The Nashville boom has officially expanded to Donelson, where a massive mixed-use, 200-unit apartment complex is underway, and a brand-new library is scheduled to open in the Donelson Plaza as a part of the revitalization of “Downtown Donelson.” That boom has also catered in multiple new food and drink venues to join the classic standby eateries that have been here for years. With proximity to Opryland, a vibrant farmer’s market, a booming housing market, an influx of young families and professionals, plus the ever-constant buzz of airport and hotel traffic, Donelson has finally made good on its self-anointed title of “hip-D.” So if you find yourself east of the city and in need of a meal or a drink, you’ll have no shortage of choices. Here’s a curated list to get you started.Read More
14 Essential Restaurants to Try in Donelson
From barbacoa tacos to bourbon-glazed beignets
Italian-born chef Mirko Di Giacomantonio originally debuted Mirko Pasta near Atlanta, and has since expanded regionally. In Donelson, diners can choose their own adventure by pairing a broad list of homemade pasta and sauces. Skip over to the entrée section for hearty executions of Italian classics, like eggplant alla Parmigiana or the Tuscan stew. The rest of the menu—antipasti and soup, plus plentiful options of salads and sandwiches. Drop in for weekly happy hour specials featuring discounted glasses of wine and sangria.
Nectar: Urban Cantina
Nectar became an instant hit in Donelson, after opening in September of 2017. Billed as “fresh-Mex,” the main dining room nails warm summer vibes year-round featuring tacos (from chorizo to chicken tinga and even ratatouille), burritos, and on-tap cocktails. Attached, find a grab-and-go café counter and coffee shop. Chef Julio Hernandez delivers weekly specials with creative twists on traditional Mexican cuisine, while the café serves up healthy staples of super-food smoothies, juices, and power bowls. Around back, patrons will find one of the city’s best outdoor spaces. Here, canvas-covered picnic tables, a stage for live music, and a small open-air bar add to a large grassy area that’s great for pets and people of all ages.
The Happy Taco
You know a neighborhood has finally “made it” when a permanent taco truck sets up shop in a liquor store parking lot. The Happy Taco boasts some of the best tacos in town, served on small homemade corn tortillas defaulted with cilantro, onions, lime, and hot sauce. The menu also includes tortas, burritos, quesadillas, and mulitas, with a wide selection of meats ranging from the standards of pollo (chicken) and barbacoa (BBQ) to lengua (cow tongue) and camarones (shrimp).
Caliber Coffee Co.
Owners Keith and Alaina Schwartz scratched a longstanding Donelson itch when they opened Caliber Coffee Co. in the spring of 2018, and it has been buzzing ever since. Seasonal offerings and a select craft menu complement typical coffeehouse drinks, which include an assortment of drips, espressos, frappes, and teas. A short list of limited-time offerings kicks off the food menu, followed by all-day breakfast options and a variety of delectable sandwiches, most available as gluten-free. At night, weekly rotations of live music, trivia, and educational coffee talks complete the community-driven, family-focused vibe.
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Like most neighborhoods, Donelson hosts plenty of Mexican dining options. The newest of which is Habanero Grill, a family-run spot whose atmosphere eschews the traditional vibe of bright and floral colors in favor of a more modern environment. They stay true to their namesake with spicier-than-usual house salsa and a menu focused on grilled and signature dishes, plus a fine selection of Mexican classics. Spicy drink lovers will enjoy the habanero margarita, habanero old fashioned, or the habanero mojito. And anyone with a sweet tooth is advised to save room for one of Habanero’s many scratch desserts—from classic fried ice cream or sopapillas to chocolate tamales and cream cheese and gauva-stuffed chimichangas.
Located behind an old-school barbershop, Zulema’s cooks up traditional Mexican tacos, nachos, and tortas. A counter-service atmosphere with limited seating inside and out, $9 buys three loaded tacos and a side. Stop by the salsa bar to dress that order with a choice of four different sauces climbing from mild to extra hot—plus all the accouterments tacos love including jalapeños, pickled onions, cilantro, and limes. Pro-tip: don’t skip the hot chicken taco, and be prepared to sweat.
