Choosing the best restaurants in Cherokee NC is an interesting challenge.
Most major tourist towns in the Blue Ridge Mountains– such as Asheville NC, Blue Ridge GA, and Roanoke VA– offer a wide array of upscale, chef-driven restaurants with their own signature culinary flair.
But the majority of the restaurants in Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary (home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) are casual, laid-back, and budget-friendly.
If you want a gourmet meal, the best places to eat in Cherokee are located in the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. And the best food in the Cherokee casino comes from national and international chains.
Read on for our guide to the 10 best Cherokee NC restaurants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including Mini Donut Place, Sassy Sunflowers Bakery & Café, Qualla Java, and several of the Harrah’s Cherokee restaurants.
Best Cherokee NC Restaurants Guide
- Brio Italian Grille (Fine Dining)
- Front Porch Cakery & Deli (Bakery)
- Mini Donut Place
- Nikki’s Fry Bread (Food Truck)
- Osaka Sushi Bar (Asian Fusion)
- Peter’s Pancakes & Waffles (Diner)
- Qualla Java (Coffee Shop)
- Ruth’s Chris Steak House
- Sassy Sunflowers Bakery & Café
- Selu Garden Café
1. Brio Italian Grille (Fine Dining)
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, 777 Casino Dr • 828-497-8233 • Official Website
HOURS: Sun to Thu 11AM-10PM; Fri & Sat 11AM-11PM
There are nearly a dozen different Harrah’s Cherokee restaurants to choose from, including high-profile eateries from celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsey and Guy Fieri.
But, for our money, Brio’s Italian Grille is easily the best, offering an elegant fine dining atmosphere that’s perfectly matched by their upscale Northern Italian cuisine.
The 12,000-square-foot interior is designed to look like an airy Italian villa, with Venetian plaster walls and arches, high ceilings, and hand-crafted Italian mosaics.
We started our meal with crispy Calamari served with pepperoncini, arrabbiata, and a tangy lemon aioli, as well as a remarkably flavorful Beef Carpaccio accompanied by capers, field greens, and a mustard aioli.
For entrees, we chose the Pasta Brio (rigatoni with grilled chicken, mushrooms, spinach, red peppers, and roasted red pepper cream sauce) and the bone-in Tuscan Grilled Pork Chops (served with mashed potatoes and green beans).
Both were excellent, as was the attentive service, making this our favorite romantic restaurant in Cherokee NC.
2. Front Porch Cakery & Deli (Bakery)
908 Tsalagi Rd • 828-497-1776 • Official Website
HOURS: Mon to Sat 6:30AM-3PM; Closed Sundays
One of many native-owned restaurants in Cherokee, the Front Porch Cakery & Deli is owned by Cherokee Chief of Police Ben Reed and his wife, Missy.
Missy had been baking for 24 years before the Reeds bought the restaurant. She continues to bake unique cakes using her own buttercream icing recipe, as well as cupcakes, pies, and seasonal sweets for Christmas and other holidays.
Their deli counter is also impressive, offering numerous intriguing sandwich options you won’t find anywhere else.
We loved the oven-roasted Turkey Trot (which was grilled with cheddar cheese and an avocado ranch spread) and the Big Joey (grilled with thick fried bologna, homemade pimento cheese, and bacon). The Boss Hog, which features a 1/2-pound of pulled, fire-braised pork, was also scrumptious.
Another one of the things that makes this one of our favorite places to eat in Cherokee is their spacious outdoor patio, which features a handful of tables that overlook the beautiful Oconaluftee River.
3. Mini Donut Place
964 Tsali Blvd • 828-795-1001 • Official Website
HOURS: Thu & Fri 9AM-3PM; Sat & Sun 9AM-4PM; Closed Mondays, Tuesdays & Wednesdays
One of the more unusual Cherokee restaurants we visited, Mini Donut Place is only open 4 days a week, for 6-7 hours a day, with a fairly limited menu.
They offer a handful of different sandwiches and L.A. Street Dogs for breakfast and lunch, as well as a few coffee drinks, milkshakes, ice creams, and Italian ices.
