Do Go B̶e̶ Eat: Nashville Edition

This picture is circa 2012; Nashville has changed a lot since then. It was taken from the pedestrian bridge one block south of Broadway, downtown.

This post will be a little different than my normal Hanson/travel post, because this time I’m not the one traveling. Hanson will be playing at The Ryman in Nashville, TN on July 15th, and I know a lot of people are traveling in for the show. Having spent 16 years in this city, I thought I’d weigh in on some of the things to do, go, be eat.

Downtown/Sobro

Downtown Nashville is a party city and there are no shortages of bars and bachelorettes. Pretty much the only time visit downtown is when Hanson is in town, so I don’t have a whole lot to offer on the specific bars. I can tell you that Robert’s Western World and Tootsies are the most historic. Hanson has frequently played The Wildhorse Saloon, but if you haven’t been there on a regular night, it’s a great place for some line dancing. Any of the bars downtown will have live music.

If you’re looking to grab a bite to eat before the show, I recommend 5th and Broadway. It’s a new development right across the street from The Ryman and has lots of great food options (and some shopping). There’s fast casual options on the first floor and a fancy rooftop wine bar on top. But most notably is Assembly Food Hall in the middle, essentially a giant food court full of local Nashville staples (including the OG of hot chicken, Prince’s). This is a great option if your friend group has different tastes as you can each grab whatever you want and still dine together. Pinewood Social is comparable to a hipster country club, where you can get food, coffee, and cocktails or rent out a bowling lane or a dipping pool. The coffee comes from Crema which is just up the road a bit, and is, in my opinion, the best roaster in town.

Nashville has a lot of great museums and tours. I’m not a fan of country, but I still enjoyed my visits to The Country Music Hall of Fame and the Johnny Cash Museum. You can also do a self-tour of The Ryman. There’s so much history to the venue that will just add to your experience during the concert. If you’re into it, there’s Haunted Pub Crawl that is a lot of fun and is a unique way to learn about some of Nashville’s history. A few places I can’t vouch for first-hand, but have been wanting to get to: The Tennessee State Museum, The Frist Art Museum, and across from The Ryman is the new National Museum of African American Music.

The Gulch

Just south of Downtown is The Gulch. It’s mostly high-rises, but there a few gems tucked into it. If you’re a mural person, the famous WhatLiftsYou Wings can be found on 11th Ave S. If you’re a fan of Detroit-style pizza, Emmy Squared is delicious. If you’re wanting to stock up on your own liquid party supplies, Frugal MacDoogal is by far the best liquor store in the city – it’s about as large as a Costco. But the highlight of The Gulch is the tiny old venue Station Inn. They have shows every night, and if you’re sticking around for the weekend, on Sunday nights they have a “picking party” called The Bluegrass Jam. It’s free, and anyone who wants to show up with an instrument can join in. You’re guaranteed to hear more talent here than any of the bars on Broadway, even if bluegrass isn’t your thing.

Music Row/Midtown/West End/Hillsboro Village

Just southeast of Downtown is Midtown, Music Row, and West End, which all sort of blend together. Music Row is really just two one-way streets that run parallel to each other: 16th Ave S & 17th Ave S. It’s been developed a lot over the years, but there’s still so much music history in just a few blocks, as many recording labels and studios have and still do reside here. It’s worth a quick drive up and down. If you head over to Midtown, you can get one of the best cocktails in Nashville at my favorite bar, The Patterson House. It’s more a speakeasy, so the building is fairly nondescript though the name is on the door. The inside is small, dark, intimate, and the bartenders take their craft seriously. The drinks don’t come cheap (about $15 each), but they are well worth the price. If you’re really feeling spendy and adventurous, above The Patterson House is The Catbird Seat. Too rich for my blood at $185 per person, I’ve never been there. But it’s a 14-seat reservations-only tasting menu restaurant. I’ve only heard good things (but have known people who left still hungry and hit up Krystal on their way home).

A little further down is West End, home to one of our largest parks, Centennial Park. There’s a playground, a pond, a walking trail, and a replica of The Parthenon. Another nearby park, though much smaller, is Fannie Mae Dees Park. Locals refer to it as “Dragon Park” because of the mosaic dragon sculpture. It’d make for a fun stop if you have littles with you or just to take some unique photos for the ‘gram.

Not far from Vanderbilt Hospital is a little stretch of neighborhood called Hillsboro Village. I lived there from 2010-2014, but to be honest with you it’s changed so much since I moved, and I haven’t been back enough to speak to it throughly. I can tell you that the two most notable places to stop are The Belcourt if you’re an indie movie buff and The Pancake Pantry if you love morning carbs. A disclaimer on The Pancake Pantry: at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I don’t think it’s as good as it used to be. But if you want to go, go early as it tends to get a long line waiting for a table. Although, Hanson fans are used to long lines, and it was good enough for River’s 12th birthday.

