When he purchased the 53-year-old Loveless Cafe in November 2003, new owner Tom Morales faced a major challenge: how to preserve the history of a legend and honor the memories of generations of fans, while restoring faded glory and modernizing the infrastructure? The result is better than anyone could have hoped for. Architect Seab Tuck kept much of the original building—which has been degreased, painted and polished—while adding on to make room for new bathrooms, a new kitchen and expanded seating. Breakfast is still offered daily until 5 p.m. The staples remain—country ham and eggs with red-eye gravy; sausage, bacon and steak; three-egg omelets; pancakes and waffles—and all seem to have a new lease on life. At dinner, meat-and-three classics lead the cast: the excellent skillet-fried chicken, rich chicken and dumplings, country ham dinner, and a meaty, moist meatloaf. A stellar supporting cast includes homemade sides like mac and cheese, field peas, slow-cooked flat green beans, chunky mashed potatoes and skillet-fried shoepeg corn. Making sparkling debuts are the smokehouse platters, which include turkey, pork chops, ribs, pan-fried Bucksnort trout and barbecue shrimp in a big bowl of delectable grits soaked with a spicy red sauce. Save room for a slice of pastry chef Alisa Huntsman’s blue-ribbon pies, among them fresh berry, chocolate pecan, coconut cream and peanut butter.
One of the oldest meat-and-threes in the area, this also remains one of the most popular. No one minds the worn floors, dusty windowsills or creaky booths once one of the veteran waitresses puts down a plate of fried chicken, country-fried steak, turnip greens, mashed potatoes or stewed tomatoes. Leave room for Sylvan Park’s true calling card: pie. The chocolate meringue is worthy of reverence, but you can’t go wrong with the sweet potato or buttermilk. A larger outpost recently opened in a former diner in the Melrose area, which is on the brink of a surge of redevelopment.
Meat-and-three restaurants have long provided common ground for Nashville’s blue- and white-collar populations, but Swett’s is distinguished by having the most racially mixed dining room as well. The family still uses the recipes handed down from family matriarch Susie, who opened the restaurant in 1954 with husband Walter, and everything is made fresh daily. Pig’s feet, when available, always sell out; the smothered beef tips, fried chicken and collard greens are other specialties.
Located in the quirky crook of Murphy Road, The Local Taco draws families, cocktailers and neighbors with its twinkle-lit patio and cheap and cheerful roster of margaritas, enchiladas and tacos stuffed with smoked pork shoulder, fried fish, chicken breast, brisket and fried shrimp. Try the Korean barbecue tacogrilled hunks of sweet-and-tangy marinated beef adorned with Asian slaw and sesame seeds. Scratching an itch for Mexican in Sylvan Park, The Local Taco is an instant fair-weather landmark. — Carrington Fox
Kien Giang introduced Nashville to Vietnamese food back in the early ‘90s. Though several more Vietnamese restaurants have since opened in the same area, it remains among the most popular among Southeast Asian immigrants and Americans alike, thanks to the struggling-musician-friendly prices, the signature Vietnamese pancake banh xeo, the cac mon man spicy dishes, and the thick, sweet Vietnamese coffee.
Like it hot? Cinco de Mayo hits the spot. Cheap and cheerful, CdM serves up huge mugs of beer, margaritas, some of the best fajitas in town and super spicy salsa.
Friendly, warm, cozy and wall-to-wall lively, serving good, hearty fare at prices so thoughtful you’ll return again and again—if you can snag one of the 40 seats from the regulars who jealously guard this neighborhood treasure. When chef Daniel Maggipinto opened Caffe Nonna in 1999, it was a blessing to the residents of Sylvan Park—and one of the first of many neighborhood restaurants that have contributed to the revitalization of Nashville’s older, historic areas. But it’s food that has kept customers coming back to Nonna. Mix-and-match pastas, thin-crust pizza, Caesar salad, fried calamari and Tuscan bean soup are all customer favorites, and have all been on the menu since day one. Many of the Italian comfort dishes that form the backbone of the menu were recipes passed to Maggipinto by his own nonna (Italian for grandmother). But the veal scallopini with red Swiss chard, garlic, shallots, artichokes, pine nuts, tomatoes, white wine and veal demi-glace, served with pommes frites, is all his—and it’s all that.
The Italian tricolore flies over this trifecta of pasta, pizza and paninis, where owner Chuck Cinelli delivers a menu of ziti, parm, marsala and cannoli. Kid-friendly and casual, the newest incarnation of this Charlotte market offers a lunch special and beer, with BYOB allowed.
The $6.99 buffet changes daily, but count on chicken curry, daal and tandoori chicken as standard offerings.