Unforgettable Openings Make Asheville a Top Bucket List Destination in 2023
Forward-Thinking Food Culture, Design-Centric Hotels and Captivating Cultural Experiences Promise a Creative Renaissance in the New Year
2023 is set to be a standout year for the deeply rooted yet ever-evolving mountain city of Asheville, North Carolina with the coming of several highly-anticipated restaurants led by James Beard-nominated chefs, design-forward boutique hotels, and culturally-rich experiences in the area. Asheville’s history as a haven for creatives, innovators, and adventure-seekers continues to play out in exciting openings, making it a top bucket-list destination in the new year.
Chefs Dive Deeper into Regional and International Food Traditions
Asheville’s first Filipinx and crowd-funded restaurant, Neng Jr.’s is one of the most talked about dining experiences. Run by non-binary Chef Silver Iocovozzi (named Esquire’s Rising Star of the Year), the intimate 17-seat dining room opened in July and has since garnered national acclaim for its uncompromising approach to food and expression. Iocovozzi keeps diners on their toes with remarkable dishes that blend traditional Filipinx fare and Southern ingredients, like deep-fried banana, lavishly crowned with seared foie gras.
James Beard-nominated chef Ashleigh Shanti’s forthcoming restaurant, Good Hot Fish, promises to be a continuation of her focus on the culinary traditions of Black Appalachia. It’s expected to open in Summer 2023. In the meantime, Shanti frequently hosts pop-ups around town at venues like Cultura and Burial Beer Co.
Another decorated Southern chef, James Beard-nominated pitmaster Elliott Moss (formerly of Buxton Hall), plans to open a new restaurant in 2023. The West Asheville diner, Regina’s, will serve his renowned North Carolina barbecue and comfort classics.
Peruvian fusion restaurant eatery Mikasa Criolla is the latest establishment to enter Asheville’s culinary scene. The fast-casual concept opened on Dec. 1 inside The S&W Market, a food hall in the heart of downtown. Chef Santiago Vargas, of Lima, brings his passion for highlighting global influences on traditional Peruvian dishes. Vargas’ menu includes hearty mains, sandwiches, empanadas – as well as Peru’s national cocktail, the pisco sour.
Asheville’s Cuban-American community rejoiced this year when Guajiro Cuban Comfort Food anchored its permanent food truck outside Cotton Mill Studios in the River Arts District. Guajiro serves up classic Cuban fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a great spot to grab a morning café Cubano and guava pastry before browsing nearby galleries or sidle up to a picnic table for a generous plate of slow-cooked Cuban pork, served with rice, beans, and sweet plantains.
Inspired by the warmth of historic taverns, Asheville’s historic Montford neighborhood recently welcomed Tall John’s. The cozy eatery, situated inside what was once a church, serves up seasonal and casual plates, like creamy polenta, topped with braised greens and a soft egg. Tall John’s creative cocktail menu is also a standout.
A line of customers formed down the sidewalk outside Old World Levain (OWL) Bakery‘s new North Asheville location when it opened in October. Founder and James Beard Award-nominated pastry chef Susannah Gebhart has garnered a loyal following for her naturally leavened loaves and sumptuous European-inspired pastries.
Mother bread + wine opened its doors in 2022 and is already preparing to open its second location in Asheville’s South Slope neighborhood in 2023. Co-owner and baker Heidi Bass says the new space is a “community café concept” that will offer a small sandwich menu and small plates. Similar to its flagship location, customers can purchase artisanal breads and a bottle of natural wine to go.
New to the beloved Biltmore Village, The Village Pub is a spacious casual joint with a full bar. The iconic Biltmore Village mainstay,Corner Kitchen, which once hosted a surprise dinner for President Obama, is now offering brunch every day of the week.
For breakfast in West Asheville, Sunny Point Café is expanding its popular café with a new bakery and event space, The Rabbit Hole.
