I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
December 30, 2021
Since we weren’t able to travel as much as wanted in 2021, we spent the year exploring Nashville instead. More specifically, we explored Nashville’s bars and restaurants, partly because the food scene here is exploding and partly because there’s no better way to self-medicate during a pandemic than with good food and craft cocktails. AMIRITE?
It was tough narrowing my favorite Nashville food experiences down to a top ten list, but after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I was able to come up with something. I was happy to find my top 10 for the year aligns with my belief that great food is not limited to the kitchens of celebrity chefs. It can be found in a food truck, in a grandmother’s kitchen, in an unfashionable part of town, and occasionally even in a convenience store. We were careful this year not to limit our food exploration to the hippest and the hottest spots and were richly rewarded with amazing meals in some very unexpected places. As a result, there’s something for everyone and every budget on this list. Enjoy!
I’ve gotten into the habit of following restaurants on Instagram for a while before I commit to going, and this has turned out to be a smart thing to do — I end up with lots of great tips on what to order when I go and how to order it. Case in point: Locust, the weirdest and most wonderful restaurant I visited in 2021.
Locust crossed my radar after I noticed that several of my favorite foodies on Instagram kept mentioning it. The menu is sparse and deceptively basic, but I kept seeing claims that it was one of the top restaurants in Nashville and that the best way to experience it was to go with two or three other people and order one of everything on the menu — so that’s exactly what we did.
What an experience! Nearly everything we tried was new and different and amazing. The best way I can describe it is the poor man’s Catbird Seat — It’s casual and not particularly expensive, but everything on the menu is conceptualized, created, and executed with such care and attention to detail. We especially loved the Royal Red shrimp toast, the beef tartare, and the almond milk salted caramel shaved ice. You just have to go on faith and taste it for yourself to understand how good it is. Locust is definitely worth your time and money.
2021 was the year I discovered that pop-ups are where it’s at. Nashville has a whole lot of up-and-coming cooks and chefs, all hoping to open their own restaurant or land a spot at an established place that shares their vision. In the meantime, they do pop-ups at bars, restaurants, and farmers’ markets and because they are passionate and trying to make a name for themselves, the food at pop-ups here is often far, far better than what you’d find at many of the city’s most popular eateries. We went to a whole lot of pop-ups this year and I don’t think we ever had a bad experience, but a few in particular REALLY stood out.
The first is Kapu Haole, a Hawaiian pop-up serving at Bar Sovereign, No. 308 Presents CAMP, and the Richland Park Farmer’s Market. I fell so hard for this place that I could probably be president of their fan club. Their yuca fries, especially when topped with kimchi, are crisp and flavorful and actually better than regular french fries. No lie. Their Hawaiian burger, topped with a fried egg that oozes satisfyingly over the patty when you bite into it, is magnificent. And their Saimin, Hawaiian-style ramen made with Spam, dashi broth, shoyu egg, and fish cake, is one of the best meals you’ll have in all of Nashville. It really is a thing of beauty and I have dragged my family all over town this year to get my hands on it.
Kapu Haole is at Bar Sovereign Wednesdays through Sundays from 6-11pm and No. 308 Presents CAMP Thursdays through Saturdays from 5-11pm. The best way to keep up with where they’re serving and when is by following them on Instagram.
Kapu Haole is followed closely in my food heart (Yes, I have grown a special, working heart devoted only to food feelings. What of it?) by Kisser BBQ, a pop-up from husband-and-wife team Brian Lea and Leina Horii. Both of them have impressive restaurant resumés with stints at Bastion, The Catbird Seat, and Husk. Their menu is based on casual Japanese cuisine, but that description doesn’t really do justice to the food they serve– A more appropriate term, I think, is edible ecstasy. Over the summer, they did a stint at The Patterson House, where we had their inari, red miso mac pasta and cheese and Japanese curry sandwich on fresh-baked milk bread and it was definitely one of the best meals I’ve had this year. As an added bonus, their Instagram is a joy to read, filled with beautifully written stories of what inspired their creations. Kisser is opening an actual restaurant this year where they will be focusing on bento boxes and I. Cannot. WAIT.
