TOP APPETIZERS
Winner: Knox Mason
Chef Matt Gallaher has many achievements under his belt, but few are as astonishing as the number of people that he’s converted to the cult of the pork rind. These paprika-laced and hot-sauce-dotted strips of pig skin lead Knox Mason’s alluring Snacks menu, which also includes duck wings, country ham croquettes, and a winning pimento cheese presentation. The whole lot consistently wins the trifecta of appetizer bliss—they read well on the menu, look great on the plate, and deliver mouthwatering taste that makes you crave more. (Dennis Perkins)

Runners Up: Cru Bistro and Wine Bar, Downtown Grill & Brewery, Holly’s 135

TOP ASIAN
Winner: Taste Of Thai
If you dare recall the Knoxville culinary scene of the 1980s and early ’90s, you might struggle to name more than a couple noteworthy Asian restaurants of that era. Times have changed. Now we get to choose from a wide variety of cuisines that go far beyond the old blanket description of “Chinese.” Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Malaysian, and Japanese dishes are now standards on the Knoxville menu, sometimes at the same restaurant. West Knoxville’s Taste of Thai has earned its title of Local Institution with consistently great cooking that’s accessible (kids love Mama Egg Noodles) yet still nuanced and hot enough for the hardcore foodies (take the green curry to 5, or beyond). With its long menu, cheerful service, and a comfily chi-chi dining room, Taste of Thai is the Knoxville Asian restaurant we all hoped for way back when. (Coury Turczyn)

Runners Up: Asia Cafe, Bida Saigon, Nama Sushi Bar

Cake Girl Samantha Spence pieces together a lemon raspberry cake at Magpies Bakery in North Knoxville on Weds., Oct. 7, 2015. Photo by Clay Duda.Clay Duda
TOP BAKERY
Winner: Magpie’s Bakery
The confections that come out of Magpies Bakery every morning are not likely foreign to the tongue of any Knoxvillian with the hankering of a sweet tooth. Since opening back in 1992, its growing army of batter-beaters has been committed to the shop’s motto of “all butter, all the time.” Now, owner Peggy Hambright is taking that fight before the Metropolitan Planning Commission this week as she battles for the right to construct two cartoonish sculptures of a girl egg and a boy butter stick on top of her building off North Central Street. Rooftop advertisements have been banned under the new sign ordinance passed by the City Council in July, but Hambright is arguing the construct will be art, kind of like the finely decorated cupcakes, cakes, and other morsels the shop is known for. (Clay Duda)

Runners Up: Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop, Rita’s Bakery, VG’s Bakery

TOP BBQ
Winner: Sweet P’s Barbeque and Soul House
It was only a few years ago that Chris Ford was hefting his homemade barbecue around town, personally serving up corporate lunches, and considering opening his own restaurant. Now he’s a barbecue kingpin, one of the main figures who’ve suddenly transformed Knoxville into a genuine BBQ destination. With his family-style juke joint (the Soul House) at the marina off Maryville Pike, and now with his still-new Jackson Avenue location (the Downtown Dive), Ford has created truly distinctive temples for the cult of smoked meats to worship at. Dedicated BBQ fanatics won’t be disappointed—Sweet P’s daily menu is simple (pork, chicken, brisket, ribs) yet immensely satisfying, with a distinctive sauce that suggests an appreciation for Carolina traditions and side dishes that are Southern yet not old-fashioned (get some Sauteed Greens n’ Things). Add a musical vibe that reflect Ford’s years as lead singer for Gran Torino and we have another Knoxville original that other cities can envy. (C.T.)

Runners Up: Archers BBQ, Buddy’s BBQ, Dead End BBQ

TOP BREAKFAST
TOP MEAL THAT’S A STEAL

Winner: Pete’s Coffee Shop
Six days a week, you can start your day with a distinctively Southern flaky biscuit (with gravy), country ham, pancakes (sometimes strawberry), home fries, or an omelet full of fresh vegetables. Pete and Rita Natour have stood behind the counter for almost 30 years, with newspaper clippings and autographs from famous visitors on the wall to prove it. Their downtown diner is spotlessly clean, the service personal and friendly, and as our readers noted, you can’t beat the prices. Get a terrific burger for less than $5, or a daily special with a meat and two veggies for just $6.79. Among the local favorites are the meatloaf, fried chicken, and mettwurst and beans. Don’t miss the chili or the tuna-fish sandwich, either! (Heather Duncan)

