Nashville’s food scene continues to expand at an astonishing pace. New restaurants are opening all over town, driven either by outside chefs wanting a piece of the Music City action or our own local culinary stars opening up their second, third, and for some, fourth concepts. There's no better time to live and dine in Nashville, where the hardest part of a meal is deciding what to try first. To get you started, here are our picks for the best new restaurants that opened in 2016.
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Chef Deb Paquette carries her globally inspired dishes and thoughtful coupling of flavor and exotic spices to etc., the sister restaurant to Nashville favorite Etch. A welcome addition to the Green Hills neighborhood, etc. is a more intimate Etch, with just 68 seats. The menu highlights include dishes like the cheese pie with black olive quinoa caviar, eggplant raisin sauce, smoked red bell tomato sauce, arugula, and caper garlic vinaigrette. There’s also the Portuguese ravioli with pulled pork, the day’s catch, scallops, shrimp, mussels, and a celery, fennel, and asparagus slaw. Although Paquette’s creations make it difficult to save room for dessert, you assuredly won’t be disappointed with pastry chef Megan Williams’ upside down plum cake or dark chocolate panna cotta.
Having previously worked together at his New Orleans flagship, Restaurant August, James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur John Besh and his chef de cuisine Justin Cameron have gifted Nashville their signature, seafood-centric dishes steeped in low-country tradition. The casual, all-day kitchen opened in October on the ground level of the new Thompson Nashville hotel. Throughout the day, hotel guests and local diners can enjoy Southern-inspired meals like shrimp 'n’ grits with fresh baked biscuits (provided by New Orleans’ Willa Jean bakery), Besh’s family secret gumbo recipe, or Porter Road Butcher’s pork dirty rice. There’s also fresh catch favorites like North Carolina trout, Florida Cedar Key clams, and blue crab cavatelli.
Chef Josh Habiger (Catbird Seat, Pinewood Social) and the team at Strategic Hospitality opened the kitchen at Bastion back in May. The bar opened a few months prior and was already driving nightlife traffic to the Wedgewood Houston neighborhood, with fans wanting creative cocktails like the Jack of No Trades, Black Sails, or Punch of the Day as well as addictive nachos. The 24-seat dining room is located around the main bar, tucked behind a secret sliding door. Half the seats in the house line the open kitchen, so you won’t miss an ingredient as the cooks prepare an unforgettable culinary experience.
If being Downtown’s first 24-hour diner wasn’t enough, Lower Broad’s Sun Diner clenched its spot on this list with two simple words: donut sandwich. Designed as a tribute to the legendary artists of Sun Records like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, the diner sits right next door to the Johnny Cash museum. Tourists can enjoy the music memorabilia along the walls with dishes like the Love Me Tenders and Cry Cry Cry Hot Wings. Sun Diner’s not only a great place to take visiting friends and family, but locals can rejoice in finally having the option of a quality, hot breakfast after a long night on the town.
Founders Vui and John Hunt opened their first Juice Bar in Brentwood in 2013 and have since expanded to six locations and more than 30 franchises. Their newest venture, Vui’s Kitchen in Berry Hill, showcases Vui’s passion for health-conscious Vietnamese dishes -- nothing fried, no MSG. Her pre-made summer rolls with ginger peanut sauce, pad thai, and homemade soups became increasingly popular among Juice Bar customers, and Vui’s Kitchen brings even more authentic Vietnamese dishes to the table. Try the banh mi with house-made pâté, the lemongrass pork belly, or the pho made with Vui’s 12-hour bone broth. Save room for her coconut pudding, tapioca pearls, and chia seeds in coconut cream with ginger, toasted sesame seeds, and crushed peanuts. Wash it all down with a Vietnamese iced coffee.
Wild Cow owners Melanie and John Cochran opened Graze -- a plant-based bistro and bar -- in the spring in the former space of Silly Goose. The casual vegetarian restaurant offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus with an all-day bar, offering fresh juices and coffees to craft cocktails. The healthy and affordable options (the most expensive item tops at just $12) include small plates of veggie crab cakes, hot seitan and tempeh sandwiches, and roasted veggie alfredo with a house-made cashew sauce and the goose’s couscous named after the former tenant. Brunch is served on the weekends with breakfast burritos of seitan chorizo and cast iron tempeh biscuits.
Another successful opening from Fresh Hospitality is Little Donkey. It’s handmade to order Mexican cuisine, located in the Germantown Market building next to Cochon Butcher and Juice Bar. Although the food is fast, the meats are smoked slow, the corn tortillas are pressed onsite in the open kitchen, and the margaritas are made with freshly squeezed juices. The fried catfish tacos are great, and the fried chicken is served quarter or half bird and soaked overnight in a three-chili brine. That said, the overall crowd pleasers are the street style tacos and sides like their corn on the cob topped with cotija cheese and ancho chili powder.
