Current favorites at Nha Toi and Vung Tau?
I'm in San Jose for a business trip for a few days, staying downtown at the Fairmont San Jose.
Searching the board and talking to friends, I determined that I'd like to spend my dining per diem ($35) on Vietnamese, probably at Vung Tau and Nha Toi, which seem like a reasonable distance from where I'm staying.
I eat a lot of Vietnamese in San Francisco (both northern and southern) and I'm headed to Vietnam in about a month. I'd like to try out some specialty dishes or particularly good renditions I can't find in San Francisco.
Also of note is that I'm eating alone, so some of the recommendations I've read (like for a whole crab) wouldn't be a good idea.
What would you recommend?
Vung Tau (for us Vung Tau II in Milpitas) is about the simple things. Essentially, I just need to second Carb Lover's post.
The beef onion rolls, the fried spring rolls (the best I've ever had), grilled shrimp with vermicell (the thin kind formed into cakes), the papaya salad with beef jerky. Very straightforward, but better prepared than most other Vietnamese places I've been.
Also want to give a shout to Thien Long for the Cha Ca Ha Noi (Turmeric Catfish with dill). Excellent (I think this is also supposed to be good at Nha Toi)
Vung Tau II Restaurant
1750 N Milpitas Blvd, Milpitas, CA 95035
Thien Long Restaurant
3005 Silver Creek Rd, San Jose, CA 95121
I visited Vung Tau on Wednesday night and ordered banh hoi tom bo (vermicelli with prawns and onion beef). The plating was elegant, with the vermicelli gathered into little cakes and cut on the bias. I liked both the prawns and the onion beef, neither of which had the sweetness some posters warned about.
The food was solid, but there were no fireworks for me. If I lived in San Jose I'd look forward to exploring more of the menu, but (and admittedly based on one dish) the difference from SF Vietnamese wasn't so great that I'd travel down here to eat.
The atmosphere to price ratio was different than what I generally see in San Francisco, where you can get super high end Vietnamese or super low end, with a few places in between--this was about the same range as Yummy Yummy/Lotus Garden/Bodega Bistro, but in a prettier, more comfortable space.
Thursday I was invited to Saigon Kitchen by a friend who saw the sign promising beef seven ways. The server tempted us to order beef three ways instead and supplement that with an order of catfish and goi cuon.
The best: the company. The good: goi cuon and the beef were both OK, though nothing out of the ordinary.
The ugly: the catfish. Oh, the catfish. The crust was lovely, with a nice snap. But the fish itself had an oppressively muddy flavor. We tried masking the swamp stink by rolling chunks of it with herbs--I felt like I was creating a 17th century aromatic plague poultice, and it worked about as well. We finished about a third of the sizable fish and didn't take the rest home.
In short, thumbs up to Vung Tao, thumbs down to Saigon Kitchen. And thanks, everyone, for your advice and recommendations!
Thanks for your report back. Sorry to hear about Saigon Kitchen; I've never been there or heard of it. We had a chow lunch at Anh Hong in San Jose for beef seven ways, and it was pretty good but you can visit the branch up in SF.
East San Jose does have more Viet options than downtown, and I agree w/ P. Punko that you should visit Thien Long for cha ca and seafood hotpot (lau). You should also check out the Grand Century Mall which is a Viet-centric mall. Based on the address, Saigon Kitchen must be near or in that mall?
Anh Hong Restaurant
150 Tully Rd, San Jose, CA 95111
Grand Century Shopping Mall
1001 Story Rd, San Jose, CA
re: Carb Lover
Yes, Saigon Kitchen is in the Grand Century mall. As you face the main entrance to the mall, it's on the left-hand side. It has the front facing and also an entrance to the mall right next to Thien Long.
There's a new restaurant on the RIGHT side of the main entrance that looked like it might have more northern leanings. Wondering if anyone has tried it yet.
I was the other half of the Saigon Kitchen dining excursion, and I agree with the assessment 100%. I think I'm developing a catfish aversion, after two back-to-back experience with fish that tastes like a mouthful of dirt (the other was at Cao Nguyen). The turmeric catfish at Thien Long, below, does sound tempting... I love that dish.
Interesting comments on the sweetness of the food at Vung Tau. We were last there w/ some friends in March, and I found the food too sweet as well. Now, VT's food has always veered on the sweet side, but this time it wasn't balanced. I thought maybe it was because we were there on a Mon. night when their "B" team might be in the kitchen...
That said, they have a few dishes that they consistently excel at IMO.
Fried spring rolls are crunchy and savory fat cigars.
I also like their papaya salad and lotus root salad w/ pork and shrimp.
Their banh hoi nem nuong (pork meatballs) is also tasty.
I agree w/ Melanie about the beef and onion rolls.
Their broken rice plates are perfect for lunch for one. I've liked the one w/ shredded pork, grilled pork, and pork omelet.
Fried calamari w/ garlic, salt, and jalapeno.
Definitely try one of their che desserts on a hot day.
I personally don't like their banh khot, fish soups, or caramelized dishes. I haven't tried many of their noodle soups but haven't found their broths that memorable.
I was at Nha Toi last in March with a friend, and we each got individual noodle soups. I think I got the pho ga and my friend got the hu tieu chock full of shrimp, pork, and other goodies. Their broths were pretty flavorful and soothing, but those dishes weren't that special IMO. I like the soup w/ the loofah squash better. I also like their eel dishes.
I much prefer the hu tieu just a block south at Dalat. You can order it "wet" or "dry" and almost every table is eating this one dish. Dalat also does superbly fresh versions of goi cuon (salad rolls) and banh xeo. If you like bun (vermicelli) dishes, then this is the place to get them. I love their pickled veggies buried at the bottom, and their nuoc mam tastes just right to me. The marinated grilled pork topping is really good. I've only been for lunch; I don't know if they're open for dinner.
You should check out Dakao around 2nd and San Salvador for banh mi and Viet deli snacks. Quang Da on Santa Clara St. near Vung Tau also has some tasty banh dishes from central Vietnam, as well as bun bo hue. I've always wanted to try Dac Phuc for pho bo. Have a great time and let us know what you discover!
At Vung Tau in San Jose i would definitely recommend the bun khot for appetizer. It is cooked to perfection there. Have had it in many other places but no one does it as well. Everything else there is pretty standard and yes on the sweet side. They use to do a pretty good tamarine crab but now its a bit too sweet for me. Have fun and good eating!
I've only been to the Newark location, not Vung Tau in San Jose. But, one of the dishes that I liked was the beef onion rolls.
A few years ago I was camped out at the Fairmont for a conference. My most memorable meal within walking distance was at Original Joe's. Since the one in San Francisco is closed indefinitely, you might want to pop in there for lunch. I believe it's recently remodeled. Those who've had the burger at both say that San Jose's is better.
Try the soups at Vung Tau (it's not a pho cafe so that isn't an option) like Bun Rieu and others. The main dishes are excellent as well. Forget the concerns about sugar, just don't order those traditional dishes that have a lot of sugar (i.e. anything that calls for a carmalized sauce.)
I ate at Vung Tau for the first time a couple weeks ago and was disappointed. Too much sugar. I don't like it when my dinner tastes like dessert, but that's me. Never been to Nha Toi, but I intend to do something about that. Too bad that Saigon 75, which was closer to your hotel than Vung Tau, had to close. They had better food.