City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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Nam Phuong dining review, Norcross



If you are the kind of person who is easily distracted, you might want to face away from the back wall at Nam Phuong. There, projected images flash by in a never-ending slide show, from postcard scenery of Vietnamese countryside, to platters of glazed chicken and heaps of greenery, to rainbow-hued drinks served in milkshake glasses with paper umbrellas. There should be a sign at the door that reads “All guests with ADD must face south.”


All photos by Becky Stein, who could make a Converse sneaker look appetizing

Nam Phuong cuts a dashing figure that is rare in a city dominated by bare-bones pho (beef noodle soup) parlors. The dining room beckons in the grand manner of a Chinese banquet hall, ornate and glossy with an air of wealth. A water wall welcomes you at the front door with a shimmer of flowing energy. Walk past the well-stocked bar, where a magnum bottle of Johnnie Walker scotch posed in its own wooden cradle seems to say, “This is the good life.”

Opened by the mother-and-son team of Tieng and David Nguyen, Nam Phuong is already a sensation with Vietnamese diners, who pack it nightly. A growing crossover clientele comes as well, to explore the hundred-item-long menu and make new discoveries. I’ve found the salads to be revelatory, liked the soups and was indifferent to the stir-fried dishes.

You should by all means try one of the bun hoi dishes — a do-it-yourself summer roll assemblage with your choice of fillings. In fact, go for broke. Nam Phuong’s Ba Vi “Three Delights” ($23.95 for two, above, but could feed the cast of “Miss Saigon”) gives you the best taste of what this kitchen is up to. You get rounds of diaphanous, brittle rice sheets, a bowl of hot water to soften them in and gazillions of things to wrap inside. You moisten the wrap, lay it on your plate, then choose a delight from the three: shrimp mousse grilled on sugarcane, house-made pork sausage or a bundle of ground beef wrapped in grape leaves, then grilled.

nam2Now turn your attention to the garnishes: mats of tender rice noodle with sauteed scallion, cuke spears, marinated carrots and daikon, lettuce leaves and Vietnamese herbs. The purplish tia to is perilla leaf, which has a cooling sweetness. Spade-shaped giap ca is called “fish mint” in English because of its weird, weird taste. There’s no shame in preferring the spearmint.

The waiter will help you assemble the first bundle burrito-style, and you will marvel at its self-adhesion. Then you will dip it, wolf it down and immediately want another. If you so much as wrinkle your nose at the pungent dip, a bowl of sweet peanut sauce will be at your side.

In fact, the service staff has been nothing short of great over three visits. I’ve gone claiming to be a newbie to Vietnamese food and I’ve gone showing off whatever I know. They read me right both times, and steered me to the right spot on the summer roll to congealed pork blood spectrum. Few restaurants with such unfamiliar menus are so welcoming.

nam3If you don’t want to work for your dinner, try one of the other salads — all so fresh, lively, crunchy and zingy with ginger, lime and chile. Green papaya salad with shrimp and pork ($7.95, left) comes with crisp, superinflated shrimp crackers that snap, crackle and pop when you load them with salad and ginger dressing. A delicious mess. Chicken and cabbage salad ($8.95), so finely shredded and popping with slivered herbs, is like cole slaw applying for sainthood.

The sauteed dishes seem to come from a different kitchen, alas. Here, shaking beef ($9.95) is made with odd cuts of flank steak cooked to more than a quick sear. The version at Nam Vietnamese restaurant in Midtown melts in your mouth; this one works out your molars. Lemongrass chicken ($7.95) brings bouncy slices of white meat chicken and barely cooked bell pepper in an anodyne sauce, while squid with mustard greens ($8.95) seems like the kind of simple stir-fry that needs a quicker turn in the wok.


But the kitchen makes an excellent pho, with a dark broth that tingles with toasted cinnamon and star anise. The combination with pink rare steak, fat brisket, meatballs, flank, tendon and tripe ($7.50, above) is a textural symphony with a clean, pure flavor of beef. I do wish I hadn’t noticed that the coarse bumps along the strings of tripe reminded me of my cat’s tongue.

The restaurant has a serviceable list of beers and wine, as well as cocktails. But the non-alcoholic drinks are worth exploring. The lemon soda ($3) brings a sharp and frothy shaken citrus quencher. The salted lemon soda ($3) isn’t salty to taste but, rather, is made from mulled preserved lemons that taste a bit like Lemonhead candy. Truthfully, not my thing.

After three visits, I have a couple of not-my-things, a couple of amazing finds and a whole lot more to explore. Find me a more interesting Vietnamese restaurant in Atlanta.

5495 Jimmy Carter Blvd., Norcross, 770-409-8686
3stars5Food: Extensive Vietnamese menu
Service: Excellent for newcomers and explorers alike.
Price range: $$
Credit Cards: All major
Hours of operation: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Best dishes: Ban hoi, green papaya salad, pho
Vegetarian selections: Yes, but watch for fish sauce if you’re strict
Children: Lots of them
Parking: In lot
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: No
Noise level: Moderate
Patio: No
Takeout: Yes

45 comments Add your comment

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ajcdinecritic, John Kessler. John Kessler said: Nam Phuong dining review, Norcross [...]

