Tapas: Restaurant reviews That Aren't Too Filling

   About these reviews: I update these as necessary and add more restaurants as possible. Use the search bar on the upper right of this screen to determine if what you're looking for is here. Reviews are in no particular order.
   I generally will not waste space or time telling you about bad experiences -- life is too short for bad food. After more than a decade of writing restaurants reviews for several newspaper and magazines -- I do not assign stars or scores. I tell you about my experience. The food and beverage industry is, at best, a moment in time for every guest. Your experience may vary.

North Star Bakehouse
   This West Asheville bakery and coffeehouse has a friendly vibe and some serious sweet and savory goods in its bakery cases. I stopped in for lunch and sampled both sides of the menu -- sweet and savory. My quiche -- laced with prosciutto and veggies in a fluffy egg base -- handled the microwave re-heating well -- and the crust was beautifully flaky and flavorful. Re-heating in the oven is an optio -- but takes about 15 minutes.
   My "sweet" was a seasonal muffin -- pumpkin and chocolate chip. The substantial muffin was dotted with pumpkin seeds on top and loaded with plenty of chocolate chips. There was no iced tea -- I had a regular coffee. There is an extensive specialty coffee and tea menu.
   The bakery offers a wide array of other baked goods and also does custom work. Plenty of off-street parking.
North Star Bakehouse, 1570 Patton Ave Ste 1, Asheville, NC 28806, 828.785.1930. 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday

The Anchor Bar + Kitchen
   This newcomer to West Asheville's bustling Haywood Street business corridor. It comes with good lineage: It's owners are the names behind longtime downtown Barley's Taproom & Pizzeria and popular food, drink and music venue Salvage Station.
   In The Anchor, guests find a comfortable and relaxing downtown dining room and upstairs a sports bar that on big game weekends is a raucous, fan-filled vortex.
   As appealing as the freshly decked out interior is, a menu that tops out at $10 is a welcome sight -- especially for Haywood Street lunch seekers. Sandwiches come with hand-cut fries -- and there are pizzas, wings and salads. Craft beer prices hover around $5 a pint -- slightly more for high gravity labels.
   On my recent lunch visit, I had a blackened burger topped with a load of bleu cheese chunks and freshly sliced tomato and onion. My very talented server, Charles, asked if I wanted the fries crisp or more traditionally soft. I opted for soft and was pretty impressed by the plate full of food for under 10 bucks. Attention was spot on -- Charles remembered to bring additional ice to top off my tea refill. Well done!
   The burger was spot on -- great flavors, perfectly prepared medium-well. I'm looking forward to going back for the chicken sandwich -- which has come highly recommended.
The Anchor Bar + Kitchen, 747 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806, 828.412.5956. 11:30 a.m.-midnight

Moe’s Original Bar B Que
   There are two kinds of barbecue people: The kind that treat it like any other food and the ones who are positively fanatical.
   I fall into that later category. For me, barbecue is smoked slowly over low heat until it surrenders to tenderness and smoky goodness. The meat must generally be pork, although in recent years I’ve given over to Texas-style brisket and won’t turn up a nose at smoked bologna.
   Moe’s scratches that itch. My favorite location, north of downtown in the Woodfin area, has a roadhouse feel, laid back staff and plenty of cold beer choices. The ‘cue menu showcases pulled pork and ribs – but also smoked chicken and turkey and fried catfish. There is a solid stable of side dishes and some daily side specials. Sweet and crunchy cornbread is as pretty to look at as it is tasty eat. It’s damned good – and I tend to shy away from sweet cornbread. This might be crackbread – it’s just that good.
   But hey, we came for barbecue. I had pulled pork, which was smoky, tender and plenty juicy. Again, the ‘cue freak in me sticks to unadorned meats – but there are sauce choices on the side for *you* people. My skillet corn and baked beans were hot and perfectly seasoned.
   Ms. TJ split a rack with our friend Cookie. Barry, who powered through smoked wings like a champ, laid back – knowing our ladies would offer up a rib or two toward the end of the meal.
   The crystal ball was correct and I gnawed away at a couple of ribs. These lean, hearty ribs were perfectly done – a clean bite. The smoke ring was bit light and the rub, IMO, could use a bit more kick. Overall, very good and satisfying – the reason I keep going back.
Moe’s Original Bar B Que, 72 Weaverville Rd, Woodfin NC 28804. 828.505.3542. Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday noon-8 p.m. (There is another location at 4 Sweeten Creek Rd, Asheville NC 28803)

   With Nightbell, Chef Katie Button brings the tapas-style flexibility and approachability of Curate into a second restaurant that specializes in regionally-sourced American ingredients.
   This is no strict farm-to-table experience. Button adds a hint of playfulness to dishes like her Deviled Egg: An egg cup filled with sweet corn sabayon, North Carolina smoked trout and pimenton. A delicate feuille de brick cone presents steak tartare –  dry-aged apple brandy beef is topped with smoked horseradish cream.
   The menu changes regularly and relies upon fresh, seasonal ingredients. I’ve got nothing but props for sommelier Joe Minnich’s commitment to having a extraordinary wine list. In an interesting twist, he forgoes varietals and gives guests tasting notes. I’m all on board with that strategy – it will help you break out of a wine rut!
   Relaxed, casual dining pairs with a meticulously selected wine list and an amazing cocktail list. Service and attention to detail have always been exemplary.
Nightbell, 32 S Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC 28801. 828.575.0375. Tuesday-Thursday 5-10:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5-11 p.m.; Sunday 5-10 p.m.

Heiwa Shokudo
   Dine in the intimate Japanese-themed dining room or enjoy your sushi, tempura, noodle bowl or hot pot al fresco in the funky lower Lexington Avenue neighborhood. Attention to detail is of the utmost importance here - from quality ingredients to attentive service.
   For a lunch or dinner to languish over, try Oyako Don, a donburi rice bowl featuring chicken, sliced onion and shiitake mushrooms in a rich, well-seasoned sauce.
Heiwa Shokudo, 87 N Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC 28801. 828.254.7761. Noon-2:30 p.m.; 5-9:30 p.m.

El Paraiso Mexican Grill
   There are much bigger and more well-known Mexican eateries in Asheville. However, the more intimate booths and made-to-order plates at West Asheville’s El Paraiso make this THE place to stop. The food is always consistent, nicely presented and delicious. Burritos are hearty and plump. Order a variety of quesadillas to share.
El Paraiso Mexican Grill, 1047 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806. 828.255.5148. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Cucina 24
   This may be in the heart of Asheville, but it could just as easily be an intimate ristorante in Firenze. Pasta is made by hand, to order. A wood-fired oven churns out nicely blistered and smoky pizza, an array of artfully crafted bread and roasted meats. Don’t miss Cucina 24’s orecchiette, with its rich sauce laced with spicy Italian sausage, greens, and tomato. With an excellent list of Italian wines, it’s cozy and romantic.
Cucina 24, 24 Wall St, Asheville, NC 28801. 828.254.6170. Monday-Friday 5:30-9:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 5-9:30 p.m.

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