Is Knoxville Cuisine Improving? Which are the Best Downtown Restaurants?

Yassin's Falafel House, 706 Walnut Street, Knoxville, June 2014
Yassin’s Falafel House, 706 Walnut Street, Knoxville, June 2014

We’ve had numerous debates about food in Knoxville over the years I’ve written about downtown. I generally write about restaurants that open, and while I’m spreading the word more than I’m reviewing them, I generally find some good things to say. Are we world class? No. Do we have the variety of restaurants found in downtown Asheville? No. Our own style of food like New Orleans? No. Still, that doesn’t mean good things aren’t happening on our culinary scene.

I think the last year-and-a-half have brought some of our best restaurants, which is not to say there weren’t already some good ones. Stock and Barrel opened in August of 2013 and consistently gets rated one of our best, with excellent burgers made from scratch. Yassin’s Falafel House opened last June, giving us an excellent infusion of an ethnic food heretofore missing.  5 Bar opened last September and, while a bit more expensive than some restaurants, their ambiance as well as their fresh food made them instantly popular. I know they have locations in other cities, but they’ve worked to integrate themselves very nicely into our community.

OliBea, 119 S. Central, Knoxville, December 2014
OliBea, 119 S. Central, Knoxville, December 2014

I really enjoy the food at Crown and Goose, but last December when Crown and Goose chef Jeffrey Dealejandro opened Oli Bea, it seems he shifted creative gears and redefined what Knoxville can expect for breakfast. Another recent change brought what I feel is another step. I loved Shuck, but with its closure we got to keep some of the menu items next door at Cru Bistro while adding another culinary jewel when Holly’s 135 opened in February. Add it all up and I think it’s hard not to acknowledge that the competition for downtown food dollars is getting better.

That may be some of what is behind a couple of recent lists about Knoxville dining. Movoto recently published “15 Knoxville Restaurants That Will Blow the Tastebuds Out of Your Mouth.” The restaurants were not all downtown, but many were. The top of their list was B.J.’s BBQ on University, which is sort of downtown, though not exactly. Of the remainder of the list, nine are downtown, one is in Happy Holler (which we claim) and one will soon be downtown.It’s hard to argue with their choices:

#2 Tomato Head “While they serve up plenty of the classics, they also have one-of-a-kind choices like the Kepner melt, a sandwich stuffed with walnuts, spinach, tofu, cheese, tomatoes, pesto, and pineapple.”

Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014
Tomato Head, Market Square, Knoxville, January 2014

#3 Stock and Barrel “Home to some of the best burgers in Knoxville. . . they’ve also got a ton of bourbon, with knowledgeable staff that’s always willing to help you pick the perfect libation for your meal.”

#5 Suttree’s “Known for serving up beers with a higher alcohol content . . . Suttree’s High Gravity Tavern has a menu with a huge range, featuring items like hot dogs, gyros, and ramen.”

#7 Central Flats and Taps “. . .  one of the coolest spots to eat in the Marble City.With favorites like the blue cheese and spicy chicken driven “Crazy Cajun” and the “Chupacabra,” centered around the house-made black bean hummus, this place can’t be missed.”

#8 Sweet Pea’s BBQ: Coming Soon to downtown! “the soul food classics served up here are the best around.”

#9 Oli Bea “There’s no better way to kick off your day than by making a trip to OliBea. Specializing in breakfast and brunch foods, you’ll be recommending this place to all of your friends in no time.”

#11 Public House “The true definition of a neighborhood bar, the vibrant atmosphere at the Public House can be attributed to the lively crowd that frequents this establishment. A long list of specialty cocktails is complimented by a huge variety of hot dogs and dip-ables.”

#12 Yassin’s Falafel House “. . . few things are tastier than a meal at Yassin’s Falafel House. With a great staff and a comfortable atmosphere, this joint seems to be doing everything right. Not sure if you like Falafel yet? This is probably the best place to try it.”

#13 Bistro at the Bijou “Often filled with live music, the great setting here is complimented by delicious food. With a focus on creating new culinary innovations, it’s easy to tell that the kitchen staff knows what they’re doing.”

Donald Brown, Bistro at the Bijou, Knoxville
Donald Brown, Bistro at the Bijou, Knoxville


#14 French Market “If you’re wanting to mix it up a little from the typical lunch sandwich, The French Market is the place for you. Their crepes come in many shapes and colors, perfect for breakfast, dessert, or even the main course.”

#15 Knox Mason “Inspired by food from the South, Knox Mason’s savory dishes will have your stomach smiling. Their menu is full of classics like deviled eggs, sweet potatoes, and pork belly, making this Knoxville Stop worth the visit.”

The Travel Channel recently posted “11 Knoxville Restaurants You Can’t Miss.” Again, it is dominated by downtown restaurants:

#1 Oli Bea, #2 Tomato Head, #4 Five Bar, #5 Knox Mason (#6 is Holly’s Homberg – with the same chef as Holly’s 135), #7 Cru Bistro, #9 Sweet Pea’s (coming soon to downtown), #10 Just Ripe, #11 Stock and Barrel.

The Stock and Barrel, 35 Market Square, Knoxville, August 2013
The Stock and Barrel, 35 Market Square, Knoxville, August 2013

So several choices overlap between the two recent lists but together they list 15 downtown restaurants and bars. What do you think? Are we getting better? Did they miss a restaurant which should have been on the list? What’s the best restaurant not included? Which do you think are the best in the city?