12 South

Just east of West End is a little neighborhood called 12 South. There’s a small park on the south end of the strip, but it’s mostly comprised of boutique shops (like the Draper James flagship) and local restaurants. There are three coffee shops less than 500 feet apart: White Bison has a nice balcony, and if you’re staying at an AirBNB in the area it’s a great little spot to grab a quick snack or drink as it’s partially a convenience store. (It’s owned by TwiceDaily, a gas station convenience store.) It’s not the best coffee, it’ll do in a pinch, but Nashville has so much better to offer. Portland Brew is a few steps away and a local chain. I personally think they have the best coffee of these three options (still not the best in the city), but their atmosphere is lacking. Frothy Monkey is another local chain, and this is the OG location, but it can get pretty busy, especially on the weekends. Frothy also has a pretty solid food menu.

Some of my favorite restaurants are on this street: Burger Up, Edley’s BBQ, Urban Grub (southern-style smoked meats & seafood), Buttermilk Ranch (full brunch on the weekends with a grab-n-go bakery in the front), Five Daughters (cronuts), Mafiaoza’s (wood-fired pizza & pasta, also one of the few late-night options outside of downtown), 12 South Taproom (good beer, good bar food, great salads), and Taqueria Del Sol. (Not the most authentic tacos, it’s more Mexican with a southern twist. I eat here about once a week. Get the cheeseburger taco and an enchilada with lemon cream sauce.)

There are also a handful of murals up and down this street, most notably the I Believe In Nashville mural.

Green Hills

For the most part, Green Hills is your typical upscale neighborhood. There’s a mall with higher-end shopping if you’re looking for that (Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany’s), a movie theater, and a handful of chain restaurants. But if you’re in town long enough to get the chance, Green Hills is also home to the famous Bluebird Cafe. It’s become more and more difficult to grab tickets, but they always have a waitlist line to fill no-show seats, so you could try that route. You never know who might show up to play a writer’s round, but they’re guaranteed to be talented.

Berry Hill/Melrose

Berry Hill is unique in that it’s its own tiny town (population < 600), with its own mayor, tucked into the middle of Nashville. It’s mostly residential, but there are a few home studios and restaurants tucked in. Baja Burrito is a local favorite (think Chipotle, but local and with a bigger menu. Try the pineapple salsa.) Calypso Cafe is a great place if you’re looking for something a little healthier, though their hours have been limited since the pandemic. The Yellow Porch has a more upscale menu without the upscale vibe, highly recommend.

If you head north a bit to the Melrose neighborhood, you can get my favorite “trash burger” (i.e. local fast food) from Fat Mo’s. They have more locations across town, so if you find one, don’t let the poor exterior fool you. It’s delicious, and it has never made me sick. There might be some locations with a small dining room, but this one is drive-thru only. Sinema is an upscale dining option, though in my experience the food isn’t worth it. However, I do recommend grabbing a happy hour cocktail from the upstairs lounge. There’s also one of many Hattie B’ locations. I’m a big fan, though most locals will tell you it’s “tourist hot chicken”. To be fair, it’s the only hot chicken I’ve had, but it never disappoints. Pro tip: order ahead of time online, get it to go, and eat it elsewhere to save time.

Wedgewood-Houston

Wedgewood-Houston is a developing neighborhood with some fun hidden gems. If you’re looking for karaoke, Santa’s Pub is a local hideaway and you will come home smelling like smoke. If you need a little treat, Dozen Bakery is divine. I haven’t been to either place personally, but I know both Diskin Cider and Jackalope Brewery are great places to grab a drink. There are two great coffee shops in the neighborhood: Humphreys Street which provides employment and mentoring for the underserved youth in Nashville, and Americano Lounge where you can also find coffee cocktails and live jazz on Friday nights. If you’re sticking around long enough, the weekend after the Hanson concert there’s a flea market at the fairgrounds. If you’re bringing kids (or honestly even if you aren’t), the Adventure Science Center is a lot of fun.

South Nashville

South Nashville is a large umbrella name for a handful of neighborhoods, and it’s by far the most diverse area of Nashville. Some of the schools represent over 30 nationalities. There are so many good hole-in-the-wall ethnic restaurants, especially up and down Nolensville Rd and Thompson Ln. Everything from Thai to Ethiopian to Uzbek just to name a few. If I had to pick a few favorites for this blog, I’d say Eastern Peak (though not the most authentic, it does offer a large variety of Asian foods and has a great happy hour deal), Deg Thai, Taj Indian, and La Hacienda. There are no less than 2 dozen taco trucks up and down Nolensville and they’re all legit, although the only one I’ve personally eaten from is a step up from a truck: Tacos Y Mariscos El Amigo.

Plaza Mariachi is a great place for all things latino. They have shops, a market, a food court, and live entertainment (mariachi, salsa dancing, aerobatics, all kinds of things). There’s also a yummy Mexican ice cream/popsicle shop just up the road. We also have a zoo, and if you’re looking for some air conditioned fun, you can make reservations at the Paddywax Candle Bar where you’ll be able to pour your own scented candle.

Donelson/Opryland

If you haven’t yet booked a hotel and are looking to stay somewhere cheaper than Downtown, Donelson is a great area to look, especially along Elm Hill Pike. It’s close to the airport which means there are lots of options, and it’s safer than some of the other cheaper areas. There are some good restaurants tucked in here too, particularly Uncle Bud’s fried chicken and catfish, McNamara’s Irish Pub, and Darfon’s steakhouse.

