48 Hours in Asheville: Where to Eat and Drink
You’ll crave way more time in the Paris of the South, but this is a solid start.
Asheville, nestled in western North Carolina’s picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, is a city that has it all. Coined the “Paris of the South,” the vibrant hotspot is a melting pot of art, culture, architecture, spectacular beer and a food scene that rivals any city in the country. Plus, let’s not forget about George Washington Vanderbilt’s jaw-dropping Biltmore Estate, a 19th-century chateau-style home that feels as if it were spit straight out of Bordeaux.
While you could spend weeks perusing Asheville, we suggest hightailing it for a quick weekend jaunt to explore its bustling food scene. With chefs like Brian Canipelli, Katie Button and John Fleer constantly pushing the envelope—along with many other talented chefs, brew masters and tastemakers in the area—there’s something in the city for every palate.
What next? Simply pack your bags, board the plane and leave the rest to us. Here, a 48-hour eating and drinking guide that won’t steer you wrong; however, some serious gym time will be required upon your return home.
The Asheville Regional Airport is thankfully small, so grab your luggage and buzz right through to head to the first stop: Sierra Nevada (100 Sierra Nevada Way), the “Biltmore of breweries,” for lunch. Mix up an eclectic flight of Basil Mint IPA, Ovila Abbey White, Hop and Sour, Otra Vez and Kellerweis while sinking your teeth into gourmet Joyce Farms chicken wings with soy glaze and heavenly duck fat fries.
It would be wise to check into Chestnut Street Inn (176 E Chestnut St.), part of Asheville’s touted Asheville Bed & Breakfast Association, for the sole purpose of meeting owners Emilie and Arturo, who met in New York City; they're sommeliers and food fanatics at heart. The duo offer a self-guided beer crawl based on personal favorite breweries, local beer on tap at guests' disposal, a rotating weekly port wine in a charming crystal decanter and Emilie’s ridiculously amazing cookies and pastries available as a pick-me-up snack throughout the day. (Note: her potato chip shortbread cookies are worth every calorie consumed.)
The afternoon is young, and it’s time for a cocktail or two at Capella on 9, Asheville’s most scenic and spacious new rooftop bar and restaurant. A signature gin and tonic or a Noble Clara (noble cider and soda water) are best paired with marinated olives, a mix board of imported and local charcuterie and cheeses and the most spicy, alluring mustard from Lusty Monk Mustard. From there, mosey down the street to French Broad Chocolates for some bean-to-bar action before dinner. A Mexican-style Oaxaca drinking chocolate and the chocolate bar library will keep you occupied for a while, just don’t leave without a souvenir of award-winning lemongrass and ginger truffles.
For dinner, choose between Rhubarb (7 Southwest Pack Square), helmed by chef John Fleer, who arguably put Blackberry Farms on the culinary map, or Brian Canipelli’s Cucina 24 (24 Wall Street.) Quite frankly, this is the toughest decision you’ll make during this trip. At Rhubarb, sit at the chef’s bar, imbibe a notable farmhouse ale and order the can’t-live-without burrata to start. Next, we suggest "the house cure," an Instagram-worthy spread of head cheese, smoked trout rilette, country pâté and tempting accoutrements; the salad of local lettuces with a crushed blueberry-banyuls vinaigrette; Mongolian barbecued lamb ribs with collard green kimchi; foraged mushroom and bean cassoulet and the rhubarb-glazed duck confit. You'll be too full to manage dessert, but not to worry, the restaurant displays to-go desserts on a table by the door on the way out. Fingers crossed for a croixette, a croissant-meets-baguette hybrid that’s all the rage in town. At Cucinca 24, you will also want to sit at the chef’s bar. There are two menus—a traditional Italian-style menu (the “classics”) and a tasting menu for more adventurous eaters (“what we’re cooking.”) Opt for the latter, which promises odd greens artfully displayed on a plate alongside the best white anchovy dip of your life, intriguing made-to-order pasta creations, stracciatella with veggies, roasted amberjack and much more.
A good night’s sleep followed by a two-course breakfast at Chestnut Street Inn is the best way to start this aggressive eating and drinking day. Think housemade granola and yogurt and breakfast enchiladas crafted with locally made tortillas and Arturo’s mother’s secret green salsa from Puebla, Mexico.
