For a small college town, you would be surprised at the variety of restaurants in Johnson City, TN that you’ll find. Food will become a major part of your Johnson City itinerary!

Located in the Northeast corner of Tennessee, you’ll need some hearty meals after all the outdoor adventures you go on in the area.

I was visiting the area for the Southern Travelers Explore Conference put on by Wherever I May Roam.

During my four days in Johnson City, I was lucky enough to eat at many local restaurants (plus lots of Johnson City breweries!) and I can promise you that each experience was incredible.

So I’ve broken up this guide by meal and yes, dessert can be its own meal if you so choose. As a North Carolina girl, many of my favorite restaurants serve southern comfort food but you’ll find a few other types on this list too!

Disclaimer: I was hosted by Visit Johnson City for part of my time here. However, all opinions are my own. This article may contain affiliate links that I earn a small commission from at no additional cost to you.

The Best Restaurants in Johnson City, TN

If you’re visiting Northeast Tennesee then add these Johnson City restaurants to your list! There are tons of great places to eat in Johnson City so this just scratches the surface.

1. Penny man’s Diner

I love a good diner for breakfast. You really can’t beat a good plate of eggs, bacon, and biscuits. Maybe add a little gravy.

Penny Man’s has one of the best southern breakfasts in town. If you need a hearty meal to start off your day then head here. Not to mention the prices are fantastic for what you get.

If you are super hungry then try the Breakfast Club – BLT on the bottom and sausage, egg, & cheese on top served on texas toast.

Pennyman’s reminds me of some of the best breakfast restaurants in Gatlinburg, TN.

Address: 1409 E Main Street | Website: Pennyman’s Diner

2. Java Juice House

toast, crepe, and acai bowl with fruits
You get to pick which fruits go on your breakfast!

I figured I should include at least one healthy option in the list. Just because it’s healthy doesn’t mean it’s lacking in taste though!

I got the Nutella toast here with bananas and strawberries and honey drizzled on top. I was not disappointed one bit. They also serve beautiful acai and pitaya bowls, crepes, and smoothies.

If you want a photo of your bowl for Instagram make sure to ask if they’ll put it in a coconut bowl. They currently aren’t serving hot coffee so if you need your coffee fix you can walk next door to Maple Street Biscuit Company.

Address: 1061 Hamilton Pl Drive | Website: Java Juice House

3. El Charolais

El Charolais is the perfect place to go for anyone who loves Mexican food! With a huge menu filled with options, you can experience all the traditional favorites like burritos, enchiladas, and quesadillas or go with one of the house specials.

Not to mention, the portions are big and prices are extremely reasonable – truly making it one of the best Mexican restaurants in the Tri-cities area.

Just in case the mouthwatering food doesn’t draw you in, there are plenty of great drink options available to pair with your meal.

Address: 3102 Bristol Hwy | Website: El Charolais

4. Cafe One 11

Cafe One 11 is the perfect spot for an evening out in a cozy and welcoming environment. With delicious Neo-Asian cuisine, there’s something for everyone on their mouthwatering menu that blends Chinese, Japanese, and Thai dishes.

Their sushi selection is especially great – grab a friend to share one of the specialty rolls for a flavor fusion you won’t soon forget.

Note that their full sushi menu is only served at dinner. You’ll love the decor, full bar, and friendly service at Cafe One 11.

Address: 111 Broyles Dr | Website: Cafe One 11

5. Crumb Bake Shop

pastries on a platter

Oh. My. Gosh. Buttery croissants, delicious pastries, plus a full breakfast and lunch menu.

Their ham & cheese croissant was one of the best things I’ve ever had for breakfast. It was so unique! And then the poptart was out of this world.

You can also get loaves of specialty bread here. On Sundays, they have a menu that changes weekly where their staff gets to experiment with new recipes!

Address: 500 W Walnut St | Website: Crumb Bake Shop

6. Firehouse Restaurant

At the Firehouse Restaurant you get it all – amazing service, a great atmosphere, and delicious food. They are known for their barbecue but they do have a few other options like sandwiches, burgers, and chicken platters.

The hashbrowns casserole and pimento cheese dip are local favorites and if you have room for dessert then you must order the Pecan Pie Square.

If you’re looking for a hearty lunch or dinner meal then this Johnson City restaurant is the perfect stop!

