As a self-proclaimed restaurant lover and explorer, I get a lot of questions about how it can be possible to go out to eat on a college student’s budget and not go straight to Cookout or a place on the Commodore Card. While you could try to eat well for cheap by cooking for yourself, going out enhances the experience of the food itself – it makes the meal into a special event to be enjoyed and shared, and there’s an ambience to be had in a restaurant that can’t be replicated by your janky dorm eating space.
Nashville also has one of the most accessible dining scenes I’ve ever encountered, and I want to spread the wealth of knowledge of where to go without breaking the bank. I’ve tried to include filling classics that span cuisine genres and Nashville neighborhoods – what’s the point in saving money if what you buy isn’t worth every penny?
1. Tori Paitan Ramen – Two Ten Jack
Two Ten Jack is situated next to some heavy hitters in East Nashville (including Jeni’s, Rosepepper Cantina, the Eastland Café, and the Wild Cow), but they can hold their own with their ramen alone. It’s filling, delicious, and a major upgrade from your cup o’ noodles. In addition to the chicken ramen above, there’s also a vegetarian version and a savory pork belly version of their trademark dish.
2. The B & B of Tennessee with Tater Tots and Tomato Soup – The Grilled Cheeserie Food Truck
A grilled cheese sandwich is never complete without tomato soup on the side and why would you ever want to miss out on the Grilled Cheeserie’s tots? Napoleon Dynamite would be disappointed if you did. The Grilled Cheeserie is a food truck with a practically cult-like following, so you’ll have to track this treat through social media accounts.
#SpoonTip: They frequently set up shop in the Nashville Farmer’s Market and even Centennial Park.
3. Popeye Chicken – The Flipside
For the price of your meal, you get two chicken breasts covered in mozz and spinach, plus a generous side of tots. Flipside serves many variations on the breaded or grilled chicken plate, from a Thai version to one that it essentially covered in a salad. This place will please even the pickiest of eaters, and if you catch them on Thursdays at 8 pm, you can join in on trivia night.
4. Field of Greens Crêpe – Red Bicycle
Nestled away in Germantown, this lovely restaurant serves a variety of savory and sweet crêpes to tempt your tastebuds. They all have delightfully clever names and are filled to the brim with cheeses, jams, and vegetables. It’s also a nice place to work away from the craze of campus life.
5. Smiling Elephant Pad Thai – The Smiling Elephant
Voted the best Pad Thai Restaurant in Nashville, it’s no wonder that this tiny restaurant is packed to the brim 24/7. While they don’t take reservations, the pad thai is worth the wait: warm and prepared with delicious fresh ingredients, it is an absolute stand out.
6. Horchata French Toast – St. Añejo
While the hot chicken and waffles was a strong contender for my favorite plate from St. Añejo, I had to put the horchata french toast on here because it was the best of its kind that I have ever tasted. A word to the wise: it’s very rich, and it might be necessary to split it with a friend (and I don’t say that often). Better yet, eat half and take the rest home for when you reminisce on it later and want to finish it.
7. Nashville Plate Lunch – Husk
While Husk is a fancy restaurant, their lunch is reasonably priced, and their take on hot chicken (if you can get there on the right day) raises the bar for fried chicken everywhere. Their menu changes every day based on available ingredients and the seasons, and it’s worth trying all of their takes on southern favorites.
8. Margherita Pizza – DeSano Pizza Bakery
This is the best Italian-style pizza in Nashville, hands down, let alone the most beautiful pizza I have ever seen. I refuse to make a list that doesn’t have DeSano’s on it. Sorry. Their other pizzas sneak just over the $15 mark, and while they are worth trying, the margherita shows their skill at making a wonderful classic.
9. Sandwich with two sides – Edley’s Barbecue
No Nashville dish list would be incomplete without a barbecue sandwich, and Edley’s array provides several strong contenders. Situated in 12 South, Edley’s is right next to the famous “I Believe in Nashville” sign – snap a pic with it for the ‘gram #forthelikes. Edley’s barbecue surpasses the rest in flavor and variety. Their brisket sandwich is out of this world, and if you’re more into white meat, their turkey sandwich has a surprising amount of flavor. I recommend ordering your sandwich with two sides – the mac ‘n cheese should be one of them.
10. Crispy Brussels Sprouts – Americano Tapas
I’ve eaten a lot of brussels sprouts in my lifetime, but these were by far the best. A tapas-style restaurant, much of Americano’s menu falls under the $15 mark and is served as sharing-style plates. From personal experience, these sprouts pair well with the croquettas and fried manchego cheese. For something off the beaten path, but still smack in the middle of West End, Americano is a must.
11. Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna – Virago
Recently touted as one of the most Instagrammed foods in Nashville, this sushi dish is incomparable in terms of texture and flavor. Every person I’ve ever talked to who has made the visit to Virago has spoken highly of this dish. It also provides a nice complement to Virago’s other flavorful appetizers and entrées.
12. Far Eastland Bowl – The Wild Cow
The Wild Cow serves a lot of bargain eats (probably the benefit of using less expensive tofu, veggies, and grains in place of meat), but this was the first dish I ever ate there and I’ve never forgotten it. The Far Eastland bowl tastes like Chinese takeout but more wholesome and filling with kale, quinoa, tofu, and a daikon slaw. If I could eat this way all the time, I would be a vegetarian in ten seconds flat.
13. The Farm Burger – The Pharmacy
This popular burger place and beer garden always has a long wait and doesn’t take reservations, but I have it on good authority that this is the best burger in Nashville. For the price of your meal, you get a burger with country ham, bacon, and a fried egg. If you’re really ready to commit to your Pharmacy experience, get the tots on the side and a milkshake while you wait for this magnificent burger. Perfection.
14. Salmon Sushi Burrito – Funk Seoul Brother
Perhaps the most out of the ordinary dish on this list, Funk Seoul Brother’s sushiritos knock it out of the park in terms of quality, flavor, and bang-for-your-buck. For $13, you get double the amount of food you would get in paying the same for a sushi roll.
Surprisingly, the texture is almost the exact same as a regular sushi roll but with all the joy of biting into a hearty burrito. Just like you would for any self-respecting food truck, follow Funk Seoul Brother on Instagram to track their location and look for their next pop-up in a local coffee shop.
15. Vanilla Bean Donuts – Urban Grub
While the rest of Urban Grub is pricey, these donuts alone are worth the trip to the wooden building tucked away in the middle of 12 South. Aside from the perfect fluffiness of the donuts themselves, they come with bacon toffee cream cheese ice cream and chocolate-covered bacon. Perfect for when you’re sick of Jeni’s (as unlikely as that is) or when you want to treat yo’ self for an evening.