12 Unique Restaurants in Tennessee: The Most Unusual Eateries Across the Volunteer State

Jon Miksis Jon Miksis clock Updated April 25, 2024 tourism Dream Destinations
by Jen
Unique Restaurants in Tennessee
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From places where you can dine alongside underwater creatures to eateries that serve dishes you won’t find anywhere else, we’ve got you covered on the most unique restaurants in Tennessee. Get ready to explore the flavors that make Tennessee a food lover’s paradise!

Welcome to Tennessee, a place where food isn’t just food—it’s a journey into the heart of what makes this state special. The Volunteer State is home to some of the most interesting and unique restaurants you’ll ever come across. From hidden gems in Nashville’s bustling streets to charming spots in the quiet corners of the state, each restaurant offers a unique experience that goes beyond the ordinary.

In this guide, we’re taking you on a tour of Tennessee’s extraordinary dining spots, showcasing the unique culinary experiences found in this Southeast US gem. Think of dining under the sea with fish swimming around you, or enjoying a meal in a place filled with magic and mystery. Every restaurant we’re about to explore offers something special—whether it’s the food, the atmosphere, or the story behind it.

So, buckle up! We’re about to dive into a world where every meal is an opportunity to explore something new and exciting. Whether you’re a local looking for your next favorite spot or a traveler eager to experience Tennessee’s vibrant food scene, this guide has something for everyone.

The top restaurants to visit in Tennessee right now

Unique Restaurants in Tennessee: 12 Incredible Tennessee Eateries

From dining under the sea with fishes to enjoying a meal in a place filled with history, Tennessee’s unique restaurants have it all. Let’s take a closer look at what makes these spots stand out in the Volunteer State.

1. The Catbird Seat

The Catbird Seat is one of the coolest restaurants in Nashville. Imagine a place where the chefs cook your meal right in front of you, like a live show. This spot started making waves in Nashville back in 2011. It’s tucked away above a cool cocktail bar, in a space that used to be a hair salon.

The guys who started it, Max and Benjamin Goldberg, wanted to bring something new to the table. They dreamed of a place where they could serve up amazing dishes that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in town.

Here, it’s all about getting up close and personal with your food. The restaurant has a special setup where you can watch the chefs do their magic in a kitchen that’s right in the middle of everything. It’s like being a guest at a dinner party where the hosts are cooking just for you. They keep the place cozy, with only 36 seats, so everyone gets a front-row seat to the action. If you’re in Tennessee and looking for an unforgettable meal, this is the spot to check out.

The Catbird Seat is one of the unique restaurants in Tennessee.
At The Catbird Seat, chefs cook your meal before your eyes in a former salon above a trendy cocktail bar.

2. The Treehouse Restaurant

Remember when treehouses were the coolest thing ever? The Treehouse Restaurant in Nashville brings all those magical vibes back, but this time with amazing food. Located in the vibrant Five Points neighborhood, this place is a hidden gem that feels like a secret spot in the city. It’s cozy and rustic, with the option to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air when it’s warm.

The menu at The Treehouse Restaurant keeps changing, so every visit is a new adventure. They’re known for being one of the best spots to grab a late-night bite in Nashville, staying open past midnight. Whether it’s date night or a chill evening with friends, this place promises a fun and memorable experience.

It’s also one of the fun places to eat in Tennessee, where you can enjoy a bit of nostalgia with a grown-up twist. They’ve even won awards for their Bloody Marys and appetizers, like the city’s best queso dip in 2015. If you’re looking for a spot that combines whimsy with delicious dining, The Treehouse Restaurant is it.

Experience magical vibes at The Treehouse Restaurant, offering amazing food in a cozy, rustic setting.
Experience magical vibes at The Treehouse Restaurant, offering amazing food in a cozy, rustic setting.