Address: 627 W Walnut St | Website: The Firehouse

7. Gourmet & Company

sandwich with fries and tea
Try the apricot sweet tea – sounds strange but it is delicious!

This is a must-visit on your trip to Johnson City. They have huge salads with the freshest ingredients, unique sandwiches, and burgers that will knock your socks off.

I highly recommend the truffle fries – some of the best I’ve had – and the Mountcastle Sandwich which is turkey, brie, and granny smith apple slices. Delish.

Reservations are recommended and if it’s nice weather then sit on the patio. They also have an incredible dinner menu that changes seasonally and it’s perfect for date night. Just be willing to pay a bit more.

Address: 214 E Mountcastle Dr | Website: Gourmet & Company

8. Cafe Lola

Cafe Lola is one of the best restaurants in Johnson City – it even got the Johnson City Press Reader’s Choice Award for Best Brunch!

The creative and unique dishes made using local and seasonal ingredients earn rave reviews, as does its wide selection of wines and other drinks.

Not only do they serve a traditional menu of starters and entreés but they also serve tapas for sharing. No matter how large or small your appetite is Cafe Lola has you covered.

Address: 1805 N Roan St B-1 | Website: Cafe Lola

9. Main Street Pizza Co.

sandwich with chips

Here you’ll find the typical Italian bistro food like pizza, subs, and pasta. However, many menu items have a twist.

Like my Philly Cheesesteak also had alfredo sauce on it. I don’t typically like alfredo sauce but that creamy addition to the sandwich made a huge difference.

No worries if you are gluten-free because they have a cauliflower parmesan crust that is delicious!

Address: 300 E Main St, Unit 101 | Website: Main Street Pizza

10. Red Meze

Red Meze is THE spot for delicious Mediterranean food in Johnson City. Their famous kabobs are a must-try, as well as their perfectly cooked gyros and classic Turkish comfort food.

People can’t get enough of Red Meze’s unique, flavorful dishes. But the amazing food isn’t even the best part about this place – everyone loves the super friendly owners and staff that make customers feel welcomed and taken care of.

This is by far one of the best places to eat in Johnson City, TN!

Address: 109 Buffalo St | Website: Red Meze

11. Cootie Brown’s

If you bring someone here and they can’t find anything they want to eat then run away because they are NUTS. Okay maybe that’s a little harsh, but really… 

The variety on the menu here really is unmatched. And all of it is good.

They have great salads, pizza, southern comfort food, sandwiches, and BBQ. I loved the atmosphere here too. It’s colorful with a super open and airy interior.

Make sure to finish off your meal with some Key Lime Pie. You won’t forget that slice anytime soon.

Address: 1404 W State of Franklin Rd & 2715 N Roan St | Website: Cootie Brown’s

12. Korean Taco House

The outside of Korean Taco House may not look like much but the food keeps people coming back again and again. The building itself is very small so many people opt for to-go orders.

The pancakes and bulgogi are highly recommended. They have had a few issues with power and pipes freezing in their building lately but if they aren’t open they’re located downtown near many other restaurants.

Address: 101 Buffalo St | Website: N/A

13. Pal’s Sudden Service

Yes, this photo is of breakfast. It was well past dark and I had no place to get a good picture when I got a cheeseburger.

Okay, yes this is a fast food joint. You may be wondering if I’ve lost my marbles putting this on a “best restaurants” list but you have to go here if you visit Northeast Tennessee.

This is the only area you’ll find them! The only one where you can sit down is the original Pal’s in Kingsport.

They are known for their burgers, hot dogs, and how quickly they move people through the line. They basically throw food out the window.

You can also get breakfast here and if you do then get the cheddar rounds with fry seasoning and thank me later.

Address: Multiple | Website: Pal’s Sudden Service

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14. Scratch Brick Oven Pizza

The outside of this restaurant may not look like much, but you’ll forget all about that once you get inside.

Scratch is known for its “Trust” or “Limited Trust” pizzas. If you order a “Trust” pizza the guys making the pizzas will put whatever they want on it. You’re saying “I trust you to make something good.”

If you order a “Limited Trust” then you can give certain stipulations like “I want red sauce” or “no pineapple” and they get to come up with the rest.

Maybe not for you picky eaters out there but it would definitely make for an interesting night.

