Downtown Nashville’s restaurant scene has seen unparalleled growth over the last few years, so much so that it can feel impossible to keep up with the changes. Just a few years ago, there were only a handful of great options for lunch Downtown; now, Lower Broadway bustles with celebrity-backed honky-tonks and out-of-town chain outposts. If you’re not looking to spend the afternoon in a honky-tonk or a franchise, though, a number of local Downtown restaurants offer up the flavor and spirit of Nashville in their own unique way. Here’s a list of our favorite spots to enjoy lunch in Downtown Nashville, ranging from creative global fare to traditional, down-home cooking.
When you need something to-go:
150 Third Ave. S., Downtown Nashville
An offshoot of popular TomKats restaurant The Southern Steak & Oyster, Southernaire Market offers both pre-made and grocery selections for downtown revelers. Whether you’re stocking your apartment or Airbnb, or you need a quick snack in between meetings or meet-ups, Southernaire Market has you covered, with an array of grab-and-go options like the beef brisket panini with pimento cheese, a creative, Southern spin on Philly cheesesteak.
For a business lunch that’ll close your deal for you:
303 Demonbreun St., Downtown Nashville
Locals have followed executive chef Deb Paquette around town for years, and she now oversees two kitchens in two different parts of the city. For Downtown 9-to-5-ers, there isn’t a better spot for a business lunch than Paquette’s Etch. Her globally inspired cuisine pleases any palate and the polished atmosphere sets a professional tone while the open kitchen energizes the entire space. Don’t miss her famous cauliflower with truffled pea pesto or the burger, topped with red onion bacon jam, pickled poblano and cabbage and horseradish Beemster cheese. Pro Tip: For those not already downtown, Etch offers free valet for anyone dining in for lunch.
For the days you skipped breakfast:
The Farm House
210 Almond St., Downtown Nashville
At The Farm House, executive chef Trey Cioccia dishes out food that makes diners feel at home, even if what comes out of the kitchen is an order of magnitude beyond what Mom used to make (sorry, Mom). The pimento cheese beignets are a stand-out dish among many. During The Farm House’s weekday brunch (available Tuesday through Friday), the kitchen offers items made with the freshest meats and produce from farms around Middle Tennessee. The food is familiar and hearty, but creative and elegant in a refreshing way. Some favorites: the Tri-Star Breakfast and Something Light, which beautifully blends turkey sausage with egg whites, served alongside a salad of fresh greens and quinoa in a lovely lemon dressing. They share valet with Etch, so even if you aren’t Downtown, don’t let that stop you from sampling some of the best locally sourced food Nashville has to offer.
When you’re pressed for time:
Deacon’s New South
401 Church St., Downtown Nashville
All 9-to-5 workers know the blessing and curse of the one-hour lunch break. While “off-campus” adventures are theoretically possible, traveling, eating and returning within an hour can be a tall order. Stepping in to save the day for Downtown diners in a hurry: Deacon’s New South, which offers a 45-minute lunch service that promises to have you in and out in time to clock back in. We love the dry-aged steak sandwich with caramelized onions and collards, topped with a contrastingly bright and fresh scallion chimichurri sauce. Extra advice: Invite a coworker and share a few things, like the Charcuterie and Cheese board.
When you need an escape from Lower Broadway:
207 First Ave. S., Downtown Nashville
Liberty Common’s highly anticipated opening in late 2018 introduced a breathtaking interior that transplants diners to Paris, with stunning tile work that outlines the bar and copper accents adding a touch of luxury. (Be sure to check out the exquisite wallpaper in the restrooms, too.) Its relaxed yet sophisticated vibe makes it feel a world away from Nashville’s honky-tonks, despite being separated by only a few blocks. Lunch favorites include the house-made pappardelle or the fried chicken, which has a delectable honey glaze. If you’re in more of a breakfast mood (the brasserie’s bright, airy interior can do that to you), chef Jessica Collins’ cinnamon rolls should do the trick. You may know Collins’ handiwork from the illustrious Butchertown Hall brunch donut board, but her Liberty Common cinnamon rolls have rightfully earned a cult following of their own, selling out within hours of opening on the weekends. Head in on the early side to try to snag one during weekday lunch.
