CMA Fest activities kick off today, meaning some 70,000 (give or take) country music enthusiasts will be descending upon downtown Nashville. Walking around in cowboy boots in the oppressive Music City heat can make a fan famished, and one cannot live on corn dogs and funnel cakes alone. So let us point you in the direction of some great locally owned downtown dining destinations — some of which will help you avoid crowds. For starters, here's our complete list of Nashville's best restaurants, which are listed by proximity to the center of the city (downtown). If you have suitable transportation and some time blocked out for putzing about town, you can explore our list of Nashville's Top 100 Restaurants.
For lunch, do as the local business crowd does, and wander down to the historic Arcade. There you'll find Nashville's best purveyor of New York style pizza, Manny's House of Pizza. The Greek Touch is another great option in the Arcade (closed Sat-Sun). One off-the-beaten-path gem that will likely go unnoticed by most tourists is Rae's Gourmet Sandwich Shoppe on Union (near 5th Ave), serving up wonderful specialty sandwiches on crusty French bread (also closed Sat-Sun).
If you're braving the crowds on Broadway, Jack's Bar-B-Que remains one of Nashville's finest purveyors of smoked meats. Their will likely be a line, but it tends to move fast. No extended stay in downtown Nashville would be complete without at least one trip to Robert's Western World. Though the food takes a back seat to the always great traditional country music, the short order cooks whip up a pretty mean cheeseburger with crinkle fries. And what's not to love about the Recession Special: $5 for a fried bologna sandwich, chips, a PBR and a Moon Pie. Just off Broadway and directly across from Bridgestone Arena (yet under the radar still), there's the brand new Pub 5, offering fantastic views from their rooftop patio as well as an excellent selection of craft beers.
If you're looking for something a little more upscale, make a reservation at The Southern Steak & Oyster Bar in the Pinnacle Building, one of Nashville's hottest restaurants. If you can't get in for dinner, they do a great brunch as well. Chef Deb Paquette's Etch is one of downtown's premiere restaurant also, and they have free valet parking (no small deal in a CMA Fest parking situation). The roasted cauliflower appetizer is an absolute must try, and their lunch menu is refreshingly affordable. Of course, when speaking of elite downtown Nashville restaurants, we'd be remiss not to mention The Capitol Grille in the Hermitage Hotel, which never fails to impress — at the very least stop in for a cocktail at the Oak Bar.
LP Field hosts the biggest shows of the weekend, and there's a few options across the river within walking distance. Oversized, fish-bowls beers, giant pretzels, polka (on weekends), and a generally festive beer hall atmosphere make the Gerst Haus a prime pre-gaming spot. Lesser known is the stadium-adjacent Thai Phooket, which excels with noodle dishes and their excellent Massaman curry.
Finally, if you need to a quiet drink away from the crowds and some rejuvenating pub grub, we'd recommend Fleet Street Pub in Printer's Alley — try the Hatton Cross Hot Hen, a variation on Nashville's most famous foodstuff, hot chicken. When it comes to avoiding the Broadway madness, Past Perfect usually does the trick, with a relaxed locals vibe, creative infused vodkas and flat-iron steak sandwiches.