Don’t judge a book — or a restaurant — by its cover. From the outside, Edessa frankly doesn’t look like much — It’s in a South Nashville strip mall, next door to a discount furniture store. But inside this Kurdish-Turkish restaurant is a dining experience that’s so fantastic, we chose it this year for my birthday dinner and for our family Christmas Eve dinner — and we all agreed it was the best Christmas Eve dinner we’ve ever had.
Edessa’s menu is sizable and everything we’ve ordered off it has been really, really good. But look around when you visit and you’ll notice almost everyone is ordering the same thing — It’s called the Kabob Festival and it’s a family-style feast that includes appetizers of creamy cucumber dip, hummus, Turkish salsa, and baba ganoush, a scrumptious salad, lentil soup, a large wooden plank loaded with chargrilled ground lamb kabobs, chargilled marinated chicken, and lamb chops, yellow rice, and baklava for dessert.
That’s the official description, but it really doesn’t do Edessa’s food justice. So let me try. The hummus is packed with flavor. The Turkish salsa made me determined to find a recipe and make some of my own. The baba ganoush is smoky and delicious. The chargrilled meats are moist and intensely flavorful. The lentil soup is outstanding. The ingredients are fresh and bursting with flavor and most of their dishes are really simple and healthy, so that even after our Christmas Eve feast, I felt great. Equally important, the waitstaff is passionate and enthusiastic and they go the extra mile to make sure a special occasion dinner truly is special. Edessa is without a doubt one of the best restaurants in Nashville — It could go head to head with the most popular eateries in town and come out on top — and it’s sadly overlooked by most of the city’s food influencers. Let’s hope things change for them in 2022, because they deserve some serious hype.
Saint Stephen’s four-course Mother’s Day brunch was easily the best meal I had this year. Hell, it was one of the best meals I’ve had in my entire life. My husband and I split each course, so I was able to try eight dishes instead of four. All were magnificent. Imagine Kusshi oysters on the half-shell. 200 day dry-aged beef tartare (pictured above). Morel mushrooms with guinea hen stuffing. Hen egg raviolo. Duck egg omelette. Focaccia with whipped sheep’s ricotta. Green pine cone ice cream. Sound amazing? IT WAS. I absolutely love everything about this place, including the fact that while the food is incredibly sophisticated, the vibe isn’t pretentious at all. I also love that James Beard Award-winning chef R.J. Cooper is very much present in his restaurant, preparing dishes right behind the bar in his open kitchen, constantly chatting with servers and staff and guests and happily posing for pictures when asked. Attending one of Cooper’s weekend Secret Society dinners is now at the very top of my food bucket list for 2022.
Franklin’s restaurant scene is growing, but currently, nearly all of its nicer restaurants are doing some form of upscale Southern fusion. That’s fantastic if you’re a tourist or newcomer to the area, but it you’re a local, well, just how much pimento can one woman take?
Enter Culaccino. This upscale Italian restaurant in downtown Franklin isn’t just the best restaurant in Franklin right now, it’s one of the best restaurants in all of Nashville. Our meal there last fall was easily one of my top meals of 2021, on all levels — The ambience was lovely, the servers were passionate about the food (I love it when the staff is truly excited about what’s on the menu), and the food was incredible.
Our pizza, made with a dough that’s undergone a 3-day fermentation process, was outstanding and the housemade ravioli we ordered with veal shoulder, bone marrow, robiola, butter sauce, sangiovese reduction, and sorrel, was exquisite. But the one thing you have to have when you go is the grilled octopus appetizer. I know, I know. I ordinarily would never have ordered it, either. Octopus is always tough, even under the best of circumstances. However, our server convinced us that this octopus was special, and she was right. It was chargrilled and crispy on the outside and so tender and flavorful within. It’s honestly one of the best dishes I’ve ever had, anywhere. Dinner at Culaccino made me happy, and that? That’s priceless.
In a year of fabulous food finds, this may well have been the GOAT. It’s almost impossible to get your hands on a sandwich from Bill’s Sandwich Palace, which just makes it taste even better when it happens. Operating as a pickup-only pop-up out at the TKO restaurant in Inglewood on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, Bill’s rotating menu consists of five or six sandwiches and if you want to have one for lunch over the weekend, you have to place your order online on Friday night. After 10pm.
