Quick: name the first three things you think of when you hear “Nashville.” Country music, sure. Bachelorette parties, yes. But if your food-centric guesses start and end with hot chicken, well… we’ve got some work to do.
In the past year, a large influx of people from all around the country have moved into town and they’ve brought a fresh cultural perspective to the city. Southern cooking still has a firm grip on the dishes here (you’re in Tennessee, after all), but now there are a lot more French, Spanish, Japanese, and Latin American influences. And our dining options are all the better for it.
Below, you’ll find a solid mix of Nashville staples along with some newcomers who already feel like mainstays in the restaurant scene. Need a place to sleep off that food coma? We’ve also got a few hotel suggestions for your stay.
Where To Go Out In Nashville
THE HOT & NEW RESTAURANTS
Two new spots opened at the W Nashville at the end of 2021: The Dutch and Carne Mare. With all due respect to The Dutch’s famous fried chicken, it’s the Italian chophouse, Carne Mare, that steals the show. It’s the kind of place to take your hip grandparents for dinner—it feels classic and timeless like a traditional steakhouse, but the dishes here are more interesting than the usual suspects. The steaks, from the wagyu to the prime rib, are fantastic, but concentrate on some of the more out-of-the-box options like the Spanish octopus and mozzarella sticks topped with caviar.
You should probably go to a brewery while you’re in Nashville. We like Southern Grist, not just because it’s home to some of the most off-the-wall, small-batch brews in town, but also because of their in-house restaurant Lauter. When was the last time you saw bucatini with sour butter and calabrian chiles, pork and shrimp pelmeni, and fried chicken marinated in koji on the menu at your local brewery? We rest our case.
What started as a speakeasy-style noodle spot hidden in the back of Bar Sovereign has grown into a full-fledged ramen spot that’s inside Bearded Iris brewery at the Sylvan Supply complex. After a long night on Broadway, a massive bowl brimming with umami-packed broth is the perfect antidote to a hangover (and way tastier than one of those mobile IV services). It’s first come, first serve, so err on the early side to make sure you get a seat.
CLASSIC SOUTHERN SPOTS & HOT CHICKEN
For over 30 years, this downtown meat-and-three mainstay has been serving a rotating menu of classic Southern dishes, like meatloaf and chicken and dumplings, along with mashed potatoes, candied yams, and green beans on the side. When you order at the counter, make sure to grab chocolate chess pie for dessert, too. If lunch isn’t in the cards, check out “Arnold’s After Dark” from 5-11pm Wednesday-Saturday. Count on the same meat-and-veggie staples along with tacos, nachos, and cocktails like the Bubba Back, a shot of bourbon followed by a saucy au jus gravy chaser straight out of a baster.
There’s no food more synonymous with Nashville than hot chicken and there are plenty of places around town to find it. If you only go to one spot though, make it Hattie B’s. The menu is simple: order a two, three, or four-piece chicken meal or sandwich, along with some sides. There are six heat options to choose from, starting from no heat at all and going all the way to Shut The Cluck Up. Should you wish to tempt fate with the latter, each of Hattie B’s three locations sells iced tea by the gallon, so at least you can get some temporary relief. And yes, there’s going to be a line, but it’s worth it.
Rumor has it that Prince’s was the first hot chicken purveyor on the scene, the product of a spicy revenge dish cooked up by a spurned lover. That itself makes it worth a visit, but the chicken here is also freakishly hot, simple, and greater than the sum of its parts. You’ve got juicy meat that comes in a crispy crust dusted with a blend of spices that can be ramped up according to your chosen heat level—from plain to XXX Hot. So show up, stand in line, and get ready to sweat. Just make sure to order some sweet tea and a side of creamy mac and cheese to console your blistered palate. The original location is out on Nolensville Pike, but their outpost at the Assembly Food Hall on Broadway is more convenient if you’re just visiting and doesn’t have as long of a line.
Fact: Southern cooking tastes 110% better when it’s enjoyed in a historic Victorian manor that looks tailor-made for Blanche Devereaux. Be prepared to sit elbow-to-elbow with strangers as you share a family-style meal of fried chicken, cheese grits, green beans, biscuits, and cornbread at this classic Germantown spot. But as Monell’s likes to remind its guests, you’ll “enter as strangers, leave as friends.” Blame it on the biscuits and gravy.
