The Nashville food scene has become as much a reason to visit the Music City as its country music legacy. With so many cool Nashville restaurants to choose from, where do you start? That is the challenge. Luckily with a city that is growing and changing so rapidly, it is easy to return again and again to try something new. As Condé Nast Traveler said, “There’s enough going on food-wise to warrant a trip solely for eating.”
Nashville has come a long way from simply hot chicken (although they did put it on the map.) Instead, the city is now home to many aspiring and established chefs from James Beard Award winners and semifinalists to celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan of Food Network’s Iron Chef and Chopped. With Nashville ranked as a top city for millennials, it is no surprise that you will also find your fair share of farm to table restaurants and craft cocktails on Nashville’s smoking hot food scene.
Even though the country music was fine, it was really the Nashville restaurants that attracted us on our recent mother-daughter civil rights road trip. I got some excellent recommendations from Kristin over at Camels & Chocolate, because not only is she a local, she also has great taste. Armed with her recommendations, suggestions from other friends, and a bit of online research, we set out to taste our way through Nashville. Of course, as usual, we switched things up a bit on the fly, because that’s how we roll.
We never even made it to Hattie B’s (gasp!) But no worries, we did try some hot chicken in Nashville and got the famous Hattie B’s while in Birmingham, Alabama. In case you live under a rock, Hattie B’s is one of Nashville’s most famous hot chicken restaurants, but not the one that invented it. Thornton Prince is really the father of hot chicken, since he was the one whose cheating ways caused his wife to create some mega spicy chicken as a punishment. Turned out instead, he liked it and together they created Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, which is now in its third generation.
Hattie B offers hot chicken in mix and match spice levels from regular southern all the way up to “Shut the Cluck Up.” While hot chicken sounds exotic, it truly is just fried chicken with an awful lot of spice. But unlike buffalo or other spicy chicken, there is no sauce, the heat is in the pepper and spices on the crispy skin. Another popular spot for hot chicken is Pepper Fire Hot Chicken in East Nashville, but you can find it cropping up on menus all over the city.
Favorite Nashville Restaurants
But enough about hot chicken, like I said, Nashville has so much more to offer. Even going out for breakfast, lunch and dinner during our stay, there was only so much food that we could eat. We had to narrow down the field and these are our favorite Nashville restaurant discoveries.
Restaurants in Downtown Nashville
The Farmhouse is a farm-to-table restaurant featuring artfully-prepared small plates. Chef Trey Cioccia was born and raised nearby among a family of farmers and he maintains this dedication to seasonally-fresh vegetable selections, house-cured and smoked meats, fresh Tennessee trout, poultry, house-made sausage, and prime cuts of beef.
Decor at The Farmhouse is what I would describe as rustic fine dining. Plenty of earth tones and natural materials to support the farm-to-table aesthetic. Tables are close enough to observe what you should order next by what dishes parade past. Yet while the atmosphere is lively, it doesn’t get so loud that you can’t enjoy your dinner conversation.
When it comes to the menu, it is best to go with a group to sample all the small plates because they all sound so delicious that decisions are hard. We skipped the entrees entirely to try more of the small dishes and to leave room for dessert. Do me a favor and try the cookie skillet. You will thank me. Everything was delicious but since the menu changes seasonally, every visit can be a new adventure.
The Farmhouse, 210 Almond Street, Nashville, TN 37201, 615.522.0688
Acme Feed & Seed
Switching up from fine dining to fun dining, Acme Feed & Seed isn’t your typical Broadway Honky Tonk, although you can find live music (of course!) It is almost like three restaurants in one. The first floor is fast-casual, where you order the eclectic southern fare at the register and they will deliver the food to the table. There are 28 beers on tap with communal tables and live music every evening and during weekend brunch. One note: skip the hot chicken sandwich here, Wendy’s probably makes a spicier chicken, but don’t worry because the cat fish is yummy and so are the fries.
The second floor at Acme Feed & Seed is full service, with craft cocktails, lounge seating, vintage games, and even a photo booth. The menu upstairs is more upscale gastropub with a sushi bar. Upstairs on the roof deck is where the grown up action is, along with one of the best views in the city. You can bring food up from the first floor and enjoy cocktails, or it turns into a dance party on Friday and Saturday nights.
Acme Feed & Seed, 101 Broadway, Nashville, TN 37201, 615.915.0888
Nashville Restaurants in The Gulch
You absolutely can’t go to Nashville without going to Biscuit Love. The location in the Gulch is pretty popular and you will usually see a line out the door. To skip the line, head over to the Hillsboro Village location or go at off hours but either way, it is worth the wait for breakfast or for lunch.
Start off with an order of Bonuts to share. Bonuts are a Biscuit Love original, fried biscuit dough with lemon mascarpone and blueberry compote. So darn good! If you haven’t gotten any hot chicken yet, combine biscuits and chicken with the “Princess” or “East Nasty.”
