The Best Restaurants In Nashville

A taco truck outside of a tiki bar, the best hot chicken, and all of our favorite alternatives to hot chicken in Nashville, Tennessee.
Spread of colorful Thai dishes including a whole roasted fish at International Market

photo credit: Soundtrack My Drink

Quick: name the first three things you think of when you hear “Nashville.” Bars with 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 few years, 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, Italian, 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. We also have guides on the best bars, East Nashville, brunch spots, plus a few suggestions on how to have a big night out.


photo credit: Andrew Thomas Lee



$$$$Perfect For:Special OccasionsFine DiningUnique Dining Experience


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There are plenty of places in Nashville where you can drop nearly $200 on a tasting menu and still leave hungry enough to feel the pull of the golden arches on the drive home. Thankfully, at The Catbird Seat in Midtown, the conversation between you and the other 21 diners seated around the open kitchen (who probably planned a trip to Nashville around this meal) won’t involve special sauce side quests. Rather, you’ll all be talking about what a wild ride the previous course was, and how full you are at the end of the meal from cantaloupe kimchi, sea urchin in wild rose custard, and foie gras donuts. The menu changes daily, but if you expect the unexpected and arrive with an open mind, you’ll have the best meal you can find in all of Nashville.

photo credit: Andrew Thomas Lee

$$$$Perfect For:Drinks & A Light BiteLiterally Everyone


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What the menu at Locust lacks in length, it makes up for with some of the most interesting dishes in the city. Run 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 necessary for the four-hour lunch service, since the space is small and spots fill up fast about a month in advance. For those continually missing out, though, they do walk-in-only dumplings and drinks Friday through Sunday.

Iggy's, a new-wave Wedgewood-Houston Italian spot, refuses to take themselves too seriously. Sure, they have the classics like spaghetti agile e olio and a gorgeous bolognese, but it’s also a place where you’ll see a large graffiti mural of a pasta maker, plenty of cheetah-print chairs, and couples sharing giant swirls of soft serve. Order some cream cheese-stuffed brioche that arrives to the table like a garlic-laden Holy Grail—primed to fill whatever Nashville-pothole-sized void you’ve got in your life—and melt into a plate of plump lobster slipped into a silky fra diavolo sauce. Or, just reserve a seat at the counter for their “No Decision Sundays,” where you’ll get a bottle of wine and a six-course dinner that comes with two starters, three pastas, and a dessert, all decided by the restaurant. They’ve never let us down so far.

Sure, it might seem hard to get a table at Kisser—this walk-in-only Japanese spot in East Nashville 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. Finish your meal with blissful spoonfuls of miso crème brûlée.

Bastion is like the mullet of Nashville restaurants: it’s 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 move 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.

This small, singular bungalow in East Nashville churns out the best hot chicken in the city. Don’t expect any wacky slogans or funny names for the spice levels—just a few well-worn tables and a simple takeout window that’s been quietly doling out plates of perfectly spiced poultry for over 25 years. Bolton’s is the best hot chicken in town because it’s a consistently spectacular fried bird—there are very few (if any) off days at this spot. The skin has just the right amount of crunch without turning the roof of your mouth into sandpaper, while the meat is nice and juicy. And perhaps most importantly, when they say “hot,” they mean it. A “medium” here is the equivalent of max heat at other hot chicken joints (that’s due to them using a dry rub instead of sauce).

The smoked beef and squash curry at International Market is better than a year’s worth of therapy (and we’re talking in-network, work-through-our-daddy-issues therapy). The five-spice braise mingling with Thai basil, coconut milk, and kaffir lime leaf is wholly cathartic, and lighter plates like Chinese broccoli dotted with tiny tofu croutons make for better support systems than some of our closest friends. Beyond that, it’s just a fun place to be—the staff is constantly bopping to Freddie Mercury while taking orders, and Belmont students excitedly pluck crab rangoon off the hotline for lunch. We also love their “Sunday Funday” dinner menu, which, sorry to disappoint the college kids, isn’t a rager so much as an excuse to crush a spicy fish sandwich or some donuts with condensed milk.

photo credit: Christen Clemens

A wine bar that serves Lao food in an old converted East Nashville 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.

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 one of the best Italian spots in the city, and it has the truffles, bucatini amatriciana​, and cacio e pepe to prove it. Top it off with a wine pairing of boutique Italian bottles and consider getting a room upstairs for the night.

Commercial jingles and extremely epic foods tend to wedge themselves into our brains for weeks. The fried eggplant from King Tut’s, a food truck on Nolensville Pike, is an example of the latter, and we're thrilled to have it occupy our headspace. Get that and some ultra-crispy and herbaceous falafel that’ll become permanent additions to your lunch rotation. This is a window you’ll pull up to again and again, whether you’re eating in the front seat of your car, or hanging out on their wood patio fawning over spice-dusted pickled onions.

That person you locked eyes with over a stack of obscure photography collections at Defunct Books in East Nashville? 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 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 plate of lamb ribs. And by the time you’ve gotten to the toasted coconut sorbet with fermented pineapple, that second date is a forgone conclusion.

Fried chicken? Nashville has as much of that as we do musicians who show up with a guitar and dream. But make it extra crispy, loaded with Thai flavors, and served with a healthy dose of tamarind fish sauce, and you’ve got something in a league of its own. Suddenly, you won’t be able to resist skipping your mid-day work meeting to plop down for lunch outside S.S. Gai, one of six food and drink vendors at a refurbished car wash (aptly named The Wash). The menu is pretty tight, and even includes some good grilled chicken, but go with the fried—if only to rip off bites of crackly skin, scoop up the fried shallots that’ll inevitably fall off, and shovel the whole thing into your mouth. Order some grilled peanuts to douse heartily in chili vinegar and cubes of fried mango sticky rice for dessert, too.

