Nashville is a food city. .and isn’t that really the best kind of city? Now, while Nashville has developed a burgeoning “food scene” over the last 5-10 years with trendy new restaurants opening every week, that’s all a little overwhelming to me. I like to stick to the tried and true and try out the best of what the area has to offer. Those places that have become institutions, staples, and “must dos.” Thankfully Nashville has plenty of those.
In this post I’m going to breakdown some of the types of food that Nashville is famous for and let you know where I ate, what I thought about it, and other recommendations I’ve come across from research and talking with locals:
The hot chicken craze has made its way across the country (at least the South!), but it’s a Nashville original. And like all good food traditions…this one has a great story.
Here’s the story of how Nashville’s famous hot chicken came to be…straight from the side of Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack…
“They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…but some folks like a little heat, including Thorton Prince – the father of Nashville’s hot chicken.
Even in the height of the Great Depression, Thorton Prince knew how to have a good time. He enjoyed the nightlife and had a well-earned reputation as being quite the ladies’ man. Of course, one person who was not too thrilled with that reputation was his steady girl.
While we don’t know if Prince came home one night with a faint hint of perfume or a smudge of lipstick on his collar, we do know that after another one of Prince’s nights out, his scorned lover wanted revenge.
And using Prince’s love of fried chicken as bait, she concocted the perfect recipe.
Instead of a lecture the next morning, Prince awoke to the sizzlin’ smell of fried chicken. The trap set, Prince’s jilted lover served up a plate of homemade fried chicken. Without noticing the devilish amount of peppers and spices she had sprinkled on the chicken, Prince dug in. Much to her dismay, Prince didn’t fall over weeping in pain. Nope, he asked for seconds, and, at that moment, the legend was born.
Prince perfected the recipe for Hot Chicken and opened up a restaurant – Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. Almost 100 years later, a lot has changed in Nashville. But not Prince’s. Thornton Prince’s great niece, Ms. Andre Prince Jeffries, is still serving the legendary dish that Nashvillians crave. In the last few years, the hot chicken trend has caught on like wildfire throughout the South, but Prince’s Hot Chicken is the original and remains the gold standard for hot chicken.”
Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack: While the original Prince’s is long gone, there are a few locations around Nashville, but the most convenient is the one in the one in the Assembly Food Hall at 5th & Broadway right across from the Ryman Auditorium. It’s a nice spot (the food hall in general is a nice place to grab lunch), but my chicken was a little tough. The sides were good though.
Hattie B’s: Prince’s might be the original, but Hattie B’s has kind of taken over as being “the” place for Nashville hot chicken. There are a bunch of locations (in other cities now too). The one on 5th & Broadway gets a long line at lunch, but it moves pretty fast. The chicken was really good, and their sides are really solid and have some fun twists. The pimento mac and cheese was pretty fun.
Other Places: There are a million places to get hot chicken in Nashville (both hot chicken specific places and restaurants that have it on the menu) and I think it’s kind of like pizza in New York…everybody has their opinion on what the best is and honestly it’s all kind of the same (blasphemy!). Also, if you’re nervous about the heat level, most places have a scale where you can pick your heat (including an option for no heat).
Meat & Three
This is where the South shines, y’all. It seems like Southern food has become a trend lately and it kills me when I’m somewhere decidedly “not Southern” and they’ve got “Southern style fried chicken” on the menu AND IT COMES WITH NO SIDES. Cafeteria style joints that serve up your main dish with your choice of several sides are what I live for.
It’s officially called “meat and three” and it’s pretty self explanatory. You pick your meat (could be fried chicken, bbq, ham, etc.) and three sides (southern specialties) and it’s glorious. You’ll find this combo at tons of restaurants (even a lot of the hot chicken places), but there are a few old school cafeteria style restaurants that specialize in this. I didn’t get a chance to try any on this trip, but here’s a couple on my list:
Arnold’s Country Kitchen: If you only go to one, make it this one.
Dandgure’s Classic Southern Cooking: Maybe as good as Arnold’s, but shorter lines.
Biscuits & Gravy (& Southern Classics)
Are you even in the South if you haven’t had biscuits? Breakfast is always a favorite of mine no matter where I go, but it just hits a little different when it’s down home style.
Biscuit Love: This seems to be the “trendy Southern breakfast biscuit place” in Nashville. Obviously they’re all about biscuits and whether you get them as part of a breakfast sandwich, with gravy, or on the side, they’re pretty good. I had the biscuit sandwich with fried chicken, gravy, and an egg and honestly it was a bit much, but I LOVED the order or “bonuts” we got as a starter. This place gets really busy on the weekends (really every day). You wait in line to order at the counter and then they bring your food to the table. Go early!
Loveless Cafe: This was the best all around meal we had in Nashville and I’d say it’s a definite don’t miss. It’s outside of Nashville a ways and it’s such a pretty drive. They’re open pretty much from 8AM-8PM and serve breakfast all day, but we went for lunch. The fried chicken was phenomenal and all of the sides were stellar. They also bring a plate of biscuits to your table when you sit down (and they’ll bring all you want), and they were actually the best biscuits we had anywhere. This place is a whole experience and it’s well set up to handle the crowds they get. The best way I can describe this place is it’s like a local Cracker Barrel – and I mean that in the best possible way.
Nashville isn’t overwhelmingly known for the BBQ, but it’s still Tennessee and I like to try local BBQ whenever I’m traveling. Well, I only ended up having it once and unfortunately I picked wrong haha
Puckett’s: We could literally see the downtown location from our hotel window, we’d had a long travel day, and I’d read it was a Nashville “institution” so we headed to Puckett’s for dinner on our first night. It was really busy, and we ended up ordering a pretty good cross section from the menu and…it really was barely fit to eat. I’m honestly not sure what the draw here is, maybe it’s the location or maybe it’s the name, but if you go for convenience at least don’t get the brisket.
Edley’s BBQ: This is the place that I wanted to try, but the timing didn’t work out. It’s seems to be a hybrid of BBQ and meat and three. Several locations.
Other Places: Shotgun Willie’s (supposed to have best brisket), Peg Leg Porker (Memphis style), Bar-B-Cuite (I mean, what a name)
Other Places I Ate
Here’s a random assortment of other places I tried:
Frothy Monkey: The breakfast here was VERY good and there are a few locations around the city.
Legen-Dairy Milkshakes: This was close to the hotel and since we were traveling with a kid it was a must. Get ready for a stomach ache, but it’s a fun place.
Bartaco: Yes, it’s a chain but I’d never been to one and it’s so aggressively pushed by influencers that we ended up giving it a try on a night when we couldn’t find any restaurants open on 12 South (Monday and Tuesday nights are rough!!). The food was actually very good, but the atmosphere was pretty horrendous and I’m convinced you only hear so much about it because they give out free meals to Instagramers ; ) There’s only about two waiters in the whole restaurant and you do everything on your phone (scan the menu, order, pay, etc.) and at least at night it’s like being in a club. It is LOUD. The music is soooo loud that everybody in the place is screaming to talk to whoever they’re with and it was honestly pretty miserable. All we could do was laugh though! I have been assured by Instagram influencer friends of mine that get free meals there that it’s not usually like that hahaha So if you’re in 12 South and you want Barcelona beach club vibes and tacos (order at least 4 because they’re tiny) and don’t care if you can talk to whoever you’re with, give it a try. The churros and key lime pie were amazing.
More posts about the area: