10 Best Cherokee NC Restaurants for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

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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 Harrah’s Cherokee restaurants.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Cherokee NC & the Qualla Boundary


Best Cherokee NC Restaurants Guide

  1. Brio Italian Grille (Fine Dining)
  2. Front Porch Cakery & Deli (Bakery)
  3. Mini Donut Place
  4. Nikki’s Fry Bread (Food Truck)
  5. Osaka Sushi Bar (Asian Fusion)
  6. Peter’s Pancakes & Waffles (Diner)
  7. Qualla Java (Coffee Shop)
  8. Ruth’s Chris Steak House
  9. Sassy Sunflowers Bakery (Food Truck)
  10. Selu Garden Café

READ MORE: The Best Things to Do in Cashiers NC & Jackson County

Pork Chops at Brio Italian Grille at Harrah's Cherokee Casino in Cherokee NC
Pork Chops at Brio Italian Grille

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. 

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Bryson City NC & Swain County

Sandwich at Front Porch Cakery & Deli in Cherokee NC
Riverside lunch at Front Porch Cakery & Deli

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

READ MORE: The 10 Best Places for River Tubing in North Carolina Mountains

Donuts at MiniDonut Place in Cherokee NC
Gourmet Donuts at Mini Donut Place

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

Food from Nikki's Fry Bread in Cherokee NC
Photo courtesy Nikki’s Fry Bread

4. Nikki’s Fry Bread (Food Truck)

Various locations in Downtown Cherokee • 865-599-9987 • Official Website

HOURS: Vary widely (check website for details)

It’s not often that we include a food truck in a round-up of the best restaurants in a given small town

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. 

They’re often found in Downtown Cherokee (usually at the Fairgrounds), but they’re also a staple at the annual Cherokee County Indian Festival in North Georgia

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!

READ MORE: 50 Fascinating Facts About Cherokee Culture & History

Sushi Platter at Osaka Sushi Bar & Asian Cuisine in Cherokee NC
Sushi & Sashimi Platter at Osaka Sushi Bar

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 the decor you expect from Japanese restaurants

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

Breakfast at Peter's Pancakes & Waffles in Cherokee NC
Ranch Hand Breakfast at Peter’s Pancakes & Waffles

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.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Waynesville NC & Haywood County

Qualla Java Coffeehouse in Cherokee NC
Cool Counter at Qualla Java Coffeehouse

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

READ MORE: The Best Hiking in Asheville NC Bucket List (Top 25 Hiking Trails)

Ruth's Chris Steak House in Cherokee NC
Steak and Lobster Mac & Cheese, photo courtesy Ruth’s Chris Steak House

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! 

READ MORE: Exploring the Oconaluftee Indian Village & Visitor Center in Cherokee NC

Baked Goods at Sassy Sunflowers Bakery & Cafe in Cherokee NC
Baked Goods at Sassy Sunflowers Bakery

9. Sassy Sunflowers Bakery & Café (Food Truck)

Mobile Food Truck • 828-497-2539 • Official Website

HOURS: Varies

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 at Clingman’s Dome. 

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. 

Sadly, they closed their stand-alone location in 2023, but have re-emerged as a food truck at special events around Cherokee NC

READ MORE: Hiking the Deep Creek Trail to 3 Waterfalls in Bryson City NC

Breakfast at Selu Garden Cafe at Cherokee Casino in Cherokee NC
Breakfast at Selu Garden Café

10. Selu Garden Café

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, 777 Casino Dr • 497-7777 • Official Website

HOURS: Daily 7AM-2:30PM

Restaurants located inside small town hotels are rarely noted for their culinary excellence. 

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

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We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

The BRMTG was created by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, the award-winning team behind the world-renowned responsible travel website Green Global Travel. Born and raised in North Georgia, Editor-In-Chief Bret Love grew up hiking and camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his family. A professional writer/editor since 1995, he's covered travel and culture for 100+ publications, including American Way, Destination Marriott, Georgia Travel Guide, National Geographic, and Southbound. In 2010 he co-founded the award-winning website, Green Global Travel, which is ranked among the world's top travel blogs. Since launching BRMTG in 2020, he and Mary Gabbett have visited 50+ Blue Ridge Mountain towns together. Though she lived in NYC for 14 years, photographer/Business Manager Mary Gabbett's family has Georgia roots dating back 200+ years. Her great-grandfather was President of the Western Railroad of Alabama. Before moving to Atlanta in 1989, she fell in love with the North GA mountains, where her aunt owned a cabin. In 2010 she co-founded Green Global Travel, and has since traveled to more than 40 countries on six continents. Her photos have appeared in numerous travel publications (including National Geographic and Southbound) and various textbooks.