Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains just one hour from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the hills of Western North Carolina, Asheville is one of the most spectacular, inviting, and quirky cities in the country.
And for those who travel, live and die by their palate, the gastronomic scene here will leave your breathless and looking for more! The numbers alone are a significant testimonial: over 250 independent restaurants, 14 farmer’s markets, numerous James Beard nominated and award-winning chefs, and features on many of the A-List food shows and publications, all found in a city where the population hovers somewhere between 86,000 and 89,000 denizens (425,000-plus in the greater metropolitan area).
Asheville has earned its moniker as a “Foodtopia” where an Appalachian Mountain twist is highlighted in most every distinctive dish, cocktail, brewery and local food products. Because the city sits so close to farmland, the mountains and rivers, there is a great deal of diversity available for farm-to-table, locally sourced and sustainable ingredients, including ramps (a type of wild onion peaking for only about two weeks in April), wild mushrooms, rhubarb, apples, fish, fresh herbs and spices, meats, diary products, grains and fresh produce.
For a smattering of Asheville tastes, embark upon a gastronomic journey with Asheville Food Tour, with tasting pit stops at over a half dozen local eateries. Billed as “The Original Asheville Food Tour” the company offers several themed, 3-hour, culinary adventures including a Downtown Food Tour, Food Fan Foot Tour, Brunch Tour, West Asheville Tour, and Asheville Burger Survey Tour.
The Wild Food Foraging Tours with Alan Muscat, known as Asheville's “Mushroom Man” (and an “alum” of the Food Network's Bizarre Foods) are run through No Taste Like Home, whose mission is “Forage. Reconnect. Rewild.” The Food Foraging Tour is fantastic, starting from a variety of locations around the area including an active, off-the-grid community called Earthaven Ecovillage situated not far from Black Mountain. Here, adventurous foragers spend three hours “off the eaten path” scouring meadows, hillsides, alongside waterways and in other areas to uncover a veritable bounty of seasonal edible greens, berries, chickweed, dandelions, fairy potatoes, mushrooms, flowers, nuts, roots and more.
Toward the end of the adventure the items are fashioned into a delicious appetizer to share, and you can save some of your “catch of the day” to take to one of four, partner, award-winning restaurants who will prepare your items into a delicious lunch or dinner entrée. Gastronomic creations have included everything from wild mushroom pizza to wisteria ice cream, sassafras root beer, daylily tamales and more.
They also offer a Wild Food Stroll in town at The Omni Grove Park Inn where participants will learn how to identify and taste up to a dozen edible wild plants and mushrooms (the latter when in season). Voted #1 foraging activity in the world on Trip Advisor, No Taste Like Home is a must for any foodie.
Whether you source it yourself or sit down to dine in any number of Asheville’s outstanding bistros, bars and grills, and casual or upscale restaurants, you’ll enjoy a wealth of distinctive Foothills Cuisine options made with love, from comfort food to ethnic dishes, unique apps and desserts, fine dining classics, and international and seasonal fare.
Favorite spots vary depending on who you talk to here, among them Foothills Butcher Bar in West Asheville, Moose Café in Piedmont Triad, Buxton Hall Barbecue in South Slope, and The Market Place Restaurant & Lounge off Patton Avenue, in addition to French Broad Chocolate Lounge, Isa’s Bistro, and Bim Beri Bon.
And if you are a meatless-seeking foodie, your taste buds will thank you for taking it where there are reportedly more vegan and vegetarian-friendly eateries per capita than other U.S. cities of similar size. Plant, Rosetta’s Kitchen & Buchi Bar, Posana, Green Sage Café (3 locations), and Home Grown, are just a few of the highly-rated and patronized joints here.
Pour a Cold One
Home to over 50 microbreweries and brewpubs in the area, including two large national craft breweries, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada, that have their East Coast operations here, Asheville prefers the title of Beer City USA. That said, you may be surprised to know that this breadth of offerings and accolade survives despite some very restrictive alcohol laws in North Carolina and in the city.
Still, the brewery scene here continues to thrive, creating its own unique tie to the culinary scene here. In addition to the biggie breweries, you’ll find local and visitor faves like White Labs Kitchen & Tap, Highland Brewing Company, Green Man Brewery, Wicked Weed Brewing, and Archetype Brewing, just to name a few. And for hard cider fans there’s Urban Orchard Cider Co., TreeRock Social Cider House, and Noble Cider, among others.
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