We had not been to Asheville in several years and were blown away by all the changes--and the amazing food culture that has sprung up--in this beautiful city. Except for a jaunt to The Moose Cafe, we confined our dining to the downtown area, and we pretty much loved every bite.
Cucina 24: we loved the food here so much the first night, we ate here again on the third. Both times, we started with the chicken liver crostini. On the first night, we then split a very generous salad with baby beets (I think), white anchovies, and croutons--it was excellent. My husband ordered chitarra "carbonara" which featured lots of fava beans in addition to the usual suspects; this was rich and very delicious. I ordered the quail on the menu that night: two, perfectly grilled, semi-boneless were served on a bed of polenta, with chanterelles and some bits of Benton ham. We shared the brown butter cake (wow!) w/salted caramel ice cream for dessert.
On our revisit, we added another starter to the chicken liver crostini (a small plate @$5 so another starter wasn't too excessive)--fresh ricotta w/favas, peas, and mint on ciabatta. Again, we swooned. We split a salad of baby greens that had, I think, blackberries in it. It was lightly dressed and perfect, as far as we were concerned. My husband opted, after changing his mind several times, the tagliatelle bolognese, and it was a very good bolognese with beautiful pasta. The chitarra "carbonara" was on the menu again, and after changing my mind a few times, I ordered it. (I can't resist favas, and they were generous with these. I enjoyed every decadent bite. Again, we went for splitting the fabulous brown butter cake, and again, we left very happy.
Zambra: our concierge told us this was her hands-down favorite restaurant, and we love ordering tapas/small plates so we tried this on our second night. We found every single thing we tried to be stellar. I wish I remembered them more exactly, but I guess I drank a little too much wine after an excellent martini! We had pomegranate-glazed pork springrolls, scallops w/orange, grilled baby octopus on an arugula salad, mountain trout w/hazelnuts, pork belly, a salad in which beets were predominant, and something featuring ice cream for dessert. This was lots of food for us--and we were very pleasantly surprised by the bill (under $100). We'd happily return to Zambra.
Modesto: we wandered into this restaurant, lured by the thought of a nice wood-fired pizza but a little dubious b/c the place was empty at high lunch hour. We split a terrific (and good-sized) pizza w/wild mushrooms, garlic, and cheese (fontina and mozzarella, I think); we also split a huge salad with lots of white anchovies and large chunks of roasted sardines. My husband didn't care for those large sardine pieces, but I thought they were just fine and the salad very tasty.
Burgerworx: we stopped in for a quick burger upon arriving in town. Despite the NC law that requires burgers be more cooked than we like, we enjoyed these, which still managed to be juicy. I appreciated the availability of WW buns, the Duke mayo, sriracha option, and excellent fresh veggies (nice ripe tomato slice a big plus). We stopped here on our way out of town and grabbed a burger that was a little disappointing in terms of juiciness the second time around, but still better than your average fast-food burger. The guy sitting at the next table was oohing and ahhing over the fries; they looked good but we abstained.
Breakfasts: Twice we had breakfast in the cafe (Cafe 151 or something like that) in our hotel (Hotel Indigo, which we loved and got a great deal on through Hotwire but noticed the weekend rates were frightfully high). Both times we split one order of bagel and lox ($9), and this was the best lox ("pastrami-style") bagel I've ever ordered in a hotel (including many in NYC), The lox and the typical go-withs (cream cheese, capers, onion, tomato, arugula) were first rate. What a delicious bargain.
Upon a recommendation, we drove out to Moose cafe for breakfast. I'm not a big breakfast person, but my husband is, so he really wanted a big southern breakfast. That we got. The biscuits and molasses were good, but filling, coming as they did before the breakfast. I ordered the country ham breakfast, which was huge. It was the best country ham I've ever had, and I was glad to know that I can enjoy this. Both our breakfasts came w/a giant "moosecake" (pancake), presumably their specialty but surprisingly mediocre. (Though they were purportedly "blueberry," mine had only a couple of specks of blue-ishness and my husband had two actual blueberries.) No matter, because neither of us could finish the rest of our breakfasts, let alone the pancakes!
We can't wait to get back to Asheville: we loved the city, the views, the weather, the folks we met, the independent bookstores and other shops, the food. We're dying to try some of the many restaurants (quite surprised by how many).