When you come to Tennessee, you don't leave hungry. Head to these restaurants and many more that serve savory eats and sweet treats like low-and-slow barbecue, fried-to-perfection catfish and ice cream concoctions of your wildest dreams. Here's where to fully indulge in mouthwatering foods.
A staple Southern comfort dessert is, hands down, a batch of banana pudding with layers of cream and crunch combining to enrich the palate and elevate your meal entirely, whether at a barbecue cookout or an outdoor picnic. Grab a spoon at Countryside Cafe in Ooltewah, Germantown Commissary in Memphis, or Sweet P’s Barbeque & Soul House in Knoxville. Want to sample some of the best puddin’ in the state, all in one place? Check out Centerville’s National Banana Pudding Festival each October.
In a state so beholden to its smoked ribs, overloaded pork sandwiches and extra-simmered sauces, it’s exceptionally challenging to pick just a few favorites. Embark upon your own barbecue road trip – dry-rubbed ribs and all – by following the pitmasters and well-tended glowing coals of establishments from Memphis to Mountain City. You’ll find ’cue on the menu at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous and The Bar-B-Q Shop in Memphis, Top Hog BBQ in Gallatin and Heavy’s BBQ in New Tazewell. Find more Tennessee barbecue pit stops.
When the weather is picture perfect, it's time to find the nearest patio, soak up the sun and sip on crafted cocktails, Tennessee brewed beer and wines pressed from in-state grapes. Enjoy the vineyards on Tennessee's Wine Trails that wind through the state. At Crown Winery in Humboldt, you can enjoy one of the Crown Picnics, private picnics with local and regional cheeses, meats, crackers and more paired perfectly with the wine of your choice. Tennessee has a wealth of brews to choose from across the state like Johnson City Brewing Company in Johnson City which has small batch, specialty, seasonal brews from IPAs to stouts to pale ales. Embark on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail to see the methods behind small-batch whiskey production to world-famous like Jack Daniel's in Lynchburg.
Ah, the biscuit. This Southern staple receives extra lovin’ from the oven in Tennessee – whether in the form of butter in its batter or the innovative toppings placed upon its layers. Crispy chicken, rich gravy or thick-cut bacon accessorize the breakfast champion, though a jam-, honey- or sorghum-covered bite is smooth enough to savor all Sunday long. Get your flaky fix at Biscuit Love and Loveless Cafe in Nashville, Cumberland Biscuit Company in McMinnville, Aretha Frankenstein’s in Chattanooga or Wellington’s Restaurant in Johnson City.
The fresh catch of any day in Tennessee, catfish is battered in boisterous seasonings and flash-fried for a delectable Southern version of fish ’n’ chips. You can find plentiful platters at Boyette’s Dining Room in Tiptonville, Allison’s Catfish Farm & Restaurant in Friendsville (open March-October), The Catfish House in Springfield, Hagy’s Catfish Hotel in Shiloh and Top O’ the River in Michie. Wherever you place your order, a couple of piping-hot fillets with hush puppies, fries and coleslaw can’t be beat.
Pair your eggs, potatoes, and biscuits and gravy with a slab of country ham. Opt for exquisitely dry-cured country ham prepared artisan-style for an unrivaled Southern charcuterie spread. Either way, dig in at places like Shirley’s Home Cooking in Hampton, Nick & J’s Cafe in Knoxville, Stan’s Country Restaurant in Columbia or Porcellino’s Craft Butcher in Memphis.
A short stack of extra fluffy flapjacks will settle and satisfy breakfast crowds of all ages. Most appropriately soaked with maple syrup, these pancake standouts – some even griddled in bacon fat – provide indulgent portions. Pancakes galore are on the menu at Pancake Pantry in Gatlinburg and Nashville, Log Cabin Pancake House in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Elvira’s Cafe in Sevierville (open seasonally beginning in March), Staks Pancake Kitchen in Memphis and Pete’s Coffee Shop in Knoxville.
