All Thai-ed Up: The Smiling Elephant in Nashville


The story goes like this, Sam Kopsombut who came to Nashville 30 years ago from Thailand, opened an auto repair shop. At lunch they would break and cook traditional Thai dishes for the staff. One day a customer came to pick up his car during lunch and Sam offered him lunch. This customer was so impressed with his lunch he told Sam he should be fixing lunch and dinner instead of cars.  So Sam remodeled the house above the garage and The Smiling Elephant was born and those of us who live in Nashville are very happy for the change in career.

The Smiling Elephant
2213 8th Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37204

In our house it’s called Thai Saturday. We head out of our apartment every Saturday at 4:20, just like we are 65 years old and head over to The Smiling Elephant. They open at 4:30 on Saturdays for dinner and if you are not there when the doors open, it is not unusual to stand outside and wait in line for an hour. The Smiling Elephant does not take reservations and has limited indoor and outdoor seating.

ouside outside 3

We ventured out of our routine this week and took some friends who have never been to The Smiling Elephant. We arrived at 6:00 pm on a Thursday and we only had to wait 15 minutes for our table outside. The inside of the restaurant is a testament to Sam and his handiwork. There is wood everywhere, literally from the floor to the ceiling.


They are famous, and I mean famous, in Nashville for their Pad Thai, but I always get the Cashew Chicken and I have been known to change the chicken to tofu because this tofu is amazing. Not soft and squishy and not greasy from being fried, it’s just amazing. They serve it over Jasmine rice and a Satay dipping sauce. It’s made with pineapples, so many cashews you’ll go nuts and house roasted chili peppers that give it just the right amount of heat. They also will bring you two little jars that essentially contain fire, in case you needed a little more heat in your dish.

Cashew Tofuhot

My husband orders Tofu Rama, which hasn’t been on the menu in years, but because we go there every week, they see him walk in the door and they just start making it. Tofu Rama is the same amazing Tofu, smothered in what my husband describes as peanut sauce from the Gods.

tofu Rama

There is not a lot of parking, but if you look around the edge of the parking lot you will find okra plants, chili plants, tomato plants and basil plants all planted by someone at The Smiling Elephant and used in their dishes. Now that IS farm to table! Whenever we are completely stuffed and walking back to our car, I always stop and say a little prayer at the Spirit house and leave an offering.

spirit house
The Smiling Elephant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Gina DeNicola

I feel like I’ve been baking forever, but I believe my dad is the reason I started. He would bake all the time for us as kids and everything was always from scratch. I learned how to make everything from bagels to cream puffs to angel food cake from him. I worked my way up from selling cookies for extra money to buy my kids Christmas presents to owning a full-service bakery in Nashville. After making croissants by hand for a year straight, I developed arthritis so bad in my thumbs I couldn’t hold a rolling pin anymore and I had to close my doors. To give my hands something to do that didn’t involve butter or a rolling pin, I started to write and discovered a new love. I am excited to share with what the country might already know, Nashville is more than Country Music and Cowboy Boots, it has amazing food. Check out my blog, Heart Written Words chronicling the journey of closing a bakery and life after.

1 Comment

  1. Reply


    August 28, 2015

    Looks amazing! I wonder how I can get that Peanut sauce recipe from the Gods?? Ask your husband if he knows? 🙂