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Once a sleepy southern town popular with country music devotees, Nashville is now a major city with two professional sports teams (hockey and football), bustling businesses and more than its fair share of hipster residents. But, at the end of the day, Nashville is a mecca for those of us who love music.
The Music City lives up to its nickname with a plethora of country music venues ranging from the Bluebird Cafe to the Grand Ole Opry. However, culture vultures will want to dive deep into a musical rabbit hole filled with musical artists who relocated to Nashville from around the world.
But what about the food in Nashville??? Don’t worry, this city doesn’t disappoint when it comes to eating and drinking. Whether you take a Nashville food tour or explore independently, you won’t go hungry during your visit to one of the country’s best food cities.
Nashville Food Favorites
As an up-and-coming American city, Nashville has eateries that run the gamut from traditional ramen shops to nationally recognized restaurants. We’ve eaten at some of Nashville’s best restaurants including Husk and Rolf & Daughters, and our only regret is not having time to eat at more.
However, we get that most food travelers will want to focus their time and calories on Southern cuisine when they visit Nashville. With this in mind, we recommend that you start your culinary exploration with the following Nashville food favorites:
1. Hot Chicken
Invented in Nashville but beloved beyond its borders, hot chicken is a must-eat Nashville food whether you spend a day or week in the city. We’ve eaten Hot Chicken in cities like Columbus and Philadelphia but we’ve never had better Hot Chicken than in its homeland.
Rumor has it that Thornton Prince started serving Hot Chicken after his girlfriend concocted the fiery recipe as revenge for Prince’s infidelity. Decades later, Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack is the Nashville Hot Chicken standard-bearer with a recipe that includes ingredients like buttermilk and plenty of cayenne pepper.
Start your Hot Chicken exploration at Prince’s Hot Chicken to taste the original version flavored from ‘plain’ all the way to ‘xxx hot’ based on your heat tolerance. Then go to newer Hot Chicken specialists to find your favorite. You may gain a few pounds from this unique fried chicken crawl, but you certainly won’t be bored.
Biscuits may have originated in Persia but they were perfected in the American South. We’re not talking about the original incarnation or the dessert version in London. Southern biscuits are fluffy, flaky buttermilk morsels that are more similar to scones than to cookies.
Many Nashville restaurants and cafes serve biscuits along with other Southern specialties like grits and collard greens. Best eaten hot, biscuits pair well with toppings like gravy, jam and pimento cheese though not all at the same time. That would just be wrong.
Plan to eat several biscuits in Nashville since the best bakers add their signature twists. Go crazy and pair a biscuit with hot chicken for what may be the ultimate Nashville food combo. You can do this at Biscuit Love though you’ll probably have to wait in line depending on the day and time.
3. Meat and Three
Although cities around the American South serve Meat and Three meals, Nashville is the epicenter for this particular cheap eats favorite. Taking Southern Food to the next level, the Meat and Three concept lets diners choose their meal from a variety of meats and sides.
True to its name, a Meat and Three meal consists of one meat and three sides. Meat options often include fried chicken, BBQ, meatloaf and pork chops while popular sides skew towards carbs like macaroni, corn and potatoes.
Pair your Meat and Three meal with Sweet Tea, a classic Nashville beverage. Also, don’t pass on fried green tomatoes if they’re on the cafeteria-style menu.
As great as biscuits are for breakfast, sometimes that they’re not enough on weekend mornings after late-night shenanigans. For those mornings, Nashville has a thriving brunch scene fueled by throngs of transplants and tourists.
The upside of this popularity is a varied selection of Nashville brunch options ranging from Southern comfort food to upscale dining. On the downside, Nashville brunches typically require either a reservation or a wait.
Do your research and save spontaneity for another meal. Once you sip your Bloody Mary and bite into your omelet, you won’t care about anything except the food on your plate.
Although Goo Goo Clusters were invented in Nashville, the chocolate-covered nougat candy isn’t the only chocolate game in town. In Nashville, artisan chocolatiers create unique treats using ingredients like imported beans and hand-crafted marshmallows.
Start your chocolate exploration with a tour at Olive & Sinclair in East Nashville. Not only will you learn about the company’s bean-to-bar method using stone mills, but you’ll also get to taste enough chocolate to find your favorite.
Donut lovers will not be disappointed in Nashville. A motivated visitor with a sweet tooth hungry for donuts will find it entirely possible to visit a different Nashville bakery every day of the week and eat enough flavors to achieve donut bliss.
Not all Nashville donuts shops are the same, including our two favorites. Fox’s Donut Den serves classics donuts to crowds of locals while Five Daughters Bakery specializes in layered donuts similar to cronuts sold in New York.
Which is better? Try both and let us know what you think.
7. Third Wave Coffee
Like much of America, Nashville has joined coffee’s third wave movement. Once a city filled with diner-style coffee shops, the city now has a plethora of specialty coffee shops serving cappuccinos, flat whites and pour-overs.
We started and ended our Nashville coffee crawl at Barista Palace, a leader in Nashville’s coffee scene since 2011. We dug the funky vibe at the former transmission shop almost as much as we enjoyed the modern cafe’s freshly roasted coffee.
8. Tennessee Whiskey
Whisky fans travel the world to drink the popular potent potable, but Nashville natives only have to drive to the nearest watering hole to drink locally-produced world-class whiskey. Tennessee distillers like George Dickel and Jack Daniel’s use sugar maple charcoal in a special Lincoln County Process to create the state’s liquid gold.
You can drink Tennessee whiskey at bars and restaurants all over Nashville. Feel free to drink it neat or add a mixer like cola or ginger ale. For the full experience, you can take a VIP Jack Daniel’s tour with a whisky tasting and lunch.
Nashville Quick Facts
- Country – USA
- Continent – North America
- Currency – US Dollar
- Language – English
- Restaurant Tipping – 15 to 20%*
* Tips are expected and comprise a large component of a server’s compensation.
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.