On the rainy weekend before my birthday, my friends and I went out to a lounge, built within the former home of an oil & gas tycoon, for late-night drinks and dancing. I ordered three Cucumber Irish Mules, requested one song (OBVIOUSLY), and took exactly zero pictures. It was so fun.
A few days later, KT & I were on a plane to North Carolina. Despite a number of travel mishaps (why are not all airport car rental kiosks not 24 hours?!), we made it to Asheville, a charming little town tucked within the mountains. We stayed in an AirBnB branded the “zen cabin,” built by a monk-turned-playwright-turned-milkman and featuring a meditation corner, Buddhist library, and Tibetan singing bowl. On my actual birthday, we were visited by our host’s friendly golden retriever, Rosy, and later had Spanish tapas in a cozy, cavernous restaurant in the heart of the city. I was in heaven.
After four days in Asheville, KT was about ready to sign a lease. We spent every day adventuring outdoors (so many trails to hike! so mountains to marvel at!), every evening exploring the city (bookstores! arts and craft shops! chocolate shops!!!), and every night stuffing ourselves silly (two words, y’all… kombucha bar). We didn’t have a single bad bite while we were there.
Asheville felt a bit like Portland without the pretense, or perhaps Denver on a smaller, more sustainable scale. We were there while the nearby university was on Spring Break, so I’m curious how that might’ve changed the feel of the town. As it was, every place we visited felt like it was a neighborhood gathering place. We loved it — and that’s even amidst the flurries of snow that rattled our tender, Texan bodies. What can I say? We live in balmy Houston, y’all… at least, until KT builds me a zen cabin in Asheville.
Biltmore EstatesNOT!: We didn’t end up going to what is ostensibly Asheville’s most popular destination, this sprawling luxury estate, because it cost a gut-wrenching $50 a person. We literally drove up to the admission center (like, it’s a Disney-scale production, guys!), balked at the sticker price, and went on a four-hour hike through the NC Arboretum instead.
- Biscuit Head: An Asheville staple, and for good reason. We arrived at 10am and were horrified to see a line out the door. Pro tip: call in for take-out and skip the line. I devoured my biscuit and curried collard greens in the car.
- Chai Pani: Have you seen Lion? That movie, in so many words, “fucked me up” — it was so good and so devastatingly sad. Set largely in India, it also drove us to seek out good Indian food afterward. That’s all to say: this hip chaat (street food) house fulfilled that craving, and then some. I only wish we had arrived hungrier so that we could’ve eaten more. (I suspect we were recovering our appetites following the onset of micro-depression from Lion…)
- French Broad Chocolate Lounge: If you like chocolate, this place is your fuckin’ jam. I’ve never seen KT’s face light up the way it did when he had his first sip of a stout float here. What a place.
- Rosetta’s Kitchen & Buchi Bar: We were looking for a late-night snack. We weren’t prepared for amazing vegetarian fare (that gives back to the community!) and four types of kombucha on tap.
- Sunny Point Cafe: A really solid neighborhood spot featuring an excellent brunch.
- Wicked Weed Brewery: Perhaps the best gastropub I’ve ever been to. While it’s primarily a brewery, they’ve clearly built up their kitchen so much that it can stand alone as a fantastic restaurant. Get the caramelized Brussels sprouts.
The rest of NC
- Winkler’s Bakery in Winston-Salem: As a devout cheddar cracker aficionado, I fuckin freaked out over spicy cheese stars from this traditional Moravian bakery. I couldn’t/can’t stop thinking about them. Might try to order them online tbh.
- Camino Bakery in Greensboro: Lovely hip bakery with some stellar vegetarian goods, including a Thai soy chicken foccaccia special that KT loved.
- Rise Biscuits in Durham: More biscuits! And this time, with donuts!