12 restaurants that scream “Nashville”

Editor’s Note: Welcome to The Greats, a series on the restaurants that define their cities. Here now, a guide to the Nashville Greats.

Some might assume that Music City’s best restaurants offer a one-note culinary experience—but they would be wrong. Although Nashville has a deep cultural connection to Southern food, a recent influx of new restaurants has stretched the minds and palates of the city.

There’s a time-honored fried chicken joint that has braved recessions and a pandemic to cement Nashville’s place in the food world. But there are also newcomers bringing fresh ideas to the table: An acclaimed chef serves inventive Indian fusion food in the Gulch. Tapas and Iberian wines shine at a transportive Spanish place in Sylvan Park.

Together, these dozen restaurants make up The Greats: a list of old and new restaurants that offer a snapshot of the best of Nashville dining right now. Whether you’re native to the city, a transplant, or a tourist, make sure to visit the dozen places that help make Nashville great.

Chauhan Ale and Masala House (The Gulch)

Exposed brick walls and colorful lights Chauhan Ale and Masala House in Nashville

Chauhan Ale and Masala House is an inventive Indian fusion spot and the first of celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan’s many Nashville restaurants. | Credit: Chauhan Ale and Masala House

As celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan’s first of many restaurants in Nashville, Chauhan Ale and Masala House is a city stalwart that delivers imaginative Indian fare infused with the flavors of the South. With exposed brick walls and colorful lighting, the decor here is almost as inviting as the scent of the chai and spices that greets you at the door. Hot chicken pakoras and lamb keema papadi nachos mingle with more traditional South Asian dishes such as tandoori chicken and paneer. The creative brunch menu also draws crowds: try the sweet dosa pancake with saffron-liqueur soaked berries and cardamom whipped cream with a vindaloo-spiced bloody mary for a punchy start to your weekend.

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Germantown Cafe (Germantown)

Pandemic closures and restrictions were tough on every business in 2020, but this beloved cafe had to face yet another setback: In March of that year, a tornado tore through Nashville, damaging the Germantown Cafe and much of the surrounding neighborhood. After nearly two years, the local favorite reopened with its charm intact. Regulars rejoiced at the return of its original Southern-inspired menu items such as marinated tenderloin with plum sauce, mashed potatoes, and haricot verts. A popular happy hour on the cafe’s scenic patio makes the place an especially sought-after perch in the warmer months.

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Red Pony (Franklin)

Despite a devastating 2021 fire that put its future in limbo, Red Pony bounced back to reprise its role as a local favorite in 2022. CIA-trained chef and owner Jason McConnell has operated in the heart of historic downtown Franklin since 2006. The two-level restaurant, which includes a bar and dining room on each floor, has a clubby but casual atmosphere with leather booths and low lighting. The menu reflects that sophisticated yet cozy vibe with elegant takes on Southern classics such as shrimp and grits with local bacon and cheese grits and a hickory-grilled ribeye with miso potatoes and grilled portobello.

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Etch (Downtown)

Chocolate hazelnut mousse at Etch in downtown Nashville

Chef Deb Paquette, Tennessee’s first woman to qualify as a certified executive chef over 30 years ago, leads the New American kitchen at Etch. | Credit: Etch

Deb Paquette became Tennessee’s first woman to qualify as a certified executive chef over 30 years ago. She now leads some of Nashville’s best restaurants, including Etch. The modern downtown restaurant has two private dining rooms, a full bar, and a separate area where diners interact with Paquette during meal service. Her eclectic New American menu features bright flavors and layered dishes such as Argentinian beef tenderloin with kale, fennel, radicchio, pistachio parmesan crumble, sage aioli, and rosemary butternut purée, and a Korean-influenced bulgogi pulled pork sandwich.

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Prince’s Hot Chicken (Antioch)

Before Nashville hot chicken popped up on menus all over the world, it was conceived as a punishment for an unfaithful lover—but things didn’t go according to plan, according to the restaurant’s owner André Prince. Decades later, the family-owned spot still serves the original pepper-packed recipe in its flagship location in Antioch (and inside Fifth and Broadway’s Assembly Food Hall). You can’t go wrong with a whole chicken, tenders, or wings ranging in heat levels alongside Southern sides such as baked beans and potato salad—plus a chilled beer to cool off from the zingy spices.

404 Kitchen (The Gulch)

The brick exterior to 404 Kitchen, a New American restaurant in Nashville.

