Today, we’re excited to announce the winners of the 2021 Eater Awards, celebrating the new restaurants and pop-ups that made the largest impact on Eater cities since January 2020. After Eater deferred last year’s awards while the industry contended with the rippling effects of the pandemic, restaurants began to settle into the cadence of a new normal. New places in the Nashville dining scene are setting the standard for what the future of the industry looks like and how it operates.
Choosing these winners is never easy — a task made more difficult this year by the extenuating circumstances brought on by the global health crisis. Eater Nashville’s 2021 winners include two crowd favorites that began as pop-ups amid the pandemic; a restaurant that elevated pasta and wine choices in Music City; the return of a Belmont institution; a cozy dumpling destination; and a meat-and-three mainstay that added cocktails to its repertoire. With that, congratulations to the Nashville winners for Best New Restaurant, Best Pop-Up, Best Pandemic Pivot, Pop-Up of the Year, Wine Destination of the Year, and Best Restaurant Comeback. Winners will receive Eater’s illustrious tomato can trophy to put on display.
2305 12th Avenue South
Former Catbird Seat chef Trevor Moran’s long-awaited casual dumpling den and kakigori destination opened in October 2020 in bustling 12 South. The closely cropped menu continues to over-deliver with steamed dumplings drizzled in chili oil, crispy royal red shrimp pockets, create-your-own beef tartare hand rolls, and fluffy surprise-filled shaved ice heaps, ranging in flavors from salted caramel to shortbread or almond milk.
Tlaxcala, Mexico, native Julio Hernandez didn’t have to have his own brick-and-mortar restaurant to make a name for himself — but he’ll have one soon at Paseo South Gulch. In the early days of the pandemic, Hernandez popped up at restaurants and farmers markets around town serving crispy, cheesy birria tacos and tamales using high-caliber, handmade tortillas made with organic, GMO-free heirloom corn. The chef then purchased and outfitted his Maiz De La Vida truck, which you can find six days a week parked outside of his future business partner Andy Mumma’s Chopper Tiki Lounge in East Nashville.
605 8th Avenue South
The Music City meat-and-three mainstay finally debuted the dinner service Kahlil Arnold had teased for a while — and it added a full bar, too. No one really knew they needed a cocktail with a meat-and-three platter or tacos and nachos from the Southern spot, but it’s quickly become a Cheers of sorts on the south side of the Gulch. Yes, you can drink alcohol with your meat-and-three now, plus change it up from the daytime offerings with crispy tacos drizzled with Alabama white sauce, hangar steak, and more.
James Beard Award-winning chef Tony Mantuano spent decades at Chicago’s Michelin-starred Spiaggia and planned to retire a couple of years back — but lucky for Nashville he didn’t. Mantuano and his wife, wine and hospitality expert Cathy Mantuano, signed on with Joel Pizzuti to run the food and beverage programs at the stunning Joseph, a Luxury Collection Hotel, thus raising the bar for fine Italian dining in Nashville. Yolan also raised the bar for wine lists in Music City, with Mantuano working alongside beverage director Jon Kearns and sommeliers Thomas Cheatham and Evan Landry to further each guest's experience with unmatched knowledge and hospitality. A glass-ensconced, temperature-controlled wine cellar is filled with more than 600 bottles unearthed through travels to Italy and other parts of the world. The extensive wine list here is of course focused on Italian wines, but introduces many other curated international, domestic, and natural options wine-drinkers previously could not find in Nashville — all served in handblown Veronese wine glasses.
One of the most exciting openings of the year was the reemergence of the much-missed International Market. The Myint family’s longtime Nashville mainstay reopened in the former Blvd space right across the street. Old and new dishes make up the menu at the new location: think Burmese tomato relish with shrimp powder and shrimp paste served with prawn crackers and pork rinds for dipping, smoked char siu tofu, and comforting heaps of noodles.
Kisser Japanese BBQ
Husband and wife team Brian Lea and Leina Horii’s pandemic-born pop-up is yet another success story with a forthcoming brick-and-mortar location in the works (expected to open in spring 2022). Named Kisser as a nod to their romantic relationship, as well as the sports phrase for getting punched in the mouth (“right in the kisser”), the couple’s pop-up was a fast hit in its stint at cocktail essential Patterson House. The two chefs have had a long career in the restaurant industry, and both most recently spent time cooking at Bastion before launching Kisser, which has also recently collaborated with Sean Brock’s Joyland for rice burgers and toasted sandwiches served on Japanese milk bread. Other previous pop-up menus had crowds flocking for all things smoky meat and Japanese umami — with dishes like salmon inari, black-garlic wings, hamachi and crispy rice cakes, and red-miso mac and cheese.