Address: 100 E Unaka Ave | Website: Scratch Brick Oven

15. Label

Label is definitely one of the best restaurants in Johnson City and they have great appetizers and American entrees.

Steak, chicken, and seafood are what you’ll find on the menu. If you come before 7pm then they also have great drink specials.

Sushi is another popular item here. This is the perfect spot for date night or a special dinner with a group of friends.

Address: 112 Tipton St | Website: Label

16. Southern Craft BBQ

beer flight with Southern Craft BBQ sign in background

If you like smoked meat with down-home southern sides then do not skip this restaurant. Their BBQ is out of this world but they also serve smoked turkey, chicken, and even salmon.

If you love their sauce then don’t worry, you can buy a bottle and take it home with you for just $5.

Great Oak Brewing is part of Southern Craft as well so make sure to try a craft beer with your meal. They have a long list of their regular beers plus seasonal offerings on tap.

Address: 601 Spring St, Unit #101 | Website: Southern Craft BBQ

17. One Acre Café

This is a Johnson City restaurant with a wonderful mission. They’re a faith-based nonprofit that serves customers whether they can pay or not.

On their menu they have suggested donation amounts and if you aren’t able to donate then you can volunteer in exchange for a meal.

Their menu changes often because they are also committed to reducing food waste. They post their daily menu on their Facebook Page but it can change during the day. People always love their delicious food though!

Address: 603 W Walnut St | Website: One Acre Café

18. Timber!

With an eclectic menu that changes frequently, this is one of the most unique restaurants in Johnson City. The best way to enjoy these dishes is by ordering a few and sharing them among a group.

As I said, their menu changes frequently but the burger is a consistent hit. It’s a really cute place too with picnic tables and a nice bar inside.

Everyone loves the unique cocktails here too and they also have beer and wine.

Address: 415 W Walnut St | Website: Timber!

19. Freiberg’s

The brats & pretzel appetizer is a great pick.

I haven’t had schnitzel like this since I got back from Germany. It was unbelievably good. The breading was golden and crispy on the outside and the chicken was tender and juicy.

I got red cabbage and fried potatoes to go with it and wasn’t able to eat half of my sides. I was wary about ordering the red cabbage but let me tell you it was delicious.

The brats and pretzel appetizer was also one of the best I’ve had.

Address: 203 E Main St | Website: Freiberg’s

20. Project BBQ

Project BBQ serves Texas-style BBQ and they serve it all kinds of ways on the menu. BBQ tacos, sandwiches, nachos, trays. Their burgers are even made with 100% ground brisket.

If you’re a fan of Texas-style BBQ then you’ll love it here. Popular sides include the mac & cheese and collard greens.

Address: 3301 N Roan St | Website: Project BBQ

21. Bella Vita

Bella Vita is known for their delicious pasta dishes and pizzas and is an Italian staple in Johnson City. It’s a nice date night spot that won’t break the bank.

The food is a bit slow to come out but it’s worth the wait. If you’re looking for traditional Italian dishes then this is a top pick for restaurants in Johnson City!

Address: 2927 N Roan St | Website: Bella Vita

22. White Duck Taco

tacos on trays
Get the chips & queso or pretzel with beer cheese as an appetizer.

I loved seeing that White Duck Taco has expanded because they started in Asheville! They make specialty tacos that mix flavors you might not expect but are oh so good.

I can personally recommend the lamb gyro and fish taco. White Duck is attached to YeeHaw Brewing so you can order your tacos and walk over to grab a beer at the bar.

Mimi’s Cookies & Creamery food truck sits right outside in the parking lot and is the perfect end to your meal here.

Address: 126 Buffalo St | Website: White Duck Taco Shop

23. Mid City Grill

This small diner is a late-night hot spot and well-known for their burger and fries. One unique thing about them – they have a large vegan menu as well.

With great food, amazing prices, and good service, this is one of the most popular restaurants in Johnson City. Especially with the college crowd!

24. Watauga Brewing Company

This is one of the best breweries in Johnson City but they also serve amazing food to pair with it. There are three floors here with the brewery on the first floor, restaurant on the second, and the Skybar on the third.

Their food menu is served on all three floors but you’ll want to make reservations if you want to eat in the official restaurant on the second floor.

They serve small bites like Beer Queso, Loaded Fries or Nachos, and Smoked Trout Dip or you can get entreés like their Pickle Brined Fried Chicken Sandwich, Smoked Atlantic Salmon, or Brewers Burger.

