A food lover’s paradise, Nashville’s burgeoning restaurant scene is packed with creative dishes from James Beard-Award nominees and winners.
You can find classic Southern comfort food here, including the best fried chicken and barbecue in town. But there are also dishes from a number of other cuisines, making it easy to branch out and experience something new.
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1.Meat and Three
Meat and three is a traditional Southern dish, where you choose one meat and two or three side dishes. It can be as simple as fried chicken and macaroni and cheese or as complex as a plate of spaghetti, mashed potatoes, and green beans.
Meat and Three restaurants serve up a wide variety of dishes, so it’s easy to find something to fit your taste buds. And if you’re looking for a well-balanced meal, Carolyn O’Neil, a registered dietitian nutritionist, recommends choosing a meat and at least one starchy vegetable, like rice or potatoes, and at least two non-starchy vegetables, like greens or okra.
A favorite of Guy Fieri, Arnold’s Country Kitchen in Nashville is the perfect spot to sample classic meat ‘n’ threes. It’s open since 1982, serving up to five meats daily — roast beef is a popular choice — and various rotating sides. They also have a full bar and some good desserts.
2.Hot Fried Chicken
If you’re visiting Music City, you can’t leave without trying hot chicken — and this iconic dish is no longer just for the locals. It’s served everywhere from KFC to trendy restaurants, and variations on the dish have been popping up all over town.
Hot fried chicken is a traditional Southern dish that’s coated with a special blend of spices and fried until crisp. It’s then served up over white bread and garnished with pickles to help balance out the heat.
Traditionally, Nashville hot chicken starts with a cut of meat (thigh, breast or wing) soaked in a buttermilk pepper brine and coated in flour before being deep-fried. The meat gets a second coating of dry spice or hot sauce before it’s nestled on top of white bread and dressed with pickles.
Red’s hot chicken takes the spiciness up a notch with its 36-hour buttermilk and hot sauce brine, breaded with a secret Nashville hot seasoning and lard blend, then fried to perfection. You can get your fix in the form of a sandwich on a roll or as a cool crunchwrap stuffed with mac and cheese, slaw and hot chicken.
Barbecue has a long, complex history and it’s hard to overstate the passion that goes into creating delicious, smokey meats. There’s no shortage of rubs, mops and sauces, but the most important element of barbecue is a low-and-slow, indirect-heat cooking method that produces a ring of smoke around the edges of the meat.
Cooking low and slow is a tradition that dates back to indigenous cultures, which were picked up by early Spanish settlers who called it barbacoa. It was then adapted by African slaves to produce the brisket, pork shoulder and chicken they knew as barbecue.
The smoked meats were seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and herbs, then basted during cooking. The process gave birth to a distinctly American cooking style that is still celebrated by pitmasters worldwide and has inspired competitions throughout the country.
Barbecue is a word that encompasses many different cooking methods and some revisionists have tried to define it narrowly. The snobbery and ignorance that some people exhibit is quite alarming, but the bottom line is that a cooking method can be called barbecue if it produces smoke.
Country ham is a savory Southern staple that’s salt-cured for months and then smoked with hickory wood. The process slows the fat from becoming rancid and adds some color and flavor to the meat.
If you’ve never had a country ham, you’re in for a treat. The cured meat is a delicious combination of smoky and sweet, with the perfect amount of saltiness.
In Murfreesboro, a small town just thirty minutes outside of Nashville, Bob Woods runs his ham-curing operation inside his grandfather’s small veterinary hospital. His hams are so good, he sells them to restaurants across the country–including Luke and August in New Orleans, Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry and Audrey and Husk in Nashville.
He makes Tennshootoe hams, a play on “prosciutto.” They’re aged 18 months and rival any European dry cured ham. He also smokes heritage breed pigs on a case-by-case basis for farmers, like Karen Overton of Mangalitsa.
In addition to country ham, this old-school shop in Bardstown offers pepper bacon and breakfast sausage as well. It’s a great place to stop for a quick bite.
5.Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya.
A hearty, spicy dish that’s a cinch to make, chicken and sausage jambalaya is the perfect weeknight meal that everyone loves. This easy one-pot recipe is ready in under an hour and makes leftovers to enjoy the next day.
It’s made with a variety of ingredients like chicken, sausage, andouille sausage, vegetables, spices, and rice to create an amazing dish that you’ll want to make over and over again! It’s also the perfect recipe for entertaining with friends and family.
During the 19th century, when French settlers moved to Louisiana, they brought with them Caribbean spices that became part of this dish. As time went by, andouille sausage and shrimp were added to the mix.
This dish is known for its rich, spicy flavors and has an interesting history. It’s also a mishmash of different cultures, with Spanish, French, and African influences from the settlers who settled in Louisiana over several centuries.
6.Grilled Pimento Mac n Cheese.
Nashville has never been more on the foodie scene with new and trendy restaurants opening all over the city, and locally owned breweries popping up throughout. It’s not hard to see why.
If there’s a staple Southern dish that can’t be beat, it’s mac and cheese. It’s easy to make and a sure crowd pleaser for potlucks, tailgates or parties.
But it’s when it’s grilled that this Southern classic really shines. The Pimento Mac n Cheese at Grilled Cheeserie is one of their original signature melts and has been a fan favorite since the food truck first launched in 2010.
In a food processor, blend together the garlic, paprika, salt, hot sauce, cayenne and black pepper. Add the mayonnaise, Cheddar and smoked cheese and pulse until well combined.
Spread about 1/4 cup of the mixture on the non-buttered side of a slice of bread, top with sliced tomato, bacon and mild Cheddar. Grill both sides until golden brown.
Fried Catfish is a classic Southern dish that’s simple to make and incredibly delicious. It’s made by dredging catfish fillets in a seasoned cornmeal and flour mixture, then deep-frying them until golden and crispy.
It’s perfect served with hush puppies, French fries and coleslaw to complete a full Southern meal! If you want to add some additional Southern flavor, try a lemon wedge and a garnish of fresh parsley.
This recipe uses simple pantry ingredients and can be prepped ahead of time so that the frying can happen quickly when it’s time for dinner. It also makes a great snack or appetizer!
Adding a little bit of buttermilk to the soaking process will help the fish keep its shape and will help it soak up some extra moisture while frying. You can also mix a few herbs and seasonings into the breading to add more flavor, such as paprika or onion powder, Old Bay, lemon pepper, creole or Cajun seasoning.
Dredge the catfish in the cornmeal and flour mixture to coat it well before frying. Working in batches, fry the fish until it is golden and crispy on both sides. It should take about 7 to 8 minutes.
8.Kimchi Spring Rolls
A popular dish across the country, kimchi is a Korean food that uses cabbage and carrots to create a delicious flavor. It is often served with a variety of vegetables and spices.
You can find this type of spring roll at many restaurants in Nashville. You can also prepare your own version at home.
The savory kimchi crab spring roll is easy to make and tastes absolutely amazing! All you need is a couple of rice papers and some of your favorite ingredients.
This is a great appetizer or snack. It can be dipped in a variety of sauces or even eaten on its own!
The largest food hall in the United States, Assembly Food Hall is a great place to stop for a bite while sightseeing or before a show. The food hall also features three stages for live music events. It’s a must-visit while in Downtown Nashville.