Foodie Favs and Chef-Driven Restaurants in Nashville
Let’s tour some of Nashville’s most-talked-about restaurants. I’ve tried to feature at least two options in each neighborhood. Full disclosure: I’m relying on primarily on friends who frequent “foodie” restaurants because I don’t have the palate or purse to give all these eateries their due. This post is a work-in-progress with new content added frequently.
The historic Hermitage Hotel issued a last call on its legendary Capitol Grille and rejuvenated things with internationally acclaimed restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten, marking his first venture into the American South. Named 2022’s “Best New Restaurant” in the Nashville Scene’s Writers’ Choice Awards, you’ll discover an emphasis on seafood paired with Tennessee vegetables. They keep their wood-fired oven busy.
Ranking #1 on Food & Wine’s “The 10 Best Restaurants According to Readers” poll, Yolan has soared from solid recommendation to must-try. Whether you select their 8-course dinner or dine ala carte, the evening is designed to take your taste buds on an eclectic tour with an nod to Italy. At this writing, the tasting menu is $115/person with selections changing with the seasons. On Friday and Saturday evenings, guests can opt for their exclusive experience called La Tavola in La Cucina. Impeccable service and flawlessly executed creations. Susan raves about the ravioli and found the service impeccable. Desserts are considered among Nashville’s most spectacular, courtesy of pastry chef Noelle Marchetti, a previous James Beard nominee. Chef Tony Mantauno is a former James Beard winner. Located in the sleek Joseph Hotel.
Local favorite chef Deb Paquette embraces the world, delighting in adding surprising flavors to salads, sides and entrees such as venison and confit duck leg. Mentor to many local chefs, her kitchen invites rising talent to express themselves. The restaurant features a bar, two private dining rooms and a chef’s bar where guests interact with Deb and her staff. Special acknowledgement of pastry chef Megan Williams.
South Carolina chef Sean Brock made his entry into Nashville with a menu that was staunchly southern and rustic. Current executive chef Katie Coss continues the tradition while placing her signature on the ever-changing menu, often harvesting from the restaurant’s own garden. The location is noteworthy—an 1880s mansion atop Rutledge Hill just south of downtown. TIP: The budget-conscious might like to know about the Saturday and Sunday brunch, where for under $20, you can enjoy a traditional breakfast, fried catfish, or a grain-fed burger.
With all the new arrivals, it’s easy to overlook Randy Rayburn’s 35-year-old monument to consistently delicious Southern fare with flair. Offerings include lobster mac’n’cheese, shrimp and grits, voodoo pasta and Coca-Cola BBQ beef short ribs. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A nice perk: they offer free shuttle service to events at Symphony Hall, Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Ryman Auditorium and Bridgestone Arena with advance reservations and a $40/person minimum.
Heads turned in 2011 when word spread that Nashville had a restaurant with only 22 seats and a price of $135+ per diner. The number of courses vary (10-12 typically) but this is more experience than dinner with guests seated around a U-shaped table while the chef guides you through a three-hour adventure of inventive tastings and beverage pairings. Some consider it the ultimate special occasion restaurant while a few feel the evening falls short of high expectations.
“One of the few restaurants that is great top to bottom, appetizers to desserts,” raves my friend Susan the Foodie. On her short list of places she takes out-of-towners, she likes their wine list, the cocktails and their creative turns in the kitchen. Owner/chef Julia Sullivan, a native Nashvillian, delights in her daily cava and oyster happy hour and in pairing such proteins as scallops and beef tartare with earthy vegetables. If you’re with a group, opt for the three- or four-course family-style dinner. Susan finds the bar can be noisy but things settle down in the dining room.
I love the industrial setting—the former boiler room of a paper bag manufacturer dating back to the 1800s. But there’s a downside. That big, open room can be quite loud when tables are full. Chef Philip Krajeck’s menu leans toward hearty fare with delectable blends of protein and vegetables such as sausage with eggplant. Susan lists it among the places she takes out-of-town guests although she says, “The food can be great but I’ve been a few times when it felt like the menu and the service were lackluster.” More affordable than many of its rivals.
The open kitchen, the gorgeous atmosphere and the genial staff are often touted at Tailor. Oh, and the food! Chef/owner Vivek Surti loves sharing stories about the South Asian selections prepared for you as you navigate an 8-course meal. You have the option of chef’s clear or dining room seating for around 40 guests with two seatings per evening.
Can pizza qualify as elevated dining? Possibly with Tandy Wilson at the helm. Menu choices also include linguini, roasted chicken and bread gnocchi. His belly ham pizza gets high marks. Good wine list and acclaimed cocktails. Food and service are consistently reliable, says Susan. Escape the noise near the bar by dining upstairs.
The Nashville branch of an Atlanta-based restaurant, this self-described “fish camp and oysters” spot offers a variety of tasty entrees priced around the $40 mark. Also popular are their shareable plateaux, combinations of oysters, shrimp, ceviche, dips and more.
