It's no secret that Nashville has a booming restaurant scene with hundreds of great places and thousands of great dishes. But sometime a single plate is all it takes to make the reputation of a rising chef and thrust them into the indigenous culinary firmament. So in that light, here are 11 local dishes that will never let you down...
Belly Ham Pizza
City House (address and info)
For Chef Tandy Wilson's signature house pie, he tops a crust that is perfectly charred in his wood oven with mozzerella, Grana Padano, a sprinkle of oregano, and chilies in oil, and then finishes it off with slabs of crispy pork belly -- and while the egg is technically optional, you can't in all good conscience say no to it.
Arnold's Country Kitchen (address and info)
There’s almost always a line to get into this venerable meat-and-three diner in the Gulch, but on Mondays, the assembled masses shove a little harder to get in the door and closer to the steam table. That’s because Monday is fried chicken day at Arnold’s, where Kahlil Arnold is serving up twice-battered, perfectly crispy and golden yardbird that's about as good as any in the country.
Etch (address and info)
In the hands of an able chef like Deb Paquette of Etch, this pedestrian side dish takes center stage as she simply roasts florets seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and then serves them with rich accompaniments of feta cream and a truffled pea pesto. Even avowed carnivores have to admit that broccoli’s little cousin can actually be delicious.
Butterscotch Habanero Bread Pudding
Midtown Cafe (address and info)
When the sad word came out that venerable Hillsboro Village stalwart Sunset Grill was shutting down, many longtime fans selfishly wondered if some of their favorite dishes would migrate to one of Nashville restaurateur Randy Rayburn’s other restaurants. Fortunately, many of the classics are making the trip down the street to Midtown Café, including, thank God, the sweet and spicy Butterscotch Habanero Bread Pudding, a dish that is just too damned good to die.
Grilled Hereford NY Strip with chimichurri
Lockeland Table (address and info)
When Lockeland Table Chef Hal Holden-Bache competed in the finals of the World Chef Challenge competition at last year’s World Food Championships in Las Vegas, the challenge was to prepare signature dishes. While his competitors tried to wow the judges with all sorts of lame molecular gastronomy, Holden-Bache poured his heart out onto a plate; he grilled Hereford NY strip steak with roasted sweet tomato sauté, brilliant green chimichurri sauce, and green beans deglazed with house-made smoked vinegar. The dish will always be on the menu at any restaurant where Holden-Bache ever works, and he even has a deal with his partners to keep it on even in the event of his death.
Pozole Verde Soup
Mas Tacos Por Favor (address and info)
While ardent fans go on and on (and on and on) about the famous Chicken Tortilla Soup at Mas Tacos Por Favor, here’s a little hint for you: it may not even be the best soup on its menu. The Pozole Verde is its take on a classic Mexican bowl of broth made with deep layers of flavors from a dark stock, fresh vegetables, and plenty of lime to tantalize your tongue.
Malaysian Style Noodles
Thai Esane (address and info)
Lots of places call themselves “pan-Asian,” but at Thai Esane, it’s more than just lip service. The menu features native dishes from Thailand, Laos, Singapore, and Malaysia, but the one thing they have in common is a dedication to bold flavors. The Malaysian Style Noodles feature wide rice noodles, sprouts, eggs, and addictive Chinese sausage, all tossed in a sweet sauce and stir fried.
Pepperfire (address and info)
Picture a pepper jack grilled cheese sandwich. Now take that picture and dump it in a deep fryer. Then top that gooey, crispy fried morsel with three infernally hot fried chicken tenders. Add a cooling swath of syrupy sweet apples that taste (intentionally) like they are straight from the apple pie filling can, and you’ve got a meal that’s worth the trip out to East Nashville.
Josephine (address and info)
What is scrapple? Traditionally a breakfast item, scrapple could euphemistically be described as the parts of the pig that didn’t even make it into the sausage. In Chef Andy Little’s hands, this loaf of pork is crusted with cornmeal and served with toasted dried corn and a chow chow vinaigrette, and it is so much more than the sum of its parts.
Union Common (address and info)
Sometimes it sucks to be a seafood lover in a landlocked state. But at Union Common, they serve a chilled platter of seafood that will make you believe you can smell the salt on the air, thanks to a half-dozen each of jumbo shrimp and seasonal oysters served on a bed of ice accompanied by a quarter-pound of jumbo crab meat, a Maine lobster tail, and a half-pound of some deliciously smoked mussels.
Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint (address and info)
At Martin’s, you can order a wide variety of smoked meats, from pulled whole hog to ribs to beef brisket to chicken. Get them in their natural form or as part of a sandwich, or, better, as part of pitmaster Pat Martin’s novel Redneck Taco. Five ounces of your preferred meat are served atop a sweet corncake smothered with spicy sauce and a helping of creamy, crunchy slaw. The slaw is not an option, by the way. Expect an argument if you ask to leave it off.
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1. City House1222 4th Ave N, Nashville
2. Arnold's Country Kitchen605 8th Ave S, Nashville
3. Etch303 Demonbreun St, Nashville
4. Midtown Cafe102 19th Ave S, Nashville
5. Lockeland Table1520 Woodland St, Nashville
6. Mas Tacos Por Favor732 McFerrin Ave, Nashville
7. Thai Esane907 12th Ave South, Nashville
8. Pepperfire2821 Gallatin Pike, Nashville
9. Josephine2316 12th Ave S., Nashville
10. Union Common1929 Broadway, Nashville
11. Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint3108 Belmont Blvd, Nashville
The James Beard-nominated City House has become a Nashville staple for its creative spin on Italian dishes. The weekly Sunday Supper with its ever-changing lineup is always a hot event, but be sure to make reservations in advance. This Germantown spot is also a great place for wine lovers. Its small, secluded bar is a great place to meet with friends for a quick glass after work, and even solo diners can have a great experience sitting at the pizza bar with a glass of Sangiovese and watching the talented kitchen work the wood-fired oven.
This classic meat-and-three has been keeping the masses fed for more than three decades, with cafeteria-style meals like catfish, chicken, dumplings, fried green tomatoes, cornbread, etc., which will only run you about eight bucks a meal. While the line can get long and sometimes even stretch out the door, it moves quickly and is absolutely worth the wait. Don't miss the banana pudding, though the scratch-made chess or chocolate pies aren't shabby, either. Important note: the small, red restaurant is only open for lunch on weekdays so plan accordingly.
Etch is the go-to destination to kick off or cap off an evening of Downtown fun for those looking for a fine-dining experience near the various sporting and entertainment venues in the surrounding neighborhood. Chef Deb Paquette loves to have fun with her food and shares the joy by using bold spices and dramatic flavors to create exquisitely plated meals. If you're not in the mood for a full meal, their happy hour menu is worth checking out, complete with some small plates, draft beers, and featured wines.
Located in Midtown (obviously), this New American eatery and cafe features a slew of tasty dishes for lunch and dinner, as well as a solid list of desserts (the homemade bread pudding is a must), not to mention a wine list that runs three pages deep.
A true community restaurant and bar, Lockeland Table is essentially the neighborhood clubhouse for East Nashville residents seeking a convivial atmosphere and soulful food. The menu at Lockeland is highlighted by Italian and American dishes, all with a Southern twist and an eye toward seasonal, sustainable, and local ingredients whenever possible. The reconstructed exterior is a homage to the original 1930s H.G Hills dry goods store.
Mas Tacos Por Favor is East Nashville’s snug, corner taco shop where the lines are long and the tacos are cheap. The one-time food truck draws diners from across Nashville in search of the best, most authentic meal their 10-spot can buy. The chalkboard menu features food made from scratch, like tamales, tacos (try the quinoa-sweet potato tacos, Guy Fieri said so), pozole verde, and of course, homemade horchata to round out the meal. Be prepared to wait in line, the Mas Tacos secret is out.
This 12South Thai spot features an extensive list of entrees, giving you plenty of options depending on your choice of meat and spice and noodles verses rice.
Offering a great mix of flavors, like pepper and cumin, and a respectable level of heat, this East Nashville resto is beloved by locals, but it's not as known among the tourists coming to town in hopes of a hot chicken fix.
Josephine has gained quite a following thanks to its French bistro cuisine and regional American dishes. Chef Andy Little has been exciting Nashville with his brand of cooking, particularly during his weekends-only 10x10 special prix-fixe dinners where some courses arrive at the table plated on a long plank. Josephine's prides itself on being a fuss-free elegant eatery, and we appreciate their minimal industrial decor and casual yet high class vibe.
Union Common is located where Division meets Broadway in Midtown in lofty space with a triangular dining room where cars stream by on both sides of the restaurant. The art deco interior and cool jazz playing create the perfect ambiance and backdrop for a creative menu designed for sharing large format steaks, served pre-sliced for easy distribution around the table.
This Belmont meatery does an array of BBQ deliciousness (brisket, turkey legs, fried bologna sandwiches, etc.), but its claim to fame is the classic pulled pork BBQ sandwich drenched in the Sweet Dixie Sauce. Martin's is definitely in the top ranks for the best BBQ in Nashville.