Nashville has always been known for its music. Not so its food, unless you wanted to dine exclusively on biscuits and BBQ (not that there's anything wrong with that…). As Nashville has grown in recent years, its food scene has evolved, and continues to do so. Chefs from across the country have migrated to Music City to open their own kitchens. And the rest of the country is taking notice. Now you'll find award-winning regional chefs and a focus on more organic ingredients as well as the time-honored Southern specialties. National attention, awards and praise have followed.
You can still find an array of fantastic hot chicken and BBQ joints, and some of those are not to be missed. Another popular tradition is gathering around food trucks serving handmade Southern fare – they're everywhere these days. But what locals like best is the influx of new, higher-end, sophisticated dining, the likes of which had been scarce in the past. No matter which way your budget and palate guides you, you can’t miss with any of these local favorites.
Need cookies on call? Leave that to Jake's Bakes. Sweet tooth that won't stop? Leave that to Jake's Bakes. Stuck for a thank you gift? Leave that to Jake's Bakes.
Give this cookie shop a call and 30 minutes later, a dozen warm cookies (plus milk, if you'd like) will arrive at your door (or the door of someone you'd like to treat). All are recipes were developed by Jake himself and change by season. There's a small bakery storefront if you just need one cookie (not that anyone can eat just one), or you want to pick up rather than call for delivery. (615-645-5916)
Set in the lower level of the historic Hermitage Hotel, this is one of the best dining rooms in the city. Chef Tyler Brown creates a menu that is approachable and very reflective of the city while still being attractive to the most discriminating palates. A great value is the daily 'blue plate' lunch with choices like BBQ, creamed chicken or buttermilk-mashed potatoes. The locale is also widely recognized for the most elegant but hearty breakfast dishes in town and amazing menus for holiday celebrations. Most of the vegetables are from the chef's own garden, harvested at the Double H Farms garden just four miles from the hotel and - the epitome of sustainable Southern cuisine. (615-345-7116)
Arnold's Country Kitchen
There's no fussy, trendy cuisine to be found here, but Arnold's is still a food lover's fantasy. Pick up a tray and make your way down the cafeteria-style line and choose from meat-and-three or a vegetable plate. The choices change by the day, but locals fill up on choices such as macaroni and cheese, turnip greens, mashed potatoes, roast beef, chicken and dumplings, fried chicken and more.
When it is crowded you may end up sharing your table with strangers. But this is the south; they won't be strangers for long. Arnold's is one of the few Nashville mainstays that has stayed popular for more than 30 years. You really could run into almost anyone while here. (615-256-4455)
Mas Tacos Por Favor
This much-loved food truck also serves its soups, tacos and other Mexican specialties at a quirky, popular East Nashville brick-and-mortar location, too.
Specials change throughout the week, but no matter the day, you're sure to get something solid and surprisingly good. The fried avocado and fried tilapia tacos are favorites, as is the spicy, tortilla soup. The sweet potato quinoa taco isn't something you'll find just anywhere.
Don't let the line intimidate you. It will move quickly. Custom dictates: Wait in the line to order before grabbing a table for your party. There are a few tables outside on the side patio, too. (615-543-6271)
Thanks to a location in a former Gulch auto garage, Adele's has an airy, welcoming feel that reflects its California inspiration. Founder and celebrity chef Jonathan Waxman named the joint after his mom, and the result is contemporary California cuisine that feels as familiar as your best friend's kitchen.
The menu changes by season, but favorites include the JW signature chicken and the JW potatoes, which are crispy on the outside. If you are lucky enough to be at Adele's when the cauliflower is in season, order it.
Adele's is that rare space that is appropriate for dinner out with the kids early in the evening and dinner out without them later on. (615-988-9700)
Prince's Hot Chicken Shack
At this tiny, hole-in-the-wall landmark, you'll discover fried chicken with a twist: the chicken is HOT. Even for people who swear they can stand anything, Prince's hot chicken presents a challenge. You can opt for four levels of heat, from mild to extra-hot. However, their "mild" is what most people would consider "spicy," so beware of what you order!
Hot chicken is pan fried, not deep fried, with secret spices that give it that pop. As a result, the wait can be fairly long, particularly late at night, so call in ahead of time. Or, just come prepared to people watch. It is always a good (hot) time at Prince's. (615-226-9442)
This indoor-outdoor venue is a fantastical hybrid of coffee house, bowling alley and beer garden. It sounds weird, but it works. Outdoors, cool off with frozen drinks served from a vintage Airstream bar, bocce ball or a dip in the swimming pool (yes, there is indeed a pool). Inside, find six bowling lanes and more space for eating, drinking and socializing. Deal get done here: It is close to the Entrepreneur Center and Jack White has been spotted in a booth more than once. But it is also the place locals go to play. Sometimes it all happens on the same day. (615-751-8111)
Butchertown Hall's meat-centric menu honors the historical butcher shops of its neighborhood, Germantown and draws meat lovers and paleo dieters alike. Get your protein fix with street tacos, sausages, ribs and burgers, among other meaty offerings. The modern interior (think subway tile, sleek fixtures) and bustling scene isn't well-suited for intimate conversation (In other words, it can get pretty loud), but the outdoor patio is.
Unlike many other meat-focus menus, street tacos and other dishes let you get a taste without feeling like you ate the whole cow. (615-454-3634)
When it opened in 2013, Husk was one of the most anticipated restaurants in Nashville, and reservations are still in demand, despite the fact that it is no longer new. Inside a former mayoral home in Rutledge Hill, chef Sean Brock's menu changes daily depending on what seasonal produce and proteins are available locally – and that includes the restaurant's very own garden. The ingredients are Southern, and the influences from this part of the country, but the tastes are wide and varied.
This is the kind of place that offers you the chance to pick your own steak knife before your steak arrives. (615-256-6565)
The Catbird Seat
For a truly memorable dining experience, score one of 32 seats with full view of the chefs at this second-story boutique restaurant. This isn't just a meal, but a form of entertainment, where menus don't really exist and multi-course meals and drink pairings are full of delight and surprise. It's not for those who like to play it safe with food, but a treat for foodies and adventure seekers. Chicago's Ryan Poli is taking the reigns at Catbird and locals are looking forward to his interpretation of this national favorite. (615-810-8200)
About Margaret Littman
Journalist Margaret Littman is a both a relative newcomer to Nashville as well as an old-timer, having returned to what was her college town as a grown-up.
She is the author of many guidebooks, including Moon Tennessee and Moon Nashville. Her work appears in Nashville Lifestyles, the Nashville Scene, RootsRated and in many other magazine and websites.
Since moving to Music City she has acquired a 1967 Ford pickup and a lot of pairs of cowboy boots, but still not the ability to carry a tune. In her free time, she's working her way through paddling in all 50 states.
Read more about Margaret Littman here.
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