GOOD FOR GROUPS
Bastion is like the mullet of Nashville restaurants: serious dining business up front and a nacho-filled party in the back (well, technically it’s their side bar, but you get the point). The 24-seat main dining room located in a Wedgewood-Houston warehouse is the perfect place to dig into the eclectic, daily changing menu. The staff regularly spins their favorite vinyl tracks on the restaurant’s record player while serving creative twists on things like raw scallops, beef tri-tip, and lamb. But the side bar is the call for a casual Happy Hour hang with a small group of friends, where you should drink the daily boozy punch and order the only food item on the menu: a towering plate of some of the best nachos in the city.
In Nashville, if you’re looking for a loud, fun spot to gather a group of friends for an interesting meal, Chauhan hits all the marks. The menu here combines Indian and Southern flavors to create a bunch of dishes that are perfect for sharing. Prime examples: the masala braised lamb and the hot serrano pakoras served with a punchy kick of ghost pepper. Count on a lively and animated (re: loud) dining room at this Downtown spot, fueled by rounds of Mantra Artisan Ale’s Saffron IPA or Japa Milk Chai Stout—brews created in partnership with Chef Chauhan.
Two things to know before you visit Nashville: 1. Dolly Parton is our patron saint. 2. While she doesn’t own the place, the Dolly-themed White Limozeen is the unofficial chapel erected in her honor, where you’ll find champagne jello shots instead of communion wafers. You might need a few minutes after arriving at this rooftop restaurant on top of The Graduate to take in the pinkness, but make no mistake, the food is every bit as masterful as the woman herself. There’s a French influence running through the menu, from the herby moules frites and subtly sweet carrots vichyssoise to a burger on white bread that’s topped with buttery brie and a jammy onion caramel.
DATE NIGHT PLACES
City House in Germantown combines two things we really like: Southern ingredients and Italian food. While the dishes rotates often, two of our favorite examples of this combo (that always find their way back on the menu) are the belly ham pizza and catfish and sausage stew with fennel and focaccia. Get a reservation if you can, or just sit at the pizza counter, bar, or screened-in patio when you decide to drop in last minute.
Situated in a converted auto upholstery shop in East Nashville, Pelican & Pig isn’t afraid to use their wood-burning hearth for just about everything—including cooking scallops, snapper, ribeyes, potatoes, and cornbread in a smoky blaze of glory. Order a bottle of chilled red to temper the wood-fired dishes or opt for a rye cocktail to play up the spice and smoke. Either way, don’t leave without an order of the chocolate chip cookies with milk jam.
Landlocked Nashville isn’t exactly a sushi town, but when nothing less than a slab of toro will do, we go to O-Ku. This place makes great nigiri and makimono, plus excellent robata-grilled meat, but the specials like the scallop tuna tostada, wagyu tartare, and toro toast really level up the experience. It’s got all the essentials for date night: dim lighting, plenty of cozy booths and two-tops, and a ton of different sake to choose from. O-Ku is a refreshing option outside of the Broadway madness, where things are rarely cozy, and eating anything raw is just a really bad idea.
FANCY SPOTS THAT ARE WORTH IT
The Catbird Seat is one of the most exciting restaurants in Nashville—every night offers a different menu and experience, and you never quite know what you’re going to get. The process is simple: book a reservation (a definite requirement as seatings book out months in advance), make your way to the horseshoe-shaped table, and watch as the chef and his team churn out plates from a tasting menu aimed at leaving you speechless. You might start off with soused Japanese sardines and wind up with a mouthful of pig’s blood fried pie. The anticipation is almost as delicious as the dishes themselves.
Everyone needs a spot in their back pocket that can impress a crowd—from a high-stakes client dinner to that uncle who can’t stop talking about the one time he met Giada DeLaurentiis in the airport. That’s Yolan. This polished dining room located on the ground floor of The Joseph Nashville is the best new Italian spot in the city and it has the caviar, creamy pappardelle, and cacio e pepe to prove it. If choosing between all the excellent options proves impossible, opt for the tasting menu—your choice of five or eight courses straight from Yolan’s formidable lineup. Top it off with a wine pairing of boutique Italian bottles and consider getting a room upstairs for the night.
