“Recommended” – the Mystery Diner Picks the best restaurants of 2019

One of my duties as the Mystery Diner is to recognize the hard work, the forward-looking attitude, the striving for improvement that is the hallmark of a successful restaurant. In 2019, there were ten restaurants that met this quest for excellence.

In alphabetical order, these 10 have received a “Recommended” from the Mystery Diner and my friends, the dine-around bunch for the year 2019.

Boonies – Opened in 2015 by owners Johnny and Amy Moore at Davis Marina on the north shore of Boone Lake, Boonies has been serving American comfort food for breakfast, lunch and supper six days a week from 9 a.m. The restaurant’s wall-to-wall vista of Boone Lake is outstanding. Try the hamburger steak or chicken breast platters for $6.95, or one of Boonies’ excellent pizzas starting at $6.99. Savoring some of chef Diane Hawkins’ culinary skill in Boonies’ unique setting is pure enjoyment.  

Boonies at Davis Marina, 641 Buffalo Road, Blountville, Tennessee; 279-0013; Hours: Tue, Thu-Sat 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.,Wed 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.,Sun 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.; Available on Facebook.

Brooklyn Grill – The definition of what a supper-only “neighborhood restaurant” should be:  comfortable as your favorite easy chair, with a warm, personable and professional staff to accompany your journey through a menu of earthly delights. Their Chicken Marsala with capellini pasta ($20) is delicious. Be advised that Brooklyn Grill’s printed menu is merely a teaser for their constantly changing (and of limited availability) off-menu selections. I recommend making reservations several days in advance to be assured of a table on the date and time you request. Brooklyn Grill is my “home turf” restaurant in Bristol.

Brooklyn Grill & Café, 2125 Euclid Avenue Bristol, Virginia; (276)669-1900; Tue-Sat, 5 p.m.-9 p.m.; Reservations recommended; Available on Facebook; Credit cards accepted.

Freiberg’s – One of the must-visit destinations in Downtown Johnson City‘s restaurant scene, Freiberg’s is proprietor Andreas Herholz’s homage to traditional German cuisine. Supper entrees include the vegetarian sommersalat  (summer salad) at $7.69, schnitzeln (grilled pork cutlet) from $11.99 and Freiberg’s signature sauerbraten (marinated beef) at $16.99 a plate. Having soup & salad for lunch is just $4.99, making Freiberg’s the best fast food lunch value in town. Where else can you get a gentle education in the best of German cuisine that tastes this good?

Freiberg’s German Restaurant, 203 E. Main Street Johnson City, 928-4106; Mon – Thu 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Fri – Sat 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sun 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Available on Facebook, social media & at www.eatbrats.com.

Highlander BBQ – Where else but Roan Mountain’s Highlander BBQ would pigs get wings? This is owners Darrell and Heather Turbyfill’s take on what a barbecue joint should be. On a menu that features smoked pork, beef, sausage and chicken. are barbecue “pig wings” ($10.99), the smoked on-the-bone “calf” muscle from the pig’s meaty lower leg. Really hungry? The 10-inch tall Highlander Burger ($8.99) is your choice. Trestle tables fill Highlander BBQ’s spacious dining hall: though you may start out dining with strangers, you’ll be friends by dessert time. 

Highlander BBQ, 8315 US Hwy 19E Roan Mountain, Tennessee, 772-0016; Wed-Sat 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Available on Facebook & social media.

Hob Nob Drive-In – Gate City, Virginia’s Hob Nob Drive-In opened in 1953. It is still “old-timey,” a throwback to an earlier era where good food wasn’t “fast” at all, and you could enjoy the company of good friends over a well-prepared meal and pay a fair price for the privilege. How fair is fair? Hob Nob Drive-In’s “regular”-size banana split ($5.50) can easily serve three or more. A bit of a drive, you say? Yes, but the trip is well worth it if your destination is the Hob Nob Drive-In.

Hob-Nob Drive In, 2256 Daniel Boone Road, Gate City, Virginia; (276)452-4538; Daily except Monday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Available on Facebook; Credit cards accepted.

Italiano’s – Open less than five months, Italiano’s is one of the latest additions to Kingsport’s restaurant scene. Owners Gamel (chef) and Tanya (front of house) Nassr serve Italian entrees that include absolutely scrumptious lasagna ($8.99) along with a calzone (from $7.99) that’s big enough for two hungry diners. The Nassrs are working hard to make Italiano’s popular with their new neighbors. With “ThEastman” nearby, success is sure to follow.

