Eats & Greets: New Rice Village Ramen Shop Nao Is Now Open

With Kubo’s no longer open, the Rice Village shopping district hasn’t had much to choose from in the way of Japanese food, but “Nao” that’s changed. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Nao Ramen House is now open in the space that was formerly the restaurant “55” at 5510 Morningside. It’s owned by Piran Esfahani, who is also involved with The West End pub. For a time, he owned Tarakaan, the on-again, off-again combination restaurant and club in Midtown which closed earlier this year. The chef there was Rob Frias and Esfahani has put him in charge of Nao.

We were invited in for a preview of some of Nao’s ramen offerings the day before it opened to the public. Making ramen for a couple of media guests is different than making giant pots of broth for the masses. Still, what we tried were solid renditions of tonkotsu ramen, made with milky, collagen-laden pork bone stock, and shoyu ramen with soy sauce-infused beef stock. The shoyu stock did seem rather concentrated and salty—but, again, it was a non-standard batch. Regardless, Esfahani and his chefs readily admitted they were still tweaking some last minute issues, including dealing with stock changes that result as the water evaporates.

On warmer evenings, the attractive patio at Nao will be a likely hangout in Rice Village.
On warmer evenings, the attractive patio at Nao will be a likely hangout in Rice Village. Photo courtesy of Nao Ramen House

Nao also offers a vegetarian spicy miso ramen and a chicken ramen. There’s a red curry version under development that also has a base of chicken stock. Esfahani says that all the stocks require 18 to 22 hours of cooking time.

Snacks and light side dishes include seaweed salad, bao with a choice of pork belly, short rib and soft shell crab fillings and “Kyoto Fries” topped with bacon, short rib, negi (Welsh green onion), furikake and wasabi. Check out the full menu at the Nao web site.

A long bar anchors one side of the room and the drink list includes about six each of wine, cocktails and sake. There’s also about the same number of of Japanese whiskeys.

A selection of Japanese whiskeys at Nao Ramen House in Rice Village. Photo by Phaedra Cook
A selection of Japanese whiskeys at Nao Ramen House in Rice Village. Photo by Phaedra Cook

While a few ramen restaurants in Houston make noodles in-house, that’s a battle Esfahani has decided to pass on—and that’s probably a wise decision. Few restaurants have the skill and equipment to create perfectly textured ramen noodles. It’s a job often best left up to specialists.

On the day of our visit, Nao’s noodles had the proper balance between firm and tender—a factor that is utterly critical for good ramen.

A fellow food writer keenly observed a non-traditional ramen topping of sliced red onion. Esfahani didn’t know if it was supposed to be that way and consulted with one of the chefs about the issue during our visit. It’s clear that there are still a few details to finalize, but Nao accomplishes Esfahani’s goal of establishing a ramen spot that’s “casual, hip and cheap.”

Nao Ramen House
5510 Morningside, (713) 526-1669
Open Sunday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and
Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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