In essence, Gatlinburg’s economy is built upon a three-legged stool of tourism commerce.
Lodging. Entertainment. Food.
And it’s probably not in that order.
People come to Gatlinburg to do a lot of things, but eating remains dang near the top of the list.
As such, there is a cornucopia of options. Indeed, a plethora of choices. In fact, a smorgasbord of … well, smorgasbords.
Over the years, we at TheSmokies.com have told you about many of the best places to eat in Gatlinburg.
So what do you, the discriminating diner, do when forced to choose between the best of the best of the best?
You’ve been out alone, in the cold, wandering with nothing more than a fork and your wits to discern the best place to eat.
Well, my friends come on home, the water’s fine.
This is, in fact, the definitive list.
The list of lists. You need nothing more than your appetite – and probably some form of monetary compensation to pay for your meals – and we will guide you home.
Here’s a list of the top 17 best restaurants in Gatlinburg TN:
17. Howards Restaurant
Located in the heart of the strip, Howards is a bi-level destination with a steak house downstairs and a pub upstairs.
Billed as Gatlinburg’s oldest restaurant – predating even the Pancake Pantry – Howards is a great spot to enjoy some Gatlinburg tradition.
There’s nothing terribly out-of-the-ordinary on the Howards Menu, but you don’t need food that is shocking to be great.
For example, the Hot Chop Steak Sandwich is a winner and pairs excellently with a Bloody Mary.
16. Mellow Mushroom
Mellow Mushroom is consistently the best chain pizza in the area.
A restaurant apparently created for and by Grateful Dead fans, The Mellow Mushroom offers unique and legitimately great pizzas and calzones. And sometimes you just need good pizza.
Sure, there may be fancier options, but pizza is one of the culinary wonders of the world.
I’m a fan of the Pacific Rim with ham, bacon, caramelized onions, pineapple and jalapenos, but the wife prefers the Mighty Meat which invariably sets me up for a “That’s what she said” joke, so everybody wins.
15. Ole Red
While it can be hard to get a table at Ole Red on a busy night, I find that they have surprisingly good food in a relaxing atmosphere.
And the best part is, it’s a great place to catch some live music.
The menu has standard bar food: Tacos, nachos, fried chicken, salads, sandwiches, burgers, catfish, fries, tater tots, etc. You shouldn’t expect anything too upscale, but it’s not bad, and the atmosphere makes it all worth it.
Ole Red is located in downtown Gatlinburg. Try to go on off-peak times for best results.
14. Estrella Hondumex
This taste of Honduras is on Roaring Fork Road in Gatlinburg.
Located in the back of a Hispanic grocery, Estrella Hondumex is a fantastic place to get real Central American and Mexican cuisine that you won’t find on the strip.
Try the Asada Honduras style, or if you like a little more kick, the Shrimp Devil may just be what the doctor ordered.
But practice your Spanish before you go. You might need it.
13. Pancake Pantry
A Gatlinburg classic, if you’re looking for breakfast, move the Pantry up to the top 5 places to eat, easy.
Open for breakfast and lunch, the Pantry essentially started the trend of pancake restaurants in the Smokies.
The lunch menu is light, but I’m a sucker for the Polish Aristocrat – which is just fun to order – layers of Swiss cheese, corned beef and coleslaw in rye, this grilled sandwich is worthy of the name.
Breakfast is always on the menu and includes 24 varieties of pancakes. The French Toast is also really good.
And be warned, entree portions at the Pancake Pantry are huge (most featured dishes come with five full-sized pancakes).
Bonus tip: If the line is too long at Pancake Pantry, other solid pancake options in Gatlinburg include Crockett’s Breakfast Camp and Log Cabin Pancake House.
12. Cliff Top at Anakeesta
Anakeesta’s dining experience with a view, Cliff Top gets dinged a little on the list for essentially coming with a cover charge. It costs just to get into Anakeesta.
But Cliff Top gets a boost for offering the best open-air dining view in the Smokies. So maybe it’s a wash.
A great date night spot, Cliff Top offers burgers, sandwiches and steaks.
If you visit Anakeesta, purchase your tickets in advance to save time when you arrive, and check Tripster to save a couple of bucks off your admission.
11. Alamo Steakhouse
We start off with something of a shocker. The Alamo at number 11? This is the worst thing to ever happen at any Alamo anywhere.
Still, the Alamo is a fantastic restaurant, many people’s favorite in the entire city. It’s legitimately great.
But in my book, there are a couple of steakhouses that are better, and a list with nothing but steakhouses at the top would be really boring.
That being said, a meal starting with the Alamo’s shrimp cocktail followed by the El Presidente Porterhouse with asparagus and button mushrooms is a last-meal-worthy affair.
There are lots of steak options plus chicken and some seafood. It’s all great.
Alamo Steakhouse is owned by the Johnson Family of Restaurants who also own and operate Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que, Big Daddy’s Pizzeria, Mama’s Farmhouse, Mama’s Chicken Kitchen and Mad Dog’s Creamery.
10. Crawdaddy’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar
With a menu built straight from the Hank Williams classic “Jambalaya,” Crawdaddy’s does a good job of bringing a little Cajun flavor to the mountains.
What I know about Cajun or New Orleans cuisine is a fair question.
Papa’s best friend from the war was a Cajun who’d come to visit Southern Indiana with coolers full of mudbugs, gumbo and other Cajun classics.
I’m not an expert, but I’m not a novice either. Go for the low country boil and put your bib on.
9. The Melting Pot
Honestly, if it was just a list of my personal favorites, The Melting Pot might be at the top of the list.