Trends on Tap: A Changing Beer Aesthetic and the Fever for Natural Fermentation
Asheville welcomed 7 Clans Brewing taproom to its ever-growing brewery scene this year, which now hovers around 60. Owner Morgan Owle-Crisp is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. “Seven Clans” refers to the clanship for her tribe, which is a matrilineal system based on kinship with the mother. The Bended Tree Chestnut Brown – a nod to the Cherokee’s use of chestnut trees for navigation – is a delightfully malty brown ale, with a hint of chestnut aromas.
When New Origin Brewing opened its airy, organic taproom in East Asheville this year, it marked a shift from the more prominent, industrial brewery setting. Pothos vines hang over the live edge wood bar. Much like its lively, organic aesthetic, New Origin’s rotating tap offers contemporary and creative pours, like a fruity Gose infused with hibiscus flowers and lime.
Weaverville, just 15 minutes north of Asheville, welcomed Leveller Brewing to its downtown Main Street scene. Leveller specializes in farmhouse-style ales and lagers. Guests can pair their pints with a well-appointed charcuterie board or pimento cheese spread, served with Mother bakery’s sourdough focaccia.
Natural wine options continue to bubble up in the mountains. In just the last five years, Asheville’s scene has grown to more than a dozen shops, restaurants, and tasting rooms – all dedicated to wine made with organic grapes and wild, native fermented yeasts.
Pink Moon Bar opened its clandestine spot in West Asheville – though patrons need a one-time access code for entry (they post it to Instagram Stories daily). The bar pours international and domestic varietals ranging from funky and almost beer-like skin-contact whites to subtle and sippable reds.
Burial Beer co-founder Tim Gormley is preparing to open his first wine bar Visuals, where he’ll be pouring natural wines from the company’s sister brand, of the same name. Gormley launched the concept in 2022, offering a membership that pairs bottles with vinyl records and candles, inviting members to create a ritual-esque experience.
Also pulling into the Asheville bar scene, dog-friendly The Hound bar is on track to open next year in – where else – the former Greyhound Bus Lines station. The drink menu will feature beer, wine, mead, sake and mocktails, complemented by bar bites and a rotating food truck schedule. Guests will be invited to showcase their pups in photos around the bar to round out the décor, which includes original Greyhound signage left behind.
Dreaming in Asheville: Design-Forward Lodging Emphasizes Natural and Historic Locations
In the heart of downtown, The Restoration Asheville is slated to open for booking on March 1. The luxurious, all-suite hotel is inspired by Asheville’s free-spirited culture and creative community, featuring local art and craft. The hotel offers several dining and beverage options, including The Exchange, an Appalachian, farm-to-table restaurant, and The Observatory, a rooftop bar serving up botanical cocktails and unobstructed views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We’ve even heard there’s a bowling alley in the basement.
Architecture-enthusiasts will swoon over Mirror Hotel, expected to open in spring 2023. The 55-acre site features 18 luxury “invisible cabins” that blend into their natural environment. These incredible structures don’t just reflect nature, they work in harmony with it. Each stand-alone cabin is covered in mirrored architectural panels that are coated with a film that reduces UV glare and lets wildlife know there is a solid surface to avoid.
For those seeking accommodations that feel closer to nature, AutoCamp plans to open a luxury airstream campground in summer 2023, along the French Broad River. The design-forward, year-round accommodations make spending time outdoors fun and accessible for everyone. AutoCamp’s Asheville site will feature 16 luxury Airstream campers, six suites, along with a bar and lounge.
When the founders of Wrong Way River Lodge & Cabins dreamt up the concept for their A-frame urban campground, they envisioned enticing a “new kind of traveler.” The 16 tiny cabins are just steps away from Cultivate Climbing‘s rock-climbing gym and Carrier Park, alongside the French Broad River. It offers a unique concierge service for booking excursions, wellness activities, and even “voluntourism” activities.
