Answers from Our Experts (3)
Nashville’s restaurant scene is on board with the rest of the city’s burgeoning cultural evolution. Downtown is buzzing with growth, and new districts like The Gulch and 12South are taking on their own distinct identity. More and more chef-driven restaurants are popping up on the scene, with a strong commitment to locally owned restaurants and a vibrant slow food movement. In short, the art of food matters in Nashville more than ever.
In addition to shinier, more modern takes on cuisine, Nashville has also retained its deeply rooted history of traditional food, often found at restaurants know as “meat and threes,” for the meat entrée and three sides you choose all for one price. An even quieter side story to these better-publicized parts of Nashville’s restaurant scene is found along Nolensville Road in southeast Nashville and West Nashville, where the city’s immigrant community runs restaurants that serve up tasty ethnic cuisine. And of course, Nashville is the home of hot chicken, which is typically marinated in buttermilk and then breaded and sauced in paste heavily spiced with cayenne pepper, and then fried.
Nashville’s dining scene is quite diverse but almost everything has a Southern twist. The most purely local Nashville specialty is Hot Fried Chicken, very spicy but not simply spicy fried chicken, rather fried chicken embedded with heat through and through, not slathered with hot sauce or powder, sort of it is its own unique food group, found almost no place else, and also giving rise to a spinoff, Hot Fried Fish. The two classic joints are Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack and Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish. Another Southern specialty centered around Nashville is “Meat and Three,” where you select from a few daily meat entrees, things like fried chicken, country ham, meatloaf, pork chops and chicken fried steak, plus three sides such as vegetables, macaroni and cheese, potatoes or corn dishes. Meat and three places abound in Nashville, but the most famous are Loveless Café, Arnold’s Country Kitchen and Swett’s Restaurant. There are also many options for modern upscale Southern fine cooking, including Capitol Grille at the Forbes 5-Star Hermitage Hotel (no association with the steakhouse chain), 1808 Grille in the Hutton Hotel, the critically acclaimed Catbird Seat, or the new Lockeland Table, nominated for Best New Restaurant in the 2013 James Beard Awards.
In a word, Nashville's restuarant scene is changing. Fast. Just a few years ago, your dining options were limited to chains and a few courageous restaurateurs who'd gone out on a limb to open a local establishment. Now, there are new restaurants opening (what feels like) daily, and too many great places to choose.
Frankly, it feels like Nashville's neighborhoods have very distinct styles, and the restaurants are following suit. In the Gulch (near downtown), you'll find high-priced drinks and high-end bars, sushi, and cuisine for the glitterati. In 12 South, expect restaurants that are more casual, where walk-ins are always welcome. In East Nashville, the neighborhood many artists and musicians call home, you'll find eclectic style and interesting new fare that's willing to push the limits.
But with all the new, don't forget Nashville's culinary roots. Arnold's Country Kitchen and Loveless Cafe have stood the test of time—and while lines might be a problem—finding good food won't be.