Nashville’s dynamic food scene offers more than just hearty Southern plates. Though hot chicken and meat and threes still make up the restaurant scene here, they no longer define it.
An eco-conscious sushi spot downtown champions ethical sourcing and transparency. A Hillsboro cafe with a top-notch brunch spread became Nashville’s first upscale CBD retailer when it opened its doors in 2019. At a cocktail den on the West End, drinks are downright artistic, topped with fresh flowers and fragrant oils.
At some of Nashville’s most unique places, innovation isn’t an afterthought—it’s embedded into the restaurants’ DNA. Read on for a list of six of Nashville’s most cutting-edge spots to book right now.
Thistle & Rye (West End)
When this indoor/outdoor dining room opened at the Conrad Nashville in September 2022, it became the talk of the town thanks to its avant-garde cocktail experience from food and beverage director David Lim. Any drink from Thistle & Rye’s menu is a work of art, but the hermitage is a true masterpiece. The lilac-colored mixture of gin, orange-flavored triple sec liqueur, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, and lemongrass is strained into a water pipe, then capped with fresh flowers and smoked with fragrant oils before arriving in a crystal coupe. The cotton candy sky is a close second, mixing heavily shaken cream with citrus and egg, causing the concoction to rise until a stiff, foam pillow forms on top. With a drink in hand, bask in the golden-hour glow on the expansive balcony. Thistle & Rye’s epic sunset views also make it one of Nashville’s most coveted spots.
404 Kitchen (The Gulch)
Acclaimed chef Matt Bolus brought his skills to Nashville in 2014 with the opening of 404 Kitchen, which earned a James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant that same year. The first location was housed in a shipping container; tables were built from the container’s original floors and candles were crafted from rendered beef fat (cut from meat deliveries). The unique, European-inspired restaurant, along with its iconic candles, continues to push the envelope. In 2018, it moved to an LEED-certified industrial home in the Gulch. Crowds come for the chef-driven menu and impressive bar, housing the largest collection of limited-edition whiskeys and bourbon in the Southeast. Pair a rare beverage with selections from the farm-to-table menu, beginning with pork belly and mushroom toast, a burrata salad with spiced lemon vinaigrette, and soul-soothing mains such as trout and roasted half chicken.
Locust (12 South)
Set in Nashville’s residential 12 South neighborhood, Locust has earned numerous accolades, including Food & Wine’s Restaurant of the Year award and a spot on the New York Times’s list of 2022’s best restaurants. Steered by chef Trevor Moran, who comes from pathbreakers including Copenhagen’s Noma and The Catbird Seat in Nashville, Locust plays by its own rules, forgoing servers. Instead, chefs double as food runners in the intimate, 36-seat restaurant, creating an exceptionally interactive experience. The minimalist, Scandinavian-inspired decor complements the modest seating, with dark walls and light wood furniture. Locust is rooted in mystery—its website offers little-to-no information and there’s not a menu in sight. While subject to change, previous offerings have included charcoal-roasted oysters, escargot-stuffed halibut, and deconstructed sushi.
The Electric Jane (The Gulch)
Nashville’s Gulch district welcomed a sensual new supper club in 2022. Known for its creative prowess, The Electric Jane delivers culinary excellence alongside nightly live music. The modern dining room is as electric as its name suggests. Illuminated accents and colorful lights set the stage for an evening of intimate performances (recently featured musicians include Kyndle Wylde and Stevie Brock). On the menu, showstoppers are the ceviche-style shrimp cocktail and the “cheese on fire” starter, flamed tableside. What sets the versatile venue apart, however, is its hearty late-night menu offering globally inspired bites, bottles, and cocktails until curtain call on Fridays and Saturdays. Must-tries include the Jane smash burger smothered in the restaurant’s tangy secret sauce, or a thick-crust, Detroit-style pizza topped with ricotta and calabrian chiles.
Blue Sushi Sake Grill (Downtown)
Blue Sushi Sake Grill, with outposts in over a dozen American cities, isn’t just about innovative, Asian-inspired plates—it’s also a vocal sustainability advocate. The menu teems with both traditional and specialty nigiris, sashimi, and maki, even featuring vegan options. As a reflection of the brand’s Conscious Earth program, the menu includes all seafood sourcing details, such as the location and method. The baked sea bass, which comes from Antarctica, stars in the restaurant’s itchy sea bass nigiri, which also includes spicy crab mix, serrano peppers, cilantro, and ponzu sauce. The interiors are just as bold as the restaurant’s mission, adorned with Japanese-inspired elements such as hanging red lanterns and tables inspired by carts at Tokyo fish markets.
1892 (Leiper’s Fork)
Nashville might be a modern metropolis, but a short drive in any direction leads you to rolling hills and picturesque farms. The village of Leiper’s Fork (most famously home to Justin Timberlake), about a 40-minute drive from the Music City, serves as the backdrop to 1892, a quaint and unique restaurant that brims with historical charm. In a home built in—you guessed it—1892, the spot sources ingredients from neighboring farms. Chef Dylan Morrison relies on old-school culinary techniques to build his nightly changing menu, which has featured standouts such as brown butter halibut with horseradish potato puree, smoked short rib, and house-churned cookies and ice cream. Accents such as antique breadboards and pewter dinnerware on the walls fuel a rustic vibe, resulting in a meal that exudes the kind of Southern charm that’s becoming increasingly rare to find.
Kellie Walton Benz is a food, drink and travel writer based outside of Nashville. Follow her adventures and eats on Instagram at @kellie.benz.
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