastic towns, both well worth spending time in for different reasons, as a foodie and tourist.

              2 Replies
              1. re: ForagingFoodie

                As a former new yorker, who has lived in Cambridge Mass. I plump for the Triangle, due the big Asian population here we have tons of South Indian restaurants plus Northern, Chinese, Greek, Thai, German-Polish,Korean, Japanese restaurants, there are huge Chinese and Indian supermarkets, farmer's markets. Also thanks to immigration tons of taquerias and markets. I really miss nothing.....

                1. I just cannot comprehend the Asheville hype. Please don't even use ethnic and Asheville in the same sentence.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: kdeats

                    I cannot comprehend the tiny minority who bash the Asheville food scene.

                    1. re: carolinadawg

                      okay, quick...name a dozen ethnic eateries around town. Our utter lack of ethnic diversity is clearly reflected in the food scene. Just sayin'

                      1. re: kdeats

                        If you count Indian, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Sushi, Thai, Vietnamese, and Salvadorian as ethnic, there are way more than a dozen. (Still no true Dim sum, alas.)

                        1. re: kdeats

                          Are you serious? There are nearly a dozen that are members of AIR alone...Mela, Chai Pani, Jeruselum Cafe, Curate, etc., etc. I have no idea what you are "just saying' ".

                    2. If we're using variety (and presumably quality) of ethnic foods as the yard stick, then I have to vote for the Triangle area. Other than Atlanta, I don't think any metro area in the Southeast comes close to what the Triangle can offer.

                      1. And the pissing contest begins....

                        1. I don't know the Charleston or Savannah food scene well enough to comment.

                          I spent many years in Asheville. I have worked with food there and in the Triangle.

                          For a city of it's size Asheville has an astounding number of excellent, innovative restaurants, makers and growers from the surrounding areas. The food incubator has really upped the number of locally made products over the last 10 years or so. This area has a long history of influences outside of Appalachian. Well traveled visitors have left their mark over the years (Vanderbilts, Grove Park, those seeking the healing power of mountain air). The Black Mountain School brought more creativity to the mix. In the last fifty years Mother Earth News originated a little south of Asheville and their EcoVillage helped spur the use of organic concepts in the area.

                          But the OP specifically mentions Ethnic Food. In that area the Triangle is the hands down winner. As Rory illustrated, the Triangle has a wealth of ethnic markets, restaurants and related food/cultural festivals. We may not have Buford highway but there are several areas where ethnic restaurants and markets are clustered creating a great opportunity to explore.

                          The Triangle is a much larger area so it is easy to be distracted by all the chains which go hand-in-hand with suburban sprawl.
                          But the Triangle has a very good number of excellent, innovated restaurants, makers and growers. Asheville probably has more per capita, but I think the Triangle has the most by simple count.

                          From a tourist perspective I think Asheville is the better experience. Downtown, The River District and West Asheville are all very walkable and located fairly close together. The city has tremendous charm, vibrancy and rocks in people watching, fine crafts and mountain views. It's just a terrific destination for travel.

                          The Triangle has lots to offer a traveler but many of the highlights are a distance from each other. To get the most out of a trip to the Triangle a visitor needs to do more planning and be willing to do a bit of driving. That said, the Triangle can be a really rewarding destination.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: meatn3

                            I much prefer Savannah as a city (one of the most beautiful we have) but intriguing american cooking is more easily available in Charleston. Asheville has charm but not quite the same range, though in some ways it is closer to Portland, ME which does indeed have a fine food scene. If you are including Florida in your search, Sarasota is beginning to appeal both because of the growth of it's restaurant scene and the rebuilding of it's downtown. As to the Triangle, good food but not much charm imho.

                          2. Well, I have to say I disagree with the assumption that a variety of ethnic food = the "foodiest" city. But if ethnic food is what we're going on, Charlotte, which as far as I can see hasn't been mentioned in this thread, would win easily. It is the largest city in the southeast, next to Jacksonville, FL. Yes, larger than Atlanta, although as a metropolitan area, it is smaller. As a major US city, it has the ethnic diversity, markets, and restaurants that one would expect. To talk about a place having "four Indian restaurants" is kind of a joke. If we are going to count restaurants, of any ethnicity, Charlotte will win just based on size.

