Yes, it’s the birthplace of Nashville hot chicken. Yes, it’s easy to find biscuits and barbecue by the bucket-full. And yes, there’s more country music (and bachelorette parties) than you can shake a stick at. But with roots set in decades of Southern cooking meshed with the influence of immigrants from the far reaches of the globe, Nashville has quickly furthered its restaurant repertoire with a variety of noteworthy spots that are far from basic.
Nashville has become known for a lot of those aforementioned touristy things, but there’s much more to it than that — and Eater’s here to help. Use this handy guide to experience the best dining Nashville restaurants have to offer — no cowboy boots, matching pink tank tops, or pedal taverns required.
Welcome to Music City
Country music wasn’t born in Nashville — the genre’s roots run much deeper than that, drawing from Kentucky bluegrass, Southern gospel hymns, Appalachian folk music, Mississippi Delta blues, and other regional formats that have influenced history’s most beloved country hits. So, while it didn’t start in Nashville, country music certainly evolved here — in the basement studios of Music Row, on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, and in the hearts of the thousands of hopeful musicians who call Music City home.
Country music may have put Nashville on the map, but today the city is known for much more, including its bustling healthcare industry, flourishing art scene, ace hockey (and soccer!) teams, and of course, its growing list of impressive offerings when it comes to food. Whether you’re visiting Nashville to try some homegrown barbecue and fiery hot chicken, or you’re a local looking to expand your circle of go-to joints, this guide will help navigate all things food in Music City.
Where to Start on Eater Nashville's Best Maps
Eater provides dozens of maps to guide you to the top places and things to eat and drink in Nashville. Below, we pull the top one or two points on the most popular maps to help time-starved eaters prioritize which spots to visit.
Hot Restaurants: You can find the hottest of the hot restaurants right now in Nashville on the regularly updated Heatmap. Among the still-scorching recent additions: the Lao cuisine at Bad Idea and barbecue master Pat Martin’s new Southern breakfast joint SweetMilk.
Essential Restaurants: If you need to whittle down the Essential 38 (updated quarterly), snag a cheeseburger at Nashville’s oldest dive bar, Dino’s — Anthony Bourdain was a fan. You should also check out the quesabirria tacos at the Maiz de la Vida food truck. Julio Hernandez (who was named a James Beard semi-finalist in 2023) makes his dreamy tortillas using a traditional method known as nixtamalization.
Hot Chicken: A true Nashville original, hot chicken was born more than 70 years ago at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. The Ewing Drive location is sadly now permanently closed, but there’s an outpost on the south side and a counter at the Assembly Food Hall still cranking out that familiar fiery fowl. Today, several restaurants get accolades for their take on the iconic dish, and of course, Nashvillians argue over which version is the best. Now tourists can find dishes featuring hot chicken at hundreds of local restaurants, but only a few stand out among locals, who have even formed a Facebook group to discuss the topic. Also, here’s a fun running list of all hot chicken-inspired dishes around town that color outside the lines with creative takes like Nashville hot oysters, Nashville hot ice cream, and a Nashville hot bloody mary.
Meat and Three: For a meat-and-three plate with a side of nostalgia, visit Wendell Smith’s on Charlotte Avenue. If you’re looking to get out of town, head to Franklin for Bishop’s. See the glossary below for more about the meat and three.
Brunch: Bevies of bachelorettes show up looking for the best of Nashville brunches. Fortunately, there is no shortage of restaurants catering to the bubbly-drinking, breakfast-food-loving crowd. The Butter Milk Ranch routinely fills up for weekend brunch, and the bakery case there alone is worth a visit. Over on the east side, there’s the charming and always interesting menu at lou. South of town and looking for brunch in Franklin? Mimosas are flowing there, too.
Bars: Nashville is nothing if not a drinking town, and the bar scene here holds its own against other larger cities. There are plenty of places to grab a drink, from the city’s oldest dives to its newest watering holes. Head to Robert’s Western World for cheap beer and an old-school honky-tonk experience, or take in the speakeasy vibes at cocktail bar the Patterson House (part of Ben and Max Goldberg’s Strategic Hospitality). The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club over in East Nashville consistently draws a crowd for its well-thought-out concoctions that also include interesting non-alcoholic libations.
Live Music: Most anyone visiting Nashville wants to know where to eat, yes, but they also want to locate some legit live music. Lower Broadway’s many country music bars, aka honky-tonks, make Nashville an iconic party destination; you’ll want to check out the essential honky-tonks, including landmarks like Tootsie’s and the Stage. The city’s also home to an ever-increasing number of eponymous country-singer-owned honky-tonks.
