When we're in the mood for Asian food in Nashville, we are never going to be at a loss for delicious options. Thai food has many contenders jockying for your patronage, with fairly new The Smiling Elephant and its light and fresh options cooked in olive oil drawing as many fans as the 25-year-veteran off of Nolensville Road, Siam Cafe. Both have their highlights, from curries to noodles, so why fight? There is plenty of time to try them both. In fact, with all of the Vietnamese, Korean and Thai restaurants to choose from in Music City, it's almost impossible to have a favorite. If one night you are in the mood for a a spicy serving of bulgogi, you can go to Korea House and get just what you are craving. And if another night you have to steaming bowl of layered pho, you can't go wrong with one of the complex versions offered at Kien Giang. Sit down, take out or rushed through a buffet at lunch, these Asian restaurants all hit the spot when it comes to value, flavor and of course, all the heat you can handle.
International Market & Restaurant
Don't let the bare bones atmosphere fool you - this place has some of the most hearty homecooked Asian food in town. Not just a buffet and restaurant, International Market is also an Asian specialty grocery stores, stocking items home cooks can't find at the local Kroger. The owners are the parents of Arnold Mynt, owner of PM and Suzy Wong's House of Yum, but this place is about as unpretentious as it gets. Order off the menu to get delicious Pad Thai, or addictive India Noodle, a spicy coconut noodle soup with vegetables, crushed peanuts and fresh cilantro. (615-297-4453)
Labeling itself as the first Vietnamese restaurants in town, Miss Saigon has converted plenty of Music City residents to its spicy menu, especially the pho. And while the ambiance may be a little lackluster, the flavors certainly aren't. First-timers should try one of the tasty phos with an order of spring rolls. The bun tom nuong, a noodle dish with shrimp and fish sauce, is another winner. Miss Saigon shares a parking lot with Kien Giang, another tasty Vietnamese spot. KG only takes cash, so if patrons only have their card Miss Saigon is more than happy to take your business. (615-354-1351)
Before chef Arnold Mynt showed off his culinary skills on Bravo's "Top Chef" he was showing Nashville a fresh, new way to look at Asian food. Taught well by his parents, Win and Patti Mynt of International Market fame right across the street. Sure, the classics are all here at PM - miso soup, gyoza pot stickers, edamame - but the bright flavors offer a new spin. Take the curried sweet potato bisque with Indian spices, Laotian pork sausage and sour cream, which delivers perfect fall flavors with a kick. The East Meet Wedge salad come with the standard bacon, red onion and tomato toppings, with the addition of ramped-up wasabi blue cheese and crispy noodles. Main dishes like sake-seared salmon with edamame salad are rightly paired with soba noodles in a miso glaze. You'll be surprised how much tastes good dipped in wasabi mayo. (615-297-2070)
Suzy Wong's House of Yum
Suzy Wong's House of Yum is the latest creation from Chef Arnold Myint, who also owns PM on Belmont. In partnership with Zeus Entertainment, Suzy Wong's is a restaurant night club mash-up that actually works. The name references the 1950's novel, "The World of Suzie Wong," the story of a beautiful Asian "lady of the evening." Arnold presents his diners "a brothel of epicurean delight." Mission accomplished with dishes like lump crab wontons, moo shu chicken tacos, Shanghai meatball sliders and seared tuna steak with cilantro sesame dressing, cabbage slaw, and cucumber salad. Unique, yet romantic enough for a first date. (6153292913)
The Smiling Elephant
Authentic and healthy, The Smiling Elephant is always packed with diners who love the fresh ingredients and special care that goes into each dish. Food allergies and dietary restrictions are addressed with no attitude, and they will even cook off the menu if they have the right stuff on hand. The tamarind pork-moo sahm rhot comes with sauteed sweet and sour pork drizzled with three flavor tamarind sauce and sprinkled with fresh lemongrass and served with Jasmine Rice. The larb lettuce wraps are filled with minced pork tossed with fresh cilantro, scallions, onions, fresh-squeezed lime juice and roasted rice. Make it a set and add on Tom Kha or Thom Yum soup and dessert. Space is small and the room can get packed. When that happens, lingering loses its luster.
This small, family-run business has had a solid staple of fans since they first began serving their tasty Thai food in November 2009. Sure, it isn't fancy. But it sure is delicious. That's because the owner has had more than 35 years experience in cooking Thai and South-East Asian cuisine. Their house sauces have an incredible balance of ingredients, showcased to great effect in dishes like Pad Kee Mao, better known as drunken noodles, with wide rice noodles stir fried with egg, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, bell peppers, crushed garlic, tomatoes, and fresh basil leaves in their house basil sauce with your choice of meat. A second location in Goodlettsville services the North side of town. (615-248-7933)
Being tucked into a side street off of Nolensville road hasn't stopped most everyone in Nashville from finding it for its traditional Thai cuisine. Fresh ingredients and prompt service combine with excellent dishes, including beef panag, chicken pad Thai and dancing shrimp. one standout is the pla lard prig, a deep-fried whole red snapper. But most come for the curries, from the hung ray curry with red curry paste, coconut milk, ginger and cashew nuts, to the green curry with bamboo shoots, bell peppers and fresh basil leaves. Parking can be a nightmare, so it isn't a bad idea to come during off-peak hours. (615-834-3181)
For a home-cooked Korean meal, try the Korea House. Delicious entrees come in large portions, so be prepared to eat well for the next few meals. The friendly servers will also be glad to explain the dishes if you don't know anything about Korean food, and with a menu this extensive you might need it. One item that fans of Korea House can't get enough of is the seafood pancake, or haemul pajun, a pan-fried savory appetizer with scallions and a chili-infused dipping sauce. Vegetarians have plenty of choices as well, like the jajangmyun with noodles and sliced cucumber in a black bean sauce. (615-352-2790)
Kien Giang Restaurant
At this friendly, hard-to-find spot, locals enjoy some of the best deals in Nashville. The delicious and authentic Vietnamese fare includes favorites like the barbecue pork and pho tai nam gan. Spicy rice dishes are also available, and you can control the level of heat you can take. Another iconic Vietnamese menu item that is a can't miss is the banh mi sandwich, with roast pork, cilantro, shredded carrot and daikon radish on a French baguette - simple and flavorful, although lacking in jalapenos and pate, a staple in other versions. They don't take credit cards, though, so be prepared with cash or a check. (615-353-1250)
About Hollie Deese
Hollie Deese is a Nashville-based writer who has spent the past 10 years falling in love with the sights, sounds and flavors of Music City. Hollie has 15 years experience as a writer and editor for regional and national publications, including The Tennessean, USA Today, Nashville Interiors, and the Nashville Ledger.
Read more about Hollie Deese here.
Connect with Hollie via: Blog | Twitter | Google+