Nestled within the mountains of Jackson County, N.C. are amazing restaurants ready to please every palette and price. Its small towns offer big flavors from eateries that have earned loyal followings and impressive accolades. From white linen experiences against spectacular granite backdrops to tucked-away taverns steps off the sidewalks, Jackson County offers tastes that are sure to please even the most discriminating foodie and adventurous appetite.
The area is home to award-winning chefs and rising culinary stars offering dishes that are eclectic and intriguing, often making creative use of farm-to-table and locally-sourced ingredients. This is where you may find more than one trout dish on the menu, but each will offer its own, imaginative twist.
Plan your culinary journey by starting from the southern end of Jackson County, in Sapphire and Cashiers, and work your way up N.C. 107 to Sylva and Dillsboro. And don’t forget to make your lodging reservations so you can rest and relax after your delicious meals.
While almost every locally-owned restaurant in Jackson County is worthy of praise, we’ve selected a few that have recently received rave reviews, critical praise or accolades.
Canyon Kitchen: Taking Flavor to Great Heights – Sapphire
With clear views of thousand-foot granite cliffs, Canyon Kitchen may offer one of the most dramatic and beautiful restaurant settings in the country – a dining experience sure to stir the soul and senses. It’s easy to see why Food & Wine selected it for its “Most Romantic Restaurant in Every State” list in 2022.
Tucked away on the enchanting grounds of Sapphire’s Lonesome Valley community at the base of Cow Rock and Laurel Knob, known as the largest box canyon East of the Rocky Mountains, Canyon Kitchen has remained true to its agrarian roots. Sourcing from its gardens or from local farms, award-winning Chef Ed Selle changes the menu weekly based on seasonal ingredients – which may be a reason why it was named a 2023 Diners’ Choice Winner by OpenTable.
Expect elevated Appalachian cuisine that is a rich combination of garden goodness and innovative, New American tradition. Because the land was once home to the original Sunburst Trout Farm, you’ll find appetizers and mains featuring it in creative ways. Or you may choose to indulge in a cast-iron searched filet mignon with sorghum sweet potato puree and a Cheerwine demi-glace. Depending on the season, you could find sauteed gulf shrimp with crispy okra, nduja grits and Dark Cove goat cheese, a Western North Carolina favorite. The wine list is exquisitely curated; you’ll easily find something to compliment the meal.
In the summer, build in time to roam the garden and enjoy crafted cocktails amid the fireflies – a magical storybook experience.
Canyon Kitchen is open April through November. Reservations are required. For more information, call 828-743-7967.
The Orchard: American Cuisine with Southern Flavor – Cashiers
Located on an apple orchard in a 100-year-old farmhouse, The Orchard has been a Cashiers favorite since it opened in 2000. Offering a delightful farm-to-table experience, it combines cozy, rustic ambiance with upscale mountain charm. In warmer seasons, enjoy dining al fresco on its covered porch or patio amidst the apple trees.
The Orchard’s commitment to sourcing ingredients from local farmers and its own orchard ensures that every dish bursts with fresh flavors. Consider starting with Mac’s Gap Quail with char-grilled bacon, creamy risotto, baby kale and a molasses glaze. For your main, try the Glenville Fried Trout, pecan breaded and served on Anson Mill stone ground cheese grits with a black-eyed pea corn relish and a honey Dijon tartar sauce, or the Panthertown Pork Tenderloin, herb rubbed and pan-roasted and served with a black cherry demi-glace, crispy Vidalia onion rings and garlic chive goat cheese crumbles. An extensive wine selection and nightly chef’s specials are also available.
The Orchard is open from 5:15 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Reservations are recommended. For more information, call 828-743-7614.
Dalaya: Authentic Thai Served Creekside – Sylva
This understated eatery is a must for foodies in search of unique and authentic flavors. Specializing in Northern Thai Cuisine, Dalaya has garnered considerable praise and a loyal following of customers since it opened in 2019. Hailing from the Chiang Mai region, Chef Kanlaya Supachana earned a stellar reputation in Brooklyn, N.Y., receiving accolades from The New York Times before relocating to Sylva.
