If you’re itching to escape on an idyllic mountainside getaway that’s packed with trendy restaurants, art galleries, craft shops, microbreweries, and local watering holes, look no further than Lenoir and Morganton, two of our favorite mountain towns in NC. Peaceful and pristine, yet bustling with enough activities to satisfy mind, body, and soul, these western North Carolina towns not only make for fantastic getaways in the cozy foothills of the Blue Ridge, they’re two of the best retirement places in NC.
Retirement Living magazine recently named Morganton the #1 town in the Carolinas for retirement, citing its downtown area as a primary reason for its top-of-the-list ranking. RetireSouth.com ranked Morganton #5 for retirement for all of Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, giving special kudos to its “vibrant downtown” among its many other features.
We agree! Vibrant is the perfect way to describe the always-on, event-packed artsy downtown Morganton scene. But our favorite reason to hit the streets around Union Square in Morganton are the dining options. From upscale elegant to cozy café, from inside intimate to sidewalk friendly, there’s a restaurant to suit all tastes.
Three of the most popular places to dine in Morganton are:
Root & Vine (139 West Union Street, Morganton, NC)
Classical French cuisine meets traditional Southern fare for a unique casual dining experience. Offering both indoor and outdoor (covered patio) seating, this restaurant is tucked inside an historic 1901 building, but the vibe is modern and the ingredients are locally sourced and fresh. The menu ranges from traditional sandwiches and burgers to more exotic fare, such as wood-grilled Chilean salmon served with cucumber-tomato salad, Middle Eastern couscous, and lemon tahini or sautéed tiger prawns, chicken, and mussels served with Spanish chorizo, roasted sweet peppers, sugar snap peas, tomatoes and saffron rice. Chef Brian Miller uses fresh ingredients from nearby Bluebird Muddy Creek, Hoffman Heritage, and Heirloom farms. And there’s a full bar, featuring a long list of unique signature cocktails, plus more than 50 beers and 100 wines to choose from.
Wisteria (108 East Meeting Street, Morganton, NC)
Deep in the heart of historic downtown Morganton, there’s a southern gastropub called Wisteria with a farm-to-table menu that changes with the seasons. By using locally-grown, sustainable ingredients, this hometown favorite keeps things fresh. And by sticking with “distinctive meals based on traditional Southern dishes,” they keep things real. Their dinner menu appeals to all appetites by offering snacks, smalls, and suppers. Got a snack-size appetite? Try the boiled-peanut hummus, the chicken liver moose, or the house pickle plate. If you’re bringing a supper-size appetite, there’s a range of robust options, including crispy pork belly ramen, the Heritage Farms pork shoulder steak, and the Russell Family Farms grass-fed beef burger. And there’s plenty to keep the vegetarians in your party happy, including the Hoppin’ John veggie burger served with hand-cut fries, a gooey four-cheese macaroni au gratin, and lots of fresh salads. When it comes to libations, this place has a mile-long list of microbrews, plus wines, classic cocktails, modern cocktails, and whiskey flights. Wisteria also has one of the most popular brunch menus in the area. Ready for some retro? Stop by on Thursdays at 9:00pm for Vinyl Record Night.
Grind Café (136 W Union St, Morganton, NC)
Talk about a hip atmosphere! This place is cooler than cool, not to mention friendly, warm, and artsy. People come for the specialty coffees, smoothies, and frappes, the to-die-for pastries, and the live music events. But they stay for the tasty tapas, the distinctive breakfast, lunch and dinner items, and the fine assortment of craft brews and wines. If you’re a sandwich aficionado, this is definitely the place for you. This popular downtown coffee shop not only serves fresh deli sandwiches and wraps using fresh breads and locally sourced ingredients, there’s also a variety of hot and grilled options, including Burke Turkey Jack, Remarkable Reuben, Muffuletta (a New Orleans classic), Blue Ridge Roast Beef, Pig in the Grass, and Mountaineer Dogs.
Now let’s talk about Lenoir. RetireNC.com highly recommends NC mountain communities like Lenoir as one of the best places to visit and retire. Its cool summers and mild winters, they say, make this town ideal for year-round outdoor activity. They call Lenoir a place where “art abounds” and there’s “food and drink galore.” They got that right! When it comes to restaurants in WNC, Lenoir leads the way with restaurants that range from quaint and elegant to casual comfort cuisine. Foodies come from far and wide to dine in this charming town with the motto “where enjoying life is an art form.”
