Eating Nashville: 10 local restaurants for a healthy — and delicious — meal

Sure, you'll see avocado toast and quinoa on here, but what about some vegan chicken salad and crispy rice dishes? See, your blood pressure is dropping already! (You're welcome.)

Mackensy Lunsford Brad Schmitt
Nashville Tennessean
  • We go to the Turnip Truck, Sunflower Bakehouse, lou Nashville and even a family-owned spot in Hermitage to find you some tasty, lighter meals
  • That roasted cauliflower bowl at etc. in Green Hills is also easy on the eyes — it's a work of art
  • And do we both love Lyra's charred cabbage salad? Well, one of us does, anyway

When I first approached Tennessean columnist Brad Schmitt about writing this story with me, he thought there wouldn't be demand for a roundup of good-for-you dishes in Nashville. A few things have changed since then and not only did he approve, he happily participated.

Before I moved to Nashville, I was in the best shape of my life. I could deadlift more than my body weight. I boxed, cycled and lifted regularly. Then I joined a labor-intensive awards committee, launched a new cooking website, and moved far away from my gym buddies and across the street from a cheeseburger place.

Within months of moving here, I didn't feel so great. So I joined a gym again, began prioritizing my health and started eating better because a big part of being in fighting shape means eating well.

Obviously, I can't eat perfectly all the time. My job won't allow it, and I like pizza and cheeseburgers too much.

Here, I've listed some of the dishes I eat when I'm eating well. Brad chimed in, too. And a word about healthy food: Just because it's vegetarian doesn't mean it's good for you. Vegan meat substitutes can be packed with fat and additives. I head for lean protein but still eat steak and make sure to get as many vegetables on my plate as I can.

-Mackensy Lunsford

Dose Cafe and Dram Bar

1400 McGavock Pike

A full order of the spicy avocado toast at Dose Cafe and Dram Bar.

The dish: Avocado toast with spicy pepper, pickled onion, corn and sprouts, $7-13

Mack: A half order of this spicy toast is enough to get me through to lunch. I love the pop of the pickled onion and the fresh corn. It's my favorite fast breakfast.

East Side Pho

1101 McKennie Ave., in The Wash

The dish: ESP Salad with shredded cabbage, mint, red onion, fried shallots, toasted peanuts and spicy fish sauce, $7.95-11.95

The ESP salad with chicken at East Side Pho in Nashville March 10, 2023, has shredded cabbage, mint, red onion, fried shallots, toasted peanuts and spicy fish sauce

Brad: I must say I was a bit cynical about a bunch of chopped cabbage in a bowl. Cynical no more! The spicy fish sauce rocks, and the mint, peanuts and red onion mix nicely for some different flavors and textures to break up the cabbage. It's also a pretty big portion, so I didn't feel cheated or hungry after.

Mack: This is my go-to salad when I'm not feeling pho, though it's kind of hard to skip any of the noodle dishes here. You can also order a half size if you want. I prefer the crispy tofu for my salad protein. It soaks up that delicious dressing well.

Two Hands

606 Eighth Ave. S.

The dish: Grilled salmon, soft egg, turmeric quinoa, hummus, crunchy shaved veggies, avocado, cucumber, seeds and puffed rice, $18.25

Salmon quinoa bowl with soft egg at Two Hands restaurant in Nashville Feb. 27, 2023

Mack: It's all about the hummus on this plate. You've got to run your fork through it and lift it up through the vegetables and grains to spread around that good, garlicky flavor.

Brad: Perfectly cooked salmon and turmeric quinoa? That's a winner for me. The other stuff is gravy. Well, it's not actually gravy, but you get the idea....


935 W. Eastland Ave.

The dish: Charred cabbage salad with herbs and black garlic almond tarator, $13

Charred cabbage salad with black garlic almond tarator at Lyra in East Nashville March 7, 2023

Brad: I love love love this dish, probably because it has a generous amount of delicious peanut butter under the cabbage. OK, the restaurant doesn't call it peanut butter; it's "almond tarator" on the menu, which is more almond butter than peanut butter. The chef adds black garlic to the nut paste, and that makes it even more awesome. And the charred cabbage itself is perfectly cooked, hot and still just a little crunchy. Plus: Ain't it pretty?

Halibut and prawns at Lyra.

Mack: I did not love the cabbage dish on the first go-round, so I returned to try it again. And guess what? No longer on the menu. Lyra's menu reflects the current season, especially in small plates like the asparagus and snap peas with buttermilk labneh dressing. I also tried the imam bayildi, a chickpea and tomato-stuffed eggplant that was good, but I didn't love it as much as previous eggplant dishes here. The standout: head-on prawns and halibut with smoked black olive and chermoula, which is somewhat like chimichurri. Order it. Lyra wins for me every time with its vegetable-forward, uber-flavorful Mediterranean food. A Nashville gem, for sure.

