travel guide to nashville

Nashville!

Nashville is an ever-evolving city. Even in the four years that we've lived here, our favorite stops have shuffled as neighborhoods have grown and new eateries and coffee places have emerged - and with new growth comes higher standards, more competition, more modernity.

But Nashville is also a city rooted in Southern tradition, which is what makes Nashville so good. There is a blend of old and new here that somehow works. I blame the influx of outsiders (like myself, a born Midwesterner) and the stalwart staying power of the natives working together to create a community of good food, art, and music.

Soon, I will be packing up the last box in our home and moving to Savannah, Georgia, where Neil has already started his new job. We are excited for a new life in Savannah, thrilled for change - and yet we'll miss this fair city. As a farewell, I decided to share my favorite Nashville spots.

Crema Crema

Crema Coffee and Dose Coffee and Tea: For a mid-sized city, Nashville certainly has plenty of coffee shops - which is why I can't pick just one to share. Our two favorite stops are Crema and Dose. Both shops have seen successful growth of late - Crema recently started sourcing and roasting their own beans in the past year, and Dose is currently expanding to provide a more dedicated space for pour over offerings and cold brew on tap. Try Dose's chamomile cake with lavender glaze, baked fresh in-house, and Crema's Cuban - a latte with espresso and sweetened condensed milk, a must for first-timers. Honorable mention goes to Barista Parlor.

Desano Pizza

Desano Pizza: Neil and I fell in love with Antico and would visit nearly every time we stayed with my sister and brother-in-law in Atlanta. When we heard the owners were setting up shop in Nashville, we knew it would become our go-to pizza place in the area, and it has. Desano's is simply delicious Neapolitan-style pizza, and a BYOB policy plus a 60-second baking time makes it an easy and inexpensive night out. While the Margherita D.O.P. is a classic, we also recommend trying the San Gennaro - sausage, sweet peppadew peppers, and caramelized onions.

City House: Still strikingly good since our first experience several years back, City House is our favorite Nashville restaurant: house cured meats, cornmeal crusted catfish, and classic mixed drinks. If that isn't enough, try the almond ricotta pound cake for dessert. Pastry chef Rebekah Turshen is one of the best bakers in Nashville.

Frist Center for the Visual Arts

Frist Center for the Visual Arts: Located downtown, the Frist Center is an art museum housed in Nashville's former main post office. Where else in Nashville can you view Ernst Ludwig Kirchner paintings at a German Expressionism exhibit one month and attend a Grace Coddington book signing the next? Currently on exhibit is Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles (a fitting addition to the Frist, considering its stunning Art Deco interior). Want an afternoon excursion out-of-doors? A visit to the Cheekwood Gardens is a treat, and nestled in the hills just outside of Nashville is Arrington Vineyards.

Imogene and Willie: For custom fit denim, Nashville locals flock to Imogene and Willie on 12th South. I+W is a small shop that offers locally sourced clothing goods in trendy but classic Southern styles. There's even a rumor circulating that I+W's famed Supper and Song series will return sometime soon (here's hoping).

Nashville Flea Market: Religiously I drag my friends to this once-a-month event located at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. The Nashville Flea always has a great selection of furniture, housewares, and unique items, and lately I've seen a wider selection of vintage clothes. My favorite vendor is a bearded gentleman selling antique Kurdish and Turkish kilim rugs in one of the open air sheds, keep an eye out.

Taqueria El Indio Arnold's Country Kitchen

Taqueria El Indio: Hidden behind the discount tobacco store on the corner of 12th and Wedgewood is one of the best taco trucks in Nashville, and in a city with a bustling Latin food scene, that's saying something. Delicious tacos, tortas, sopes, quesadillas, and mulitas abound. Order the 99 cent lengua taco.. you won't be disappointed. Other great Mexican stops.. Mas Tacos, Hacienda Taqueria, El Amigo.

Arnold's Country Kitchen: While Loveless Cafe can be a fun evening out when local bands are playing in the nearby barn, it is traditional meat-and-three Arnold's that wins the award for best Southern food in Nashville. Open only on weekdays for lunch, Arnold's asks customers to survey their choices buffet-style. As for choices, there are many - roast beef, baked chicken, brisket, mac and cheese, banana pudding, and more. If you go, plan on waiting in line among the suited set.. for the greens alone, it is entirely worth it. Second favorite Southern food stop? Husk. Try their griddle cakes with pimento cheese. Husk is an unlikely place to find the best burger in town, but don't take my word for it.. make a lunch reservation and try it for yourself.

Rolf and Daughters: In the Germantown neighborhood lies Rolf and Daughters, a recently opened restaurant serving (according to their website) a fresh take on "modern peasant food". While the garganelli verde pasta with pork ragout is tasty and the brussels sprouts appetizer is a must, visiting for the drinks alone is not such a bad idea either. Rolf's cocktails are exceptional and the marble top bar is certainly something to be admired, perfect for hanging out with a handful of friends. For more great drinks, try Patterson House. For bad drinks but a fun night, try Santa's.

Smiling Elephant

The Smiling Elephant: One of the things we'll miss most about Nashville is its Thai food and while Nashville has several good stops, it is Smiling Elephant that we always return to. Their Tom Yum soup is sure to kick any sickness to the curb. Pad Thai and Prik Khing Curry Fried Rice are beloved standards, and the portions are large and great for sharing. If Thai isn't your thing, Woodlands offers delicious (and vegan friendly) Indian food. Gojo Cafe is a BYOB Ethiopian eatery located on Nolensville Pike, the mecca of all ethnic food.

Family Wash: Family Wash is a live music joint located in East Nashville with a sturdy beer list and one magnificent shepherd's pie (which can be ordered vegetarian). Check out their calendar and keep an eye out for band Sons of Zevon, a seventies-themed cover band comprised of some of the most talented musicians in Nashville. Nashville has a lot of excellent music venues. Station Inn and the famed Ryman Auditorium are also worth a visit.

Prince's Hot Chicken Shack: Hot chicken, both spicy and fried, is a Nashville thing. And it's an experience best enjoyed late. Open until 4am on weekends, Prince's Hot Chicken Shack is located in an unassuming strip mall on the East side. Walking in, you'd never expect the latticework interior to be home to a James Beard award-winning restaurant - but it is. Don't order extra-hot chicken on your first visit.. they won't let you. If you're in the mood for another Southern staple, there is Martin's BBQ in Nolensville - the best barbecue in the Nashville area.

Nashville has some well-preserved history that garners a mention - Belle Meade Plantation is worth a visit, as is The Hermitage and the nearby Polk Presidential Home and Museum (a beautiful drive 45 minutes south of Nashville).

Nashville is a city that deserves to be seen, one with a cultural thumbprint that - while still developing in some ways, is nevertheless very much its own.