I am a native Knoxvillian who has lived here all my life, except for the three years I lived in Ft. Worth. I have also traveled with my husband to many far-flung places around the country and world, such as Alaska, Antwerp, Bruges (a picturesque city that still has the cobbestoned streets and village square from its 14th-Century heyday), Brussels, and Knokke in Belgium; Cairo (and other historic sites in Egypt); Austin; Calgary, Montreal, and Vancouver in Canada; Costa Rica; Houston; London; Mexico City and historic sites in Mexico; New York City; Paris and the South of France; Puerto Rico; Rio de Janeiro; Salt Lake City; San Francisco; Seattle, and St. Martin in the Caribbean. Phew! So, I know a thing or two about a good meal and a good deal.
What parts of Knoxville reach to the national and international levels of interest? Here are a few that will not disappoint visitors and natives alike. And, by the way, all of these are locally or regionally owned businesses.
Best Dinner Restaurant: Kefi
This new Mediterranean restaurant in Knoxville is simply the finest: innovative drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), delicious food, and an atmosphere to die for. Just the best of the best. Not only are the staff knowledgable and fabulous, there are many gluten-free and vegetarian options, and the menu states clearly which dishes are safe for patrons with dietary restrictions to order.
Photos taken in Kefi on December 28, 2018, and February 2019.
Best Lunch or Dinner Restaurant for a Quick, Delicious Meal: Yassin’s Falafel House
Not only is the food amazing at this Mediterranean/Middle Eastern eatery, this family-owned restaurant has become a phenomenon that has been heralded nationally. In October 2018, Yassin’s was named the Nicest Place in America by Reader’s Digest magazine and announced by host Robin Roberts on ABC’s Good Morning America television show.
Located in Downtown Knoxville, Yassin’s was started in 2014 by Yassin Terou, a Syrian immigrant who, along with his wife and two daughters, fled his home country.
In announcing the award to Yassin’s on national television, Bruce Kelley, chief content officer for Reader’s Digest said,
Everyone who hears his story and the story of the shop is moved, from the customers that nominated him, separately multiple customers nominated him, to us editors that vetted him, to the judges and to the Knoxvillians we talked to who said he has changed Knoxville. He has made this a better place. This is an important guy.
In response, Yassin said,
Yassin’s is a place where you can come and feel safe and feel welcome because we love everyone around this world.
Yes, it’s an honor; but America is the winner; Knoxville is the winner; Tennessee is the winner. When he sent you [speaking to Robin Roberts about her visit to Knoxville], I say this prayer to everyone around this country. What makes us a winner is the people in this country, not us. So thank you very much.
Yassin has opened a second location for of thriving business. Besides the original location at the corner of Walnut Street and Church Street (at 706 Walnut), Yassin’s also serves its delicious and economical food, at 159 N. Peters Road in West Knoxville. Yassin’s has many gluten-free and vegetarian options to please those with dietary restrictions. And the staff are soooo welcoming and friendly.
Best Garden Center: Stanley’s Greenhouse
Stanley’s was founded with one greenhouse in 1955 by Charles and Mary Kathryn Stanley on the family farm that had been in the Davenport-Stanley family since the early 1800s. At first the family was one of Knox County’s biggest wheat producers, then they began growing produce and cutflowers to sell on downtown Knoxville’s Market Square.
What began with one greenhouse is now over 190,000 square feet, with the addition of the 36,000-square-foot retail center opened in 2001. Stanley’s Greenhouse has won numerous local awards as this region’s favorite source for everything to do with successful gardening: trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, outdoor and indoor decor, containers, gardening tools, soil, soil conditioners, and fertilizers.
The family grows poinsettias, pansies, perennials, annuals, and roses on the family farm; supports local artisans; and partners with local charities such as the The Pat Summitt Foundation, The Ronald McDonald Charities of Knoxville, as well as a host of educational and community organizations.
Gardeners come from West Virginia, Washington, DC, North Carolina, Nashville, and all over East Tennessee to get their plants, trees, and shrubs from Stanley’s.
Best Ice Cream Shop: The Phoenix Pharmacy and Fountain
An old-fashioned soda fountain on Gay Street, Knoxville’s main street downtown, the Phoenix Fountain makes it own ice cream in house–and what a delight it is! Our favorite is the peppermint stick ice cream the owner makes for the winter season.
Best Shopping: Mast General Store
Mast General Store has been in Knoxville since August 2006. It truly is a general store selling everything from outdoor wear, old-fashioned candy, clothes for the entire family to regional decor, candles, shoes, and kitchenware.
The prices are good, the employees are friendly, and the down-home style has been a perfect fit for Knoxville’s small town-city vibe. At Christmas the store’s friendly manager was wrapping presents near the front door for Juvenile Diabetes. I know this because she wrapped several beautifully appointed packages for me!
Best Coffee Shop/Bakery/Lunch Spot: Wild Love Bakehouse
Three or four days a week–sometimes daily–we go into Wild Love Bakehouse for lunch or a hot or cold beverage. My husband Kurt and I are tea drinkers, but folks the coffees, lattes, and espressos are a work art too!
Wild Love is nearly always full because the soup and a huge array of bake goods are made fresh every morning by the owner and her staff of amazing pastry magicians. Each day the offerings are slightly different. Besides the amazing soup (with a crusty side bread), Wild Love offers a rotating variety of tarts, cookies, croissants, foccacia tartlets, cookies, gluten-free peanut oatmeal bars–and occasionally, the most creative salads I have seen in Knoxville.
Wild Love Bakehouse: the best coffee house, lunch, and bakery combination in Knoxville.
The tea is made fresh to order, hot or cold, with Rishi loose tea. I have them add some honey to mine, and it is divine!
And the staff are all young, friendly, and just fantastically welcoming. Wild Love has only been open a few years, but they are already a go-to location. For the late lunch and early dinner eaters, they are open on Sundays and till 6:00 p.m.!
The owners of Wild Love also have a sister location downtown, called Pearl on Union. Pearl has the same great baked goods and creative food within easy strolling distance of Knoxville’s Market Square.
Best Indoor Recreation: Maple Hall
A few years ago Maple Hall debuted as a brand-spanking new bowling alley, bar, eatery, and all-around fun urban experience in Downtown Knoxville’s historic JC Penney Building–and it is nearly next door to the Phoenix Pharmacy and Fountain. How convenient!
In 2013 Maple Hall’s visionary owners worked with a creative team of engineers, architects, designers, and contractors to reimagine a portion of the JC Penney Building as a hip bowling alley with good food, an extensive bar, an upstairs game room, and a relaxed, exposed-brick interior. Maple Hall is Knoxville most fun indoor playground.
You can’t go wrong in any of these Knoxville landmarks–and all of them are in Downtown Knoxville or within a quick 5 minute drive. Enjoy, the best that Knoxville has to offer.
~ Anna – 2/28/2019