HOME > Chowhound > General South Archive >


Hidden Gems in Nashville?

I did search and didn't find much so I'll ask the question. I travel to Nashville quite a bit and am looking for any hidden gems there. I've done the steakhouse circuit, so anything but that. Thanks in advance!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Can I say me too? I'll be there for a conference in May...

    1. For pretty decent, honest reviews of Nashville restaurants go to http://www.nashvillescene.com and look in the Dining archives. There's also a Dining Guide that I've found over the years to be pretty much aligned with my own taste - a whole lot more reliable than most similar guides running here in LA County publications. When we lived in Nashville we relied on that about as much as we did word-of-mouth, and whenever we go back there we scout the guide to see what's new or changed.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Will Owen

        I'm there frequently and I agree. Kay West is usually on target. As I just mentioned to another question, Sunset Grill is a consistant favorite of mine. See http://www.sunsetgrill.com/Menus. The wine list is huge, and in my opinion, you just can't beat a patio table there on a Spring evening.

        1. re: nashnative

          I used to feel the same about SG, but lately it just hasn't been worth the price tag. Margot cafe in 5 points has been quite impressive lately, as far as higher end dinging goes, and Zola on West End never dissapoints. For cheaper fare, I love hot diggity dogs on 8th downtown for some lunchtime Chicago dogs. Bobbie's dairy dip on Charlotte is open for the season as well and serves up great straight from the grill burgers and fries, as well as some mean desserts.

          1. re: notgreg

            Second the mention of Margot Cafe. Had dinner there for the first time last weekend and came away very impressed. Wonderful food, superb service, comfortable and attractive setting. No dish less than satisfying and most were outstanding. Went on the later side and things were fairly relaxed if still lively. You will not go wrong here. Highly recommended.

          2. re: nashnative

            Yup, Sunset Grille is Old Reliable for the current generation. It's seldom anywhere near the cutting edge, but the food is (that word again) reliably good. Randy Rayburn has I don't know how many restaurants now (three? four?), but SG was the first he could call his own and it's his pride and (I assume) joy - no chef himself, he's a hard-nosed restaurateur who hires the best talent he can find then drives them like galley slaves. One happy result of this is the number of restaurants now being operated by good chefs who used to work for Randy and quit before somebody got killed.

            One of my non-meat-and-three guilty pleasures in Nashville is the SG signature meat loaf, assuming it's still on the menu. Not diet food.

        2. These days, Tops for food in Nashville are:

          Margot Cafe
          Radius 10
          Germantown Cafe
          Samurai Sushi
          Marche (brunch only)

          I wouldn't call these hidden, but they are gems.

          3 Replies
          1. re: LPM

            Just checked in to the downtown Hilton and in my room is the current copy of Nashville Lifestyles magazine. Cover story is 2007 Best Restaurants. Should be a good read. I should check out Sunste Grill this trip.

            1. re: Chicago Wine Geek

              You really shouldn't check out Sunset Grill. It has been just average for many years now. LPM's list above is a good one.

              1. re: Chicago Wine Geek

                If listed, I would also avoid Cabana, which is next door to Sunset Grill. It generated plenty of buzz when it opened -- including a write-up in the New York Times -- but in my experience it's heavy on sorority / fraternity ambience and light on culinary satisfaction.

                If you're looking for a chow fieldtrip, you should come to East Nashville 5 Points area and hit Sweet 16th Bakery for breakfast, Marche for lunch, and Pied Piper Creamery for dessert. All within walking (walking it off) distance.

            2. I'm assuming by "hidden gems" you mean not-fancy and not-high profile places, since you could probably find those on your own.
              Try these places:
              ELLISTON PLACE
              Samurai Sushi -- cheap-ish and great, but only 4 tables.
              Rotier's -- non-greasey greasy spoon.
              OMBI seasonal, new American great value food in a wonderful atmosphere, with perfectly matched wines.