Chef B.J. Lofback took his successful Nashville food truck, Funk Seoul Brother, and turned it into a new brick and mortar in Midtown. The menu of Korean and Japanese street food features sushi burritos -- loosely rolled seaweed wraps of rice, veggies, and an assortment of fresh fish -- poke bowls, and Korean barbecue tacos with bulgogi beef, caramelized kimchi, gochujang BBQ sauce, purple cabbage, Sriracha aioli, and ginger scallion salsa. Try the Titan Up sushi burrito with tuna, salmon, veggies, and unagi sauce or the non-fish Godzilla burrito with bits of Nashville hot chicken.
Tom Morales of TomKats Hospitality (The Southern Steak & Oyster, Acme Feed & Seed) opened a new concept in the Gulch. Fin & Pearl offers fresh seafood through sustainable sourcing and a Southern hospitality experience that Nashville diners have become accustomed to with TomKats establishments. The shuck-to-order raw bar includes oysters (hot and cold), shrimp and lobster cocktails, a variety of fresh poke and caviar, and plenty of entrees for carnivores and vegetarians alike.
Chinese food takes on a Southern influence at East Nashville’s newest dining spot built from the capable hands of Ryan and Ann Bernhardt. Ryan was formerly the chef de cuisine at Margot Cafe and Ann balances her time between TKO and managing City House. Notable dishes include the clam dip and fried wontons, fried rice with acorn squash, collards and egg, as well as cornmeal fried catfish with a black bean sauce. Another unique aspect is that the restaurant forgoes tipping and instead builds it into the prices to later be evenly distributed amongst all staff.
This European-style marketplace, restaurant, wine bar, and bottle shop is a combined effort of Nashville native and sommelier Mattie Jackson, general manager Hannah Schneider, and chef Molly Fitzpatrick Martin. There's something for any time of day, whether you start with a coffee and pastry from Village Bakery & Provisions or build your charcuterie board with custom sliced meats, cheeses, and pickled items to enjoy onsite or take home.The restaurant is comprised of shareable plates from lighter options like butternut hummus, beets, and strawberry salad to more substantial dishes illustrated by the trout panzanella, beef sliders, and spiced lamb meatballs.
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1. Etc.3790 Bedford Avenue, Nashville
2. Marsh House, Nashville
3. Bastion434 Houston St, Nashville
4. Sun Diner105 3rd Ave S, Nashville
5. Vui's Kitchen2832 Bransford Ave, Nashville
6. Graze Nashville1888 Eastland Ave, East Nashville
7. Little Donkey1120 4th Ave N, Ste 103, Nashville
8. Funk Seoul Brother2057 Scarritt Pl, Nashville
9. Fin & Pearl, Nashville
10. TKO4204 Gallatin Pike, Nashville
11. Salt and Vine4001 Charlotte Ave, Nashville
At Etc., a cool American cuisine spot that can only be described as Southern swank, the menu is upscale and the craft cocktails are spirit-inspired. At dinner the Scallop Crudo made with roasted poblano pepper oil, watermelon radish, and watercress tempura and the Fowl Trio comprised of cinnamon duck breast, grasshopper crumble, pumpkin seed foie gras, poblano cheese grits, red mole roasted chicken, and tamarind fried onions are stand outs among the rest of the globally-inspired fare. The cocktails are equally complex and flavorful with options like vodka, beet juice, and spicy ginger beer and white rum, lychee shrub, lime juice and soda. At lunch you can’t beat the Indian Chicken Taco served with hot peach jam, smoked date yogurt, mint pea pesto, and peanuts.
Chefs John Besh and Justin Cameron join forces at The Marsh House at the Gulch’s Thompson Nashville Hotel to deliver rosters of old and new southern dishes on breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus. The cocktail program rotates seasonally, and the wine list encompasses both domestic and international wines. Breakfast is the most traditionally southern, with plates like steak & eggs, shrimp & grits, and massive, buttery biscuits from Willa Jean’s Lisa Marie White. Lunch and dinner are more seafood-centric, with chilled, shellfish, and fish offerings, supplemented by Besh’s own family recipe gumbo.
Bastion began as a cocktail bar, where creatively named-and-mixed drinks like the Jack of No Trades, Black Sails, and Punch of the Day were as much of a draw as its addicting nachos. A few months after it opened in 2016, it added a 24-seat dining room. Tucked behind a sliding door around the main bar, Bastion's restaurant serves intricate dishes from an oft-changing menu. Half the seats face the open kitchen, so you'll be able to watch the cooks plate items like chicken & dumplings over cauliflower cream and sunchoke ice cream with foie gras caramel.