For years, this former garage was our go-to auto maintenance. These days the restaurant is in tune with California’s tastes. Adele’s brunch scored a Top 3 ranking in the Nashville Scene’s Readers’ Poll. My friends disagree: Clair proclaimed it her favorite restaurant while Susan finds it overrated.
Chef Maneet Chauhan gained national acclaim as a judge on The Food Network’s “Chopped.” Housed in a rustic old industrial building, her team creates hearty Indian-inspired offerings and fragrant dinner options. We found the tandoori chicken poutine brunch appetizer a meal in itself.
Patrons recommend you visit the adjoining Big Bar for a drink and maybe an order of nachos before your reservation. There are only 24 seats so expect an intimate yet engaging experience for your six-course meal overseen by Josh Habiger, a 2023 Best Chef finalist for a James Beard Award. If going with a group of 4-6, order The Feast to enjoy family-style dining.
Doubly honored by Food & Wine as “Restaurant of the Year” and the Nashville Scene’s Writers’ 2022 Choice Award for “Best Restaurant,” Chef Trevor Moran comes with solid cred after stays at Copenhagen’s Noma and Nashville’s The Catbird Seat. Dumplings served from the open kitchen are sumptuous. Dessert is a showstopper. With only eight tables, dining is designed to be an intimate experience. Note: it’s only open Friday-Sunday with both lunch and dinner service.
Chef Andy Little’s idea was to combine his Pennsylvania Dutch upbringing with southern hospitality. His prowess has earned him kudos as a James Beard semi-finalist in two previous years. Susan wasn’t impressed but acknowledges her friends visit often. Entrees include beef cheek, pork shank and a much-praised chicken for two.
A love letter to his grandmother who inspired him to cook, chef Sean Brook stays true to her Appalachian roots. Even though the foods are earthy, the prices are more fitting an upscale pocketbook; elevated chicken-and-dumplings are $55, cheese grits are $20. For the adventurous, choose the four-course offering called “The Feast” for $99.
Born in Charleston, this outpost excels in casual elegance. Foodie Susan ranks it high on her list for its culinary creativity and well-executed cocktails. Moderately priced, the spicy avocado salad is $18 while the menu tops out with a $40 Wagyu strip steak. Go for their delectable appetizers such as the honey glazed whipped feta dip and a drink if not for a meal.
The only Tennessee restaurant to make the New York Times’ “50 Most Exciting Restaurants” 2023 list, this Japanese diner wows patrons with a short list of signature dishes including onigiri, inari, ochazuke, and udon carbonara.
Placing second as “Best Restaurant” in the Nashville Scene 2022 Readers’ Poll, the menu adds a touch of refinement to empanadas, pizzas and mussels. Their black-eyed pea hummus is an appetizing smash.
Susan loves lou for its good wines and good food, whether enjoyed for brunch or dinner. Go lighter with their charcuterie boards or indulge yourself with trout, Cornish hen or scallops. Vegan Melissa gives it high marks. If the weather’s nice, enjoy dining on the deck.
Mediterranean delights at affordable prices. People rave about their tasting platters of hummus and breads. Falafel gets big points too. Melissa the Vegan loves that she can always find something great on the menu. Highlights include Lamb Kefta Saneye, Tamarind Pickled Shrimp and Kuhdar Platter.
For more than 20 years, Margot McCormack has consistently delivered palate-pleasing, French-inspired fare. Even amid the influx of new restaurants, Margot ranked #3 in Nashville Scene‘s 2022 Readers Poll. Jessica says her pan-roasted chicken is reliably delicious but consider venturing to vegetable lasagna or one of her seafood offerings. Her desserts come highly recommended to conclude your meal.
Chosen “2019 Restaurant of the Year” by EaterNashville, the restaurant describes itself as “Creative. Playful. Live-fire cooking.” The open kitchen evidences their love for fiery creations as wood oven-roasted oysters, crispy brussel sprouts, grilled carrots, and heritage pork chop. On a chilly night, you’ll want to warm up to their fireplace.
Your go-to for flavors from the Iberian Peninsula, it was voted “Restaurant of the Year” in 2018 by Eater Nashville. The menu changes seasonally with a new listing each month. At this moment, options include lobster with chewy rice, octopus with passion fruit and burnt onion, and kohlrabi, maitake and wasabi.
Sylvan Park/The Nations
It makes sense that Hathorne is considered a relaxing spot for an enjoyable night out with friends. After all, the building was formerly a church fellowship hall. Hailed as “Best Creative Menu” in the 2022 Nashville Scene Readers’ Poll, Susan the Foodie frequents it for casual dinners where even vegetables are given star treatment. The focaccia with homemade ricotta and fennel jelly gets high praise. On Tuesdays, the special is a Waygu burger my wife loved.
The ever-changing menu makes it tough to offer recommendations. Know that they like to add their own innovations to classic dishes. On Wednesdays and Sundays, they offer Family Suppers to go.