I’m surprised I haven’t gotten to this subject before now. Those who know me know I love breakfast, and those who know diners know that they excel in this arena. What’s more, diners are a staple of the American diet, perhaps even, as some scholars posit, the epitome of our culinary traditions. I myself have mused that it may be that in the far-flung future, when the bald eagle and unlicensed fireworks are but distant legends, the peoples of the earth may still remember coffee and waffles, three ninety-nine.
That’s where my enthusiasm for this subject is coming from. That, and the fact that the best diners in Asheville are some of the best diners in the state. From simple downhome comforts to outrageous improvisations on the meaning of breakfast, the diners of Asheville have it all. So, if you too harbor an insatiable hunger for the most important meal of the day, read on and discover five of the best diners in Asheville.
A long-standing local favorite, the fittingly named Cornerstone restaurant sits on the east side of town. It may be distant from the amusements of downtown, but those with a dose of local lore know that there’s plenty to do in East Asheville. Particularly, I have in mind a visit to the WNC Nature Center, or the Asheville Mall.
As to the menu, it's a cornucopia of comfort food. Meatloaf hash, eggs-benedict served with everything from smoked salmon to chipotle cream, and waffles or pancakes prepared any which way you can imagine them, including bacon-laced, blueberry crunch, and banana-foster.
The lunch menu is equally expansive, switching out the eggs and waffles for baby back ribs, Monte Cristos, French dip paninis, and beef tips over rice with made-from-scratch gravy.
In short: a little something for everyone.
Hours: 7:30am to 9pm Sunday through Thursday, open until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Not to be confused with West Asheville’s Universal Joint, this fine diner of Asheville lies in Fairview, one of the many idyllic small towns in the Greater Asheville Cultural Zone (GACZ for short), making it the perfect choice to pair with a visit to some of the Blue Ridge’s easterly trails, such as Bearwallow Mountain.
Despite being somewhat of a satellite, the Local Joint’s menu indulges in a penchant for plant-rich meals and eclectic incorporations usually associated with the restaurants of trendy downtown. That means huevos rancheros, local tempeh, and Cajun fried chicken, alongside some of the more usual diner entries, such as eggs benedict and biscuits and gravy.
If you miss the breakfast-window—and miss it so hard the sun's gone down—then you may want to pay a visit to the Joint Next Door (about ten paces to the southeast), for local brews and live music.
Hours: 9am to 9pm Monday through Friday, 8am to 9pm Saturdays, 8am to 3pm Sundays. As to the Joint Next Door: 4pm to midnight Monday through Saturday, noon to 8pm Sundays.
Serving Asheville for more than fifty years, this downtown landmark fuses style with simplicity in dishes that embrace both the best parts of WNC’s cuisine (pulled pork, catfish and grits), as well as the staples of solid diner fare, like breakfast sandwiches and French toast with sausage.
From there, the Med’s culinary capabilities just keep on getting broader and broader. They have mimosas and Blood Mary’s to elevate your breakfast into brunch, and for lunch: swiss patty melts with thousand-island dressing, as well as lamb gyros.
But what really has me impressed is their late-night menu, served from their walk-thru window on Friday and Saturday nights from 9pm to 2:30 in the morning. These witching-hour rarities include a gyro box, fried chicken in a basket, and the “City Haul” composed of fries, fried okra, red eye gravy, ground beef, peppers and onions, all smothered in thick smack sauce.
Suffice to say, if you find yourself out in downtown in the wee hours of the morning, a visit to this diner may come as nothing less than a lifesaver.
Hours: 8am to 2pm Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9am to 2pm Sundays. Closed Mondays.
Yet another local institution, I reckon Five Points is about the closest you can find among these best diners of Asheville to the classic Mom-and-Pop diners of the soon-forgotten past. The kind of place that puts “home” in “home country cooking.”
Sure, it may be nothing fancy, but by golly, you don’t got to ritz up a pancake to make it delicious. They’re just born that way. Same goes for pork chops and home fries, chicken and waffles, corned beef Reubens, and country fried steak.
And yet, a keen-eyed diner will notice that their menu harbors hidden depths. Namely, an expansive selection of fried seafood for lunch, including clams and oysters, plus a strong coterie of Greek specialties stemming from the owning family’s heritage. That means spanakopita, moussaka, pastitsio, and homemade baklava.
Hours: 6am to 4pm Monday through Friday, 6am to 3pm Saturdays, and 7am to 3pm Sundays. This one wins the award for “earliest open,” a glittering medal on the breast of any diner worth its salt.
Like many of my favorite recent discoveries, Tastee Diner lies in West Asheville, known for its impenetrable hipness, and plethora of local gathering places. Speaking of the former, if I had to pin down Tastee Diner in one word, it would be “bold.”
What do I mean by that? I mean a diner that joins the best base elements of breakfast (eggs, bacon, etc.) with a staggering knack for imaginative combinations. Smoked pork and congee. Waffles with sorghum butter and fried chicken prepared in a fashion reminiscent of teriyaki. French toast with local French Broad chocolate, dulce de leche and cobra berries. They even do a bagel and lox, which I find fills a hole I didn’t even know existed in the repertoire of your average diner.
For lunch, Tastee takes this culinary creativity up to eleven. Smoked bologna sandwiches with pimento cheese, a hot chicken sandwich on a honeybun, chopped cheese, Carolina dogs, sloppy joes with kool ranch Doritos, poutine, and a baked ziti sandwich. It’d almost be too much to believe, if I hadn't seen it with my very own eyes.
Hours: 8am to 6pm, daily. Breakfast served until 11am.
102 Tunnel Rd, Asheville, NC 28805
The Local Joint
1185B Charlotte Hwy, Fairview, NC 28730
57 College St, Asheville, NC 28801
Five Points Restaurant
258 Broadway St, Asheville, NC 28801
575 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806