What's a meat-and-three?
A meat-and-three is a specific type of diner: typically small, filled with neighborhood locals and full of Southern charm. Meals always involve meat, such as fried chicken, baked chicken, roast beef or country fried steak. With your meat, you can order two or three side items, usually cornbread or vegetables. If this type of home cooking sounds appetizing, you should visit some of Nashville's finest of the sort: Arnold's, Sylvan Park, Copper Kettle, Pie Wagon, Monell's, Silver Sands and the Belle Meade Cafeteria.
Where should I go for a nice dinner on a small budget?
Well, it depends how small. J Alexander's offers fine dining and an intimate atmosphere for a much lower price than other similar restaurants. It has everything from enormous salads to filet mignon, and the "smashed potatoes" are a popular side item. If J Alexander's is a little out of your price range ($20-$30) but you still want a nice restaurant, try Granite Falls, where everything is good and nothing is too expensive. Or there's Sunset Grill after 10 p.m. on weeknights, midnight on weekends. It has a late-night menu with slightly smaller portions of regular dishes such as vegetarian stir-fry, beef burritos or 12-inch "voodoo pizzas" with shrimp, sausage and chicken. Prices range from $5.50 to $9.50. Alcohol is not discounted, but the wine list has enough options to satisfy almost anyone. If you want to know more, check out the Scene's Web site (www.nashvillescene.com) or the paper's restaurant listings that run every week.
Where can I get a good breakfast or brunch?
Pancake Pantry. That's all you need to know. But don't let our enthusiasm for Pancake Pantry confuse you; there are tons of other worthy breakfast/brunch establishments in the city. For example, Tin Angel has a great Sunday brunch. The Copper Kettle serves up a meat-and-three-esque brunch too, but doesn't serve alcohol. Red Wagon in East Nashville has ricotta pancakes and the breakfast banana split (but only on the weekends).
My parents are in town. Where should they take me to eat?
If money's no object for your parents, try Park Café in Sylvan Park. It feels hip but also traditional, with small rooms that allow for a quiet dining experience. Or, you could visit Zola on West End, where the food is creative and highly original. The Melting Pot, a fondue restaurant downtown, sets you in a big booth and lets you cook your own food. Unfortunately, at $50 for a two-person fondue entrée, your wallet may not enjoy the experience. For a less expensive meal, try Boscos Brewing Company for wood-fired pizza and beer, Jack Russell's for fried green tomatoes and prime rib or Green Hills Grill for just about everything. If you're in Murfreesboro, take the parents to Milano's Ristorante, a trendy Italian place with moderately priced dishes like salmon, veal or the traditional pasta plates. Milano's is tucked away in a strip mall, but don't let the exterior fool you.
How hot is hot chicken?
Many people come to Nashville ignorant of this local concoction. We'll set the record straight right now. The word "hot" refers to the spiciness, not the temperature, of this dish. If you think you can handle spicy food, start with mild. Medium will cause beads of sweat to appear on your forehead. Hot will kill your brain cells, and extra hot should be eaten on the way to the emergency room. If this sounds appealing, try Prince's, Bolton's, Mr. Boo's and Wilma Kaye's. Eat your chicken with a side of beans or mashed potatoes and follow it down with some nice, cold water.
Where can I find vegan food?
Plenty of restaurants have vegetarian options, but going vegan makes eating out a little tricky. Fortunately, there's Grins vegetarian cafe on Vanderbilt's campus. Aside from its kosher kitchen, Grins has non-dairy options for most of its dishes. Even the cookies and brownies are vegan. The restaurant is open to everyone, not just Vanderbilt students, but it's only open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays, so plan your lunch schedule accordingly. Both Calypso Café and Mediterranean Cuisine willingly convert their dishes to satisfy vegetarians and vegans. If you like the idea of sushi but not the meat, Ru San's has an entire vegetarian sushi menu with items like walnut and cranberry rolls.
Can I get good barbecue?
