Rosie Birkett, The Guardian, June 22, 2012
Arnold's Country Kitchen
Nashville's famous "meat and three" canteens (where you select your meat and three side dishes) are a defining part of its food culture, and Arnold's Country Kitchen, winner of a James Beard award (North America's most important food gongs), is often cited as the best in town. It's been run by the Arnold family for more than 30 years, and still serves up the honest country recipes that owner Jackson Arnold grew up on – roast beef, country ham, fried green tomatoes and collard greens. All the food is made from scratch daily, served from the counter, and there's a great selection of pies, including the evil chocolate pie and deliciously evil chocolate pie and juicy, off-menu tomato pie. You'll find country music singers, local artists, chefs and workers tucking into the generous, affordable fare at this lively diner.
• Roast beef sandwiches from $4. 605 8th Avenue, South Nashville, +1 615 256 4455
Mas Tacos Por Favor
This bricks and mortar incarnation of one of the city's best-loved food trucks opened in the hipster enclave of East Nashville in 2010, serving up the best tacos in town at $3 a pop. Inside the shack-like eatery, a Mexican pinball machine, southern American wall hangings and cacti set the tone for a street-food menu that includes corn on the cob rolled in lime, chilli and cotija (a tart, crumbly Mexican cheese), a heavenly chicken, avocado and cilantro tortilla soup and a whole host of creative tacos including fried avocado and quinoa (a bead-shaped grain) or pulled pork with red cabbage and spicy lime marinated onions. Iced horchata (the fragrant, traditional drink of rice milk flavoured with cinnamon) is made by the bucketful, as is Mexican cola – made with cane sugar rather than corn syrup.
• Tacos from $3. 732 Mcferrin Avenue, +1 615 543 6271, twitter.com/mastacos
Prince's Hot Chicken Shack
The Prince family has been serving the people of Nashville mouth-scorching, spice-loaded southern fried chicken for three generations. For the past 32 years it's been run by Andre Prince, who keeps the top secret spice recipe close to her chest, but introduced a grading system of the degrees of spice, making mild and medium available for those who value their digestive tracts. Chicken comes served simply as breast, leg, half or whole, with dill pickle on a slice of starchy white bread – the thick, spicy cayenne coating falling off in big flakes as you bite down into the moist, succulent meat. It's worth the trek to the grimy outskirts of the city but take water and a hand fan – there's no air-con but always a queue.
• Chicken from $4. 123 Ewing Dr # 3, +1 615 226 9442
The Loveless Cafe and Motel has been feeding hungry travellers using the US Highway 100 for more than half a century, and despite having changed hands many times during that period, it retains its original character and country specialities. It's known for its famous "biscuits" – sort of savoury buttermilk scones that are served as an accompaniment and made according to the original recipe created by former owner Annie Loveless. The cheerful dining room, with its worn floorboards, blue gingham tablecloths and wooden beams is always heaving with locals and visitors gathered for the generous plates of country food, and there's often a wait for tables. For a real gut-busting taste of the region try the southern sampler, which gives you a taste of three of these five: fried chicken, catfish, ham, meatloaf and pork barbecue. Sides include classics such as mac and cheese (macaroni cheese) and fried okra, but make sure you save room for the desserts – the sweet, sticky chess pie, a southern classic made with condensed milk, comes highly recommended.
• Breakfast platters from $8.95, Loveless BLT $6.95. 8400 Tennessee Highway 100, +1 615 646 9700, lovelesscafe.com
A few years ago you wouldn't have wanted to eat in downtown Nashville, but such has been its transformation that all-American Puckett's grocery store and restaurant – founded in charming Franklin 20 miles from downtown Nashville – has opened up here, within spitting distance of the legendary Ryman auditorium, the city's most famous live music venue. Deep fried pickles, pulled pork that's been through the in-house cherry wood "hogfather" smoker for 16 hours and cocktails made with Tennessee popcorn Moonshine are must orders, and you can even try some local wine from the nearby Arrington Vineyards. And in true Music City spirit, you can catch live acts here almost every day.