              MIDTOWN SOUTH
              The Pie Wagon on Music Row is one of those "where the locals grab lunch" places where you'll rub elbows with music people.
              I love the New Orleans Place on Division -- Patrick's I think it's called.
              Mirror on 12th Ave South -- contemporary food, funky atmosphere
              Across the street from that is Mafiaoza's pizza, which IMHO has the best pizza in town (but I don't care for pizza, so don't take my word for it).
              Frothy Monkey, 12th Ave South, coffeehouse with exceptional food, but limited to soups, sandwiches, salads and baked goods. All organic, last time I checked.

              FURTHER SOUTH
              Out 8th Avenue is a terrific Greek place called Athens Family Restaurant.
              On Thompson Lane, the east-west corridor, are several good places, including Yellow Porch, a neighborhood bistro with outstanding food
              Baja Burrito, a fresh-Mex joint. Cheap and cheerful
              Sam and Zoe's, right behind Baja Burrito, os a great coffeehouse, if you enjoy a $5 cup of coffee with loads of atmosphere and lots of good reading material
              Mothership Barbecue is down one of the streets behind Sam and Zoe's -- either Columbine, Azalea or Iris. Currently offering the best handmade 'cue in town. It's a small shop, quirky, great food, 1970s album covers on the wall.
              SOUTH AGAIN
              Off I-65 on Trousdale Lane is Back to Cuba cafe, which offers a limited menu of terrific Cuban food.
              Mama Mia, fine Italian food cooked up by friendly Ecuadorans, is one building over from Back to Cuba. It's BYO and backs up to the Radnor Train yards, so the clanging freight cars are an atmospheric touch.
              Good luck on 'houndin' out some great eats!

              9 Replies
              1. re: fluffernutter

                Patrick's has been closed for a few months now.

                Mafioza's pizza -- not if you're used to good Chicago or New York style pizza. PizzaReal near 5 Points has pretty decent NY-style pizza, though.

                Rotier's -- I wish someone would explain to me what besides tradition/nostalgia Rotier's has going for it. When I moved to Nashville a few years ago I was all psyched to eat there, having heard about the wonderful burgers and all, but I found it mediocre. I tried it a few more times with the same result, and finally gave up. Merchant's and Fat Mo's both have better burgers, and there are half a dozen meat and threes in town with better food generally. Why do people love it so? What am I missing?

                Otherwise, fluffernutter's and LPM's lists are the way to go.

                1. re: nm1

                  FWIW, here is what Nashville Lifestyles listed as the "best" restaurants:

                  Flyte World Dining and Wine
                  F. Scotts
                  Park Cafe
                  Capitol Grille
                  Margot Cafe

                  1. re: Chicago Wine Geek

                    All gems! Zola is a personal favorite -- the food is brilliantly conceived, the plates full of complex doodads and different flavors and textures. Flyte's meat is just extraordinary. Served rare, though, so if you're into well-done, find another place. The flight of soups was superb. F Scott's is in my part of town, but I haven't eaten there in years. My last meal there was lacking in innovation, so-so in execution, yet presumptuously priced. I did, though, see a great jazz trio there and drink those adorable little champagne-ettes, and that's the real draw of F Scott's. THe jazz, I mean, not the drinks.
                    Capitol Grille is extraordinary, but get ready to flex the wallet.Last time I ate there (November) duck breast and glass of wine -- no bread, no sides -- was $55 before tip. I found Watermark to be indistinguishable from many other places with urbane decor, $26 salmon, and good people-watching. Margot was wonderful for brunch a few months back. I haven't been to Park Cafe in about 5 years, but it was mighty good, a neighborhood bistro like Yellow Porch.
                    I should have mentioned in my big roundup above that although these places sound like they're far out when i describe them as "further south" or "out 8th Avenue," none is more than a couple miles from downtown. That's why we love Nashville, for its many flaws. And honestly, nm1 is right about Rotier's coasting on nostalgia. Ate there last month, and it was really just barely above adequate.

