Thai food seems to be a craze in all of the big cities these days, and Nashville is no exception. Siezing on a renewed local passion for refined Asian cuisine, Thai Phooket is a dressed-down noodle house with a real eye for the spicy and delicious family of noodle bowls and soups that people can’t seem to get enough of. “our restaurant may not be the best looking place, but you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” implores the restaurant owner on his website, noting 35 years of experience cooking Thai food. Well, the success should speak for itself. Thai Phooket opened in 2009, and there are already two more locations: one in Goodlettesville to the north of Nashville, and one in Fresno, California.
Like so many of the best food places in the South, Dicky’s Hickory Pit isn’t built of flashy signs or clever advertising, but of a genuinely good take on barbecue. This north Nashville dive is a simple drive-through establishment along a side road, but people love the place. It’s amazing, spend some time to sit and enjoy your meal and you’ll find a ton of people lining up for some quick brisket to go. It’s just the right kind of place to get your fingers sticky with a sample of delicious southern barbecue.
Café Rakka doesn’t look like much from the outside, but make no mistake, this is one of the neatest little dives north of Nashville. Just off the Johnny Cash Parkway in Hendersonville, it’s regularly attracting standing-room-only crowds of people of all ages, ready for a truly different dining experience. This city has a lot of real gems, the kinds of places you’d otherwise have a hard time discovering, but this one has received love from the likes of Guy Fieti, Gary Allen and others. If you’re ready for a new culinary experience this place definitely has your ticket on a platter.
Demos has a few locations around Nashville, it’s been a popular purveyor of Italian cuisine for quite some time. With its wide variety of delicious steaks, pasta and seafood available at relatively reasonable prices, this is a nice semi-casual place where you’ll find plenty of families and large groups feasting on delicious dishes on a cheap dime. The real charm of Demo’s is it’s such a people-friendly place; it’s always warm here, the service is always exemplary, and all in all the founding family did its job well; there’s an unmistakably contagious good mood that pervades this place as I come back year after year.
Now with two locations in downtown Nashville, Burger Up is a modest burger shack with a simple menu of burgers. Though the business has only been in operation since 2010, it has already seen its share of challenges. Yet, the community has been kind, and an ever-present show of support is apparent; if you find your way into the restaurant during meal time, it will be packed elbow to elbow with hungry young people. This part of 12th avenue seems to be the center of hipsterism, and Burger Up seems to know its audience very well.
Established in 1992, Pepe’s Mexican Express has been a mainstay in northern Nashville’s Rivergate Mall. This mall has no shortage of food options, most of which are local places, too. With so much competition, it’s certainly impressive to see a 20-year-veteran still going strong. The cashiers seem to recognize everybody walking by, and more than a few times the line is slowed by people striking up a conversation. Now, I’m not a regular at this mall; I’m not even really from around here, often as I may be in this city. But I’m going to have to say the food, and its prep practices, do not have me convinced.
Only recently have I come to realize how many salsa nuts are out there. Once you go beyond the supermarket shelf to sample what’s out there, you just can’t go back. Personally, I can’t get enough of the freshness in local salsa, you just can’t top it in any other food. Everyday Gourmet is another one of those salsa places you’ll only see by stopping through your local farmer’s market. As the owners put it, people come back time and again for the different flavors. After giving the salsas a try, I’m convinced that she’s onto something.
Center Point BBQ has been in the business of providing seriously good food to Nashville since 1965. Though it looks humble from the outside, there’s no mistaking the laurels adorning the pit barbecue joint’s walls; hundreds of autographed photos proudly display just who Center Point has made into believers; from country stars like Taylor Swift to George H. W. Bush and his son, to the 2009 Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders. The aroma of freshly smoked hickory wood wafts through the parking lot, a testament to the flavors being created within the red bricks.
But then, Tennessee Barbecue is serious business.
Nashville has more and more coffee places all the time; nowadays it feel like there’s one on every street corner in the city. With all the competition to tempt coffee lovers, it seems impossible that any one place could stand out. Yet, year after year, the tiny Kávé Coffee has endured in its spot in the parking lot of an Aldi grocery store. While the little shop doesn’t have the biggest menu in the world – and certainly not the traditional coffee shop atmosphere that gains other businesses a cult following – don’t count Kávé out. In fact, it may be at an advantage for its convenience.