Nashville used to have a country-themed amusement park called Opryland, but it closed in 1997 and was eventually replaced by Opry Mills Mall. The mall has some outlet stores and the parking lot is always full. If that’s your jam, by all means go, but I’d recommend only going during daylight hours. A few years ago my mom and I were witnesses to a late-night gang shooting inside the mall, so there’s that. Opryland Hotel is worth walking through if you have the time. It’s massive and has indoor gardens, an indoor riverboat, restaurants, shops, and a new indoor water park. You do have to pay to park at the hotel, but if you’re willing to walk a distance you can park near the mall’s movie theater and cut through the back. But you didn’t hear that from me.

East Nashville/Inglewood

There are so many great coffee shops and restaurants in East Nashville. Some of my favorites include Ugly Mugs, Mas Tacos, Sky Blue, and Lockeland Table. While their food is not that great, Rosepepper has by far the best margaritas in town, and you’ve probably seen their witty marquee floating around social media. East Nashville is also home to my favorite Pizza in the city, Castrillo’s (take out only). There’s a lot of fun shops as well, such as Welcome Home (gift shop), Old Made Good (vintage and handmade prodcuts), and Grimey’s (new and used music). If you’re sticking around for a few days, The Basement East (aka BEAST) and The 5 Spot are great places to catch some live music.

Germantown

North of Downtown is a newer neighborhood, Germantown. Between the two is the Famer’s Market. It has gotten a facelift since I’ve been, and I’ve heard great things. There is a yummy Jamaican restaurant inside it if you want to pretend you’re going back to the island. Germantown restaurant highlights include Butchertown Hall, Henrietta Red, and Monell’s. I highly recommend the latter if you’re looking for a classic southern meat-and-three. But, be warned: it is not for the Covid-cautious as you’ll be sat at a table with strangers and the food is served family style, meaning you’ll be passing bowls and plates full of food around the table and serving yourself. There’s also a location in a beautiful old mansion out near the airport.

The Nations

The Nations is one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in town. There are several bars, including 51 North Taproom and Fat Bottom Brewing. While the OG Frothy Monkey is in 12 South, the one in The Nations is a much better space, feeling less crowded. My favorite Italian in town is Coco’s Italian Market, and their bruschetta is especially divine. L&L Market is a boutique mall with shopping and fun eateries, including the Milkshake Bar and Culture and Co.’s charcuterie conveyor belt. Next to Frothy Monkey is Able, a fashion brand focused on empowering women world-wide.

The ‘burbs

Technically not a suburb, Bellevue is the far west side of Nashville. There’s a new shopping center I haven’t been to yet, but most notable is The Loveless Cafe. Famous for its biscuits, the wait can get hours long, especially on the weekends. I do think it’s worth going to, but try to go early or at an odd time between meals (but not brunch time). Their breakfast and their dinners are all so good, and they have some cute shops on the grounds as well. It’s a pretty drive out there, but it does take about 30 minutes.

South of Nashville is Franklin, and it’s a cute town with lots of history. The downtown square looks like something out of a Hallmark movie. McCreary’s Irish Pub and Puckett’s are popular restaurants, though you can also get the latter in downtown Nashville. You can visit Carnton Plantation or take a walking tour of the town. If you’re looking for more history, east of Nashville you can tour Andrew Jackson’s home, The Hermitage.

The Rest

I cannot speak to any of these places first-hand, but I asked around for restaurant recommendations for those with special diets. For vegan diets Sunflower Cafe, Falcon Coffee, The Southern V, Avo, and The Wild Cow were all recommended. For gluten-free, I believe most restaurants in town will be accommodating if you let them know.

Nashville in July will be hot, and there’s always the potential for severe weather. While actual tornadoes are rare, we did have one in March of 2020. If there’s severe weather in the forecast, your best resource by far will be @NashSevereWx on Twitter. It’s way more reliable than any news station and certainly more than whatever weather app you have on your phone.

Navigating Nashville can be tricky, as it’s not built on a grid like many other cities. Streets change names on a whim, there’s more than one McGavok Pike, and you need to change lanes on the interstate more often than Taylor changes his hair. We do have a (very unreliable) bus system and one commuter rail, but you’ll need to rely on Uber/Lyft if you don’t have your own vehicle or rental.

If you’re flying in or out, BNA is a literal mess right now. The middle section is under construction, so you cannot get between the North Terminal (A & B) and the South Terminal (C & D), so make sure you know which one you need to be at before you get there. If you’re being picked up late at night, that’s when they do construction and they have the arrivals down to one lane. When I flew back from Hanson Day, it took my roommate over an hour to pick me up, and it typically only takes me 15 minutes. However, if you’re grabbing an Uber or Lyft or a rental car, that’s in a different area and shouldn’t be a problem. If you want coffee at the airport, skip Starbucks and opt for one of the local coffee shops. The Starbucks line is always long and slow, and the other options are better coffee anyway.

If you’re reading this as a local or someone who has visited before, what am I missing? Let me know in the comments!