In the Local Palate’s 2022 Restaurants Issue, our state-by-state guide highlights the new restaurants that have emerged since 2020. Here, editor-in-chief and Nashville resident Erin Byers Murray gives an overview of new restaurants in Tennessee.
Locust | Nashville
When Trevor Moran opened Locust as a take-out spot in 12 South in the fall of 2020, the menu only featured about three or four items, most notably his extremely well-made dumplings and inventive takes on Japanese shaved ice, or kakigori.
At the time, he was leaning into the Japanese tradition of executing one or two things nearly perfectly, wanting it to be a place to grab dumplings and a beer. And those dumplings—pale, cozily cinched half-moons of dough hugging a center of brightly seasoned, locally sourced pork—are pretty close to perfect. (Even he admits it.)
But Moran tends to follow his whims. Once the restaurant opened for dine-in service six months later (with an ever-changing, high-volume playlist), the experience evolved. The team added a pristine beef tartare that’s served with warm rice layered with a pickled egg aïoli, a small pile of nori wraps, and freeze-dried capers for DIY wrapping, as well as compressed, marinated cucumbers and dried herb-flecked sea salt for dipping.
From there, Moran kept things fun by showcasing off-the-menu specials—he regularly flies in very small shipments of excellent seafood, like just-harvested razor clams, fatty tuna belly, and whole Dover sole, which his crew might embellish with a seaweed and crab txakoli butter sauce, a little caviar and uni, and a fistful of herbs—a far cry from the less-is-more mentality that launched Locust.
Now the focus is less on dumplings and more on seafood and the many ways Moran and crew can coax excellence out of each product. Intentional or not, the restaurant is built for this kind of play. The compact but efficient open kitchen has uncluttered countertops while the eight-table dining room, with its living greenery and minimal decor, means the menu must remain tight and straightforward.
Moran says he’d like to keep seafood as the focus, and may even get back to his own Irish and European roots of cooking. But rest assured that wherever he takes the restaurant from here, the food will be worth returning for again and again.
Appetizers: Steamed pork dumplings with chili oil
Main: Beef tartare with pickled egg aÏoli and nori wraps
Dessert: Almond milk shaved ice with salted caramel drizzle
More Recently Opened Restaurants in Tennessee
Audrey | Nashville
Audrey opened in 2021, bringing to life the many creative elements that collide within chef Sean Brock’s scope as an artist. The visually sparkling dining room, full of Appalachian art and intentionally crafted furnishings and colors, and zen-like bar space provide a deft palette against which the food plays an equal part. A set tasting menu of five courses pulls together Brock’s connections to Appalachia.
Travel directly to his region through dishes like grilled brassicas drizzled with a warm vinegar sauce (meant to call to mind a kilt lettuce salad) and a greasy bean and pickled beet tart. Others show the chef’s willingness to improve upon Southern staples, such as the bowl of Jimmy Red grits, swimming in a bay-infused oil and topped with a sorghum-cured egg.
Drusie & Darr | Nashville
Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened Drusie & Darr in November 2021 in Nashville’s iconic Hermitage Hotel. The light, neutral colors, mother-of-pearl accents, and shimmery lighting—a look that falls right in line with Vongerichten’s globally inspired, lavish cuisine. the kitchen executes several JGV signatures (ahi tuna tartare; warm chocolate cake) while laying on the luxury with items like a seductively earthy black truffle pizza capped with a tuft of dressed frisee, and Maine lobster served in the shell over a pile of longevity noodles swimming in a ginger-spiked broth. The hotel’s historic bar is also up-to-date—at once chic and understated, it’s now a destination for a refreshingly modern list of cocktails.
International Market | Nashville
It’s hard to imagine anything replicating the original, beloved International Market that opened in 1975 on Belmont Boulevard. Led by the late Patti Myint, the restaurant introduced countless Nashvillians to Thai cuisine, while also serving as a community for those who arrived here from elsewhere, as Patti and her husband Win once did. But their children, Arnold and Anna Myint, aren’t trying to replicate—they’re honoring the past while putting their own spin on the future. Go for the pile of Hatyai crispy chicken, bathed in a garlicky marinade, fried crisp, and served with sticky rice and a cucumber salad. It’s a flavor-loaded share plate that would make Patti Myint proud.
Maia de la Vida | Nashville
Corn is life at the aptly named Maiz de la Vida, which belies the humble food truck it currently occupies. Tortillas are made using freshly ground, nixtamalized corn and the offerings are multilayered and thoughtful. Chef Julio Hernandez will open a brick-and-mortar extension, Maiz DLV, this summer, where he’ll put out more elevated dishes in what he calls a “Tennessee-Mex” style—look forward to rich moles, fried plantains, and a heavy Meso-American meets punk-rock vibe.
Complicated Pilgrim | Memphis
Set at the base of the Memphian hotel, Complicated Pilgrim’s open floorplan and central bar are made for mingling. The dining room, however, allows for cozier get togethers. From chili garlic shrimp bathed in a butter-infused hot sauce to brussels lacquered with a soy glaze, the menu is full of flavor-packed hits. Don’t miss the fettunta, their take on a whipped-ricotta toast topped with a bright and zingy herb-laced radish salad.
Hen House | East Memphis
This is the wine bar that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and for that we love it. From the spray of natural plants vining down over the back bar to the “bubble room,” complete with its own “press for Champagne” service bell, the vibes here are all fun, flirty, and keeping things casual. From the cocktails (go for the Rye Me a River with High West double rye, mulled wine, and citrus) to the bites (you’ll want two of the crispy cauliflower bites with gochujang sauce), an evening here is for kicking back with friends over good food and drink.
Vida | Knoxville
Vida not only brings a standout menu to the Scruffy City, but it also helps preserve the city’s architectural bones. The dining room and lower-level cocktail bar, the Vault, feel like a dressy occasion spot—blue crushed velvet banquettes and dark, jewel tones set the mood for a swanky night out. The pan-Latin menu truly spans the globe with Spanish pan con tomate sharing table space with smoked avocado guacamole and camarones salteadas (rock shrimp basted in garlicky broth and garnished with petite radishes).
Yolan | Nashville
Music City boast a consummate fine-dining Italian experience with the arrival of Yolan. Having left a long legacy of cultivating talent in Chicago, Tony and Cathy Mantuano bring more than their Michelin-star-level experience to Nashville—they’re elevating the city’s hospitality community at every turn.
Chef Tony and his team pull ingredients and inspiration directly from Italy. Whether it’s the deftly rolled housemade mafalde tangled up with pecorino romano and black pepper or an Umbrian-inspired rack of wild boar accented with preserved mushrooms and a chestnut gremolata, the inventive dishes are transportive.
- by TLP Editors
- by Hannah Lee Leidy
- by Amber Chase