There was a time back when things were a little wilder – yes, it was the 90s – that the culinary options in Townsend, Tennessee were rather one note.
And while I can’t speak for all of the restaurants, at least one served as cover for more than just traditional downhome cooking.
I was once recruited – because I had a truck with a bed cover – to help move illegal gambling machines around the remote edges of Blount County. After one successful delivery, we drove to a well-known local eatery to be reimbursed.
While maybe not a front, the restaurant served as the hub for not only homestyle cooking but illegal gambling and moonshine (mountain traditions like no other).
Decades have passed. The proprietor of that particular eatery has passed as well.
Times have changed. Townsend, often known mostly for its proximity to Cades Cove, has changed, too.
What restaurants are in Townsend TN?
Today, there are more culinary options for visitors and, I presume, fewer outlaws hiding in plain sight.
Still, the variance in Townsend isn’t as pronounced as it is in Wears Valley, just a few miles away. And of course, there aren’t nearly as many options compared to Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. But the effort to provide good, interesting menu options beyond meatloaf and mashed potatoes is much appreciated.
Without further ado, here are the best restaurants in Townsend, Tenn.:
4. Trailhead Steak and Trout House
It’s right there in the name. They got steak. They got trout. There’s a house. It’s everything you need for a night out in Townsend.
The menu has three main categories: Burgers, steaks, seafood and pork. If I’m being honest, the first time I looked at it, I did a double-take.
I thought fish and pork was a menu option, like surf and turf. I was taken aback. While I embrace surf and turf as a concept, I rejected fish and pork immediately.
The steak selections are fairly basic: Filet, sirloin and ribeye, but they’re well prepared.
There are appropriately several different types of fish, salmon, trout and catfish prepared in a variety of ways.
There is also a Frenched pork chop. I don’t know what that is, but it sounds like the pig went out happy.
Also, the soup never disappoints. It’s all good food.
3. Burger Master Drive-In
Not everything has to be fancy.
Sometimes a burger and an old-fashioned soft-serve ice cream are perfect after a day in the mountains.
Burger Master – known to old-timers as “The Chalet” – is a summer dining destination that operates on a limited schedule up to Memorial Day when summer starts, and the ice cream flows in all its glory.
The menu isn’t complicated. Hamburger, cheeseburger, hot dog and fries. All are cooked to perfection.
They’ve added a veggie burger and a BLT, but you pretty much know what you’re gonna get before you arrive.
There is nothing better than pulling up to a picnic table when the bright blue sky is dotted with fluffy white clouds and the sun is illuminating the green mountains and having ice cream as a cooling breeze drifts through.
It’s like something out of a painting, a slice of Americana that never really existed but somehow was always right there. It’s perfect.
2. Apple Valley Café
Pancakes. Burgers. Sandwiches. All right, I’m in.
The Apple Valley Cafe plays along some of the same themes as the Burger Master, just slightly more upscale and with a wider variety.
I’m partial to the Carving Board Ham Sandwich and, if I’m feeling feisty, the Beer Garden Nachos or some BBQ. If you are in the mood for something lighter, you may want to try a salad instead.
It also may well be Townsend’s best breakfast spot.
The Grand Daddy, a massive breakfast sandwich, is perfect if you’re planning on not getting a lot accomplished the rest of the day. The scrambled eggs, smoked bacon and biscuits and gravy are also fantastic. But do they have pancakes? Yes! They do!
Don’t eat the Grand Daddy and plan a major hike. That’s all.
The milkshakes are also especially good, but maybe not for breakfast. Maybe for brunch. I’m not here to judge.
Wash the Grand Daddy down with a strawberry milkshake and a fried apple pie for dessert. Just spend the rest of the day in a hammock digesting. It’s your vacation. You do you.
1. Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro
I love a good bistro and this one, located in the Dancing Bear Lodge, is home to a great one, but accessibility is a bit of an issue.
Located on E Lamar Alexander Pkwy, The Bistro is only open from Tuesday through Sunday from 5 to 9 pm. Remember, hours are subject to change.
You got to work a little harder if you want to sample the Bistro’s creative and delicious menu options. This is Townsend’s finest culinary destination. The food is prepared with the finest ingredients.
The menu is subject to change and depends on the season and the availability of the fresh ingredients. As of this writing, you may choose trout, oysters, filet mignon with Mossy Creek mushrooms, halibut, the Bistro burger, chicken, and so much more.
As someone who used to write for the Loudon County newspaper, I can attest the region is well-known for its mushroom cream sauce.
The Dancing Bear is a locals’ favorite. This Townsend restaurant is perfect for a romantic night out in the mountains, having been named one of America’s “25 Most Romantic Restaurants” by Tripadvisor.
It’s the Loudon County mushrooms. They’ll get you every time.
Have you tried any of the Townsend restaurants from the list? Let us know in the comments!