Just stepped out of your Uber from the airport:
Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint
410 Fourth Ave. S., Downtown Nashville
The Martin’s Bar-B-Que empire now extends beyond Middle Tennessee, but there’s no better spot to kick off your weekend in Nashville than in this half-beer garden, half-BBQ hall located steps away from Lower Broadway. Featuring an array of local craft beers on tap, and whole-hog BBQ that’s smoked low and slow, Martin’s BBQ Joint is perfect for spending a few hours before heading to the honky-tonks. Upstairs, you can find darts, ping pong and shuffleboard, plus plenty of TVs for those of us who like to leave the sporting to the professionals. Some menu favorites include their ribs, brisket and chicken wings, and if you’re in the mood for a snack to share, don’t skip the BBQ Nachos with pulled pork, queso, slaw and all the fixins’. Be sure to give the broccoli salad a try, too — we always feel better about our meal choices with something green on our platter (but not to worry: There’s still bacon and cheese in it). If you’re lucky, poke your head into the smoking room and they’ll let you check out the hogs on the smoker!
When you’re trying to stick to your diet:
21 Arcade Alley, Downtown Nashville
Tucked away in the Arcade are a diverse selection of great lunch spots for Downtown diners, but for those of us strong enough to walk past Manny’s Pizza without picking up a slice, be sure to check out Urban Juicer. A juice bar may not scream “lunch,” but the soups, wraps and salads that aren’t listed on the menus online are so good it’ll trick you into thinking you’re eating something unhealthy. Many options are available in a grab-and-go case for a quick lunch option, but don’t skip on ordering a juice or smoothie to wash it all down. Pro Tip: for those staying Downtown and seeking to detox after an evening of Lower Broadway debauchery, Urban Juicer offers activated charcoal lemonade that tastes incredible and does the trick.
When you NEED tacos:
201 Third Ave. S., Downtown Nashville
Sometimes we’re just as tethered to our cravings as our diets, and if you’re craving Mexican there’s no better spot downtown than Bakersfield. The guacamole and margaritas are fresh with salt and lime, and the queso will make even the stone-hearted swoon. You’ll notice old Westerns playing on the TVs to complement the decor and an energetic vibe that’s still a far cry from the almost overwhelming sensory assault of the nearby honky-tonks. Bakersfield offers a few long, picnic-style tables that are perfect for seating large parties. Don’t miss the short rib, Baja shrimp and hongos tacos, and be sure to order the queso with chorizo crumbled into the cast iron — it comes out piping hot and bubbling, with the perfect blend of savory and spicy.
When you’re entertaining friends from out of town:
250 Fifth Ave. S., Downtown Nashville
A locals’ favorite for quintessential Southern fare, Kitchen Notes’ lunch menu delivers in every way. Whether you’re craving Nashville Hot Chicken (we love their hot chicken sandwich) or Shrimp & Grits garnished with Benton’s country ham, Southern staples have been perfected, and are presented perfectly. Among their less-standard standouts: the Tennessee Patty Melt with pimento cheese, whiskey-braised onions and applewood smoked bacon. Pro Tip: Kitchen Notes offers free valet parking through the Omni hotel, so if you’re looking to spend the day (or night) in Downtown but don’t want to worry about parking, come enjoy lunch at Kitchen Notes, then leave your car and head out exploring, without worrying about feeding the meter.
When you’re craving a salad and sandwich but just can’t eat Panera again:
555 Church St., Downtown Nashville
Everything David Andrews concocts in his bakery on Church Street is baked fresh from scratch daily, and his pastries are the best you’ll find this far from Paris. Flying a bit more under the radar, however, are his bakery’s daily soups, build-your-own salads, fresh-baked pizzas and artisanal sandwiches. The specific menu changes on a daily basis, based on the whims of the bakers and the deliveries received that morning, so call ahead or check D’Andrews’ Instagram to see what flavors are on deck. Bonus: D’Andrews has partnered with UberEats to offer delivery if you can’t leave your desk!
Looking for a way to explore the best food in Nashville? Walk Eat Nashville walking food tours make it easy — covering East Nashville, Midtown and SoBro/Downtown, each tour includes tastings at multiple restaurants/shops and behind-the-scenes interactions with chefs and owners. Learn more about Walk Eat Nashville food tours.