When Rolf & Daughters opened in Germantown’s historic Werthan factory back in 2012, we didn’t quite know what to expect. Forgive us, we get it now. The shareable plates here take rustic Italian cooking to a space of sublime gluttony. As you barrel through an onslaught of sourdough bread with seaweed butter, dry-aged beef tartare, and black bass in a koji beurre blanc, remember to breathe—and then put in an order of the housemade bucatini. Maybe the Cecamariti, too. You ordered the chocolate tart, right? Good. You didn’t come to one of Nashville’s best restaurants to fall before the finish line.
Take a heaping spoonful of Mad Men, throw in a dash of railcar dining, then add a soupçon of supper club energy, and you’ve got Sean Brock’s newest Nashville restaurant (he’s the former head chef at Husk). Your first decision here: tufted leather booth or velvet banquette. Your next decision: hailing one of the prime rib carts to your table or sticking with the classic steakhouse dishes on the prix-fixe menu. If you go the latter route, porcini bisque, venison, and asparagus in a Meyer lemon hollandaise sauce await. Or, just go all out and do both. Either way, save room for the other cart circling the room that’s dedicated to ice cream.
Sometimes, it’s nice to remember that things like oceans really do exist. That’s where Marsh House comes in, with its multi-level towers spilling over with some of the finest fruits of the sea. All of the seafood here (oysters, shrimp, mussels, crab, arctic char, salmon, etc.) is flown in fresh daily so that you can practically taste the sweat from King Triton’s pecs. The atmosphere feels like a steakhouse—formal, classy, and not cheap (about $100 per person, with all the bells and whistles). But we suspect it’s all part of a bigger plan to lure locals away from all the beef and chicken around town.
Oak Steakhouse is a spot right next to the Westin Nashville that you can use for impressing a higher-up at work or that out-of-town friend who seems to think all roads in Nashville lead to fried chicken (which they actually might be right about). So come here when you’re craving some excellent steak and don’t mind dropping $56-$192 on a properly dry-aged slab of beef. Before going full-on carnivore, start light with the jewel-toned tuna tataki topped with a spicy kimchi aioli and an ice-filled tray of briny oysters. Then, you really can’t go wrong with any of the aforementioned perfectly cooked, charred steaks topped with the foie butter add-on. If the devastatingly rich butter cake with its crispy caramelized crust is on the menu, know that you’re going to have to rally and order it for dessert.
WHERE TO HAVE AN AFFORDABLE MEAL
Tennessee is no slouch when it comes to barbeque. And in a sea of what’s arguably some of the best slow-cooked pork and beef in the country, Honeyfire stands head and shoulder above the rest. You’ll have to drive to the western suburb of Bellevue, but your trek off the usual tourist path will be richly rewarded with slow-smoked brisket and sausage so good that you’ll wonder if your whole BBQ life has been a lie. If burnt ends are on the menu that day, grab an order or two and throw in some brisket queso for good measure. The bar here is also stocked with a generous variety of whiskey, which makes it a good place to linger for a casual drink with a friend.
Mas Tacos Por Favor is a small, cash-only taco shop in East Nashville that you’d think was in coastal California if it weren’t for the lack of ocean and surfboards lined up outside. Along with the colorful interior and overall beachy feel, they also serve the best tacos in the city. You can’t go wrong with any of them, but make sure to get some tortilla soup too, along with at least one elote per person. Stop by for lunch while exploring East Nashville or after you’ve had a few drinks at The Pharmacy beer garden next door.
What the menu at Locust lacks in length, it makes up for with some of the most interesting dishes in the city. Helmed by a former chef of The Catbird Seat, this small but mighty dumpling and kakigori shop in 12 South makes perfectly crisp dumplings doused in chili oil, chewy noodles, and fluffy cups of shaved ice that have inspired a local cult following. Is there sake? Of course there’s sake, and you can count on the sake sommelier to make sure the selection keeps you on your toes. Reservations are a good idea—the restaurant is only open Friday-Sunday, and both the indoor dining room and patio fill up fast.
It seems Emmy Squared is dead set on conquering the lower 48 with new openings popping up all over the East Coast. But with three locations in Nashville alone, we’ve got some insider knowledge on what this New York-born spot has to offer—and it’s one of the best burgers to have ever graced the city. The Detroit-style pizza is absolutely solid and the crispy chicken crunchers with a Sriracha Crystal glaze hold their own, but we come here for Le Big Matt: a double stack of patties topped with bacon, cheese, and Sammy sauce on a pretzel bun. If a burger craving hits you during your visit, their Gulch location is the first place you should go.
