Get a taste of Appalachian soul food—and so much more—in this low-key mountain town.

By Zoe Denenberg
March 10, 2020
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Find locally beloved bistro The Bull and Beggar next door to Wedge Brewing Co. along the French Broad River.
Cameron Reynolds

A mountain town known for its picturesque views and burgeoning food scene, Asheville, North Carolina, is just getting started. In fact, Yelp recently named Asheville as its top food destination of the year, describing the town as a “regional-food powerhouse powered by generations-old family farms.” But as much as the hilltop town is deeply connected to its Appalachian mountain terroir—many of Asheville’s restaurants, including Buxton Hall Barbecue, proudly cook in Eastern-Carolina style—its international cuisine continues to blossom. Hot spots like Chai Pani and Cúrate continue to cement Asheville’s place at the forefront of the South’s innovative, multicultural culinary community. The city acts as a welcoming incubator to a whole slew of adventurous, ambitious projects, from new brewery concepts to renovated Airstream trailer resorts. So kick back at one of Asheville’s staple breweries—may we recommend an afternoon at Burial Beer Company?—and fill your food itinerary with stops at these local favorites.

Chai Pani

"I don't know if I would have had the courage to open this place anywhere other than Asheville," says Chef Meherwan Irani, who opened Chai Pani in 2009 with his wife, Molly. While Irani had no prior professional cooking experience, his concept of innovative, playful Indian cuisine soon took off. “Walls are painted with murals resembling advertisements you might see on the streets of Mumbai, and the restaurant has a similar buzz as servers carry Butter Chicken Thali on lazy Susan-like platters and Sloppy Jai (simmered lamb with green chutney and yogurt on a toasted bun) to packed tables,” writes Hannah Hayes for Southern Living. Don’t miss the Matchstick Okra Fries and tiki cocktails at the downstairs MG Road Lounge.

Asheville, North CarolinaChef Merherwan Irani's acclaimed Indian restaurant Chai Pani might seem where the action is, but there's a whole other party downstairs at the cocktail lounge MG Road. Underneath a kaleidoscopic canopy of Christmas lights, feather boa-thick tencel, and disco balls, bartenders mix up drinks with Indian-inspired ingredients like the Jaipur Julep with tequila, ancho chile liqueur, and a toasted coriander-ginger syrup. There's snacks and small plates too including the oft-ordered MG wings, crispy with a sweet heat from a mix of black peppercorns, chiles, and jaggery (a tangy powder made from concentrated palm sugar). mgroadlounge.com
Courtesy MG Road Bar and Lounge

Buxton Hall Barbecue

The trademark of good, Southern barbecue is cooking with immense care, and at Buxton Hall, you can feel the love. The cult-favorite brand bottles its signature white BBQ sauce, but it’s not keeping any secrets; in fact, the recipe is written right on the bottle. Buxton Hall’s Barbecue may be classically inspired, but pitmaster Elliot Moss has quite a few tricks up his sleeve. Barbecue guru Robert Moss writes that Buxton Hall’s “spirit of cheffy experimentation, ultimately, leads to tasty things like green beans cooked under the pig and fusiony banana pudding pies.” Moss recommends the smoky, salt- and sugar-cured fried catfish and, of course, a slice of pastry chef Ashley Capps’ banana pudding pie (or you can bake Buxton Hall’s Ultimate Apple Pie at home).

Left: Photo: Cameron Reynolds
Right: At Buxton Hall Barbecue on Asheville's South Slope, pitmaster Elliott Moss smokes whole hogs and mops them with his signature vinegar-based sauce. Photo: Cameron Reynolds

Benne on Eagle

At Benne on Eagle, chef Ashleigh Shanti shines a light on the previously untold story of Appalachian soul food. Shanti, who studied under chef Vivian Howard, pays particular attention to history and legacy: the restaurant itself is located in The Block, a historically African American neighborhood, and Shanti focuses on hiring from the neighborhood. "About 25% of our line is composed of people who have direct relatives who owned businesses here," Shanti says. "Their memories and stories make what we do so much more profound."

WATCH: South's Best Food Cities 2020

Cúrate

Katie Button’s Spanish tapas bar, Cúrate, rounds out Asheville’s international food scene, gaining much attention for its thoughtful small plates and traditional paella. Come with friends and share a selection of Spanish classics over sangria; don’t miss the authentic, hand-cut jamón ibérico, head-on Mediterranean prawns, and Basque vermouth on tap.

Other spots not to miss: Early Girl Eatery for all-day breakfast; All Souls Pizza for—you guessed it—pizza; Hole Doughnuts for sweets; Cucina 24 for heartwarming Italian; and The Bull and Beggar for riverside French.