Here Are Nashville’s Best New Restaurants of 2018
There’s no doubt that Nashville has become a premier dining destination, not just for tourists, but also for restaurateurs. A full half of this list of the best new Music City spots that opened in 2018 are outposts of restaurants from other cities. That's fine. Nashville welcomes newcomers with open arms, as long as they don’t clog up the roads during rush hour. Which they do. But all of these restaurants are appreciated additions to the local dining scene. Here's where you need to eat right now.
Seasonal wood-fired pizzas from the Rolf & Daughters team
Rolf & Daughters chef and owner Philip Krajeck shares his life-long love of pizza at his second restaurant, this time in East Nashville across the river from his original Germantown eatery. In addition to some fantastic pies, Folk also features inventive takes on pasta and vegetables that draw fans from both sides of the river. Krajeck made his name cooking on the Gulf Coast, so he’s pretty darned strong with seafood, too. In fact, any dish that comes out of the wood-fired brick oven is worthy of your attention.
Elevated Japanese cuisine in a high-powered atmosphere
As soon as you walk in the door and spy the soaring ceilings with giant origami hanging from the ceiling, leather-lined booths and private little nooks for intimate dining, you know that The Green Pheasant is something special. Even though it’s located on the ground floor of a new office tower, the restaurant feels like a real dining destination on its own. The menu features intricate and beautiful plates of food inspired by the chefs’ trips to Japan plus a great program of sake and Japanese whiskeys.
Eat like a James Beard winner does at home
James Beard Award–winning chef Tandy Wilson invigorated the Nashville restaurant scene with his inventive rustic Italian cuisine at City House, but his new restaurant right around the corner from the original focuses on the sort of traditional Southern cooking that Wilson loves to cook at home for his family. The signature dish is a sticky barbecued chicken served with slaw and crushed potato chips that is the sort of meal you’d make on your own backyard grill. (Y’know, if you had won a James Beard Award…) Even if it's not what you'd make, don't miss out.
Modern steakhouse brings its chops to the ‘burbs
It’s hard to believe that Green Hills hasn’t had a decent steakhouse since Steak and Ale closed years ago. Considering the disposable income of most residents of this hotbed of suburban rest, it’s no surprise that Char is killing it. The straight-ahead menu of grilled beef dishes and well-executed seafood entrees served at surprisingly reasonable prices is unbeatable. Live music in the bar is also a nice addition to the neighborhood.
Latest outpost of health food chain lands in Green Hills
Located in the same new Green Hills high-rise as Char, True Food Kitchen offers healthy options to appease that picky doctor. Focusing on dishes that promise to be healthy and nutritious, True Food Kitchen has proven to be quite popular with the yoga pants-wearing Whole Foods shoppers of the neighborhood. They choose from a selection of salads, protein bowls, and even ostensibly healthy -- or at least “organic,” “responsibly-sourced” and “grass-fed” -- pizzas.
Smoked meats from a grand champion pitmaster
After a career winning competitive barbecue championships and running a successful catering business, pitmaster Shane Nasby finally made the jump to retail restaurateur with his first brick-and-mortar establishment in the new One Bellevue Place shopping center. In addition to excellent versions of the expected smoked meat classics of pulled pork, ribs, chicken and beef brisket, HoneyFire offers excellent regional side dishes like Hoosier corn pudding and sweet cinnamon apples. Intrepid diners can attempt to finish their 6-pound meat platter called “The Cledis” in less than 45 minutes for the chance to win a $50 gift card. Good luck with that.
Crab cakes and po-boys and seafood towers, oh my!
After backing into the shell of the former Blackstone brewpub in Midtown like a hermit crab, Saltine has a lot going for it, not the least of which is the fact that they actually offer free parking in the middle of the busy office district. Besides that convenience, a seafood-centric menu that revolves around oysters, shrimp, and the freshest fish they can source this far from open water makes for some difficult choices. Indecisive diners can order a seafood tower to sample a little bit of everything, but then they’d miss out on one of the best crab cakes in town. Saltine’s fantastic po-boy sandwiches will also make you know what it means to miss New Orleans.
Great wine and sharing plates at very affordable prices
Despite a chic decor and a focus on wines that you won’t find on most local menus, Louie’s isn’t at all snobby. It is called a “dive” after all. The wait staff loves to educate diners about new wines that change frequently on the feature board hanging over the bar, so heed their advice. You might discover the perfect accompaniment for Louie’s food menu of shareable cheese and charcuterie boards or internationally-inspired plates like Tandoori Chilean Chicken or Banh Mi Duck Lettuce Wraps. The “Thousand Dollar Chicken” looks like a million bucks thanks to a perfectly roasted golden crispy skin.