But, as their name clearly indicates, what this place is best known for is gourmet Mini Donuts, which are easily the most delicious donuts (of any size) we’ve ever tasted.
About the size of a ping-pong ball and made fresh to order, each of their 24 options is packed with intense flavor. Our favorites included Maple Bacon, Reese’s Cup, S’mores Campfire, Banana Cream Pie, and Salted Caramel.
If you’re looking to indulge your sweet tooth, this is truly a one-of-a-kind place to do it!
READ MORE: The 15 Best Cabin Rentals in Bryson City NC
4. Nikki’s Fry Bread (Food Truck)
Various locations in Downtown Cherokee • 865-599-9987 • Official Website
HOURS: Vary widely (check website for details)
But fry bread has been one of my favorite traditional Native American foods since I first started going to pow wows back in the early ’90s, and Nikki’s Fry Bread is some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
Light, fluffy, and deep fried in vegetable oil, their exceptional fry bread is used to make heavenly cheeseburgers, Indian tacos, and covered in fruit compote and powdered sugar for dessert.
If you’re visiting the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Qualla Arts, or Unto These Hills on a weekend in summer, do yourself a favor and check out Nikki’s Facebook page to find out where they’ll be!
5. Osaka Sushi Bar (Asian Fusion)
16 Cherokee Crossing Rd, Unit 3, Whittier NC • 828-554-1888 • Official Website
HOURS: Mon to Thu 11AM-10PM; Fri & Sat 11AM-11PM; Sun Noon-9:30PM
Our favorite restaurant near Cherokee, the Osaka Sushi Bar & Asian Cuisine is located in Whittier, just 2 miles south of Downtown Cherokee.
Tucked back in a fairly nondescript strip shopping center, it doesn’t look like much from the outside, and the interior features fairly standard Japanese restaurant decor.
But it can be difficult to find quality international cuisine in many Blue Ridge Mountain towns, and Osaka offers better than average sushi, ramen, and other Asian fare.
Their extensive menu includes an array of Chef Specials and Daily Specials. Mary went with the Steak & Shrimp Hibachi (served with stir-fry vegetables and fried rice), and the meats were cooked and seasoned perfectly.
I had their Sushi & Sashimi Platter, which includes 5 pieces of nigiri, 6 pieces of sashimi, and a spicy tuna roll. The fish was impressively fresh, and the miso soup was tasty.
If we lived in Cherokee, this would be one of our go-to restaurants for dinner!
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Maggie Valley NC
6. Peter’s Pancakes & Waffles (Diner)
1384 Tsali Blvd • 828-497-5116 • Official Website
HOURS: Thu to Tue 6:30AM-2PM; Closed Wednesdays
If you’re looking for a great breakfast in Cherokee NC, look no further than Peter’s Pancakes & Waffles, a family-owned diner located along the Oconaluftee River.
The place was already bustling with business (mostly locals) when we visited early on a weekday morning, before heading out to hike some nearby Blue Ridge Parkway waterfalls.
It’s laid out like a classic dinner, with seats at the counter up front and tables and booths on the sides. But the decor is vibrant and colorful, with lots of chickens, pigs, and other farm-related tchotchkes.
The menu also emphasizes the “farm fresh” theme: I went for the hearty Ranch Hand Breakfast, which included a full center cut of Country Ham, 2 Eggs, choice of Grits or Diced Potatoes, and 2 Pancakes or Biscuits.
Mary went with a stack of Peter’s signature Blueberry Pancakes, which were bursting with fruit and served with Bacon, Sausage, Ham, or Corned Beef Hash. We devoured them with delight, with good, strong coffee to wash it all down.
7. Qualla Java (Coffee Shop)
938 Tsalagi Rd • 828-497-2882 • Official Website
HOURS: Mon to Thu 7AM-4PM; Fri 7AM-5PM; Sat & Sun 8AM-5PM
Another one of the native-owned Cherokee restaurants, Qualla Java is a beautifully decorated coffeehouse with a wonderfully laid-back vibe.
The warm wood-paneled coffee bar is accentuated by a cordwood-style pattern at the top that gives the place an upscale decor. Yet there’s also a playful personality, with funny signs such as, “I like big cups and I cannot lie.”
