Asheville is one of those rare destinations that has something for everyone: gorgeous scenery, endless outdoor activities, a vibrant downtown with a strong cultural identity, and an amazing array of delightful restaurants. Here are some of my favorite eateries –I’ll tackle hikes and other excursions in another post.
Zambra is a lively Spanish restaurant situated on a small alley, off the beaten track but oh-so-worth finding. The vast array of tapas, as well as appealing entrees and paellas make this a very fun dining experience. Our server suggested three tapas per diner, giving us the opportunity to do some serious grazing. Favorites included gnocchi with chiogga beets, preserved lemons and chevre; smoked lamb tacos; pork belly with butternut squash puree and sesame-cashew brittle. The restaurant can be loud, especially when the music starts, but we were lucky to be in a quiet alcove. Prices are reasonable, though the bill will add up if you can’t resist ordering dish after dish.
Rezez features exceptional Mediterranean cuisine in a casual, contemporary setting. We started with mezze, warm pita served with three of the best Middle-Eastern dips I can remember having — olive hummus; muhammara, a red pepper dip spiked with harissa; and babaganouj, a grilled eggplant puree. The menu offers several dishes as an appetizer or in a larger portion as an entrée. I’m not typically a gnocchi fan, but the pea gnocchi was light, flavorful and colorful.
Limones offers an intriguing mix of Californian and Mexican fare. The mustard colored walls and pottery accents set the tone for a relaxing evening. Margaritas are a specialty, with the blood orange and pomegranate varieties among the most popular. BBQ duck quesadillas (which look more like a burrito) with guacamole, pickled cabbage and corn relish are a highlight.
Breakfast is an event here, and my favorite is at Sunny Point Cafe. It’s a local hangout that has understandably been proclaimed the city’s “Best Breakfast” award six years running. Whether you get a coveted table on the patio or eat inside, it’s all about the food. Breakfast is served all day, but each meal has a personality all its own. The tostadas are a Southern riff on the New Mexican version, topped as they are with grilled chipotle cheese grit cakes, roasted tomatillo salsa, feta and baby field greens. The huevos rancheros are another winner and also unique–savory black bean cakes served with chorizo, feta cheese, roasted tomatillo salsa, and potatoes topped with two free range eggs, cilantro crema, and crispy tortilla strips.
A few others I can’t neglect to mention –
12 Bones Smokehouse. It wasn’t Kansas City barbecue, but it certainly surpassed my expectations. Living in the BBQ capital of the country, I was skeptical that Asheville’s most revered barbecue joint could hold a candle to what I frequent in my hometown. But I was pleasantly surprised; the ribs and pulled pork were tender and lean, and 12 Bones offered a choice of sauces. Though the tomato based sauce couldn’t compare to Oklahoma Joe’s or L.C.’s, it and the spicy jalapeno sauce were more compelling than the more traditional Carolina vinegar sauce.
Chai Pani. “Namaste, y’all”. The slogan on the servers’ t-shirts here perfectly reflects the eclectic nature of Asheville’s restaurants. Serving Indian sandwiches, stuffed breads, and salads, as well as the more traditional thali and daal, this Indian street food spot is casual, fresh, exciting and novel.