Because I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, it took me more than a little while to understand fully the name of Houston’s newest chain of fast-casual Asian fusion restaurants. “NAM…Noodles…And…More,” I mused to myself the first time I entered the Rice Village location, “does ‘nam’ refer to, like, Vietnam because they have ‘pho‘?” Yeah, I’m not going to tell you when I finally realized “NAM” was an acronym.
It took me infinitely less time to recognize that NAM had achieved what has evaded so many other franchise Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese restaurants (I’m looking right at you, Pei-Wei). That is to say, the ability to offer reasonably-priced Asian staples with mild flavor profiles that appeal to consumers that are more conservative in their culinary preferences as well as to adventurous foodies that would go to the end of a dark alley in Hanoi if it meant being able to try the city’s best dumplings.
If I had to place myself in either category, I’d lean more toward the latter as the food snob in me would never look to NAM as the source of authentic Asian fare in Houston. But after multiple visits, I’m no longer hesitant to issue the broad claim that NAM offers very good versions of traditional Vietnamese noodle soups, rice bowls, and Chinese appetizers for prices that undercut most other similar establishments inside the loop.
The starters are solid albeit not particularly inventive: spring rolls, “crab-tons” (crab rangoon), beef satay, potstickers, and the other usual suspects found in the first part of the menu in Americanized Asian restaurants. To save a few bucks and some room in your stomach, I would bypass this course and head straight to the soups and rice bowls, NAM’s most notable dishes. And by “soups,” I mean the gamut of steaming bowls of broth and accompaniments common to Vietnam, China, and Thailand. There’s the no-frills albeit satisfying hot and sour soup and the slightly more complicated Viet-Ton, with shrimp and pork wontons floating in a sea of chicken stock with barbeque pork and vegetables. My favorites, however, are the heartier noodle soups, like the Un-Pho-Gettable Pho, a carnivorous compilation of beef balls, juicy brisket, and eye of round in beef broth. A more botanical alternative is the aromatic vegan pho; try also the Jasmine Chicken Noodle Soup for the taste of poultry laced with flowers.
If you prefer carbohydrates rather than liquids as the foundation for your entrees, go for the vermicelli bowls (“v-bowls”), which blend noodles, sliced cucumber, lettuce, and carrots or the rice plates with white or brown rice and sautéed vegetables. Both include your choice of protein (chicken, beef, honey-glazed shrimp, tofu, etc.). NAM also offers a smattering of more random rice and noodle dishes, some more inventive (coconut curry shrimp linguini) than others (chicken lo mein).
Dining in at NAM is fine and dandy though its fluorescent lighting and plastic tables don’t do much in terms of atmosphere, so I suggest grabbing and going to a second location. On a nice day, for me that’s Menil Park; during one of our recent ice storms, it’s my cozy den.
NAM Noodles and More
2512 Rice Blvd
Houston, TX. 77005