Take a drive through any city or suburb in the U.S., and it may be easy to think that chain restaurants are rapidly pushing independently owned restaurants out of the market. However, there are more than 490,000 independently owned restaurants in the U.S. today. And despite setbacks caused by COVID-19, including lockdowns and staff shortages, that number appears to be on the rise once more.
Eating locally can be a great choice for a number of reasons. Unlike chain restaurants, spending money at independently owned establishments often means that your money has a greater benefit to the local community. It's also a great way to try locally-inspired or otherwise unique cuisine that you might not find at your standard chain restaurant.
Whether you're planning a visit to Knoxville, Tennessee, or live locally, there is no shortage of amazing independently owned restaurants to try. While they're certainly worth a visit if you're passing through, these restaurants are also a great choice for gifting to friends and family who are local or who you know are visiting Tennessee. Not only will you be supporting a local business owner, but you'll also be gifting your family member or friend a unique and delicious meal. With a virtual gift card, you can easily select a local restaurant, choose an amount, add a personalized note, and send a gift in just minutes.
Ready to find the best local eats in Knoxville, Tennesee? Keep reading to learn our top 10.
5018 Kingston Pike | Bearden Village | knoxfarmacy.com
Farmacy founder and owner Bettina Hamblin started cooking as a child, taught by her parents that food wasn’t simply a meal to be placed on the table at 6pm every night but a chance to connect and create with those closest to us. Now she brings that same joy and life to the kitchen at Farmacy, Knoxville’s favorite brunch, lunch & dinner restaurant with a focus on fresh local ingredients.
Chow down on southern classics like hot chicken and waffles or fluffy beignets, or try one of their more creative offerings – the churro waffles, Enlightened Bowl, and avocado toasted piled high with fresh, vibrant flavors are among the favorites on the menu here.
“Fantastic lunch today! A Chef owned & operated little gem in the Bearden Village area of Knoxville! These types of places are my jam, chef run, locally sourced high end ingredients and flawless execution! Staff and service where impeccable. Ambiance was a perfect balance of classy decor of the doning room with this divey cheffy neighborhood bar feel.”-- Yelp Review
1198 Wears Valley Rd | Pigeon Forge | bestbbqintown.com
It would be impossible to talk about local eats in Knoxville without mentioning some good old fashioned southern BBQ. A trip to Boss Hogg’s will take you a minute – or 45 minutes to be precise, southeast from downtown on Interstate 441. But like any BBQ aficionado is sure to know, good things come to those who wait.
Boss Hogg’s BBQ prepares their meats fresh daily, from the hand-pulled pork shoulder to the smoked chicken to tender, slow-cooked beef brisket. Bring the whole family along – including your four legged friends. Pets are allowed on the patio!
“Best bbq in pigeon forge hands down. Best ribs and very reasonably priced. Great Mac and cheese too. Great kid options and family friendly atmosphere with outdoor seating. Staff was nice.” – Yelp Review
3643 Sevierville Pike | South Knoxville | (865) 577-8981
If you’re looking for local flavor, this is it. Round Up Restaurant & Ice Cream has happily been serving feel-good comfort food for decades. Trendy concept restaurants may lure customers in with selfie walls and neon signs, but at Round Up, they’ve been relying on the reputation built by their classic food – with great success, too.
Be sure to try a breakfast plate, like the French toast or the Roundup Special – and of course, you’ll want to save room for dessert! Choose from ice cream, cobbler, pudding, pie, or anything else that shows up on the handwritten board with the day’s menu.
“ It's EXACTLY the local-feel, cozy-spot-w-yummy-food place I'd been hoping to find near home. Think "Cracker Barrel" comfort food in a locally-established non-chain restaurant w the friendliest people. You'll probably be called "honey" or "sweetie" by the staff! Prices are a little higher than Cracker Barrel but you'll be supporting local business in a convenient location to downtown and the becoming-trendier-by-the-minute South Knoxville, so it's worth the extra few bucks.” – Yelp Review
7240 Kingston Pike | Knoxville | stirfrycafeknoxville.com
For many local restaurants, it isn’t just about serving up amazing food – it’s about being a part of a community. At Stir Fry Cafe, they really take the local-first philosophy to heart. Not only do they participate in events that support the local community – like Eat Out for Education, which donates 10% of proceeds from every bill to local schools during the promotion. They also feature work from local artists throughout the restaurant, so if you see something you like, you can take home a part of the Knoxville art scene, too.
And in terms of food? You’ll find all of your favorites – from drunken noodles to tom kha soup. Crab rangoons, pot stickers, eel rolls… the list goes on and on.
“Friendly and interesting staff? Yes! Quality sushi made to order (and can watch being made from the bar)? Yes! Good drinks, amazing flavors, a variety of options and quality fish (for Knoxville)? Yes! Unique vibe that makes you say "glad I didn't go to Nama"? Yes! Then try Stir Fry Cafe on half price sushi nights, 1/2 off apps night or go support local artists and purchase a painting! 100% recommend to out-of-towners and locals alike.” – Yelp Review
3526 Parkway | Pigeon Forge | facebook.com/SmokiesCubanCafepf
Looking for fresh, authentic Cuban cuisine? A little restaurant located in the heart of Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains might not be your first thought, but that shouldn’t stop you from stopping in. This family-owned restaurant is bringing the bright flavors of the Caribbean to the Knoxville area with their eatery in Pigeon Forge.
Sample everything from ropa vieja to vaca frita to beef empanadas – made fresh daily.
