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Oct 30, 2012 02:29 PM

Nem Nuong Cuon Cha Ram @ Com Tam Long An in San Jose

Across from Target on Capitol and Silver Creek is a newish shopping plaza of mostly Vietnamese businesses. When I stopped by in August, at least a dozen of them are eating places with more on the way. Picking one ab initio, I went for the shiny object, Com Tam Long An with a garish banner promoting nem nuong. Years ago, I’d had the famous nem nuong cuon at Brodard in Orange County. Nothing since up here ever came close and I sort of forgot about finding that taste again until those words were waved in front of me.

Here’s the appetizer section of the menu, showing Nem nuong cuon cha ram as 3 rolls for $4.50, and described as “grilled pork patty wrapped in rice paper w/a crisp roll, lettuce, mint, cucumber, Chef’s special sauce”.

My server pointed out that this was also available in a larger portion as a plate of components for roll-your-own. But I confessed that I was not good at wrapping rice paper for myself and preferred to stick with pre-rolled.

The three rolls were cut in half and arranged attractively with jaunty Chinese chive tails.

Very tightly wrapped, the crispy lettuce and pickled root veggies inside offered up a denser bite. The golden brown unfilled eggroll-like fingerling of fried pastry provided the most satisfying crackly crunch. The pork patty was light in color, a half-domed length of link, toasted brown on the exterior and mild in cure. This cross-section photo shows the individual components more clearly. The care in assembling and balancing the proportions paid off in the flavor.

The orange-shaded sauce, tasting of bean paste and Thai sweet chili sauce, was not as deep and rich as Brodard’s but plenty tasty nonetheless for dipping. My one real criticism would be that the cucumber spear was too large, injecting too much of a watery blankness on the palate.

Not the same as Brodard’s nem nuong, but worthy in their own right. What else have ‘hounds tried here?

Com Tam Long An Restaurant
3005 Silver Creek Rd, #112
San Jose, CA 95121
(408) 223-9288
Daily 9am to midnight

Reports on other food businesses in the shopping center:

Fung Shui House, #126

Bun Mam Ha Tien, #192

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  1. Great post Melanie, now I'm lusting after the famous nem nuong cuon at Brodard in Orange County - I've had the opportunity to enjoy these at Brodard several times! I've insisted on detours on trips home from Palm Desert and Scottsdale.

    I'm hoping to get to try them at Com Tam Long An Restaurant soon, thanks for the tip...

    6 Replies
    1. re: RWCFoodie

      I'm seeing nem nuong more often on Vietnamese menus so maybe the added experience will show up in improved quality. I was willing to try them because they're featured prominently as a specialty of the house. Also you need to look for the words "cha ram", which refers to the cylinder of rolled up fried pastry that adds the crunch. Not everyone uses this and you'll be disappointed without it.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Pho Ao Sen in Oakland has a good version (called Nem Nuong Nha Trang on menu) including the fried straw thing. The menu said there was meat in the sauce, but I didn't detect any.

        More expensive than Long An, it was 2 rolls for $4.50

        1. re: drewskiSF

          Nice, I like the signature. Those don't seem to be wrapped as firmly.

          Now that I think about it, I believe that Brodard has some meat in the sauce. Not much, but some ground pork though it's been too long ago since my one and only visit.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Yes, I remember the sauce had quite a bit of ground meat in it.

        2. re: Melanie Wong

          Thanks for the tip - I will look for "cha ram" - that crispy thing is what makes them so special (to me anyway).

          The last time we went to Brodard, they had 3 people just continuously making the rolls.

          1. re: RWCFoodie

            I had commented to a friend in OC that Brodard must have a continuous production line going of these because they appear on your table in seconds after ordering. (Can you tell I was once an industrial engineer?)

      2. Only been once.

        Banh bot loc (steamed tapioca pork & shrimp dumplings) was excellent there. It's not something I've seen a lot (or maybe didn't notice) or when I have had it, it hasn't been done well. It was my friend's pick.

