If I had to sum up Asheville, North Carolina's attitude towards food it would be “make it local, make it different, and make it good.” Seriously, you’ll be hard-pressed to find ingredients that don’t come from within a 50-mile radius of the city.
Eclecticism is also key here. “Keep Asheville Weird” is one of the most used slogans around the city, and food is no different. If what you get isn’t unique, then why bother getting it at all?
But with so many amazing choices how do you find the café that is just right for you? As a local Ashevillian, I have visited every café downtown and while each has value, there are a few that I just keep going back to.
I go here a lot. With coffee that's nutty and sweet, this is my favorite place on the list. Their house-made syrups come in your basic flavors—vanilla, hazelnut, etc.—but they don’t cover up the taste of your coffee. They add just the right amount of flavor and complement the natural taste of the beans. High Five is pretty no-frills, so if you’re a coffee lover then this is the place to go.
Asheville is known as the “Paris of the South,” and few places embody this statement as much as French Broad Chocolate Lounge. Walking into the café really feels like walking into a French bakery. They feature a fruity and crisp blend that can break up the sweetness of their desserts.
So what if you’re not feeling coffee? Please do yourself a favor and try their chocolate. When I’m away from Asheville I literally dream about their liquid truffle. This ganache-based drinking chocolate comes in a handful of unique flavors and is like an extra chocolatey, extra rich hot cocoa.
It's pretty hard to miss Double D's, with it being a bright read double-decker bus and all. I almost always go for their seasonal flavored lattes. Lavender and honey is my favorite, but I recently tried the blackberry white mocha. Anyone who tells you that fruit-flavored syrup doesn’t go in coffee hasn’t had it done like this.
Flavored housemade cream sodas are also a thing—such as the seasonal Witch’s Brew, made with pumpkin, spiced brown sugar, cinnamon, and half and half. Oh, and the best part of the whole double-decker bus thing? Seating is available on the top floor!
4. Old Europe
Old Europe is a bit of a staple in Asheville. It was opened in 1994 by Hungarian baker Melinda Vetro. Although it has had a few location changes throughout the years, it remains one of the local favorites. The feel is similar to a hole-in-the-wall European café, right down to the exterior décor, which looks like nothing else Asheville has to offer.
Coffee here is meant to complement the homemade desserts. It has a bit of a bite when you start off, but then mellows to a rich, caramel finish. There’s a huge selection of pastries, and they’re all made in-house daily. I’m still trying to get through all of them, myself/
Coffee and books, what more could you want? Malaprop’s is an independently run bookstore in the heart of Asheville. The bookstore alone is worth checking out, but the experience is made exponentially better when you have a cup of coffee with you.
Specialty drinks come with cool names and unique flavors. And by cool names, I mean all the drink names are malapropisms. My usual order is the Wolf in Cheap Clothing, which is a honey vanilla latte. Another tip, check out the “Blind Date with a Book” wall. The idea is to pick out a book that is just right for you without knowing the title or author. Take your cup of coffee with you and it really will feel like a date.
6. City Bakery
If you need a midday pick-me-up, this is the place to go. City Bakery has some pretty bold coffee that’ll get you through the rest of your day. They have a darker, smoky roast that manages not to taste bitter or burnt.
And if you get hungry halfway through your coffee, you need to try some of their artisanal breads or pastries. Everything from cupcakes to bagels are baked fresh every morning. You can also turn one of their fresh loaves into the most mouth-watering sandwich you’ve ever encountered.
The first time I walked into Trade and Lore, I almost cried because I thought it was the most beautiful café I’ve ever been in. The décor alone has already cemented Trade and Lore as one of my new favorite coffee shops. There’s a really artsy and natural feeling to the interior, which is right at home in Asheville.
The coffee is just as great as the décor. As someone who doesn’t really like lighter roast coffee, I couldn’t get enough the first time I went. Another bonus is that their house-made syrups come in flavors you won’t be able to find anywhere else. My fave is the vanilla, cardamom, and hibiscus latte—it’s fresh, floral, and perfect for a sunny day.
If you want to feel like a local, definitely check out Izzy’s. They have amazing variety, and let you choose from a selection of beans that change daily. If you’re picky about what flavor you like in your coffee, then this is ideal. The last blend I had was sharp and fruity, with a bit of a grape flavor—something different that maintained the integrity of the coffee. Their specialty drinks are a must-try as well. The spiced Mexican Mocha is pretty famous among locals.
After you're all done café hopping, make sure to check out where you can get the best biscuits in Asheville.