Top Breakfast Runners Up: Holly’s Gourmet’s Market, OliBea, The Plaid Apron
Top Meal That’s a Steal Runners Up: Good Golly Tamale, Senor Taco, Soccer Taco

TOP BRUNCH
Winner: Bistro at the Bijou
One of the coziest dining spots in town, with comfort food that always manages to surprise—the vegetarian- and vegan-friendly menu changes seasonally, and the daily specials range from mets and beans to salmon croquette and a grilled portabella quesadilla. Brunch is a specialty, served from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday; the most recent iteration includes the usuals, like eggs, biscuits and gravy, and grits, but adds some imaginative new offerings, like pastrami eggs Benedict, a vegan waffle, and a portabella omelet. (Matthew Everett)

Runners Up: Copper Cellar, Sunspot, The Tomato Head

Knoxville chef Holly Hambright preps a dinner for 14 in her new kitchen at Holly’s Gourmet Market in Bearden. Photo by Clay Duda.Clay Duda
TOP CHEF
Winner: Holly Hambright
There are many things you can say about Holly, but they’ve probably already been said. That’s because there are few chefs in our town who get around as much and with such a distinctive personal panache as she does. As a caterer, Holly brings a unique vision and style to events both large and small; as a restaurateur, she’s helped redefine casual dining as elegant eating for nearly all hours of the day. It’s really no surprise that voters have overwhelmingly crowned Holly—sometimes called the Holly Lama—as the queen of Top Knox nosh. (D.P.)

Runners Up: Bruce Bogartz, Jeffrey DeAlejandro, Matt Gallaher

See Also:
Top New Restaurant in Food and
Top Catering Service in Services

TOP COFFEEHOUSE
Winner: Old City Java
The downtown institution has built a cult following (or, more like a cup culture following, complete with a revolving cast of MacBook-toting freelancers filling its tables) since opening its doors in the
Old City more than 25 years ago. As the city has continued to evolve, one constant has been the high-caliber, high-octane brews dripping, steaming and swirling into the cups at Java, and for that we are continually hyper. Coming up: Owners Shaun and Meg Parrish’s in-house bakery, Wild Love Bakehouse, will be opening its own location at 1625 N. Central, right next to Mid-Mod Collective. (C.D.)

Runners Up: Coffee & Chocolate, K Brew, Remedy Coffee

TOP COMFORT FOOD
Winner: Chandler’s Deli
If you haven’t had Chandler’s fried chicken, then hurry up or move; it’s an essential Knoxvillian thing to do. For most Top Knox voters it’s the gold standard for crispy, juicy, can’t-stop-at-one-piece chicken, as well as many more home-style favorites. Mac-n-cheese, collard greens, fried okra and more make this destination deli on Magnolia a regular in any conversation about soulful food in Knoxville. (D.P.)

Runners Up: Big Fatty’s, Pete’s Coffee Shop, Tupelo Honey Cafe

TOP DELI/SANDWICH/SUB SHOP
Winner: North Corner Sandwich Shop
David Blevins is a sandwich savant, an artisan who combines his intellectual desire to assemble each sandwich in perfect balance along with a creative drive that never goes beyond the boundaries of good taste. In his tidy, small eatery on North Central Street, he has established an enticing gallery for those who appreciate the art of the sandwich (including New York Times travel writer Seth Kugel). The flavor of each carefully chosen ingredient comes shining through every bite rather than being submerged in a morass of sauce or dough. Take, for example, his Beef and Blue Grilled Cheeseter: house-roasted beef, Danish blue cheese spread, and caramelized balsamic onions, neatly arranged between two buttery-crisp slices of fresh bread, not too thick. Simple, perfect. Blevins is not open for dinner nor on weekends, but these artworks are well worth making a lunch trip to enjoy. (C.T.)

Runners Up: Frussie’s Deli & Bakery, Gus’s Good Times Deli, Nixon’s Deli

TOP DESSERTS
Winner: Litton’s Market and Restaurant
For years Litton’s has been on the minds and lips of East Tennesseans for good burger eating, but the incredible dessert selection does a lot to keep this North Knoxville darling in the good graces of eaters. Whether it’s cookies, cakes, brownies, or pies, Litton’s does it all with sugary aplomb. They’re especially loved for a much-lauded coconut cream pie—or is it the dreamy red velvet cake? Or the almost impious turtle brownies. Or the chocolaty sensation called Day & Night cheesecake. Well, you get the drift. (D.P.)