        In this link describing the dish, they mention a more time consuming version steamed in banana leaf. That is how it is served at Long An.

        IIRC, the pho & bun rieu were solid, but not destination worthy

        14 Replies
        1. re: drewskiSF

          Thanks, good to know. Oh, I figured out that this shopping complex is called Paloma Plaza. It's a commercial condo development, each store is individually owned.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            So glad I read this thread! Nem nuong/nem nuong cuon is pretty popular in Vancouver (and one of my favourite things to eat) but I've never seen it with the "straw" and wouldn't know to ask without this thread. I heart Chowhound.

            1. re: grayelf

              Like RWCFoodie, that hard crackle of the crunchy "straw" is what makes this style so special. To me it contributes more than the nem nuong (meat patty) itself. Also I like them to be rolled really tightly so that the contours of the filling ingredients bulge through the skin.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                I'm with ya on the "bulge" even in the regular salad rolls -- also love it when the nem nuong is still warm, contrasting with the coolness of the veg and rice paper.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Again, you've hit on another reason I love them at Brodard! They roll them perfectly IMO, neat and tight. I really can't recall if the nem nuong has been warm but I know they were just the best for the reasons you've mentioned - the coolness of the veg, crispness of the "straw", etc.

                  Off topic, but another reason I love Brodard is the roast duck salad "goi vit quay". Haven't found this anywhere else. Duck salad yes, but not made with roast duck.

                  1. re: RWCFoodie

                    The Goi vit quay - duck salad - very good versions of this can be had in Seattle at Green Leaf and Tamarind Tree if you are ever in this neck of the woods. Being based in Berkeley, I find the quality of viet food in that area quite watered down and have to venture south to San Jose to get my fix.

                    1. re: phcalc

                      Again, off topic, but I agree - San Jose/Little Saigon is where I've had some of the best Viet food. (Don't ask me the names of the places, I don't remember and some have closed). Although we've had some very good dishes at Kim Thanh and Bodega Bistro in SF.

                      1. re: phcalc

                        Where do you like to go in San Jose?

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          As I said, (Don't ask me the names of the places, I don't remember and some have closed).

                          It has been some time since I've explored the Viet food scene in San Jose. Note to self: get down there and do some sleuthing!

                          1. re: RWCFoodie

                            No doubt that you've forgotten. Yet I still hope "phcalc" will respond to tell us favorite places in San Jose.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              The old favorite is Vung Tau. Always good. Also a couple of the food stalls in century mall (think that is the name). We order by pointing to otger diners or items in case much to tge amusement of the staff. Also Saigon kitchen. Then another soup place something Hue. Has a delectable bun Bo hue.

                              1. re: phcalc

                                Thanks, phcalc. Yes, Vung Tau is the old reliable, but we shouldn't overlook it in excitement about the new. That kind of consistency is a rare thing, and also it makes several dishes well, not just a narrow specialty.

                                The food court is in the Grand Century Mall. It's a good place for a quick hit and the chance to see many things in one spot. I like your ordering method! Yet, it seems as though the bloom is off the rose a bit or maybe there are so many new spots popping up in San Jose, my friends down there don't seem to talk about it as much. Likewise the food court in the Lion Center.

                                I'm on the look-out for Hue cooking these days. Oddly, I'm not that much of a fan of bun bo Hue. But there's more than one place with Bun Bo Hue in its name. Do you recall which neighborhood? Bun Bo Hue #1 on Senter Road is among them. And more than handful of Hue restaurants now in San Jose.

                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                  The Hue place was on the major e/w street where century mall was I think St Clara? perhaps. It had been recommended as a great place for Bun Bo Hue. We were the only Caucasians and it was a challenge to order there but we got it okay. Actually have cooked the dish with a buddy of mine who is Vietnamese. So had a good idea of how good it was. Just spicy enough with a distinct shrimp paste taste.