Italiano’s, 447 Ridgefields Road, Kingsport; 765-1272 & 765-1277; Daily 10:30 a.m. -9:30 p.m.; Dine-in, carry-out and catering available; accessible via Facebook & social media.

Red Meze Downtown – This Downtown Johnson City restaurant offers an enjoyable immersion into the food and culture of Turkey. The spotless dining room’s décor is exotic and friendly, the wait service professional and efficient. The food is outstanding, both in choice of elements, portion size, texture and taste. Try the “Tavuk A’La Sultan” or Sultan’s Chicken ($16), or an appetizer vegetable platter ($12) that is loaded with falafel, hummus, dolma and other vegetarian yummies.  If you’ve never tried Turkish cuisine, Red Meze has a seat and a gentle, pleasurable education waiting for you.

Red Meze Downtown; 109 Buffalo Street, Johnson City; 268-2665; Tue – Fri 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Sat 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sun – Mon 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; available on Facebook and other social media.

Rio de Brazil – The Tri-Cities first exposure to a churrascarias, or Brazilian-style steakhouseA fixed price of $17.95  gets you an all-you-can-eat lunch, with a salad bar offering smoked salmon, fresh shrimp, artichoke hearts and more. You then choose from  six different grilled meat options like sirloin steak, savory sausage, parmesan pork and bacon-wrapped chicken breast, all carved and served at table by a knife-wielding gaucho. Supper is $39.95 per person for a more extensive salad bar and, (I am not kidding) sixteen different meat offerings. Dining at Rio de Brazil is not a meal, it is an event. 

Rio de Brazil Steakhouse, 1800 West Market Street, Johnson City; 328-7091; Mon – Fri 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.,  5 p.m. – 10 p.m.,  Sat – Sun 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m. Available on Facebook & at www.riodebrazil.com.

Suba’s Restaurant – East Tennessee is fortunate that Johnson & Wales culinary graduates Richard and LuAnne Suba chose Mountain City to start their business. Suba’s is a go-to destination for everyone who enjoys fine food like Richard’s smoked trout cake sandwich and delicious desserts like LuAnne’s bread pudding with white chocolate; all the while surrounded by  the natural serenity and spectacular scenery of Johnson County. Reservations are a must, especially for the dinner hour.

Suba’s Restaurant, 2736 S. Shady St. Mountain City, Tennessee; 727-5657; Lunch: 11 a.m. – 1:50 p.m. Wed thru Sun, Supper: 5 p.m. – 7:50 p.m. Wed & Thu, 5 p.m. – 8:50 p.m. Fri & Sat. (Supper Reservations are Mandatory); Available on Facebook & at www.subasrestaurant.com.

Whistle Stop Restaurant (Tusculum) – This is one of the best restaurants in East Tennessee. The Whistle Stop uses a Table d’hote or “Owner’s Table”-style menu instead of the more commonly used a la carte menu; each entrée order becomes a three course meal that includes soup and salad. Chef Jeff Roark’s menu selections are varied and delicious. The service overseen by Front of House Cheryl Roark is exemplary and prompt. The venue is an enjoyment for any diner, alone or with others. Whistle Stop is open three days out of seven, and only for supper, so reservations are a must.

The Whistle Stop Restaurant; 905 Erwin Highway, Tusculum, Tennessee; 638-3190; Thu-Sat 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.; Reservations required; available on Facebook.

Here are two restaurants to watch in 2020:

Portobello’s Italian Bistro – A fun place for anyone. Bring yourself, a few friends or a crowd; you’ll all enjoy a great meal in friendly and comfortable surroundings. Portobello’s forward-looking owner Sherif has updated his restaurant’s menu to both broaden its appeal and attract new lunch and supper customers.

Portobello’s Italian Bistro, 1805 West State of Franklin Road, Johnson City; 929-0100; Mon -Thu 10:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m., Fri – Sat 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sun 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.; available on Facebook, social media and at www.portobellositalianbistro.com. 

Yum Sushi Burrito & Poke – Yum Sushi is a new and welcome addition to Johnson City’s restaurant scene. Their “Sushi done Hawaiian-style” menu has something for everyone’s appetite and wallet. The service provided is friendly and professional, the restaurant functional and very cozy. Yum Sushi Burrito & Poke (pronounced “poh-kay”) will definitely attract an eclectic clientele of happy, satisfied patrons.

Yum Sushi Burrito & Poke, 1735 West State of Franklin Road, Johnson City; 328-3314; Daily 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Available on Facebook & at www.yumpokespot.com.

On behalf of myself and the dine-around bunch, thank you, dear readers for all your kind assistance and guidance, and I’ll see you in 2020.