Runners Up: Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop, Coolato Gelato, Magpie’s Bakery

TOP FOOD TRUCK
Winner: Savory and Sweet
When Knoxville finally caught up with the food-truck trend in 2012, Savory and Sweet was one of its pioneers—and one of its best, right off the bat. The husband-and-wife team of Byron and Kiki Sambat exemplify the ideals that made food trucks a phenomenon in the first place: delivering artisan, hand-crafted food that reflects their own creative tastes. Some Knoxville restaurateurs can be accused of doing the same ol’ same ol’—but not the Sambats. Whether it’s the trademark bacon-wrapped almond-stuffed dates, the pimento cheese and candied jalapeños sliders, the coffee chipotle pork tacos, or the tofu bahn mi, Savory and Sweet makes eating out—on the streets—an adventure. (C.T.)

Runners Up: Cruze Farm food truck, Good Golly Tamale, Poutine Mobile

TOP FRENCH
Winner: The French Market Crêperie
“French” often suggests fine dining, which isn’t what you’ll get at the French Market. You’ll likely be more than satisfied, though, with Knoxville’s only version of genuine Parisian street food—both sweet and savory crêpes, for breakfast, dinner, or dessert, decadent and delicious, loaded up with cheese, fresh fruit and cream, veggies, smoked salmon, pork tenderloin, you name it. Even Nutella, which, it turns out, is the most popular crêpe here. (M.E.)

Runners Up: Cafe du Soleil, Northshore Brasserie, The Orangery

TOP HAMBURGER
Winner: Stock & Barrel
It’s hard to imagine more juicy burger options than at Market Square’s burger-and-bourbon concept restaurant. For me, it’s the quality and creativity of the toppings that really take these burgers over the top. Where else would you find blue cheese, Benton’s bacon, blueberry preserves, and fried jalapeños on the same burger? (Ask for the Bernie.) The Greek “lamburger” is amazing, and don’t dismiss the Elvis, with peanut butter, a fried banana, and Benton’s bacon. For those without a penchant for red meat, Stock and Barrel also offers “burgers” made of salmon, turkey, chicken (with waffles for bread) and beans. A contributor to the farm-to-table movement, Stock and Barrel uses Grainger County beef, Sweetwater Valley Farm cheese, and buns from Knoxville’s Flour Head Bakery. The duck confit fries are as melt-in-your-mouth as you could dream, but then what else did you expect when they fry them in, yes friends, duck fat. (H.D.)

Runners Up: Cru Bistro and Wine Bar, Litton’s Market and Restaurant, Not Watson’s Kitchen & Bar

The Public House in Knoxville. Photo by Clay Duda.Clay Duda
TOP HOT DOG
Winner: The Public House
Yes, you can have a gourmet hot dog in Knoxville. Some may claim that such a thing can’t exist, but the Public House defies those preconceptions with hot-dog combinations that go beyond simple “bar food.” First, the base: a Nathan’s Famous all-beef dog (or veggie dog), tucked into a Flour Head Bakery bun. Second, the house-made toppings: Collard green kimchi, cilantro, sriracha-honey dressing for the Collard Kimchi dog; Bull’s BBQ pulled pork, Century Harvest pickles, and Cruze Farm Buttermilk Ranch for the aptly named BBQ + Pickles + Ranch dog; or how about chile con carne with a sweet and spicy yogurt sauce to create the Chile Con Carne + Pineapple Raita dog. Dazzling flavor grenades all. And hey, they have gourmet popcorn, too. (C.T.)

Runners Up: Cruze Farm food truck, Curious Dog Hotdogs and Sandwiches, Dave’s Dog House

TOP ICE CREAM/FROZEN TREATS
Winner: Coolato Gelato
Perhaps the best thing about Coolato Gelato is that you’ll find flavors to entice the grownup palette as well as any kids’ sweet tooth. Whether you prefer the tiramisu, peach iced tea, or pumpkin cheesecake varieties (which seriously tastes exactly like frozen pumpkin cheesecake), you won’t find this many choices in gelato (and even milk-free sorbetto) anywhere else in Knoxville. It couldn’t be presented more lusciously, with roasted espresso beans for the cappuccino crunch and fresh berries and peach slices on the blackberry peach. They also offer gelato cakes that, for the same reason, are a step above most ice cream cakes; the birthday ones come topped with house-made macaroons, or you can order your own specialty flavor. (H.D.)

