Keep Calm and Pho On.
This is the message I was greeted with when I walked into Nam Eatery on 20th St. It was printed across the entrance rug, and I couldn’t help but agree with it. I was ready to relax and slurp up hot pho on a winter night in Houston, which means it was just kind of cold outside.
Along with the rug’s play on a pop culture reference, the restaurant was decorated to be aesthetically pleasing to the modern eye. Black-and-white murals along the walls depict Vietnamese life, while sections feature chalkboard panels created for the customer who only eats out so they can Instagram it.
And because I especially love puns, I enjoyed the chalkboard panel covered in colorful #PhoPuns, like So Phonny, Phoeva and Phonomenal (I’d say they were quite Phobulous). On the other side of the restaurant, a chalkboard panel featured the real reason I was at Nam Eatery: “Pho is cheaper than therapy.”
The menu featured the classic Vietnamese options like banh mi, vermicelli bowls and, of course, pho, but the categories were given a modern flare that made me laugh. Some of the menu divisions were Fingerlicious (appetizers), Slurpers (pho), Be Vulnerable (alcohol) with the caption underneath reading, “We won’t judge you …,” and Temptations (dessert) with the caption, “Confessions available at your nearest church.”
I ordered the Pho Ga (chicken) at the counter and was promptly told by the cashier that it would come with a side of ginger sauce and that it was for dipping my chicken, not for pouring into my soup. It wasn’t long until my pho came out of the kitchen with a light steam coming from the bowl. When the server once again explained that I should not pour the ginger into my soup, I had a sneaking suspicion that many customers had made the mistake before.
Good news is that the chicken dipped in ginger was quite good. Now, normally I’ll try a sauce but rarely continue to use it. Yet, I was hooked by the ginger and quickly went from dipping to dunking my chicken.
While pho is a relatively basic dish and its strength or weakness is associated with how well the broth is made, for me I need good broth coupled with a good amount of cilantro and lime (this is a rule for 90 percent of food I eat).
Apart from ordering at the counter, the rest of Nam Eatery’s experience is self-service. There’s free lime water available for customers and a walk-up veggie station.
Some may not realize what a big deal that is, but anyone who loves pho can admit that a majority of places are stingy with their bean sprouts, cilantro and limes. It was almost a relief to walk up to the veggie area and pile on as much as I wanted.
So, while the pho broth at Nam Eatery was on the simple side, I was able to get it to my liking with my extra load of veggies.
Address: 502 E. 20th St. Unit B
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday–Saturday
Entrée prices: $6-$15
Senior discount: No
Health options: Pho Tofu
Star of the show: Chicken dipped in ginger sauce