At the Skybar you can get their beer but they also have signature cocktails and wine. You’ll find one of the best rooftop views in Johnson City at the Skybar!

25. Burg’r & Barrel

These burgers will blow your mind – the Bleu-Ridge Mountaineer and Big G’s Mac & Cheese are popular choices. In addition to burgers they have other options like salads, chicken, and BBQ platters.

They also have plenty of beer choices including a rotating selection on draft, wine, and cocktails. There is plenty of parking here which is a big plus for me. I always hate having to search for a spot.

Another fun things here is Gather JC Depot which is an outdoor hang-out spot with tables, lawn games, and fire pits, and a bar.

You can order from a limited food menu and there is a self-serve beer option which I always think is neat.

Bonus: Desserts!


decorated sugar cookie in front of business sign

The owner of Cakebuds has been on multiple Food Network shows and just wrapped up judging for one of their contest shows.

We took a cookie decorating class here and Timmy, the owner, and the staff were so incredibly friendly and welcoming.

They make intricate cake creations as well as cupcakes and cookies. They serve ice cream from The Hop in Asheville and make the huge cakeshakes that are topped with different baked goods.

Address: 410 S Roan St | Website: Cakebuds Bakery

Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop

The specialty here is pies of course and it will be hard to choose which flavor to go with. Try the 2-inch pies to sample a variety of what they offer.

You could also get a few 4-inch pies to sample or if you have a favorite flavor then go all in and get a 9-inch pie.

When I go back to Johnson City, I’ll be ordering the Cloud 9. One of their mini pies with a scoop of ice cream on top. Can’t beat that.

Address: 3135 Peoples St, Unit #300 | Website: Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop

Map of Johnson City Restaurants

What Food is Johnson City Known For?

Johnson City is actually known for Pal’s Sudden Service. Founded in nearby Kingsport, TN, it has grown to be a favorite spot for both locals and tourists alike.

When I visited Northeast TN it was actually the most common thing that people told me I had to do while there. This is one of the quickest fast food stops you can make!

Wrap Up: Best Restaurants in Johnson City

Obviously this list doesn’t include ALL the best. I only spent four full days in the city so I couldn’t try them all. So if you have any recommendations send me an email so I can add them to my list!

I do love that each one of these places is such a big part of the community. Support local restaurants, farms, and breweries. It keeps your money in the community.

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  1. There is a wonderful location you should try for your sweets and treats next time your in town. It is a local business with great people and excellent customer service. Made fresh everyday full of love. Daylight Donuts!!! A must try!

    1. Oh I LOVE donuts! I will definitely try them when I come back. Already planning a return trip for all the hiking around Johnson City.

  2. Cafe Lola is consistently great, both with cuisine and service. They have the best filet in town.

    1. I saw their building and so wished that I could have gone there! Beignets are so good. And I am a coffee fanatic.

  3. You might want to adventure down to Watauga Brewing Company. They have a great barfood selection for the brewpub and roof bar, as well as an upscale tapas restaurant on the second floor.

    1. We got to go up on the roof but I wasn’t able to try anything there! Next time for sure – they are included in an article coming out soon though. 🙂

  4. C&K Sweet Treats and Smoked Meats is new to Johnson City and has amazing ice cream and crazy shakes.

    1. I’m doing an article specifically on ice cream and they are included! Those crazy shakes looked awesome!

  5. Sam’s Snoball Paradise is locally owned and offers a great selection of New Orleans style snoballs.. it is one of my family’s favorite stops for an icy delicious treat!

  6. Oh my gosh! Those pastries from the Crumb Bakes shop looks incredible. I want to visit Johnson City and just eat my way through the town now!! Definitely saving this for later!

    1. Yes! I love their Asheville locations. Of course, hope you love Johnson City as much as I did!

  7. Lol I love your comment about Cootie Browns, if your friend can’t find something they want to order right away, they must be bonkers! 😀 Those tacos look really inviting too!

    1. Haha it is so true though! Their menu was amazing. And yesss, the tacos were for sure a highlight.

    1. It was so good! Definitely a surprise for me as I’m typically a bacon & eggs type person lol.

  8. If you like Asian Cuisine & Sushi Bar, must visit ChopstiXpress, Downtown JC, inside of Go Burrito & Rum Bar.

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