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Best Restaurants in Downtown Asheville—A Local’s Perspective

The wheel of time turns, and once again I have the privilege to delve into one of my favorite subjects: the best restaurants in downtown Asheville. And yet, “best,” can be a hard thing to put your finger on, especially in a city simply burgeoning with exemplary bistros and kitchens-and-bars such as my hometown.


It’s a wide subject, which I have stabbed at before, mainly focusing on Patton Avenue, on the western wing of downtown. But today’s stabbings take us far and wide, to tour some of the most salivating new restaurants, old restaurants (that are new to me), and altogether best-in-class performances in one of the foodiest cities of the entire Southeast.


So, if that whets your appetite, read on and discover five of the best restaurants in downtown Asheville.

Best Restaurants in Downtown Asheville - ramen
Image from Wix

I was first acquainted with Itto through a hard-boiled egg, soaked at length in the savory broth of their classic chasu pork ramen. Sparing the details: it was love at first sight. Or rather, first taste. In any case, rest assured that this commendation comes from a man who adores ramen as much as any other broke college student. I know my ramen. I know the bad ramen and the good ramen. And Itto’s ramen is firmly the latter.


Even so, if I merely stuck to the first half of their repertoire (Itto Ramen), I would have sorely missed out on the second (Japanese Tapas). Now, whenever I venture down to this excellent downtown eatery, I am torn by the choice. Noodles bathed in black garlic oil, or gyoza with chicken katsu? Curry ramen, or—my tapa of choice—thinly slice yellowtail dressed with jalapeno?


It’s a wonderful conundrum to have, and I hope, with a visit to Itto, you will have it too. On top of all that, their three locations, spread across Asheville’s width and breadth, make it easy to enjoy Itto’s delicacies even if you can’t make it to downtown.


Hours: For their downtown location: 11:30am-10pm, Monday through Thursday. 11:30-11pm Fridays. Noon to 11pm Saturdays. Noon to 10pm Sundays.

Best Restaurants in Downtown Asheville - escargots
Image from Wix

Long have I studied the impermeable language of the French, in hopes that one day I might levy this skill far across the world, to navigate a menu at a bastion of haute cuisine. As it turns out, Asheville has just such a restaurant, about a half-hour's drive from my ancestral abode, and the menu is perfectly intelligible. Which might dash some of the romance of my quest, but has made it far more attainable, while no less delicious.


Particularly, I recall the French onion soup paired with duck perloo. C’a été vraiment delicioux. Plus, Isa’s is one of the few restaurants in town where you can enjoy such rarities as escargots, steak tartare, and chicken cordon bleu. Yes, it is haute cuisine with a capital “H,” and if you plan on having dinner here, I suggest dwelling on the terms “fancy” and “reservations.” For a more casual encounter with the Continental, visit for lunch or brunch, and perhaps enjoy some fresh air on Isa’s expansive patio.


Hours: 7:30am-10am, 11:30am-3pm, and 5pm-9pm, weekdays. 7:30am-3pm and 5pm-9pm on Weekends. Open until 10pm Fridays and Saturdays.

Best Restaurants in Asheville - hotdogs
Image from Unsplash

I recall when I first mentioned S&W market here on the blog, back when it was shiny and new. Hard to believe that it’s already been a couple years. Time moves fast, and some say if we don’t move fast enough, we are destined to become dusty old relics—like lamps or what have you—sold for $2.99 to an eccentric collector at your grandmother’s yard sale. Some people really say that.


Anyways, downtown Asheville’s S&W Market, situated in a historic art-deco building originally opened as a cafeteria in 1929, has swiftly mellowed into a local landmark, both for navigating the streets, and navigating Asheville’s food-scene.


From gourmet hot dogs to Thai steamed buns, from Peruvian fusion to local craft beer, the vendors of S&W Market span the spectrum of many culinary traditions. Plus, many of them are offshoots of a larger location, offering direction for your future dining adventures. Finish off your visit to S&W with some local ice cream, courtesy of the Hop, and you have yourself one of the best eateries in Asheville.


Hours: 11:30am-8pm, Monday through Thursday. Open until 10pm Fridays and Saturdays. Open until 7pm Sundays.

Best Restaurants in Asheville - samosas
Image from Wix

One day, after a visit to the Asheville art museum, I was struck by a bedazzling aroma, originating just a couple blocks south. I decided to follow my nose, as I often do when researching material for the blog. Sometimes, this leads me into the stockroom of a spice-and-herb wholesaler. Sometimes, it leads me to an awesome new restaurant. Thankfully, the latter occurred. I have too many counts of trespassing already.


Long story short: that’s how I found Dilbar. They specialize in quick, counter-service Indian street food, bringing some of the lesser-known delicacies of the tradition—such as pani puri and vada sambhar—straight to downtown’s central Biltmore Avenue. To be honest, I was unfamiliar with most to the items on their menu, but this makes it all the more exciting. My suggestion is to follow your heart and share with friends. Also: grab a mango lassi. Those I am familiar with.


Hours: 11:30am-9pm, daily. Open until 10pm Fridays and Saturdays.

Best Restaurants in Asheville - omelettes
Image from Unsplash

Now we come to the inspiration for this week’s entry: Café Bomba. Sitting right on the corner where once stood the Vance Monument—that is to say, smack-dab in the center of downtown—I can’t believe how many times I’ve walked by this worthy café without sparing it a second thought.


They may not have many tables, but those that they do have are worth the squeeze, with a shaded patio offering unapparelled people-watching right in downtown’s beating heart. But when it comes to restaurants, I account for food before location, and when a menu begins with “brunch all day,” they do have me intrigued. At Café Bomba, you can expect plates piled high with house chorizo, fried eggs, fresh fruit, and sophisticated flavor-combinations that join the best parts of breakfast with Latin American fare.


It’s quickly become one of my favorite cafes in downtown Asheville. I count the days until my next visit.


Hours: 8am-3pm, Mondays and Wednesdays. 8am-3pm and 3:30pm-10pm, Thursday through Sunday. Closed Tuesdays.

Businesses Mentioned

Itto Ramen & Japanese Tapas (Downtown)

(828)-552-3288

3 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801

Itto Ramen Bar & Tapas (West)

(828)-505-0860

630 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806

Itto Ramen (South)

(828)-676-0558

335 Airport Rd #300, Arden, NC 28704

Isa's French Bistro

(828)-575-9636

1 Battery Park Ave, Asheville, NC 28801

S&W Market

(828)-575-5236

56 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801

Dilbar

(828)-412-5149

5 Biltmore Ave Suite A, Asheville, NC 28801

Café Bomba

(828)-254-0209

#1 SW, N Pack Square, Asheville, NC 28801

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