The Nashville Guide
Back when she was filming Country Strong, GP spent a few months living and working in Nashville—and, as she’s apt to do, she asked her way around the city, eating, drinking, shopping, and meat-plus-three-ing in all of her spare hours. It was the start of an ardent love affair that’s inspired continued visits as the city’s food scene continues to explode and old neighborhoods have been revived. Karen Elson, Reese Witherspoon, Holly Williams, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, et al. provided invaluable recommendations at the time, and continue to keep us up-to-date on everything that’s great.
The Catbird Seat1711 Division St., Midtown | 615.810.8200
This tiny restaurant above Patterson House only holds 22 seats (they're all at the bar), and serves an intimate tasting menu that's given it a reputation that extends far beyond the city of Nashville. Recently anointed Executive Chef Ryan Poli is actually the third chef in the establishment's relatively short history, and while that many regime changes might seem like a red flag, it's actually just an indication that the place has continued to improve—Poli's pedigree includes French Laundry, Blue Stone Barn, and, most recently, Noma. This is a must-visit for foodies.
Two Ten Jack1900 Eastland Ave., Lockeland Springs | 615.454.2731
As Nashville's first izakaya restaurant, Two Ten Jack (it's named after a Japanese card game) kind of blew everybody's minds when it first opened. The East Nashville spot was opened by Patrick Burke, a restaurant owner who has some experience in this space, as he's also behind Zumi Sushi in Hillsboro Village. The thing to order is definitely the homemade kodawari ramen, which is so fresh and delicious that they actually won't let you take it home as leftovers.
Moto1120 McGavock St., The Gulch | 615.736.5305
Nashville's M Group has churned out some of the city's best restaurants, with the interesting strategy of clustering them all along the same street. Moto is their Italian spot, and it's the kind of place that draws you in from the sidewalk, with high ceilings, a long bar, and clean, Scandinavian-inspired furniture with a masculine blue, grey, and brown color scheme. The menu meets high expectations with excellent meatballs, wood-fired pizzas, and a solid list of pastas. Like a lot of Nashville restaurants, they actually have a special menu for late-night dinners.
Josephine2316 12th Ave. S., 12 South | 615.292.7766
Josephine is located in 12 South along a major shopping thoroughfare, so it's a nice spot to keep in mind before or after an afternoon spent in the neighborhood's boutiques. During the day, light streams in through wide garage windows, and the space is airy and bright—in the evenings, the lights are dim and the leather banquettes make it a nice, romantic date-night spot. The menu has a little bit of everything, from an excellent chicken thigh to small plates (don't leave without trying the pretzel bread).
The 404 Kitchen404 12th Ave. S., The Gulch | 615.251.1404
James Beard-nominated and housed in an old shipping container, 404 Kitchen (located next door to its namesake hotel) is unlike anything else in Nashville. Many consider Matt Bolus one of the best new chefs in town, and the protein-heavy, strictly locally-sourced menu (how local? herbs come from a garden on the restaurant’s roof) backs up the lofty claim. Don’t miss standout dishes like buttermilk burrata, Bear Creek Farms pork belly, lamb sugo, and a great tri-tip.
Pinewood Social33 Peabody St., Downtown | 615.751.8111
Pinewood Social calls itself "a place to meet," which is really the most accurate description of this hybrid between bar, restaurant, coffee shop, and (dare we say) rec center. It's open from early in the morning when you can camp out with a coffee and enjoy the free WiFi, until late in the evening, when groups congregate with cocktails around the bocce courts and bowling lanes. There are two pools in the back, alongside an airstream trailer that actually has its own menu, and a wide patio that makes a great spot for pre-dinner drinks. The menu is surprisingly good for a place with so much going on—you'll find an excellent fried chicken along with cheeky small plates like PB&J toast, broken yolk tacos, and jalapeño mac and cheese.
