I’ve Eaten at 100s of Meals in Gatlinburg, These Are the 3 Best and Worst

a cubano at tennessee jeds

Tennessee Jed's is a true hidden gem in Gatlinburg, TN. And their sandwiches are heavenly (photos by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

I’ve lived in the Smoky Mountains for over 30 years, these are the best, and worst, meals I’ve ever had in Gatlinburg, TN

As someone who has been dining in Gatlinburg for more than 30 years, ranking best and worst is somewhat difficult. First, there aren’t THAT many worsts. In honest the floor for Gatlinburg dining to me is OK or average. The number of bad meals is pretty low. But even harder than that is characterizing the best. How do I rank a Pancake Pantry breakfast against a classic seafood dinner at Chesapeake’s? I love the sandwiches at Tennessee Jed’s but can I rank them above a steak at the Peddler? Spoiler warning: I can.  

In this article, I will try to take my catalog of decades of dining in and around Gatlinburg and do the impossible task of breaking it down into the three best and the three worst.  

IN THIS ARTICLE

The 3 Best Meals in Gatlinburg

a cubano at tennessee jeds in gatlinburg tn
The Cubano is just perfect at Tennessee Jed’s (photos by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

1. Tennessee Jed’s (BLT, Reuben and Cubano)


When ’70s and ’80s rocker Warren Zevon was dying, he made a memorable appearance on the David Letterman Show. “You’re reminded to enjoy every sandwich. You put more value in every minute.” As someone who has practiced the fine art of sandwich appreciation his whole life, I remember that quote anytime I go to Tennessee Jed’s, located at 631 Parkway, Suite A8 in Gatlinburg. From the classic BLT to the Reuben to the Cubano, I’ve never had a less than stellar dining experience at Tennessee Jed’s and in fact, it’s hosted some of my favorites.  

honduran tacos
I highly recommend the Honduran Tacos at Estrella Hondumex (photos by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com and courtesy of Estrella Hondumex)

2. Estrella Hondumex (Carne Asada & Tacos)


My oldest daughter Sofia and I were in Gatlinburg and had planned to go to another Gatlinburg eatery for lunch. It was closed – or didn’t open until later – and so we called an audible and headed to Estrella Hondumex right at the exit of Roaring Fork Road. There was a line of guys who looked like they worked construction and were on their lunch break. We saddled in behind one guy along the aisle of Hispanic grocery items, and he was almost giddy.  

“Have you eaten here before?” he asked a little like a kid in line for a ride at Disney. Yes and no, I said, since it was Sofia’s first time. It’s so great,” he said and went back to staring at a menu I’m sure he had already memorized. There are no pretentions at Estrella Hondumex. It’s not fancy. It’s just really, really good Honduran and Mexican food. 

I like their Honduran carne asada, Honduran tacos and the tripe soup. The grocery store/restaurant is located at 109 Roaring Fork Road in Gatlinburg.

a steak and a baked potato at Cherokee Grill
The steaks are Cherokee Grill are top-notch (photos by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. Cherokee Grill (Prosperity Steak)


There are certainly a lot of places I could have chosen for this third slot. I think Chesapeake’s is probably the best restaurant in town, followed by the Peddler and the Greenbrier. I knocked the Peddler a bit because I’ve had a less-than-stellar experience with the staff. Love Calhoun’s. Love the Melting Pot. Thought long and hard about the Pancake Pantry but when they’re in their busy time you can feel a little hurried. So I landed on the Cherokee Grill where we’ve always had a fantastic overall experience.

My favorite meal? The mushroom stuffed with crab and the seared ahi tuna for starters, a main prosperity steak for the entree and sauteed burgundy mushrooms

The truth is – at the top of the Gatlinburg dining scene – I think it’s probably just a flip of the coin as to who is best. And while I’ve never ranked Cherokee Grill as top, I find it consistently great, more accessible and more affordable. It’s a place where you can comfortably bring your kids. You can dine down with burgers or sandwiches, catfish or chicken tenders or splurge on a nice steak. Cherokee Grill is located at 1002 Parkway in Gatlinburg.

The 3 Worst Meals in Gatlinburg

no way jose exterior and a combo plate
No Way Jose’s is located in downtown Gatlinburg. While it has a great location, the food is often lackluster. And the restaurant is often quite crowded (photos by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

1. No Way Jose’s (Fajitas)


When she was young, my oldest daughter Sofia loved No Way Jose’s. It was safe food tinged with a bit of Mexican flavor near the aquarium. However, over the years of doing this No Way Jose’s is probably the restaurant I’ve been hardest on. It’s just a bland and inexcusable malady for Mexican food. I usually get fajitas because how hard is it to mess up fajitas? Yet, somehow, they do. I understand that you have to be careful when serving meals to tourists. I’m not saying I’d never eat at No Way Jose’s again. I’m just saying I wouldn’t enjoy it. No Way Jose’s can be found at 555 Parkway in Gatlinburg.

Dick's Last Resort in Gatlinburg
Dick’s Last Resort has decent food, but the schtick is not for everyone (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

2. Dick’s Last Resort (Everything)


I don’t typically discuss chain-type restaurants in these rankings, but honestly, this is a personality thing. I don’t enjoy the vibe at Dick’s which is the whole reason it exists. The food is … fine. But I’m always on edge. I know some people enjoy the schtick – where the wait staff gets to be rude and mean – but it’s just not for me. If you enjoy the experience, Dick’s is located at 903 Parkway in Gatlinburg.

jason aldean's bar
If you’re going to Jason Aldean’s, skip the shrimp, go for the BBQ (photos by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

3. Jason Aldean’s Kitchen (Crispy Shrimp Basket)


This one is somewhat dependent on your focus. If you’re there for the rooftop bar, the food is a perfectly fine complement. In fact, the BBQ is honestly pretty good. It’s just that there are better options. It turns out – in my opinion – that celebrity-owned restaurants are kind of underwhelming, trading on the name rather than the quality.

At my most recent experience at Jason Aldean’s I opted for the crispy shrimp basket, and wasn’t a fan.

If you’re a Jason Aldean fan, it’s probably worth a trip just to check it out. It is located at 644 Parkway in Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg is something of a culinary double-edged sword. Any restaurant – outside of maybe a Shoney’s – that doesn’t consistently provide better than decent meals isn’t gonna last very long. But, to appeal to a wide tourist crowd, you might not reach the heights of restaurants that don’t rely on such heavy customer turnover.  

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