Restaurant Reviews

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This summer, Mr. Eats, Mini Eats, and I went on an extensive road trip, nearly three weeks of seeing the sights of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and South Dakota (and a little of the states in between). It was by no means a culinary expedition--our focus was on national parks and monuments--but since I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the logistics, I thought I’d give some details here. Of course, I’ll include some of my favorite food-related stops as well!

Planning for the trip took nearly a year; reservations for accommodations in or near national parks during the summer book up that far in advance. The first thing I did was figure out what places we wanted to see and could reasonable drive to. Yes, I know they have those things called “airplanes,” but a) we had to take three seasons of clothing for three people and b) flying is just so unenjoyable and unpredictable these days that I didn’t want to risk it.

Our priority for the vacation was Yellowstone National Park, a place my husband and I have wanted to visit our whole lives. Our destinations also included visiting with my brother- and sister-in-law (and niece) at her parents’ house just outside Park City, Utah for the 4th of July as well as the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado (a favorite of ours), Grand Tetons, Devil’s Tower, and Mount Rushmore. We later added Badlands National Park to our itinerary since it was near Mount Rushmore. I wish would could have included more in Utah as well as Glacier National Park, but we didn’t want to rush our visits to the other areas.

Day 1: Leave Nashville at 6:30 a.m.; lunch on the road; dinner in Junction City, Kansas; stay in WaKeeney, Kansas Super 8 (travel time, with stops: 14 hours)

As I looked at the map, I decided that Colorado would be our first destination. I’ve driven straight through before, but I’m years older and have a 7-year-old, so we stayed overnight in WaKeeney, Kansas, having budgeted for about 13 hours of drive time, including breaks. It actually took a bit longer than that, so staying in Junction City, Kansas would have been better. Still, leaving at 6:30 a.m. on a Tuesday allowed us to avoid rush hour in Nashville, St. Louis, and Kansas City. We had no problems with traffic at all. But WaKeeney was just a little too far west and it was late when we arrived. But driving through Kansas is actually pretty cool. Different from years ago, now the landscape of western Kansas is covered in huge wind turbines, which look like dancers on the horizon.

Turbines collecting wind energy on the Kansas plains.
Playground at the best Sonic I've ever been to in Junction City, Kansas. The staff was fantastic and after many hours in the car, the kid thoroughly enjoyed this large playground.

Day 2: Leave WaKeeny and drive to Boulder, Colorado, four hours and spend the afternoon; drive from Boulder, Colorado to Estes Park, Colorado, one hour

The advantage of WaKeeney was that it was only four hours away from our first vacation stop, Boulder, Colorado. Note: the interstate around Denver is a tollway that photographs your car and sends you the bill later. And it ain’t cheap. This is particularly problematic for people who rent cars (we rented a minivan) because rental companies frequently assess fees for automatic tolls.

Anyhoo, we were so excited to arrive in Boulder. Our first stop was Illegal Pete’s, a local favorite on the Pearl Street mall. It’s mostly burritos and burrito bowls, but they’re huge and delicious. Afterward, we shopped, watched street performers, and got shaved ice before heading up to Estes Park.

After two days of road food, this salad at Illegal Pete's was so welcome. ALL THE VEGETABLES PLEASE.
Enjoying a shaved ice on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder.

Though we prefer to stay in Boulder, for this trip, I felt Estes Park was a better idea (and I was right). We need a condo with bedrooms and more home-like accommodations, which is easier to find in Estes Park. It’s also much closer to the park entrance and there’s lots to do for my very extroverted kid. We stayed at the Lofts at Estes Park on Riverside, which was walking distance to all the downtown shopping and restaurant district as well as to a playground and park area. The balcony of the condo overlooks the Big Thompson River as it flows through the town, which is spectacular.

Enjoying a local brew on the patio of Poppy's in Estes Park. The Big Thompson River is in the background. A great place for dinner.
Two of our pizzas at Poppy's they're deceptively hearty! We couldn't finish them, so we got two meals out of one dinner.

Also nearby was Poppy’s Pizza, a really great little restaurant with wonderful salads and pizzas and a patio right next to the river. It was very reasonably-priced and we actually all got two meals out of our pizzas (thankful to have a full kitchen at the condo).

