25 E. Main St., Chattanooga; Knoxville,Tennessee 423-305-6990; alleiarestaurant.com
Daniel Lindley, the Chattanooga native responsible for opening St. John’s Restaurant in 2000 and nominated six times over for a James Beard award, elevates Scenic City’s dining scene with his simple, Italian-inspired cuisine at Alleia. Diners can choose from more than a half dozen housemade pastas, pizzas fired in a 750-degree brick oven and entrees such as bacon wrapped quail breast ($24) or grouper with succotash ($28).
434 Houston St., Nashville; 615-490-8434; bastionnashville.com
Strategic Hospitality’s and chef Josh Habiger’s Wedgewood-Houston hot spot combines two experiences in one: a laid-back, trendy bar with excellent cocktails and plates of gooey nachos ($10-12), and an intimate, 24-seat high-end restaurant with an inventive and ever-evolving multi-course menu ($25 deposit per person required at time of reservation will be applied to your final bill).
316 11th Ave S., Nashville; 615-490-9584; biscuitlove.com
Don’t be intimidated by the eager morning crowd at Biscuit Love, a food truck turned wildly popular Nashville restaurant with two outposts. The line moves fast and it is well worth the wait. Must-try options include the Bonuts, a hybrid between a doughnut and biscuit ($7); the East Nasty biscuit sandwich with fried chicken, aged cheddar and sausage gravy ($10); and the Lindstrom, a shaved Brussel sprouts salad with hazlenuts, parmesan and lemon vinaigrette topped with two poached eggs ($9).
1222 4th Ave. N., Nashville; 615-736-5838; cityhousenashville.com
James Beard Award winner Tandy Wilson shines at his Germantown eatery, where seasonal salads, delicious pastas and inventive thin crust pizzas take center stage. The salad combinations might seem simple, but they will wow your taste buds ($9-13), and don’t miss the popular belly ham pizza with a creamy fried egg added on top ($17).
Hog & Hominy
707 W. Brookhaven Circle, Memphis; 901-207-7396; hogandhominy.com
National accolades have rolled in for Hog & Hominy since it opened in 2012. The restaurant expertly blends Italian cooking with Southern roots and the results are tasty pizzas, such as the mushroom, smoked arugula, cream and garlic pie ($16), along with unexpected dishes like the biscuit gnocchi with lamb pancetta, ramps and morels ($15). Make a night of it at the bocce ball court after dinner.
501 Union Ave., Knoxville; 865-312-9050; jcholdway.com
Knoxville native chef Joseph Lenn provides a nod to Appalachian food and producers of the South using wood-fired cooking techniques at his J.C. Holdway restaurant. Menu options include smoked catfish onion dip and barbecue potato chips ($11), grilled bone marrow with charred broccoli salad, radish and sourdough ($13) and wood grilled pork with leeks, sea island red peas, tomatoes and basil pistou ($25).
Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack
123 Ewing Drive #3 and 5814 Nolensville Road Suite 110, Nashville; 615-226-9442; princeshotchicken.com
As Nashville’s dining scene changes at an extraordinary pace, bringing with it TV chefs and James Beard winners from across the U.S., Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack has remained true to its mission: knock peoples’ socks off with the best hot chicken. The fried and fiery chicken at the no-frills eatery with two Nashville locations has inspired copycats as far as Los Angeles ($5 for three whole wings with a slice of bread and pickles; $11 for a half chicken; $2 sides).
2146 Monroe Ave., Memphis; 901-590-2828; restaurantiris.com
Chef Kelly English impresses diners at the award-winning Restaurant Iris, located in a charming renovated home in Memphis. The French-Creole-inspired menu features local and seasonal ingredients, such as a lobster knuckle sandwich with tarragon and tomatoes ($18), grilled lamb loin ($36) and pan seared Alaskan halibut ($34).
The Stock & Barrel
35 Market Square, Knoxville; 865-766-2075; thestockandbarrel.com
Knoxville burger joint The Stock & Barrel works with Tennessee purveyors on crafting its mouth-watering menu. Beef is sourced from Mitchell Family Farms in Blaine, Tenn. and Knoxville’s own Flour Head Bakery supplies the buns. You’ll find an impressive bourbon list along with 20 burgers on the menu, ranging from the standard The ‘Merican with American cheese, pickles, onions, tomato, greens and mayo (10.5), to the creative Elvis burger with organic peanut butter, fried bananas and Benton’s bacon ($11.5).
The Wild Plum Tea Room
555 Buckhorn Road, Gatlinburg; 865-436-3808; wildplumtearoom.com
A quaint and whimsical tea room, The Wild Plum offers a refreshing lunch option with attentive service set off the beaten path in Gatlinburg. Enjoy wild plum tea, housemade chicken salad with fresh fruit and a warm scone ($9.95) or the lobster pie ($17.95) in the outdoor garden for an experience that feels almost magical.