Gone are the days when “luxury dining” meant overpriced steaks served on white tablecloths by snooty servers in vests while Muzak was piped in to mask the sounds of chewing. Today’s active luxury lifestyle pairs class with style, innovation, and a sense of place. And today’s luxury restaurants are meeting those trends with politesse and panache.
Leading the pack in culinary achievement and innovation is the James Beard Foundation. Dozens of chefs and restaurants throughout Asheville have been nominated for Beard Awards since 2010. Today, we’re going to focus on the most recent nominees and winners.
Here are five Beard Award-recognized restaurants that prove Asheville is a destination for luxury dining.
What are the James Beard Foundation Awards?
James Beard was “a pioneer foodie” who wrote a number of cookbooks in the mid-20th century, hosted the first food program on television in 1946, and laid the groundwork for America’s food revolution. For more than 30 years, the James Beard Foundation has celebrated, supported, and elevated the people behind America’s food culture. They began presenting annual awards in 1991 so as to recognize exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality, media, and broader food system. In addition, the awards reflect nominees’ demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive.
So, which restaurants in Asheville have the attention of the James Beard Foundation?
Winner: 2022 Outstanding Restaurant Award
Semifinalist: 2020, 2019 Best Chef: Southeast (Meherwan Irani)
Don’t be fooled by its colorful facade and menu of Indian chaat (street snacks) and homestyle platters (thalis). The funky and laid-back vibes of Chai Pani belie a carefully curated and prepared selection of homestyle foods that could easily be served on white tablecloths for several times the price. It’s no wonder that lunch and dinner lines stretch well around the block. Chef Irani and his team dish out crunchy, spicy, sweet, tangy, and bright tastes of the street. The result is an experience that can only be called “mindblasting.”
22 Battery Park Avenue, Asheville | (828) 254-4003 | chaipani.com
Cúrate Bar de Tapas
Winner: 2022 Outstanding Hospitality Award
Nominee: 2020, 2019 Best Chef: Southeast (Katie Button)
Chef Katie Button and Cúrate are regular names on the list of Beard nominees. Since 2012, Button alone has been nominated eight times. The tapas bar celebrates the curative effects of authentic Spanish cuisine and culture, including the country’s best jamón Ibérico and vermuterías. And their all-Spanish wine selection has been recognized by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Whether at their flagship restaurant or around the corner at La Bodega by Cúrate (an all-day Spanish café, market, and wine bar), you’re sure to receive the best service in town.
13 Biltmore Avenue, Asheville | (828) 239-2946 | curatetapasbar.com
Semifinalist: 2020 Outstanding Chef (John Fleer)
More than simply a downtown restaurant, Rhubarb is a place where you can lean in and enjoy the company. It’s a place where food and drink are at their uncomplicated best, creating personal memories and shared experiences. Chef and owner John Fleer has an interesting culinary background, including serving at one of the CIA’s restaurants and as personal chef to Mary Tyler Moore. At Rhubarb, Chef Fleer transforms local ingredients into world-class dishes. The result is an experience that is at once completely unique and easy to enjoy again the next time you’re downtown.
7 SW Pack Square, Asheville | (828) 785-1503 | rhubarbasheville.com
Benne on Eagle Restaurant
Nominee: 2020 Rising Star Chef of the Year (Ashleigh Shanti)
Chef Fleer of Rhubarb also had a hand in creating Benne on Eagle, located within the Foundry Hotel. Thanks to initial Chef de Cuisine Ashleigh Shanti, it’s now one of the biggest jewels in Asheville’s culinary crown. Both the hotel and restaurant are located on The Block, Asheville’s historic African American business district. The restaurant celebrates this history, as well as the African American culinary traditions of our region, with authentic Appalachian soul food. Time magazine named it one of the “World’s Greatest Places” in 2019.
35 Eagle Street, Asheville | (828) 552-8833 | benneoneagle.com
Semifinalist: 2019 Outstanding Pastry Chef (Ashley Capps)
In their spot on Asheville’s burgeoning South Slope district, Buxton Hall elevates slow roasted, whole hog barbecue to the stuff of legend. It was no surprise to locals when Southern Living named the restaurant the best BBQ joint in North Carolina. But while people go to Buxton Hall for the barbecue, they stay for Ashley Capps’ desserts. Just like the restaurant, the Buxton Hall bakery focuses on local and seasonal products to give you the highest quality, most delicious desserts. From house-cultured buttermilk to hog-fat crusts, you can expect a twist on the traditional. We recommend the banana pudding pie (pictured).
32 Banks Avenue, Asheville | (828) 232-7216 | buxtonhall.com
Live Abundantly in Asheville, NC
With a population of 90,000+, Asheville is the largest city in both Buncombe County and Western North Carolina. Asheville serves as the area’s economic and cultural nerve center in many ways. It’s a hub for education, healthcare, local arts and crafts, entertainment, night life, and innovative food and drink. Throughout the city, Asheville’s neighborhoods are interconnected, not just by our mountains and rivers, but also by our local community centers—those intentionally created and those that have grown organically.
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