Day 3: Rocky Mountain National Park Trail Ridge Road, Alpine Visitor's Center, Tundra, Continental Divide, Lake Irene

I had to be flexible on our itinerary to allow for rainy days (rainy afternoons are almost a certainty in most mountain areas, though). I had plans that could be adjusted based on weather. So for our first day in the park, we got out early and drove along Trail Ridge Road all the way up to the tundra, Alpine Visitors Center, over the Continental Divide and down to Lake Irene. We hiked several trails at the high altitudes, which was tough for the first day, but took it easy for the rest of the day. We had a nice picnic at Lake Irene (I took a cooler so we could take food) and Mini got to play with some other kids in a meadow. We also saw lots of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, which I’d never gotten to see in person.

At the top of the trail at the Alpine Visitors Center
View from the tundra.

Day 4: Denver Museum of Science & Nature, Boulder Creek Path, Chautauqua Dining Hall

The next day (a Friday), the weather in RMNP was projected to be rainy, so we drove to Denver to visit the Denver Museum of Science and Nature. It’s huge and there were several special exhibits I liked (particularly about minerals and gemstones and Colorado’s mining history) but a large portion was dedicated to dioramas of various places and wildlife that was taxidermied. It was like a macabre zoo. But Mr. and Mini loved it.

On the way back to Estes Park, we stopped back by Boulder to walk along the Boulder Creek Path and have an early dinner at the Chautauqua Dining Hall. Mr. Eats indulged in western specialty meats (bison meat loaf!) and I had a wonderful vegetable pasta. Mini Eats had mac and cheese and a generous bowl of mixed fruit. We also toasted the beginning of our vacation with two spectacular cocktails. After dinner, Mr. Eats strolled around the base of the Flatirons while Mini and I hung out at the playground. After four days of interacting with mostly just her parents, she was happy to make some new friends.

Chautauqua Dining Hall with the Flatirons in the background.
Cocktails! Black Forest (whiskey, ginger, blackberries, soda & mint) and Ginger Pear Mule
Bison meat loaf
Garganelli with squash, peas, tomato, and nicoise olives in a tomato fondue
Mini Eats enjoying the mac and cheese and mixed fruit

Day 5: The Stanley Hotel, RMNP Cub Lake hike, Colorado Cherry Company

On our third day in Estes Park (a Saturday), we started with breakfast at The Stanley Hotel. Reservations don’t fill up for the restaurant, but they do for the ghost tour, so we had to skip that. We did get to enjoy walking around the grounds of the hotel and enjoying the spectacular weather.

View of Estes Park from The Stanley Hotel
Playing on the lawn of The Stanley Hotel

Afterward, we went back to RMNP. Since it was already mid-day, we opted for the less-busy trails accessible by shuttle from the park-and-ride. The plan was to do the Cub Lake and Fern Lake trails (which are connected), but I mis-read the information about the length and elevations. So, we ended up doing just Cub Lake, but it was about six miles with a 1,000 foot climb in elevation. We didn’t have enough water or snacks to make it to Fern Lake. I was also concerned about missing the shuttle back to the park-and-ride, since we were out for six hours. It was more stressful than I’d planned, but it was a beautiful trail and we got to see a mink (or ferret) catch a snake right next to us and also have fish nibble our toes. After finishing this exhausting hike, we drove out to Lyons to eat at The Colorado Cherry Company. Pies, and cobblers, and ice cream for all.

Day 6: RMNP popular lake trails

On Sunday, we got up early to do the popular hikes, since we knew the crowds would be heavy (this was July 2; the 4th of July holiday is the busiest for national parks). We barely made it into one of the last parking spots at the park-and-ride and then headed to Nymph Lake and Dream Lake. Dream Lake was a real treat and worth the climb in elevation and across creeks and snowbanks. There’s a spectacular waterfall, too.

After finishing those trails, we visited Bear Lake (the easiest and most popular trail in the park) and then headed to Sprague Lake for a late picnic lunch. It was once the home to a resort and is still a really fun place to have a picnic since you can play in the creek nearby.

Later, we had leftovers from dinner at the Chautauqua and toasted our last night in town with mead from the nearby Redstone Meadery.