3. Rolf and Daughters

Rolf and Daughters brings a fresh twist to dining in Nashville’s historic Germantown. Nestled in the revamped Werthan Mills, this spot is all about creating a cozy vibe with its unique industrial-chic decor. Think handcrafted tables and retro lights, making you feel right at home in a space that’s anything but ordinary.

It’s easily one of the best places to eat in Tennessee, where the menu is a delightful surprise. The chef, Philip Krajeck, whips up dishes that blend creativity with comfort. Imagine diving into pasta that’s made in-house, like the garganelli verde with heritage pork ragout, or the farro gemelli teamed with mushrooms. It’s food that’s both inventive and down-to-earth, hitting all the right notes.

The cocktails here are just as impressive, with creations like the Sorghum Swizzle and Cumberland Sour. And if you’re into sharing, you’re in luck. The menu is perfect for ordering a bunch of dishes to enjoy with friends or family. From the tender squid-ink pasta to the rich pork trio, every bite is a reason to come back. Plus, the sides and salads, like the Brussels sprouts salad, are so good they might just steal the show.

Experience a fresh twist on dining at Rolf and Daughters, offering a cozy industrial-chic vibe.
Experience a fresh twist on dining at Rolf and Daughters, offering a cozy industrial-chic vibe.

4. Husk Nashville

Eating in a historic horse stable sounds like something out of a storybook, right? Well, Husk Nashville turns that story into reality, making it one of the most unique restaurants in TN. Located near the famous Broadway strip in Nashville, Husk sits in a beautifully restored historic home, complete with a carriage house for special events.

The vibe here is all about bringing the farm to your table. Every ingredient is picked with care, often right from their own garden. Imagine biting into a dish where every component tells a story of local farms and Southern tradition. The interior of Husk complements its menu perfectly, blending rustic charm with elegance.

Built between 1879 and 1882, the main house has stories to tell, even serving as the Mayor’s home once. The Carriage House, added in 1890, now hosts memorable events. Husk’s menu showcases the best of the South, from in-house pickling to charcuterie sourced from local producers.

Dine in a historic horse stable turned reality at Husk Nashville.
Dine in a historic horse stable turned reality at Husk Nashville.

5. Present Tense

Nestled in Nashville’s cool Chestnut Hill neighborhood, Present Tense is all about bringing a slice of Japan and Southeast Asia right to Tennessee. Imagine savoring dishes like aged tuna tartare on grilled seaweed sourdough or diving into a corn and crab chawanmushi that’s just out of this world. It’s a place where the menu keeps surprising you, blending flavors in ways you’ve never thought possible.

Present Tense stands out as one of the best restaurants in Tennessee for more than just its food. Here, it’s about the experience. The place has a cozy sake bar tucked away, where you can chill and try some amazing sake, all while enjoying some special dishes.

They’re big on natural sakes here, which means you’re getting the good stuff without any additives. And if you’re into cocktails, they’ve got those too, mixing up ingredients in ways that’ll make your taste buds dance.

But Present Tense isn’t just a restaurant; it’s a vibe. With a live music platform and a patio surrounded by greenery, it’s one of the coolest things to do in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s the perfect spot to hang out, enjoy some tunes, and just live in the moment. They’ve even got a spot next door called Hippo, where you can grab a coffee or a quick bite.

Experience Japan and Southeast Asia at the Present Tense with surprising flavor blends.
Experience Japan and Southeast Asia at the Present Tense with surprising flavor blends. | Image Source: https://nashvilleguru.com/

6. The Standard

The Standard at the Smith House is a gem in Tennessee, steeped in history and dripping with elegance. Since 1840, this grand townhouse has been a social hub, evolving from a boarding house to a bed and breakfast, and now to a premier dining destination. The Smith family, who took over in 2005, restored it to its Victorian splendor, adding a modern dining twist.

The first floor hosts a public restaurant and bar, while the upstairs is a private members club. But you don’t need a membership to enjoy the fantastic dining downstairs. It’s a place where the past and present meet, offering a unique blend of Nashville’s history with contemporary dining.

