If you’re headed to the Music City Bowl, congratulations, you’re headed to what is, in my opinion, one of America’s signature cities. It’s also one of the fastest growing, and with growth typically comes a vibrant food scene.
That’s certainly true in Nashville, which is becoming one of the country’s great food destinations. If eating is on your list of things to do before the Huskers and Volunteers kick things off on Dec. 30, I’ve put together a list of some places to consider.
This list is not meant to be comprehensive nor a list of Nashville’s hottest restaurants, but rather a collection of places I’ve been to and enjoy. There should be something for just about everyone.
HOT CHICKEN: Somehow over the past four years this has emerged as Nashville’s signature dish. When KFC is hawking a version, you know it has reached cultural saturation, and that’s OK because hot chicken is great. If you want the really down-and-dirty original experience, you’ll head to Prince’s Hot Chicken. If you’re looking for something with a few more amenities, Hattie B’s is also great. Both shops now have multiple locations, though I’m partial to the Hattie B’s near Music Row (pictured above). If you’re skeptical of spice, don’t worry each place has varying scales that go all the way down to “plain” if you just want fried chicken. At Hattie B’s, I’d recommend getting the “hot” if you want to feel like you’re eating “hot chicken.” The “mild” is tasty, but it doesn’t have a ton of heat.
BBQ: I’m such a barbecue jerk I annoy myself. I’m always excited to try barbecue and generally underwhelmed by 95 percent of it. But I’m always seeking those 5-percent experiences. I don’t know if I’d quite put Martin’s in that category yet (need a larger sample size), but it’s good, convenient and probably the king of Nashville barbecue. There are multiple locations in town, including a new downtown location that will probably be convenient for most football fans in town for the game. If you’re in the Brentwood area, Judge Beans is also a good option.
BURGER: A dive bar with a truly great burger is my version of the American dream. Dino’s, an East Nashville institution, is that. Enough said. Well, one more thing: It’s also right next to No. 308 (hey, Nebraska!), which is a great place for a cocktail.
TACOS: Mas Tacos Por Favor. It started as a food truck, now it’s here.
JAPANESE: Yeah, I know. Most people aren’t thinking about going to Nashville to eat Japanese food, but if you’re into good sushi, sake and ramen, making a point to stop at Two Ten Jack is worth your time. Now, a thing you need to know here: This place, located in East Nashville, is so hip it’ll make you sick to your stomach. But the food will not, because the food is excellent. If you’re willing to wade through that, the aforementioned sushi and ramen are good and there are some knockout small plates here. If you go that route, definitely get the crispy brussels and the takoyaki, which are hush puppies with octopus and miso butter and that miso butter might be the best thing you’ll have all week. (Note: If you’re looking for vegetarian options, this is a pretty good menu for that, including a vegetarian ramen option.)
EATING GOOD: If you’re interested in an unforgettable meal at a place where dinner entrees will run about $25 to $30, Husk is great, great option. The second outpost of Chef Sean Brock’s Charleston, S.C., institution, Husk is southern food refined and it takes a fanatical but high-low approach to ingredients. (See also: Cheerwine Glazed Pork.) The menu changes daily, but if you go and there’s a charcuterie board featuring ham, get it. It’s probably from Benton’s and Allan Benton’s country ham are maybe the best thing Tennessee produces. (Truly a champion of life, that ham.) If you want to do this a little bit cheaper, there is a lunch menu and the Husk burger (which includes Benton’s bacon) is one of the best gourmet burger’s I’ve ever had.
EATING GOOD, BUT FOR WAY LESS: The best meal in Nashville, depending upon your state of mind, might be the “Recession Special” at Robert’s Western World right on Broadway. For $5 you get a fried bologna sandwich, chips and a PBR. If you’re scoffing at the notion of a fried bologna sandwich I’m afraid we can never be friends, because bologna might be the best fried stuffing for a sandwich, even better than chicken, shrimp, ground beef or whatever your argument is. That’s because bologna is basically built for the Maillard reaction and the result is flavorful, crusty lunchmeat. Doesn’t sound great, but man is it. Especially with a good ol’ fashioned slice of American cheese and yellow mustard. If you’ve been honky-tonkin’ for a while on Broadway and it’s late at night and you’re starving even though you know you’ll regret it in the morning, this simple sandwich will be your salvation. And, as a bonus, Robert’s consistently has some of the best music on Broadway, so there’s that, too.