Oil and water, Bush and grammar, kids and restaurants: Some things just don’t mix very well. But if you have children, you learn — if only out of desperation — that you can have an enjoyable culinary experience provided you choose the right destination. And it doesn’t always have to have a drive-through.
The Asiana Grand Buffet in West Asheville tops many a young family’s list of places that please both the tykes and their minders. It offers a literal smorgasbord of Chinese dishes, sushi and raw-bar items for mom and pop, plus macaroni-and-cheese and red Jell-O for the kiddies. (The FDA now recognizes the last two as official food groups.) It’s a cavernous place where cranky caterwauls are swallowed by the din of industrial dining. And because it’s a buffet, you can slap down the food in front of an impatient young one as fast as you can elbow your way through the line (no poky waiters here). It also gives you a chance to safely introduce kids to a variety of exotic dishes — one scoop at a time.
Downtown Asheville’s Rio Burrito scores high with its famous “baby cocktails.” For the littlest ones, the staff will mix some rice, beans and cheese in a cup — free of charge. The simple concoction requires little in the way of chewing. But be forewarned: Kids who get hooked on them do eventually start jonesing for the kid-size burrito. Grab a few to go for a quick picnic at the next Downtown After Five or Shindig on the Green.
If you’re trying to avoid the chicken nugget/hot dog routine, give Oliver & Annabelle’s a try. This Grove Arcade eatery boasts a comfy couch, kids’ books, a variety of peanut-butter sandwiches (stuffed with jam, bananas or chocolate chips), and even a gourmet grilled-cheese sandwich. Meanwhile, menu items such as crab-stuffed portobello are sure to tempt parents. An attentive staff and speedy service complete the picture.
For a more retro family-dining experience, don’t miss the venerable Barbecue Inn on Patton Avenue. These folks may very well offer the best deal in town. On Wednesdays, a family of four can get a pound of pulled pork, hush puppies, slaw, beans, drinks and a trip to the self-serve ice-cream bar. It’s all served family style, and the damage comes in at under $16 — total. For entertainment, sit in the front section and admire the cool miniature train circling overhead on a track.
It’s not all fun and games, however: My 2-year-old almost threw a fit when we told her we were going to the Barbecue Inn and, upon arrival, there was nary a Barbie to be seen.
After the ice cream, though, she seemed to take a shine to the place.