Nha Toi translates as “Our House,” and it really does taste like it. This place makes simple, homey northern Vietnamese food. Nha Toi is like a dream, says Alice Pastis, or at least to a flashback to her childhood in Vietnam eating her mother’s traditional cooking–her mother’s old country cooking, that is, before they moved to the US and she started using American ingredients and time-saving shortcuts.
Look for the specials. Nha Toi offers shaking beef and green papaya salad, like any other decent Vietnamese restaurant, on their 180 item menu. But the specials menu includes a profusion of items completely unique to the Bay Area Viet dining scene.
Here are some notes to entice you: Raw fish salad is spectacular. It’s very fresh fish cooked in lime, like ceviche. The fish is not flaky, but more pleasantly chewy, like lobster. Add lots of finely chopped peanuts and herbs, and a blanket of crispy fried shallots. And some perfectly fried shrimp chips on the side.
Ca nuc kho mia, $9: Norwegian mackerel braised in sugarcane sauce. This is meltingly tender fish, rich in omega-3 fats. The slightly peppery sauce is shudderingly beautiful (and not very sweet). There are no pin bones in the fish, just a spine so soft it disintegrates in your mouth.
Canh mong toi/muop, $8: soup with Vietnamese spinach, squash, fresh shrimp, and charmingly misshapen mini-patties of crab. The broth is not much more than water with the flavor of veggies and seafood, but that simplicity is key to the pleasures of this dish.
Nem ran: spring rolls made with thin rice paper wrappers from Hanoi. These are northern-style spring rolls, using a different wrapper than the more common southern-style cha gio (also available here). These nem ran are filled with fresh crab, black mushroom, and some glass noodles. The filling has more oomph than your usual spring roll, and wrappers are fried to a crisp on the outside, but still a tender and chewy inside.
Mixed ong choy salad: This is a dish of the North Vietnamese poor–a jellyfish substitute, for those who can’t afford real jellyfish. It’s pork skin, with the fat removed, cooked gently to the texture of jellyfish. It looks like long shaved slices of onion, and is served with ong choy, halved shrimp, chopped mint, sesame sauce, and fish-sauce dressing. Very odd, but very tasty.
Exciting dishes yet untried include: raw beef salad with toasted rice and ginger, steamed young chicken with julienned lime leaves, and steamed pork with herbs and shrimp paste.
They serve various fruit shakes for $3, plus a number of che (sweet bean drinks). The tea here is nice, with a flowery, fragrant touch. Entertainment-wise, there’s a TV plus a tiny space for a little band.
Nha Toi Restaurants [South Bay]
formerly Thu DO Sandwiches
460 E William St., between 10th and 11th, San Jose