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Chicken bun with zoodles.

Image: Alice Levitt

We all have that friend who says they'll eat anything but doesn't really mean it. Mine specified before lunch that she wanted to eat lighter, but was otherwise open to whatever. In that case, my neighborhood go-to is Nam Eatery, which has the best Vietnamese noodle bowls I've tried in the Loop.

When I met her there, she was already disappointed to have learned that the tofu at Nam is fried. She'd have to eat some lean animal protein, in the form on chicken. But the gentleman working at the counter did let her in on an off-menu option that might make her goal of keeping things lean a little more achievable. For several months, he said, Nam has been serving zucchini noodles, or zoodles, in place of rice noodles for a few extra dollars.

For contrast, I also ordered a chicken bun, but with the typical rice vermicelli. The pieces of chicken in both were larger than what's usually served at Nam, but were still well-marinated. The top layer of leafy lettuce, matchsticks of cucumber, pickled carrot and daikon, and blanched bean sprouts was also identical. But when my friend lifted her chopsticks to push through the upper stratum to add the chile-flecked nuoc cham to the bowl, she tugged at swirls of zucchini. At first bite, she declared them prepared perfectly, with the same al dente bite one would wish for in noodle and zoodle alike. And now she knows that when she's hoping for a virtuous meal with lots of flavor (and the option to eat that pork-stuffed egg roll or not), Nam is the place.

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Nam Eatery

$ Vietnamese 502 E. 20th St.

From the pickles to the pâté on the bánh mì, everything is made fresh at Nam Eatery. The black-and-white murals of Vietnamese life give the casual restaurant...

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