Nam Phuong: Pho Queen of Buford Highway?

TLDR: Nam Phuong is an authentic Vietnamese restaurant serving traditional pho and more with impressive quality, all at a speed and cost that guarantees that I will be back for more.

The last queen of Vietnam was called Nam Phuong, the only queen consort with nearly equal ruling power as her husband. A pho restaurant that I found on Buford Highway bears the same name  and is just as royal, but without the price.

A restaurant situated in its own little shopping center, Nam Phuong is a picture-perfect place for all crowds looking for a simple but speedy service.

On a Thursday evening around 7 PM, the place is not too busy; interestingly enough, it is not predominantly Asian families who come to savor authentic Vietnamese food. Even on Saturday nights, the restaurant never gets overcrowded, ensuring that you’ll probably be seated easily and without fuss.

I see young couples. I see American families. I also see a lone man sitting in the next booth over who looks like Tom Hanks. My first impression is that this space is popular for first dates, but family friendly at the same time.

This restaurant seemed a bit understaffed, as I saw perhaps four total waiters in charge of taking orders, serving, cleaning up, etc. Our dishes arrived one by one, making checking in redundant. Still, we had to flag down the waiter when it came time to pay, and no one was particularly smiley towards us. I can sense the frustration unfamiliar newcomers might feel, even if the employees still meet the basic standard of politeness.

Due to my temporary inability to eat seafood (damn wisdom teeth surgery!), I asked for my sweet and sour soup (originally with shrimp or fish) with tofu, to which my nervous waiter immediately called a more authoritative individual to the table. I greatly appreciated his immediate compliance with my request, because it revealed an ability to adapt to customers’ individual needs and desires.

For my mother, father and I, I ordered the family special for 2, as well as a huge bowl of steaming pho. I just had to see what Nam Phuong was all about.

Pho, originally a type of Vietnamese breakfast fast food, has since grown popular around the world; in the 1990’s, as relations between the US and Vietnam began to warm, Little Saigons began to pop up throughout the country.

Pho refers specifically to the rice noodles served in a both of clear brother, traditionally served with slices of meat and soupy greens wilted in.

My bowl ($7.95 for combination beef pho) took at most, 5 minutes to prepare. It arrived at the table along with a separate plate piled high with raw mung beans, soup greens, Thai basil, optional jalapeno slices and the classic wedge of lime. I immediately tossed the vegetables in to wilt, and took a sip of the broth. The transparent liquid is so deceitful; it yields unbelievable flavor. The combination bowl featured different cuts of beef, not to  mention that the bowl it came in was too much for all three of us to handle.

I am so satisfied with the pho served at Nam Phuong.

The family special was a five course meal.

The two spring rolls that formed the appetizer were delightfully crispy, though the insides were mushy, leaving me unable to identify what meats and vegetables there were. Despite this, it was well flavored, especially when doused with sweet n’ sour sauce.

Next came a huge bowl of white restaurant rice, which, fun fact: makes my knees go weak. I couldn’t believe the 2 person special was just $29.95 total, meaning that each dish, the monster rice bowl not included, came out around $6 each. A future visit revealed the monster bowl to only come when customers order the special, but a smaller replica is typically available otherwise.

The short ribs that later arrived were slightly tender but still offered a bite, served on a square platter, and artfully prepared. Smothered in a delicious brown sauce, but they paired well with the plain white rice. Each corner of the platter hosted a different variety of vegetable, but I was particularly delighted to see pickled daikon (Asian radish) and carrots, always crunchy and tangy.

The hot and sour tofu soup offered a variety of veggies, including okra, tomatoes, and greens and was complimented by firm cubes of tofu, pineapples for sweetness, and of course, more noodles. Unfortunately, this was offset by the overwhelming taste of the broth itself. The sweetness from the pineapple combined with its overall acidic tartness reminded me of…to put it simply…barf. I will never order this again.

String beans is one of my favorite dishes ever, across many Asian cultures. Stir-frying them preserves the crunchy element, as well as shrivels them up to delightfulness. With its efficiency in time, ingredients, and simplicity, I’m surprised that this cooking method hasn’t completely taken over America yet.

I’m rarely disappointed with the string bean dishes presented to me at Asian restaurants, and that of Nam Phuong was no exception. Saucy, crunchy, and complimented well with beef shreds, this dish did not disappoint.

Another highlight dish from a second visit:  tofu and mixed vegetables on stir fried noodles ($7.95). Man oh man, was this satiating and satisfying; egg noodles tossed with thin chunks of chewy tofu in a perfectly seasoned soy sauce yielded bok choy! Broccoli! Shrooms! The egg noodles really completed this dish though, to be honest.

On the menu, under the family special, the very last course is just called “dessert.” I spent most of dinner wondering what it could be. An authentic Vietnamese delicacy? A sweet bun? A chilled soup? Other Asian restaurants sometimes serve these as complimentary desserts. as I inwardly squealed with antici….

pation, my heart deflated as our waiter brought us a tiny plate, stacked with three small cubes of…jello?

Life lesson: do not set your expectations too high. These firm jello cubes were bright green, opaque, lightly sweetened, and ambiguous in flavor. Not the highlight of my meal.

But in evaluating meals and restaurants as a whole, one must always think big picture, and when I think of Nam Phuong, here’s what I envision:

“Clean.” – an unprecedented remark my mom made minutes after we arrived, as each table was clean and the atmosphere pleasant, albeit lacking a specific identity.

“Authentic.” One of the telltale signs of a truly authentic restaurant is a bilingual menu, especially one that puts Vietnamese first.

“Cheap.” For three people, our meal was ~$40 and we had so many leftovers (3 medium sized boxes and 2 soup containers worth).

“Speedy.” All of our food took no longer than 10 minutes to arrive and quality was not sacrificed to achieve this; few other sit-down restaurants can compare.

“Delicious.” Overall, aside from the soup and dessert, the dishes I sampled were all far beyond satisfactory, and the presentation was similarly impressive. Every mouthful was washed down with a sip of ice water, flavored with orange slices.

Basic information:

4051 Buford Highway NE, Atlanta, GA 30345

(404) 633-2400

Open 7 days a week, 10AM-10PM

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