U.S. News & World Reports released a list of the “Best Foodie Cities in the U.S.”
San Francisco, Chicago and New York City made the cut. Regional neighbors Nashville, Charleston and Savannah did, too.
Asheville did not.
“All of these are much bigger cities so I’m not even sure we would qualify by whatever metrics they used to develop the list,” said John Fleer, chef/owner of Rhubarb. “Regardless, all lists require that some worthy candidates be excluded. Think of the Oscars or even a list of the best hikes in WNC. There are always worthy performances or amazing walks that don’t make the list of ‘best.’ And sometimes it’s better to be a hidden gem.”
U.S. News & World Report’s listing noted that standout foodie cities have eateries that offer “distinctive cultural fare,” hometown dishes and constantly changing menus, plus new dining spots that attract food critics and locals.
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Though not as diverse or having the number of choices as a destination, such as New York City, Asheville has the small-town charm that’s part of what makes it special, said Michael Lewis, co-founder and executive chef at Ukiah Japanese Smokehouse in Asheville.
Lewis has been a part of U.S. and international dining communities and acclaimed restaurants, such as KYU in Miami, for decades.
Though it doesn’t have the population, Asheville has a high caliber of restaurants that deserves recognition, he said.
“I don’t think an elevation or any additions are needed. Let’s keep Asheville a (not so well kept) secret. I like the smaller town feel and knowing my neighbors and keeping things exceptional but low-key,” Lewis said.
“Asheville has so many great restaurants, especially for a city of its size. We have James Beard nominees, multiple culinary awards, and a vibrant farm-to-table culture incorporating local and season ingredients that keep rotating menus both relevant and interesting,” he said.
There is room for improvement in Asheville’s culturally diverse food options, although it’s grown immensely since Fleer moved into the city in 2011, he said.
“We are seeing more ethnic markets, better representation of different cultural cuisines and even some more diverse approaches to farming life,” Fleer said.
He wants to see the diversity develop more, though it’s difficult when not driven by a diverse population like New York and San Francisco, he said. Still, the city is a top food destination in his eyes.
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What makes Asheville a top food destination is its “concentration of high quality, unique restaurant, craft beverage producers and outlets, incredible farms, artisan food producers and farmers markets” that is unmatched in the U.S., Fleer said.
Lewis predicts the buzz about Asheville will change soon as the food scene continues to grow, he said.
Fleer prefers to “focus on building a sustainable business and food community in Asheville” than to give much weight to rankings.
However, Asheville has been recognized on other ranking lists and people continue to come to the city to discover the many food and beverage options.
“Rankings come and go, and Asheville has been celebrated time and again for its depth as a hub for culinary creativity. We have something special here,” said Dodie Stephens, director of communications, Explore Asheville.
“Asheville’s not about one type of cuisine, one kind of beverage or a singular point of view. Moreover, it is a community of creators, growers, chefs and makers who are inspired by shared experiences — connecting across the table, supporting each other, creating together and telling human stories through food. That collaborative energy and passion produces some pretty amazing culinary experiences. And, it is also what makes our food scene so fun to explore,” she said.
Tiana Kennell is the food and dining reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter/Instagram @PrincessOfPage.