Three new adaptive reuse boutique hotels opening next year hearken back to Asheville’s ritzy Jazz Age, when a boisterous creative class flocked to the mountains, looking for an escape:
What’s old is new again – such is the spirit behind The Flat Iron Hotel, slated to open in 2023. Housed in Asheville’s historic Flatiron Building, the 71-room, Prohibition-themed hotel will feature a rooftop bar, and fitting with the era, a hidden speakeasy.
Zelda Dearest, an ode to Asheville’s ties to Zelda Fitzgerald, is a boutique hotel development in Asheville’s South Slope neighborhood. The project will preserve three of Asheville’s historic Victorian-style homes. Plans for Zelda Dearest include outdoor spaces such as a wedding and event patio, a game lawn, gardens, and fire pits. The interior will be inspired by the Fitzgerald’s lives and literary works.
The 70-room luxury hotel The Radical is also expected to breathe new life into a historic building in the River Arts District, an area that once connected the city’s manufacturing to the river and rail. The original, 1920s-era construction was a warehouse for two wholesale grocers. The sustainable design embraces the character of the brick building, including the existing graffiti inside.
The interiors feature Suomi Design Works’ custom-designed furnishings and lighting, showcasing the craftwork of local artists and maker, along with salvaged vintage architectural artifacts.
James Beard Award finalist Jacob Sessoms will oversee the food and beverage concepts, which include a casual Israeli street food restaurant, a rooftop bar, a breakfast café, and a bar hidden within the building’s core.
Outdoor Experiences Invite All to Celebrate ‘The Year of The Trail’
From hiking and biking to paddling and horseback riding, there are hundreds of trails to explore near Asheville. With 2023 officially designated the Year of the Trail, visitors can pick their path to recharge in nature, including new and lesser-known trails, and waterfall hikes. Noted for its scenic beauty, the famed Blue Ridge Parkway also offers ADA accessible trails and attractions for all mobility levels.
Speaking of waterfalls, hikers will be able to see the multi-tiered cascades of Catawba Falls, which is slated to re-open in spring 2023 with new boardwalks, staircases and overlooks.
The nonprofit land conservation group Conserving Carolina added a new trail in 2022, connecting to more than 16 miles of existing outdoor networks. The Strawberry Gap Trail winds three miles through boulder strewn forests. At the top, hikers can take in sweeping views of Blue Ridge Pastures, the Hickory Nut Gorge, Bearwallow Mountain, Little Pisgah Mountain, and in the distance, some of the highest mountains in the eastern United States.
Asheville Wellness Tours offers new guided forest bathing closer to town at the North Carolina Arboretum, as well as firefly and sunset walks.
Asheville on Bikes is adding an additional 4.9 miles of multi-use pathways throughout the city. The plan includes three new signature natural surface trail hubs and connectors to enhance Asheville’s outdoor recreation offerings.
All The Feels: Cultural Experiences Offer Contemplation, Connection – and Comedy
In 2022, Jared Wheatley, founder of Indigenous Walls Project, launched the city-wide mural painting initiative to make Indigenous tribes more visible in Asheville – situated on the ancestral land of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Tribal representatives from across the U.S. descended on Asheville over the fall to paint murals depicting their stories, language and symbology. The effort has since grown into a weekly market in the South Slope neighborhood, where tribal members from the Qualla Boundary sell their crafts, jewelry, and baked goods.
The Hop Ice Cream collaborated with the Indigenous Walls Project to release the flavor ᎪᎦᏌᎩ, which translates to Elderberry and features wild elderberries foraged from the Qualla Boundary. Visitors can enjoy four releases planned next year.
The Center for Craft is also amplifying indigenous voices with its new and highly Instagram-able public art installation that emulates a Cherokee basket weaving by artist ᎺᎵ ᏔᎻᏏᏂ Mary Thompson. Exhibitions at the Center aim to highlight how craft traditions have been central to human history – and have a critical place in the future. From woven computer displays and robot-felted sculptures, to thermal-printed textile structures and bone china formulations, the works currently on view showcase the immense potential of collaboration between craft artists and practitioners in STEM fields.
