Here’s a quick question: Are you in a rut when it comes to your culinary adventures? If so, and if you’re willing to be just a tad adventurous, then it’s not hard to find incredibly delicious food at unbelievable prices in Nashville. My family has been in this exact rut, so I’ve been doing some research and have discovered 3 great, locally owned ethnic eateries that are now on our “quick dinner out” short list. Samurai on Elliston Place, and Korea House and Kien Giang, both on Charlotte Avenue.
These are small mom and pop places, easy to overlook among all the big, splashy names that dot the restaurant landscape in Nashville. But trust me, all three are real contenders who hold their own by offering tasty, authentic dishes at inexpensive price points, and boast a loyal following of happy fans, to boot.
Samurai got sushi right before most of us even knew what sushi even was. Tucked in among the likes of the Gold Rush and Elliston Soda Shop over on Elliston Place, Samurai is known by serious sushi followers as the place to go.
I grabbed a follow sushi lover and we headed to Samuri. As we sat down, I saw the most gorgeous plate of sushi being delivered to the table next to me. With a small modicum of etiquette, I politely inquired if I might take a quick photo.
Each plate that arrives to your table is a work of art. Before other sushi houses got into creative sushi, adding cream cheese, strawberries and such, Samurai had perfected their rolls. And FYI, the rolls that everyone raves about (that you must try!) are the Choo-choo, Volcano and Dragon rolls. We loved every bite, for what it’s worth. It is a hole in the wall, but beloved by so many devotees.
SB Insider Tip: This is a really small hole in the wall. Sort of a throw back to the 70’s. Either go early or late, but go during the off hours.
The only reason I even know about the Korea House is because of Deb Paquette, chef extraordinaire of Etch. In her Faces of Nashville interview, when asked about her favorite restaurant, Korea House was her immediate response.
It’s always interested me to see so many local chefs eating lunch at the dive-type ethnic restaurants on Charlotte Avenue. What I found so curious about Korea House is that it was completely packed. So packed, that our impatient party went next door to Mothers for a quick beer. Call us desperate, since Mothers is one of the the last bastions where you can actually smoke. (I was raised in a smoking house, however, so the place felt vaguely familiar.) But, I digress …
Korea House is fabulous. The menu has many offerings–some pretty pedestrian, and some, really out there, like tripe. (Uh, no thanks.) To start we ordered the seafood pancake, which was amazing! It was served steamy hot and serves four adults and more. Chocked full of shrimp, it was gobbled up so fast, we didn’t manage to get a photo to share. (Clearly, we were starving after our wait.)
Another dish that gets high marks on presentation is the Dolsot Bibim Bab. Made with assorted vegetables and beef and topped with rice and a fried egg, it is served at your table in a hot pot. This was my favorite dish, by the way. (Just about anything with a fried egg on top is a friend of mine!)
SB Insider Tip: You can bring your own wine in for a nominal fee. If you forget your wine, Costco is a block away.
Not that I saved the best for last, but I must say that Kien Giang continues to be my favorite. Characteristic of most Vietnamese restaurants is a nod, on their menu, to their French heritage, where you’ll find delicious coffees, crepe-like appetizers and delicious sandwiches delivered with crusty French bread.
Kien Giang offers tons of menu items, most of which are accompanied by fresh herbs and vegetables. When I visited, I really enjoyed a dish that looked, for all intents and purposes, like an omelette. It’s called Banh Xeo, and it’s actually a light and crispy crepe filled with shrimp, pork and veggies that you slice, wrap in lettuce, basil and mint leaves and dip in a sweet and spicy sauce. (Apologies, SB friends, for not having a photo to share here either. Bad move on my part to go for lunch with the gas tank on empty. Trust me and order it when you go–it’s incredible!)
SB Insider Tip: Kien Giang only takes CASH! No plastic accepted.
As you make your plans for dinner out, consider trying one of these not-so-familiar but oh-so-satisfying gems in Nashville. With chopsticks in hand, get ready for some fun!