Sun Diner, named for the Sun Record Company that claims to be the origin of Rock n’ Roll, with its collaged walls ultra American, breakfast-only options is as consistent as your favorite diner, but a little more upscale and a lot more hip. Between the fried chicken and waffles drowned in sausage gravy, sweet Bananas Foster’s Pancakes, the Donut Breakfast Sandwich (a greasy sausage, egg, and cheese on a fluffy glazed doughnut), and the Breakfast Burger (beef patty topped with bacon, cheddar, an egg, and fixings), you’ll waddle out of the rustic, retro joint totally satisfied at any time of the day or night (hint: it’s open 24 hours).
This fast-casual restaurant in Berry Hill offers fresh, never-fried takes on Vietnamese classics, including banh mi, pho, and noodle bowls, with an option to sub any of the tofu offerings with lemongrass-marinated pork belly, chicken, beef, or shrimp. The space is small, but two patios provide unexpected seating options, as well as an airier setting to enjoy your sugarcane juice or glass of sparkling wine.
This plant-based bistro and bar in East Nashville offers vegan options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with hearty portions and Southern flavors making up for the lack of meat and dairy. While the restaurant caters to an on-the-go crowd (the juice bar offers pre-made drinks), the entire menu -- from tempeh biscuits to cashew brie -- can be enjoyed at your leisure within the casual, 40-seat space, too.
Little Donkey is a hybrid Southern comfort food and traditional Mexican cuisine spot that has a rustic, neighborhood feel. Everything on the menu is made from scratch from the succulent fried chicken that’s brined overnight in a mixture of three hot chilis and then fried Southern-style, to the tacos that range from more traditional Mexican street options like the Adobado (pork shoulder stewed in guajillo and Arbol chiles on corn tortillas) to Southern BBQ-style smoked beef brisket tacos with roasted poblano peppers. Wash it down with one of many margarita options, or go for Donkey’s Daddy, the signature drink, made with whiskey, blanco tequila, house made hibiscus syrup, and fresh lime juice. Pro tip: get the churros… they come out piping hot with dipping chocolate.
The brick-and-mortar outpost of beloved sushi burrito food truck Funk Seoul Brother has a whole lot going for it, not the least of which is its ‘90s hit song namesake. On offer are sushi burritos and bowls, poke bowls, and featured dishes like Korean BBQ Tacos, with bulgogi beef, caramelized kimchi, gochujang BBQ sauce, purple cabbage, sriracha aioli, and ginger scallion salsa, and Spicy Tuna Nachos, made with fried wonton chips, spicy tuna, sriracha aioli, and unagi sauce. You might not believe us, but the most thrilling part of this spot is not the saucy, zesty, delectable food you’ll be guzzling down, but, rather, the presence of tables and chairs, which negates the inevitable state of worry typically provoked while walking and eating post food truck.
At Fin & Pearl, illustrious restaurateur Tom Morales’s is advocating for ecofriendly and sustainable sourcing and operations, starting at the source: working exclusively with purveyors that provide the highest quality fish, caught by small, privately owned boats devoted to their catch. At the Ocean Bar, the restaurant’s raw bar, you can find oysters in both cold and hot preparations (think chilled pico de gallo with hibiscus cabernet mignonette and micro basil or oysters scampi), fresh poke, and a selection of caviar, while the main menu features the fresh catch of the day, served with charred scallion Carolina gold rice and a choice of lemon herb buerre-blanc, giardiniera, and Caribbean creole garnishes. Complement your fish with “Farmed” and “High and Dry” menu selections, like barramundi and lamb sausage with tomato, kale, and chickpea brodetto or pork chop with creamed rutabaga, cauliflower, and root beer demi-glaze. The ocean-themed cocktail menu offers favorites like the Eye of the Storm, with Blue Chair Bay Silver Rum, Meyer’s Dark Rum, orange, pineapple, passion fruit, lime, and amaretto.
On the northern end of Inglewood sits TKO, a Southern-inspired Chinese restaurant that subtly conflates cuisines, including slaw in the braised pork steamed buns and adding cornmeal-fried catfish to the broccoli and fennel black bean sauce dish. The limited food menu is bolstered by the beverages on offer, encompassing reds, whites, and beers that quite literally span the globe in origin, like the Lucky Buddha Lager from China, the Rojac Malvazija from Slovenia, or the Hi-Wire Gose from Asheville, North Carolina. TKO ditches kitschy cocktail names in favor of drinks austerely identified by number: the No. 3 is a swirl of Old Overholt, ginger, lemon, apple, tea, and Angostura, while the No. 10 synthesizes Hamilton & Appleton Rum, apple shrub, and cinnamon into a sweet, spicy elixir.
Salt & Vine in Sylvan Heights is a culinary triple threat: at once a gourmet market, wine bar, and restaurant. Offerings range daily from market boards of charcuterie and cheeses to snacks and sharing plates, like delicate radish toast with double crème cheese and smoked salt, and melty burrata with tomato confit, cabernet onion jam, and rosemary. The sweets are heavenly and decadent; try pots de crème with salted pretzel toffee bark and brown butter oatmeal cookies, and pair them with one of 25 wines featured on the beverage menu.