Rolf & Daughters700 Taylor St., Germantown | 615.866.9897
This small-ish, rustic eatery is situated in the hip Germantown area and has all the elements one might expect from a trusty neighborhood spot: Massive communal tables, a well-stocked bar, and exposed brick walls. While chef and owner Philip Krajeck’s menu is loaded with hearty, Mediterranean-inflected comfort food (octopus, pastured chicken with garlic confit, and several kinds of crostini), the specialty here is pasta. From dough to sauce, it’s made entirely from scratch, and runs the gamut from classic sweet potato agnolotti to more inventive iterations like nettle tagliatelle and squid ink campanelle.
The Pharmacy731 McFerrin Ave., Greenwood | 615.712.9517
This German beer garden in the newly-gentrified Greenwood neighborhood quickly became famous for serving some of the best burgers in town, though their brats and sausages are also worth going out of your way for, as they're all ground and made on site. The picnic tables in the back make for a fun communal dinner experience, and the beer list (unsurprisingly) is miles long. Ample greenery and twinkle lights make it an equally enjoyable experience in the evenings.
Adele’s1210 McGavock St., The Gulch | 615.988.9700
Jonathan Waxman named his second restaurant (the first is Barbuto in NYC) after his mom, Adele, whom he credits with turning him onto cooking. The space is simple and clean (like many of its Glutch area neighbors, it was once an auto repair shop), with recycled wood tables, a sprawling open kitchen, and huge garage doors, which are kept open in the warmer months. As far as food goes, expect to find seasonally inspired veggies (shaved zucchini salad, sautéed spinach, and the famous JW potatoes) and wood-oven specialties like crispy trout and NY strip steak.
Merchants401 Broadway, Downtown | 615.254.1892
Merchants has been taking up prime Downtown real estate (perfectly situated for dinner and drinks before a night of honky-tonk at Robert’s Western World), in what used to be Merchants Hotel, since 1988 but has only recently gained culinary notoriety thanks to a top-to-bottom overhaul in 2010. It’s split into two distinct dining concepts: On the ground floor, it’s Southern comfort food (green fried tomatoes, blackened catfish, smoked brisket) and cozy leather booths. Upstairs, it's a formal dining room with a fancier menu to match (seafood towers and filet mignon).
Lockeland Table1520 Woodland St., Lockeland Springs | 615.228.4864
Formerly of Eastland, chef Hal Holden-Bache’s first solo venture lives in an unexpected residential neighborhood in East Nashville—but he still manages to pack the house almost every night. The focus here is Nashville, of course: The fresh produce comes from local farms, and most of the booze and beer is Tennessee-sourced. The menu is packed with hearty, deeply satisfying dishes like spaghetti and meatballs, shepherd’s pie, and the crowd favorite: crispy pig ears. Reservations are highly recommended.
The Smiling Elephant2213 8th Ave. S., 12 South | 615.891.4488
Nashville's not exactly known for amazing Asian food, but Smiling Elephant's pad thai definitely gives bigger-city Thai spots a run for their money. The cozy spot operates out of a tiny cottage in 12 South, with a little stone porch out front for al fresco dining in the summer; it's also owned by the sweetest family imaginable. Pad thai is the obvious order, but their curries are excellent, as are the spring rolls and the warm, soothing ginger tea.
City House1222 4th Ave. N., Germantown | 615.736.5838
City House’s rustic Italian-meets-Southern food stands out from that of the rest of the Nashville restaurant scene in that it's a true foodie’s restaurant (get the braised fennel with Montasio cheese pizza from their wood-burning oven). You’ll also find brisket and fried catfish on the menu if you’re looking for a Southern fix, but after all the fried chicken you'll likely eat, it might be a relief to get some ingeniously treated vegetables. Stop by the bar on your way in or out, as the bartenders here know their stuff.