Difficult? Hell yes. Worth it? HELL YES. The KFC (Korean fried chicken thigh, gojuchang, kimchi cucumbers, and scallion & roasted garlic mayo on a Japanese milk-bread bun) is out of this world. The O’Fish (crispy cod filet, kimchi slaw, pimento cheese, kimchi slaw, roasted garlic & lemon mayo on a Japanese milk-bread bun) made me want to weep with pleasure. The Red Light Green Light (crispy fried squid, roasted garlic and lemon mayo, shaved parm, salsa verde, toasted garlic butter bolillo roll) actually caused me to have an out-of-body experience. And the French Onion Shroom (char siu BBQ mushrooms, caramelized onions, Havarti, Gruyere, Chinese grain mustard, garlic buttered toast) had actual drugs in it, I think, because I’m still on a high from that sandwich six weeks later.
So yeah. Bill’s made my list. If you ever find yourself 1. awake on a Friday night after 10 and 2. coherent enough to place an order online, you have got to try this place for yourself.
Operating out of Hathorne’s kitchen on Sunday nights, St. Vito is one pop-up you’ve got to put on your must-do list for 2022. St. Vito serves a menu of Italian-inspired small plates, desserts, and cocktails, but the true star of the show here is the sfincione pizza, a Sicilian-style pizza traditionally baked in Italy for special occasions like Christmas and New Years Day.
The crust of sfincione pizza is focaccia… In St. Vito’s case, brilliantly constructed, perfectly baked focaccia that’s chewy and fluffy and satisfying. St. Vito offers three to four different topping options, which vary according to the season. We had a mushroom pizza with locally-sourced oyster, shiitake, and maitake mushrooms, along with Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson and Fontina cheeses. Consuming it was absolute heaven. Just as good was our OTO pizza (olives, tomatoes, and onions), which was topped with Castelveltrano olives, chewy tomato, red onion, Fontina, Pecorino, and herbs.
We were told by other guests the night we ate there that St. Vito’s very best pizza is its potato pizza, topped with fontina, potato cream, and breadcrumbs. It wasn’t on the menu then, BUT IT IS NOW, and I won’t rest until I have some. Go on a night when you can sit outside (Hathorne’s light-strung patio is magical) and prepare for a meal you will never forget.
Not far from Edessa in South Nashville, you’ll find OSH, an incredible restaurant serving traditional Uzbeki cuisine. Here, we feasted on pastries filled with lamb, onion, and spices, housemade meat dumplings, and exotic Katlama bread. But while everything we tried was excellent, the showstoppers were the lamb Shashlik (charcoal-grilled, marinated lamb) and the signature dish, Osh, which is rice pilaf cooked over an open flame with braised lamb, carrots & spices and topped with a quail egg. OSH’s Osh is absolutely wonderful. In fact, just writing about it is making me crave more!
According to OSH’s website, Uzbek men pride themselves on their Osh-making abilities, and the recipe can take years to perfect. Osh has three main stages: the preparation of the liquid base, the adding of the rice, and the final cooking. The result, when done right, is a perfect blend of flavors that’s really addictive — Once you start eating it, you don’t want to stop!
We had a fantastic family dinner here and loved learning new Uzbek words from our friendly server. Like Edessa, OSH is on par with many of Nashville’s best restaurants and sadly overlooked by too many. Treat yourself to a meal here in 2022. I know I will.
A few years ago, we spent a weekend in Clarksville and had dinner at a strip mall restaurant called Kohana that I’d heard had outstanding sushi and ramen. The sushi, was indeed, very good. But the black tonkatsu ramen was like nothing I’ve had before or since. The ramen noodles nestled in a creamy and flavorful pork broth and were topped with pork belly, marinated egg, green onion, nori, corn, naruto fish cake, and black garlic oil. All I can say is that it sparked joy in my tummy, and that’s not something that happens very often.
Back in Nashville, I began seeking out all the supposed best ramen in town. Nothing I tried even came close to what I’d eaten in Clarksville. We went back recently just to make sure Kohana’s black tonkatsu wasn’t some kind of fever dream. Nope. It was every bit as delicious as I remembered and miles above anything else I’d eaten (minus Kapu Haole’s saimin, which is its own thing).