                            That said, I think ethnic restaurants and grocers are not what really make a place a "foodie" city. Charleston has a long and rich indiginous food culture, and if you go there you are mostly going to find Charleston food. You don't go to Charleston to eat Thai. It is very much like New Orleans in this regard, and New Orleans is certainly in the running for "foodiest" city in the US, unless your criteria are the number of Indian and Thai restaurants. To me, what makes cities like Charleston so precious is that they have this long tradition, which has remained intact and thrives, and while the rest of the county becomes more and more homogeneous, these places retain their identity.

                            8 Replies
                              1. re: MelMM

                                I was about to type the same. Large ethnic "food scene" in Charlotte. Although, I too don't think having the most ethnic restaurants and grocers = foodiest city either. I am surprised by the little mention of the RTP and Charlotte. I mean Savannah? Really?

                                And Raleigh and Charlotte areas have tons of farmers markets and strong community support of these markets. That should account for something.

                                All the cities mentioned have relatively young food scenes that are still growing and evolving. For most of them, there is no where to go but up and I am looking forward to the journey.

                                1. re: MelMM

                                  "Well, I have to say I disagree with the assumption that a variety of ethnic food = the "foodiest" city"

                                  That was exactly my question and why I find it hard to answer. I look for casual, cheap, ethnic for everyday lunches, it's not what I look for on vacation, so I have a hard time relating to the question.

                                  But fwiw, I love Asheville, I try to get there 2-3 times a month, mainly for the food...but IMO the restaurants in Charleston are at a much higher level. (although the beer sceene and the farmer's market is better in Asheville)

                                  1. re: danna

                                    Regarding the beer scene in Charleston vs. Asheville, there is no question that there are a lot more breweries in Asheville, but I would argue that COAST, Westbrook and Holy City can take on Asheville's best and hold their own. Other than Wicked Weed, I find Asheville's breweries good, not great.

                                    1. re: brentk

                                      Haven't tried COAST, but Asheville's Wedge Brewing belongs on that shortlist, too.

                                      1. re: brentk

                                        Come on....can't Charleston cut us a LITTLE slack? :-) You're right, those are lovely too. Is it coast or Holy city that makes the HopArt? Had that at Bowen's Island and really liked it.

                                        Really, Wicked Weed? I'll be amazed if it beats Pisgah, Wedge and French Broad...you know, places that are more about the brewing than the brewery. Just my bias, must go investigate.

                                        1. re: danna

                                          Coast does makes HopArt. They also make a great double IPA and a great imperial stout. I can't think of any Asheville brewers whose IPAs, double IPAs and imperial stouts are as good.

                                          With respect to Wicked Weed, they are doing both barrel-aged beers and sours. I'm not aware of any other Asheviile brewery that is that ambitious.

                                          1. re: brentk

                                            Danna, you MUST try Wicked Weed! Hands down the best! It's become our Saturday ritual. Everything is great. I would say its most definitely "about the brewing" too - constantly rotating brews, unique collaborations, craft beers that I've not seen anywhere else in town. I never thought of myself as a beer girl but this place has totally changed me. Try it!

                                  2. I have lived in NE (CT, MA, NH) and moved to NC (3 years in Charlotte and last 11 in Durham)...

                                    Charlotte really is really lacking for foodies for a city its' size. If you want steak from a 'name brand' upscale chain (Sullivan, Capital Grille, Mortons, Ruth Chris), then you will love Charlotte. If foodie to you means more local places without pretense that might not be all granite and glass, then look elsewhere.

                                    The triangle has so much going on... an incredible and diverse international scene, lots of farm to table... HOT place for food trucks. New places all of the time...

                                    I love Asheville, but food options are somewhat limited... Laughing Seed remains a favorite, but that's a bias because of prior meals which came after many days in the woods working up an appetite. Charleston is a top food destination no doubt -- as is Atlanta.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: thethe

                                      It doesn't sound like you've spent much much time in Charlotte lately...lots of non-pretentious, good local places now. Asheville may be somewhat limited in quantity, I guess, but per capita, in punches above its weight, no doubt.

                                      1. re: carolinadawg

                                        Ditto what carolinadawg said.

                                        While Charlotte was a steak house mecca several years ago it has evolved quite nicely over the past few years and continues to do so. Huge local food scene, farmers markets everywhere and ethnic eats abound.