B Ha

September 10th, 2010
7:59 am

the last time we were there the screen wall was showing what seemed to be a diva tribute show filled with gorgous women singing their hearts out. very entertaining, we both sat on one side of the table to watch! i love this place.


September 10th, 2010
8:11 am

Becky Stein’s food photography gets better every day…..


September 10th, 2010
8:21 am

Oh my goodness. I wants!!! *calling boyfriend to tell him where we’re going for dinner this weekend* A do it yourself fresh vietnamese spring roll platter is right up my alley!

The Red's Ninja

September 10th, 2010
8:48 am

“I do wish I hadn’t noticed that the coarse bumps along the strings of tripe reminded me of my cat’s tongue.”



September 10th, 2010
9:33 am

Love the bun hoi with the grilled shrimp. Craving it. BTW, one dish can feed two people.


September 10th, 2010
9:48 am

You promised to review real OTP restaurants.

Where are they?!

This oriental place sounds like a fancy overpriced Chin Chin.

Where is a review of an AFFORDABLE place to eat in my neck of the woods??

Please make it an AMERICAN food place as well so I can enjoy my meal.


September 10th, 2010
9:49 am

Tried this place on a Saturday night a few weeks ago. Similar experience. The salt and pepper tofu was outstanding. Texture is very unusual – airy and soft. I want to go again.

The strip mall outside was also fun to walk through after dinner. Lively place with several more restaurants.


September 10th, 2010
10:36 am

@ Sally

I am going to help John out here, as he is clearly busy trying to find interesting restaurants for the rest of us.

There is certainly one near you. Not sure is the inclusion of “Chili” in the name means it isn’t American enough for you, but I hear they have great baby back ribs.


September 10th, 2010
10:40 am

@JRC get a wrist brace Nancy, you’re scaring the children.

Sophie's Choice

September 10th, 2010
10:49 am

Really, John? Did you have to include “the coarse bumps along the strings of tripe reminded me of my cat’s tongue”??? Jiminy Christmas, bro– thanks for giving me the dry heaves! Not a reaction you want when folks read your restaurant reviews, I’d warrant…


September 10th, 2010
11:00 am

As I suspected, Chili’s is probably to close to ethnic cuisine for Sally, and the suggestion has made her angry. We should probably avoid Outback(Australian), Red Lobster(Commies), IHOP(international), McDonald’s(Scottish). Unfortunately American Pie is closed, American Roadhouse is inside 285. I think, however, I have found the perfect spot for her.

American Ale House Grille & Tap in Alpharetta if she can get past the “E” in Grille OR
All American Tavern in Marietta.

Enjoy your dinner!

John Kessler

September 10th, 2010
11:37 am

Sally – I can assure you Nam Phuong is not an imaginary restaurant.
Red’s Ninja – Thanks; Sophie’s Choice – Sorry.
JRC – Point wittily made. Now I’m gonna go stuff another summer roll in my face…


September 10th, 2010
11:45 am

@JRC I just laughed out loud in my cube, and am now getting odd looks from the neighbors. Thanks! ;)

@JK I’d really wish you’d share those summer rolls… Now I want some for lunch. LOL Gonna have to see if there are any decent vietnamese places in Alpharetta. >.<

[...] You can read the review here. [...]


September 10th, 2010
12:05 pm

All you food snobs need to shut up already.

Tell me where I can find a place with low prices, American food, is tolerant of children, is clean, and the food is outstanding.

I’ll give you a list of some places I like:

Olive Garden
Duluth Diner
Sweet Tomatoes

There should also be a clean and quiet place to change the twins’ diapers – not a bathroom!!


September 10th, 2010
12:08 pm

Also, it should be a place where others don’t stare at me.


September 10th, 2010
12:21 pm

Sally, Dick and Jane are looking for you. It’s time
to head back to Candyland.

West Midtown Diner

September 10th, 2010
12:23 pm

Sally –

Sounds like something along the lines of a Golden Corral or Ryans will make your day… Unless it is your Birthday, then you may enjoy something fancy like Longhorn.


September 10th, 2010
12:25 pm

I think I want to go to dinner with JRC – at least to treat him/her to a meal as payment for the laughs I’ve had today.

And what I really wish for is that people (like our gal Sal) would stop fake posting to blogs just trying to bait (bate? oh, maybe that’s a WHOLE OTHER kinda thing) us. I don’t know about the rest of you but I’ve developed almost a near sixth-sense for detecting such BS. C’mon – you’d either have to be a sociopath or terribly xenophobic to truly have the attitude these folks try and portray.

NOW – ON TOPIC – I’m making calls to see if I can snag any of my buds for a trip out to Norcross this weekend. HOPEFULLY, we’ll catch some of B Ha’s diva-stravaganza while we’re there. :)


September 10th, 2010
12:26 pm

@Sally, try Chuck E Cheeses. Right up your alley.

