Food & Drink

Little Coyote Brings Texas Vibes and a Huge Patio to Chattanooga

The St. Elmo newcomer is the latest from hospitality power couple Amanda and Erik Niel

The exterior wall of a restaurant; it has "Little Coyote" painted in large red cursive letters, and a red sun and green coyote are on the wall.

Photo: Our Ampersand Photography

Outside Little Coyote in Chattanooga's St. Elmo neighborhood.

When asked why they opened a third restaurant, Amanda and Erik Niel simply laugh. The Niels already own Easy Bistro and Main Street Meats, two mainstays of the culinary scene in Chattanooga, Tennessee. And despite the name of the former establishment, restaurant ownership is famously hard work. But like many drawn to the vocation, they couldn’t stop daydreaming.

“I’ve had this smoked-meat-taco-tortilla concept rolling around in my head for ten years, because that’s what chefs do when they have fancy restaurants: They think about all the stuff they could do that’s simpler,” Erik says. “It’s just been percolating.” When a business partner approached him about a midcentury building in the St. Elmo neighborhood that housed an American Legion hall in the 1960s, the moment felt right. 


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Called Little Coyote, the venture would allow Erik, a James Beard–nominated chef, to flex his creative chops, preparing dishes inspired by Caribbean, Mexican, and Tex-Mex cuisines as well as paying homage to Texas barbecue. Just as important as the food, however, is the vibe the Niels created: elevated yet approachable enough that a family getting off the Incline Railway across the street could stroll over for a bite. The space most recently housed a burrito restaurant with dark tones and kitschy decor, and Amanda enjoyed giving the space a brighter touch. “I wanted it to be modern, I wanted it to be bohemian,” she says. “Then I wanted to have colors that represented a little bit of Texas.” This meant painting the walls white with hunter green accents and infusing pops of orange and blues through the art and tile work.

A man and a woman smile outside of the restaurant, there are wicker lamps hung behind them

Photo: Our Ampersand Photography

Amanda and Erik Niel.

 “The other cool opportunity we had was to build a massive deck with an outdoor bar off the front,” Amanda says. “It overlooks the little downtown.” Now there’s twice as much outdoor seating as indoor seating, making Little Coyote an ideal spot to catch the sunset as it drops behind Lookout Mountain.

Here’s a closer look at the space, which opened last month:

Photo: Our Ampersand Photography

The Niels built an elevated patio that overlooks Lookout Mountain and St. Elmo’s historic district. “I’m not just saying this—it’s the prettiest patio in all of Chattanooga,” Amanda says. LED lights installed in the ceiling and filtered through holes in the perforated metal give the patio a cool glow in the evening. 


Photo: Our Ampersand Photography

Pear-shaped light fixtures made of suede add the bohemian touch Amanda sought, while coyote and cow skulls nod to the Southwest. “One was bought by my friend in Texas, and then I took it to a woman in Chattanooga to rhinestone it,” she says.


Diners in a dining room with plants on the ceiling and pear-shaped fixtures

Photo: Our Ampersand Photography

The Niels created a “living ceiling” by installing a grid on which the plants (low-light-friendly pothos) can spread. 


A copper-topped bar with seats and an arch-shaped shelf for bottles

Photo: Our Ampersand Photography

Copper touches give the bar an earthy gleam. The metal appears in the taps and shelving, and strands of copper run through the jade-hued quartzite bar counter.


An airy porch dining area with wicker chairs, a black ceiling, a white brick wall, wood shelves, and booths patterned with green and white geometric fabric

Photo: Our Ampersand Photography

The Southwestern-meets-Boho theme continues in the enclosed porch off the main dining room, in terracotta and turquoise tiles and faux rattan chairs.


A spread of plates on a table with smoked meats, dips, and a glass of wine

Photo: Our Ampersand Photography

Smoked meats and Latin American and Tex-Mex fare star at Little Coyote. Dishes include tri-tip with chimichurri and plantain hushpuppies (a play on mofongo).


A hand holds a green cloth and a stack of tortillas

Photo: Our Ampersand Photography

It was important to Erik to make the corn tortillas in house, so he purchased a roller-oven combo from Lenin, a Mexican manufacturing company. “Making the tortillas has been fun,” he says. “They’re all a hundred percent corn, water, and salt. And then we pair them with smoked meats from the smoker.”


Our Ampersand Photography

The bar program at Little Coyote leans into frozen drinks made with tequila, mezcal, and rum. The frozen Texas Flood, for example, blends tequila, blood orange, Aperol, and ancho chile liqueur.