Rounding that final curve before a first glimpse of that towering golden ball known as the Sunsphere on I-40 East, it’s quite possible the tune from Rocky Top worms its way into your ears. Home of the Tennessee Volunteers, Knoxville paid no mind to the Wall Street Journal calling it a “scruffy little city” back in the ‘80s when Knoxville won the bid for the 1982 World’s Fair. Far from scruffy, there are now more than 90 restaurants, most locally-owned, within a square mile of downtown Knoxville and nearly 25 breweries throughout the city. You can learn why Knox really rocks, starting with these downtown restaurants and bars.Read More
15 Essential Restaurants Near Downtown Knoxville
How to eat and drink your way through Knoxville, Tennessee’s downtown area
1. Schulz Bräu Brewing Company
A Gold Medal Winner at the Berlin International Beer Competition, sip German-style beers in the full-scale brewery’s taproom and/or biergarten paired with all the quintessential favorite German dishes made from scratch daily. After grabbing some food and a few brews, head across the street to stop by the Central Filling Station Food Truck Park. But craft brews don’t stop here, Knoxville is overflowing with breweries. Here is a complete guide to Knoxville’s Ale Trail.
2. Jackie's Dream
The comforting soul food restaurant is aptly named — it was truly the lifelong dream of owner Jackie Griffin who grew up cooking alongside her grandmothers, mother, and uncles. Family recipes make appearances all over the menu, from Nanny Mary’s fried green tomatoes and Aunt Maimie’s candied yams to Grandaddy C.D.’s collard green and Mama’s mac and cheese.
3. The Drawing Room at The Tennessean Hotel
Knoxville, TN 37902
From inside The Tennessean Hotel, diners can sit and gaze from the floor-to-ceiling windows at the infamous golden Sunsphere towering above World’s Fair Park just across the street. Daily charcuterie and the daily seasonal menus are paired with craft cocktails aplenty. Check its site for times, as this is where one of the only high tea services happens in town.
4. A Dopo Sourdough Pizza
Now that you’ve had enough pandemic sourdough batches to last maybe a lifetime, taste how the pros at A Dopo Sourdough Pizza do it for their chewy, Neapolitan-style pies. As its namesake suggests, A Dopo features sourdough crusts and scratch-made sauces, and you’ll also find an extensive Italian wine and beer list.
5. Sweet P's Barbecue and Downtown Dive
A perfect union of American dive bar and barbecue joint, the Downtown Dive is located in the arts district and features a spacious beer garden. Enjoy all things smoked accompanied by a nod to soul food classics paired with a diverse array of wine and craft beer. The Uptown Dive is hopeful to open later this year. Fun fact: they own the World’s Fair logo and are full of kitchy collectibles; next year marks the fair’s 40th anniversary.
6. J.C. Holdway
If you only had one meal in Knoxville, this just may be the one. Awarded by the James Beard Foundation for Best Chef Southeast, Chef Joseph Lynn’s wood-fired Appalachian flavors permeate the weekly a la carte menus, paired with quite the impressive beverage list. Temporarily closed for renovations, the restaurant is slated to reopen on July 7, 2021.
7. Tern Club
Even if you try to not get turned up at this tiki joint, one of those Zombies may hit hard (they’ll only let you order one of these potent elixirs, if that offers perspective). And if it does, there’s a shortlist of tropical bites to help sop up the extra, from cheesy mulitas to jerk chicken.
8. Oliver Royale
Serving dinner nightly and brunch Friday through Sunday, this Market Square staple focuses on local and regional American cuisine and is part of the boutique Oliver Hotel. Slurp the signature Royale ramen or devour the confit short rib — either will make your visit memorable. After all those to-go cocktails or a night at the adjacent speakeasy, Peter Kern Library, head back over for the hangover helper at brunch.
Much like its Italian region’s namesake, this Market Square staple is certainly a breadbasket of the region. Known for its House Pulled Burrata and Pollo Al Mattone, Emilia’s other must-orders include the lighter-than-air gnocchi amatriciana and steamed PEI mussels. All breads are made at their sister bakery, Paysan. And consider staying at the Embassy Suites, where sister restaurant Knox Mason anchors the accommodations and is steps away from its rooftop bar, Radius.
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10. Yassin's Falafel House
Fast-casual Mediterranean cuisine is the name of the game at Yassin Terou’s restaurant at the corner of Walnut Street and West Church Avenue. The earthy falafel and hummus all compete for customers’ affection here.
11. Chivo Taqueria and Stock and Barrel
What tacos and tequila are to Chivo on Gay Street, burgers and bourbon are to Stock and Barrel on Market Square. Nashvillians can also enjoy Stock and Barrel from this same group in the Gulch.
12. Boyd’s Jig and Reel
Nearly 1000 whiskies grace the bar at this Old Town Scottish haunt, where catching live music is a given, may it be a big show or a pub session where you’re encouraged to join in — if that’s your talent. Savor traditional Scottish dishes such as Scotch eggs, steak and ale pie, and fish and chips. You can also order fare like haggis, neeps, and tatties, even if just for the simple reason that “neeps and tatties” is fun to say.
13. Lonesome Dove Knoxville
Chef Tim Love offers a nod to Western culinary tradition with a touch of Knoxville at his Old Town restaurant Lonesome Dove. An extensive wine portfolio pairs with a predominately wood-fired menu, including wild game. A must-order is Love’s proprietary wild game fettine presenting a selection of cuts spit-roasted over mesquite.
Self-described as a laid-back Asian fusion restaurant in the Old City, Kaizen offers creative, vegetable-forward dishes like dry-fried eggplant. The menu also highlights rotating daily features like ribeye fried rice or Chana Dal Loup de Mer from chef-owner Jesse Newmister. Catch a live show at his nearby restaurant, Tako Taco, where street food takes the stage daily.
Start your day off right with this Old Town favorite, where you’ll swear the tempeh and mushroom bacon are the real deal. Serving breakfast and lunch in the popular entertainment district, chef Jeff is also opening HenHoc Butcher & Deli on July 31, 2021.
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