But The Melting Pot is a chain and they have a location in Cincinnati and you don’t go on vacation to eat at places you can eat at in Cincinnati.
Be forewarned, The Melting Pot is not a cheap night out, but it does make for an excellent date night.
The four-course meal includes cheese fondue, a salad, an entrée fondue and a dessert fondue.
For your entrée, in addition to choosing your proteins, you choose your cooking style which can be a hot oil or a broth. The hot oil is fun because you get a variety of batters to dip things in.
And the battered mushroom caps stuffed with green goddess dip and deep-fried are freaking delicious.
But it’s also easier to screw up your expensive meat options in the oil, which means you have to stay alert at all times.
Later, for dessert, choose from a variety of chocolate fondues – I’m big on the Yin & Yang.
Frankly, it’s a majestic dining experience, and I’m a little mad they allow the people of Cincinnati access.
8. The Park Grill
Dine in the comfort of this rustic mountain lodge setting near the top of the Gatlinburg strip.
Come for the finest meats available and stay for the salad bar that serves as the perfect complement to the meal or as a meal itself.
Be sure to try the famous Shrimp and Crab Bisque if you’re big into bisques. The Yard Bird – herb-rubbed over roasted chicken – is a classic. The Baby Back Ribs are also exceptional.
Certainly, If you are looking for a mountain dining experience, The Park Grill is a perfect choice.
And since The Park Grill sits near the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, they like to consider themselves the official restaurant of the park.
7. Tennessee Jed’s
Two Grateful Dead references in one story? Where do you get service like that? Man cannot live by fancy sit-down joints alone.
Tennessee Jed’s is a sandwich shop on the strip open from 8 am to 3 pm (hours may vary) and is designed to serve breakfast and lunch for people who have other things planned in the day.
If Subway’s people are sandwich artists, the folks at Tennessee Jed’s are Van Goghs.
In addition, for those who appreciate the beauty of a great Reuben or Cubano or even the classic Kraut Dog, Tennessee Jed’s is a destination in itself.
6. The Cherokee Grill
The Cherokee Grill is a steakhouse in Gatlinburg along the Parkway that offers a woodsy lodge setting.
It has a traditional American menu with seafood, fried chicken, crab cakes and more.
Of course, they offer a variety of steaks which is often one of the most popular selections.
Order add-ons with the steak, like the Boursin cheese or soy ginger sauce. You can’t go wrong either way.
They also offer free parking, a rare find in Gatlinburg.
An East Tennessee legend, Calhoun’s famous barbecue is a staple of dinners all over the region. There’s some overlap in experience – in my opinion – between Calhoun’s and The Park Grill.
You can’t really go wrong with either.
The smoked sausage and cheese plate is an underrated starter but honestly, if you don’t order some bacon-wrapped beef brisket burnt ends, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life.
Can’t go wrong with burgers, pork, sandwiches, BBQ and salads – though honestly it almost seems like an insult to order a salad entrée here.
I have also heard excellent things about the chicken tenders but can never bring myself so close to BBQ glory only to order a chicken tender.
4. JP’s Smoke House
JP’s is a completely different dining experience from Alamo’s.
JP’s Smoke House, located on Glades Road in the Arts and Crafts community, is an off-the-beaten-path BBQ joint with little pretension and a lot of flavor.
Open from 12 pm to 6 pm (hours may vary), you bend your schedule to match JP’s, not the other way around. And you don’t mind at all.
As I write this, yesterday’s special was an open-faced smoked meatloaf sandwich with mash taters – yes mash taters – and gravy. Certainly, this is a holy place.
3. The Peddler
Here we are.
The rarified air of the top 3. Each of the following restaurants can make a legitimate claim to being the best in Gatlinburg, the best in Sevier County or the best in Tennessee.
Of course, a lot of it comes down to personal preference.
The Peddler Steakhouse is a Gatlinburg institution with roots that reach back to the very founding of the city itself.
Get a custom-cut steak, a red wine, a baked stuffed potato and dine like royalty back when royalty didn’t think of gout as a bad thing.
Or if you want to be a little less decadent, the grilled salmon is fantastic.
2. The Greenbrier
Billed as a food and spirit outpost, Greenbrier offers fine dining in a rustic setting.
Greenbrier gets a slight edge in my book for a slightly more daring fine dining menu than some of the other top-end restaurants in the area.
Duck breast, lamb shank and stuffed flounder are all delicious options. Or you can go more traditional and order one of their fine hand-cut steaks.
Finally, in a fine-dining world dominated by steakhouses, Chesapeake’s wins by simply standing out.
Sure you can get excellent seafood dishes at The Peddler or Greenbrier, but if you want seafood, and quite frequently I do, it’s best to go to the place that specializes in the fruits of the ocean.
The Maryland Crab Cakes are delicious as an appetizer, a main course or on the crab cake sandwich.
They’re also available to be added to an entrée. The stuffed Maine lobster is also decadent and the steam seafood feast can’t be beaten. I also enjoy the Smoked Trout.
There are non-seafood options available if you’re not in the mood, but I can’t imagine anyone would read this far into this particular blog and then go to Chesapeake’s and order the hamburger – which I’m sure is probably a pretty good burger.
The broiled or fried seafood platters feature shrimp, scallops and cod. Their cod is an awesome cod.
Try the Slower Delaware Pie for dessert.
Since I’ve never been to Delaware, I don’t know if this is an actual thing.
But it’s coffee ice cream, Kahlua liqueur, chocolate cookie crust, hot fudge, candied pecans and cream. And it’s a work of genius.
Bonus Pick: Dick’s Last Resort
LOL just kidding. Gotcha back.
What do you think is the best Gatlinburg restaurant? Let us know in the comments.