The best restaurants in Nashville
What is it: With just 24 seats and a nationwide reputation, Bastion is possibly the most in-demand restaurant in Music City. Your online-only reservation requires a deposit by credit card, so it is a commitment, too.
Why go: Chef Josh Habiger created an environment that is innovative, but not intimidating, with a five-course menu you select on a paper menu and watch being prepared in front of you.
What is it: One of Nashville's culinary contributions is the meat-and-three, a cafeteria-style meal where diners select one "meat" entrée and three "vegetables," although mac-and-cheese counts as a vegetable in this case. This is a weekday, lunch-only spot.
Why go: Of all the meat-and-threes in town, Arnold's is the best-known and the most beloved. You'll see folks from all walks of life—the mayor, university students, musicians and tourists—waiting in line for a helping of fried chicken or creamed corn.
What is it: After a meat-and-three cafeteria, Nashville's best-loved contribution to culinary history is hot chicken. This is pan-fried, spicy chicken, usually made to order.
Why go: Prince's is where the hot chicken craze began, and while there are other places that make it faster (and have amenities such as drinks in glasses and air-conditioning), no one makes it quite like Prince's. Diner beware: They aren't messing around with their spice levels. Don't order extra hot unless—actually, just don't. Work your way up to it.
What is it: It might look like your Lyft dropped you off at the wrong place when you first get to this office park. But trust us, there's charm galore inside, not to mention wood-fired pizzas, fresh pastas and gelato all worth forgetting about Whole 30.
Why go: James Beard Award-winning chef, Gerard Craft developed a menu of solidly delicious Italian dishes, with fresh inspiration. Watch the cooks stretch that pizza dough right in front of you while you sip an aperol spritz. Or feast on the refreshing citrus salad while looking at the view of the city. Either way, don't forget dessert.
What is it: That rare restaurant that is good for either a date or a group, Butcher & Bee makes Mediterranean-inspired dishes in a hip East Nashville hideaway, with an open kitchen.
Why go: For many, shareable plates are passé, but Butcher & Bee makes them modern again, with rich seasonings and fresh, seasonal ingredients, such as roasted radishes or carrots. The whipped feta is a neighborhood obsession.
What is it: Open from early morning to late night, Pinewood is hard to describe. There's a coffee shop and a bar, a bowling alley, an outdoor pool, a co-working area, and, oh yeah, a restaurant.
Why go: It sounds like a hodgepodge of things that don't go together, but instead Pinewood is the go-to for locals and visitors alike, somewhere with delicious cocktails and a menu that satisfies but doesn't overwhelm. Don't skip the fried broccoli.
What is it: As much food performance art as dining, the Catbird Seat is a one-of-kind culinary experience. Twenty-two diners seated around a U-shaped bar feast on more than nine courses, paired with wines or non-alcoholic beverages. Reservations open 30 days in advance.
Why go: Chef Ryan Poli isn't afraid to push the envelope. Each course is a mini work of art, sometimes with tastes and textures you wouldn't expect (or choose), but somehow they all work. The experience of watching these plated masterpieces evolve in front of your eyes is part of the fun.
What is it: This former transmission repair shop-turned into hipster hangout is so artfully designed that to call it a coffee shop seems like an insult.
Why go: Yes, the coffee is delicious. But if you just need a caffeine jolt, there are other places to go. To come to Barista Parlor (and there are now a number in the city, but the East Nashville location is the original) to watch your espresso be made from a handmade Slayer machine or coffee from a Chemex drip. The biscuit breakfast sandwiches are things of beauty, and the people-watching can't be beat.
What is it: To call Plaza Mariachi a strip mall with a food court is like calling the Grand Ole Opry a stage. This mega Mexican marketplace includes several restaurants, from an Argentinean steakhouse to a bakery to a ceviche bar.
Why go: The food is delicious, but the ambience is even better. Come at night and you can take free dance lessons, and even during the day, there's often live music while you dine. The atmosphere can seem a little like a cruise ship—lots of flashing lights and faux scenic backdrops—but it is fun and festive, and a lot less expensive than a cruise.
What is it: This small, bright restaurant in East Nashville serves a menu of Spanish and Portuguese dishes that changes every week. Belly up to the bar for a handcrafted cocktail…or some of the best non-alcoholic shrubs in the city. The environment is friendly, but not obsequious.
