Knoxville's Foodie Scene to Savor
Knoxville, Tennessee’s culinary scene is like a melting pot for all of the flavors of the modern South. Here you’ll find traditional Southern dishes alongside the cuisines of Italy, Japan, Syria, and beyond. There’s also an emphasis on locality, both in terms of ingredients and locally-owned restaurants. Find the Knoxville foodie in yourself with a visit to the Maker City.
$ to $$$
Knoxville is made up of many smaller districts, that when combined, create a melting pot of cuisines. On my recent visit to Knoxville, I explored the city searching out some local favorites. Enjoy!
In Market Square alone, visitors can enjoy countless restaurants, the majority of which are only found here. The Tomato Head has been serving delicious but healthy food for years, including vegan and specialty diet options. The Tuscan Chicken Sandwich is a popular choice, along with pizza.
Emilia, also in this area, is an Italian restaurant named for the chef’s Italian grandmother and the Emilia Romana region. The orecchiette ragu, along with all the other pasta styles, are created in house daily. The same group owns Knox Mason, located a few blocks away, with fried chicken, deviled eggs, and pimento cheese.
JC Holdaway was the first in the state to earn a James Beard award, long before the celebrity chefs set up shop in Nashville. The special occasion restaurant has a changing weekly menu with pasta and entrees along with an incredible whiskey selection.
Yassin’s Falafel House has two locations in the city, both welcoming and warm and with a loyal customer base. The restaurant serves authentic Mediterranean fare, including falafels, gyros, and hummus.
The Old City neighborhood is quickly becoming a favorite for foodies with dozens of restaurants and bars lining the main street. One such is Kaizen, an izakaya-style restaurant which has Asian fusion dishes like buns, rice bowls, and dumplings.
Across the street, Good Golly Tamale launched its success as a farmers market stall into a permanent restaurant. They serve tamales, of course, in both traditional fillings like chorizo and beans along with versions with Thai chicken and butternut squash.
Barbecue lovers flock to Sweet P’s Barbecue, with two locations in town. The restaurant grew out of a successful catering business. The Downtown Dive is covered in memorabilia from the 1982 World’s Fair and is the best place to get smoked meats, barbecue burritos, and decadent macaroni and cheese.
University of Tennessee
Not far from the University of Tennessee campus, Sunspot is a bright and fun restaurant serving Latin-inspired dishes and brunch. The tacos and sandwiches are always good, along with vegan options like the tofu grain bowl.
Gus’s Good Time Deli is another student favorite for its Tennessee-orange decor and budget-friendly prices. Fuel up with a grilled cheese, hamburger, and other sandwiches, which all come with fries, all served until 4 am. It’s become a must-stop for celebs passing through including athletes and musicians.
After a pint or two at one of the “SoKno” neighborhood’s many breweries, including Printshop Beer Company and Alliance Brewing Company, grab a bite to eat nearby.
SoKno Taco Cantina combines the traditional and quirky, with tacos filled with carne asada and chorizo or vegan options like tofu and Thai-inspired portobello mushrooms. Burritos and tamales are also menu mainstays. There’s even a late-night menu to chow down until 10 and 11 pm.
South Coast Pizza is another favorite, especially if you want to grab a pie to eat at one of the brewery patios. Create your own pizza with a selection of toppings or choose one of their specialty options.
Looking to get out of town? Head to Penelope Pearl’s Tea Room and Parlor in historic Harriman, around 45 minutes from downtown Knoxville. The quirky space serves authentic tea fare including sandwiches and desserts. It’s a popular spot for bridal showers and ladies’ luncheons.
By Caroline Eubanks, whose travel website, This Is My South, is devoted entirely to traveling in the southern USA, including attractions, accommodation, and restaurants. It was recognized by Southern Living as a blog to follow
Knoxville is a great walkable city or simply take the trolley.
Reservations are recommended at certain locations.