“This place is phenomenal!! Hands down. Absolute best food in this entire area. The service was outstanding and you can't go wrong with anything on their menu. Don't go to another nasty chain restaurant where they microwave your food. They're all over. Keep our local businesses thriving! p.s. if you haven't had cuban coffee then go ahead and order one. You're welcome.” – Yelp Review
35 Market Sq, Knoxville, TN 37902 (https://thestockandbarrel.com)
Often touted as Knoxville, Tennessee's best restaurant, beating out even the popular chain restaurants in the city, Stock & Barrel is a true local classic. The menu features burgers and other dishes made from meats sourced from Mitchell Family Farms, in Tennessee. The rest of their menu also focused on serving farm-to-table ingredients. The restaurant does have a second location in Nashville. Friendly service and consistently delicious dishes make both popular spots for visitors and locals — expect to wait for a table if you visit at dinner time, especially on weekends.
Stock & Barrel specializes in three things; burgers, bourbon, and beer. While these may be what they do best, there's plenty more to eat and drink on the menu. The modern, industrial feel of this popular spot makes it great for a date night or a fun family dinner out.
"Not that Stock & Barrel really needs anyone else to rave about their restaurant, but it's not going to stop me. :) We've been to S&B on many occasions over the past several years having lived in Knoxville in the past, and we recently at their for the first time in six years. Sometimes, I'm really glad things don't change. Their food was still just as good as I remember it. Having lived in states from Texas to cities like Chicago, I can honestly say that their burgers rank in my top two!" -Yelp Review
159 N Peters Rd, Knoxville, TN 37923 (https://yassinsfalafelhouse.com)
It doesn't get more independently owned than this! Yassin Falafel House is family-owned and has been bringing delicious Mediterranean food to Knoxville since 2014. They actually have two locations in the city; one in downtown Knoxville, and another just outside. From the hummus to the grape leaves and everything in between, the food here is homemade and often made from classic family recipes.
Thanks to its Mediterranean roots, Yassin Falafel House has something for everyone. From filling gyros to healthy options like their famous homemade hummus, this is a great spot for the whole family. Order a lunch, or create a spread to share with friends for an evening at home.
"We love Yassin's. The atmosphere is always light and the people are welcoming. Plus the food is delicious. I'd recommend the chicken shawarma plate and add veggies." -Yelp Review
100 S Broadway St, Knoxville, TN 37902 (https://www.balterbeerworks.com)
Inspired by their love for brewing beer in their home's garage, Balter Beerworks is a locally-owned favorite among Knoxville locals. As the name suggests, they're best known for their homemade brews, but they also offer a menu with a variety of dishes. Some are Southern-inspired and classic Knoxville, while others are unique and trendy takes on comfort food. Keep things light with a salmon bowl or salad, or dig into a juicy bison burger. Don't forget to save room for dessert — we recommend the skillet cookie!
Opened in 2016, Balter Beerworks is located in a remodeled historic service station. This adds to the restaurant's fun and modern vibes. Plenty of windows means an open-air-esque dining experience that's great all year long.
"This spot is really a great choice for hanging with friends, eating some burgers, and drinking some beers.
+ Good food, esp for burgers
+ Open late to 11pm (Note: most restaurants in Knoxville close at 9pm)
+ Beer flight of 4 for $7ish. Def loved Cherry Gose the most!
+ Restaurant has its own parking
+ Friendly staff" -Yelp Review
410 W Jackson Ave, Knoxville, TN 37902 (https://www.sweetpbbq.com/downtown-dive/)
There's no shortage of delicious BBQ in Knoxville, and throughout Tenessee. But if you're looking for an independently owned spot to dig into decadent ribs, juicy pulled pork, and other Southern favorites, head to Sweet P's Barbeque & Soul House. Establish in 2005 by barbecue master Chris Ford, his recipes actually began while experimenting at home. Today, his rich flavors are beloved by locals and visitors alike.
There are actually two Sweet P's locations in Knoxville. One offers dine-in, while the other — Ford's original — is drive-thru only. This unique set-up is perfect for grabbing a bite for the whole family on your way home. Because the BBQ is smoked fresh, some varieties will sell out, especially on early days, so arrive early if you want to have more options.
"I stopped in for some barbecue and this place did not disappoint! The food is delicious and the staff was really great. I definitely eat there again." -Yelp Review
Trendy Southern breakfast and brunch spot
211 S Central St, Knoxville, TN 37902 (https://olibeaoldcity.com)
When you're looking for a delicious brunch for a weekend afternoon or a special breakfast through the week in Knoxville, Tennessee, you can't beat Oli Bea. This locally-owned spot is a favorite among locals and visitors alike — and the sometimes-lengthy wait, especially on weekends, is proof of that.
While the restaurant serves a wide variety of breakfast favorites, they are perhaps best known for their biscuits. These can be enjoyed on their own, with gravy on top, or as a messy sandwich. "The Problem" is one popular menu item. This biscuit sandwich features a cheddar biscuit, HenHoc sausage, scrambled egg, jalapeno jam, and cheese.
"So glad we stopped off in Knoxville on the way from Great Smoky up to Nashville if only just for these biscuits. They've got such great texture, beautifully fluffy but not too doughy interior, and peel off so easily. The whole menu sounded tasty but I could resist the the problem biscuit, really an all star cast for a breakfast sandwich." -Yelp Review
Whether you're looking for a local eat or two to try while visiting Knoxville, or want to gift a local friend or family member a delicious meal at a unique restaurant, choosing local is always a good idea. Not only is it a great way to try new and unique cuisine, but your money will also be supporting a small business owner and their staff. Try one of these delicious local eats in Knoxville — or better yet, try them all on your next visit!