There are many aspects of college deserving of excitement and praise, but the food scene on campus is rarely one of them. As much as they may try to dress it up or diversify it, on-site dining halls are dishing out cafeteria food. We, the interns of the Scene and your fellow college students, have compiled an admittedly subjective list of some of the best cheap and late-night restaurants around Nashville that are surely better than the college caf. The best way to make good friends is to share good food, and the following will not disappoint. Whether you're on a tight budget, as we know most college students are, or have the midnight munchies and can't handle another Crunchwrap Supreme, we've got you covered.
Cheap EatsBolton's Spicy Chicken and Fish
Nashville has become notorious for our hot chicken, i.e., fried chicken patted with incendiary hot-pepper paste. While Bolton's didn't start the trend, it was one of the very first and remains one of the cheapest with the most options. Sandwiches range from $4.50 for a fried pork chop to $9 for grouper or tilapia. We recommend the classic $5 chicken breast sandwich: crispy outside, moist inside, and so hot that your lips will burn and your nose will run. Part of the reason we love Bolton's so much is its ambiance — the original location is a tiny shack with bars on the windows where you usually have to knock on the door to order. Another location opened on Franklin Pike that has more of a dine-in restaurant feel, but you can't beat the old Bolton's just across the James Robertson bridge, well worth the trek from campus. 624 Main St., Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-midnight, Sun. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. A second location is at 2309A Franklin Pike, 254-8015 —AH
Brown's Diner has been in operation since 1927, and even today, nearly a century later, you can enjoy a sandwich for under $5. Best known for their juicy cheeseburgers, Brown's is a Nashville staple and one of the best deals in town. There are no frills or foodie undertones here, just tasty, cheap food in a glorified Hillsboro Village trailer. The atmosphere is a unique blend of diner and dive bar (emphasis on the dive), but with a truly friendly and accommodating staff. Sandwiches range from $2.75 to $4.50. Adding on sides costs extra, but at $1.75, the hushpuppies are well worth it. 2102 Blair Blvd., Mon-Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sun 11 a.m.-9 p.m., brownsdiner.com —AH
Cafeteria-style serving can produce nightmare-inducing results, but Copper Kettle, with locations at 4004 Granny White Pike and 94 Peabody St., offers some of the best meat-and-three lunch/dinner options in town for a pretty nifty price (the Meat & 2, more than filling, is $8.25). Partisans rave about the meatloaf on Tuesdays, and the coconut chicken on Wednesdays might be one of the best chicken-related dishes in town. Did we mention there's a full menu of other options for those just looking for a sandwich, salad or wrap? 94 Peabody St. downtown, 4004 Granny White Pike in Green Hills. Downtown: Mon.-Fri. 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sun. brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Green Hills: Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m., copperkettlenashville.com —CW
McDougal's Chicken Fingers and Wings
After the last Otter's Chicken Tenders in Nashville closed its doors earlier this year, it served as a cold harsh reminder that the chicken tenders business ain't what it used to be. So hurry over to McDougal's, a perennial favorite with college students from all over town. McDougal's has one signature, reasonably priced dish: the illustrious chicken tender, fried or grilled, served with plentiful fries, an array of sauces (try the HoneyBee!) and a free dollop of soft-serve after each meal. Eating at McDougal's reinforces the age-old adage: You just can't go wrong with chicken tenders. 2115 Belcourt Ave., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. 7 days a week, mcdougalschicken.com —CW
Late NightAthens Family Restaurant
Athens is a beacon of hope in the Nashville area, at least over the weekend, as the 24-hour linoleum emergency food heaven. Whether you've had a late night and need to eat immediately, or you need a square meal the morning after, Athens has what you need: the perfect unexpected combination of breakfast, Greek and American diner staples. Not many places leave you deciding among the flaky and decadent homemade spanakopita, eggs Benedict, or a Reuben. Athens is a gem not only for its late hours and varied menu, but because it defies the 24-hour restaurant standard by using fresh ingredients and keeping grease to a minimum. The glory of Athens has not gone unnoticed: Not only was it featured on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, host Guy Fieri paid a lot of love to one of our favorite menu items: the bacon lamb burger. Most dishes run $5.99-$12.99. 2526 Franklin Road, Mon.-Thurs. 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sun. 7 a.m.-9 p.m. A new Bellevue location is at 7071 Old Harding Pike, 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, athensfamilyrestaurant.com —AH