Yes. But before you read any further, you must first learn the difference between Texas- and Memphis-style barbeque. In short, Texas barbeque comes from beef and Memphis barbeque comes from pork. Texas barbecue usually comes in the form of ribs, and although you can also find pork ribs in Memphis, the pulled pork sandwich is more common. Since Nashville is closer to Memphis, most of the barbeque here is of the pulled pork variety. Hog Heaven on 27th & West End looks about as classy as its name implies. But don't judge too quickly; its hand-pulled pork is the best around. Jack's Bar-B-Que downtown has pork ribs that practically fall off the bone. Slick Pig on Main Street in Murfreesboro serves up some great Memphis barbecue. If you're looking for some pure Texas-style goodness, try Judge Bean's. Some say Judge Bean's has the best barbeque in Nashville, but decide for yourself.
Where can I find Jewish food?
Noshville. It's a large, traditional diner with plastic booths and a red deli counter. You can order lox, pickled herring and latkes. While you wait for your food to arrive, you can snack on a giant pickle from the bowl on your table. Noshville also serves breakfast, and its omelets are superb. Also, the next time you're in the Belle Meade area, stop by Goldie's Deli and try the corned beef on rye, salami or matzo ball soup. If you go to Vanderbilt, you don't even have to leave campus to get some kosher goodies. Grins vegetarian cafe in the Shulman Center for Jewish Life is Nashville's first fully kosher restaurant. Grins can serve you a nice variety of sandwiches, soups and even a hot entrée or two.
Where can I find good Asian cuisine?
If you're looking for Thai food, Siam Cuisine on White Bridge Road has a table ready for you. The coconut soup is mouth-watering. Goten does Japanese hibachi-style, but you can also order some killer sushi. P.F. Chang's China Bistro serves upscale and overpriced Americanized versions of Asian dishes. Kien Giang on Charlotte has authentic Vietnamese food at fast food prices. Its menu is nearly incomprehensible, but pretty much everything is scrumptious, so no worries. If you're in Murfreesboro, a new buffet called Chef Wang's offers everything from sushi to crab legs to mix-it-yourself hibachi.
Where can I get tasty food that's healthy?
Even salad-haters will like the salads at Calypso Café, which involve ingredients like Mandarin organs, toasted almonds and pineapple. It also has a low-fat tuna salad. Calypso's main specialty, however, is rotisserie chicken. White meat or dark meat, skinless or not, with a choice of fat-free barbeque sauces, Calypso will make your meal as health-conscious as you like. With four locations in Nashville and one in Madison, there's probably a Calypso near you.
If you're hungry but don't have time for a proper meal, try Smoothie King. The nutritional smoothies are made with real fruit, pure juices and, upon request, nutritional supplements. Smoothie King has more smoothie flavors than you can count, ranging from the generic banana and strawberry combinations to apple and spice; grape and papaya; coconut, chocolate and pineapple; and any combination thereof. The Scene's personal recommendation: strawberry kiwi breeze. It's so good that you'll never want McDonald's again.
What about burgers?
Rotier's may not look like anything fancy, but generations of Nashvillians swear by its cheeseburgers served on French bread. Fat Mo's will give Rotier's a run for its money, with burgers bigger than your head. "Mo" is short for Mohammad Karimy, an Iranian immigrant who fled his homeland in the '70s. In 1991, he opened his first restaurant on Murfreesboro Road and made burgers more American than Whistler's mother. Now there are more locations: three in Nashville, one in Antioch, one in Murfreesboro and one in Madison. In Murfreesboro, go to Buster's Place, a motorcycle bar on Broad Street. For burgers with old-fashioned flair, try Bobbie's Dairy Dip, which has been clogging Nashville's arteries for over 50 years. Not exactly a drive-thru, Bobbie's is more of a drive-up-and-park. Most people get their food and leave, but brightly colored picnic tables provide seats for those who stick around. The French fries are rather limp, but the onion rings are crispy and delicious. Don't forget to try the ice cream.
Where do I go for ethnic cuisine?