Next up: Midway, Utah and Teton Village, Wyoming

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Every year for Mr. Eats’s birthday, we go out and have a very fine, civilized meal. Last year was 404 Kitchen; the year before that was Kayne Prime. This year, I decided on Prima. Like Kayne Prime, Prima is a steak house, which seems like it would be an odd choice for a vegetarian, but like Kayne Prime, there is much more to Prima than just steak. In fact, if I hadn’t been told it was a steak house, I wouldn’t have known.

And that was the issue that Steve Cavendish had with the restaurant when he reviewed Prima for the Nashville Scene. His review was titled, “Prima is a really good Mediterranean restaurant, and a so-so steakhouse,” which gave the impression that it was not a good review. It was, in part, a great review of everything on the menu except the steaks. But let’s be honest: it’s not difficult to cook a steak. It is difficult to cook a steak that will wow you. Because it’s just steak. I asked my husband what was the best steak he’s ever had and he said it was the sous vide/pan seared steak that was served at a friend’s house recently. Not a steak in any restaurant. But they have to have steak on the menu, because the Bill Braskys of the world want a $50 steak when they’re dining on the company dime.

So there’s the background on Prima. And why I thought it would be a good choice for dinner. The menu changes frequently based on what’s seasonal and available, but I knew that they would accommodate me if there was nothing on the menu that suited me. Indeed, most of the sides had some sort of non-vegetarian component (such as pancetta or beef fat), but that was just fine because there was a good selection of salads and soups that would make a good meal. No need to ask for a vegetarian entrée at all.

I started out with the sweet potatoes appetizer. The potatoes are cooked in the skin to the point where it’s crispy and the flesh is creamy (not stringy at all; how do they do that?) and served with grilled onions and fig jam and topped with shreds of ricotta salata. It’s a huge portion, definitely meant for sharing and very delicious. The onions have just a bit of heat that is cooled by the delicate pieces of ricotta. Mr. Eats had the octopus starter, which I recommended based on friends tasting it an event a couple of months ago. The citrus zest really sets it off and Mr. Eats commented that the texture was perfect; not rubbery at all.

sweet potatoes with charred onions, fig jam, ricotta salata
sweet potatoes with charred onions, fig jam, ricotta salata
octopus with corona beans, olives, orange zest
octopus with corona beans, olives, orange zest

For dinner, I had the corona bean soup, which was a vegetable stock based hearty soup that also included bits of carrot, wilted arugula, and I think parsnips or potatoes as well. It was a heavy soup that I couldn’t even finish; it could be a meal on its own (and it will be because you know I brought it home with me). I also had a swiss chard and farro salad with dried cherries and pistachios. The chard was cut into ribbons, tossed in a vinaigrette and mixed with the farro, cherries, and pistachios and then topped with two scoops of deep fried goat cheese. The goat cheese was a substitution that I requested since I’m not a fan of blue cheese. This was one of the best salads I’ve ever had. I’m not sure what else to say about it other than you should try to go there soon before it disappears (though it is a recent addition to the menu, having replaced a kale salad). My husband got a grilled trout (not pictured, for obvious reasons) that was fileted and plated tableside and was huge. As a side, he ordered the grilled broccoli salad, which apparently is lightly seasoned with Beach Road 12 sauce from Martin’s BBQ Joint. He said both were fantastic.

corona bean soup with wilted arugula, seasonal vegetables
corona bean soup with wilted arugula, seasonal vegetables

 

chard salad with cherries, pistachios, and goat cheese
chard salad with cherries, pistachios, and goat cheese
grilled broccoli salad
grilled broccoli salad

By the end of the meal, I was too stuffed for dessert, which is too bad because there was this chocolate orange and olive oil concoction that sounded as if it were made just for me. Not a fan of the chocolate and citrus combination, Mr. Eats opted for the dulcey chocolate bar, which was actually milk chocolate and mousse-like. He loved it because he prefers milk chocolate to dark. Even better—the staff made sure it was specially-prepared for the occasion.