Runners Up: Creamery Park Grille, Cruze Farm, Pop Culture

TOP ITALIAN
Winner: Naples Italian Restaurant
Nothing fancy here—they’ve been doing the basics for more than 30 years at this Bearden institution, and there’s no reason to start messing with a winning formula now. Good old-fashioned family dining, Italian style, done with care and craft, ranging from simple pasta-and-sauce dishes to house-made ravioli and fresh seafood. Plus tiramisu and other Italian desserts! (M.E.)

Runners Up: Altruda’s Italian Restaurant, Original Louis Drive-In Restaurant, Savelli’s Italian Restaurant

TOP INDIAN
Winner: Sitar Indian Cuisine
Knoxville’s oldest Indian restaurant remains its most popular, winning over diners with its buffet of accessibly spiced Indian favorites. (C.T.)

Runners Up: Bombay Palace, Red Onion Pizza, Woodlands Indian Restaurant

TOP MEXICAN/SOUTH AMERICAN
TOP TACO

Winner: Soccer Taco
Knoxville may be a football town, but it also loves its fútbol, and no one knows this better than Soccer Taco. A Knoxville Mexican-food essential since 2005, their tacos are full, flavorful, and authentic—with ingredients like beef tongue and cheek. Paired with one of their tastefully strong margaritas and bottomless chips and salsa, this restaurant definitely gives you your money’s worth. Between the food coma, the sports-focused TVs, and the beer, it’s an easy way to spend an afternoon. (Jordan Achs)

Top Mexican/South American Runners Up: Chez Guevara, Pelancho’s Mexican Restaurant and Cantina, Senor Taco
Top Taco Runners Up: Chez Guevara, La Esperanza, Senor Taco

TOP MIDDLE-EASTERN
Winner: Holy Land Market
With this vote, Denise and Walter Ajlouny confirm what we’ve known for 10 years: Sutherland Avenue is a destination spot for garlicky hummus, crisp, flavorful falafel, and the one lentil soup that should be on your bucket list. Holy Land’s specials are always special, too, including great shawarma, mashi lamb, and a must-try Jordanian specialty called mensiff. Of course, many voters are friends of the Ajlounys—as you will be too after a single meal there. Walter and Denise seem to know no strangers. (D.P.)

Runners Up: King Tut’s Grill, Turkish Market, Yassin’s Falafel House

TOP NEW RESTAURANT
Winner: Holly’s 135
When Holly took over this cozy nook on the 100 block, she celebrated with a party that featured candied bacon and wacky cocktails. It was an omen. 135 is that rare meeting of pub and grub that keeps things casual, chill, and comely. The menu showcases Chef Holly’s sometimes quirky sammitches and shareables along with a singular Build-a-Bowl option with offerings like pork confit, lemon feta rice, and shawarma ’shrooms. The place is also loved for its daring drinks and plenty of distinctive draft selections. And did we mention candied bacon? (D.P.)

Runners Up: 5 Bar, Not Watson’s Kitchen + Bar, OliBea

TOP OUTDOOR DINING
Winner: Lakeside Tavern
Beyond Market Square, the sad fact of Knoxville outdoor dining is that much of it includes a view of the parking lot. Not very appetizing. Thankfully, Knoxville also has a big river running through it, which several restaurants take full advantage of (see Top Waterfront Restaurant below). Lakeside Tavern has sited its expansive patio along a scenic stretch of the Tennessee River that not only affords a view of the Concord Marina, but also the riverside train tracks. Settle in for the Sunday brunch (get there early), and you’ll have a bucolic dining experience. (C.T.)

Runners Up: Calhoun’s, Central Flats & Taps, The Crown & Goose

TOP PIZZA
Winner: Hard Knox Pizzeria
“Gourmet pizza” may be available nearly everywhere, including your local gas station, but few pies enter the heady zone of Italian tradition and local innovation that Hard Knox Pizzeria occupies. Started by Dean Bastian and now owned by Paul and Alexa Sponcia, Hard Knox utilizes a true wood-fired oven for an authentic charred thin crust that’s topped with fresh mozzarella. Keep it simple and try a red pie with paper-thin Genoa salami that’s crisped in the oven to a perfect succulent crunch. Or go for something more complex like the Sweet Pea with its prosciutto, blue cheese, and clover honey. If you’re truly daring, order one of the gourmet pies that really are gourmet, devised by local guest chefs. (C.T.)

Runners Up: Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria, Sergeant Pepperoni’s, The Tomato Head

TOP RIBS
TOP WATERFRONT RESTAURANT

Winner: Calhoun’s / Calhoun’s on the River
The love affair between Knoxville and this award-winning purveyor of BBQ (and other things comforting and delicious) is a long-standing and passionate romance. Perhaps it’s because Calhoun’s meltingly tender and hickory smoked ribs made riverfront dining work even when the scenery of the opposite bank was a less than stunning vista of industrial gas canisters and Baptist hospital. (D.P.)