Here are three of our favorite places to dine in Lenoir:
Bella Torte Bistro & Bakery (128 Main Street NW, Lenoir, NC)
Executive Chef Todd Ritter uses fresh local ingredients to create masterfully designed lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch fare. This is American classic cuisine with big city flair, prepared by a well-traveled chef experienced in a variety of food preparation techniques, including Italian, French, Greek, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese. Perfectly plated dinner items include cioppino and bourbon molasses pork chops, fresh Prince Edward Island mussels, and pan-seared duck breast with roasted potatoes, grilled asparagus and mixed berry glaze. Vegetarians can try the delectable vegetable pasta or the portabella stack with balsamic-glazed grilled portabella, roasted red peppers, spinach, tomato, and asparagus with basil pesto. Lunch specials include beef picadillo crepes with Sriracha crema, crepes au salmon, and spinach-mushroom quiche topped with cheddar pepper jack sauce and served with a side of fresh fruit. Yelp and TripAdvisor reviewers give this “cute” bistro high rankings. Customers swoon over the friendly service, and praise the chef for his attention to detail in preparing rib eye steaks that are “sliced to order and cooked exactly to our liking.” Then there’s the bakery! Bella Torte makes “confectionary art” for all occasions. Their delectable cookies, pastries, and one-of-a-kind custom cakes promise to make your special event “rich in both flavor and design.”
1841 Café (117 Main Street NW, Lenoir, NC)
If you’re looking for a neighborhood gathering place with live music, craft beer on tap, trivia nights, and a full menu of hearty food Americana-style, this is the café for you. Friends and neighbors are drawn here as much for the atmosphere of camaraderie as for the robust plates at value prices. Beef tips are cooked to perfection with a delicious burgundy gravy, the rosemary pork tenderloin is served atop mushroom risotto with a fresh side salad, and the fried cod fish sandwich is topped with a home-made tartar sauce, fresh lettuce, and tomatoes, and served on a perfectly toasted hoagie. There’s a full variety of beef, chicken, fish, and pasta dishes, and a plenty of hoagies and burgers, including kid-size burgers for the little ones. Come on Wednesday nights for 50-cent wings and half-price beer. And be sure to check their event schedule in advance to find out which nights your favorite local band will be in the house. They fill up fast on live music nights, so be sure to call for reservations.
Uptown Café & Bakery (104 S. Main Street, Lenoir, NC)
If you’ve ever wanted to break the rules and start with dessert, this café/bakery is the perfect place to do it! Customer reviews call the Uptown a “sweet lovers paradise” with “phenomenal desserts.” One peek through the bakery window tells you all you need to know… this place makes their sweet treats with love! Desserts like caramel apple cheesecake, sea-salted caramel brownies, and pumpkin praline pie garnished with white chocolate and whipped cream are just a taste of what make this award-winning bakery is a local favorite. They’ve been voted “Best Bakery” by the people of Caldwell County for several years running. Customers can’t get enough of the fresh no-bake cookies, mouthwatering cream horns, fully-loaded caramel apples, and artistically designed hand-dipped strawberries. When you’ve had your fill of dessert, grab a menu and order a hot home-cooked meal of pot roast with smashed potatoes, chicken pie, baked spaghetti, country style steak, barbecue ribs, or a nice hot made-from-scratch soup, like vegetable beef, loaded baked potato, cream of mushroom, or cream of chicken. When it comes to home-made comfort food plus sweet treats, nobody does it better than Uptown Café & Bakery.
If you’re lucky enough to live in one of the nearby mountain towns in NC, you will no doubt want to take home a doggy bag from one of these amazing restaurants in Lenoir. And if you happen to live in Lenoir at a place like The Coves Mountain River Club, you’re going to want to wrap up enough cookies and cream horns to share with your neighbors. That’s because The Coves is one of the most secluded yet neighbor-friendly gated NC mountain communities Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, this is a scenic wonderland where living is easy. Where neighbors gather on the wrap-around porch at Pisgah Mountain Lodge to share coffee, desserts, and stories of their day. Days here are all about fishing in the abundant Johns River, hiking on private trails, tending to the community garden, and swimming in the infinity pool as you drink in spectacular views of Grandfather Mountain against clear blue skies.
If you’re ready to become one of the lucky ones who lives at The Coves, there’s no time like the present. Now that we’ve got you thinking about the best retirement places in NC, come to The Coves Mountain River Club to pick out your own custom-built home in this scenic paradise right in the heart of a community that offers easy access to shopping, entertainment, and a foodie-lover’s restaurant scene.
When you’re ready to explore our perfect pairing of mountain and river living at The Coves, contact us by calling 828.754.0700, or stop by any time to plan your visit. We’ll even help you with dinner reservations at one of Morganton/Lenoir’s best restaurants to give you a taste of the area we know you’ll want to call home.
If you’re exploring the area for the first time, ask for our 84 page complimentary Western North Carolina Visitor’s Guide which provides more information about living in the foothills.