Beyond country music, lots of entertaining bars host live music from jazz to bluegrass and also serve food and drink that can stand on its own. Tucked into Printers Alley downtown, Skull’s Rainbow Room does it all, from fabulous cocktails to live jazz and burlesque, while its former neighbor, Jane’s Hideaway, moved to East Nashville and brought its eclectic cuisine and Americana performances with it. Also on the east side, record shop Grimey’s has some cool in-store events, so check the website before your visit. An interesting note: Hardcore Exit/In fans can get an Exit/In tattoo to score free admission (for life) to every single show held at the Elliston Place rock venue.
Nashville Food Neighborhoods to Know
These are the key areas of the city every self-proclaimed food person needs to get acquainted with and what to eat and drink in each.
This bedroom community just north of downtown is home to some of the most nationally recognized restaurants in Nashville. There’s Rolf and Daughters, Philip Krajeck’s neighborhood restaurant that has earned multiple “best restaurant” awards, and City House, James Beard Award Winner Tandy Wilson’s Southern-influenced Italian restaurant. The raw bar at Ford Fry’s the Optimist is the perfect place to score some oysters and crab legs, and Vivek Surti’s Germantown restaurant Tailor continues to dazzle. For traditional Southern fare in a casual setting, Monell’s family-style dining experience is unlike any other in town. Trying to keep it casual? Try the bao, dumplings, and noodles from Steam Boys. Find more suggestions in Eater’s guide to dining and drinking in Germantown.
This rapidly changing portion of the city is now one of its most popular neighborhoods —home to many of Nashville’s creatives, independent shops, art galleries, and plenty of effortlessly cool places to eat and drink. At Audrey (one of Eater’s 2022 picks for best new restaurants in the country), James Beard Award-winning chef Sean Brock executes Appalachian-inspired dishes with polished depth and nuance. On the more casual side, stop by the Maiz de la Vida food truck permanently parked in front of Chopper Tiki for some of Julio Hernandez’s hearty quesabirria tacos with tortillas made using the nixtamalization process. Lockeland Table is a welcoming neighborhood restaurant with solid cocktails and a menu heavy on Southern ingredients. A great stop for brunch or dinner, Noko offers wood-fired Asian-inspired dishes that include a show-stopping 42-ounce tomahawk ribeye.
Looking for a beer? There are several taprooms on the east side, including East Nashville Beer Works, Smith and Lentz, and Southern Grist, whose restaurant, Lauter, lives up to the brewery’s inventive reputation. Cocktail lovers can make themselves comfortable in one of the dimly-lit booths of the Fox Bar & Cocktail Club with drink using off-the-wall ingredients like nixta, white miso honey, and sweet corn. Golden Pony is a trendy place to drink craft cocktails (and eat Roberta’s pizza) among a mix of hipsters, Instagram influencers, and musicians.
Thousands of tourists descend on Nashville’s Lower Broadway each year, looking to boogie at the area’s dozens of honky-tonks; many locals try to avoid the city’s epicenter and its bands of bachelorette parties like the plague. However, the recent influx of new restaurants to the area makes going downtown a more pleasant experience for everyone. Joe Muer Seafood brings dramatic old-school vibes to old-school seafood dishes complete with bow-tied serves and a roving dessert dart. Deb Paquette’s Etch has been around since 2012, yet it remains one of the most revered restaurants in the city, serving unexpected items like duck tart, octopus and shrimp bruschetta, and carrot enchilada. Looking for barbecue? Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint’s downtown location is a good way to experience authentic West Tennessee whole hog-style barbecue.
Just south of Broadway is Harper’s, a sleek steakhouse dishing up tender cuts of elk and large-format desserts with showy aplomb; Husk, Nashville’s location of the renowned Charleston restaurant; and Pinewood Social, a coffee shop/restaurant/bowling alley. Prefer staying just outside of downtown? Yolan, just a few blocks from Broadway, is a worthy destination for wine, pasta, and ambiance.
This rapidly-changing commercial strip just a few miles from downtown is extremely popular with tourists and the college set, though not quite deserving of its vaunted status from the masses as a food destination. But, there are a few places worth checking out here. Lebanese bistro Epice offers a different-for-Nashville menu of Middle Eastern food and plenty of vegetarian-friendly options. Pastry chef Alyssa Gangeri is whipping up brunch magic at the Butter Milk Ranch where lines snake around the building for massive PB&J crossaints and oatmeal cookie sandwiches the size of your head. Bartaco is a popular spot for casual takes on margs and tacos with a particularly stellar fried oyster version, and Edley’s Bar-B-Cue provides a fix of barbecue and sides. For a quick coffee break, the ever-popular Frothy Monkey remains the neighborhood’s go-to place, but those looking to skip the line and get an equally satisfying cup of joe can walk one block south to nearby Portland Brew. Craving dumplings? Pop into Locust for some of the best you’ll ever eat, and finish with a fluffy heap of shaved ice loaded with goodies. A full guide to the neighborhood is here.
The Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood, just south of downtown Nashville, is characterized by railroad tracks, warehouses, and art galleries. Bastion is part bar, part fine-dining restaurant, with some of the best bar nachos in town; snag one of the spots at the 24-seat restaurant for a multi-course fine dining experience. Gabby’s Burgers & Fries serves a solid burger and has a secret menu full of unusual options. The freshly baked bread, pastries, and cookies draw crowds to Dozen Bakery, but its baguette sandwiches keep regulars coming back every week. For spirits, tiki-style cocktails are at Flamingo Cocktail Club. Take a tour of the distillery and then sample the product at Corsair, or sip a crisp cider at the Diskin Cider taproom. Finally, iggy’s is a newer Italian spot with a dedicated pasta-making room, an unabashedly fun chef’s counter, and an unforgettable version of garlic bread stuffed with whipped cream cheese. A full guide to the neighborhood is here.
This west Nashville neighborhood’s strip of bars and restaurants has a more local vibe than other similar areas of town. St. Louis chef Gerard Craft’s Nashville outpost of Pastaria serves up Italian favorites including pasta, pizza, and gelato — and don’t overlook the crispy risotto balls. Nashville is of course synonymous with hot chicken, and Hattie B’s is one of the most popular places to get the fiery fowl. Please everyone in the group with the extensive beer list at M.L. Rose and soak up the Tennessee summer heat on the cozy, dog-friendly front patio. Common Ground is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant everyone wishes was down the street from their house, serving quality food in an unpretentious and welcoming setting.
Yet another Nashville neighborhood in the midst of redevelopment, the Nations continues to attract an abundance of bars and restaurants. Start at Big Bad Breakfast, the delicious breakfast-for-lunch restaurant from James Beard Award-winning chef John Currence. For lunch, you can’t go wrong with a classic deli sandwich with a Nashville twist at 51st Deli, before easing into dinner at Nicky’s Coal Fired — the Italian restaurant concept from Tony Galzin and Caroline Galzin serves high-quality pasta and pizzas cooked in a coal-burning oven. Hugh-Baby’s is a fast-food restaurant from Pat Martin (Martin’s Bar-B-Cue Joint) that serves burgers, hot dogs, and shakes. For a game day drinking and eating with friends, Bringles Smoking Oasis is the perfect place to enjoy beers on the spacious outdoor pavilion with big screen TVs, a killer pastrami, and good times. A full guide to the neighborhood is here.
Trek south down Nolensville Road to find some of Nashville’s most culturally diverse cuisine. Devour tacos at Carniceria Y Taqueria Don Juan, a colorful stand that also serves Mexican food favorites such as sopes, tortas, and burritos. Las Americas serves a mix of Mexican and Central American dishes and also has a small market attached where you can find Latin American ingredients and prepackaged goods. A stroll through the Plaza Mariachi marketplace allows guests to sample several different Latin American cuisines and catch some entertainment, which includes live music, acrobatic performers, and dancers. And don’t forget to stop by Gojo for authentic Ethiopian injera, wats, and coffee
As far as dining goes, The Gulch has come a long way over the last couple of years, but it still has room to grow. For now, best bets for the belly begin with Sarah Gavigan’s Otaku Ramen — a solid Gulch destination (and one of very few in the city) for solid ramen. Her Tennessee tonkotsu is an essential Nashville dish. Marsh House’s menu offers solid seafood options for a landlocked city. Head to Eater’s 2018 Restaurant Import of the Year Emmy Squared for both Detroit-style pizza and a burger that quickly crept onto the top spots of nearly every “best of” list in the city. Meat fans can munch on ribs at Peg Leg Porker or feast on steak at 404 Kitchen. Jolts of caffeine await at Killebrew — good for holding you over/keeping you sane if someone in your party insists on waiting in line for two hours for Biscuit Love (hello, Hillsboro Village location) or those darned angel wing photos. Or, bypass the lines and grab a taro latte and avocado toast at Australian cafe Two Hands.
Reservations to Make in Advance
Follow the News
Here are a few ways to stay in the loop:
- Keep an eye on the Eater Nashville homepage. New stories will always show up near the top and flow down toward the bottom of the page as they get older, while important recent stories will stay pinned right at the top. Also, check out our big sister, Eater.com, for national and international food news.
- Subscribe to our newsletter, which goes out every Thursday and includes links to the week’s top stories.
Get in Touch
Have questions not answered here? Want to send in a tip or a complaint or just say hello? Here are some ways to get in touch with the Eater Nashville staff: