Local Spotlight

Overlooking the Cheese Factor at Nam: Noodles and More

When some of the best pho in town is served inside a trailer on the southeast side, and when you have to travel into the heart of Houston's "Chinatown" to get the best Vietnamese in the city, it's hard to take a place like Nam: Noodles and More seriously.

It is, after all, located in a strip center in West University. The only other Vietnamese restaurant in the vicinity is Miss Saigon Cafe, long-standing but far from noteworthy. I can't even say the name "Nam: Noodles and More" without rolling my eyes. But I do have to admit after a couple of visits that once you overlook the cheese factor, Nam isn't so bad. Dare I say, it's even good.

Nam is the latest restaurant from the La family, the same folks behind the Kim Son chain. It opened only a few months ago, promising authentic Vietnamese and Southeast Asian cuisine in a friendly and contemporary environment. Although "authentic" is a word too often used and not often true, Nam's offerings are far better than expected.

Nam employs the same concept as that of Pei Wei: You walk in, place your order and are given a number. A runner brings your food to the table, but everything else is self-serve. And in that vein, the best thing about Nam has to be its condiment bar -- far too many times have I not been given enough bean sprouts or jalapeños but had too much cilantro. Here, you can customize it to your liking and you can keep coming back for more. Nam keeps the bar clean, the vegetables look fresh and inviting and someone is really OCD with the hoisin sauce.

On my first visit to Nam, I walked up to the counter and ordered the pho.

"Which pho did you want?" They really wanted me to say it.

"Yes," I sighed. "I'll have the 'un-PHO-gettable.'"

The "un-PHO-gettable" ($8.95) is the standard beef pho, and it comes with eye of round beef, brisket and beef meatballs (bo vien). While the price is definitely higher than at your average Bellaire pho joint, Nam delivers a rather large bowl and doesn't skimp on the meat. The pho broth was flavorful without being oversalted or too laden with fat. It was quite comparable to any bowl of pho I've had on Bellaire.

On a second visit, I tried the marinated pork V-bowl ($8.95): rice vermicelli noodles, fresh bean sprouts, cucumber, lettuce and carrots, topped with your choice of marinated grilled meat. And again, though the price may seem a little steep, you do have to remember the location and the fact that Nam does give you more than enough food. The only item I questioned and have not tried were the Vietnamese sandwiches (banh mi). I can't see myself shelling out $7.95 for a sandwich, even if it does come with a soup or salad.

Having just moved to the Medical Center area, I miss being thisclose to Pho Saigon and Givral's in Midtown, so I welcome Nam to the area and look forward to trying more of its offerings...even though I really hate ordering that pho by name.

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Minh T Truong