• Plate lunches from $7.29. 500 Church Street, +1 615 770 2772, puckettsgrocery.com/nashville
Tavern is one of a new breed of eateries that has opened in the last year, a slickly designed, food-led sports bar with a decent selection of craft beers and cocktails and a daily changing menu incorporating everything from salted shishito peppers to fish tacos. Its comfy leather banquettes make it a great place to sink into a growler (jug of draught beer) and enjoy snacks such as chicken skins with spicy salt and smoked honey, before tucking into a grilled cheese sandwich or deliciously fresh Tuscan kale and parmesan salad. Brunch is served at the weekend and includes a tasty black bean take on classic Mexican breakfast dish huevos rancheros, and blueberry cornmeal waffles with cinnamon molasses and whipped mascarpone.
• Brunch from $5.50. 1904 Broadway, +1 615 320 8580, mstreetnashville.com/tavern
"Thoughtful burgers" is how co-founder Miranda Whitcomb describes the food at her light, airy restaurant where careful sourcing is the top priority. The beef comes from Triple L ranch – a third generation farm south-west of Nashville where cattle graze on a mixture of grass and grain – with vegetables and salad coming from nearby producers, oysters from south Louisiana, and craft beer from the city's Yazoo brewery. The restaurant's communal tables are made from reclaimed hickory wood from Whitcomb's grandfather's Louisiana farm, and food is similarly homespun, with creations such as the Woodstock burger tapping into southern flavours in its mix of Tennessee Sweetwater white cheddar, Jack Daniel's maple ketchup and smoky bacon. Try the fried oysters – succulent little iodine bites coated in a crunchy, spicy batter and served with lemon crème fraîche.
• Burgers, served with unlimited fries, from $9. 2901 12th Avenue South, +1 615 279 3767, burger-up.com
Part of a cluster of hip new places regenerating the East Nashville area, The Pharmacy Burger Parlour and beer garden does a mean line in creative burgers (and beards, courtesy of the hick-chic service staff). Choose between the suitably southern farm burger, made with Tennessee beef, country ham, Emerald Glen farm bacon, egg and maple mustard, or the Mexican inflected mission city burger, which comes with guacamole, pico de gallo salsa, slow-cooked black beans and horchata crème fraîche. The drinks here are a big part of the experience, with proper old fashioned sodas made with house-made cane sugar syrups, floats and malted shakes on offer.
• Burgers from $7. 731 Mcferrin Ave, +1 615 712 9517, thepharmacynashville.com
Barbecue-obsessed former bonds trader Patrick Martin is the proud owner and "pit master" of this Nolensville joint, where he roasts whole hogs at the weekends, and serves 22-hour cooked pulled pork with a piquant, vinegar-based slaw. Martin has barbecuing down to a fine art, making an array of different sauces and accompaniments – like his grandmother's baked bean recipe – from scratch and paying attention to the regional details of southern barbecue (he uses Hungarian paprika for his Memphis rib dry rub, for example). The sweet, smoky brisket and smoked, chilli coated chicken wings are worth trying, but the hero dish is the red neck taco – a corn bread pancake topped with pulled pork, vinegar slaw and Dixie barbecue sauce. Wash it down with some Southern Pecan ale.
• Brisket tacos from $2.50, pulled pork sandwiches from $4. 7238 Nolensville Road, Nolensville, +1 615 776 1856, martinsbbqjoint.com
The communal dining at this historic family-style restaurant, housed inside a soaring, beautiful manor, is southern soul food at its most honest. The famous skillet fried chicken is served at every meal, where dishes are ceaselessly brought to the tables and served to share. Monell's outlines its dining etiquette thus: "Take as much as you can eat but eat all that you take. We pass the bowls to the left. No cell phones calls allowed at the tables during dinner." Southern favourites such as cheese grits, corn bread and meatloaf are also available, and everything is served with hot southern vegetables like the ubiquitous (and often overcooked) fried okra and mustard greens.
• Lunch from $12.77. 1400 Murfreesboro Pike, +1 615 365 1414, monellstn.com
Rosie travelled with Travelbag (0871 703 4240, travelbag.co.uk). Its seven-day Nashville package costs from £989pp, including flights with US Airways from Gatwick to Nashville via Charlotte, six nights' B&B at the three-star Doubletree Hotel Nashville, and seven days' car hire
Further information on Nashville: visitmusiccity.com