Best known as a music mecca, Nashville also deserves accolades for its dining scene, which has catapulted the Tennessee capital into the foodie spotlight. Local fixtures and chefs maximize the region’s fertile farmland to put contemporary spins on classic Southern recipes and explore new territory altogether. If you’re looking for a road map to the thriving local food scene, check out these Experts’ Choice winners.
Part cafe and part marketplace, Marché Artisan Foods does a lot of things, and it does them all well. Inspired by Europe’s leisurely bistro culture, where eateries are neighborhood fixtures, Marche is a warm and convivial nook with an emphasis on breakfast, brunch and lunch. Croissants, lavender-scented scones, grilled cheese, croque madames and apple cider sangria are just a few of the highlights that draw repeat customers and make it a local favorite.
Few restaurants are as quintessentially Nashville as the Hermitage Hotel 93’s Capitol Grille. First of all, the restaurant has been operating since before the Titanic sank. Dating back to 1910, it’s the oldest restaurant in all of Tennessee, and it’s got the culinary chops to back it up too. For more than a century, chefs have solidified the Capitol Grille's position as one of the pillars of elegant Southern cuisine, spotlighting local farmland with seasoned recipes like Carolina gold rice pilaf, wild rabbit biscuits and sorghum-roasted hen.
Nestled in the heart of East Nashville, Margot Cafe & Bar is as cozy, warm and romantic as any bistro you’d hope to find in Paris. While the menus reveal a European inspiration, chef Margot McCormack keeps things decidedly Southern by cooking with local ingredients, adding an accent to items like tomatoes, pork, duck and potatoes. This lends itself to buttery and comforting plates like duck meatloaf, shellfish chowder and squash risotto with herbed ricotta.
Catfish and scrapple aren’t typically ingredients one would expect to find in an Italian restaurant, but City House is anything but typical. While it may look like a rustic-chic Italian eatery, complete with a roaring pizza oven, the restaurant blazes new trails with plates like smoked catfish with fish sauce, cider vinegar and mint, or smoked chicken sugo with sour grits and turnip greens. Those pizzas aren’t to be missed, either, especially the belly ham version with mozzarella, oregano and chilies, and City House washes things down with a bourbon-centric bar program.
For decades, Arnold’s Country Kitchen has drawn hordes of hungry customers, all clamoring for that classic “meat and three.” This casual cafeteria is a mecca for the Southern classic, which features guests’ choice of meat and three decadent side dishes, all heaped onto trays for bargain prices. With so many menu options, from roast beef and fried chicken to turnip greens, mac & cheese, fried apples and creamed corn, combo opportunities alone make Arnold’s the kind of place you yearn to return to time and again.
One of Nashville’s longest-running fine dining establishments, Watermark has stood the test of time with its elegant approach to Southern cooking. After 11 years in the Gulch neighborhood, the restaurant is evolving and moving to newer digs downtown, all while retaining those same high-end philosophies and techniques that have helped it endure as a Nashville requisite. With dishes like grits soufflé, hot chicken and waffles and lobster bouillabaisse, this place is a reliable show-stopper.
One of the most celebrated chefs in the South, Sean Brock has brought his beloved Charleston-based Husk to the Music City, setting up shop in a vintage mansion that does his upscale cooking due justice. Here, the chef shines the spotlight on heirloom ingredients and Southern lore, utilizing sustainable and rigorously local products for vibrant presentations like okra stew with flowering basil and ember-grilled chicken wings with Alabama white sauce. It’s an exploration of regional history and flavors, updated and upgraded.
It may look like your standard American cafe, but The Yellow Porch is as inventive as it is charming. The colorful porch-clad bistro features a broad menu that blends all-American classics with international novelties, creating a menu prime for sharing and exploring. In one bite, you might get a creamy Tennessee cheddar fritter, while another forkful yields sorghum-infused duck breast. This is also the rare restaurant where paella, sweet tea-brined pork chops and Mediterranean lasagna are all on the same menu — and perfectly executed, to boot.
Hot chicken may be all the rage these days in restaurants across the U.S., but Prince’s has been serving the fiery poultry since long before it was hip. For the better part of a century, this humble eatery has been scorching tongues with its chile-laden chicken, featuring finger-licking comfort food that ranges from mild to searing. A platter of chicken at Prince’s is a Nashville essential, and a veritable rite of passage when it comes to Southern food.
Every city has its iconic restaurants, and for Nashville, Loveless Cafe is one such place. The family-friendly eatery has been slinging biscuits and fried chicken in a homey atmosphere for more than 65 years. While the restaurant has evolved since then, it’s stayed true to its down-home origins, and especially to its time-tested recipes that have been enticing families and visitors for generations with its barbecue, hot chicken, breakfast and more.