THE BRUNCH SPOTS
Adele’s is a long-time Nashville favorite near downtown that’s great for brunch or a drinks-and-a-snack outing that somehow evolves into dinner. It’s a bright and airy spot that you pull out of your back pocket when you’re with a hungry group of friends and no one can decide what they want to eat. They serve a little bit of everything, including consistently good roast chicken, duck confit, gnocchi, and trout. But brunch is absolutely the best move here, with a five-hour-long buffet that features standout salads, a bagel-and-lox bar, carving station, and whiskey caramel bread pudding for dessert.
Despite the name, you’re not coming to The Butter Milk Ranch for riffs on arguably the best wing dipping sauce in history—you’re here for the pastries. Head to this daytime spot for a morning meal of soft scrambled eggs topped with trout roe and the parmesan cornmeal waffles, but if you don’t stop at the bakery case, your mission is only half complete. You’ll find Cinnamon Toast Crunch snickerdoodles the size of a toddler’s head, churro croissants made with dulce de leche cream and Mexican hot chocolate, and oatmeal cookie sandwiches stuffed with brown butter frosting. Get a few extra to go so you have a snack while you’re waiting in a long hot chicken line.
People continue to flock to this popular East Nashville spot for their selection of natural wines, bowls brimming with grains and runny eggs, fruity tartines, and maple buckwheat pancakes. If the weather’s playing nice, order one of Lou’s picnic sacs and a bottle of wine to enjoy out on their front lawn or back patio.
The Hutton Hotel is quintessential Nashville. A stone’s throw away from Music Row and Broadway, it takes the Music City nickname to heart—all of the 250 rooms here come with the option to order an iPad preloaded with Fender Play lessons, amplifiers, headphones, and the instrument of your choice to your room. The rooms themselves are spacious, with plush bedding, rainfall showers, and floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the city. Before crashing for the night, check out a live show at Analog, the hotel’s in-house performance venue and one of the best acoustic spaces in Nashville. If you time your stay right, you might run into a singer-songwriter recording their next hit in the studios downstairs.
There’s the honky-tonk circus on Broadway, and then there’s the low-key, artsy energy of East Nashville. That’s where you’ll find The Russell, located in a 115-year-old historic church. The owners kept a lot of the original features as they were designing the 23 rooms here (the stained glass windows, brick walls, and pews-turned-headboards are a testament to that), while giving it a funky modern spin with bright mid-century modern furnishings. Rooms are stocked with local snacks, coffee machines, and refrigerators, but perhaps the best part about staying here is that a percentage of each night’s stay is donated to local nonprofits helping those experiencing homelessness in Nashville.
You might feel like you’ve been transported to a different time if you stay at The Hermitage Hotel—it’s got a gilded entrance that gives way to dramatic draperies, expansive windows, and European rococo stylings. It’s the grande dame of all Nashville accommodations, and somewhere that’s been open since 1910. Expect plush beds with hand-tufted mattresses, opulent soaking tubs, and 500-square-feet rooms that make them some of the biggest in the city. The rooms are pet-friendly, but leave your pup upstairs for the afternoon tea ceremony offered on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
photo credit: The Dive Motel
The Dive Motel & Swim Club
The Dive Motel in East Nashville kind of feels like dinky airport motels for travelers who’ve “missed their flight,” but much more elevated. First off, there’s the ’70s pool scene with cabanas, hot tubs, and all of Nashville’s cool kids socializing under white-fringed umbrellas. Secondly, the 23 uniquely decorated rooms are equipped with a “party switch” that activates a disco ball and one of Dive Radio’s four channels: sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll, and sleep. Finally, there’s the Xiao Bao Biscuit food truck doling out hand-pulled noodles with chili cumin beef and fried mochi until 10pm Thursday-Monday.
Couched between the distillery-and-brewery haven known as Wedgewood-Houston and the upscale shopping of The Gulch, you’ll find the historic Chestnut Hill neighborhood where BentoLiving calls home. And this apartment-style hotel really does feel like home—each of the 89 rooms has a fully-equipped kitchen, a stylishly furnished living room, and washer/dryer—but with the added bonus of a 24-hour concierge and valet services. The five-bed suite is perfect for larger groups, but if you’re traveling solo, the studio is the way to go. A rooftop bar hosts live music performances during the weekend along with one of the best views of Downtown Nashville. Can’t get enough of Music City? BentoLiving also offers long-term stays, which might just convince you to move here. That was the goal all along.