The 7 Best Restaurants in Franklin NC & Macon County

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After managing various restaurants in Atlanta for 7 years and reviewing restaurants professionally for 28 years, I’d like to think I know a few things about the culinary craft. 

You can’t go into small mountain towns expecting the same diverse array of options you’ll find in larger cities like Asheville, Charlotte, and Roanoke

But in our experience while exploring 50+ towns in the Blue Ridge Mountains over the past few years, there are plenty of places that prove to be an exception to that rule.

For a town with just 4,345 residents, the restaurants in Franklin NC proved surprisingly sophisticated.

We were impressed by the sheer number of places to eat in Franklin that offered international influences and/or fine dining flair. 

From Latin/American fusion and Continental cuisine to gastropub and farm-to-table fare, the food in Franklin NC was never boring. They even have several breweries, and a restaurant/winery tasting room combo!

Read on for our in-depth guide to the best Franklin NC restaurants, including personal favorites such as the 828 Cafe, Caffe Rel, and Gracious Plates on Main. 

READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Franklin NC & Macon County

Best Restaurants in Franklin NC Guide

  1. 828 Cafe (Latin/American)
  2. Brooklyn Bagels (Deli)
  3. Caffe Rel (Continental)
  4. Gracious Plates on Main (Fine Dining)
  5. Just Donuts (Bakery)
  6. Hikers Kitchen Food Truck at Lazy Hiker Brewing (Gastropub)
  7. Motor Company Grill (Retro Diner)

READ MORE: 20 Best Things to Do in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

Outdoor Patio at 828 Cafe in Franklin NC
828 Cafe’s Outdoor Patio

1. 828 Cafe (Latin/American)

228 NE Main St, Franklin NC • (828) 634-7702 • Official Website

HOURS: Tue to Fri 7:30-2PM, Sat 8AM-2PM; Closed Sundays & Mondays

It seems somehow fitting that the only Latin-owned Franklin NC restaurant is located right next to the Nikwasi Indian Mound, one of several sacred indigenous historic sites in town. 

Owned by the husband/wife team of David and Beatriz Gomez (with Beatriz’s mom Gloria helping out in the kitchen), the family’s restaurant opened in the Fall of 2019. 

The restaurant’s eye-catching exterior features vividly colorful murals by local artist Marina Tkach on 3 sides. They feature bears, birds, and flowers designed to reflect the area’s natural beauty and wildlife. 

Their health-conscious menu features dishes made with sustainable ingredients, with myriad organic, vegan, and/or gluten free options available. 

We especially enjoyed their Latin-influenced dishes, including the Mexican Bowl (potatoes, eggs, Chorizo, black beans, sour cream, house roasted salsa, and Fresco cheese) and Guava French Toast. 

It’s a great alternative for a tasty breakfast in Franklin NC.

READ MORE: 50 Fascinating Facts About Cherokee Culture & History

Brooklyn Bagels, one of the best places to eat in Franklin NC
Sandwiches at Brooklyn Bagels

2. Brooklyn Bagels (Deli)

43 Phillips St, Franklin NC • (828) 349-6334 • Official Website

HOURS: Mon to Fri 7:00AM-2PM, Sat 7AM-12PM; Closed Sundays

When it comes to breakfast, Brooklyn Bagels is one of the most highly-rated restaurants in Franklin, North Carolina (4.8 stars on Google, 4.5 on Yelp).

But we actually went there for lunch, picking up a few of their bagel sandwiches for a lovely picnic lunch on one of the local hiking trails.

Their friendly staff was incredibly engaging, patiently answering our “newbie” questions while efficiently cranking out orders for the line of customers in front of us.

We ultimately went with the Reuben Sandwich on a pumpernickel bagel and the Italian Sandwich (salami, pepperoni, capiacola, and ham) on an asiago cheese bagel.

Both were packed with so much meat, Mary saved some of her corned beef for later!

If you’re looking for a super-fast takeout restaurant in Downtown Franklin that isn’t “fast food,” this is the spot. 

READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Cashiers NC & Jackson County

Opal Basil Shrimp Pasta at Caffe Rel in Franklin NC
Opal Basil Shrimp Pasta at Caffe Rel

3. Caffe Rel (Continental)

459 E Main St, Franklin NC • (828) 369-9446 Official Website

HOURS: Wed to Sat 11:00AM-8PM; Closed Sundays, Mondays, & Tuesdays

Much like the small town of Franklin NC itself, this unassuming restaurant on E Main St proves that you should never judge a book by its cover.

Succinctly self-described as “Great Food in a Gas Station,” the European bistro honestly doesn’t look like much from the fluorescent-lit exterior.

But the cigarette-smoking petrol purchasers, worn building, and outdated sign belie the fantastic food of Chef/owner Richard E. Long (a.k.a. REL), a classically trained chef who honed his culinary craft under various European mentors.

His Continental cuisine is arguably the best we’ve had in the Blue Ridge Mountains. From rustic Tomato Bruschetta and succulent Snails & Tails to the tender Beef Filet Sandwich and flavorful Opal Basil Shrimp, every dish was delicious. 

Note that Caffe Rel does not take reservations or credit cards. And since there’s no waiting area, the line during busy times can stretch into the parking lot. Get there early if you don’t want to wait!

