From special occasion finer dining to pint glasses and finger foods, the culinary renaissance in Downtown Knoxville has introduced a refreshing range of dining options. Embracing storied downtown history and cool, contemporary style, diners are greeted with captivating décor and equally enticing flavors, making it a hot spot for visitors and locals alike. As you explore Downtown Knoxville this summer, offering a head pat to each passing pup, put these five restaurants at the top of your must-dine list and enjoy!
1. J. C. Holdway
There’s no secret to Chef Joseph Lenn’s rise to fame with the opening of his Union Avenue restaurant, J. C. Holdway. It’s all about great food. The in-demand restaurant is a namesake of Chef Lenn’s late uncle and aims to honor Uncle Joe’s adventures to seek the highest quality culinary experiences and service. The delicious, southern-inspired menu is full of flavor and crafted to showcase old-world techniques in modern time.
J. C. Holdway is open for dinner only, making it an ideal visit for a special occasion. I recommend securing a reservation in advance. It’s just as fun, though, to pop in and grab a seat at the bar. The open design lets you watch the line at work, roasting dishes in a wood-fire grill and pouring well-paired wines.
A block and a half over from the street musicians and fountains of Market Square, Kaizen’s understated look is a humble pairing to the awesome flavors packed in every bite. Chef Jesse Newmister took inspiration from izakayas, small Japanese-style pubs featuring tapas-style menus, to create a fun, casual atmosphere that encourages communal enjoyment of the meal.
The kitchen team enjoys pushing the boundaries of Asian cuisine. That excitement and enjoyment translate in the colorful, flavorful plates. Blending Asian influences including Japanese, Szechaun and Thai, the ever-changing menu is a cherry on top of the list of reasons you’ll want to return. There’s always something new to try.
3. SoKno Taco Cantina
This is the ideal, laid-back spot to relax after long hours of work or a fun day in the sun. SoKno, as the name teases, is in South Knoxville, a short drive, or bike ride, from the heart of downtown. The drink menu boasts 24 beers on tap, a bonus tap for margaritas, and a collection of “SoKnoriginal” cocktails.
The free-form order style directs you to select a style of entrée – taco, tamale, burrito, or quesadilla – and customize it with the featured meat of your choice, including protein options from tofu to chorizo.
Beyond Monday through Thursday daily specials, SoKno Social is a monthly event that supports an organization working to have a positive impact on the local community. Don’t forget to ask about the tequila of the week! Lastly, I’d like to throw in a nod to the web address wordplay, soknota.co.
4. A Dopo Sourdough Pizza
If you’re hanging out in Knoxville, you’re likely to hear talk about how delicious A Dopo pizza is. Trust them, it’s that good. A Dopo is a wood-fire pizzeria specializing in sourdough, Neapolitan-style pizzas. Their pizzas have a lovely charred crust and are minimally topped to showcase the fresh ingredients and thoughtful flavor combinations. Order a wine or beer on tap, and finish with one of their small-batch gelatos for full indulgence in an Italian dinner.
As a menu recommendation, I urge you to try the mushroom pâté. The mushrooms are cooked perfectly, creating a really pleasing texture and fresh taste. Don’t let the traditional idea of pâté deter you. In the words of the charismatic Lumière from Beauty and the Beast, “Try the gray stuff. It’s delicious!”
A Dopo means “see you later” in Italian, and once you’ve enjoyed a pizza there, it’s a pretty sure bet they’ll be seeing you later.
5. Stock & Barrel
What must-dine list is complete without a burger joint? This farm-to-table spot promotes local economic sustainability, sourcing from local farms and businesses. Stock & Barrel offers an adaptable atmosphere that makes it great for date night, a business-casual lunch or an evening with the family. They take classic favorites – fries, burgers and milkshakes – and turn them up a notch. Even reading the menu is fun, I’m looking at you, “the Elvis”, with peanut butter, fried bananas and Benton’s Bacon.
Their other love is bourbon. Much like their inventive twists on the burger, the impressive bourbon stock is well used, putting a modern turn on timeless cocktails. If you’re a bourbon fan, I’d suggest Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel on the rocks. It’s not always in stock, but when it is, you’re in for a treat.
Exploring the menus of Downtown Knoxville is more fun than ever. Embrace the opportunity to expand your palate and enjoy the global influence and regional celebrations plated around every corner.