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. This isn’t to say that you won’t find any hot chicken on this guide. Of course, you will. But you’ll also see Indian street food, prime rib carts, and superb pasta inside a hotel.
While a tornado and a pandemic forced the city to permanently say good-bye to a few long-time favorites, one thing’s still true: Music City is pretty resilient. During one of the hardest periods for the restaurant industry in recent history, many places stood their ground while a daring few opened their doors for the first time. Below, you’ll find a solid mix of both, along with a few hotel suggestions for your stay.
Simply put, 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 - 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 fixed 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.
After a long COVID hiatus, Bastion’s mural-filled big bar is permanently back with nachos and cocktails that are perfect for Happy Hour, or really any hour for that matter. But since people cannot live off cheese-laden tortilla chips and booze alone, 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. And while the punch of the day may not be the first thing that draws your attention on the cocktail list, we’re here to tell you that it’s always a good choice.
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 lamb tartare, 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.
Located in an old Victorian mansion in Rutledge Hill, this super popular spot serves refined Southern food and a great brunch with fancy-ish renditions of pimento cheese, deviled eggs with trout roe, and cinnamon rolls with pecan glaze. Be sure to check their website daily, though - the menu is updated frequently to reflect what’s available from the on-site garden and local farms. If you aren’t able to score a reservation, you can try winging it and head to the downstairs bar, which serves a huge selection of rare whiskeys and the full restaurant menu.
A fish camp and oyster bar might not be the first thing that comes to mind in land-locked Nashville, but there’s actually some relatable history here. In 1902, high tides swept through Adams Street inundating the TD&W Handle Company building. Now, The Optimist is reclaiming the currents that once took over the building with a wide range of seafood plated up in a roomy, mid-century modern dining room. Seafood towers loaded with oysters, shrimp, tuna poke, and ceviche serve as a briny precursor to platters of red snapper en papillote and whole branzino. Before settling in for your meal, head to Jacqueline, The Optimist’s breezy outdoor bar, for frozen drinks and some light snacks.
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. Fair warning: two or three plates won’t be enough. Four may not even cut it. 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 tagliatelle, too. You ordered the chocolate torte, right? Good. You didn’t come to one of Nashville’s best restaurants to fall before the finish line.
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.
Playing with fire gets a bad rap. Case in point: Pelican & Pig. Situated in a converted auto upholstery shop in East Nashville, the crew here isn’t afraid to use their wood-burning hearth, cooking scallops, snapper, ribeyes, potatoes, and cornbread in a smoky blaze of glory. Order a bottle of chilled red (the light and fruity Martha Stoumen Post Flirtation is a standout) 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. Trust us.
What was supposed to just be a humble sandwich shop in Charleston has blossomed into a small plates behemoth spanning two cities. Nashville isn’t Butcher & Bee’s first rodeo, but the menu reads like it’s lived here its whole life. You’ll find plenty of sandwiches on the menu, sure, but the mezze is what steals the spotlight. Make sure the whipped feta and avocado crispy rice make their way to your table, along with the chicken-fried cauliflower and roast chicken. Take your meal on the patio or grab a table inside the funky industrial dining room if it’s just too hot to spend another second outside.
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 sides many of us probably only eat once or twice a year (think: mashed potatoes, candied yams, and green beans). When you order at the counter, make sure to grab chocolate chess pie for dessert, too. Arnold’s is open on weekdays between 10:30am-2:45pm and weekends from 11am-5pm - count on a line out the door whenever you go, but it moves fast. Recently, they launched “Arnold’s After Dark” too, from 5-10pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays and 5-11pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Count on the same meat-and-veggie staples along with tacos, nachos, and cocktails including the “Bubba Back” - a shot of Bourbon followed by a saucy au jus gravy chaser straight out of a baster.
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.
Once upon a sad and lonely time, brunch was relegated to a few designated hours on a faraway Sunday. Then came Lou, which declared that Nashville was worthy of an all-day brunch, all weekend long. And it was good. So good, people have continually flocked to this 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.
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 also 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, ya know, just do both. Either way, save room for the other cart circling the room - this one’s dedicated to ice cream and making sure your sweet tooth is well taken care of.
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 super 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.
From the safety deposit wall (a throwback to the building’s history as a bank) to the massive chandelier composed of vintage car parts, the Bobby Hotel isn’t your run-of-the-mill hotel. But then again, the Tavern At Bobby isn’t your run-of-the-mill tavern. After all, how many neighborhood taverns do you know that serve cheddar cheese bread with tallow, yellowfin ceviche, black truffle campanelle, and red curry lentils? That’s what we thought. After dinner, head to the rooftop bar for a nightcap in a retrofitted 1956 Scenicruiser.
City House in Germantown combines two things we really like: Southern ingredients and Italian food. Two of our favorite examples of this are the belly ham pizza and catfish and sausage stew with fennel and focaccia, both of which we strongly suggest you try the next time you eat here. 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.
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 garam masala pork belly in bourbon sherry and the hot chicken 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.
If an impromptu flight to Paris is out of the cards, Once Upon a Time in France is the quickest way to transport yourself from Music City to the City of Lights. Straight out of the 1920s Parisian bistro playbook, this small restaurant is owned by a local French family who prides themselves on serving unfussy French classics - think escargot, steak tartare, and duck confit. Reservations aren’t accepted here, so arrive early, grab a chilled glass of Sancerre, and take in some quality people-watching if there’s a wait.
For as much as Nashville’s food scene has changed, barbecue will always be a constant. This means there’s no shortage of options around town, but Edley’s is our favorite because everything from the pulled pork to the cornbread is prepared in-house. Bring a bunch of people and order as much of the menu as you can, but make sure to include some barbecue nachos. Their three locations all have great patios and Happy Hours, so if you want to drink a bourbon tea outside to work up an appetite first, that works too.
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 Thursday-Sunday, and both the indoor dining room and patio fill up fast.
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, it’s safe to say we’ve got some insider knowledge on what this New York-born spot has to offer - and it’s quite possibly 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. It’s a thing of beauty - and if a burger craving hits you during your visit, their Gulch location is the first place you should go.
Located on a residential street in East Nashville, Lockeland Table feels like you’re at a dinner party at a friend’s house. The food, though, is far beyond anything you’d expect any of your friends to prepare at home. Bring someone you’d like to lock eyes with across a table in a dimly lit space, and start with the empanadas before splitting a few entrees and a pizza. Also, make sure to order the banana foster bread pudding. Frankly, it would be rude not to.
If you remember digging through your eclectic aunt’s jewelry box of funky treasures as a kid, then you’ll feel right at home at The Graduate. Mix-matched fabrics, textures, furniture, local art, and offbeat lighting (that’s a majestic as hell unicorn holding up your lampshade) might be jarring on their own, but together, they create a magical space to hang your hat in Midtown - walking distance from the Downtown action, but far enough to avoid the late-night noise. The rooftop pool and restaurant, White Limozeen, is also a popular daytime hangout. Reserve a cabana, order a tray of Champagne jello shots, and watch the scene unfold before heading up to your room for a disco nap. Book your stay here.
Vandyke Bed And Beverage
There’s the honky-tonk circus on Broadway, and then there’s the low-key, artsy energy of East Nashville. That’s where the Van Dyke Bed and Beverage welcomes guests to kick back in one of eight rooms named and designed after a different spirit. There’s a rooftop patio for enjoying a cocktail, a lush courtyard for enjoying another cocktail, and a popular local bar on the premises that supplies those cocktails. Maybe you’re noticing a theme here. And for that reason, the Vandyke B&B is an adults-only affair - check the kids at the door. Book your stay here.
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. Book your stay here.