Son Nam appeals to students’ wallets and tastebuds
Houston has the third largest Vietnamese population in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center, so dining at a Vietnamese restaurant is not an uncommon experience around here.
Dining in a Vietnamese restaurant owned by a UH alumnus is perhaps less common.
Sơn Nam restaurant, owned by UH alumna Trang Le, is located in the Gulfgate Mall shopping plaza and is a 10-minute drive from UH.
A stack of The Cougar catches the attention of myself and Life and Arts editor Paulina Rojas as we take our seats, already feeling that Sơn Nam cares about the UH community.
The menu includes dishes like the traditional Vietnamese broth phở, the egg noodle soup mì, the vermicelli dish bún, a variety of the rice plates cơm dĩaand a personal favorite, bánh mì.
Most items on the menu are under $10, and students receive a 15 percent discount.
In addition, Sơn Nam has a happy hour after 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and all day on the weekends, when small bowls of phở cost $4.99 and regular bowls cost $5.99.
We started out with a Thai tea and a cafê sũa đá, Vietnamese iced coffee. Having had many imitations before, there was little expectation for the quality of the drinks. But we were proven wrong.
The Thai tea is not overly sweet, and it is not evident whether a powder or real leaves were used. The cafê sũa đá is strong, and the coffee doesn’t get drowned under the flavor of the condensed milk.
So far, so good.
We decided to try the phở chin nạm gầu gân sách, a phở with well-done brisket, flank, fatty brisket, tendon and tripe; the cơm thịt nướng, a rice plate with charcoal-broiled pork; and the bánh mì đặc biệt, a Vietnamese sandwich special combo with pork, chicken and beef.
Anyone who is familiar with the Chinatown area near Bellaire Boulevard in Southwest Houston knows that there are several phở restaurants that pepper the street.
The quality of phở restaurants in that area seems to have decreased, so the phở at Sơn Nam was a pleasant surprise. The broth is hearty, and there aren’t traces of saltiness in it like what would be found in the restaurants on Bellaire Boulevard.
Cơm dĩa plates are a simple dish, but because of that, the ingredients that go into them are not usually anything spectacular.
However, the pork in our cơm dĩa was juicy and worth a second visit to taste again.
Bánh mì is a personal favorite because of its simplicity and price. The bánh mì we tried is a little more expensive than most places, but worth it.
The flavor of the meat bursts on the tongue. The spread is laid on to the point where it’s neither gloppy nor almost nonexistent. These two small, but important, factors have made the extra money worth it.
The servers are friendly and attentive. How they hold up in busier circumstances is to be determined, but their geniality felt real.
Finding a good Vietnamese restaurant has been a challenge, because the go-to restaurants have decreased in quality, but Sơn Nam has been a treasure of a find, being so close to the UH community and its students.