For the past two years, I have been teaching a class at UNC called, “Analyzing Public Opinion,” in which I teach students how to create original public opinion surveys to examine salient political issues in an empirical manner. By learning statistical analysis, students also learn how to serve as more informed voters and general consumers of information. They leave my class with an understanding that websites like Yelp do not collect random samples of restaurant-goers and instead report information from people who typically have experiences at the extreme ends of the spectrum—overly pleasant or utterly disastrous. However, I will admit I was a bit surprised to see the newly opened restaurant Namu’s five star rating on Yelp, despite knowing that reviewers may not represent the population as a whole. In order to kill my curiosity, I decided to visit for dinner and lunch, and I can say that this particular Yelp rating is well deserved.
Firmly believing a restaurant’s atmosphere can alter a dining experience, I arrived at Namu’s nondescript front entrance off 15-501 with skepticism. After viewing photos of the new establishment on social media, I wondered if my friends and I were in the right place. Upon entering, we gaped at this peaceful oasis located in an area comprised mainly of strip malls adorned with national chain restaurants and retail shops. After operating individual food trucks in the Triangle area, collaborators Bo Kwon and Joe Choi opened Namu with hopes of providing a pleasant atmosphere to accompany their beloved Korean dishes. The idyllic outside seating perfectly combines with the zen-like indoor area. Rarely do I visit a place that inspires me to work on my dissertation, but Namu somehow does just that in addition to fostering the ideal intimate space to catch up with friends.
Unaware of the outdoor gardens, I enjoyed my first meal at Namu indoors and left with the intention of returning for more Korean eats and the desire to explore the unexpectedly large premises. Customers order at the coffee counter at the front of the restaurant and place their order numbers on the table while they wait for their food to arrive. On my first visit, I ordered a local beer from Raleigh Brewing ($6) and the Bo’s special ($13), which contains mandoo (Korean dumplings), along with Korean BBQ, rice, and spring mix. I selected spicy pork mandoo and beef bulgogi BBQ, and I highly recommend this combination for those who enjoy the heat. While I did not finish this meal, I immensely enjoyed the opportunity to combine dumplings, my one true love, with Korean BBQ, a house specialty. Perhaps the most enjoyable experience of all was being able to sample from the various condiments placed around the restaurant. While the dumplings and beef needed no alteration, I cannot turn down the opportunity to intensify the flavors with spicy mayo and tomato and vinegar-based Korean BBQ sauces.
After a fabulous dinner with friends, I could not wait to return to this food haven nestled in an ordinary shopping center. Recently, I had lunch with another friend at Namu, and I can once again validate its perfect Yelp rating. We dined outdoors on a crisp November afternoon and both exclaimed with joy how much we appreciated the various statues, water fountains, and gardens. I usually prefer lighter lunches and heavier dinners, so this time I ordered the spicy pork mandoo ($6) and a side of spicy kimchi ($3), rather than a combination plate. Once again, the dumplings contained a generous amount of spicy pork and were fried perfectly, providing a nice crisp in every bite. The kimchi was a solid side, and although I preferred the tender Korean BBQ, I enjoyed the lighter option at lunch. My friend ordered two Korean BBQ tacos ($3.50 each), one with the spicy pork and another with spicy chicken. Sizeable amounts of BBQ sat atop corn tortillas, and Asian slaw along with typical taco fixings rounded out this delectable fusion option.
Even after two visits, I have not managed to make a dent in Namu’s extensive menu options. I will happily use my slow-moving dissertation as an excuse to visit Namu again soon, so I can sample their coffee menu. Based on the stellar entrees, I have no doubt that the lattes and other espresso drinks live up to the hype. Also, the combination of Asian-fusion food with comforting beverages sounds like an ideal way to spend an afternoon procrastinating…I mean completing my research.
Amy Sentementes is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at UNC Chapel Hill, where she studies political psychology and public opinion. She has managed to cope with the stress of graduate school by developing a love of cooking and “procrastibaking” for her friends and students. Additionally, Amy enjoys visiting local restaurants and breweries, and she hopes her research regarding group identities and stereotypes can help her evaluate cuisines from a unique perspective. A native Texan, she also loves visiting friends and family in the Lone Star State and cheering on her TCU Horned Frogs and Dallas Cowboys. You can follow her on Instagram @gradschoolfoodie.