dulcey chocolate bar
dulcey chocolate bar

This seems like the time to mention how fantastic the service was. It’s team service with different staff members for refilling your water (still or sparkling, both complimentary), bringing you a linen napkin (your choice of black or white), and bread service (do not skip the bread; it is delicious). The service was knowledgeable, helpful, and attentive without being intrusive. Other little things that made it nice included that though the restaurant was about 75% full and the kitchen is open to the restaurant, it was not loud. I also didn’t feel crowded up against the tables nearest us. And of course, the gorgeous light fixtures gave us something to gawk at between courses. There is also a valet and complimentary self-parking in the Terrazzo garage. Dress is business casual and up (it's Nashville; men are almost always in jeans, though).

dazzling light fixture in Prima
dazzling light fixture in Prima

Prima
700 12th Avenue South
Open for dinner nightly

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You wouldn't think that a city that is right in the heart of the mid-south would be all that vegetarian-friendly, but Nashville is very progressive, food-wise with a number of strictly vegetarian and vegan restaurants and many (most!) restaurants being quite accommodating.

Since the fall is a popular time to come to Nashville, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite Nashville restaurants for vegetarian and vegan dining that I'd suggest to visitors. I originally wrote this for the organizers of the Music City Food + Wine Festival, so I pared this list back as much as I could. But it was difficult! I have many favorites that I just couldn't squeeze into my top five format. I've also added a section for my favorite vegetarian-friendly food trucks.

Table Service/Upscale Restaurants
Here are of some of my favorite places that offer excellent selections for vegetarians as well as their omnivore friends, ranging from casual to upscale.

etch_butter_tasting
The butter tasting at Etch

Etch—located downtown, convenient to the Music City Center and Schermerhorn Symphony Center—is the perfect place for everything from a casual lunch to a special occasion dinner. The menu changes seasonally, but there are always excellent vegan and vegetarian options. Tips: get the roasted cauliflower and butter tasting appetizers; ask the server for omivore recommendations; leave room for dessert.

 

The roasted cauliflower as an entree at Etch
The roasted cauliflower as an entree at Etch

Margot Café is a casually elegant restaurant in East Nashville’s Five Points area. The menu features many local and seasonal foods with European flair. Tips: order anything that features tomatoes or sweet corn; the brunch is fantastic, but popular, so be sure to make reservations; the second floor is quaint and cozy.

The 404 Kitchen, a sleek, newer restaurant in the Gulch, also features European-influenced cuisine with an emphasis on seasonal and local produce (some of which comes from the chef’s own farm). Tips: do not miss the burrata; omnivores should get the crudo; if you are unable to get a reservation (the restaurant seats just 44 – 56 people, depending on weather), arrive early and sit at the bar.

 

Burrata with shaved black truffle at 404 Kitchen.
Burrata with shaved black truffle at 404 Kitchen.

Kayne Prime is the flagship steakhouse restaurant of Nashville’s MStreet Entertainment Group. You wouldn’t think a vegetarian would recommend a steakhouse, but their plant-based menu options are extensive, often making it difficult to decide on dinner. Tips: the salads—particularly the kale salads—are all excellent, but you can also make a great meal out of the side dishes (and accompanying popovers); the main dining room can be a bit noisy, so ask for a table with a view up front, a booth, or in the private dining room, if open.

The Silly Goose is a casual restaurant on Eastland, deep in the heart of East Nashville. It has an eclectic menu that focuses on sandwiches and bowls at lunch and then on exquisite entrées at dinner. Tips: the dinner menu changes frequently with what’s available from local farmers, but quinoa, polenta, roasted vegetables, and hash are always good; make a meal from a combination of small plates and/or sides; reservations are strongly suggested, even on weeknights, but you can walk in early or late and usually get seated within 15 minutes.

Bonus: City House and Rolf and Daughters, both located in Germantown and both known for making omnivores happy with some specialty meat items also have some vegan- and vegetarian-friendly items peppered among their menus. Vegan is a little harder to find, but if that's your thing, just call ahead and see if you can be accommodated, particularly since menus change frequently. For something a bit more casual (but not overly so), Amerigo and Porta Via are both great options for Italian food and pizza (Porta Via has a new kale salad with lemon cilantro vinaigrette that I LOVE). Both have extensive gluten-free menus as well.

