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—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.
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.
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—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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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!