Nashville has been a top tourist destination for decades; home to a country music scene so famous it earned the city the nickname Music City and its very own prime time TV show (RIP). Nashville is also a serious shaker when it comes to food, which isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s seen the line at Columbus’s Nashville-inspired food spot Hot Chicken Takeover.
Lucky for Columbus, flights to Nashville are only around an hour and relatively inexpensive, but the six-hour drive there is a scenic one and the option I prefer. If you choose the latter, build in time for a breakfast stop in Louisville for the famously delicious Hot Brown (an open-faced turkey sandwich topped with bacon and Mornay sauce) at the Brown Hotel, visits to a couple of Kentucky’s northern bourbon distilleries, or a walk through Dinosaur World if kids are in tow (though I am 33 and can appreciate 150 life-size dinosaurs!). Time is on your side– Nashville is in Central Time– so you’ll gain an hour of wiggle room.
Also, if you fly: renting a car is a great option, but everything is affordably Uber-able too.
You will succeed most at eating in Nashville with hungry company. There are just too many incredible places to try– like, there are three majorly famous hot chicken spots to choose from alone! So I say why pick one, when you can split a sandwich with a pal at all three?
So, let’s get into it!
Regardless of if how you got to Nash, the first thing on your list is probably caffeine. You have a lot to do, after all! Get yours at Barista Parlor in hip East Nashville. The 3,200-square-foot space features tons of character and sitting room, including a giant outdoor area for enjoying nice weather. Grab a pour over and browse the pick-and-play vinyl, or buy some of your own at The Groove record shop next door.
If your visit happens to fall on a weekday, and it’s before 2 p.m., go immediately to Arnold’s for a traditional “Meat & Three,” where you pick one meat and three side dishes. The restaurant will have a long line because that is what happens when you serve some of the best food in the South, but it moves quickly. You can’t pick a wrong dish at this mom-and-pop spot, and non-meat-eaters can rejoice too: vegetables are where Arnold has says he really shines.
Husk is highly recommended, chef Sean Brock’s inventive takes on Southern classics are quite an experience, and the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. If you can, check out season two of PBS’s addictive Mind of a Chef series– watching Brock earnestly explain the importance of preserving the South’s food heritage will hit you in the feels and stomach, and give you a greater appreciation for everything on your plate. Reservations are recommended but waiting isn’t bad either; you can munch on fried chicken skins at the basement bar, or grab a drink and snack at nearby Pinewood Social, just a five-minute car ride away and open from early morning until 1 a.m. every day.
Pinewood Social is a lot of things– A bowling alley! A coffee shop! A bar!– but the most important thing it is is FUN. The open and lively atmosphere is a great place to hang day or night, and the food is excellent. I snacked on fried broccoli and okra while watching people bowl better than me, humming to “Beat Happening” on the speakers.
Other do-if-you-can restaurants include the famous Loveless Cafe, whose buttery biscuits are so good Jeni’s Ice Cream called them one of the “Seven Wonders of the Food World” and put them in an ice cream flavor with peach jam. Loveless offers Southern classics and breakfast all day (swoon!), plus some cool shops for working off your country fried steak. Southern diner Hermitage Cafe is another place to try, and more centrally located to downtown, but I might keep this one in a back pocket for late-night eats since it’s one of the few spots serving food 24/7.
Once you’ve figured out where to eat, it’s time for a drink. Grab one of the highly curated beers at 12 South before heading down the street to bluegrass institution Station Inn where you can listen to incredible live music into the night.
Your second day, stop by for a light morning nosh at Eighth & Roast or Fox’s Donut Den, then saddle up for the trifecta of Nashville’s famous hot chicken: Bolton’s, Prince’s, and newcomer Hattie B’s. If you’re traveling with a group, split a sandwich or two at each one so you can get a taste of each. If you’re rolling solo like I was, draw a name out of a hat to pick one then vow to come back with friends. And no matter what: DO NOT FORGET TO ORDER BEVERAGES or you may cry in front of your friends or strangers.
I can imagine no better spot to calm your taste buds after an afternoon of hot chicken than The Pharmacy. Have you ever had an egg cream? Get an egg cream. And if you have had one, get one again because you just assaulted your tongue and it needs the sweet relief. Beer will work just fine too. When you’re ready to eat again, stroll down the street for a no-frills but very delicious Mexican at Mas Tacos.
If you’re planning your trip far in advance, grab tickets to see a show or tour at legendary music institutions the Ryman Auditorium or Grand Ole Opry. The Opry is located a quick drive from downtown, but I don’t think it’s worth trekking to if you’re not going inside.
Sightseeing that requires less planning includes a stop at the storefront for Jack White’s label Third Man Records, where you can shop limited-edition vinyl and make a vinyl recording of your own for a mere $15, shopping for prints at Hatch Show Print, or exploring The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. There’s also the beautiful modern art museum, The Frist, or the galleries at The Parthenon in Centennial Park If you want to walk off the 89273982742874 (worth it!) calories you’ve taken in so far.
But make sure to conserve energy for the main event at night: Broadway, baby! Take a stroll under the neon lights that gave the city its “Nashvegas” nickname, then head directly to Robert’s Western World for what locals claim is the hands-down best honky tonk on the strip. (Save room for a famous fried bologna sandwich, too.)
Well, whew. That should be enough to get you started. By no means is this a comprehensive eat-ctionary (did that work? Let’s pretend that worked), just a list of tried-and-true suggestions to jump off from to make the great city of Nashville a little easier to dive into. And when you do decide to go, maybe take me with you? There’s still two more hot chicken joints on my list.