Asheville is a foodie’s paradise, a mecca for connoisseurs of farm-to-table fare with dishes prepared in ways that make you want to call your mother and ask, “Why didn’t you ever teach me to cook like this?”
Between two trips in as many months, I spent a total of five glorious days feasting my way through this cute little hippy town. My first trip, a quick solo one, was a bit of a tease. I was there just long enough to sample a couple of places, long enough to leave me salivating for more, so I did what every good wife would do, went home and dragged my husband Andrew back so he could see what I had been raving about. He was more than happy to oblige.
There are literally hundreds of places to eat in Asheville, many with simple names like Table, Plant, or Chestnut and figuring out which to try can be tricky, especially since online menus are only in place to give you an idea of the style and types of food served. Many places change the menus weekly based on the availability of local ingredients. So how do you decide- Ask the locals, of course. Why didn’t I think of that sooner?
Here are some of my favorites so far…
Salsas on Patton Ave offers Caribbean style Mexican food in portions big enough to feed a small family or maybe really two adults. On my first visit, I had the tofu fajitas, which for tofu, were very good and yep, Salsa’s is like most Asheville restaurants, very vegetarian-friendly. This second trip with the husband, we started off with some unusual banana-almond salsa that came highly recommended by our server before polishing off the daily special, some type of fresh blackened fish and veggie enchiladas. We practically licked our plates clean. Chef Hector Diaz also owns two other restaurants in town, Modesto which offers unique Italian fare served in tiny portions, cicchetti or tapas style and the Latin restaurant Chorizo, both on my to-dine list next time.
Laughing Seed Cafe is a vegetarian/vegan restaurant with artistically prepared dishes so complex I’m still wondering exactly what was in them. All I know is all the three times I’ve eaten here have been enough to make me seriously considering moving to Asheville, if only it was warm year-round. Even the biggest die-hard carnivore I know agreed with my assessment after trying the special- Peppercorn encrusted Seitan (a wheat gluten based meat substitute) with corn bread pudding and braised baby kale. Seitan is versatile, truly tasty and nothing like Tofu, which was once the only meat substitute ubiquitous in vegetarian meals. Organic wines are sold by the half glass, a perfect opportunity to try twice as many or do as we did and go on a Wednesday night when any full glass of wine is only $5.
Limonese came up more than once when I asked locals for recommendations. It is a simple, yet upscale California style Mexican restaurant and is quite possibly my favorite- so far. Andrew and I shared an order of lobster nachos and an overstuffed shrimp burrito bursting with jumbo shrimp and farm fresh veggies you wouldn’t normally expect to find in your burrito. I took the tiniest bites trying to determine the various veggies, searching for the hidden source of all this deliciousness. I uncovered a few giant fava beans and some tiny little pieces of squash, all combined and cooked in a stealth-like manner, like a mom trying to sneak veggies in her picky kid’s dinner. The made-from-scratch margaritas alone, made Limonese worth the trip. We tried a couple and our fav. was the Fresh Mango. We skipped dessert and instead heading straight for the…
French Broad Chocolate Lounge where we found exposed brick walls, weathered sofas, and a long line of customers. Was it worth the wait? You bet. I sipped hot herbal tea trying to take the chill off while I waited for my soup-sized bowl of tiramisu that the word heaven wouldn’t adequately describe. Forget going back to the hotel, I’m staying right here. The husband had a slice of mocha chocolate cake, which after finishing, told me I could make better. Such a sweet husband, that man of mine. The Lounge also offers coffees, drinking chocolates, organic wines, and local beers to wash down all of that chocolatey goodness.
Early Girl Eatery- is another popular place, especially known for their breakfast and cute hippy servers, many sporting dreads and tattoos. We didn’t have to wait, but most tables were filled even at 9:30 am, on a weekday. We just ordered basic breakfast food, nothing stood out as remarkable, but it was good and the place is rather charming.
Tupelo Honey Café– is the only restaurant I didn’t fall in love with, even though I could very well be in the minority, especially after seeing dozens of people lined up most nights waiting, sometimes for hours, for a table. I tried it during my solo trip and was seated fairly quickly at the bar. My cup of tomato soup and half of veggie melt could have easily fed two. The soup was very cream rich and the sandwich was a bit on the greasy side, but my pre-dinner biscuit and homemade jam made me happy. Think overrated Southern restaurant feel, Paula Deen style. Just not for me, not in a town with so many farm-to-table options. Maybe I’ll give it another chance one day, for breakfast.
In all of the places I have ever visited, Asheville is my #1 choice for best restaurants in America. I love the whole farm-to-table concept, especially living in a touristy town I half-joke that has adopted more of a Sysco-to-table concept (restaurant supply for those of you unfamiliar with it). You really can taste the difference, the freshness of the ingredients and the artful skill of the chefs who change everything up often enough to keep customers coming back for more. I can’t wait to go back and dine my way through the rest of the town.