                    1. re: Chicago Wine Geek

                      I haven't been to Flyte yet. They lost their chef early on and our local food critic said the kitchen is really struggling with timing and pacing of meals.

                      I ate at F. Scotts about 3 weeks ago and enjoyed my meal. But very expensive. For the price, I'd rather go to Radius 10, Zola, Margot, etc.

                      Capitol Grille had, but lost, Sean Brock, a young molecular gastronomist who was doing interesting things but moved on to Charleston. It was a blow to the city's culinary aspirations.

                      1. re: LPM

                        If you need a late night dinner, you can eat at F. Scott's after 9pm and enjoy all of their food at 50% off. It's a fabulous deal, especially if you find yourself eating late anyway.

                  2. re: fluffernutter

                    once years ago friends took me to a fried chicken shop near the river...very rundown and dangerous feeling...the chicken was loaded with cayenne and fried til it was crusted over and black....and amazing.What is the name of this gem and is it still open?

                      1. re: nashnative

                        The description sounds like Prince's, except it's not near the river.

                    1. re: fluffernutter

                      Definitely Mirror on 12 South. Always something new and different and their American Beauty drink is excellent!
                      Can't say enough about Yellow Porch on Thomspon Lane. This place is outstanding! You must get the tuna tartare appetizer.
                      Zola is almost always top notch, although I will say that when I went last month I was a little disappointed in the menu...everything had some kind of fruity sweet thing going on.
                      Sunset Grill is no longer on my go to list. The past 3 x's I've been I was totally disappointed.
                      Radius10 is a new favorite. Their arugula salad with gorgonzola, shaved pears, and candied walnuts is worth a trip in itself. Although I usually get one of the night's specials, I think the Ahi Tuna entree on the regular menu is wonderful.
                      Rumba on West End has such a fun menu, food you can't get just anywhere. Lots of delicious small plates that you can combine to make a meal. Love the carribean nachos, chicken and shrimp satay w trio of dipping sauces, frankies, the green beans (side)- they are like no other green beans I've ever had- really spicy with a hint of sweet. Also their drink menu is great - mojitos, sangria, and the pacific pearl, a ginger infused lemonade drink. Not to sweet and very refreshing!
                      If you like sushi, I really think that Virago can't be beat. They have some of the best sushi in town. The Dynamite and Yellow Jacket rolls are my personal favorites. Monday nights are half price night, but be sure to make a reservation or expect to wait over an hour for a table!

                    2. I was in Nashville in December. I really enjoyed my meal at Margot Cafe. But I had an absolutely amazing meal at Parco Style Cafe in Printer's Alley. It was a Monday night, and our group of 10 got there late - around 8:30. Soon we were the only people there. The owners (hostess and chef) made it feel like we were the guests at a private party and the food was world-class (asian with french techniques). I wouldn't go there on a busy night, because I think they might get overwhelmed. But it's the only place in Nashville that I would absolutely have to eat at again on a return trip. (Skip Cabana and Prince's.)