A trail marking the long and meaningful contributions of Asheville’s Black community is slated to launch in late summer 2023 and will honor its rich in a walkable trail in and around downtown.
The historical Stephens-Lee High School commemorates its 100-year anniversary in 2023. Visitors can visit and learn more about the significance of school to Asheville’s Black history and other points of interest, with a Hood Tour by Hood Huggers International.
Tyger, Tyger is a new contemporary fine art gallery. This woman-owned and led space recently opened in the River Arts District and displays local, regional, national and international artists from underrepresented communities. “We believe that what is put into the world can shape the world; therefore, running an art gallery is a form of power that should be handled with great care and intention,” Founding Director Mira Girard said.
The national spotlight is on Asheville’s comedy scene as comedian Joe Zimmerman is taping his next stand-up comedy special on Mar. 3 at The Grey Eagle. Joe moved from Asheville to New York City in 2012, where he’s a regular at the iconic Comedy Cellar and made several television appearances including The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Other places for guests to catch a laugh in Asheville include Asheville Beauty Academy, Rabbit Rabbit, and productions by Slice of Life Comedy or Modelface Comedy.
Different Wrld is a creative studio and performance venue that opened in West Asheville last summer, marking a shift in Asheville’s vibrant cultural scene. It’s collectively run by local queer and BIPOC artists, designers, musicians, and creatives that live and work in Asheville. Different Wrld’s multi-purpose space includes a café, bar, dance floor and community library. It aims to provide an inclusive environment where creatives can connect and collaborate or just unwind and dance to a late-night DJ set.
Visitors and locals can also enjoy immersive events and festivals every season, including the popular culinary festival, Chow Chow, which will return to its original, one-week format on Sept. 6-10. The fourth Asheville Amadeus Festival is a 10-day celebration of Americana music in May, featuring luminaries like Bela Fleck and Kishi Bashi. Innovative thinkers and inspiring speakers descend on UNC Asheville in June for the second-annual Asheville Ideas Fest. The event lineup is expected to be announced early 2023.
Quality designs and vintage finds are trending in the River Arts District. The slow fashion label Rite of Passage opened a retail floor with the manufacturing space on display behind it. Just steps away, more ethically-minded boutiques are opening, creating a destination for conscientious shoppers.
European street market meets Asheville eccentricity may best describe the inside of Marquee. The warehouse-sized bazaar opened in 2022, and houses an array of eye-catching displays, including antiques and artful décor. Shoppers can purchase wine or beer at its bar and sip while they peruse.
Mindy King, founder of There There, moved her family from Texas to Asheville over the summer to launch her vision for a curated lifestyle shop offering “consciously-made comforting goods.” She says Asheville’s creative community and natural surroundings align with There There’s feel-good ethos. “It’s always been a retreat for creatives and those looking for inspiration, and we were drawn to that authentic energy.” There There is slated to open in Spring 2023.
Modern jewelry designer Jeffrey Burroughs moved to Asheville from New York in 2022 to open his namesake shop. Customers can browse Jeffrey’s collection of distinct and ethically-sourced jewelry. His shop also stocks luxurious candles, grooming products and home décor.
Melona is an eclectic women’s boutique, featuring independent and emerging clothing designers. The bright boutique in West Asheville is stocked with colorful wardrobe staples and psychedelic statement pieces, like velour bodysuits and neon-hued, crocheted garments.
Revolve Mercantile is a buy, sell, and trade store that opened in West Asheville in 2022, further expanding Asheville’s options for vintage finds. Revolve’s selection spans several decades but leans most toward the bright swirling colors of the 60s and 70s. The shop also opens its doors for community events, like stand-up nights and collaborations with neighboring businesses, like The Trashy Vegan, a vegan burger joint that also opened in 2022.
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