Asparagus, lettuce, endive and radishes with buttermilk labneh at Lyra.

Cafe Roze

1115 Porter Road

The Roze bowl with Verlasso salmon at Cafe Roze in East Nashville on March 3, 2023

The dish: The Roze Bowl with Verlasso salmon, beet tahini, black lentils, red quinoa, seasonal vegetables, kale and pickled beets, $25

Brad: Maybe my favorite thing on this list, though I don't love the $25 price. The bowl itself is magic, with the pickled beets adding a real punch to the wonderfully spiced lentils and quinoa. Yum! And the salmon? Flaky and tender and buttery. Wow.

Mack: Cafe Roze does an outstanding job all around, and the Roze Bowl is one of my favorites. It's worth noting that it starts at $15 and gets pricier as you add proteins. I usually stick with a turmeric egg for just $3. In the morning, the poached egg bowl here with sauteed kale, lemony yogurt and feta-studded bulgur wheat is a fantastic way to start your day.

Nadeen's Hermitage Haven

3410 Lebanon Pike, Hermitage

The dish: Alfalfa avocado sandwich with sprouts, pesto, sharp cheddar and tomato on grilled bread, $10.

Alfalfa avocado sandwich with grilled chicken at Nadeen's in Hermitage, Tenn., March 15, 2023

Brad: This is by far the simplest dish on the list, and you're probably saying, "I could make that at my house!" If you can, invite me over! It's the pesto with sharp cheddar that really makes this sandwich special. And part of the appeal for me is that this is a no-frills dish with no-frills presentation. But it's still super delicious. I wanted two more sandwiches when I was done with the first.


3790 Bedford Ave.

Seven spice roasted cauliflower bowl with mahi mahi at etc. restaurant in Green Hills section of Nashville, Tenn., March 16, 2023

The dish: Seven spice roasted cauliflower bowl with chickpea chili lime hummus, fenugreek avocado smash, red beet tahini, tomato jam, quinoa, freekah, kale, feta, sumac lemon vinaigrette and fresh herbs, $15

Brad: As with many of veteran Nashville chef Deb Paquette's dishes, there's a whole lot going on here. And somehow, together, it really sings. I particularly loved the generous schmear of red beet tahini and its earthy flavor with that chili lime hummus. Unique, elevated, fresh and delicious.


1304 McGavock Pike

The dish: Crispy rice breakfast bowl with kale, avocado and fried egg, $16

Mezze at brunch at Lou in Inglewood.

Mack: If you prefer a less-heavy breakfast, you'll love the Verlasso lox and jammy egg mezze with its assortment of marinated vegetables, labneh, crackers and house-cured salmon. Another must-order is the crispy rice bowl. I tried it again on a recent visit and was stunned by how much flavor the kitchen crammed into that dish. With sun-dried tomato vinaigrette, pickled shallots, sauerkraut and a perfect fried egg, this deceptively simple rice bowl packs a pleasantly acidic punch.

Brad: I'm 100% with you on the crispy rice bowl. One of my fave dishes in Nashville.

Turnip Truck

Soup and salad from Turnip Truck.

Multiple locations

The dish: Soup and salad

Mack: Don't have time to sit down in a restaurant and eat? Often that's also my story. Turnip Truck always comes through with great soups that by and large are also good for you (just stick to those without cream and you're golden). My go-to is the filling and flavorful vegan chili. The chicken tortilla soup is great, too. Grab a small baguette if you're trying to feed your family and don't forget to dig into the salad bar with its array of colorful vegetables. Now you have a meal.

Sunflower Bakehouse

2414 Lebanon Pike, Donelson

The vegan "chick'n" chickpea salad at Sunflower Bakehouse in the Donelson area of Nashville on March 27, 2023

The dish: "Chik'n" chickpea salad with lettuce, creamy chickpea salad, shredded carrots, diced tomatoes and "honee" mustard dressing, $12.50

Brad: So this is the all-vegan Sunflower Bakehouse's approximation of chicken salad. And I think it's pretty dang good! The chickpea salad itself really does come pretty close to chicken salad, but to be honest, I really love the "honee" mustard dressing, which packs quite a mustard-y punch.

Let us know what you're loving on Nashville's restaurant scene right now. And maybe tell us your fave healthy foods! Reach Mackensy Lunsford at mlunsford@southernkitchen.com and Brad Schmitt at brad@tennessan.com.