Hot chicken, boozy slushies, and an extensive beer menu take centerstage at Party Fowl’s third outpost. The main floor hosts plenty of seating including a large covered patio and open-air garage doors, when weather permits. Upstairs brings a sports bar vibe called “The Coop” with a full menu and the usual collection of bar games. Obviously, hot chicken is the star of the show, but don’t miss out on the smoked wings, lacquered lollipops, or the “brick-tattooed” chicken. The brunch crowd will find plenty of classics turned up with hot chicken influences, notably the brunch for two—a 55-ounce bloody Mary topped with a pair of fried Cornish game hens (yes, really), whole scotch eggs, fried okra, and an entire avocado.
Uncle Bud's Catfish Chicken & Such
If someone built a Mount Rushmore of fried chicken and catfish places located in Tennessee, Uncle Buds would certainly deserve to have their face on it. Originally opened in Franklin almost four decades ago, the fried food palace has undergone numerous changes, including management. But it’s back in good hands with the owners who brought Uncle Buds to its heyday during the ‘90s. White and red checkered tablecloths and kitschy décor set the mood, and as you can probably guess, fried chicken and catfish are staples—both available as all you can eat dinners including unlimited fixins. Other fried options include clam strips, shrimp, gator tail, oysters, and frog legs.
Serving up Northern Indian cuisine in cozy digs, Sindoore holds its own against any Indian restaurant in Nashville. While the naan is worth the trip alone, the tikka masala (available as chicken, fish, or paneer), baingan (roasted eggplant), and a large selection of both meat and vegetarian entrées make this place a local treasure. Lunch crowds are common, thanks to a buffet featuring a wide selection of favorites, which is a great way to experience the full spectrum of the menu. It’s a small restaurant with limited seating, so patience is encouraged and rewarded.
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Homegrown Taproom & Marketplace
Co-owned by longtime Donelson residents, Homegrown was a much anticipated and welcomed addition to the Donelson dining scene. They tap 24 rotating beers, leaning heavily on those from local and regional breweries. Options include healthy sandwiches and salads or beer-absorbing mains like the meatloaf-and-mash and the buffalo mac and cheese, plus a daily quesadilla special. On Tuesdays, drafts come in pairs with a 2-4-1 deal running all day. “Homie hour” discounts pints by $1 all day on Wednesday and from 4-7 p.m. Thursday and Friday.
As seen on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, Phat Bites represents one of the funkiest and most unique venues in the area. Occupying a renovated garage and open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner plus all-day brunch on Sundays, the menu features a long list of wraps and sandwiches, a variety of hummus options, plenty of vegetarian choices, and rotating specials. Omelet and waffle bar, banana bread french toast, and bottomless mimosas await at brunch. At night, particularly on weekends, the vibe changes drastically from a diner to a dive, where quirky décor surrounds a large bar that offers the usual spirits and craft brews, plus a late-night food menu served until 1:30 a,m.
Darfons Restaurant & Lounge
Since 1989, Darfons has served Donelson as one of the few classy-yet-casual restaurants on this side of Briley Parkway. From prime rib and seafood to pasta, sandwiches and salads, the menu offers a wide range of traditional American fare with Mediterranean and steakhouse influences. An impressive wine list, extensive cocktail menu, and daily chef specials keep seats full for both lunch and dinner. If you stop by on a weeknight, prepare yourself for crowds; Darfons holds court as the go-to spot for business travelers, special occasions, and local foodies all week long.
McNamara's Irish Pub
McNamara’s was founded by husband-and-wife team Sean and Paula McNamara in 2010. The Gaelic phrase for whiskey, uisce beatha, means “water of life” and this Irish pub offers plenty of it, boasting one of the largest Irish whiskey selections in the state. The atmosphere delivers what you’d expect out of any Irish pub, with a lively dining room facing a stage that hosts some of Nashville’s best Celtic musicians almost every night. Head upstairs for darts, additional seating and a small bar. Food options include traditional standouts like shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, or the full Irish breakfast (Saturdays and Sundays only).
Dear Sushi’s location and minimalist setting might deter some from visiting—but the lack of razzle-dazzle inside is quickly forgotten, thanks to a family touch, quality ingredients, and experienced execution, for those who enter. The atmosphere is unremarkable yet very clean. As for the food menu, expect the most basic of rolls and appetizers, alongside select nigiri, seaweed, and octopus salads.
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