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: Graig Meyer

                        Ok, your review of Parco sounded good and it was within walking distance from the Hilton. Talk about a hidden gem! First off, I don't know how anyone would ever find this outstanding place. I got there early, 4:30pm. I tried to enter at the 3rd St. entrance (that's the address I found on the web). And how strange is this, they have a sign up that says, "Call us at XXX-XXX-XXXX and we will buzz you in". WTH? I call and get Mrs. Fu and say I'd like to eat dinner there tonight. She says, "Ok". "Can you please let me in??" Very bizarre. Anyway, she let's me in to this beautiful, subterranean restaurant. It's early, so I'm the only one here. I had a nice time talking to Mrs. Fu for my entire dinner. She was a blast to talk to. We talked about how hard it is to find good restaurant help in Nashville, the sad state of affairs at 99% of the "Chinese" restaurants in the South (think 100 item buffet) and her son in Hong Kong. But on to the food. For the first app., I had the Gyoza with yellow Chives. Asian style seafood dumplings, pan fried with a wonderful shrimp filling. Honestly, the best Asian dumplings I've ever had. And Mrs. Fu brought me out some chili paste since I told her I like things REALLY hot. Then on to my second appetizer, the fried oyster. This isn't on the menu, but the one that was she said that they don't do anymore. This was an oyster that was inside a (for lack of a better term) shrimp meatball. It was coarsly chopped shrimp with some sort of binder, with the oyster in the middle. It tasted kind of like the topping on shrimp toast. It was really, really good. The sesame crusted grouper is gone, so I had the Grouper stuffed with eggplant. Perfectly pan sauted grouper, filled with fried eggplant, basil and bell peppers, then baked to finish, served with a curry-coconut sauce. Free sides of rice and a wonderful veggie plate of bok choi and fresh mushrooms. I don't have a sweet tooth, so I missed out on what looked like some amazing desserts.

                        Overall, I couldn't have been happier with the meal. Great, handcrafted food. She explained that so many people couldn't grasp the concept that her husband (Cordon Blue trained) cooked each dish by hand and that it wasn't fast, assembly line food. She was great to talk to. I give the meal a 10. I wish I could tell more people about this place. She said it's dead on Monday through Thursday, but she also said that they couldn't handle it if all the tables were full. Thanks Graig Meyer! Great place, great meal. Tomorrow is a business dinner at....The Palm.

                        1. re: Chicago Wine Geek

                          You made my day. I still can't figure out why more people don't post about this restaurant. I've only been to Nashville once and I probably won't return. But I always search for posts on Parco to see if anyone is giving it props. I guess I hope that by sharing, I can keep it in business if I ever return!

                          And, I agree with you about the fried oysters and Ms. Fu - delightful in every sense. Next time try the desserts. I don't have a sweet tooth either, but they were maybe even better than dinner. Oh, and get the rock salt shrimp, and send me the recipe!

                          1. re: Graig

                            I'm spreading the word to all that will listen! I'm probably going to host a business dinner there on my next trip. And I'll work on that rock salt shrimp recipe.....

                            1. re: Chicago Wine Geek

                              I used to mention this restaurant as the best in Nashville all the time. However, after the last four times that we have eaten there, my husband has said he won't go back and I have to agree. Although the food is stellar and Mrs. Fu is wonderful , the every dish being individually cooked results in dinners where several people are completely finished eating main courses before others are served. If your group is large enough (and I don't mean huge--I mean like 8 people) you might have 3 shifts on your main dish. There were two different times where we didn't send dishes back that were not edible (bad fish one time, the wrong dish the second time) because we were exhausted by the time the dishes arrived.

                              So unless this doesn't bother you, be aware that you may spend a long time there with people being served their meals at all different times.

                              The food is excellent, but we have decided we won't be going back.

                        2. re: Graig Meyer

                          Looks like Parco Style Cafe is under new ownership as of Feb. 2008. Has anyone eaten here since the change? How is the food now as compared to when Mr. and Mrs. Fu ran the restaurant? Thanks!

                          1. re: AUJester

                            I haven't eaten there in the past few months, but the reviews I've seen/heard say that the quality had dropped off. OTOH, someone on this board disagreed; you could search for the discussion.

                        3. These folks are taking care of you. Lots of good choices here

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: sheuerma

                            Just arrived in Nashville again and have a free night tonight. I'll probably pick the restaurant closest to the Hilton downtown from this great list. Thanks so much everyone!

                            1. re: Chicago Wine Geek

                              The Palm is in the Hilton, if you're a giant-piece-of-steak carnivore. The cafe at the Hall of Fame across the plaza from you is good -- don't know how late they serve. Sole Mio is a couple blocks south. Really good, handmade Italian -- I went for my birthday last year and was once again impressed. Nice walk, and you can take in the snazzy new symphony center and the Shelby Street pedestrian bridge at night. Good eatin' to ye!

