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Best Nashville Restaurants

AOL PICK from our Editors
The best Nashville restaurants are part of an impressive culinary scene with a huge selection of international cuisine to choose from. The focus here is on locally grown produce and locally raised beef and chicken. A movement, called the "Nashville originals," recognizes those restaurants that adhere to this focus and helps to keep the top Nashville restaurants vibrant and homegrown. Traditional establishments serving a meat and three sides have become harder to find, while new twists on classic Southern dishes pop up regularly at many of the city's mainstay restaurants. Nashville may be branded Music City, but it's a foodie town, too, and disappointing meals are rare occurrences. Use these recommendations as a guide to the best Nashville restaurants.

Capitol Grille

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Expensive
This is one of those rare eateries that receive top marks in every category, from its seen-and-be-seen clientele to the lush furnishings to the exquisite fare making it one of the best Nashville restaurants. In the lower level of the century-old Hermitage Hotel, the biggest surprises at the Capitol Grille (no relation to the chain of steakhouses by the same name) come in the form of its side dishes and starters, whether it’s the sweet onion bisque or the to-die-for macaroni and cheese. Be sure to take a peek into the men’s room adjacent to the restaurant; its green-and-black-tiled magnificence has been used for music videos, photo shoots and more. Ladies, knock first. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner; lunch and dinner reservations recommended.

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The Standard at the Smith House

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Expensive
Housed in the last remaining 1840s townhouse in downtown Nashville, The Standard offers an elegant ambience as rich as its signature lump crab bisque. Upscale Southern cuisine is the highlight at this top Nashville restaurant. Entrees such as the duck breast, which is seared and served alongside grilled plums and creamy grits, elevate Southern fare to a whole new level. We’re also fans of the house-cured pork loin that comes wrapped in Benton’s artisanal back (what’s not to love about that kind of redundancy?). A completely different menu for the club-ish lounge offers small plates of comfort food like meatball sliders and sweet potato fries. 

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The Standard at the Smith House  

Watermark

Neighborhood: The Gulch Price: Expensive
Another eatery with a dash of Southern influence, Watermark prides itself on skillful, yet simple preparation, with a focus on fresh regional ingredients—including the occasional wild boar served with grits, or a Tennessee beef strip with black truffle potatoes (foraged mushrooms are a specialty at Watermark). The atmosphere of urban elegance steers clear of overt fussiness, and we especially enjoy the rooftop dining—with the Nashville skyline as backdrop. Reservations are definitely recommended, ideally a week in advance; parking can be tricky in the neighborhood so be sure to take advantage of the complimentary valet parking.

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Watermark  

Cabana

Neighborhood: Hillsboro Village Price: Moderate
Cabana has a bit of a split personality—but it's all good. Canoodling couples can cozy up in the cabana-like booths, while social types can people-watch in the louder, cavernous space at the back of the restaurant. So no matter what you are looking for in your dining experience, Cabana has it, along with the added benefit of being one of the best places to eat in Nashville. Huge garage-door-style windows are often opened up, shifting the atmosphere even more. The food is a bit multiple personalities, as well, and can best be described as Southern comfort food mixed with a dash of everything else, from grilled seafood to wild game. We love the buttermilk fried chicken (Grandma’s got nothing on the Cabana kitchen) and the late-night menu of smaller plates that are perfect when noshing and being noticed are the rule.

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Cabana  

Flyte

Neighborhood: Gulch/SoBro Price: Moderate
What’s not to love about a place that knows a glass of wine doesn’t have to cost over $10 to be yummy? That’s Flyte. Here they share their love of reasonably priced wines (the list rotates constantly), a great selection of beers, and food that emphasizes local organic farms. There are some eye-openers on the menu, including halibut cheeks with house-made bacon (who knew halibut had cheeks?) alongside flights of fancy, like chocolate ravioli.

 

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Flyte  

Sunset Grill

Neighborhood: Hillsboro Village Price: Moderate
We know why the Sunset Grill is one of Nashville's best known and longest surviving restaurants—it's the consistency. From the excellent food to the extensive and always-perfect wine list, to the hands-on service, you know you're in the hands of pros here. The range is American, with a bit of everything, from seafood and pastas to vegetarian plates and oddities like feta-stuffed lamb meatballs. And if you're itching to break into the music biz, take note: Sunset's a prime hangout for industry types.

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Frist Center Cafe

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Budget
We never need an excuse to visit the fabulous Frist Center for the Visual Arts, but if we did, the café serves nicely. Tucked into the back of the post office-turned-museum, the Frist Center Café cooks up some of the city’s best lunches, with well-built sandwiches (the steak/rosemary/horseradish panini is a fave), inventive salads, corn dogs (and other kid-friendly foods) and, perhaps best of all, a decadent dessert case. The café is open late on Thursday and Friday evenings. They also offer a daily dessert happy hour and serve a variety of beer and wine. With such delectable choices, it was easy to add Frist to our list of best Nashville restaurants.

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Frist Center Cafe  

Las Paletas

Neighborhood: 12South Price: Budget
OK, so it’s not a restaurant—but Las Paletas is worthy of a visit, especially in Nashville’s warm-weather seasons. The Mexican-style fruit popsicles are a creamy treat any time of year; for about $2.50 a pop, try flavors like watermelon, honeydew, cucumber-chili, tamarind and hibiscus. Flavors change daily, so you never know what’s being served. The store itself is tiny, so grab your treat and wander through the shopping district or chill out at the nearby Sevier Park. Cash is king at Las Paletas—credit and debit cards are frozen out.

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Las Paletas  

Pancake Pantry

Neighborhood: Hillsboro Village Price: Budget
Is this popular breakfast spot overrated or a must-try? We side with the must-ers. This Nashville institution is known for its huge stacks of golden pancakes and killer egg combo plates, and there’s usually a line out the door—but not at night (Pancake Pantry is only open for breakfast and lunch). Country music star sightings are common at this top Nashville restaurant— folks like Keith Urban can come and not be bothered as Nashvillians tend to give their celebs space to breathe. If the line is only out the door, you should be seated within 15 minutes; if it's wrapped around the front, plan on a 45-minute wait. (There’s usually hot coffee to keep you warm in cooler seasons).

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San Antonio Taco Co.

Neighborhood: Vanderbilt Price: Budget
Is it the best Mexican you’ll ever eat? Probably not. But it’s the best combination in town for casual, cheap dining, good eats, a great patio and a laid-back atmosphere. Ordering is done by pencil and paper—grab an order sheet, circle your ingredients (don’t forget to write your name) and hand it to the cashier. The guys behind the counter will have your order as fast as you can pour a drink. This place is known for its bucket of beers and its heavenly homemade queso.

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