Why go: Specific dishes are hard to call out because they change with frequency, but the small plates are made with a minimum number of ingredients, so they are simple, yet complex.
What is it: Nashville has a lot of things, but many decent delicatessens is not one of them. This New York import of Canadian-style smoked meats is aiming to change that.
Why go: Nestled inside the Fairlane hotel, Mile End offers poutine, deli sandwiches, bagels, and classic black-and-white cookies for a bargain price in the heart of downtown, where very little is a bargain. Take your goods to go, or dine in the mid-century lobby of the hotel.
What is it: Imagine a seafood-friendly barroom, with an emphasis on seasonal contemporary cooking. The room is sleek and well-designed, and has a good buzz: busy, but not insane.
Why go: The marble-topped oyster bar (the raw bar features more than 14 varieties of oysters) is popular with locals from the surrounding Germantown neighborhood. Chef Julia Sullivan, a Nashville native, has won many of the culinary awards you can imagine. The hometown Goo Goo Cluster candy makes an appearance at dessert,
What is it: Critics and locals alike rave about this pasta-centric (handmade, of course), rustic, contemporary restaurant with a killer cocktail list. The tables in the brick and wood loft space are communal, so you’ll get to meet your neighbors. The menu is modern, but the building is historic.
Why go: You'll get to sample a menu that changes with the seasons, with an emphasis on farm-to-fork-style ingredients. Favorites include the ricotta cavatelli with tree-nut ragout.
What is it: The idea behind Little Octopus is that you feel like you are sitting on Venice Beach at sunset, no matter what time of day it is that you are hangin' in Nashville's Gulch neighborhood.
Why go: Feast on a Caribbean menu, with lots of fresh seafood, seasonal vegetables and fun rum drinks. Dishes are small plates, and served tapas-style, so expect to share with your tablemates. And, patience, caterpillar, not everything will be served at once.
What is it: From the folks who brought you Rolf & Daughters is an uber-hip East Nashville eatery in a building that was once an A&P grocery store.
Why go: If you are allergic to twee or hipster touches, Folk will be over-the-top for you, with its edible flower pizzas from Neapolitan pizza oven, house-cured meats and the like. But the handmade breads and pizzas are delicious, and fresh vegetables lead the way at every turn, and every turn is delicious.
What is it: This restored five-and-dime lunch-counter was the site of 1960's sit-in demonstrations that helped the country desegregate.
Why go: The menu is as chockfull of southern specialities as the building is chockfull of history. Dine on some dishes that are updated with a healthier twist that the standard fried fare, as well as boozy milkshakes and plenty of classics, like fried chicken. The basement features live music and themed programs relating to civil rights.
What is it: Tucked away in the artsy Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood south of downtown, Hemingway's is a restaurant themed after the legendary author, but not in a way that is over-the-top or distracting from the good food and drink.
Why go: Hemingway loved his liquor, and the cocktail game is strong here. Dishes like Korean fried chicken complement the spirits, and the environment is buzzy enough to be fun, but you'll still be able to have a conversation with your friends.
What is it: It may look like a dive (okay, maybe it actually is a dive), but Rotier's has one of the best burgers in Nashville, the secret being that it is served on French bread. The hash brown casserole is a do-not-miss side, and milkshakes delicious, although not actually on the menu. (just ask for one)
Why go: While the food is tasty, one of the best things about Rotier's is that it is one of the few places in Nashville where everyone goes. City politicians, Vanderbilt professors, music stars, tourists, and locals all come here for a burger and a bargain.
What is it: This sleek American brasserie is located inside the shiny Kimpton Aerston Hotel, but it is not just for tourists.
Why go: All the dishes on the menu are prepared with intention, nothing here feels like an afterthought. But the specials, like eight different $8 Manhattans at happy hour, and a seasonal menu meant for sharing, make it a surprising find in a neighborhood that is crowded with other restaurants that cater to college kids.
What is it: Located in right field of the actual First Tennessee Park, this is a seriously hip place to hangout during a Nashville Sounds baseball game. The owners operate several of Nashville's best restaurants (including Pinewood and Bastion), so this isn't standard ballpark food.
Why go: You'll find gourmet spins on the classic burgers and dogs, plus options such as a quinoa chopped salad, and globally inspired snacks such as empanadas and jalapeño corn fritters, and other dishes when guest chefs show up. You can even get actual table service.