                              1. re: fluffernutter

                                I've eaten at The Palm enough that my caricature is up on the wall! Looking for something new and different.

                          2. Alley Cat in 5 Points (East Nashville) has GREAT food. Looks like a dive, but believe me, the food is to die for. Another great place is the Loveless Cafe, which is just outside of Bellvue. They have the best Southern food.

                            I also don't get the whole Rotier's thing. Bleh.

                            1. I don't know about hidden gems, but I definitely have some go to meals around town, including:

                              -Savarino's Cucina in the village for a killer eggplant parm sandwich (def the sandwich, not the entree...you want that homemade bread) and *anything* from the bakery case.

                              -Rotier's for the grilled cheeseburger and Brown's diner for their cheeseburger, but little to nothing else on either menu.

                              -Judge Beans, to roll the dice on their inconsistent (but sporadically spectacular) brisket, and their suddenly much improved ribs.

                              -Sylvan Park Cafe for pie.

                              -Park Cafe for mac and cheese and a drink (not that everything else isn't great)

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: ad.mich

                                I went to tayst last night, and I just want to echo want a unique experience it is for Nashville. The menu has a sense of humor, which might be annoying if it weren't for the fact that the food is always better than the joke. My first course was Gonzo's Revenge, which was frog legs (Kermit) and pork belly (Miss Piggy). My main course was a grilled escolar, with a side of quinoa (an Incan grain, like couscous), fished with a saffron tapioca and a truffled caramel. The dessert was the legendary Krispy Kreme bread pudding, which is a deconstructed doughnut with coffee ice creme. It's high-concept, but it works. A great eating adventure.

                              2. I can't believe no one has mentioned Tayst yet! It is on 21st Ave just past Hillsboro Village. The service is great, the wine list is very unique, and the menu changes frequently and always features fresh seasonal ingredients. The menu is limited but they always have a few meat items, fish, and a vegetarian option. I am a huge fan of their cheese plate, and the creme brulee is some of the best I have ever had. It is really the only restaurant of its kind in Nashville.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Will Owen

                                  Mambu has always been a favorite of my family. The food is great, and we love the funky atmosphere. However my parents ate there last weekend, and they said it wasn't very good. The calamari appetizer was just plain bad (and we think it's been the best in Nashville), and the mango salad we love was also not very good. I think they said the main courses were fine, so maybe it was just an off night for everything else. It just seemed very strange for multiple courses to be almost inedible there.

                                  1. re: zmoney715

                                    I agree. Tayst is one of our favorite places to go. We moved to Nashville from the West Coast and Tayst is on par with our favorite places in San Francisco. We have learned that by Nashville standards it is expensive, SF and NYC standards it is a bargin for the quality of the food.

                                  2. margot, marche, tayste, acorn, mirror, rotiers, mothership bbq, martins bbq, bongo java (coffee), radius 10.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: cracker32

                                      Zola's is hands down my favorite. it has a romantic atmosphere and the food is fantastic. I have been there many times and not once had a bad meal, in fact I rave about it to all my friends.

                                      Virago has the best sushi if you can handle the snooty attitudes and low lighting. I could bitch slap each one of the servers, but once you taste the godzilla roll all annoyances will cease to exist.

                                      1. re: mandysue36

                                        Thanks Mandysue, I'll keep those two in mind. I'm in Nashville all next week.

                                        1. re: Chicago Wine Geek

                                          awesome...let me know if you try either one of those. Also, here is another gem I forgot to mention:
                                          1. Rumba- West End Ave (small asian fusion restaurant with original food and fabulous mojitos in many different flavors, if you go, try the mango mojito. They have a wonderful Jamacian Jerk Pork, but I believe the menu is changing this week. Anything you order is great. If you can save room for dessert, try the tres leches...to die for.)

