Needful things: Some culinary options are still missing from Asheville’s food scene

INTO THE WILD: Vietnamese cuisine received the second-highest number of votes in the Mountain Xpress 2018 Best of WNC category “Restaurants Still Needed in Asheville.” Although Wild Ginger Noodle Bar serves a mix of Asian dishes, the South Asheville spot is popular for its Vietnamese pho and bahn mi. Owner Mary Ann Tan Ar is pictured, third from right, with members of a camera crew from the Travel Channel who visited the restaurant in late June. Photo courtesy of Wild Ginger

Asheville’s restaurant scene offers a wide variety of cuisines to satisfy virtually any craving. Yet, even in this relatively rich food landscape, there seem to still be a few culinary options missing from the menu.

According to this year’s Xpress Best of WNC voters, the top three “Restaurants Still Needed in Asheville” are Chinese, Vietnamese and a New York-style deli. We decided to dive into these results to uncover what’s really lacking in Foodtopia.

Of course, Western North Carolina has several Chinese buffets to choose from (Dragon China, Yao and New 1 China all earn high marks of 4.0 or better Google ratings), as well as The Noodle Shop downtown and a P.F. Chang’s in Biltmore Park. People seeking Chinese dim sum can visit Red Ginger, the voters’ top choice for “Best Chinese Restaurant,” which bills itself as aiming to “deliver traditional, healthful and elegant Chinese-style tapas.”

And those hankering for some dumplings or ramen can try that category’s third-place winner, Charlotte Street pan-Asian restaurant Gan Shan Station, which serves house-made, thick-skinned varieties with different fillings. But the results show that a business exclusively offering authentic Chinese cuisine is still missing in Asheville, and a hungry crowd awaits the day that changes.

Kanji Ueda, owner of downtown Japanese eatery Heiwa Shokudo, says ramen is one of the restaurant’s most popular menu items, and he agrees with voters. “I’d like to see a real Chinese restaurant in Asheville, because we do not offer any Chinese dishes,” he says, noting that, of course, “some Japanese and Chinese dishes are very similar.”

Voting revealed that the same attitude exists about a lack of local Vietnamese options. Wild Ginger Noodle Bar, which was tapped in this year’s Best of WNC polls as the best restaurant in South Asheville, serves pho and banh mi, but it describes itself as a place for “Vietnamese/Asian cuisine” rather than focusing solely on Vietnamese food.

However, owner Mary Ann Tan Ar, who is of Chinese-Filipino descent, says, “We’re admired for our use of fresh ingredients, great textures and reliance on herbs and vegetables, which is healthy for everyone.” She notes that because the cuisine of Vietnam is often gluten-free and low in fat, the restaurant is always working on adding new Vietnamese dishes to the menu.

The third type of eatery most desired by WNC voters this year is a New York-style deli. Although, so far, such a place doesn’t exist in Asheville, New York transplants — or those with displaced taste buds — can consider checking out the West Village Market and Deli. Owner Rosanne Kiely is from New York, and she says, “We’ve been told we make the best Reuben sandwich in town,” noting that it’s available with corned beef, turkey or tempeh.

The west-side staple also offers grab-and-go bagels with cream cheese, standard deli salads (“Confession — our macaroni salad has sriracha,” Kiely says), fresh-baked muffins and “awesome pickles,” as any self-respecting deli should. The space has a grocery store or bodega vibe more than a deli atmosphere, which is why Kiely describes the deli menu as “the best-kept secret in Asheville.”

Of course, most New York-style delis wouldn’t also have a Farmacy Juice and Tonic Bar or Indian food buffet, but West Village does, because, well, it’s Asheville. In response to the Best of WNC “Restaurant Still Needed” results, Kiely says, “I love a good knish. Hmmmm.” So, keep your fingers crossed, knish lovers.

Roman’s Deli & Catering, which received third place in this year’s “Sub Shop/Deli/Sandwiches” category, is another option for those yearning for New York deli fare. Owner Roman Braverman encourages diners in search of New York-style sandwiches to try his shop’s Italian panini and to keep an eye out for the corned beef Reuben special, which he says is “probably our most popular special.”

When asked if he would consider adding more New York deli-inspired items to his menu, Braverman says, “No. We love being Asheville-driven.” His stance makes sense in light of the fact that Roman’s has been in business for over 10 years while following this philosophy.

All those deli voters — and anyone who appreciates great Jewish food — should mark their calendars for Sunday, Oct. 14, when Pack Square will host the 2018 HardLox Jewish Food and Heritage Festival. Entering its 15th season, the festival focuses on delivering the edible goods, featuring a long list of Jewish favorites, including bagels, challah, latkes and kugel galore. And as far as sandwiches, attendees will be able to load up on pastrami on rye, corned beef on rye, whitefish salad and chopped liver sandwiches, to their hearts’ content.

Among other dining options numerous voters believe are still needed in Asheville are a Cheesecake Factory (the closest one is in Charlotte), Cuban cuisine and a British pub. Havana native Tony Fraga did open Hemingway’s Cuba at the end of 2017 on the rooftop of the Cambria Hotel, offering a menu of Cuban dishes, including ropa vieja and paella among others. And although the polls say a British pub is in demand, restaurateurs considering opening one might shy away after Pete’s Pies closed in April after only about a year in business. “The winter [was] brutal, and I couldn’t keep it open any longer,” owner Pete Waissen explained at the time.

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3 thoughts on “Needful things: Some culinary options are still missing from Asheville’s food scene

  1. Catherine Wright

    We definitely need a good VIETNAMESE restaurant in Asheville! FYI, the closest Cheesecake Factory is in Greenville, SC. It’s a bit closer than the Charlotte one.

  2. Enlightened Enigma

    ho hum cheesecake factory ? why ? yuck, tired from the 90s …

  3. North Asheville

    A real New York deli would need to include matzoh ball soup, chopped liver, blintzes, cheesecake, tongue, borscht, latkes, gefilte fish, brisket, pastrami and corned beef , lox (with and without bagels), challa, kreplach, and gribenes. Babka and mandel bread would be nice. Kasha vanishkes and noodle and potato kugel? Matzoh brie year-round? What could Eric Sheffer have been thinking when he opened Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian, instead of Sheffer’s Neighborhood Kosher-Style New York Deli? Eric, it isn’t too late to add to your portfolio! The old Atlanta Bread next door would have been a great spot.

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