Biscuit Love Gulch, 316 11th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37203, 615-490-9584, #biscuitlovegulch
Adele’s popped onto my radar during one of those last minute schedule changes that had me pulling up OpenTable to see what was available nearby. Adele’s popped up and looked interesting, not knowing at the time that it was one of Jonathan Waxman’s restaurants. Adele’s is named after Chef Waxman’s late mother and features an open kitchen with a large fireplace grill and wood-burning oven. The restaurant has a garage-like feel, with a long bar paired with brightly-colored, backless stools, and a stained concrete floor. On warm days, the sides of the main dining area open up to provide a shaded, open-air eating space.
The menu focuses on seasonal comfort food sourced from local farms. It was certainly a nice contrast from fried chicken and biscuits! If I go back, I will definitely get the Jonathan Waxman roast chicken with salsa verde (fresh herbs) because we have actually made this recipe at home and it is fantastic. Since we weren’t too hungry when we visited, we focused on small plates of bruschetta and asparagus salad and shared the gnocchi. We loved both the atmosphere and food, plus it was a short walk from our hotel at Union Station.
Adele’s, 1210 McGavock Street, Nashville TN, 615.988.9700, complimentary valet parking.
We needed a quick bite before the 7:00 pm performance at the Grand Ole Opry, and it needed to be walking distance from our hotel. So we headed back to the Gulch and to Burger Republic, which we scouted earlier during our walk from Biscuit Love. It seemed like the perfect solution for a quick meal and I was right. When you show up at 5:00 pm for dinner, either the bar is going to be crowded from the after work crowd or the kitchen will churn out your food fast because you are some of the only people there. We lucked out with the latter, but the crowds came in later.
Burger Republic claims to have the best burgers, shakes and craft beer in Nashville. I haven’t tried them all, but I was impressed. First of all, I never expected to find my favorite Icelandic beer in Nashville. But I shouldn’t have been too surprised to see Einstöck White Ale there, after all, I also found it at a seafood shack on Amelia Island in Florida. In any case, it made me happy and started the meal off right.
We could not resist trying The Tennessee burger — after all, it made Zagat’s 50 Burgers in 50 States list. This decadent hunk of meat is dripping with Jack Daniel’s honey glaze, American chess, smoked ketchup, maple-basted Benton’s bacon, and Memphis spice-dusted crispy onions. OMG delicious. Paired that with the truffle tator tots and we were in heaven.
Burger Republic, 420 11th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37203, 615-915-1943
Restaurants in East Nashville
We discovered Lockeland Table Community Kitchen and Bar on our East Nashville food tour with Walk. Eat. Nashville. Even though I only sampled a few tastings and a craft cocktail, I could tell this place needs to be on your radar. Chef Hal Holden-Bache has gained some national acclaim with his appearance on an episode of Beat Bobby Flay, and his food shows why.
Lockeland Table is housed in a reconstructed storefront, resembling the original 1930s H.G. Hills dry goods store. The reconstruction was certainly a community effort and the dedication to the local community comes through in the food, design, and service.
The food is focused on fresh, local ingredients, which our tasting of summer succotash with crisp pork belly truly showcased.
Lockeland Table, 1520 Woodland Street, Nashville, TN, 615.228.4864
Restaurants near Nashville
When you are ready to go full-on tourist, head out of town to the Loveless Cafe. Not only does it make a great Instagram stop, you will fill up on down-home cooking with enough food to last you all day. This cafe cum tourist trap focuses on hot biscuits and country ham, with all your southern cooking favorites.
The Loveless Cafe has been around for over 65 years. When Lon and Annie Loveless’ restaurant became so popular, they built on a 14-room motel for overnight guests. Today those motel rooms house shops and that old motel sign is a recognizable icon. Over half a million visitors a year stop at the Loveless Cafe for home-cooked meals.
Daily specials include chicken-fried chicken, BBQ chicken, chicken and dumping, hot chicken, honey-fired chicken, watermelon ribs, and smoked beef brisket. Hungry yet? Unless you arrive early, you will have plenty of time to build up an appetite as you wait for your table. But no worries, this gives you plenty of time to wander through the complex of shops, play a game of corn hole, tour the Barn, and grab a photo opp.
While they are open seven days a week from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm, breakfast is served all day. You start off with a plate of biscuits and go from there. I tried the chicken and waffles because, when in the south… (now if only I could figure out how to cut that dish.) The chicken was crisp and juicy sitting on top of a fluffy waffle. I could barely roll out of there but somehow the smell of the pit barbecue got my taste buds watering all over again.
Despite the kitsch, it is definitely worth the stop.
Loveless Cafe, 8400 Highway 100, Nashville, TN 37221, 615-646-9700
These were our top discoveries…for now. I do hope to return to Nashville and you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be spending most of that visit trying more of the top Nashville restaurants. And I can’t wait.
Also check out this guide to planning a romantic weekend in Nashville.
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