If you had told me 10 years ago that Nashville would become an international culinary destination, I would have kindly noted that even the best collard greens do not a foodie hotspot make. How wrong I was!
Nashville has proven itself an ideal melting pot for traditional and foreign foodways, thanks to a welcoming atmosphere, ample room for growth, and a pocketed neighborhood setup that encourages small businesses. The last decade has seen an exodus of talented creatives from competitive, saturated, and expensive economies into Music City.
Nashville now boasts examples of almost every cuisine imaginable, and dozens more keep coming each year — including some amazing healthy restaurants. These days, it's my goal as a Certified Holistic Chef and founder of Laura Lea Balanced to promote health through whole-foods home cooking, but I also respect the reality of our busy lives — and sometimes we just want to dine out!
My Favorite Healthy Eats in Nashville
If you find yourself in Nashville, in need of some healthful spots to balance out the hot chicken and the biscuits, here are a handful of my favorite natural- and local-ingredient-focused places.
The Best Veggie Burger
Serving at Sunflower Cafe was my first job post-culinary school as I started my business. I even met my husband there! Despite my bias, I can say with certainty that Sunflower Cafe has the best veggie burger I've ever had. It's made with shredded beets, black rice, and sunflower seeds and is truly exceptional.
What else to order: This "Meat and Three" style restaurant has countless delicious plant-based options, such as BBQ tempeh wraps and sweet potato casserole. When I worked there, the Sesame Ginger Tofu was Keith Urban's favorite dish. And don't leave without one of their house-made peanut butter oat cookies!
My New Favorite Vietnamese Restaurant
Located right down the street from Sunflower, Vui's Kitchen is one of my new favorites. Owned by John and Vui Hunt, who also own the local Juice Bar chain, Vui's serves fresh, light, and flavorful Vietnamese foods.
What to order: I always start my meal with a bowl of their nourishing house-made bone broth, and I often follow it with the Xa Lach salad — greens, jicama, mint, sesame seeds, and more tossed with a house honey citrus vinaigrette and topped with their lemongrass chicken or tofu. The decadent tapioca-like coconut pudding is an unbeatable way to end the meal.
If You Need a Green Juice
While there are multiple juice joints in Nashville, Franklin Juice has my favorite cold-pressed options. I'm picky about my juices and don't like them too sweet, and Franklin Juice does a great job making veggie-focused blends.
What to order: It's not the prettiest color, but their "Morning Dirt" blend — carrot, apple, lemon, celery, romaine, green leaf, dandelion greens, parsley, cilantro, and Hawaiian spirulina — never fails to get my immune system cranking. They also have my favorite pitaya and acai bowls, which are a prized treat on hot summer days after visiting the 12South Farmers Market.
Best Vegetarian Food at a Non-Vegetarian Restaurant
Henrietta Red, a recently opened restaurant in bustling Germantown, has the first sophisticated, elegant vegetarian menu that I've seen at a non-vegetarian Southern restaurant. While I do eat meat, I so appreciate that chef Julia Sullivan elevates vegetables and allows them to shine in all their glory. Henrietta Red is also known for pristinely fresh oysters and seafood, and the interior is a feast for the eyes! Calming blues and whites with an industrial bent, the atmosphere perfectly reflects its food.
What to order: Some favorite dishes are the Cauliflower Steak with Pistachios and Sultanas; Mushroom, Leek, Fennel & Hazelnut Risotto; Roast Carrots with Dates, Lime and Herbs; and the Baked Ricotta with Wood-Fired Bread.
Must-Eat for Vegans (and Everyone Else!)
Avo is a mostly raw, vegan spot that specializes in abundant plant-based dishes with familiar flavors. Think kelp pad Thai, mushroom "tartare" toast, and crispy fingerling potatoes with whipped avocado. This is a great place for slightly more adventurous eaters.
What to order: This place has one of my favorite dishes in Nashville: kimchi spring rolls with peanut or almond dipping sauce. Wipes drool. I could eat these spring rolls every single day, and it's an ongoing battle not to! The avocado margarita is also not to be missed!
Buy Laura Lea's book: The Laura Lea Balanced Cookbook: 120+ Everyday Recipes for the Healthy Home Cook, $24