Tucked away in an area teeming with energy and music, Cafe Coco stands as an ivy-covered oasis, serving food, coffee and beer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The crowd is always an intriguing mix of people who can never be easily stereotyped and would probably never be friends any place else. But Cafe Coco has a friendly, laid-back atmosphere that brings the people occupying the space together ... especially as the night goes on. The food is delicious and options range from traditional Italian pastas, pizzas and paninis to breakfast, burgers and wraps. It is impossible to not be tempted by the rich cheesecake and other desserts on display. Menu options vary in pricing: A personal pizza is under $5, while pesto chicken Alfredo is $10.89. 210 Louise Ave., off Elliston Place, open 24 hours daily, cafecoco.com —AH
The Well Coffeehouse
As comes with the territory, studying and drinking pounds of coffee are habitual practices for all college students. Not to hate on the 'Bucks (often a shining light on a dreary pre-exam eve) or longtime Belmont hang Bongo Java, but The Well Coffeehouse is quickly rising among students in the area. The Well, a rare nonprofit coffeehouse, offers a cozy atmosphere where students can study and fuel with friends until 10 p.m. 2035 Richard Jones Road, Mon.-Fri. 6 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 1-8 p.m., wellcoffeehouse.org —CW
The hustle and bustle of the school day may knock out the possibility of dinner before the 7 p.m. show at the Belcourt. So why not wait until after for a perfectly timed meal? The Sunset Grill has late-night hours that extend until midnight on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, complete with a special Late Nite Menu that offers under-$10 deals after 10 p.m. (when the regular dinner menu hits the hay). Think Voodoo Pasta, fried egg sandwiches, mussels and more traditional fare such as nachos and burgers. 2001 Belcourt Ave., Sun.-Mon. 4:30 p.m.-10 p.m., Tues.-Wed. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Thurs.-Sat. 11 a.m.- midnight sunsetgrill.com —CW
Also on your radar:
(71 Hermitage Ave., 10 p.m.-1:30 p.m. daily)
This legendary diner not far from the riverfront is great for those 2 a.m. epiphanies when you realize just how hungry you are after traipsing around downtown. Biscuits abound, sandwiches reign supreme, and the pies fall just short of addictive.
International Market and Restaurant
(2010 Belmont Blvd., 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. daily, 297-4453)
This Belmont-area institution opened in 1975 as a lunch-only cafeteria-style restaurant serving simple, inexpensive Asian fare. It has long since expanded to include dinner hours and a variety of dishes, most of them reflecting the cuisine of owner Patti Myint's native Thailand.
(1300 Jefferson St., 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-2 a.m. Fri.-Sat., kowings.com)<
The wings at this Jefferson Street hot spot popular among Fisk and TSU students are cooked so adroitly — deep-fried to a ruddy crust, which pops every time you bite into the juicy meat inside — that they're dandy just plain. Make sure you order the airy, sweet-crusted honey biscuits.
Soulshine Pizza/The Slider House
(1907 Division St., Soulshine: Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-1 a.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Slider House: 11 a.m.-3 a.m. daily, nashville.soulshinepizza.com, thesliderhouse.com)
In the late-night hours, the stretch between 18th and 20th avenues on Division Street near Vandy turns into a makeshift Mardi Gras, and the huge upstairs patio and sidewalk seating at this spacious entertainment complex is part of Party Central. Its restaurants — one serving Cajun and fine pizza, the other dispensing mini-burgers and baskets of fries — supply fuel both liquid and solid.
Two Boots Pizza
(1925 Broadway, Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-midnight, Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-3:30 a.m., twoboots.com)
The just-opened Nashville outpost of the popular NYC pizza joint dishes out $3.75 slices into the wee, wee hours topped with delectables like crawfish, andouille sausage and hot chicken from nearby Hattie B's. There's even a vegan option.