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Where to eat in Highlands, NC – guide to best restaurants in this mountain retreat

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All during High School growing up in Atlanta, I heard about my peers going away with their parents to Hilton Head. it was THE spot to go in the 80s and 90s. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I visited Hilton Head. 

Fast forward about ten years and the same thing has happened with Highlands, North Carolina. I’d hear friends and acquaintances talking about it but never had the opportunity to go…until recently. Now I see what all the fuss is about. And the food is delicious. Here’s where we dined over a 4 day trip to Highlands, NC. 

The Bridge in Highlands, NC

The Bridge at Mill Creek is a fantastic dining experience in Highlands, NC

Only open about a year is The Bridge, situated slightly behind Main Street. With a lovely water feature and modern decor, it still has a softness about it that lends itself to superb date night, even with the open kitchen. 

They have both original cocktails and a traditional. I nearly ordered the Frenemies cocktails but changed my mind and went with the classic French 75. No regrets there as this was a refreshing start to the meal. Another pretty and tasty drink is the Daiquiri. 

The soup portions are tremendous and I loved the Thai ginger soup, a special that evening we dined. It was so big I had to stop myself to save room for my main entree, Trout. I mean, isn’t it a must to have it at least once when you are in the mountains? It was a generous portion that was prepared perfectly. 

Trout at the Bridge at Mill Creek in Highlands NC

I’d be remiss though, if I didn’t mention the service. Our server, Karen, was just fantastic. She never missed a beat. 

Tug’s Proper Restaurant – Highlands NC

Doing a bunch of research before heading to Highlands, Tug’s Proper really piqued my interest. If you are looking for a spot with a pretty bar, this is it.  About half the restaurant is dedicated to the bar, which I bet is a lively scene at night. I love the navy walls at this restaurant in the Highlands, NC too.

Tug’s Proper is a great spot for drinks and appetizers

It has that vibe of cozy, romantic dinner spot, and that’s certainly what I had in mind. But after a long hike one morning with nothing but a cereal bar for breakfast, we were ready to chow down and headed straight to Tug’s. To start, we began with the Fried Green Tomatoes. What I liked about these, is that they had the addition of pork belly and a tangy barbecue type sauce. It wasn’t your average FGT topped with goat cheese. It’s certainly heart enough to make a meal and the good is news is it served at both lunch and dinner. 

Fried Green Tomatoes at Tug’s Proper in Highlands, NC

With a hankering for a cheesesteak, this Highlands spot satisfied my craving for that, with a sandwich full of steak, peppers and onions, and it wasn’t too bready either. Again service was incredible with our server checking on us frequently. 

Ruffed Grouse Restaurant in Highlands, NC

Head to Ruffed Grouse for a romantic dinner in Highlands NC

Strange name. Cool experience. This Highlands restaurant is, like all the others on the list, right on the main drag or close to it. You can’t miss the Ruffed Grouse as it has a distinct blue hue, that stands out against the myriad of white buildings. 

Display at Ruffed Grouse in Highlands NC

I can imagine all the tables outside make for some fun dining during warmer months. Since our visit was on the cool side, we were dining indoors. There’s a display of stuffed animals against one wall, which may be a bit strange for some, but it didn’t affect our enjoyment of our meal. 

Trout or Lamb pasta are good options at this Highlands, NC restaurant
Trout at Ruffed Grouse in Highlands NC

It was our first day in the mountains in Highlands, and what better to order than trout. If there is anything you should not leave Highlands, North Carolina, without having, it is trout. Glen ordered that and it definitely trumped the lamb pasta I ordered. 

You should note that this is also part hotel. Side note: Rooms are on the same level as dining. My hubby accidentally walked right into one as he was looking for the bathroom. Similar to Tug’s, Ruffed Grouse also has a separate bar area. We noticed a party enjoying a round of Manhattan’s after their dinner. We choose to sit on the sofa by the fireplace post dinner, enjoying the fun atmosphere. 

Madison’s Restaurant at Old Edwards Inn in Highlands, NC

Madison’s restaurants is part of Old Edwards Inn in Highlands NC

Old Edwards Inn, or OEI as all the locals call it, has several restaurants to dine when you are in the Highlands. We heard The Hummingbird Lounge is great for cocktails, but sadly we didn’t make it there. We did have a lazy lunch at Madison’s, OEI’s signature restaurant. Protip: the restaurant is connected through OEI’s lobby, so you don’t have to enter from the outside. It was pouring down rain when we went, and I wish we would have known that. Thank goodness for umbrellas, right? 

Hummus and shrimp bisque special were delightful on a rainy day in Highlands NC

With plans for a rather large dinner, we stuck to simple and light. Hummus, falafel wrap, and chicken salad. If you are a wine lover, Madison’s has a Coravin program. Coravin is a tool that opens wine and seals it back so that oxygen doesn’t get in. It allows you to have a more expensive wine (since the restaurant could seal it back as it had never been opened). 

Midpoint Restaurant in Highlands, NC

If there’s one restaurant I had my heart set on, it is Midpoint. The eclectic menu drew me in. Think items like Chimichurri rubbed skirt steak, Korean spiced salmon, Moroccan lamb chops and more. You can’t miss this restaurant – it’s smack dab in the middle of the Main Street. And it’s one of the only ones to have a rooftop patio. The patio has heaters for outdoor seating even if it is a bit cool. 

As you walk in, there’s a huge display case of beautiful desserts. Think things like apples, detailed mushrooms, and many other sweets, you will want to skip dinner and head right into dessert. Protip: Ask your server the price of dessert! The dessert menu makes it seem like they are all the same price but the poisonous apple ($12) is much more reasonably priced than the mushrooms ($22). 

Make sure to pick out your dessert before it’s gone at Midpoint in Highlands, NC

The calamari is  a huge portion – good enough for 4 or even six people to share. We really had no business having such a huge app, but hey, it was our anniversary. My Elk Chops were perfectly cooked as was the Korean salmon Glen had. Make sure to make reservations well in advance during peak season or on weekends! 

Blue Bike all day breakfast restaurant in Highlands, NC 

I think every tourist town needs at least one spot that serves breakfast late or all day. In the Highlands, North Carolina, Blue Bike is that spot. The restaurant is kind of small-ish inside. So, the wait is REALLY long on the weekend. If you want to try this breakfast spot in the Highlands, NC, I highly recommend you visit during the week, which is what we did. We headed there on a Monday on our way out of town and it worked out perfectly. It gave us enough fuel to hit on last hike before heading home.

Get breakfast all day every day at Blue Bike in Highlands, NC

I tried the Chorizo Omelette and it was terrific. You can customize your breakfast to choose from hash browns or grits, biscuit or a variety of bread. I can’t wait to go back and have the open faced biscuit with sausage gravy (Tandem Bike). Bring your pup – they allow dogs on their patio. 

If you haven’t been, and you love exceptional restaurants in Highlands, you need to visit. While I hear it is incredibly busy in the fall (the most popular time to visit the Highlands) a spring visit still has lots to offer, minus the crowds.

About the author

Malika Bowling

Malika is the author of several books including Culinary Atlanta: Guide to the Best Restaurants, Markets, Breweries and More! and the founder of Roamilicious. She is also a Digital Marketing and Social Media Consultant. Follow us @Roamilicious on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for the content not shared on the blog. And don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter (subscribe box below) and never miss a contest, giveaway or the latest must visit restaurant!