Recommended: The Mystery Diner Picks Its 10 Best Restaurants of 2021 | Food


As a Mystery Diner, it behooves me to acknowledge the hard work and forward-looking attitude of constantly striving for improvement that is the hallmark of a successful restaurateur and his restaurant.

In 2021, the pandemic acted and still acts as the party guest who will not leave. Restaurants are facing supply availability issues coupled with a shrinking labor pool.

2021 also saw the restaurant group add three new members, each slowly learning their craft, one restaurant at a time.

Despite all of the above, 10 restaurateurs from the region have excelled in their craft and are on this year’s list of the best.

In alphabetical order, here are the top 10 restaurants that received a “Recommended” from Mystery Diner and my friends, the dinner gang, for the year 2021:

Amber’s country kitchen

You know a restaurant has happened in Carter County when the county constable and the local wildlife resource officer both have their knees under one of Amber’s 21 tables at the same time. Amber’s Country Cookin’ is a very good restaurant with a solid and delicious menu.

Amber’s Country Cookin’ 403 US Highway 321 Hampton, 725-3200

Mon-Sat 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sun 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., eat in and take away, available on social media, credit cards accepted

Bayou Boys Fresh Gulf Shrimp

The brainchild of Walter Holmes and his daughter Julie Holmes Pecou, ​​Bayou Boys is a seafood market that has added a restaurant, allowing their customers to first select their catch and then cook it at their way. Bayou Boys’ new location is the commercial space formerly occupied by Jack’s City Grill on North Roan Street. The seafood market is well maintained, the restaurant spacious and comfortable, the dishes on the menu varied and uniformly excellent in preparation and taste, and the service friendly and professional.

Bayou Boys Fresh Gulf Shrimp 1805 N. Roan St., Suite 1-A Johnson City, 278-2160

Tuesday-Thursday 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-10pm, Sun 11am-3pm, eat in and take away, available on social media, credit cards accepted

Broad Street on State Retro Diner

Located on State Street in Bristol, TN, the Broad Street on State Retro Diner is a time machine, occupying as it does the lunch counter of the former FW Woolworth. Here is the original counter and seats in their original frame, and still performing their original function. For maximum effect, I suggest you arrive 15 minutes early, just in time to see owners Joyce, Colyn and Jessica getting the restaurant ready for the day’s hungry customers.

Broad Street at State Retro Diner 616 State St. Bristol, Tennessee, 652-0700

Every day from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. except Wed and Sun, eat in and take away, available on social media, credit cards accepted

coffee business

The Coffee Company has been part of the downtown Elizabethton scene for 20 years? Ms. Frankie Bailey has been the current owner for three years now. His enthusiasm and quest for customer satisfaction are the hallmark of The Coffee Company.

The restaurant’s atmosphere is cosy, sunlit and reminiscent of freshly ground and brewed coffees and espressos of all kinds and origins. Because the Restaurants The menu is well-crafted and seasonal, its cuisine can take advantage of local and seasonal produce and other edibles.

As my dining partner said, “Here try this. You can taste the freshness.”

The Coffee Company, 444 E. Elk Ave. Elizabethton, 542-3438

Every day except Sunday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., eat in and take away, available on social media, credit cards accepted.

Dogwood Cafe at 27

At Johnson City’s South Dogwood Café at 27, you can enjoy an event that’s becoming all too rare these days: fine dining. Owner Allison Woodard’s mother, Teresa, looks after the day-to-day operations of a restaurant with a pleasant, comfortable atmosphere and solidly professional service. The varied selection of entrees to match each person’s method of preparation and presentation is a culinary delight from start to finish.

For you gentlemen, although ties are not mandatory at the Dogwood Café, you should know that in the middle of my meal without a tie, I felt distinctly underdressed.

Dogwood Café at 27 3209 S. Roan St. Johnson City, 328-7959

Tue-Sat 4pm-8pm Closed Sunday and Monday, eat in and take away, available on social media, credit cards accepted

KALM Bistro

Although you may not know how to look at it, this nondescript storefront in Gray is hands down one of the best restaurants in the Tri-Cities.

This is where I find one of my favorite culinary creations, as well as delicious new offerings on their frequently updated menu.

Your visit here will satisfy your need for peace and quiet, leaving behind a busy world for a momentary serenity and a sense of calm.

KALM Bistro is the best provider of Vietnamese and Southeast Asian cuisine.

They are the undisputed gold standard for a good bowl of Vietnamese Pho.


KALM Bistro 5205 Bobby Hicks Highway, Suite No. 4 Gray, 207-0888

Mon-Fri 11am-9pm, Sat 11am-8pm, closed Sunday, on site, take away and delivery, available on social networks and on kalmbistro.comcredit cards accepted


Hungry people from as far away as southwest Virginia and western North Carolina line up to put their knees under owner Kim Ensor’s tables six days a week, enjoying breakfast Kimbo served all day, lunches featuring daily specials and (ah, yes) Cinny Roule on Saturdays. Be sure to arrive early (like before 8:30am and especially on Saturdays) or you may have to wait for your table.

Kimbo’s 256 Tennessee Highway 91, Suite D Elizabethton, 474-3268

Mon-Sat 6am-2pm, closed Sunday, eat in and take away, available on social media, credit cards accepted.

Italian cuisine La Cucina

While most Italian restaurants seem to offer variations of a ‘canned’ atmosphere, food and service, few, very few, can be found that still do it ‘old fashioned’.

One of the best is “La Cucina Italian Kitchen” by Matteo Torri. Besides being the owner, Torri is also the chef of the restaurant; one whose strict adherence to the principles of truly authentic Italian cuisine forces him to make frequent trips back to Italy to stock up.

If there was ever a restaurant that could truly be worth the drive through Johnson County’s Tennessee High Country, it’s La Cucina Italian Kitchen.

La Cucina Italian Cuisine 6811 Tennessee Highway 67

Mountain Town, 727-0205

Thu-Sat 5pm-8pm, Sun 11.30am-2.30pmDonline and take-out, available on social media, cash only.

Mona Lisa Gelato

Originally launched by Steven and Sheridan Nice, 2020 saw new owner Aleda Stokes give Mona Lisa’s Gelato & Café a makeover to make it Johnson City’s go-to source for great light meals and great ice cream. With a light menu that changes weekly and sometimes daily due to Stokes’ use of local ingredients, customers are assured of flavor and freshness. The ice cream is just as fresh, and so good you want to dive into this glass-fronted ice cream display case, armed only with a scoop.

Mona Lisa’s Gelato & Cafe 305 W. Oakland Ave. Johnson City, 262-8357

Mon-Thu 11am-8pm, Fri-Sat 11am-9pm, Sun noon-8pm, on site and to take away, available on social networks and on, credit cards accepted

Wok & Hibachi

This is a very good Asian themed restaurant, a restaurant that Johnson City can rightly be proud to call its own. The redesign of the restaurant is pleasing to the eye with decor that expertly balances the comfort and serenity that most restaurateurs dream of. The service provided by the owner Agnès and the servers is exemplary. On the menu, old favorites are joined by new offerings, and not just in the entree category. The word is that as the “interesting times” continue to dwindle, the restaurant’s buffet line will hopefully return intact and as flavorful as ever.

Wok & Hibachi 101 E. Unaka Ave. Johnson City, 928-9696

Monday-Sat Lunch 11am-3pm, Dinner daily 3pm-10pm, on site, take away and delivery, available on social networks and online at Credit cards accepted

On behalf of myself and the dinner group around, I thank all of my readers for your kind help and guidance in 2021, and I look forward to seeing what 2022 brings for all of us.

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