If you're looking for a Caribbean flavor and you have some cash to spend, try Rumba on West End. Rumba specializes in sataygrilled meat or vegetables skewered on tiny wooden kebabs and served with three different dipping sauces. Tip: bring a bunch of friends and sample each other's foods. For the best Indian food at a small price, try Sitar's $6 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. You will eat more than your stomach can comfortably hold, so come wearing baggy pants or something elastic. La Paz in Green Hills has tasty Mexican food at average prices. Las Palmas is also a favorite Mexican restaurant for college kids, but its popularity is due to the cheap prices, not the quality of the food. Try the fajitas and get a pitcher of margaritas. In Murfreesboro, try La Siesta or Camino Royal for Mexican, Marina's for Italian. La Hacienda on Nolensville Road is the real thing; 80 percent of the clients are actually Hispanic. If you want something really original, try Horn of Africa, Addis Abba or Awash, Nashville's three Ethiopian restaurants. Can't make up your mind? Drive up and down Nolensville Road and survey the options of Mediterranean, Mexican, Vietnamese, Indian and everything in-between. Want to cook at home? Again, go to Nolensville Road and shop at the many international markets. Of course, if you go to Belmont, you can just visit the superb International Market & Restaurant right by campus.
What about sushi?
Nashville has a surprising number of good sushi restaurants. If you want a trendy sushi joint, you should definitely check out Ru San's on 12th Avenue in the Gulch. It's part rave, part restaurant. The sushi menu has all of the traditional items plus some absurdly creative dishes with funky titles. Our favorite is the "Bombs Over Pearl Harbor," which is just a glob of shrimp and rice fried in tempura batter and arranged to look as if something exploded. If you want something a little more conventional, Ken's Sushi is Division Street's not-so-well-kept secret. Although not nearly as creative as Ru San's, the sushi is definitely delicious. Because of its close proximity to Vanderbilt, both Ken's and the nearby Taste of Tokyo restaurants are often filled with students and professors. Samurai Sushi on Elliston Place is also required dining for sushi lovers. It's so small you might miss it, but a dinner there is well worth your time.
It's 3 a.m. What's open?
As long as it's before 5 a.m., the New York Café and Deli on Elliston Place will deliver your food directly to you. Prince's Hot Chicken Shack is open until 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday (but it closes at midnight Tuesday through Thursday). The Jefferson Street barbeque joint, Mary's Pit Bar-B-Q, is open 24 hours. The meat is served from a walk-up stand.
If it's late, Café Coco is your best friend. Open 24 hours, this coffee shop/restaurant caters to the countercultural. Among the pierced and tattooed customers, you will also find students poring over textbooks and preppy thirtysomethings trying to be hip before they saunter off to their 9-5 jobs. Café Coco has surprisingly good food and even better coffee. The omelets are sometimes burned, so stick to the non-breakfast menu.
Where can I get the best dessert?
Provence Breads & Café makes tons of desserts ready for you to take home or eat on the spot. From fruit tarts to tiramisu, framboise to lemon raspberry cake, it has a selection sure to please anybody. Unfortunately, it's only open until 7 p.m. (6 p.m. on Sundays), so if you're looking for after-dinner desserts, you'll have to look elsewhere. Green Hills Grill has a nice selection, including a strawberry shortcake bigger than your head. Sunset Grill serves creative concoctions such as butterscotch habanero bread pudding and coconut sushi (made with frozen almonds surrounded by coconut and wrapped in a chocolate shell to look, not taste, like sushi). Leonel Cheesecake & More in Murfreesboro will definitely satisfy your sweet tooth. If you love profiteroles, F. Scott's is the place to go. But the best-kept dessert secret in Nashville is Las Paletas, a popsicle store. All it sells are popsicles: gourmet, Mexican popsicles made from fresh ingredients. Popsicles are no longer restricted to the conventional flavors found at the grocery store. Now they come in everything from cantaloupe and honeydew to hibiscus, olive and prune. They only cost $2, and flavors change daily. A word of advice: Las Paletas is in an unmarked storefront on the lower level of the Cypress Building on 12th Avenue South and Kirkwood. You may have to circle the block before you find it, but the popsicles are worth it.
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