Whether you’re looking for the best latte in the city, an afternoon martini, or a spot where you can go full Lady and the Tramp with your partner over a plate of fries, look no further than Café Roze in East Nashville. We’ve spent many afternoons here chatting with the staff about their extensive amaro shelf, working at the bar for half the day and dancing between coffee and bubbly, and returning to play footsie during nights of live jazz. Start the day with country ham toast piled so high with freshly-shaved parmesan you might lose sight of the person across from you, and end it with cabbage-wrapped roasted halibut swimming in luscious leek vichyssoise. If you’re wondering the best time to go, the answer is any time between open and close.

One of the best meat and threes in town is from a North Nashville Jamaican spot. OK, it’s technically a meat and two, but the plates here have the same ethos. If we could have the mac and cheese, original jerk chicken, and steamed cabbage from Riddim N Spice once a week (and alright, maybe the rum cake, too), we’d be happier than a country star licensing their name for a new Broadway bar. There might be no one in the dining room on a weekday afternoon, but you won’t care after placing your order with the friendly person behind the counter and tasting the quality of the food. Make sure you get a festival as well—it's a fluffy, subtly sweet corn-based roll that’s the perfect vehicle for sopping up all the sauce and spice.

This East Nashville spot is one of the better places to get Chinese food in town—you can always count on their pork belly bao buns and fried dumplings with lemongrass pork. While Xiao Bao works great for lunch when you want to forget that Google Sheets exists and just focus on a bowl of hand-pulled noodles with chili cumin brisket, it’s also worth stopping by for dinner and Sunday brunch.

The focaccia pizza from St. Vito has us Googling different cloud terminology to accurately describe it. We’ve settled on a combo between “stratus” and “cumulus,” because this dough is about as airy and puffy as it can get. Come with a group and order the pizza party, which allows you to sample all of their different rotating slices—the best we’ve tried comes draped with porchetta and topped with burrata and chili oil. There’s a long bar and cushiony banquette seating where you can feast on focaccia and the radicchio and puntarelle caesar.

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 thinly-sliced Scottish king salmon with black lava salt and truffle ponzu, wagyu tartare, and bourbon togarashi-crusted tuna really level up the experience. O-Ku has all the essentials for date night: dim lighting, plenty of cozy booths and two-tops, and a ton of sake to choose from. It’s a refreshing option outside of the Broadway madness, where things are rarely cozy, and eating anything raw is just a really bad idea.

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 ricotta and herb soft scramble with chili crunch and a basket of biscuits and gravy. But your mission to partake in the finest sugary breakfast treats will be incomplete if you don’t stop at the bakery case. Here, you’ll find churro croissants made with dulce de leche cream 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.

Out of all the breweries in Nashville, we like Southern Grist the best. And that's not just because it's home to some of the most off-the-wall, small-batch brews in town—a big reason is their in-house restaurant Lauter. So after taking a look at what’s on tap, scooch into the long banquette at Lauter and stay for a full meal. When was the last time you saw things like crispy vinegar potatoes with adjika powder, a pastrami and sauerkraut “Uncrustable,” and a fried chicken sandwich with thighs that've been marinated in koji on the menu at your local brewery?

Like the 30,000 people who came for a bachelorette party on Broadway and decided to stay, chef Sean Brock left his Charleston restaurants and decided to open a handful of spots in Nashville—the best of them being Audrey. The concept is an ode to his Appalachian grandmother, and it’s like the MoMA meets a rustic mountain cabin inside—clean, sleek, and minimalist, but also warm. The menu shifts seasonally, but you’ll always find ancient grains and ingredients native to the South, especially ones that have been underutilized for decades. Think: cornbread made with jimmy red corn, heirloom apples and potatoes paired with foie gras and black truffles, and desserts that make quick work of the tropical-tasting pawpaw fruit.

Everyone has that special taco spot. The one you swear by to get you through a long day of work, a hangover, or a breakup with your pilates studio (it’s not you … it’s definitely them). Maiz de la Vida is that taqueria for us. Permanently parked in front of Chopper Tiki, you’ll find the pinnacle of taco construction: a soft corn shell that can hold any and all toppings without falling apart. That’s because they use a traditional nixtamalization process to create stunningly perfect tortillas that make those Old El Paso ones at Kroger look like toilet paper. Whether it’s the quesabirria tacos, the roasted elote, or the satisfyingly sugary crunch of their churros, you can count on everything to be good here.

For over 70 years, this meat-and-three mainstay in The Nations has been serving up a rotating menu of classic Southern and soul food dishes and sides. You can’t go wrong with the meatloaf or fried pork chop as your meat and the fresh fried corn, marshmallow yams, and mac and cheese as your “three.” Post up for lunch in one of the well-worn booths and for a brief second, it’ll almost feel like you’ve time-warped to 1950s Nashville. Always order some banana pudding or chess pie for dessert.

Fact: Southern cooking tastes 110% better when it’s enjoyed in a historic Victorian manor that could double as the set of Steel Magnolias. 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. And as Monell’s likes to remind its guests, you’ll “enter as strangers, leave as friends.” Blame it on the biscuits and gravy.

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 and simple. The meat comes in a crispy crust dusted with a blend of spices, and can be served plain or ramped up to your chosen heat level. 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. We suggest going to their Nolensville Pike location, but their outpost at the Assembly Food Hall on Broadway is more convenient if you’re just in town visiting.

Situated in a converted auto upholstery shop in East Nashville, Pelican & Pig uses their wood-burning hearth for everything—including cooking mahi, pork chops, ribeyes, potatoes, and housemade focaccia 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.

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