Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint
410 4th Ave. S, Downtown
If nothing else, come here for the Redneck Taco. It’s famous in Nashville—and not just for the controversial name. It’s not so much a taco as a heaping pile of brisket, sausage, pulled pork, fried catfish (whatever you like) and coleslaw on top of a cornbread “hoe-cake.” We’ve never seen anything like it. There are long communal tables, and the huge space has a rustic cabin feel (plus dartboards and Ping-Pong tables), so it’s ideal for large groups and families.
33 Peabody St., Downtown
Pinewood 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, lobster roll, grain bowl and fried broccoli.
The Southern Steak & Oyster
150 3rd Ave. S., Downtown
A central gathering place in the busting SoBro neighborhood downtown, the Southern occupies the first floor of the Pinnacle at Symphony Place, a new skyscraper that (impressively) is LEED-certified. The restuarant itself also takes sustainability seriously, serving locally-grown produce and fueling their wood-fired grill with salvaged hickory on top of the requisite non-toxic cleaning products and ambitious recycling program. Food-wise, the specialties are freshly shucked oysters, which you can order at the oyster bar, and an old-school steak menu. Also good to know in this parking-sparse area: Valet is on the house.
401 Broadway, Downtown
Merchants has been taking up prime Downtown real estate (perfectly situated for dinner and drinks before a night of honky-tonking 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, when it was purchased by Strategic Hospitality. 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).