You probably know the feeling. Your work day is finally over, your dogs are barkin’ (for more recently transplanted Yankees, that’s Southernese for seriously tired feet), and you’d kill for a cold drink and some grub, as long as it requires little to no effort. Generally, when I feel this way, I tend to gravitate toward restaurants and bars with that casual, neighborhood feeling – not because I wanna go where everybody knows my name, but because I wanna go where no one cares whether I’ve had time to wash the food out of my hair yet.
West Asheville, being somewhat of an up-and-coming-but-not-quite-there-yet kind of place, is chock full of joints that cater perfectly to its residents and other like-minded individuals. I’m talking about the kind who may not have tons of money to blow on dinner but still want good, wholesome food (that they don’t have to make themselves) and maybe an organic ale to help wash it all down. Here are three of my favorite West-side places to perch my butt on a barstool and do just that.
The Lucky Otter
The Lucky Otter has generated a solid following by cranking out delicious California-style burritos, quesadillas and other “healthy fast food.” For starters, everything listed on the menu starts below $7 before loading on extras, such as roasted corn, caramelized onions or the house’s very tasty guac. The low prices and healthy food attract lots of young families, but the Otter still serves up some decidedly adult treats: In addition to a hefty selection of beer on tap and in the bottle, diners can also find margaritas that pack a hearty wallop (one is enough for me).
As far as the food goes, I tend to go for the lighter fare (as the burritos are generally the size of my head). On my most recent visit, I tried the evening’s special – three corn tortillas stuffed with tilapia and avocado, finished with a key lime aioli and served with slaw and a salsa with the rather ominous name of “Oh No She Didn’t.” It was the perfect amount of food, delicious and a damn good deal.
The specialty burritos that the restaurant turns out are all quite interesting, and some of them verge on being more of an ethnic meal wrapped in a tortilla than a classic burrito. The coconut curry “Thai Me Up,” for example, or the “Satay It to Me Softly,” a peanut-studded, veggie-heavy concoction entirely devoid of the classic burrito staples of rice and beans. I’ve tried a jerk shrimp burrito, and besides the fairly overwhelming flavor of allspice in the homemade jerk sauce, it was very tasty, with its grilled pineapple and crisp strips of jicama. I’ve found that I’m generally most satisfied building my own meal with the generous selection of add-ons.
The Lucky Otter (253-9595) is located at 630 Haywood Road.
Burgermeister’s Kitchen and Tap
Nothing soothes like Bugermeister’s. On a recent evening, in possession of foul mood and hefty appetite, I plunked myself in a comfortable booth near one of several TVs the restaurant keeps – a good asset during football season. I ordered up some fried pickle chips and a Red Hook ESB, and much to my dining companion’s infinite delight, it turned out to be just the cure for whatever the hell it was that ailed me. Further sampling of the menu continued to lift my spirits, as Burgermeister’s turns out what I promptly declared “The Best Burger I’ve Ever Had.”
Though the restaurant serves up some awfully good sandwiches – including an eggplant Parmesan sandwich that my Picky Companion truly liked and the fabulous DT burger with its toppings of banana peppers, Jack cheese and horseradish – none surpasses the smoky, beefy masterpiece that is The Meister. This particular monster of a sandwich packs a half-pound of smoked Guinness beer burger between a sesame seed bun with caramelized onions, marinated tomatoes, lettuce and homemade mayo. It’s a man-sized meal, so I was truly not surprised when our waiter mistakenly plunked the gargantuan thing in front of my masculine dining partner and presented me with the more dainty eggplant thing, which I declined to try, so that I could pack in as much burger as possible.
It’s worth mentioning that the restaurant has a good selection of sandwich alternatives, including a very fresh spinach salad topped with an extremely generous portion of seared tuna. The fish itself was unfortunately a bit oily when I tried it, but it made a fantastic sandwich around midnight (since it too had been pushed aside to make room for the Meister).
Burgermeister’s (225-2920) is located at 697 Haywood Road.
The Westville Pub
This popular, family-friendly and smoke-free pub is often jam-packed, and it’s pretty easy to see why – the live music’s great, the atmosphere is relaxed and inviting, and there’s a huge variety of draught and bottled beer, including a wide selection of local brews, a move I applaud and nobly try to encourage with my purchasing dollar (at least that’s my excuse).
Westville recently tweaked their menu, so the already good and affordable selection of edibles has been supplemented with some more quality pub grub. The kitchen’s turning out house-smoked barbecue pork spare ribs, a really good gumbo made with a dark roux and fresh okra, beer-braised bratwurst and an expanded selection of entree-sized salads – and most of the items on the menu remain under 10 bucks. A beer-drinking tip: The taps directly in front of the bar have the coldest suds (usually those taps include PBR, and two from our own French Broad Brewing Company, 13 Rebels and Goldenrod Pilsner).
The Westville Pub (225-9782) is located at 777 Haywood Road.