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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Nam

AJC Staff

Rice Flour Tamales: AJC Staff

For at least a year, owner Alex Kinjo has been encouraging me to try the pho at Nam, which is his mother’s recipe.

I have always nodded politely and said, “Yeah, yeah.”

When I want pho, I go to a good, cheap pho parlor, such as I did yesterday at Pho Dai Loi #2. When I dine at Nam, I want something more restaurant-y, such as these rice flour tamales served in the shade of an anthurium. With or without the rude flower, they are wonderful.

But when I was making plans to meet friends for lunch in Midtown recently, I remembered Kinjo’s mom’s pho.

The menu at Nam has changed little over the years. This isn’t the restaurant where you go looking for daily specials and seasonal ingredients, but rather where you revisit old favorites.

nam1We began with an order of cha gio rolls, served with well-trimmed lettuce leaves, marinated veggies and herbs for rolling. All the fresh greenery makes the fried crunch that much more satisfying.

nam7This green mango (as in the skin was still green) salad with grilled shrimp came in a wash of nuoc cham — that lightly sweetened blend of funky fish sauce, lime and chile. I know this has become kind of a stupid, food-writer-y comment to make, but the sauce really does give a dimension of umami — that expansive, mouth-watering primary taste we so appreciate in things like stewed and grilled meat. I really loved the weird juxtaposition of umami with crisp, sour mango. For Westerners, it’s the kind of exciting contrast we don’t experience often enough. (Think cole slaw on a barbecue sandwich, for one example.)

nam6And here comes the pho. It really is different, with a rich and gorgeously developed beef broth. I loved the black pepper floating on top, and the slivered red onion gave the broth a bright kick. The pho is not served steaming hot, which allowed the beef to stay rare and not toughen in the soup. Then again, I look forward to the way typical pho fogs my glasses. Guess I’m of two minds on this question. Still, I give this pho a hearty recommendation.

nam5I can never leave Nam without ordering the lemongrass tofu — crisply fried cubes that contain loads of minced lemongrass in their breading. This order was not quite as full flavored as it has been in the past. It usually has more of that citrusy tingle.

nam4(Quick digression: This visit to Nam did motivate me to try and make lemongrass tofu at home. The results weren’t bad at all. I found this frozen minced lemongrass at the Buford Highway Farmers Market, and it’s exactly what you need.)


Finally, we ordered this clay pot caramel shrimp — not served in a clay pot, but no worries. The sauce had a fantastic balance of sweet, bitter and salty elements, and the shrimp had a fresh flavor and juicy snap.

All in all, a terrific lunch — one worth braving Midtown Promenade’s hellacious parking lot for.

17 comments Add your comment


November 22nd, 2009
10:50 am

Shadow 7071

November 22nd, 2009
11:49 am

Did you ask them where their ingredients come from?????


November 23rd, 2009
7:41 am

Breathtakingly beautiful photos & description, this qualifies as food erotica, not food porn. Enough to make you wander the streets of Midtown in search of the real thing.


November 23rd, 2009
9:14 am

Thanks for reminding me about the lemongrass tofu. It is so delicious! I love the claypot shrimp as well. Cha gio rolls, green mango salad and pho are on my to do list. But I agree when it comes to pho, Pho Dai Loi rocks!


November 23rd, 2009
9:50 am

I’ve not been to Nam, being OTP, but have read great things. John… how does the price compare to my little run of the mill pho shop? there, I get 2 gai cuon and a medium pho, and drink for about $10… and does all the other stuff make up for the ATL parking?

John Kessler

November 23rd, 2009
10:06 am

D’oh! I forgot to put in prices. I’ll remedy that when I’m back in the office. That’s one thing I’ve been trying to do consistently.
The pho costs $8.50 at lunch so….$3 more than your place? That entire meal for three cost about $50, so it’s not cheap/cheap but not expensive for a fine meal in a pretty room with attentive service.
I feel sorry for Nam now that Starbucks has claimed a corner of the lot and all but obscured the restaurant from sight.
Reds: I think you should go and try it. My must-haves are the rice flour tamales, the “Mom’s cabbage soup” (nice broth, small cabbage bundles filled with cha gio stuffing), the lemongrass tofu and the claypot dishes. They also do a great rendition of shaking beef (seared tenderloin cubes to dip in lime, salt and pepper), but it’s a bit expensive.


November 23rd, 2009
10:15 am

LOVE LOVE LOVE the shaking beef at Nam. Fortunately, I’m blessed that I can walk across Piedmont Park to get to Nam and don’t have to fight the crazy cars in the parking lot. (Although there’s usually plenty of parking.) Can’t wait to try the lemongrass tofu – sounds wonderful!


November 23rd, 2009
10:18 am

Lemongrass tofu at Chateau De Saigon is fabulous!!!


November 23rd, 2009
10:19 am

Thanks John. Sounds tasty. :) We tend to do Saigon cafe, just because there is one right around the corner, but it’s definitely not the best. :)

David Galloway

November 23rd, 2009
4:29 pm

Enter your comments here

David Galloway

November 23rd, 2009
4:32 pm

I have enjoyed your column. Your artilcles are informative and enticing. You give us a pretty full description of the restaurant being reviewed, along with some good pictures. I look forward to reading your work and then trying out the suggestions. Thanks. In today’s journalistic ethos, I am grateful that AJC is supporting this section.


November 23rd, 2009
5:55 pm

any place to get good pho in North Fulton?

John Kessler

November 24th, 2009
4:44 pm

Thanks, David!
Kristin: Alpha/Roz? Not sure..


November 25th, 2009
9:44 am


Not sure if your still checking responses to this post. That frozen minced lemongrass looks to be the ticket. So often BHFM (and I saw Disco Kroger also) sell lemongrass in bundles of about a pound when we only need a stalk or two. What section of the vastness that is BHFM did you find the container? I may just send you an email.


November 25th, 2009
9:47 am

Nam (terrible name – never heard a Vietnamese refer to his county as Nam, sorry these are Japanese) looks to be Cali-Vietnamese; an attempt to serve “upscale” Vietnamese. Similar to Com, Chateau Saigon and Ginger Restaurant. Food is fine but far from anything I have had in and about Sai Gon going back to 1968 and recently as 2007. I have never seen an upscale restaurant (Vietnamese; Chinese, French, Japanese, Korean yes) in Sai Gon until some Viet Kieu return and opened a series of knock-offs for Viet Kieu and tourist.

cha gio should be made with rice paper not egg roll wrapper.

John Kessler

November 25th, 2009
10:48 am

JW: It’s in the aisle of freezer cases that face the Asian dry goods on the far left side. Go to the housewares side, walk through ramen noodle wonderland, and you’ll see the Asian country by country aisles on the left, and the freezers on the right filled with dumplings. (Usually there are some sample tables there). Look for the Vietnamese frozen goods. Not as pungent as fresh, but so fanfreakingtastic mixed in with panko for a fried chicken breast.
Jerry: YES on cha gio. In Denver, where I moved here from, all the restaurants use rice paper. What’s the deal here?


November 25th, 2009
7:40 pm

I went to Nam this afternoon to try out grandma’s Pho only to be told that they “ran out of Pho.” How can you run out of Pho? They had “chicken Pho” but, come on, give me a break. I got the tofu w/ lemongrass instead but my body still screamed for Pho. I had to treat myself to a Guinness in the sun at the Highlander just to go back to work and not up Buford Highway for a proper lunch.
The kids and I will head to Pho #1 on Friday where I hope to never hear those horrible words again.
No Pho??? Humbug!