Beyond the Family Meal
Where Katie Button Dines in AshevilleLeah Koenig
January 04, 2019
Katie Button is an exceptionally busy woman. As the multiple Beard Award–nominated executive chef and co-owner of three beloved restaurants in Asheville, North Carolina—the Spanish tapas restaurant Cúrate; Nightbell, which serves Appalachian-inspired fare and cocktails; and, most recently, an artisanal bagel and smoked fish shop, Button & Co. Bagels (think: fig and sorghum bagels spread with local blackberry jam)—she is more likely to pull up a seat at family meal than make reservations.
Still, Button is devoted to her city and its many (and growing) dining options. From stellar whole-hog barbecue and ethereally light doughnuts, to the Indian street food takeout that has become her family’s go-to staple (Button and her husband and business partner, Félix Meana, are parents to two young children), she has plenty to say about where to dine in Asheville. Here are her some of her favorites.
When people who don’t live here think Asheville, they think biscuits and barbecue—they aren’t wrong. But then they get down here and realize this city also has so many other sides. Take a doughnut shop like Hole. Walk in and you won’t see a case full of doughnuts—they fry them fresh to order. The dough is light and super puffy, almost like fried ciabatta dough. I pretty much always get a vanilla glaze. I’m a purist, I can’t stray.
Then there is this family-run taco shop, Taqueria Muñoz. It’s a cash-only spot in a little strip mall in West Asheville. They give you a menu with classic tacos, like al pastor or chicharrones, on delicious corn tortillas, but then you notice all these people clearly eating off-menu. They’ll have some giant bowl of rich, steaming stew and you just think, “How do I get that? Who do I have to know?”
I also love this place Vivian in the River Arts District, which is an up-and-coming neighborhood filled with historic brick buildings that were abandoned for years and are now being filled back up with studios and restaurants. Vivian’s dishes are super-traditional French. They make this soufflé omelet with crab and herbs and edible flowers that is the most beautifully airy and fluffy thing you have ever eaten. They also make Lyonnaise scallop quenelles covered in creamy lobster sauce. Anyone can make steak frites, but I just love that someone is making that kind of food here!
For barbecue I gravitate to Buxton Hall. It’s in the South Slope district, which is walkable from downtown. The chef, Elliot Moss, is focused on whole-hog barbecue, which is a true North Carolina style. He makes pulled pork, and great fried, cornmeal-crusted catfish. I also had the most amazing smoked-and-fried chicken there. He soaks the chicken in buttermilk and smokes it, then batters and fries it., You get this crackly crust outside, but the inside has that smoky flavor and is falling-apart tender. While I was eating it, I kept thinking “this is absolute genius!” At lunchtime, I also go to 12 Bones Smokehouse, which is in the River Arts District. You can sit outside and have a beer and a plate of ribs rubbed in blueberry–chipotle sauce with collard greens and corn pudding. When I have a work meeting with someone, and I want to show them something beyond our own restaurants, I take them to 12 Bones.
For family meals and birthdays, we often head to Cucina 24 because the chef [Brian Canipelli] has two menus with something to satisfy just about any child or adult. On one menu, he makes Italian-inspired classics like wood-fired pizzas and pasta Bolognese with house-made tagliatelle. And then he has a more adventurous, seasonal menu, so people at the table who want to be a little risky or avant-garde can get a plate of celeriac roasted with butter, miso, and anchovies.
Since I run three restaurants and have two small children at home, takeout is also an important part of my life. One of our go-tos is an Indian street food-inspired place, Chai Pani. They also run a local spice mill called Spicewalla that is so fresh and flavorful, you realize you should probably just throw out all of your spices and start over. We get our spices at Button & Co Bagels from them. I usually order the corn behl, which mixes roasted corn kernels, cilantro, red onion, tomato, cucumber, and crispy corn poha flakes. They put a cumin–lime vinaigrette on the side, so the dish arrives to your house still crisp. I like to douse everything with dressing, put the lid back on, shake it up, and then dive in with a spoon like a bowl of cereal.
For the rare later night out, I like the cocktail lounge Imperial Life. It is located downtown, right above its sister restaurant, Table, which is another favorite spot. The real secret is, if you go earlier in the evening you can sit at the bar and get the full menu from downstairs. But after hours, you can sip a truly fantastic cocktail and get Southern bar snacks like pimento cheese, deviled eggs, and boiled peanuts. I love to sit up there, grab a drink, and then mosey on my way.
Katie Button’s Asheville Dining Guide
12 Bones Smokehouse (Barbecue)
5 Foundry St., Suite 10; 828-253-4499
Button & Co. Bagels (Bagels and Smoked Fish)
32 S. Lexington; 828-630-0330
Buxton Hall (Barbecue)
32 Banks Ave; 828-232-7216
Chai Pani (Indian street food)
22 Battery Park Ave; 828-254-4003
Cucina 24 (Italian)
24 Wall St; 828-254-6170
Cúrate (Spanish Tapas)
13 Biltmore Ave; 828-239-2946
Hole Doughnuts (Doughnuts)
168 Haywood Road; 828-744-5667
Imperial Life (Cocktails)
48 College St; 828-254-8980
Nightbell (Appalachian Small Plates)
32 S. Lexington Ave; 828-575-0375
829 Riverside Drive; 828-417-7010
48 College St; 828-254-8980
Taqueria Muñoz (Tacos and Mexican)
1438 Patton Ave; 828-412-3331
348 Depot St; 828-225-3497
Leah Koenig is a food writer, author of several cookbooks including Modern Jewish Cooking (Chronicle Books), and cooking instructor living in Brooklyn, NY. Follow her on Instagram at @leah.koenig.