Modern Middle Eastern Cuisine in Middle East Nashville
Elevated Middle Eastern food is having a moment, and Lyra is the premium practitioner in town. Chef Hrant Arakelian draws on his Lebanese heritage for inspiration for a menu of vegetable-forward appetizers and exotically spiced meaty main dishes. The artful plates are as beautiful as the cool vibe of the dining space, and the whole experience has brought a spotlight to the Cleveland Park's dining scene previously known for casual spots like Mas Tacos, Por Favor, and Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden.
Detroit-style pies and outrageous sandwiches
Before Emmy Squared opened up in the tiny space in the Gulch previously home to The 404 Kitchen, most Nashvillians couldn’t tell you the difference between Detroit pizza and the Detroit Pistons. Now that they’ve discovered the rectangular pies with a seemingly impossible crust that is chewy and crunchy at the same time and learned that the crispy cheese baked into the edges of the crust is called “frico,” they agree that Emmy Squared is frico-ing fantastic. The kitchen also puts out one of the best burgers and most filling sandwiches in the city.
Pan-Asian spot where it's OK to eat with your hands
Thanks to his success running restaurants and bars in Chicago, Sunda owner Billy Dec makes frequent appearances on morning news shows mixing up cocktails and sharing recipes from his Filipino heritage. He now calls Nashville home and concentrates on his sexy new restaurant in the Gulch. Serving elaborate sushi rolls and a menu that combines the flavors and techniques from all over Southeast Asia, Sunda is a popular spot for visitors looking for something different from the elevated Southern or hot chicken that Nashville is known for. Sunda’s monthly kamayan feast where diners eat with their hands from a long table piled high with traditional Filipino meat and seafood dishes is an exotic treat.
High-end, dry-aged steak that's worth the fare
When the towering new J.W. Marriott was rising up story by story over SoBro, locals wondered what the heck that spaceship-looking protuberance was sticking out of top of the building. It turns out that it’s the bar at Bourbon Steak, a Michael Mina project that serves fabulous dry-aged steaks and Wagyu beef from Japan, New Zealand and the US. Their signature Maine Lobster Pot Pie is served with a rich brandied lobster cream dramatically plated tableside, and at least one person at the table absolutely must order it.
Soul food and soulful music in an important historical locale
Woolworth on Fifth is located in the former site of one of the most significant icons of Nashville’s civil rights struggle in the 1960s, a former lunch counter where activists took part in some of the first sit-ins for racial justice in the South. The restaurant juggles food and history delicately, displaying photos from the turbulent era along the mezzanine that originally housed the counter while serving up hearty soulful food in the main dining room. There’s also a period-appropriate showroom in the basement that features a big band orchestra and jazz acts that would have fit in just fine back in the day.
Big enough for Montreal- and Brooklyn-style sandwiches
If you don’t expect much from a deli in the lobby of a hotel, you haven’t been to Mile End yet. Located on the ground floor of the retro cool Fairlane Hotel, Mile End Deli serves up overstuffed sandwiches like you’d expect from a New York delicatessen along with Montreal-style bagels topped with traditional schmears and smoked meats or fish. More traditional breakfast dishes like pancakes and the ubiquitous avocado toast are also available. True to Canadian traditions, there are also a couple of rich poutine options with french fries covered with cheese curds and gravy. You might have to get a room at the Fairlane to take a nap after that one.
Bubbles and wood-fired foods in a restored smithy
The charming little brick building that Geist occupies was the home of a blacksmith shop and ironworks dating back to the 19th century, so it’s not really a surprise that they still love using open fires to cook at the new restaurant. An outdoor stove provides heat for cooking and to warm patrons on the patio that they call “The Champagne Garden.” Bubbles are de rigueur at Geist where they recommend sparkling wines to accompany much of their menu of rustic European cuisine. The ambiance of the dining room is quite romantic with delicate chandeliers offering exactly the right amount of low light for intimacy in the dark velvet booths. Just add bubbles for instant amour.
Competition barbecue served up for the general public
Originally, The Charcoal Cowboys was the name of a competition cooking team that won medals around the South and was featured on three episodes of the BBQ Pitmasters television show. After a decade of national acclaim, the masters of the smoker decided to focus on their home market with a new restaurant where they serve what they call “pit to plate bbq.” Believing “go big or go home,” they opened in a large building with a beer bar and plenty of televisions to watch sports or reruns of their own old episodes. Meat lovers are flocking to the new spot to sample the Cowboys’ expertly smoked meats and five signature sauces. Cowboy up!
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