Yes, it's a chain, but the fact that it's a Nashville-based company buys J. Alexander's some credibility with its growing audience of devotees who overlook the corporateness to stand in line for good food, good service and a fern-less, white-tablecloth casual ambiance. Steaks, burgers, rotisserie chickens, shrimp and ahi tuna arrive on huge plates, accompanied by shoe-string fries or other worthwhile sides. The Alex's salad with its warm, honey-drizzled croissant and generous bacon and cheese topping can serve as a full meal. You'll never leave hungry, and J. Alexander's is generally loud and dark enough to drown out kids‹other people's or your own.
Country singer Garth Brooks is one of a cast of thousands who have stood in line at this 40-year-old landmark for a plate of buttermilk pancakes. According to owner David Baldwin, if the line is to the door, the wait is about 15 minutes; the wait is twice as long if the line is to the corner; and count on at least 45 minutes if it snakes down 21st Avenue.
One of the last bastions of Old Nashville still standing—and thriving—Jimmy Kelly’s is a throwback to the days before liquor by the drink, when the city’s better restaurants were essentially private clubs for the wealthy, well-born and well-connected. Still family-owned 75 years later—now by the founder’s grandson—and still a favorite watering hole for Nashville’s political powers, Jimmy Kelly’s holds its own against the city’s recent wave of national steakhouse upstarts with a veteran wait staff, a familiar menu and the absolutely addictive corn cakes. Proprietor Mike Kelly, who knows everybody in town, what they drink, how they like their meat cooked and all their secrets, is the affable master of his domain, always on site, always smiling.
This upscale supper club with Texas ties (the brother-sister owners opened the first Sambuca in Dallas) gussies up the gritty Gulch with live music seven nights a week and fine dining created by globe-trotting chef Stephen Shires. His extensive travel and experience in international kitchens of renown packs his menu with worldly influence and discovery. The nightly entertainment is built into the dining costs, which puts entrées in the $20-$30 range.
A family Italian restaurant with staying power, Mama Mia's has operated for more than 20 years in the same location. They brightened the interior and energized the menu, keeping the baked pasta standards, but upscaling with items like the tantalizing lobster-filled, saffron-kissed raviolis with baby spinach in a creamy Rosatella brandy sauce. Rebecca is the hot mama in the kitchen, and she has a smile that lights up the cozy dining room. You'll feel like family. No alcohol is served, but a spirits store two doors down offers grape expectations.
The first restaurant here that specializes in sundubu jjigae, a.k.a. tofu soup, and its polar opposite, NangMyun, So Gong Dong is the prettiest of the local Korean spots. A limited selection of banchan (small complimentary side dishes like kimchi and mung bean sprouts) comes after the appetizer and before the entrées. Tofu soup can be ordered alone, or for about $5 more, in combination with an entrée such as spicy chicken or beef bulgoki, shrimp and scallops, stir fried fish or fried mackerel. The soup is served in a stone bowl and brought still bubbling. NangMyun is an ethnic dining adventure of clear light broth so chilled that slivers of ice skim the surface of the liquid, in which buckwheat noodles tangle like the innards of a golf ball among unpeeled cucumber, beef and daikon radish. Also try octopus bibimbab; samgetang, chicken stuffed with rice and cooked in broth; and galbi, grilled short ribs in a subtly sweet marinade. Other entrées include chicken and beef bulgoki, pre-cut slices of marinated meat sometimes cooked by the diner on a table-top grill known as a bware, but more often brought already grilled from the kitchen and served with a plate of lettuce leaves rolled around the meat and eaten like a wrap. If none of your dishes come with stone pot rice, order one or two on the side.
Brothers Kevin and Sam Shin promise "everything a Korean can expect" at their cheery restaurant in the H.G. Hill Center across from Southern Hills Hospital. Don't fill up on banchan, the small appetizers of vegetable and seafood appetizers, before you dig into Seoul Garden's far-flung entrees. If you're into audience participation, ask for a grill table and fire up some galbi (marinated grilled beef short rib) or sam gyeop sal (grilled pork with a salt and sesame oil dipping sauce.
Cozy bakery serving fresh bagels, deli-style sandwiches and coffee.
For good places to take the kids, nothing beats the downtown landmark of The Old Spaghetti Factory. A boxcar in the middle of the dining room, where some lucky diners get to eat, is enough to make a memory of a lifetime. Meanwhile, the generous and moderately priced entrées, which come with bread, soup or salad, and spumoni ice cream for dessert, will make a positive impression on whoever's paying the bill.
There is nothing little about Maggiano’s, a 15,000-square-foot, 470-seat behemoth that looms over West End Avenue, the largest chain so far to claim a section of that corridor. Owned by Dallas-based Brinker International—the folks who have somehow managed to make a success of the innocuous Chili’s restaurants—Maggiano’s Little Italy feeds big crowds and big appetites from a big, corporate-controlled menu of pastas, chicken, veal and chops, seafood and house specialties, all à la carte. Family-style service is also available for groups, and a private banquet hall seating 152 can fit your entire mob.
The breadth and complexity of the menu, combined with the loud, frenetic activity in this tightly configured room, are enough to inspire a severe bout of ADD. One finds items familiar to most American-Japanese restaurants here: sashimi, miso soup, teriyaki, tempura, edamame and seaweed salad. There are some oddities, particularly among the appetizers, like the freshwater eel with pesto-seasoned sushi rice baked with mozzarella cheese. Tuna shows up again and again—in appetizers, rolls, sashimi and dinners—and each appearance is a delight. Those with an aversion to fish will be well-pleased with the entrée-sized salad of crisp romaine lettuce topped with large squares of Kobe beef and big, meaty slices of sautéed mushrooms. On weekend nights, tables turn briskly but stay full right up until closing at midnight. Midday is also congested, thanks to the all-you-can eat buffet, and because of the crowds, nothing sits long enough to become unappealing.
Owner Jed Suzuki opened his Japanese restaurant almost 21 years ago. There are two dining areas, one with a sushi bar, the other with a Hibachi grill, and a full service bar divides the two rooms. The extensive menu features everything from sirloin to tofu to salmon.
Consistently voted Best Indian in the Best of Nashville Readers' Poll, Sitar offers a lunch buffet seven days a week.