If you’re a ramen lover, it’s absolutely worth your while to make the drive to Clarksville for Kohana’s black tonkatsu. If ramen’s not your thing, we’ve loved everything else we’ve tried there too, and the menu is expansive. Make a day of it by doing a few other things in Clarksville while you’re there — You have tons of options.
As I mentioned earlier, it was really hard to narrow this list to ten because we had so many fantastic meals out this year, and very few bad ones, so I wanted to mention a few other standout meals we had this year. Honestly, any one of them could have gone into my top ten, but I had to stop somewhere!
Happy Hour at Lyra: This wonderful East Nashville restaurant featuring modern Middle Eastern cuisine got lots of buzz this year, and there’s no better way to try it than during happy hour. From 5-6 pm Monday through Saturday, you can get $6 selected cocktails, $6 selected wines, and heavily discounted bites. We feasted on delicious Fatayer stuffed bread ($7), Za’atar french fries ($5), and grilled chicken wings ($11), had to take most of the wings home because we were so full, and didn’t break the bank in the process!
Las Delicias: I discovered this Dickson gem on Instagram and it was instantly one of my favorite finds of the year. Drive up to this restaurant and you’ll think you’re in the wrong place — It looks like a Mexican ice cream shop in a strip mall. Inside, though, is the most delicious Mexican food I’ve had in Middle Tennessee. Full stop. We had the gringa quesadilla and tacos al pastor and both were incredibly fresh and delicious. A bean stew came with our orders that was so good, I took it home and had it for lunch the next day — and I hate beans! Las Delicias is adding a whole bunch of new items to their menu for 2022, so I can’t wait to try them again. This is definitely an ‘If you know, you know,’ place — The place was packed when we went on a recent Saturday, even though there was no indication from the outside that you could order anything there other than dessert.
The Pharmacy: My family loves burgers, so I think we end up hitting most of the burger joints in town every year of my life. I have to say The Pharmacy in East Nashville still reigns supreme in 2021, even with dozens of new contenders in Nashville. Everything about their burger is perfection, from the seasoning of the meat to the better-than-expected bun to the deliciously hot and crispy french fries to the price, which matters in a town where sliders now cost $9. Never change, Pharmacy. Please. Never change.
PennePazze: I’ve been hearing all year that PennePazze in Sylvan Park is the best Italian restaurant in Nashville, but honestly, I was skeptical. It just seemed so… trendy. We finally ended up stopping by for a quick lunch right before Christmas and were absolutely bowled over. This place is the real deal, y’all, and I put off my visit for too long. The cooks are legit Italian, the pizza (called pinsa, a regional variation) is heavenly, and the housemade gnocchi crema di gorgonzola, topped with roasted pistachios, is now officially my favorite winter dish of all time. I basically died and had to be revived while I was eating it. It was that good. Go and get yourself a bowl. The knowledge of it is my holiday gift to you and once you try it, you will thank me.
The Horn: This is one of my favorite Nashville secrets… but I wish The Horn wasn’t quite so unknown, because this wonderful Somali family deserves to have a line of hipster foodies out the door. The Horn serves up authentic Somali cuisine in a casual coffee shop-style setting and it is delicious, fast, and inexpensive! Order a beef sambusa (two if you’re a big eater), a nafaqo (It’s a boiled egg surrounded by mashed potatoes and deep fried and it’s fantastic), and an iced Somali chai and you will definitely agree with me that this one of the best quick, cheap lunches you can get anywhere in Nashville. My entire family adores this place.
Subculture: We discovered Subculture in South Nashville this year and just kept going back over and over again. This tiny strip mall restaurant in South Nashville is run by Chilean brothers Pablo and Javier Bonacic and has a devoted following that’s well deserved — The food here is filling and delicious. Subculture does a great burger and fries, but the reason it’s on my list is its churrasco sandwich. With TN grass-fed steak grilled over an open flame, avocado, soft fried egg, chimichurri, and aioli, it is absolutely exquisite and in my opinion, it’s far and away the best thing on the menu and one of the best sandwiches in town.