READ MORE: The 10 Best Restaurants in Brevard NC for Foodies

Gracious Sampler at Gracious Plates on Main restaurant in Franklin NC
Gracious Sampler at Gracious Plates on Main

4. Gracious Plates on Main (Fine Dining)

46 E Main Street, Franklin NC • (828) 369-2690 • Official Website

HOURS: Mon to Wed 11:00AM-9PM; Thurs to Sat 8:00AM-9PM; Sun 10AM -2PM

Our favorite of the many Downtown Franklin NC restaurants we visited, Gracious Plates On Main features fantastic farm-to-table fare in a sophisticated fine dining atmosphere.

Located in the heart of the Downtown Franklin shopping district, the restaurant has an outdoor seating area that offers great people-watching possibilities.

But the artfully decorated dining room makes it the perfect place for a romantic dinner for two, and their servers excel at providing an upscale dining experience. 

Gracious Plates On Main proudly promotes their relationships with local farms, including meats from Righteous Rebels Farms, Little Cove Bread from Sylva, Brothers Honey from Bryson City, and veggies from Franklin’s own Granville’s Garden.

Every dish we sampled here was delightful, but our favorites included small plates such as the colorful Gracious Sampler platter, tender Lamb Meatballs, and the perfectly marinated Meredith’s Pork Tenderloin. 

We’ve heard that they have the best brunch in Franklin NC, so we’ll look forward to trying it the next time we visit Franklin. 

READ MORE: The 15 Best Romantic Getaways in NC (Cabins, Inns & Resorts)

Breakfast at Just Donuts, one of the best restaurants in Franklin NC
Breakfast of Champions at Just Donuts

5. Just Donuts (Bakery)

23 Iotla Street, Franklin NC • (484) 841-3522 • Official Website

HOURS: Mon to Fri 6:30AM-Noon; Sat 7:00AM-Noon; Sun 10AM-2PM; Closed Sundays

As someone who was born and raised in North Georgia, I’ve always had a serious sweet tooth. And though I try not to indulge it as often as I did as a child, I still struggle to resist sweet treats

In short, it was impossible to skip Just Donuts. Located in the heart of downtown, it’s one of the highest-rated places to eat in Franklin NC. 

Despite its name, this popular restaurant does offer a few savory options, including hearty breakfast sandwiches and tasty bagels. 

But seriously, the place is called JUST DONUTS, so you’d be crazy not to get a box filled with their fresh-baked delights!

We genuinely loved them all, but our favorites were the Maple Bacon, Strawberry Frosted, Blueberry Cake, and Old Fashioned Cinnamon Donuts. 

READ MORE: The 10 Best Restaurants in Sylva NC & Dillsboro NC

Cheeseburger from Hikers Kitchen Food Truck at Lazy Hiker Brewing Company restaurant in Franklin NC
Cheeseburger from the Hikers Kitchen Food Truck

6. Hikers Kitchen Food Truck (Gastropub)

188 W Main Street Franklin NC • (828) 347-1945 Official Website

HOURS: Mon to Thurs & Sun 11:30AM-8PM; Fri 11:30AM-9PM Sat 11:30AM-10PM

Neither Mary or I are fans of beer, so visiting breweries is not usually high on our priority list when we’re exploring Blue Ridge mountain towns

But the Lazy Hiker Brewing Company– a Franklin mainstay since 2015– is much more than your typical brewery.

Their expansive facility has an outdoor stage for live music, a dog-friendly patio with picnic tables, corn hole, a disc golf area, and special events (trivia, open mic night, karaoke, etc.) several nights a week.

The Hikers Kitchen Food Truck offers gourmet-quality gastropub fare, including great Burgers, a Southern Fried Chicken Sandwich (with beer aioli), Nachos, and Bavarian-style Pretzels. 

My favorite dish we tried was their traditional Greek Gyro, which is served with a tasty tzatziki sauce and their award-winning Shoestring Fries. 

READ MORE: Exploring The 17 Best Asheville NC Breweries

Lunch Counter at Motor Company Grill, one of the best restaurants in Franklin NC
Lunch Counter at Motor Company Grill

7. Motor Company Grill (Diner)

86 W Main St, Franklin, NC • (828) 524-0099 • Official Website

HOURS: Sun to Wed 11:00AM-4PM; Thurs to Sat 11:00AM-8PM

What makes a particular restaurant great?  For some people it’s all about the quality of the food. For others, it’s more about the atmosphere.

But for me, the best restaurants are really all about how they make you feel. 

Franklin’s Motor Company Grill probably won’t win any awards for culinary innovation. But the diner’s nostalgia for 1950s Americana is huge with the same sort of folks who love Mt Airy NC.

Their hamburgers, hot dogs, and Philly cheesesteaks are served up in a slick setting (think Al’s on Happy Days) surrounded by images of classic movies, music, and TV shows (Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Mickey Mouse Club, etc). 

We enjoyed their Chili Dog, massive Sweet Potato Fries served with maple syrup, and Mac & Cheese. But their old-fashioned soda fountain’s floats, milkshakes and sundaes are really the star of the show. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted




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

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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.