Surrounded by the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains and patchouli-scented boutiques, Asheville lures in hordes of young, creative, tattooed folks. While this hippie utopia in western North Carolina may lack the urban polish of Southern epicenters like Atlanta and Nashville, it’s a small city with a mighty indie food scene—and some of the country’s most impressive craft breweries.

Instead of ubiquitous chains, funky chef-owned eateries focusing on local ingredients are the lifeblood of this scene. But don’t expect grits-only menus, either. From stellar tapas to Indian, the flavors showcased in Asheville have decidedly global inspirations.

Although their city’s vibe is relaxed, the chefs behind all this vibrant cooking still crave a respite when their shifts end. So when they’re not visiting each other’s acclaimed restaurants, they beeline for unassuming dives and no-frills haunts. From a bowling alley cranking out burgers, to a live music venue that has a way with tacos, here are nine joints where Asheville chefs make regular off-the-clock cameos.

Katie Button

Executive chef/owner at Cúrate and Nightbell

katieFavorite under-the-radar spot: The Mediterranean Restaurant (57 College St, 828-258-0476)

Button says: “It’s a family-owned, old-school diner in downtown that’s been around for years. I like it because it is consistent, affordable, and very convenient as it’s so close to my restaurant. Usually I get the chicken gyro sandwich or something off the daily specials board—the perfect escape when I’m hungry.” (Photo: Yelp/Rod O.)

Peter Pollay

Executive chef at Posana Restaurant

peterFavorite under-the-radar spot: 51 Grill (51 Merrimon Ave; 828-258-1670,

Pollay says: “This is simple food that tastes great. It reminds me of my childhood going to a lunch spot named Mr. G’s in Chicago. I get the burger with cheese, fries, and a Coke.” (Photo: Yelp/Leila M.)

William Dissen

Executive chef/owner at The Market Place Restaurant

williamFavorite under-the-radar spot: Tacos Jalisco Mexican Restaurant (1328 Patton Ave, #A; 828-225-3889)

Dissen says: “Tacos Jalisco is the closest we have in Asheville to authentic Mexican street food. I lived in Southern California for a few years and crave great tacos. Their al pastor is killer—simple adobo and pineapple marinated pork with onions, cilantro, and salsa verde on corn tortillas. They also have great lengua and chorizo tacos. On Saturdays and Sundays they serve carnitas and menudo. It’s simple, but with bright flavors. Order some of their fresh guacamole and a Pacifico and you are set.” (Photo: Yelp/David R.)

John Fleer

Executive chef/owner at Rhubarb

fleerFavorite under-the-radar spot: Bandidos Latin Kitchen (697 Haywood St; 828-255-8681,

Fleer says: “It has some of the tastiest food around—locally sourced with dynamic flavors. The duck-confit quesadilla is crazy good and the caramelized plantain ice cream, which may or may not be available depending on whom you ask, slays any Ben & Jerry’s flavor you can dream up.” (Photos: Heather Anne Thomas, Yelp/Laura H.)

Meherwan Irani

Executive chef/owner at Chai Pani

meherwanFavorite under-the-radar spot: Stonebowl Korean Restaurant (1987 Hendersonville Rd; 828-676-2172,

Irani says: “Not really fair to call Stonebowl a dive, but it hits enough of the characteristics to sort of qualify: affordable, family-owned, and not downtown. Add the really cool transparent neon chalkboard with the daily specials and it all works just fine for me. The rest of their food is okay, but I could eat the galbi every day—sweet, salty, tender, charred perfectly…it’s meat heaven.” (Photo: Yelp/Kipper S.)

Brian Canipelli

Executive chef/owner at Cucina24

brianFavorite under-the-radar spot: Taqueria Fast (Town & Country Square, 175 Weaverville Rd; 828-645-4282)

Canipelli says: “Taqueria Fast does tacos right. When you want a real, cheap, simple taco this is the only place to go. I get the al pastor or carnitas.” (Photo: Yelp/Roger H.)

Scott Ostrander

Executive chef at the Grand Bohemian Hotel

scottFavorite under-the-radar spot: Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack (1455 Patton Ave; 828-575-2260,

Ostrander says: “They serve pretty traditional Nashville-style hot chicken here (dry rub, no sauce). I am a bit of a spice junkie, so I like the fact that they have a lot of levels of heat, all the way up to the nasty XX hot. The spice level depends on my mood. Anything fried here is good, and most everything is. The pickle chips and mac-and-cheese poppers are really good apps. The staff is friendly enough and fast, and the vibe is always busy and fun.” (Photo: Yelp/Greg P.)

Jason Sellers

Chef/owner at Plant

jasonFavorite under-the-radar spot: Taqueria Con Cuida, inside the Grey Eagle (185 Clingman Ave; 828-232-5800,

Sellers says: “This has been my favorite lunch spot for a while now because you can eat tacos during sound checks and there’s no crowd. They have at least two vegan options, lots of salsa, and a seasonal outdoor post in the shade. I order two tacos, typically with lentil chorizo, beans, a shitload of chips, curtido, guacamole, and chile de arbol salsa. Let’s face it, it’s lunch perfected. I always have a food baby when I leave for like $12.” (Photos: Vegan Body Project, Yelp/Carolyn L.)

Jacob Sessoms

Chef/owner at Table

jacobFavorite under-the-radar spot: Sky Lanes (1477 Patton Ave; 828-252-7566,

Sessoms says: “This bowling alley has cheap, cold beer and cheap, strong liquor drinks. It’s real. The food is cooked by the same people day after day, year after year. I can’t get my two teenage boys to go out with me much anymore, but they’ll grace me with their presence if we go here. There’s a $4.55 double cheeseburger that actually tastes good, especially when you’re getting drunk and throwing gutter balls.” (Photo: Yelp/Justin C.)