Sarah Gavigan, chef/owner of Otaku Ramen, knows the best places to eat in Nashville. (Photo: courtesy of Sarah Gavigan)
When Sarah Gavigan returned to her native Tennessee after years in L.A., she was craving ramen. Nashville had plenty of hot chicken, but ramen — no where to be found. Gavigan decided to change that, changing Music City’s food landscape in the process. Otaku Ramen set foodies near and far abuzz, even catching the attention of TV chef and wanderer Andrew Zimmern, who asked Gavigan to be a guest in the Nashville episode of The Navigator’s Table, a dinner series featuring local food phenoms around the country.
Over squirrel and seafood gumbo at Southernaire Market, Gavigan dished on native eats and what’s unusual and surprising about her home city.
“Nashville has the largest Kurdish population in the United States,” she reveals, noting that she doesn’t miss a morning at Azadi, the local Kurdish bakery.
Marriott Traveler decided to continue the conversation, getting Gavigan’s inside scoop on Nashville’s nascent food scene.
You brought a new flavor to Nashville by bringing ramen. Did this open the floodgates for other international favors in the city? What are the global bites that some may not expect in this southern city?
As far as global cultures are concerned, this city is just waking up to all the delicious cultures who call Nashville home. Carnceria San Luis has a verde crema salsa that is deadly hot and addictive, and goes perfectly with the ceviche and tostadas. Weekly action in my house.
How would you describe Nashville’s food scene? What are the hot food trends besides ramen, of course?
Nashville is in its infancy when it comes to food of the cultures who live here being represented. What makes Nashville different is that so little has been done. There is so much room for great food of all nationalities here. I would say that healthy, yet indulgent food is a trend on the rise and why we opened Little Octopus to fill that niche.
You need three square meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Where do you go for each in Nashville?
Breakfast: Azadi market for spicy lamb bread and Iranian coffee.
Lunch: Butcher and Bee for the octopus poke and whipped feta.
Dinner: City House for the catfish.
What’s the best place in Nashville to go where the food is just as good as the music?
My house! As a former music supervisor (I placed music in ads), I listen to a lot of local radio stations while I make roast chicken for the family.
In the Nashville Navigator’s Table episode, you talk about Nashville being a city of troubadours. Where to do like to go to listen to up-and-coming musicians?
I love The Basement on 8th Ave.
You just want to grab a drink in Nashville. Where do you go?
If want to introduce someone to Nashville who’s never been to the city, where do you take them?
What are the places that you like to relax and unwind that are distinctly Nashvillian?
Shelby Bottoms Park. My girlfriends and I meet at Cornelia Fort Airpark (located inside Shelby Bottoms), which has a one mile loop on the former runway, and we roller skate for an hour and catch up.
You’ve been away from Nashville on a long trip. When you come back to town, what is the one dish you have to have?
I’m not going to lie — Daniel Herget’s Burger at Little Octopus.
What’s your favorite dish at Otaku Ramen? How is it prepared and what makes it your fave?
The hot chicken bun is a thing of wonder. The spices are unlike any other hot chicken shop — more flavor than heat, fried in the Japanese way. It’s very, very crunchy with a steamed white bread bun and kewpie mayo. Party in your mouth.