Son Hoang

September 10th, 2010
12:31 pm

One of my favorite Vietnamese restaurants to go eat. Chateau de Saigon off Buford Hwy near the Marshall’s side serves the same stuff as Nam Phuong but i believe their meats (la lot, grilled pork, and Nem Nuong) are marinated better and they have other dishes like baby dill sizzling fish and some kind of meat ball confit. They have a better pungent sauce too. (mam nem)

Quan Ba 9 which is across the street serves some items you won’t find better anywhere else: Bun Mam (Seafood noodle Soup / gumbo) and Bun Mang Vit (Duck / Bamboo Soup) with a side cabbage salad, and their chicken com dish.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by lovingpho, lovingpho. lovingpho said: Nam Phuong dining review, Norcross [...]

John Kessler

September 10th, 2010
12:51 pm

Son Hoang – Thanks for the comments! I do mention Chateau de Saigon in the “Behind the Review” feature.
I’m curious to try the mam nem there. This sauce contains very pungent shrimp paste and sweet pineapple juice among other ingredients, right? » Blog Archive

September 10th, 2010
12:58 pm

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Bobby Flay

September 10th, 2010
1:00 pm

@Sally. Try your house.


September 10th, 2010
1:02 pm

That whole shopping center is a treasure trove of good eats. The food court has great pho, chinese bbq and there is a Korean Suno dessert joint in the market as well. Outside you’ve got Wong Kee bbq, a Thai joint that I haven’t tried and a place that makes banh mi that I have also not tried. And of course there’s Nam Phuong which is great…

sally sue

September 10th, 2010
1:08 pm

Sally…. try Home Grown ga

sally sue

September 10th, 2010
1:10 pm

oh yes Sally …no staring allow at Home Grown ga

sally sue

September 10th, 2010
1:14 pm


September 10th, 2010
1:17 pm

Sally: Perhaps you should stick with McDonalds or Burger King.

Son of Puerquito

September 10th, 2010
1:50 pm

Hi Sally – you suck. Everyone here sucks. Go eat Bum-Bo.


September 10th, 2010
2:13 pm

Y’all leave Sally alone…it’s not her fault that she enjoys sitting outside her trailer eating a mess of raccoon stew, and swigging a big old keg of moonshine!

Son Hoang

September 10th, 2010
2:25 pm

John – Sorry I missed the “Behind the review feature” before posting my earlier comment. Great Article! Love your work!

Mam Nem is made of anchovies, lime, thai chillies, pineapples and some other things. May sound disguisting and may have a pungent for newbies, but after eating mam nem and going back to nuoc mam (nuoc cham) just doesn’t taste as good.


September 10th, 2010
2:27 pm

Sally, Sorry, You feel that way about other foods. You should try them out sometimes, there is great foods out there. But FYI, Sams Club has great pizza and hot dog which is in your budget and they taste good too. Buy the combo they include the drink and it is free refill ….. after finish eating there, you can then fill up the cup and bring it home …… tadaaaa you have free drink for dinner (or may be lunch for the next day)………. OH ….. I almost forget …. is Pizza ….. Italian ?????
I am sure for this big box, the restroom is big and have all accommodation for baby change too ……
PS: Home Depot have big restroom with baby changing table also, and sometime they give free food for customer ….. it is a great deal …..


September 10th, 2010
3:27 pm

Sally, if Olive Garden does it for you then I doubt any “foodie”, or even slightly adventurous eater is going to be able to help.

My grandmother, RIP, was a huge fan of Golden Corral and I hear they give you a lot of food, and it’s American.

Preach it, Sally!

September 10th, 2010
3:41 pm

I’m with you! I don’t like my menus with all them fancy soundin’ words. If it don’t start with “Cheese” and end with “burger” then you can count me out! Give me vienna sausages or give me death!

John Kessler

September 10th, 2010
4:47 pm

Sally – Stir the pot all you want, but cool it with the racist comments. I deleted your most recent one, as well as the one you made under another alias. Three times, and you’re off the board, IP address and all. Thanks.

Son of Puerquito

September 10th, 2010
5:35 pm

Once again I need to change my alias! stop hijacking it…

Bride of Puerquito

September 10th, 2010
5:37 pm

I just don’t see how Nam Phuong is on the same league as Woodfire Grill…


September 10th, 2010
5:43 pm

Well then, can we then slam some left leaning stickers on the prius and have some otp restaurant advice please??

Blissful G.

September 11th, 2010
9:31 pm

So good to see Nam Phuong get the love it deserves! It’s one of my favorite Vietnamese restaurants to open in years.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nicole Williams, NamPhuong Restaurant. NamPhuong Restaurant said: ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION – John Kessler's Review of Nam Phuong Restaurant – September 10,2010 [...]


September 12th, 2010
9:12 am

I love this place.

Doo Doo Delicacy

September 13th, 2010
10:10 am

I tried this place and its lacks a certain ambience. Probably just go to Burger King next time.