You’re in Asheville, the most hyped beer city in the South, so it’s only natural to spend a portion of the day hitting some of the best breweries around. Start in the South Slope district, aka the “brewery district,” so you can hit several breweries at once. Burial Beer Co. (40 Collier Ave.), Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium (147 Coxe Ave.) for sour beer enthusiasts and Twin Leaf Brewery (144 Coxe Ave.) come highly recommended, though there are many others to explore depending on your liking.
If time allows and the day is right—as in only open Friday and Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m.— Zebulon Artisan Ales (8 Merchants Alley), just outside of the city in Weaverville, is one of the most interesting breweries in the country. Brewer Mike Karnowski’s focus is Belgian farmhouse-style beers and historical, forgotten beers such as an October Beer from 1750 and a Polish Grodziskie from the 1400s, sipping just as they would have in the past.
Naturally, after a day of drinking beer, it’s time for more grub ... and cocktails. Katie Button’s Cúrate (13 Biltmore Ave), with the adjoining Vermouth Bar, is a perfect pre-dinner spot. "We wanted to do what we do, but better,” says Button, of the new space featuring a tap wall of vermouth, sherry, red sangria and cider, as well as a Jamoneria station. For a proper vermouth experience, Button suggests ordering exactly this: the gilda (anchovy, olive and piparra) to start, pan de cristal con tomate (tomato bread that will forever linger in your imagination), a selection of cured Spanish ham that will melt in your mouth and cockles with Bonilla à la Vista potato chips from Spain and obviously a vermouth beverage.
Dinner is at Foothills Butcher Bar (697 Haywood Road) in West Asheville, a hip bubble of its own. Arrive early and walk off a few calories in the neighborhood, as you’ll definitely want to bring your A-game to this food truck-turned-meat-centric-brick-and-mortar eatery. The chicken liver pâté, lined with sweet potato and apple butter, is all that and a bag of chips—as are the flavorful housemade Slim Jims with hoop cheese. Pace yourself, as there are still many things to tackle, like tenderloin tartare, bologna and hoop cheese croquettes, crispy pig head torchon and the Classic Lil’ Cheeseburger with tallow fries, which eats like an elevated version of Wendy’s—and we say this in the most complimentary way possible.
Hopefully you’ve saved room, as one of our favorite Asheville spots awaits. Sovereign Remedies (29 N Market St.), a whimsical cocktail lounge and restaurant, is the place to grab a cocktail and late-night bites. We don’t care how stuffed you are, it’s imperative to nosh on a few of chef Graham House’s chicken skin chips, bone marrow tater tots and honey crisp apples (it turns out, mushrooms and apples do work strikingly well together!). The cocktails dreamed-up here are quite possibly some of the most inventive we’ve consumed, including the brand new Shrubbing Bubbles, containing peach shrub, Bonal, Cappelletti, Cava and lime bitters. It’s like an earthy take on the classic Aperol Spritz, but it tastes more like fall than summer.
It’s your last morning, sigh. Not to worry, though, as there’s still time to hit a few of the city’s finest. Start strong with organic iced coffee at Sunny Point Café (626 Haywood Rd.), a popular breakfast spot in West Asheville. There are two routes; a healthier version of black bean and sweet potato empanadas and a breakfast salad (yes, breakfast salads are a thing here), or the indulgent route consisting of the restaurant’s famous huevos rancheros doused in cilantro crema. Either way, you can’t order wrong. Save room for a doughnut just down the road at Hole Doughnuts (168 Haywood Rd). Flavors may come and go, but vanilla glazed still remains the most coveted order. The doughnuts are so damn good for two reasons: they’re made similar to brioche and they’re fried-to-order right in front of your face.
Your final hours are best spent exploring the River Arts District, located on the picturesque French Broad River, one of the world's oldest. The area is booming with studios and galleries and food stops along the way, including 12 Bones Smokehouse (5 Foundy Street), a hyped barbecue spot with otherworldly ribs smothered in divine sauces made from Cheerwine and blueberry. The sides here are also unmissable, because to be honest, we can’t resist the corn pudding and jalapeno grits.
Wedge Brewing Co. just so happens to have a new location, Wedge at Foundation (5 Foundy Street), beside the BBQ joint, so end the trip on a high note with a local brew or two before checking back into reality.