When it comes to fine dining in Tennessee, The Standard sets the bar high. Executive Chef Joe Shaw crafts dishes that are both a nod to Southern heritage and a celebration of modern flavors.

From the Old Fashioned cocktail to the fried green tomatoes topped with fresh crabmeat, every dish is a masterpiece. The menu features the finest USDA prime meats and fresh, southern-inspired sides that make every meal memorable.

Experience historic elegance at The Standard, blending Victorian splendor with modern dining since 1840.
Experience historic elegance at The Standard, blending Victorian splendor with modern dining since 1840.

7. Skull’s Rainbow Room

If you’re looking for more than just a spot to grab a bite, head to Skull’s Rainbow Room – a journey back in time and one of the most fun restaurants in Tennessee. Since 1948, it’s been a shining star in Nashville’s nightlife, tucked away in the historic Southern Turf Building’s basement. This place is all about the vibe, mixing delicious meals with top-notch entertainment in the heart of Printers Alley.

At Skull’s, the craft cocktails are a big deal. Skilled bartenders mix up some of the best drinks in town, making it a go-to spot for anyone who loves a good cocktail. And the food? It’s award-winning, grabbing attention from big names like Condé Nast and OpenTable. But what really sets Skull’s apart is the live jazz. Every night, the place comes alive with music, creating an atmosphere you won’t find anywhere else in downtown Nashville.

And if you’re looking for something extra special, check out their late-night burlesque shows on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. It’s where the city’s best dancers take the stage, adding a dash of glamor to your night.

Step into history at Skull's Rainbow Room, a fun restaurant since 1948, offering delicious meals and entertainment.
Step into history at Skull’s Rainbow Room, a fun restaurant since 1948, offering delicious meals and entertainment.

8. Etch

Etch in Nashville is a standout, blending the old with the new in a way that’s totally fresh. Located in a spot that could easily fit into a big city like New York or San Francisco, Etch brings a cool, modern vibe to Tennessee. It’s the kind of place that makes dining out an adventure, not just a meal.

If you’re on the hunt for unique restaurants in TN for dinner, Etch should be at the top of your list. Chef Deb Paquette, known for her innovative cooking, leads the kitchen. She’s not new to the game; her culinary skills have been making waves in Nashville for over thirty years. At Etch, every dish on the menu is a hit, from the Asian-flavored short ribs to the exceptional cauliflower with trio dipping sauces.

What really makes Etch shine is how it turns dining into an art form. The plates are not only delicious but also beautiful, making each meal feel special. The wine list is carefully picked, featuring unique choices that complement the food perfectly. And the service? It’s friendly and attentive, making everyone feel right at home. Getting a table might be tough, but it’s worth the effort!

Experience the fresh blend of old and new at Etch, where a modern vibe transforms dining into an adventure.
Experience the fresh blend of old and new at Etch, where a modern vibe transforms dining into an adventure.

9. White Limozeen

Celebrating Dolly Parton in a big, pink, fabulous way is White Limozeen, a swanky rooftop bar located on top of the Graduate Hotel. It’s a spot where you can enjoy the city skyline with a touch of Dolly’s charm. Opened in 2020, it’s quickly become a must-visit for both locals and tourists.

This place is one of the most popular themed restaurants in Tennessee, offering a unique blend of fun, flair, and fantastic drinks. The vibe is “approachable and feasible for everyone,” whether you’re sipping a simple beer or splurging on caviar. And yes, they really do want you to have so much fun that you might spill a little.

At White Limozeen, you can hang out indoors at the stylish bar or step outside to the pool area, decked out with umbrellas and a giant pink bust of Dolly herself. The decor is a dreamy mix of pink, white, and gold, with velvet chairs, flowery textiles, and crystal chandeliers. It’s like stepping into a glamorous party at a friend’s house—if your friend was Dolly Parton!

