Some 10 million visitors flock to Asheville, North Carolina, every year, so the city hardly flies under the radar. Still, with days spent hiking the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and evenings enjoying local craft beer from more than 28 breweries (the most per capita of any U.S. city), it’s easy to underestimate its gastronomic offerings.
But the available experiences in Asheville are more diverse, and of higher quality, than many cities 10 times its size. Oozing with charm and relatively walkable, Asheville can bring to mind a less genteel Charleston, South Carolina, a less decadent New Orleans, or a pre-boom Austin. But it offers a distinct taste of Appalachian character.
Where to Eat in Asheville
An authentic tapas bar in downtown Asheville? Indeed, this is a city full of surprises. Katie Button opened Cúrate in 2011 with her husband, Félix Meana, an alum of restaurant El Bulli in his hometown of Roses, Spain, on Catalonia’s Costa Brava. In fact, a wall-sized photo of the town graces one of Cúrate’s dining rooms. With an extensive Spanish wine list and top-notch tapas, it’s been a immediate hit. A recent expansion doubled its size, adding an all-day vermutería—vermouth and Sherry on tap and the best imported jamones—for an even truer experience. Button & Meana’s nearby Nightbell offers creative American cuisine with a more expansive, global wine list.
Asheville’s pervasive farm-to-table philosophy takes an Italian slant at Cucina 24, as nearly every ingredient here is sourced from local farmers, foragers and gardeners. Try dishes like poached trout with fresh horseradish and mustard greens, and pizza topped with nettles and goat milk ricotta. Reservations fill up fast, but it’s first come, first served at the bar, which is a good place to explore the all-Italian wine list. If the essence of Italian cuisine is the freshest ingredients prepared simply, Cucina 24 is Italian to its core.
The Bull and Beggar
Serving self-proclaimed “European-inspired Appalachian cuisine” like juniper-crusted venison with parsnip and elderberry, The Bull and Beggar is the perfect place to end a day in the red-hot River Arts District, which overlooks the scenic French Broad River. A French-slanted wine list offers more than 125 wines, which includes an array of amari, fortified wines and traditional absinthe service. Raw Bar Happy Hour is held Monday through Saturday from 5-6 pm, which features half-price oysters and clams.
We Also Love
East Fork Pottery‘s handmade ceramic housewares, made by Henri Matisse’s great-grandson.
OWL Bakery, which stands for Old World Levain, for its European-style breads and pastries.
Hole Doughnuts‘s craggy, addictive donuts fried to order, to go with killer coffee.
The Biltmore, because it’s America’s largest private home, featuring 8,000 sprawling acres.
Crow and Quill’s colorful members-only speakeasy with 600 spirits, which includes 300 whiskeys.
Where to Drink in Asheville
Is Sovereign Remedies a cocktail bar with great food, or a small-plates restaurant with great drinks? Try hyper-local, vegetable-forward seasonal bar snacks. A small but thoughtful wine list deserves attention, but most opt for creative cocktails like the “Pre-Hangover Tonic.” It’s a healthy infusion of coconut water, milk thistle, turmeric, alfalfa, evening primrose, prickly pear and shatavari, available with or without aged rum.
The Imperial Life
Located upstairs from Table, one of Asheville’s first and best farm-to-table restaurants, The Imperial Life is a cozy cocktail bar with a retro vibe and forward-thinking offerings. Wines highlight lesser-known regions and varieties like Piedmontese Ruché, Slovenian Pinot Grigio and a Viennese Gemischter Satz field blend. Cocktails feature combos like Tequila with matcha as well as cachaça with fortified Chenin Blanc and strawberry drinking vinegar. Thursday nights feature great live music from The Roaring Lions, a local piano-sousaphone-cornet jazz trio.
Battery Park Book Exchange
Asheville is a great brunch city, but there may be no better leisurely weekend plan than to relax on a sofa at the Battery Park Book Exchange. The bookstore, which sells new, used and collectible titles, doubles as one of the city’s best wine bars. It features 75 by-the-glass pours and a book selection strong in American history. Sundays feature $5 mimosas, perfect with local trout dip and other quick snacks.