Top Ribs Runners Up: Chandler’s Deli, Dead End BBQ, Sweet P’s Barbeque and Soul House
Top Waterfront Restaurant Runners Up: Lakeside Tavern, Riverside Grille, Sweet P’s Barbecue and Soul House

Tomato Head is a restaurant in Knoxville's Market Square. Photo by Tricia Bateman.Tricia Bateman
TOP SALADS
TOP VEGETARIAN/VEGAN MENU

Winner: The Tomato Head
From the very beginning, Tomato Head has championed fresh and inventive food, as well as the idea that eating well doesn’t have to be bad for you. Despite the fact that it’s the oldest operating restaurant on Market Square, the menu remains fresh, lively, and progressive. Vegans, vegetarians, and regular vegetable lovers alike give the restaurant high marks for its inventive and tasty treatment of food that doesn’t rely on animal protein for flavor. And the salads, vegetarian or not, are eye-catching cornucopias of texture, flavor, and creativity. (D.P.)

Top Salads Runners Up: Aubrey’s, Sunspot, Trio Cafe
Top Vegetarian/Vegan Menu Runners Up: Bistro at the Bijou, Sunspot, Three Rivers Market

TOP SEAFOOD
Winner: Chesapeake’s
Chesapeake’s is really all about the oysters and the shrimp, although scallops, lobster, and crab cakes are also menu staples at this downtown seafood mecca. (If you’re looking for fried seafood, BTW, this is not the place.) The frequent appetizer special of steamed mussels and clams is popular with my family, and don’t miss the Spinach Maria side dish. If you’re looking for large plaster fish and seafood nets as décor, possibly with some tanks of small bright-colored fish thrown in for good measure, Chesapeake’s delivers. Unlike many seafood restaurants, Chesapeake’s is open for lunch, and it also offers a Sunday brunch buffet with goodies like salmon, crab cake Benedict, and bacon cheddar grits. (H.D.)

Runners Up: Bayou Bay Seafood House, The Shrimp Dock, Shuck Raw Bar and Grill

TOP STEAKS
Winner: Ye Olde Steak House
The name isn’t just a reference to its way of cooking up prime beef—simple, straightforward, honest—it’s also a clue to Ye Olde Steak House’s enduring charm: heritage. This cabin-style retreat on the side of Chapman Highway is closing in on 50 years of serving Knoxville. Its rustic walls and down-home decor have seen a lot of customers over the years, many of whom have made Ye Olde a part of their family traditions. This is Knoxville dining at its most Knoxvillian: friendly, no frills, the real deal. (C.T.)

Runners Up: Chop House, Connors Steak & Seafood, Copper Cellar, The Grill at Highlands Row

TOP SUSHI
Winner: Nama Sushi Bar
Whether you’re after the complex flavors packed into the Maui Wowie roll, the simple pleasures of salmon and rice in its sake nigiri, or the thrill of quail egg shooters, Nama Sushi Bar has proven a master of the Japanese flavors that hallmark its menu. The restaurant has doubled down—no, tripled down—since its humble beginnings in 2004 as a storefront in the 100 block of Gay Street. Its original downtown location doubled in size, transplanting to 506 S. Gay St. to make room, and it also added a Bearden locale; and, last year, it opened doors in Nashville. All we can say is keep on wrappin’ those amazing rolls! (C.D.)

Runners Up: Anaba Japanese Cuisine, Tomo Japanese Restaurant, Wasabi Japanese Steakhouse

TOP WINGS
Winner: Central Flats and Taps
Chicken wings may be considered mere sauce-delivery objects at a lot of places, but at Central Flats and Taps chicken is also the thing—they slow-roast their wings and then bake them, which means they might take a bit longer than at your usual wing emporium. And then you can have them either wet (with sauces like Key lime BBQ or fresh garlic and herb) or dry (rubbed with spice mixes like Jamaican jerk or Cajun). The flavors unite rather than overwhelm for a true wings-connoisseur experience. (C.T.)

Runners Up: Dead End BBQ, Rooster’s, Sweet P’s Barbecue and Soul House



























Clay Duda

Former Mercury staff reporter Clay Duda has covered gangs in New York, housing busts in Atlanta, and wildfires in Northern California. And lots of stuff about Knoxville.