Foodie Travels: Root & Vine, Morganton, N.C.

Root & Vine Burger

It’s rare we choose to eat at the No. 1-ranked TripAdvisor or Yelp restaurant in any town we visit. So, it makes a major statement when we find one that receives our #FoodieScore approval, deeming it worthy to share with you. And that’s the story with Root & Vine in Morganton, N.C.

Most top-ranked restaurants on travel and food review sites are more trendy or upscale than the types of places we usually prefer. They’re the kind of places that might make for impressive business meeting dining or fancy date nights for many people, but they’re not the type of long-established, affordable and simply delicious food that my wife Molly and I gravitate toward. Not so with Root & Vine.

This place has the feel of fine dining but the comfort and prices of a local hole-in-the-wall hangout.

Root & Vine

You can get pizza from a wood oven, with an assortment of topping combinations. Many diners during our lunchtime visit were enjoying pizza, and each plate looked scrumptious on its way past our table.

You can order house-blended-beef burgers with North Carolina-themed local-ingredient mashups like Cheerwine BBQ Sauce (Cheerwine based in Salisbury, N.C.), crispy and thick bacon, and Pepper Jack Cheese from Ashe County (well-known for its cheeses) in the N.C. mountains. That’s the plate I thoroughly enjoyed alongside a mound of fresh-cut French fries.

Root & Vine Fried Chicken Tacos

You’ll even find fried chicken tacos on flour tortillas with a fresh set of toppings including queso fresco, mayo, pickled onions and lettuce. My wife Molly chose that for lunch in a close race with a plate of shrimp and grits, something that catches her eye when it appears on any restaurant menu, as our regular readers now know well. (Root & Vine even serves a lunch shrimp and grits entrée, something that’s still a bit more rare in inland Southern cities.)

All of that is just the beginning of the menu.

This place has the feel of fine dining but the comfort and prices of a local hole-in-the-wall hangout.

Morganton is close enough to North Carolina’s “High Country” region of the mountains that, even in the summer when we visited, it gets cool breezes and lower temperatures while towns barely an hour away bake in the scorching sun. That means you can enjoy lunch, in the middle of the day, out on the street-side patio next to a relaxing fountain, without shedding one drop of sweat. (Trust me. I know. I can sweat in 32-degree weather.) Or you can dine inside in a modern, clean atmosphere.

Root & Vine fountain

It’s not our thing, but Root & Vine offers a full, on-a-page-all-by-itself alcohol menu, complete with a large selection of beers and wines. Most other folks dining on the patio near us during lunch were enjoying adult beverages.

Root & Vine’s the kind of place you can eat in shorts and a T-shirt without feeling underdressed. At the same time, it’s also a place that feels nice enough you can go in a coat and tie or business dress with your boss and have a nice meal. The wait staff is professionally attired and groomed, furthering the nice feel of the place. And we should add that they also know the menu quite well, as our server helped us make a few decisions we weighed before ordering.

In most towns, the top 10 restaurants on TripAdvisor and Yelp are easy for us to look past. Those entries usually have a few more $$$ than we like and not enough food to match our tastes and wallet. They also tend to be newer places that are far less woven into the fabric of the community. Morganton is an exception to the rule and a reminder why we fully game-plan our meals on our travels to find the best food fits. Root & Vine, situated right in the community’s downtown alongside other great businesses such as a local bookstore and a local record shop, is No. 1 for all those reasons above and more, and it’s a place we’re sure glad we didn’t pass up!

Root & Vine, 139 W. Union St., Morganton, N.C.

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