Quick Service/Counter Service Restaurants
These restaurants include some of my favorite casual places to eat, particularly when you want something quick and/or casual.

The Wild Cow is a laid-back, casual restaurant on Eastland in East Nashville that serves primarily vegan and organic foods in a variety of cuisines and styles. Tips: if it’s available, get the seitan banh mi; otherwise, get the Far Eastland bowl featuring garlicky kale; there’s also an extensive gluten-free selection.

Sunflower Café in Berry Hill (not far from Melrose and 12 South) is a casual, cafeteria-style vegetarian (mostly vegan) restaurant that is actually quite popular among omnivores. Tips: arrive early for lunch because the eat-in area fills up quickly after 11:30; get a plate of sides/salad that includes the sesame kale and get their fantastic veggie burger to-go for later.

SLOCO
The shaved seitan sandwich from Sloco.

Sloco—located in 12 South as well as the Nashville Farmers’ Market—is a quick-service sandwich shop that uses fresh, local, and organic ingredients in its components, most of which are housemade (including the bread). Tips: the housemade shaved seitan sandwich will make you forget that roast beef was ever a thing; make sure to get the pickles; there’s also a great kids’ menu.

Fido, in Hillsboro Village near Vanderbilt is a little bit of everything. It’s a coffee shop, but there’s also all-day breakfast/brunch, delicious sandwiches and salads and daily specials worthy of a five-star restaurant. Tips: parking—particularly during the day—can be a challenge, so come hungry for late lunch or dinner when you can order one of the spectacular dinner specials which are posted frequently to Facebook  (example: fried green tomatoes with roasted okra and watermelon salsa); check out their signature drinks (aside from the coffee); the portobello and eggplant sandwich is one of the best and most filling I’ve had.

Calypso Café, a local chain with multiple locations around the city is consistently voted as “Best Cheap Eats” in the Nashville Scene Best of Nashville Readers’ Poll. But this inexpensive, Caribbean-style food is good, too. Tips: many of the menu items are or can be made vegan; omnivores love the rotisserie chicken; don’t miss the fruit tea or boija corn muffins with your “beans and three.”

Bonus: The Stone Fox, a bar/restaurant/music venue in West Nashville that offers something for everyone. In the early evening, it's a relatively family-friendly casual restaurant with an ever-changing menu of inexpensive seasonal appetizers, sandwiches and burgers, and baskets ranging from decadent (pimento cheese hush puppies, Kitchen Sink mac and cheese) to healthy, but tasty (garden salad with house-made dressings and the King Rabbit Bowl). There's also an awesome brunch on the weekends. Tips: the happy hour is fantastic and offers a special menu of light bites (don't miss the "pulled" jackfruit sliders). The kitchen is open late every night.

World Cuisine
Nashville is home to large populations of people of Middle Eastern, Indian, Korean, and other backgrounds, ensuring that we extensive options for world cuisine.

epice Epice is an upscale Lebanese bistro located in 12 South. There are tons of wonderful Middle Eastern restaurants, but Epice goes above and beyond the falafel. Tips: parking is a challenge, but a bit easier at dinner; get the al-raheb, labneh sandwich, and the katayef for dessert.

Woodlands on West End Avenue is the city’s only all-vegetarian Indian restaurant, specializing in southern Indian cuisine that even dedicated meat-eaters will love. Tips: the lunch buffet is a great way to figure out what you like if you’re not already familiar with southern Indian cuisine; for dinner, be sure to order a masala dosa (it’s huge), tomato and peas uthappa, paneer butter masala, and the batura bread.

smiling elephant
House salad with lime-lemongrass vinaigrette and tamarind pork-moo sahm rhot (with tofu substitution).

Smiling Elephant near Melrose is one of a number of great Thai restaurants, but what puts it gives it the edge to me is the ability to substitute baked tofu (which is not spongy) in just about any dish. Tips: the restaurant is tiny, so plan to arrive for lunch when it opens at 11 or just get takeout; the lime-lemongrass vinaigrette makes any salad worth getting; most desserts are vegan; don’t miss the pad thai or tamarind pork-moo sahm rhot (with tofu substitution).