Named after Dolly’s 1989 album, White Limozeen captures the essence of a country girl living the luxe life. If you want to dive into this pink paradise, you might need a reservation, especially if you’re planning to hit the pool.

Enjoy Dolly Parton's charm at White Limozeen, a swanky rooftop bar atop Nashville's Graduate Hotel.
Enjoy Dolly Parton’s charm at White Limozeen, a swanky rooftop bar atop Nashville’s Graduate Hotel.

10. Loveless Cafe

Loveless Cafe has been a Tennessee treasure since 1951. It started as a cozy spot where Lon and Annie Loveless served up homemade Southern dishes right from their home. Quickly, it became a hit. Today, it’s a landmark that welcomes over half a million visitors each year. It’s a must-visit for anyone traveling through Tennessee, offering a taste of genuine Southern hospitality.

When it comes to the best food in Tennessee, Loveless Cafe’s biscuits steal the show. They’re buttery, flaky, and just melt in your mouth. It’s the same recipe since the beginning, and it’s a well-kept secret. On a busy day, they can serve up to 10,000 biscuits. That’s how popular they are!

Loveless Cafe is more than just good food. It’s about the experience. From the moment you step in, you’re treated like family. The cafe also features gift shops and event spaces, making it a full experience. They even have a food truck and catering team. It’s all about spreading that Loveless love and Southern comfort far and wide.

Experience genuine Southern hospitality at Loveless Cafe, a Tennessee treasure since 1951.
Experience genuine Southern hospitality at Loveless Cafe, a Tennessee treasure since 1951.

11. The Aquarium Restaurant

Dinner out is always a treat, but imagine eating with mermaids and fish swimming by your table. That’s exactly what you get at The Aquarium Restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s not your typical dinner spot. This place combines great food with an underwater adventure, making it a hit for all ages.

It stands out among unique Tennessee restaurants because it’s the only one where you can dine next to a 200,000-gallon tank full of sea life. Located in the Opry Mills Mall, just a short drive from downtown Nashville, it offers a dining experience you won’t forget. From birthday parties to banquets, it’s perfect for any event.

The menu is a seafood lover’s dream, with dishes like the Broiled Captain’s Platter and Tilapia New Orleans. And for the kids, or anyone who’s a fan of mermaids, there’s a special Mystic Mermaid Breakfast complete with an Under the Sea menu and a show. Don’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind dining adventure.

Dine with mermaids and swimming fish at The Aquarium Restaurant.
Dine with mermaids and swimming fish at The Aquarium Restaurant.

12. Audrey

Audrey is Sean Brock’s dream come to life, a place that offers an unforgettable dining experience. Located in East Nashville, it’s a tribute to Brock’s grandmother and his Appalachian roots. The restaurant is a feast for the eyes, filled with Brock’s personal art collection and designed to make guests feel like they’re stepping into a living museum of Southern culture and cuisine.

Among unique places to eat in TN, Audrey shines bright. It’s not just a restaurant; it’s an experience. With a focus on Appalachian cuisine and a passion for Japanese culture, Audrey offers two distinct dining experiences. The downstairs features a 5-course menu, while an upstairs tasting menu is set to open later. Both promise an unforgettable dining experience.

Audrey is dedicated to sustainability, using organic and biodynamic ingredients. It’s more than dining; it’s about education and personal development, with classroom spaces, a podcast studio, and a commitment to employee wellbeing.

Audrey is one of the unique restaurants in Tennessee.
Audrey brings Sean Brock’s culinary dream to life, offering a dining experience rooted in Appalachian heritage. | Image Source: https://www.audreynashville.com/

Frequently Asked Questions About the Unique Places to Eat in Tennessee

In this FAQ section, you’ll find answers to all your burning questions about eating out in Tennessee, using our detailed Tennessee restaurant guide.

What food can you only get in Tennessee?

