Whether wedged in a row of shops in a small plaza or tucked away off a back road somewhere, all of the Asheville, NC area Papa’s and Beer restaurants have something in common – they are bigger on the inside than they appear on the outside, and you want to get there a little in advance, because (a) it may take some maneuvering to get into some of their parking lots (the one on route 25 is a parking lot in name only – it’s little more than a paved driveway) and (b) they are always full. Although, in retrospect, a bit of a wait won’t be all that bad, because you really want to get to your meal as hungry as humanly possible.
Prepare to engage all your senses. There is some great artwork on the walls, lots of Latin dance music, people at the tables laughing and swapping plates, sizzling skillets with fajita chicken and onions zooming by, rushed by the waiters from the stove straight to the table, and, of course, the delicious smell of various foods that immediately sends you drooling like an English mastiff.
Once you have your table and drinks, it’s off to the dips and salsas station – just get one of each. By the time you get back, a basket of fresh hot tortilla chips awaits, and it’s all the more fun to try them with the different condiments. The chips are made right there at the restaurant, and some bits are more salty than others, but they are delicious and addictive. You are bound to be well into your second basket by the time your meal arrives.
Papa’s and Beer is the kind of place you want to go to on a regular basis. The menu is large and you want to eventually try everything. However, the portions are very generous, so it’s not really possible to sample more than one thing at a time, especially if you also have one of their enormous margaritas and a deep fried ice cream dessert. If for some reason you can’t come back any time soon, go with a group of friends, and order several different things. Then try a bit of everything, mix and match.
My personal favorite is fish tacos. A word of warning – they are incredibly messy. There is invariably more fish (and other stuffings) than there is taco. So, stuff is going to fall out, dribble and run down your chin. Don’t tuck into them right away – they are wicked hot, and you will only end up dropping your taco back onto your plate and making an even bigger mess, because it is bound to land right in the middle of the rice and beans and all the other fixings that come with the tacos. It’s not that the messy factor detracts from the food. Just grab more napkins and keep going.
Not surprisingly, the place is very popular with families, including those with young children. You can eat with your hands and get stuff all over your face and fingers, and it’s unclear who enjoys the experience more – the adults or some of the younger patrons. An added bonus for a family is the price – a dinner for two fits easily into the $20 margin. Definitely a keeper!