The Best Restaurants in Nashville
Nashville is a culinary treasure, known for meat-and-three diners, fiery fried chicken and fluffy biscuits as well as a strong farm-to-table community. Eat like a local with this guide to some of the best places to eat and drink in Music City.
Photo By: Andrew Thomas Lee
Photo By: Caroline Allison
Photo By: Lisa Diederich
Photo By: Emily Dorio
Photo By: Andrea Behrends
Photo By: Andrea Behrends
Photo By: Danielle Atkins
Photo By: Anthony Tahlier
Photo By: Andrea Behrends
Photo By: Lisa Diederich
Photo By: Emily Dorio
Photo By: Joseph Woodley
Photo By: Danielle Atkins
Photo By: Andrew Thomas Lee
Photo By: Marcus Baney
Photo By: Andrea Behrends
Welcome to Nashville
Nashville is in the midst of a culinary revolution. What started with just a handful of notable independent restaurants 10 years ago has exploded to include global cuisines, farm-to-table menus and cocktail dens, as well as new talent drawing on the city’s heritage of Southern food, hot-chicken shacks, whiskey bars and barbecue joints. A handful of celebrity chefs have made their way to town in the hopes of capitalizing on Nashville’s fun-loving crowds — and their spots are worth exploring. But you’ll find a truer taste of this growing Southern city (think: meat and threes, fruit tea and biscuits) within the locally owned, chef-driven dining rooms that first put Music City on the culinary map.
Breakfast: Biscuit Love
Born of a beloved local food-truck concept, Biscuit Love is the brick-and-mortar extension of chef-owners Karl and Sarah Worley’s passion for biscuit-focused Southern fare. At any of the three locations (the Gulch, Hillsboro Village, or downtown Franklin), order at the counter, choosing from a selection of breakfast and lunch items, like the Lily, which is a biscuit-fied version of French toast, or a Wash Park, a burger between biscuits. John’s Ham Bar offers a selection of regional cured hams served with cracker-like beaten biscuits. Waits can get heavy on the weekends at all of the locations, but there’s a selection of curated local merchandise to browse while you wait.
Hot Chicken: Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
If you’re coming to Nashville to eat, put hot chicken at the top of your list. Made legendary by Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in North Nashville, the fiery fowl is fried, then basted in a nostril-burning spice mix. Hattie B’s brings the local dish to several neighborhoods in Nashville and beyond in a fast-casual setting where you can order your bird in five different heat levels, from Southern (no spice) to Shut the Cluck Up (not for the faint of heart). They also offer comforting Southern sides, like black-eyed pea salad and pimento mac and cheese, plus a small selection of beers on draft or in the can, which you can enjoy on the spacious, year-round patios at their Midtown, Charlotte Avenue, and 8th Avenue locations.
Hangout: Pinewood Social
Nowhere else in Nashville (or most places, really) can you find a bowling alley, two outdoor pools, a bocce court, roomy booths and a dedicated Airstream trailer bar, not to mention excellent food and a full coffee shop. Pinewood Social is a cool, laid-back all-day-playhouse adults. The space serves New American fare at breakfast, lunch and dinner, with snacks available anytime, and pool-bar options like an excellent lobster roll. The cocktail program is also top-notch: Go for the To Infinity and Beyond, an exotic, tequila-based concoction that’s loaded with fruit juices like lime, grapefruit and guava.
Neighborhood Bar: Walden
It was fortuitous that the owners of Walden, Katie MacLachlan and Robyn Donnelly, found a space that had once been a beer bar. Instead of ripping out the wall of taps for their neighborhood cocktail-bar concept, they adapted, and dedicated the menu to draft cocktails. The 36 taps now pour batched drinks, like the Pink Pepper G&T, based on Old Dominick American dry gin, or a smooth and sippable margarita. There’s also wine, beer and cider, as well as a tight menu of bar snacks. Your visit should start with a seat on the patio for a gin-based Eastside Sunset paired with a fig-and-brie grilled cheese.
Barbecue: Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint
Few pitmasters carry the torch for whole-hog barbecue. But it’s a dying art that Pat Martin aims to uphold through his barbecue restaurants in Nashville and beyond. With customized pits in each of his joints, Martin smokes whole hogs every day, serving up tangles of the sweet, smoky meat and charred bits by the platter. The selection goes wider with wet and dry ribs, an addictively fatty brisket, spicy sausage and smoked turkey, plus an array of the pitmaster’s homemade sides, like broccoli salad and baked beans. At the Downtown location, you’ll also find a sprawling, landscaped beer garden.
Go to: Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint
Neighborhood Hang: Fort Louise
A homey welcome greets you the moment you step up the porch stairs and into the front door of Fort Louise. Set inside a standalone house in East Nashville’s Inglewood neighborhood, this soulful restaurant offers the cozy vibe of a dinner party, but with food that goes several steps beyond home cooking. Chef Greg Biggers conjures up a menu of Southern-inspired, globally influenced dishes, like a mean curry fried chicken, and chipotle-laced shrimp and grits, as well as thoughtful starters, including an English pea hummus and duck confit steam buns. If it’s nice out, take advantage of the plentiful outdoor space with brunch or drinks on the patio.
Hot Spot: Folk
Five years after opening the acclaimed pasta-centric Rolf and Daughters, chef Philip Krajeck took a pivot, opening the pizza-focused neighborhood spot Folk in East Nashville. Once an elevator manufactory, the space’s exposed brick walls and high ceilings are now dressed with paper lantern globes, potted greens and succulents. A wood-fired oven blisters the airy, flavorful crusts of Krajeck’s inventive pizzas — the clam, laced with bonito, chiles and hints of lemon, is a must. For the full experience, don’t skip the seafood, like royal red fish with old bay, or the mussel toast, along with an expertly mixed cocktail.
Coffee and Pastries: Killebrew
The Thompson Hotel gets big use out of the small coffee shop space set at the base of their Gulch location. Killebrew has a neighborhood vibe, despite being set in the bustling center of town. Grab a spot at one of the handful of tables and head to the counter where pastry chef Lisa Marie White’s daily offerings might range from fat and buttery biscuit sandwiches to muffins, biscotti and inventive daily quiches. Hit them on a Monday for the irresistible glazed doughnuts. House drips and espresso drinks are fuel for the day, while a turmeric chai latte alongside a savory hand tart will power you through an afternoon.
Modern Middle Eastern: Lyra
Chef Hrant Arakelian has built his career cooking all types of cuisines across a range of Nashville restaurants. When it was time to open his own, the Lebanese-born chef returned to his roots, and then updated them. At Lyra, he puts a modern interpretation on Middle Eastern cuisine, meaning a kibbe dish is made not from raw meat but carrots, and the puffy, steam-filled pita breads might arrive with a lamb merguez-dotted hummus. Go for the reinterpreted classic dishes, like the lamb kefta or an outstanding, whole roasted baba ghanoush, which is satisfyingly familiar and full of rich and earthy spices.
Icon: Husk Nashville
Building on the tremendous success he's seen in Charleston, Chef Sean Brock opened Husk Nashville in 2013, bringing his strictly Southern, contemporary concept to Music City. Ingredients come from right around the region, as well as the on-site garden of the restaurant, housed in a historic, 1880s-era mansion. Brock's team changes the menu constantly, but mainstays, like the lunchtime fried chicken, and Southern Plate of Vegetables, can usually be found, along with an extensive selection of bourbons and whiskeys.
Pasta: Rolf & Daughters
From the industrial-chic décor to the casually hip staff, Rolf & Daughters has set the tone for the “new Nashville” dining scene since opening in 2012. The food, crafted with old-world techniques by Chef Philip Krajeck, steps things up, starting with the inventive pastas, all made in-house. There might be a squid-ink paccheri laced with nuggets of octopus and breadcrumbs, or sweet corn agnolotti tinged with jalapeno. Larger plates might put together lamb sausage with eggplant, or chicken liver on toast. The cocktails don’t take themselves too seriously, but the wine list offers a tightly edited selection of small producers and unique varietals.
Tasting Menu: Catbird Seat
Nashville’s first tasting-menu-only restaurant, the Catbird Seat is a jewel box of a dining room with bar seating around an open kitchen, with chefs serving diners directly. Since its 2011 start, the chefs have changed (Ryan Poli, who used to cook in Chicago, now mans the stage) but the succession of dishes is better than ever. Poli’s style has cleverness, artistic composure and appreciation for hyper-local ingredients, but the food remains approachable, as with seaweed-flecked pasta with dashi butter, and slivers of ribeye over carrot puree, all set to a rock-focused soundtrack.
Patio: Butchertown Hall
With its modern, minimalist aesthetic and deliciously smoky aroma, Butchertown Hall was met with rave reviews when it opened in Germantown in February 2015. Combining the “Texo-German” mash-up cuisine found in Texas Hill Country (which also includes Mexican and barbecue influences) and a solid, European-heavy beer list, Butchertown is the ideal casual place to gather with friends. Menu stars include the beef brisket plate, served with pickles, onions and Texas toast or tortillas, as well as any of the housemade sausages, in German, Czech and Mexican styles. Beer curator Dan King collaborates closely local importers to put a steady rotation of limited release brews at the top of his draft list, too.
Hotel Restaurant: Tavern at Bobby
With a cool, retro vibe that matches the interior hotel lobby it occupies, Tavern at Bobby is much more than a watering hole. Edgy décor in the form of subway lights, tiling, salvaged wood, and a long canopy bar set the stage for classic cocktails and American-tavern-influenced fare. Snag a couch seat in the lounge, or opt for a more-intimate leather banquette in the dining room before diving into hand-held grilled chicken wings smothered in a sorghum barbecue sauce, a sturdy pan-roasted salmon over succotash or one of the robust meat and cheese boards. Open breakfast through dinner, it’s a stylish stopping point before hitting the honkytonks on Broadway.
Speakeasy: Black Rabbit
The historic setting — a 120-year-old building near Nashville’s Printer’s Alley — adds intrigue to Black Rabbit, a sophisticated yet comfortable speakeasy-style cocktail bar. Nestle in to one of the leather seats or the velvet sofa by the fireplace and take in a three-piece jazz band while you sip on something from the shrub-heavy drinks list, like the Josephine, made with a strawberry shrub, vodka and dry cider. A robust list of small plates makes this an ideal stop before or after dinner, but you could also make a meal of rabbit rolls, charred peppers with six-month-old-ham, and a plate of carnitas.
All-Day Space: Café Roze
Behind the Depression-era façade of a shotgun storefront, life unfolds in a cool, casual way at Café Roze. The East Nashville all-day hang, opened by Employees Only executive chef Julia Jaksic, gets busy first thing, so find a seat at the narrow tables for egg bowls laced with cucumber and feta bulgur and lemon yogurt, or the café’s delightful golden turmeric steamer. At lunch, load up on grass-fed burgers or the flavor-packed Hard-Boiled B.L.T. As night slides in, the food is heartier — pork schnitzel, steak frites — and the bar sets up a solid selection of craft cocktails, beer and wine. Cozy and healthfully minded, it’s a space that’s made to last.
Cheap Eat: GReKo Greek Street Food
Athens, Greece, may be halfway around the world, but here, in the Athens of the South, you can get a taste via GReKo Greek Street Food in East Nashville. Awash in street art and graffiti, with Greek hip-hop music blaring, GReKo pumps out a flavor-packed selection of freshly made, charcoal-fired meats, like lamb, beef, pork and octopus, either on a skewer and wrapped in fluffy pitas. There’s roast chicken hit with oregano and cumin served over seasoned fries, or with a side of cold sautéed greens, and frozen Greek yogurt for dessert. Put together by first-generation cousins Bill and Tony Darsinos, the restaurant imports olive oil, salt and even wine from their homeland.
Fine Dining: Capitol Grille
Tucked into the lower level of the elegant and historical Hermitage Hotel, the Capitol Grille and its adjoining Oak Bar recall the gilded age of Southern dining. Under an arched ceiling and surrounded by images of other Nashville monuments, diners are treated to outstanding service, one of the region’s best whiskey lists and a refined play on Southern classics. The main theme here is the steaks, which are sourced from the hotel’s own cattle ranch, Double H Farms. They’re simply prepared and served with Southern-inflected sides like buttermilk potato puree. But the kitchen also leans heavily on other local farmers — as well as the produce raised at Glen Leven Farm, which is part of The Land Trust for Tennessee — to produce beautiful dishes like a lamb shank with Sea Island red peas or duck with parsnips and mustard greens.
Pizza: Nicky's Coal Fired
At the heart of Nicky’s Coal Fired, an upscale pizza joint in The Nations, sits a blistering-hot oven, lovingly named Enrico. The glowing-red inferno perfectly sears artisanal pizzas, and also cooks up a collection of small plates and pastas, which round out the menu, including chicken thighs and brussels sprouts. Chef Tony Galzin, a Chicago native, brings his Italian heritage to the forefront, making his pastas and charcuterie in-house. The pizzas, arguably the stars of the menu, are based on either red or white sauce and might be topped with anchovies and capers or potatoes, cured egg yolk, and mozzarella. A selection of vermouths, wines on tap, and a strong cocktail list add to the fun.
Oyster Bar and Seafood: Henrietta Red
Against a backdrop of white-tiled floors, blonde wood and navy banquettes, Henrietta Red serves a menu of seafood- and vegetable-heavy shareable small plates, as well as a robust raw bar selection. The menu stands out both for its simplicity and its clever take on classics. A bar room up front is lively and communal, while the dining room is a space designed for lingering and looking into the open kitchen with its wood-burning oven. Seats at the oyster bar offer a show as shuckers open the 15 or more varieties on hand every night. Chef Julia Sullivan manages to coax big flavors out of dishes like roasted cauliflower, chicken liver pate and smoked mussel toast.