Jamaicaway serves Caribbean specialties from locations at the Nashville Farmers’ Market and in Cool Springs. Omnivores will enjoy the goat, oxtail, and fish selections but there’s also an extensive collection of mock meat specialties and vegan items are helpfully  noted on the menu. Tips: the restaurant is closed on Saturdays, but open Sundays; try the sorrel punch from the cooler; the fried “chik’n” is delicious with a side of pineapple sweet potatoes, fried plantains and a jonny cake.

Korea House is a small, hole-in-the-wall type restaurant in West Nashville. It serves traditional Korean cuisine, which is not typically very vegetarian-friendly, but the staff here is helpful for helping customers navigate the menu to the items that can be prepared as vegetarian or vegan (and for helping customers who are new to Korean food). Tips: the noodles are handmade, so definitely try a noodle dish, get the bibimbap with tofu (and no egg).

Bonus: Chauhan Ale & Masala House has not yet opened its doors in the (northern) Gulch, but Chef Maneet Chauhan has hosted many previews of her restaurant while awaiting the finishing touches on construction. I attended one of the previews and was just blown away. The menu will not be all vegetarian, but there will be many vegetarian specialties to choose from as well as specialty beers made specifically for the restaurant.

Food Trucks
Nashville has dozens of food trucks ranging from the taco trucks that dot the city's busiest roads to gourmet food trucks offering the type of cuisine you'd find in a fine restaurant. There's even been a book written about our fantastic food truck scene. Visit their sites or social media for locations.

grilled_cheeserie
Charred tomoato and sweet pepper gazpacho and grilled cheese and tomato sandwich on tomato sourdough from Grilled Cheeserie.

Grilled Cheeserie was the first "gourmet" food truck I ever tried. I know that when they're at an event, there will always be a vegetarian option. Gourmet grilled cheese? Yes. This isn't the grilled cheese you make at home. Only the finest locally-made breads and cheeses plus soups, sides, desserts, and a great selection of bottled beverages. Tips: lines can get long, so plan to visit the Grilled Cheeserie when you can catch them in off hours, such as the mid-afternoon or show up when the truck first opens its hatches. Don't miss the desserts.

Riffs started out with a primarily Caribbean and sometimes Asian-inspired menu but now features just about everything, according to the whims of its chefs. Tips: omnivores love the Korean BBQ Tacos and burgers, but Mr. Eats has loved everything he's ever had. My favorites are the kare pan (a Japanese-style curry pocket), "Nashville hot" fried green tomato slider (usually only available during the Tomato Art Fest), and the Riff'd up mac and cheese. There's almost always a vegetarian (or vegetarian-able) option on their menu.

Smoke Et Al specializes in smoked meats, but are very adept at putting their smoker to good use for those of us who don't eat meat. They offer salads, tacos, and other entrees that feature smoked vegetables combined with other ingredients like field greens and house-made dressings to make really compelling meals. Don't miss the sides, though. The fried pickled okra (whole) served with 'Bama white sauce is a favorite.

 

The Lindstrom from Biscuit Love Truck
The Lindstrom from Biscuit Love Truck

Biscuit Love Truck is a truck that--you guessed it--specializes in biscuits. They make angel biscuits (with butter, not lard or shortening, so they are vegetarian, but not vegan), which aren't what I grew up with, but are tasty nonetheless. Be sure to check their menu before chasing them down; they make some tasty "salad biscuits" as well as (when we're lucky), "bonuts," which are biscuit donuts. Look for their permanent location in the Gulch coming soon.

Crankees Pizzeria makes hand-made pizzas in a wood-fired oven that is right there on the truck. And it's delicious, too. Always on the menu is a vegan option with just sauce and herbs (and, occasionally, some arugula and garlic) as well as a vegetarian margherita pizza with fresh mozzarella.

Bonus: Riddim N' Spice is a new truck that offers a vegan chorizo, which is quite tasty!

There are a lot of great restaurants that are listed here, though. Not just because I didn't have room, but I've also not been able to visit so many restaurants because the Nashville restaurant scene is growing so quickly! Let me know in the comments what vegetarian item you love at any of your favorite Nashville restaurants. If I haven't tried it, I will surely want to!