This isn’t your typical Thai known for heat and spice. At Dalaya, every dish is made from scratch with precise care and an emphasis on flavor, color and beauty – a true craft. Consider the delectable daily specials or try its “Curry in a Hurry.” House specialties include Kaeng Hung Leh, hearty pork belly and pork shoulder curry with pickled garlic, fresh ginger, shallots and cane sugar served with grilled salty rib tips. Small dishes, fish selections, vegetarian choices and a variety of Thai teas and desserts round out the menu.
You’ll enjoy dining next to rippling Scott Creek in the cozy dining room or, in warmer months, on the patio.
Dalaya is open for lunch (takeout only from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) and dinner (5 to 9:30 p.m.) Tuesday through Sunday and does not accept reservations. For more information, call 828-477-4945.
ILDA: Where Italy Meets Southern Appalachia – Sylva
Born to an Italian family in Argentina, Michelin-trained Chef Santiago Guzzetti and his wife, Sommelier Crystal Pace, are the dream team behind ILDA (and its neighboring Meatballs Pizzeria) in the heart of Sylva.
ILDA showcases the union of Italian and Southern Appalachian cuisine in a warm setting that’s as eclectic as its menu, which changes with the seasons. In seasonal weather, consider dining al fresco on its enclosed patio that borders both Main and Mill streets in downtown Sylva.
Dishes include handmade pastas, wood-fired pizzas, and savory seafood alongside inventive craft cocktails and unique wines. Try Karen’s Meatballs, an ode to Karen Martar, Pace’s stepmother and owner of the beloved restaurant that previously occupied the space. You’ll find choices such as Gnocco Frito, which combines mortadella, black olives, and a topping of pistachio. Or choose a shared plate, such as Artichokes Alla Romana, prepared with preserved artichokes, burrata and bottarga.
ILDA is open Thursday through Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m. for dinner, and brunch from Noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday. Reservations are highly recommended. For more information, call 828-307-2036.
The Rivers and Rails Tavern: Casual, Coast-to-Coast Cuisine – Dillsboro
Newer to the Jackson County, NC restaurant scene is Rivers and Rails Tavern. Known as “RNR” to the locals, it offers a casual and relaxing experience without sacrificing quality.
Here, you’ll find made-from-scratch dishes created by Owner/Chef Craig Szymanski, who grew up just outside of The Big Apple before honing his culinary skills at authentic Mexican and Asian restaurants for two decades in California. Offering limited indoor seating, an outdoor deck and curbside pickup, RNR is where you’ll find sports on TV and a pool table next to the bar.
Favorites include the Candied Steak Bites, tenderloin marinated in ginger and soy with fresh slaw, fried wontons and a made-fresh sweet and spicy dipping sauce. Thursday is New York Strip night when the steak is served at a fixed price with herb butter, a loaded baked potato and a house salad. Its signature RNR burger combines brie, caramelized onion, arugula and chipotle crema.
RNR opens at 11 a.m. and is closed on Wednesdays. For more information, call 828-367-1225.
Haywood Smokehouse: A Forever Favorite – Dillsboro
If you’re a barbecue connoisseur, you won’t want to miss Haywood Smokehouse. Serving “the best Texas-style barbecue outside of Texas,” Haywood Smokehouse has garnered a large and loyal following and accolades from Tripdvisor, Yelp and Nextdoor. Travel + Leisure has named it among “The 25 Best Places for Barbecue in the U.S.”
You’ll find house-made pork, sausages, fall-off-the-bone ribs and smoked brisket – never frozen and free of hormones or steroids. And while Haywood Smokehouse is known for its quality meats, it doesn’t fall short on sides or dessert. Collard greens, cornbread and pie are menu staples. This is comfort food that seems straight from the Sunday family dinner table.
Haywood Smokehouse is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call 828-631-9797.
Plan Your Culinary Journey to Jackson County
Whatever your taste buds are calling for, you’ll find it in Jackson County. Make your reservations for lodging (and restaurant seating, if needed), and prepare your palette for a memorable culinary journey. Plan your trip today!
Featured Photo Courtesy of @suvitravelsandimports