Gloriously good fried chicken derives from Tennessee family recipes that now grace the kitchens of renowned restaurant establishments. Fried chicken is the foundation of Southern cuisine, and its styles, while varied and sometimes considered competitive, consistently draw a worldwide audience. Get a taste at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken in Memphis, Bea’s Restaurant in Chattanooga or Monell’s in Nashville.
A flavor profile that is painfully spicy yet totally addictive, cayenne pepper-encrusted hot chicken has become a Tennessee staple. Grab a loaf of white bread and a jar of pickle chips to cool off the heat, and wash down its spicy weight with a glass of sweet tea. Ready to get fired up? Make your way to Prince’s Hot Chicken in Nashville, Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish in Chattanooga and Nashville, and Hattie B’s in Nashville and Memphis.
Ice Cream & Milkshakes
Let Tennessee's ice cream shops be the cherry on top of a great day. Go to Hattie Jane's Creamery with locations in Columbia and Murfreesboro for seasonal and classic flavors of ice cream topped with made-from-scratch toppings. Clumpies Ice Cream Co. in Chattanooga has out-of-this-world flavors including Firecracker, Strawberry Hibiscus, Mint Julep, Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake and more.
For Instagram-worthy milkshakes, head to The Grind Mac and Cheese Burger Bar in Martin and order one of their monster shakes like the Churro Champion - a cinnamon bun milkshake rimmed with Cinnamon Toast Crunch, topped with four churros, whipped cream, caramel syrup, a dash of cinnamon and a cherry. In Nashville, slide into Legendairy Milkshake Bar where your milkshake comes in a mason jar piled high with toppings like a cheesecake slice, brownie, toasted marshmallows, cookies and more. At Gracie's Milkshake Bar, located in Nashville as well, choose between The Unicorn - a strawberry milkshake base topped with a Poptart, waffle cone and a lolly pop, The Franklin Mud - a chocolate milkshake topped with a brownie, chocolate wafers, gummy worms and sprinkles and The Fuego - a spicy chocolate milkshake with ghost pepper salt, mini donuts and chocolate wafers on top.
Meat and Three
The phrase “better together” reflects Tennessee’s soulful meat-and-three dining option as a collective presentation of protein and rich sides that far outweighs its individual flavor profiles. Mix and match your favorites for a sweet and savory feast – and yes, mac and cheese does count as a “veggie.” For an unforgettable meat-and-three experience, you can’t go wrong at Nashville’s Arnold’s Country Kitchen, the Old Country Store at Casey Jones Village in Jackson, Alcenia’s in Memphis, Chandler’s in Knoxville or Moss’s Southern Cooking in Clarksville.
Craving dinner on a patio with tacos, roasted corn and margaritas piled on your table? If so, grab a seat at Swanky's Taco Shop in Memphis and order steaming fajitas, chimichangas stuffed with chicken or barbacoa, enchiladas. Try one (or a few) of the many signature tacos including seared tuna tacos, crawfish tacos, steak carbon tacos, veggie tacos and barbecue tacos. In Clarksville, make a stop at The West Coast Taco Shop for meat and fish tacos, taco salads, nachos and more. Taco Mamacita in Chattanooga and Nashville is famous for its can't-get-enough tacos like black bean tacos, vegan tacos, hot chicken tacos, barbecue tacos and Chipotle beef brisket tacos. Have a memorable meal at Mas Tacos Por Favor in Nashville with tacos of all types, tamales and chilaquiles with sides like Mexican street corn, fresh guacamole and chips.
Vegetarian & Vegan
If you want plant-based meals, Tennessee has a variety to choose from. In Knoxville, go to Sunspot where fresh, crafted food for vegetarians features a multicultural blend of Southwestern, Caribbean and Latin American flavors. In Cookeville, grab a fresh smoothie from The Turn Around like the Green Pina Colada, Berry Healthy and Go Bananas. The Imagine Vegan Cafe in Memphis has been lauded in a variety of publications and serves up vegan barbecue sandwiches, vegan hot dogs loaded with chili, cheese, sauerkraut, veganaise and more, potato skins, chili cheese fries and loads of other dishes. The Southern V in Nashville offers vegan Southern classics, even Nashville hot chicken!
Whatever you're craving, Tennessee delivers. Explore even more restaurants across the state.