404 Kitchen is set in a LEED-certified building. | Credit: 404 Kitchen

James Beard Award-nominated 404 Kitchen anchors Nashville’s growing Gulch neighborhood and serves locally sourced New American dishes. Its industrial-chic dining room is as elegant and unpretentious as the cuisine. Start your evening with a brown butter-rinsed old fashioned at Gertie’s, 404’s first-floor whiskey bar, which has one of the best curated selection of whiskies in the South. Notable entrees include cooked local trout wrapped in smoky, salty Benton’s ham, topped with chow chow relish and crispy salt and vinegar potatoes.

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Valentino’s Ristorante (West End)

Despite shifting to a new location in 2019, Valentino’s retains the warmth and charm that earned it Nashville classic status after opening in 1992. From antipasti to pasta to hearty entrees, the menu is packed with Italian favorites offering something for everyone. Worthy starters include cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto and drizzled with local honey and olive oil and scampi al forno, tender shrimp swimming in roasted garlic and lemon butter. The sign of a restaurant’s staying power lies in loyal diners, which Valentino’s has in spades—after an evening of top-notch wine and outstanding Italian fare, it’s easy to see why.

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Lola (Sylvan Park)

Tapas hotspot Lola quickly became a neighborhood staple after opening in 2021, thanks to its Seville-in-Sylvan Park vibes. Not to mention perks such as a buzzy social hour held on weekdays from 4 pm to 6 pm. The modern and airy dining room feels like a place you might stumble into on an adventurous Spanish bar crawl. Simple but elegant small plates include bravas (spicy potatoes) with hot sauce and aioli and the flavorful montadito (mini bread rolls) with slow-cooked beef, onion jam, garlic aioli, and pickled mustard seeds. The Iberian flair extends to the bar with a strong selection of Spanish and Portuguese wines and cocktails.

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City House (Germantown)

City House’s hearty Italian menu includes bread gnocchi, linguini with roasted mushrooms, fennel fonduta, charred greens and parmesan, and a collection of pizzas

Chef Tandy Wilson, a James Beard Award-winner, steers the kitchen at Italian restaurant City House. | Credit: Andrea Behrends

Nashville’s Germantown neighborhood has grown to become one of the best for dining, and City House led the charge when it opened in 2007. The home-turned-Italian restaurant is set on a quiet, unassuming street. But its vibrant, brick-lined interiors pack a punch. As does its kitchen, steered by eight-time James Beard Award-nominee Tandy Wilson. Wilson claimed the prize for Best Chef Southeast in 2016, making him the first in Nashville to earn that distinction. City House’s menu standouts include bread gnocchi, linguini with roasted mushrooms, fennel fonduta, charred greens and parmesan, and a collection of pizzas that some argue are the best in town.

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Rolf & Daughters (Germantown)

The building housing Rolf & Daughters may be a century old, but the energy and food served here are undeniably of the moment. With long communal tables, a lively bar, high ceilings, and striking brick and wood accents, Rolf & Daughters is the kind of versatile New American spot to host a group of friends or impress a date. The rotating, ingredient-driven menu may include dry-aged beef tartare, pastured chicken with preserved lemon and garlic confit, and a collection of housemade pastas such as the hand-rolled sourdough cecamariti with black pepper and cultured butter.

Loveless Cafe (Nashville)

House-smoked country ham, hashbrown casserole, eggs, and a biscuit at Loveless Cafe in Nashville

Loveless Cafe began serving its iconic biscuits and jams in 1951. | Credit: Loveless Cafe

Loveless Cafe is a true Nashville original that has served its iconic biscuits and jams since 1951. What began as a humble roadside destination with a few picnic tables is now an empire of Southern hospitality that includes the onsite Loveless Motel and the Hams and Jams shop. In addition to Annie Loveless’s original biscuit recipe and famous house-smoked country ham, the cafe’s all-day breakfast menu has Southern classics such as country-fried steak with white gravy and fried chicken and waffles. Biscuits might be the star of the show here, but don’t overlook the supper menu of hits such as pulled pork smoked with Tennessee hickory wood and stellar sides including creamed corn and fried green tomatoes.

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Hai Woon Dai (Antioch)

Don’t let its modest, fuss-free interiors fool you. Hai Woon Dai has served some of the city’s best Korean food for over a decade. While the menu is filled with expertly prepared standards such as vegetable and beef bibimbap and kimchi soup, it’s the less-common-in-Nashville dishes that set the restaurant apart. They include budae jjigae (army base stew), studded with hot dogs, Spam, tofu, kimchi, and noodles in a spicy sauce. Don’t skip the epic banchan spread for your vegetable fix.

Tried them all? Check out other options here.

Kellie Walton Benz is a food, drink and travel writer based outside of Nashville. Follow her adventures and eats on Instagram at @kellie.benz.

Alice Fort Shearon contributed to this guide.