Culinary passport

Namaste, y’all: Chai Pani showcases India by way of the American South

Asheville has its share of regionally representative cuisine. But should you want to expand your horizons beyond trout, grits and fried green tomatoes, there are a multitude of options at your disposal, many of them based in the traditions of far-off climes. This small mountain town has a lot of stickers on its suitcase.

Himalayan? We’ve got it. Spanish tapas? That too. Indian street food? You bet. Here’s a quick guide to where to find global flavors in the neighborhood.

Pho Fusion

Pho Fusion, the first all-Vietnamese restaurant in Asheville, specializes in exactly what you might guess: steaming bowls of pho, the traditional noodle soup. Though chef Tru Phan toys with other specialties, it’s the restaurant’s namesake that draws in repeat customers. Try the eye of round pho, piled with mung bean sprouts, basil and cilantro from the fixings bar. Beyond the food, don’t expect to find any traditional or fancy decor. This spot is for the foodie that relishes finding the diamond in the rough. Hidden beyond a flea market of Oriental rugs, soaps and ornaments, Pho Fusion is a noodle-filled Narnia in the rear of the wardrobe. 45 S. French Broad Ave. 575-2212.

Rezaz and Enoteca

For a taste of the Mediterranean, head over to Rezaz in Biltmore Village. If “Mediterranean food” brings visions of dolmas and pita bread to mind, chef/owner Reza Setayesh’s take on the sun-drenched foods of that region expand those horizons. Setayesh serves his mezze platter enhanced with muhammara, a Syrian hot-pepper dip. His astonishingly good paella is spotted with braised rabbit and smoky chorizo. What’s more, the service is spectacular. The restaurant’s wine bar, the Enoteca, offers the same high-quality food in a slightly more casual environment. The menu includes a wide array of cheeses, cured meats and housemade spreads that can be combined to make a custom antipasti platter. Or, go for a panini with a side of truffle frites, then finish your meal with housemade gelato. 28 Hendersonville Road 277-1510

Jerusalem Garden Café

Should your prefer your Mediterranean food with classic flavor — and a little wiggle — visit Jerusalem Garden Café near Pritchard Park in downtown Asheville. Not only can you have your traditional hummus and baba ghanoush with warmed pita, you can eat it while sitting on floor cushions in a tent-like room surrounded by belly dancers. 78 Patton Ave. 254-0255

Heiwa Shokudo

Heiwa was long known for a rather Ashevillestyle of Japanese food, which is to say slightly hippie. Though it’s still the kind of Japanese joint where the menu reminds vegans of the presence of bonito (dried fish) flake in the miso, Heiwa has an exciting new Japanese-born chef. Daisuke Sugimoto, aka Chef Dai, grew up following his mother around her dumpling restaurant in Tokyo. He still gravitates toward the clean flavors and sensibilities of traditional Japanese food. For a taste of Hawaiian-influenced Japan, don’t skip the tuna poke (or try it with tofu). 87 N. Lexington Ave. 254-7761


Blood-orange margaritas, crab-fennel empanadas and scallop ceviche are perhaps not a stretch for a modern Mexican menu; look closer, however, and you’ll notice that Mexican-born chef Hugo Ramirez stocks the pantry with flavors that span the globe. Ramirez, a classically trained and naturally curious chef, describes the food served in the cozy dining room as Mexican-Californian. What can you expect? Andouille sausage next to prawns, truffled macaroni and cheese cradling rabbit sausage or cilantro-mint hummus stuffed into a chicken tinga burrito. Brave drinkers are advised not to skip the Maya margarita, rimmed with chapulin salt (salt with crickets). 13 Eagle St. 252-2327


Boca serves south-of-the-border favorites with an Asheville twist. Boca’s the place to go if you want your huevos rancheros at 1:30 p.m. (Hey, some of us are just late risers.) It also boasts one of the best breakfasts in town, if you prefer chilaquiles and chipotle-spiked cremas instead of biscuits and gravy. At lunchtime, look for mahi-mahi tacos with mango salsa and creamy-spicy black beans, served on the sunny patio. At dinner, try the cazuela de mariscos — seafood in a smoked-chili broth. Oh yes, and don’t forget the blue ginger mojito with muddled blueberries, ginger, mint and fresh lime. 68 N. Lexington Ave. 285-8828


Bouchon serves classic French comfort food in a cozy atmosphere on Lexington Avenue, with a courtyard in back that veritably transports you to the Old World. Expect to find steak au poivre, lapin á la moutarde en cocotte (braised rabbit in a Dijon sauce) and bouillabaisse on the menu, as well as a nice selection of wines from (but not limited to) the sun-drenched vineyards of France. The restaurant’s wildly popular Mussel Nights (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) feature all-you-can-eat bivalves with the first serving of frîtes offered gratis. Mais oui! 62 N. Lexington Ave. 350-1140

Kathmandu Café

Kathmandu Café is the place in Asheville for Himalayan cuisine. Literally, it’s the only place. Though it sounds exotic, you may be more familiar with the food of the Himalayas than you imagine. If you know Indian favorites like tandoori, lamb korma or samosas, many of dishes should ring familiar. Nepalese food spices up the menu as well: a dish of potato, black-eyed peas and bamboo simmered in a light curry is a popular dish. Curious about the flavors of Tibet? Try the chau chau, pan-fried soft noodles with ginger, garlic and vegetables. Also, try one (or several) of the tandoor-baked breads. 90 Patton Ave. 252-1080

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