Saint Añejo1120 Mcgavock St., The Gulch | 615.736.5301
This Mexican joint from M group is the kind of place where it's easy to camp out at a table and spend the afternoon. You'll find a big, wide patio outside and a ton of seats, meaning they can accommodate big parties even on busy brunch mornings and weekend nights, then the bar starts to heat up. Menu-wise, they're known for excellent brunch-time cocktails, like their Bloody Marias (a ridiculously good Bloody Mary that subs tequila for vodka) and Mexican breakfast classics, like huevos rancheros and smothered breakfast burritos. Don't miss the chips and guac.
Whiskey Kitchen118 12th Ave. S., The Gulch | 615.254.3029
This rowdy restaurant serves typical American fare. Get lots of plates to share; the sweet potato fries are delicious, the fried chicken sliders do the trick, and the biscuits might be the best in the entire city of Nashville. Plus, the oysters on the half shell come with a shot of Bloody Mary. What more could you ask for? Just be sure to bring an Alka-Seltzer.
Margot Café & Bar1017 Woodland St., Lockeland Springs | 615.227.4668
A daily-changing menu of French and Italian dishes comes out of this husband-and-wife owned restaurant in East Nashville where the emphasis is always on local and seasonal ingredients.
Bartaco2526 12th Ave. S., 12 South | 615.269.8226
Bartaco also has a few locations in Connecticut, and you can definitely feel the East Coast vibe when you walk inside: The patio is white-washed with blue cushions and accents, and the hanging pendants inside are made from woven baskets. The garage doors separating the patio from the restaurant open wide on warm evenings, where it's nice to bond with their well-tended cocktail list (favorites are the margarita, the mojito, and a bold blend of chorizo spice, reposado, and mezcal called the CLT). If you’re staying to eat, trays of guacamole, salsa, and an assortment of tacos take the stress out of ordering for a crowd. Their outpost in Atlanta is also a favorite. Photos: Chun Yip So
Noshville4014 Hillsboro Cir., Green Hills | 615.329.6674
The crew from Country Strong kept raving about Noshville, a New York style deli. While GP never made it there, it's supposed to be the place for brunch, with a particularly standout veggie burger. They recently relocated to Green Hills.
Biscuit Love316 11th Ave. S., The Gulch | 615.490.9584
Karl and Sarah Worley started Biscuit Love as a food truck (an Airstream they lovingly named Lilly, to be specific), selling their biscuit-based menu at farmers markets around the city. The streamlined yet vintage-inspired design is reminiscent of Lilly, with clean walls and white brick making the open space feel airy and summery, and a marquee sign that says "NASHVILLE" as the focal point. The menu is also largely the same, offering breakfast and brunch all week long and relying heavily on biscuits as a vehicle to deliver everything from homemade jam to hot chicken sandwiches.
Le Sel1922 Adelicia St., Midtown | 615.490.8550
Brothers Ben and Max Goldberg's Strategic Hospitality group is behind some of the most beloved restaurants in Nashville, including Patterson House (along with Catbird, upstairs) and Pinewood Social. Le Sel is their spin on a classic French joint, featuring oysters, a great roast chicken, and moules frites. The decor, on the other hand, is a lot less classic—the space is filled with cool, off-beat art and decorated with quirky feminine touches like pink velvet banquettes and black-and-white striped painted floors. The bar downstairs can be accessed independently, and has an excellent cocktail list.
Epice2902 12th Ave. S., Midtown | 615.720.6765
Fresh-tasting Lebanese cuisine is still unfamiliar to a lot of people, and casual Epice (which takes its name from the French word for spice) offers a welcoming way in. Dishes are light and vegetable-heavy—favorites include the rack of lamb or the Sayadeya, a lean, spicy filet of fish served with caramelized onions and vermicelli rice.
The Patterson House1711 Division St., Midtown | 615.636.7724
Here’s a real old-fashioned speakeasy—a part of the New York/LA throwback-to-prohibition bar trend, where getting into the bar requires some work and house rules dictate you must stay seated once in. It’s well worth it. The prim and proper mixologists, in their old-fashioned uniforms, make miracles happen with the ingredients.