It’s obvious to anyone that knows me – actually it’s obvious to anyone who has SEEN me – that I enjoy eating. And because I often eat out, I’m sometimes asked to name my favorite restaurant in Nashville.
The problem is, I could no more pick a favorite restaurant than I could pick a favorite dish. There are many that I enjoy, but my level of enjoyment also depends on my mood, the weather, the personality of the waiter, the behavior of the guests at the next table – so many factors! And, there are so many Nashville restaurants I’ve never tried. (I will work on remedying that in 2016!)
But listed here (in alphabetical order) are ten of my current favorites:
400 Degrees – This is my favorite Nashville Hot Chicken joint – their food is spicy and flavorful (I go for the 200 Degree chicken tenders so that I can eat with a fork and not accidentally blind myself), and the downtown location is a whole lot less sketchy than Prince’s. Unfortunately, they do not sell beer (as does Hattie B’s), but I’ve found that sweet tea can be just the thing to quench the fire from a good hot chicken meal.
Bombay Palace – I probably don’t have the most discriminating palate when it comes to “authentic” Indian food, but I do know that the flavors at Bombay Palace on West End (near Centennial Park) are among the best I’ve had at an Indian restaurant. And, though I fancy myself an accomplished home cook, I don’t think I could reproduce these dishes in my kitchen. Parking is more plentiful in the back of the restaurant, but walking into the dining area from the back entrance (past storage racks and the kitchen) is an exercise in TMI.
Capitol Grille – This restaurant, located in the historic Hermitage Hotel downtown, is my favorite for lunch before a matinee show at TPAC, or dinner before a concert at the War Memorial Auditorium. Their menu lists several “classic” options (Club or Grilled Pimiento Cheese Sandwich for lunch; Steak, Trout or Chicken for dinner) and the food is well prepared. The thing that sets this place at the top for me is that you can valet park at The Hermitage Hotel before your meal and, for an additional fee ($13 last I did this), you can leave your vehicle there while you attend events at TPAC or the War Memorial Auditorium.
City House – Germantown has a bevy of great restaurants, and it’s hard for me to pick one above the others, but City House has such a cool vibe, consistently good food, and amazing cocktails that it holds a special place in my heart. The flavors here are Italian-inspired, the space is industrial-chic. I haven’t yet tried one of their Sunday Suppers, but this is on my must-do list.
Epice – I’ve only been to this little 12 South restaurant once, but the experience was so delightful that I know I’ll be back soon. This restaurant is owned and operated by Maher Fawaz – the temperamental Lebanese man who, with his sister, runs the local Kalamatas restaurant chain. Epice serves Middle Eastern flavors at their most elegant. The restaurant has thick concrete walls, making cell phone signals practically nonexistent (your phone battery may be dead by the end of the meal), and I think it would be difficult to comfortably seat large groups. I ordered the Sayadeya (spiced fish) when I dined there – it was wonderfully flavorful – next time I think I’ll try the Lahmeh (pistachio encrusted rack of lamb).
Gabby’s – There are a few burger joints that have reached Legendary status among Nashvillians. Rotiers Restaurant serves its cheeseburgers on toasted bread; Brown’s Diner straightforward burgers appeal to many. But Gabby’s tops them all. This tiny, friendly burger joint in Nashville’s South Houston neighborhood (adjacent to Greer Stadium, where the Sounds used to play) serves amazing juicy burgers and crispy, salty fries out of a tiny, crowded diner. For my money, the Seamus (the smaller-but-still-big version of the Gabby Burger) is the best cheeseburger in Nashville.
Jimmy Kelly’s – Because sometimes you just want a good steak and no surprises. Among locals, many prefer the more festive atmosphere at Sperry’s – but we like the old-fashioned charm at JK (and love the corn griddle cakes they serve as bread).
Martin’s BBQ Joint – We frequent the location on Belmont Blvd., where my husband always gets the pulled pork plate, and I explore other menu options. I am a big fan of their dry rub smoked chicken wings (a good option when I’m avoiding carbs); I also love their brisket burger (guilty pleasure). On the few occasions when I’ve tried to order ribs, they’ve been sold out. A word of warning – they are VERY popular for both lunch and dinner, so they do tend to sell out of things by dinnertime. Martin’s is also one of my favorite places to order food for parties.
Mere Bulles – When Mere Bulles first opened downtown, it was considered a Fancy Restaurant. I remember an anniversary dinner there – when our budget required that restaurant meals be relegated to Special Events. Fast forward a few years to the current Mere Bulles location, in the heart of the Maryland Farms office park in Brentwood. At this location, Mere Bulles has become the premier location for a business lunch or an after-work glass of wine. They also happen to serve a lovely dinner, and their weekend brunch buffet tempts even the most restrained diner. The menu isn’t particularly innovative, but what they serve is well prepared, their servers are friendly and knowledgeable, and they seem to perpetually be selling bottles of wine at half the menu price.
Taco Mamacita – I love the patio on this Edgehill Village restaurant! I also love the chicken tortilla soup, which comes “deconstructed” – a bowl with chicken shreds, vegetables, avocado and tortilla strips, along with a small pitcher of steaming, flavorful chicken stock. If you’re fighting a cold, this is wonderful comfort food!
I realize that I have completely passed over entire sections of our city – including East Nashville, which is famed for its culinary options. One of my favorite restaurants in East Nashville, Chef Jamie Watson’s Café Fundamental, closed in 2014 – now I have to force myself to cross the river to find dining options. Perhaps I’ll do that in 2016; I’ve heard wonderful things about Little Octopus, and enjoyed their tasting at last year’s Food & Wine Festival.
I also think that, once I put this online, I will think of at least three more restaurants that I wish I’d mentioned. I’ll try to work them into a future itinerary as a suggestion.