While 3 of the owners are members of Federally recognized Indigenous Nations, one is a native of Colombia. Naturally, their small-batch Colombian coffee is exquisite, and available in several different roasts.
They offer an extensive array of signature coffee drinks, with Cherokee-inspired names such as Bear Zone (a chocolate, hazelnut, and macadamia nut latte), Shape Shifter (a cold blended frappe with chocolate and raspberry), and Moon People (hot latte with chocolate, vanilla, and coconut).
They also have a small assortment of baked goods, including cookies, muffins, and scones, which made it a great place to stop before hitting up some of the local hiking trails.
8. Ruth’s Chris Steak House
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, 777 Casino Dr • 828-497-8577 • Official Website
HOURS: Mon to Thu 4PM-10PM; Fri & Sat 4PM-11PM; Sun 4PM-9PM
We tried a few Cherokee casino restaurants that didn’t measure up to our standards (including Guy Fieri’s Cherokee Kitchen + Bar and the Wicked Weed Brewpub, a spinoff of one of the more popular Asheville breweries).
But Ruth’s Chris Steak House– an international chain with multiple locations in Atlanta, North Carolina, and Virginia– is one of those reliable standbys you can always count on to deliver a solid meal.
Their location at Harrah’s Casino is the only upscale steakhouse in Cherokee NC, making it a fine option for romantic dinners and special occasions.
Steaks are obviously the most popular dish here: They use USDA Prime meat, broil it at 1800º to get the perfect searing char, then serve it up on a 500º plate. Their melt-in-your-mouth tender Filet and Cowboy Ribeye are divine.
They also offer a host of seafood delicacies, from Grilled Shrimp and Lobster Tail to Crab Cakes, many of which can be added to your steak as a surf ‘n’ turf combo.
Whatever you do, don’t leave without trying the decadent Lobster Mac & Cheese, their signature side dish!
9. Sassy Sunflowers Bakery & Café
1655 Acquoni Rd • 828-497-2539 • Official Website
HOURS: Mon to Fri 9AM-4PM; Closed Saturdays & Sundays
Every good mountain town should have at least one great bakery, but Cherokee NC is blessed with two.
We visited Sassy Sunflowers Bakery & Café before a long day of exploring some of the hiking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It made for a fantastic afternoon picnic after our trek up to Clingman’s Dome.
This Cherokee restaurant’s decor is just as vibrant as its name would imply, with a vivid yellow and green interior, colorful paintings of wildflowers, and employee shirts that read, “Classy, Sassy & Smart-Assy.”
They have all the delicious baked goods you could possibly want, from cookies and cupcakes to pastries and pies. They also have gourmet coffee and tea, fresh-squeezed juices, and smoothies.
But their sandwiches and salads are equally impressive. I devoured their grilled Prime Rib sandwich, with provolone, grilled onions/peppers, tomato, spinach, and horsey mayo on flatbread. Mary loved their Chicken Salad sandwich, which comes on a hearty Cranberry Walnut bread.
This is another one of those Cherokee restaurants we would frequent if we lived nearby!
10. Selu Garden Café
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, 777 Casino Dr • 497-7777 • Official Website
HOURS: Daily 7AM-2:30PM
But if you’re staying at Harrah’s Cherokee and want a tasty, filling breakfast, this Cherokee casino restaurant’s just as good as any other option in town.
The Selu Garden Café offers a Southern-style breakfast two ways, with an all-you-can-eat buffet and a chef-driven a la carte menu. Stopping in early before a day trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we went with the latter option.
I loved my scrumptious Monte Cristo, which featured thick-cut brioche French Toast stuffed with Black Forest ham, roasted turkey, and Swiss cheese, with raspberry preserves and Hash Browns on the side.
Mary’s New England-style Crab Cake Benedict was also delish, served on a toasted English muffin with arugula, poached eggs, Hollandaise sauce, and chives.
They also serve lunch and have a sweet shop featuring cookies, chocolate truffles, and more. But since we’d shared a Berry Granola Greek Yogurt Bowl, we decided to save the sweets for another time. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted