The Best Restaurants In East Nashville

Incredible tacos, sourdough pizzas, and more of the best places to eat in “the Brooklyn of Nashville.”
The Best Restaurants In East Nashville image

photo credit: Mick Jacob

East Nashville is like that friend who swears they were wearing Crocs before they were even a thing (you know who we’re talking about). And much like that friend, East Nasty, as some people affectionately call it, definitely marches to the beat of its own drum. 

The neighborhood is home to small mom-and-pop shops and lots of quirky creative types that eschew the big chain invasion. But there are also the lush trails at Shelby Bottoms Greenway, a popping farmer’s market, and an absurdly wonderful amount of murals. That translates to a really interesting dining scene that’s not afraid to challenge the status quo, experiment with new concepts, and even devote time to an annual art festival dedicated to … tomatoes. 

With that in mind, we’ve rounded up the best East Nashville restaurants, including a wood-fired izakaya, our top pick for hot chicken, and a food truck dishing out killer quesabirria tacos. Check out our other guides to all the best restaurants around town, how to navigate Broadway, and where to have an excellent brunch.


photo credit: Ben Rice


East Nashville

$$$$Perfect For:BrunchDrinking Good Wine
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That person you locked eyes with over a stack of obscure photography collections at Defunct Books? Follow it up with something at Lou. This warm white cottage on the outskirts of the neighborhood has delicious interesting plates with depth and charm (you are what you eat, right?). And this is the case for pretty much any meal of the day. Brunch is the time for a lively aperture debate over a kale, nduja, and egg sandwich, with some pet-nat to spice up the argument. Dinner winds its way through a discussion on optimal lighting settings and a dry-aged ribeye with caramelized onion butter. And by the time you’ve gotten to the candied fennel ice cream, that second date is a forgone conclusion.

Sure, it might seem hard to get a table at Kisser—this walk-in-only Japanese spot is roughly the size of a two-car garage and is only open four days a week for lunch. But the experience of waiting for some cod roe-stuffed onigiri is far from that of hanging out in Ticketmaster purgatory. You’ll probably only have to wait a few minutes amongst the crowd of families, folks studying in Vanderbilt hoodies, and people who probably name Cheers as their favorite sitcom. But after that, you’re in for a near-tranquil lunch fueled by those aforementioned rice balls and grilled 24-hour, sake-marinated yellowtail collar that’s so good you’ll murmur expletives under your breath at how tender it is. Wash everything down with some sushi rice ale made in collaboration with Harding House Brewing Co. and finish your meal with blissful spoonfuls of miso creme brulee.  

A wine bar that serves Lao food in an old converted church every day until 1am? That’s Bad Idea, which is actually a great idea for a restaurant. The space is gigantic and decked out in colorful couches, the dishes like jiggly scallop-mousse-stuffed crepe are interesting and delicious, and the bottles on the natural wine list pair well with everything. This is also one of the better late-night options in town, especially if you’re looking for something like a $16 plate of katsu over rice and a salad on a weekday.

Audrey could be confused with a mad scientist’s lab full of gizmos and gadgets that turn ingredients like pawpaw and jimmy red corn into a culinary wild ride. The space—a two-story building that also houses June, an intimate tasting menu experience upstairs—has a warm minimalist aesthetic with lots of Appalachian art and dried herbs hanging from the ceiling. In other words: just the kind of place you can spend a few hours admiring (and eating) the artful plates coming out of the massive open kitchen. The menu changes seasonally, but expect things like grits with sorghum-cured egg yolk, pate of Texas deer, and hickory grilled sunburst trout with tomato gravy.

photo credit: Mick Jacob

$$$$Perfect For:Small PlatesDate Night


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Nashville’s got a solid roster of wood-fire-focused restaurants (see: Pelican & Pig), but this Japanese-minimalist izakaya is somewhere that stands out. They serve half chicken, smoked fish dip, and wagyu brisket dusted in togarashi that are perfect for sharing on a date. It’s not quite an anniversary or engagement situation, but it feels a bit more elevated than your usual Friday night Netflix binge with some Trader Joe’s orange chicken. In a stroke of why-didn’t-we-think-of-that genius, there’s a small Japanese zen garden in front of the bathrooms to help channel some peaceful patience when a parent with a toddler “emergency” cuts you in line.

No matter the time of day, you’ll find a fast-moving line snaking out the door of Redheaded Stranger. That’s because people queue up at this casual Tex-Mex shop for crunchwraps so good they’ll root out any core memory you might have of fourth meals at that bigger “taco” chain. Also, every single sauce here is packed with flavor. Try the carrot habanero Dreamweaver on your totchos, or the Dr. Pepper sauce with a barbacoa taco. Claim a seat at the counter or the patio out back with a housemade margarita and you’ll have found yourself a small slice of Texas in East Nashville.

Cafe Roze is a bright, airy spot that’s a nice choice for an intimate (read: small) weekend brunch, an effortless Thursday lunch, or a light Monday night dinner. The breakfast menu has some tasty selections that veer into crunchy LA territory, like ginger mango smoothies, sipping broth, and bowls of beet tahini, turmeric eggs, and lentils, but there are also smashburgers and stout waffles on there because, you know, balance. If the morning’s gotten away from you, lunch and dinner are tasty too, especially if you order the paprika chicken or pork milanese.

If your partner’s been hounding you about your three-month anniversary for weeks (congrats on finding that gem), Pelican & Pig is the best place to go. Mostly because you should find any reason to inhale the warm, campfire aroma wafting from the wood-fired ovens in the back. It’s a small spot that feels like a classed-up wood mill—there are logs stacked up against the dark walls, metal pipes, and leather booths. The reason you’re here, though, is for the housemade focaccia with crispy garlic, the pork chop or ribeye from Bear Creek Farm, and those stunning chocolate chip cookies with milk jam for dessert. 

What started as an experimental trailer at The Dive Motel is now a Pan-Asian brick-and-mortar spot fit for East Nashville. There’s a red theme to the decor, but there’s also a retro diner feel, which is part of what makes it a great first date spot—it’s interesting and cool without that annoying try-hard vibe. The menu has things like Japanese okonomiyaki, Taiwanese gua bao, and Sichuan la zi cauliflower, and it changes pretty frequently, so expect some surprises. Get there early (dinner starts at 4pm, but anytime before 6pm should be okay), since they don’t take reservations. 

Maiz de la Vida is a food truck permanently parked in front of Chopper Tiki that happens to serve some of the best tacos in the city. They transcend just about anything else you’ll find locally thanks to their top-notch tortillas, which are made through a traditional nixtamalization process using corn imported from Mexico. That’s all to say they’ll hold anything you can throw at them without breaking apart and devolving into a pile of random mush that requires a fork. The quesabirria tacos—served with a side of rich consomme that’s perfect for dipping—is the move here, but don’t forget to throw in an order of churros for a crispy, sugary finish to your meal.

Lockeland Table is like the Mr. Rogers of restaurants—it’s comforting, kind, and legitimately happy to be your East Nashville neighbor. The wood-and-brick dining room and menu are equally homey, and the latter includes platters of smoked bone marrow, empanadas, and wood-fired pies. Instead of your usual Happy Hour, Lockeland hosts a “community hour” Monday through Saturday from 4-6pm with $7 drinks and snacks, with a portion of proceeds going to parent-teacher groups of schools in and around Nashville. Such a neighborly thing to do.

You can find plenty of fancy burger joints around town. You know, the gastropub-type places with toppings like foie gras and eggs that have been coddled with ASMR videos to ensure extra runniness. Then you have Grillshack, which has no indoor seating, just a few tables on the outside patio, and a takeout window doling out some of the best (and simplest) burgers in the city. There’s hardly anything to distract from the ⅓-pound patty sourced from Bear Creek farms and the grilled roll from Charpier’s Bakery outside of the Nations. Their fries, which are hand-cut and generously piled next to your burger, are a masterclass in crafting the perfect thick-cut spuds.

When it comes to hot chicken, it seems like the whole entire world wants to duke it out over Hattie B’s and Prince’s. And that’s fine. Because we’ll happily be at Bolton’s sweating it out to the spiciest, and best, hot chicken and hot fish sandwich in town. This little red-and-gray bungalow has been punishing hungry masochists with off-the-chart heat levels for over 25 years. There’s only a handful of tables inside, so if the shack’s at capacity, place your order at the carryout window and take your feast to the patio outside.

Every neighborhood needs a go-to sandwich shop, and Bill’s is the one in East Nashville. It’s a simple, bright space that focuses on formidable hand-helds using fluffy bread stacked with a kaleidoscope of meats, cheeses, and vegetables. Take the towering CBP that’s stuffed with a fried chicken thigh resting in pimento cheese and a pool of barbecue bacon jam, or the Mamma Mia, with garlic-ginger chicken meatballs shouldering a toasted bolillo roll. But all of that’s subject to change, because the menu rotates weekly and they often sell out. Pair one of their creations with some housemade chili cheese puffs and a can of local-to-Nashville Maypop and you’ve got a lunch guaranteed to make Subway’s “sandwich artists” weep $5 footlong-shaped tears. 

Yes, The Wash is technically one of those culinary incubators that’s made up of multiple micro-restaurants testing out their concepts before making the leap to a permanent brick and mortar. So, you’re going to find some pretty interesting and hard-to-find stuff (for Nashville, at least) in one of its 380-square-foot bays. Right now, that means Thai fried chicken and mango sticky rice at SS Gai, Cuban sandwiches and orange-garlic mojo marinated pork butt at Soy Cubano, and bowls of aromatic phở at Vietnamese start-up East Side Pho. Plan to eat your way around the different concepts before making a final stop at Bay 6 for some beer, wine, or a Baby Jessica—a riff off a piña colada that uses tequila, banana liqueur, carbonated coconut water, and lime juice.

A glass of Spanish manzanilla sherry and a pizza from Folk is like having the car in front of you pay for your Starbucks drive-thru order—it’s sure to turn a mediocre day right around. If the manzanilla sherry didn’t tip you off, this isn’t your typical neighborhood pizza shop, but the vibe is still chill enough that you can feel comfortable leaving your designer Birks at home. Folk is owned and run by the same team behind Rolf & Daughters, so you can count on perfectly-blistered sourdough littleneck clam pies with bonito and lemon. If you want something beyond pizza, the menu also has some great meat and seafood dishes, like beef tartare and a smoked trout spread, that nicely round out the meal.

Brewery food is typically a bit of an afterthought—with enough beer in the tank, even the hairiest burger tastes like wagyu. Lauter doesn't stand for that. After all, it would be wrong to pair one of Southern Grist’s exceptionally inventive brews with something … basic. So the next time you’ve settled at one of the picnic-style tables with a pint of their oated New England IPA, see if the pork soup dumplings with garlic scape, smoked burnt end oil, and porcini salt are on special. No? Go for the fried chicken sandwich that’s been marinated in koji and coated with hot honey.

East Side Bahn Mi is our go-to spot for Vietnamese sandwiches in the area. One of the best things about the bánh mì here is the crispy homemade baguettes that rain crumbs all over the counter in the best way possible. But the fillings just might edge out the bread—there’s black-pepper-caramel-roasted pork shoulder, lemongrass chicken, and griddle-seared smoked bologna. They also dish up some mighty tasty rice and salad bowls, which might be a nice thing to eat on a “feels-like” 105-degree Nashville day. There isn’t a whole lot of seating inside, so you might have to opt for takeout with an impromptu picnic at Shelby Bottoms or in the backseat of your car.

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