Tànsuǒ is pushing Nashville’s international culinary options into new territory. A partnership between New York dumpling chef Chris Cheung and Chopped judge Maneet Chauhan, the upscale, contemporary Chinese restaurant is housed in a large, dimly lit room accented with mod paper lanterns. Serving lunch, dinner and brunch, the menus offer riffs on traditional Chinese and Chinese-American classics, like beef chow fun and open-face pork dumplings. The dim sum brunch is a standout: The selections arrive on a cart from which you can pull small plates of star-shaped lobster dumplings, pork belly bao buns and mapo tofu.
Upscale Indian: Chauhan Ale & Masala House
Blending traditional Indian cuisine with Southern touches, Chauhan Ale & Masala House embraces its Nashville roots. Chef Maneet Chauhan, a judge on Chopped, seamlessly marries her two cultures in dishes like a black-eyed pea tikki burger and an Indian “meat and three,” which puts a meat dish alongside three vegetable sides. Chauhan has its own signature beers —including a fragrant Saffron IPA — thanks to its own brewery, Mantra Artisan Ales; the cocktails also incorporate Indian spices and herbs. The brick-walled space is romantic, too, with low lighting and colorful lanterns hanging throughout the space.
Cocktail Bar: The Patterson House
One of Nashville’s first serious cocktail bars, the Patterson House is still its best. The reservation-only policy means that there’s never a chaotic scene around the rectangular island bar at the center of the room. A library motif, antique chandeliers, and an army of well-dressed barmen are there to greet you, but don’t let the serious scene intimidate you — the staff is just as happy to pour a gin and housemade tonic as to mix a custom craft cocktail. The menu is organized by spirit, with drinks listed from least to most potent. There’s a small food menu, including mini burgers, truffled deviled eggs and roasted bar nuts.
Local Institution: City House
Tandy Wilson’s passion for cooking very good food in all the right ways makes him one of the most-likable, city-supporting chefs in town. Wilson helped put Nashville on the map when he opened his Italian-by-way-of-Tennessee restaurant in Germantown years before it became the hot-spot neighborhood it is today. From an open kitchen accented with pig paraphernalia, Wilson and his trucker-hat-sporting crew plate up a form of homey Italian nonna cooking, with dishes like yellow corn grits with clams and smoked sausage, and half of a chicken crusted with a red-onion Jezebel sauce. There are tender, puffy-crusted pizzas from a brick oven, a well-edited wine list and fresh-baked cookies for dessert.
Worth the Drive: Loveless Cafe
From downtown Nashville, it’s only about 17 miles to the Loveless Cafe, but when you travel off highway and meander down the scenic side roads, it can be one of the prettiest, most leisurely drives. Serving continuously since 1951, the Loveless carries on the down-home tradition of a classic “meat and three” — a plate with a protein and three sides — with its crispy fried chicken, gooey mac and cheese, collard greens and unending supplies of sweet tea. The service is warm and friendly, and there’s never a shortage of fantastic biscuits. Next door, there’s also the Hams & Jams country market, where you can pick up pounds of barbecue as well as preserves, kitchen goods and Loveless gear to take home.
Best Second Date Spot: Margot Café & Bar
Quaint and comfortable, Margot Café is Nashville’s perfect interpretation of a neighborhood bistro. The daily menu of simple, French- and Italian-inspired dishes runs from small plates, like a plate of cheeses, salads and soups, to composed main courses, like cornmeal-dusted trout or green bean casserole with an arugula salad. In the kitchen, you’ll find Margot McCormack, one of the city’s trailblazing female chefs, who has etched out her role as a committed anchor in the community and mentor to many, and is still in the kitchen each night.
Dinner and a Show: City Winery
Nashville may be packed with great music venues, but City Winery brings the added dynamic of great food, intimate seating and a strong selection of great wines. Thanks in part to its other locations, in New York, Chicago and Napa, the restaurant-venue-winery draws a steady list of hitmakers, meaning you might find blues artist Booker T. Jones one night and indie band Blitzen Trapper the next. On the menu, there are both show-friendly snack fare (duck tacos; risotto balls) as well as a full dinner menu that includes items like balsamic bbq chicken steelhead trout with a zucchini latke. And, of course, the wine list is packed with a mix of heavy-hitting labels, small independent producers, housemade draft wines and a number of bargains.
Rock Star Chef: Deb Paquette
Power Lunch: The Farm House
Thanks to its convenient-to-everything downtown location, the Farm House can play the power-lunch locale for both locals who are stopping in for a midday meeting and visitors trying to tackle the many historical music sites nearby — it’s a stone’s throw from the Country Music Hall of Fame. Whatever the occasion, Chef Trey Cioccia is up for it, serving snacks like a pimento-cheese beignet or pork belly toaster pastry, along with inventive daily blue plates that might feature a catfish sandwich or wings with an Alabama white sauce. And don’t miss dessert: There’s always a solid lineup of housemade ice creams and sorbets.