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5 of the Best Restaurants in Nashville, Tennessee (plus bonus coffee and cocktail tips!)

I first visited Nashville in 2011, as a stop on a foodie road trip that I was making through the Deep South. I fell for the city immediately: the country music pouring out of every bar, the legendary southern hospitality, the deeply fabulous cowboy boots (of which I bought a pair from Betty’s Boots that I still wear with pride today). I knew that to return to Nashville was to risk tainting that memory, but it was a risk I desperately wanted to take.

And yes, the city has changed immeasurably in the last decade: downtown is now overrun with hordes of bachelorette parties riding booze-fuelled floats made from tractors and army trucks. Hotels are wickedly expensive as a result of the massive gentrification that’s occurred and the influx of richer Americans from the coast. Nashville felt more cool, less country. But still: I loved it. Music City still guarantees a ready supply of catchy melodies at all times and in all places. That southern hospitality has been augmented by a far more cosmopolitan wave of international restaurants. And the fabulous cowboy boots still abound – albeit this time I hit the thrift stores instead of the downtown shops.

And what of the food? Let’s get down to it:

My Foodie’s Guide to Nashville

Southern meat-and-three in Nashville: Arnold’s Country Kitchen

I have only one culinary memory from that inaugural visit to Nashville: Arnold’s. So it was the first place I visited on my return. I’m pleased to tell you that, while so much about Nashville has changed, Arnold’s was exactly as I remembered it. The huge sign on the red wall outside, the canteen-style line that you stand in with your red tray ready to pick up your dessert first, and the quintessentially southern country menu of meat-and-three.

Meat-and-three at Arnold’s

I picked the meatloaf (Mr Foodie went for the roast beef, which on balance I think was the better option) plus braised turnip greens, cauliflower casserole and mac ‘n cheese, followed by pecan pie for dessert. Arnold’s has had a reputation for serving the gold standard in southern fare since 1982, and this family-run eatery even earned a James Beard American Classics Award in 2009. You can’t get more Nashville than this.

Pro coffee tip while in The Gulch: If you’re in need of a pick-me-up after lunch at Arnold’s, head around the corner to Barista Parlor – the Golden Sound location on Magazine Street – for excellently brewed coffee in The Gulch neighbourhood.

Nashville hot chicken: Hattie B’s

You can’t visit Nashville without tasting the city’s famous hot chicken. The jury’s out as to the best place to eat it, but we went to Hattie B’s (their West location on Charlotte Avenue), which routinely has lines of locals and tourists queuing round the block. It was hard to photograph because the decor and light were very red, and so is the chicken because it’s coated in a spice mix that’s heavy on cayenne pepper. I ordered my chicken “damn hot”, which is the spice level just below the hottest. I’d say I have a high tolerance for chilli but this was searing and I’m glad I didn’t go for the hottest! I’d recommend ordering some cooling sides – like the red-skinned potato salad and the coleslaw – to counteract the chilli heat. You have been warned.

Nashville hot chicken sandwich at Hattie B’s

Fine dining in Nashville: The Catbird Seat

Standing outside the unassuming entrance to The Catbird Seat in Midtown, we got chatting to a few other diners who had booked the same slot as we had. All were local Nashvillians, all had struggled to get reservations, and all claimed at The Catbird Seat was probably the best restaurant in Nashville. Expectations were duly high. They were also met in spades.

A sample of the spectacular dishes at The Catbird Seat

The setup is one long bar in an angular U-shape that surrounds a central kitchen. Half a dozen chefs are busily preparing dish after dish, which they then present to you (along with a wine pairing, if you so wish – and we did wish). Over the course of two-and-a-half hours, we ate 13 tiny tasting plates that were as delicately presented as they were full of flavour. I find that fine-dining restaurants often favour subtlety over punchiness, but here every morsel was a flavour bomb. My favourites included the langoustine with fermented ramp butter and grits, and the amadai (a type of fish) with golden beetroot and pistachio nuts. But everything was truly spectacular – a great find for a special occasion.

Indian-fusion food in Nashville: Chauhan

I’ve not come across much Indian food during my time in Tennessee, so I was particularly curious to try the Indian-Southern fusion fare on offer at Chauhan Ale and Masala House. Simply because of the timing of our trip, we opted for their weekend brunch menu on a Sunday morning, which was an eclectic mix of brunch classics and more innovative Indian-fusion dishes. We tried Chauhan’s chilli cheese omelette, which was simple in itself but elevated to new heights by floating atop a bright green lake of saag (creamy spinach curry). The Goan mussels were also a big hit: an Indian take on moules-frites with a spicy, fish-sauce-laden broth and masala fries. Plus, Chauhan’s Bloody Mary was excellent.

Goan mussels and fries at Chauhan

Special mentions go to our waiter, who gave us great tips all round, and Chauhan’s interior designer, who’s managed to infuse the whole place with a kind of kitschy-exotic chic.

Middle Eastern food in Nashville: Epice

For reasons that become apparent as soon as you head downtown, Nashville today is all about the surrounding neighbourhoods. There are lots to discover (The Gulch and Midtown being good examples mentioned earlier in this article) but one that I found particularly appealing was Hillsboro-Belmont – flanked by 21st Avenue South on one side and 12th Avenue South (aka 12 South) on the other.

Mezze and more at Epice

As well as a multitude of trendy shops and friendly bars, 12 South is home to Epice – a Middle Eastern restaurant that I’d booked for our last night in Nashville. A cool, industrial interior is the setting for mezze and more: baba ghanoush, kibbeh, lamb meatballs, za’atar-roasted chicken and spice-encrusted barracuda. A feast for the senses, washed down with a fresh and fruity bottle of Gamay.

Pro cocktail tip while in 12 South: After dinner at Epice, we stopped by Bartaco for a couple of margaritas. Many restaurants in America use a margarita mix as opposed to fresh lime juice, but I’m pleased to report that Bartaco is not one of them! Fresh and zingy, these were the perfect after-dinner cocktail.

Planning a trip to the US? Check out my Foodie’s Guide to St. Augustine, Florida! And if you like these Foodie Travel Guides, follow A Foodie Abroad on Instagram for all my latest coverage of destinations outside of Amsterdam.

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