                                          There are not a ton of great, upscale, non-chain restaurants in Nashville. However, we are constantly expanding and the ones we do have are fab.

                                          Let me know where you eat and what you thought when you get back from your trip!

                                    2. Sapporo Japanese restaurant on Gallatin Road is my favorite sushi restaurant!
                                      I guess it's a little far from downtown but still a hidden gem.
                                      Sushi roll price from $3-$13
                                      Sushi+Sashimi combo from $15-$49
                                      and their Fried Icecream is sooo good.

                                      1. Margot Cafe is some of the best food in the South. I have been known to have dinner there multiple nights when I am traveling in the area.

                                        I also really like Watermark

                                        The Yellow Porch is interesting as well

                                        1. Here's some updated info on my Nashville experience. I am from Chicago and will be in Nashville 3-4 times a year, so I hope to find the "hidden gems".

                                          Nashville has a unique culture and I am convinced they must have some unique gems for local food.

                                          Jack's (on broadway) is right in the tourist strip, but really the best eatin' and not bad for a touristy area. Well above average BBQ. Although I dont like to pork too much, probably the tennessee pork shoulder is best choice.

                                          Some new places I noticed but did not try are: Sambuca, Watermarket, and a sushi place next that that. Anyone experience these places yet?

                                          Also, I noticed a long line in front of Pancake Pantry - is that place good? Its on a very nice boutique/eclectic shop strip on (I think) 21st and Wedgewood. Also on this strip, I visited Provence Cafe, it was average there - they even serve Intelligentsia coffee. Still not what I had hoped for - but it seems the best option for that yet. Soft heavy croissants (but made there), mediocre sandwiches.

                                          I did not try it, but there was another cafe called Pet Shop Cafe. Looked interesting and they also had some interesting micro-brew choices. Young, fun, affluent, hip crowd.

                                          I stopped by the bar at Radius 10 and had the gumbo. thought that if it was great, I would go back there to eat. It was just ok - not bad, but not something to pull you back there. The atmosphere was very contemporary and nice, so I may try it again. The service was good.

                                          Curious to hear any others thoughts about Nashville.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: cohen_r

                                            Sambuca: It's been a while since I've eaten there. I remember the food as good, not great. The bar upstairs has a great view.

                                            Watermark: Great. Love it. Very upscale, though.

                                            RuSan's (sushi): High style, Low substance. See another current thread for some better sushi options in Nashville.

                                            Pancake Pantry: Very, very good. Worth the hype, but maybe not worth the wait. Try to go when it's less crowded - early morning or on weekdays.

                                            Pet Shop Cafe = Fido: Eh. I'm not a big coffee shop person, but Fido is very good at what they do. They've got some interesting food.

                                            Radius10: Go back and try it again. Trust me.

                                            1. re: cohen_r

                                              I haven't lived in Nashville for about 3 years, so I cannot comment on most of these, as they are newer places.

                                              RuSan's is pretty, and there's a lunch buffet that is plenty of bang for your buck, but the sushi just isn't very good.

                                              Pancake Pantry is really, really good. The food is cheap, there are tons of options and it's all delicious. The line is long, but the service is super-fast. It's one of those places where everyone goes at some point -- one of the last times I was there, Vince Gill held the door for me.

                                              If you want a true "hidden" gem, track down Las Paletas. Yes, it's just popsicles, and no, there's no sign, but they really are as good as everyone says they are. It's on 12th South, in the right corner of a two story, retro-mod red office building. Try the chocolate and chili pepper or the avocado.

                                              1. re: 0peramanda

                                                Las Paletas is on the corner of 12th and Kirkwood and is not to be missed. It's right up the block from Formaggeria Corrieri another must visit. They have an admirable collection of cheeses and they encourage sampling. And their cured meats... mmm mortadella, mmm capicola.