If Nashville has a signature dish, it's hot chicken, a cayenne-powered version of traditional fried chicken. While its origins are at Prince's on the north side of town, the centrally located Hattie B's (112 19th Ave S, 615-678-4794) in Midtown is just as good and close to other attractions. Even heat freaks should be cautious and only the truly bold will order the hottest version, "Shut the Cluck Up." You can do boneless, but the bone-in versions have more flavor. Don't forget to eat the white bread that has been sitting at the bottom of the plate, soaking up all of the flavor dripping onto it. On the weekends, the hot chicken and waffles are outstanding for brunch.
Must have: Red skin potato salad. It's their best side and will help dull the fire in your mouth.
Need reservations? No.
Mas Tacos Por Favor
Originally opened as a food truck (or, more accurately, food Winnebago), Mas Tacos' (732 Mcferrin Ave, 615-543-6271) brick and mortar space in East Nashville is all business, with cinder block walls and a chalkboard menu. The tacos are the best in the city, with pork, chicken, beef and legitimately great vegetarian options all for $3 each (tax included!). The tortilla soup has a lot of fans, but the recently added pozole may be even better. If you see the tamales on the board—steamed in a corn husk and topped with a wonderful salsa verde—make sure to add one to your order.
Must have: Plantains. Roasted to softness and maybe a little charred, the dessert version is drizzled with a little sweet cream.
Need reservations? No. (Closed Sunday; open for lunch Monday, Tuesday and Saturday; open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Friday.)
Peg Leg Porker
While Nashville might not have the barbecue reputation of Kansas City or Austin, it's added a few places recently that compare with the best. Carey Bringle got his start on the competition barbecue circuit, racking up wins for his West Tennessee style of 'cue (that's whole hog with a tomato-based sauce). After opening in 2013, fans have flocked to the Gulch joint (903 Gleaves St, 615-829-6023) for pulled-pork sandwiches (with slaw, the way God intended), dry-rub ribs and yardbird half-chickens. His whole wings—not separated into drummies and wings—are smoked goodness, served with Alabama white sauce.
Must have: The bourbon. No, seriously, Bringle rolled out his own brand of Tennessee bourbon last year (he purchased the lot from a private label producer) and it compares very favorably with some of the best small-batch brands available.
Need reservations? No. (Closed Sunday.)