Where to Eat in Knoxville
Once dubbed "a scruffy little city," Knoxville has grown into a beautiful destination. It's home to stunning gardens, awe-inspiring restorations, and an impressive arts and music scene. But it's no surprise that our favorite spots in this Southern gem are the ones that offer the best culinary creations for miles around.
Barbecue: Sweet P's BBQ and Soul House
When you live in the South and face no shortage of barbecue joints, you might think picking a favorite would be difficult — but Sweet P's tops everyone's list. Head to their original location, on Maryville Pike, where they serve up smoky-sweet barbecue and good music. And when you want more than a pulled pork sandwich or some ribs, go for the BBQ plate, loaded with smoked pork or chicken, two sides, and even a bun or corn muffin.
Photos by Popfizz
Pizza: Hard Knox Pizzeria
Place your order at the counter, then pick a table and try to be patient while you wait for your wood-fired pizza to arrive. Hard Knox offers red, white and more creative pies, all with crusts that strike the crisp-chewy ideal. (Appetizers and salads are great, too, but the pizzas are the main event.) Eight-inch pie are available for lunch, but we suggest going with the 12-inch pie no matter the meal — you can always get a to-go box and love yourself for it later.
Burgers: Stock and Barrel
When the craving for a craft burger strikes, look no further than Stock and Barrel. The restaurant has been pairing quality burgers and fine bourbon in Knoxville's historic Market Square since 2013. The Bison, pictured here, is topped with three kinds of mushrooms, crispy fried onions, garlic aioli and creamy Boursin cheese, and it's just one of the 20 mouthwatering options available. All the beef is locally sourced, the breads are locally made, and Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams provides the bacon, making Stock and Barrel a true neighborhood gem.
Ice Cream: Cruze Farm
Cruze Farm at Asbury sets the scene even before you see the perfectly swirled cones. The year-round location, which opened in Oct. 2017, is housed in a large Queen Anne-style home built in 1893. Order a cone or cup (aptly offered in "calf" and "cow" sizes), or a float, churn or shake from the window, then head for the expansive wraparound porch. The fresh-churned ice creams are made with milk from the Cruze Farm Jersey cows; although the varieties change weekly, each one is exceptionally creamy and soft, and sweet cream, seen here, is always available.
Jazz Brunch: Downtown Grill and Brewery
A late brunch with live jazz is always a good idea; a late brunch with live jazz and an internationally inspired bloody mary menu only ups the stakes. Head to the historic Woodruff Building, home of the beautiful Downtown Grill & Brewery, for a one-of-a-kind Sunday brunch that has something for everyone. Peruse a full menu of late-morning favorites, as well as the restaurant's dinner menu, and feel comfortable taking the kids too — the under-12 menu (complete with cereal offerings) is sure to please young diners, who can color while they wait.
Vegan Eats: Sanctuary Vegan Cafe
While you can find vegetarian- and vegan-friendly menu items throughout the city, Sanctuary Vegan Cafe is Knoxville's only all-vegan restaurant. Luckily, you don't need to be vegan to love the "compassionate comfort food" served here. The portions are large (you just might need a fork and knife to eat that Philly cheesesteak!) and sure to please even the most-devoted carnivores. They offer shareable appetizers and pillowy desserts (think cupcakes, cookies and, if you're lucky, doughnuts), and they do it all with animals in mind.
Steak: Ye Olde Steak House
This family-owned and -operated steakhouse simply brings it when it comes to rustic and comforting dining — and, you guessed it, juicy hand-cut steaks. Ye Olde Steak House has been a meat lover's dream since 1968 with its menu of Iowa grain-fed beef, including rib-eye, porterhouse and prime rib cuts, grilled and seared within diners' sights. Watch the flames dance from the open-air kitchen and take in the log cabin-inspired walls adorned with memorabilia and photos of famous patrons. If you manage to save room, order a slice of red velvet cake or peanut butter pie from a menu of pies and cakes that's so beloved, patrons order whole versions to go, with a day's notice.
Biscuits and Gravy: The Tomato Head
You can't go wrong with the biscuits and gravy at The Tomato Head. While the homegrown restaurant prides itself on innovative cooking, it sticks to tradition when it comes to the fluffy buttermilk biscuits available for brunch. Get a warm biscuit served open faced with buttery, sausage-dotted white gravy poured over the top, or go the extra mile with scrambled eggs, local Cheddar, gravy and your choice of Benton's famous bacon, chorizo, housemade soysage or baked tofu.
Dining with Kids: Aubrey's
Parents of picky eaters, rejoice! Aubrey's offers perfectly seasoned chicken fingers just right for young palates, in addition to other kid faves, including a PB&J, a cheeseburger, and mac and cheese. And with two Knoxville locations, Aubrey's is bound to be nearby no matter where your travels take you. The casual, family-friendly atmosphere makes it easy and enjoyable to satisfy hungry kids, whether you tuck into a booth or put a few tables together to fit your brood.
Fried Chicken: Wright's Cafeteria
While pretty much any home-cooked lunch will please at Wright's Cafeteria, we suggest you make a beeline for their fried chicken — available only Monday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Classic Southern sides, think creamy mac and cheese, fried okra, greens and more, vary daily at the cash-only restaurant, but they all complement the irresistible golden bird.
Quick Lunch: Nick & J's Cafe
For a sit-down lunch you can actually enjoy — without extending your lunch break — head to Nick & J's Cafe. The diner setting offers comfy booths as well as counter service, and it's not uncommon for the owner to check in on you midmeal. (They know how to serve up good food and service here.) The extensive menu includes hot soups, cool salads and generous sandwiches and burgers, but for the most bang for your buck, check out the Monday-through-Friday lunch specials. Available on Fridays, this hearty country-style steak with brown gravy, two veggies, and a roll or corn muffin definitely won't leave you hungry. Don't overlook the dessert display as you pay your bill, though; a 99-cent brownie is a sweet deal you can bring back to your desk.
Date Night: Brazeiros
Think date-night dinners require dainty aphrodisiacs? Waive that thought process when you've got a date at Brazeiros on the calendar. In fact, you may want to go ahead and skip breakfast and lunch that day — you'll want plenty of room for the "full experience" menu option at this Brazilian steakhouse. Gaucho chefs serve 15 skewered meats and limitless side dishes tableside, in addition to the extensive salad bar, homemade dessert specialties and after-dinner cocktails.
Specialty Coffee: K Brew
They had us at "hammocks." For a hip coffee shop that actually cares about its coffee, head to K Brew. At the North Knoxville location, place your order, then grab a hammock chair suspended from the ceiling. When the weather allows, they'll open the wall-length garage-style doors and let the warm East Tennessee sunshine add to the atmosphere as patrons sip Louisville-roasted beans with pastries from Knoxville's own VG's Bakery. If simply drinking coffee isn't enough for you, K Brew offers free classes Tuesday evenings. You'll learn how to brew your best coffee yet, but you'll still be back for a cup of theirs.
Cheap Eats Near UT: Gus's Good Times Deli
Whether you're headed to campus for a game or a class, Gus's Good Times Deli is a great place for delicious (and wallet-friendly) eats close to the University of Tennessee. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 a.m., Gus's serves steamed deli sandwiches, juicy burgers, fresh salads and more in a laid-back college atmosphere. It's no wonder everyone craves this place long after they've graduated.
Fresh Pork Rinds: Knox Mason
Founder/Executive Chef Matt Gallaher has been cooking mouthwatering Southern cuisine at Knox Mason since its inception in 2013. And while Knox Mason's menu changes with the seasons, the crispy pork rinds remain. (Because, let's be honest, when is it ever not a good time for pork rinds?) Sprinkled with Bourbon Barrel's smoked paprika and served with Tennessee Sunshine hot sauce, they're as perfect for an evening starter as they are for a Saturday or Sunday brunch accompaniment.