Tennessee is famous for its unique take on Southern cuisine. One dish you can only get in this vibrant state is hot chicken. This spicy delight is deeply marinated, breaded, fried, and then coated in a cayenne-based paste. It’s a must-try for anyone visiting. Nashville, the capital, is the birthplace of this fiery favorite. It’s not just food; it’s an experience that embodies the spirit of Tennessee, making it one of the top places to live and visit in the state.

What’s the best food to eat in Tennessee?

When it comes to the best food to eat, barbecue stands out in Tennessee. The state is known for its slow-cooked, smoky meats, especially pork. Tennessee barbecue varies by region, offering a delicious exploration of flavors. Memphis, for example, is famous for its dry-rubbed ribs. Whether you prefer your barbecue slathered in sauce or seasoned to perfection, Tennessee’s barbecue is worth a try.

What sandwich is Tennessee known for?

The sandwich Tennessee is known for is the Memphis-style pulled pork sandwich. It’s piled high with tender, slow-cooked pork that’s been pulled or shredded. This mouthwatering sandwich is typically topped with coleslaw and served on a soft bun. The combination of juicy pork and tangy slaw makes it a standout in Tennessee’s food scene. It’s a simple yet delicious representation of the state’s love for barbecue.

What breakfast food is Tennessee known for?

Tennessee is known for its country ham breakfast. This salty, cured ham is a Southern staple and often served with biscuits, red-eye gravy, and grits. The country ham’s rich flavor is a perfect start to the day and reflects Tennessee’s agricultural heritage. It’s a hearty breakfast that’s been enjoyed for generations, showcasing the simple yet satisfying elements of Southern cuisine.

Where can I find Tennessee’s best restaurants?

Tennessee’s best restaurants are spread across the state, from bustling cities to quiet mountain towns. For a truly exceptional dining experience, Nashville and Memphis are hotspots with award-winning chefs and innovative menus. Cities like Chattanooga and Knoxville also offer culinary gems. Whether you’re looking for upscale dining or casual eats, Tennessee’s food scene is diverse and rich, reflecting its history, culture, and regional ingredients.

Restaurants in Nashville, TN, USA
Restaurants in Nashville, TN, USA

What are some scenic places in TN to eat?

Tennessee is full of scenic places to eat, offering breathtaking views alongside delicious meals. For a memorable dining experience, look for restaurants along the Tennessee River or with views of the Great Smoky Mountains. Chattanooga’s riverfront and Knoxville’s downtown restaurants offer stunning vistas. Outdoor patios in these areas often provide a picturesque backdrop of Tennessee’s natural beauty, making every meal a special occasion.

Where can I find cheap eats in Tennessee?

Finding cheap eats in Tennessee is easy, thanks to its wide variety of diners, food trucks, and cafes. Cities like Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville have vibrant food scenes where you can enjoy delicious meals without breaking the bank. Look for local favorites like barbecue joints, Southern diners, and taco trucks. These spots offer generous portions of classic Tennessee dishes at affordable prices, proving that great food doesn’t have to be expensive.

What are some hidden gem restaurants in Tennessee?

Tennessee is full of hidden gem restaurants waiting to be discovered. From quaint cafes in small towns to off-the-beaten-path barbecue shacks, these spots offer some of the state’s most authentic and delicious meals. Exploring rural areas and local neighborhoods can lead to surprising culinary finds. These hidden gems often serve traditional Southern dishes, showcasing the depth and diversity of Tennessee’s food culture.

Final Thoughts On Unique Tennessee Restaurants

We hope you’ve enjoyed exploring our Tennessee restaurant guide. From spicy hot chicken in Nashville to mouthwatering barbecue in Memphis, Tennessee’s restaurant scene is as diverse as its landscape.

Whether you’re looking for a fancy meal with a view, a quick and tasty bite that won’t empty your wallet, or a hidden spot only the locals know about, Tennessee has something for everyone. Remember, the best way to experience the Volunteer State is through its food. So next time you’re in Tennessee, dive into its flavors, and let your taste buds lead the way.

The top restaurants in Tennessee for all types of travelers
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