                                  1. re: phcalc

                                    That would be Story Road. I bet you ate at Bun Bo Hue An Nam. I've not been there yet myself. Here's an old thread that has some photos,

                                    That's very cool that you've made it before.

                                    Here's a topic on Saigon Kitchen too, if you have anything to add.

                                    Thanks for bearing with my many questions. I would very much like there to be more discussion about Vietnamese food in San Jose.

            2. Pre-Leonard Cohen show at the HP Pavilion, we stopped in here based on Melanie's post. We found the food to be above average and the enthusiasm of the (probable) owner to be charming. She complimented our ordering, and affirmed, as she brought each dish to the table, that our food was delicious! So glad for that!

              Anyway, we had to have the nem nuong cuon cha ram and were quite satisfied, the pork seemed warm while other ingredients were slightly chilly, so they seemed to be freshly rolled. Yeah, that crunch thing is whats sets these apart. Adding a bit of red chile paste to the accompanying sauce brightened things up a bit.

              Had the banh bot loc which I enjoyed quite a bit...nice chunks of pork belly (or similar fatty/skin-on pork) combined with a shell on (dried?) shrimp surrounded by the wiggly transparent tapioca wrapping offered an yummy couple of bite-sized morsels.

              Even better in its purity of flavor was the banh beo...steamed tapioca "custard" with a sprinkling of shrimp, chives or scallions and a fish sauce/green chile dipping sauce. We gobbled these up in minutes!

              We shared banh hoi chao tom, "fine vermicelli nest" with grilled shrimp on sugar cane which was one of the best versions of this I've had...great shrimp flavor in the shrimp paste.

              Last dish was a catfish and pork combo clay pot....great flavors of caramel sauce and fish sauce, though a tad too sweet perhaps. Otherwise, it was, in my opinion, very well executed.

              Would love to go back to try the goat curry, and many other items on their extensive, but poorly organized, menu. Their neighbor, Hue, also seems to offer some great chow, and can't wait to get back to San Jose for a crawl of this center! Very promising.

              Thanks, Melanie, as always...great tips!

              3 Replies
              1. re: sambamaster

                Wow, you had a real banh-a-rama! Thanks for giving it a good go. And adding some red chile paste to the dipping sauce is exactly what it needed. I'll do that next time. I concur that the friendly staff at Long An make non-Viet customers feel welcome.

                Yes, I suspect that Hue Restaurant may be the real gem in this center though I imagine that each of the eating places in Paloma Plaza can probably produce at least one good specialty dish. The banh ram it at Hue are as cravable as nem nuong, report linked here,

                If you're not already a member, do sign up for the Silicon Valley Chowdown group. I will be recruiting volunteers to help me chow through this center.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Melanie, almost never make it to SV...Leonard Cohen was the bait last week. Is there an East Bay group, or SF? Would love to participate. Thanks for the heads-up. Have been loving your posts for at least 8 years!

                  1. re: sambamaster

                    Well, thank you!

                    Yes, there are four regional groups. Sign up for one or all depending on your most frequented geography. Frequency of messages is less than one a month these days so you may want to register for all and unsubscribe later.

                    (P. S. Still jealous that you saw Leonard Cohen!)

              2. Three weeks ago I was back here again, after 9:30p when most of the other restaurants in the neighborhood had already turned off the lights. It was a chilly night, so I wanted something soupy and hot. Noodle soups didn't really grab me, and my eye drifted over to a section of the menu called "Goat, Lamb, Deer". The first item is SS1. Herbal soup, Cured Soup, Curry Soup with choice of goat or lamb, and then a further option of bread, vermicelli, egg noodle, rice noodle or banh pho for $12.95. After considerable discussion with the manager, I picked cured-goat-banh pho.

                "Cured" turned out to be reddish hued fermented tofu, not the stinky kind, but a mildly spicy and umami-laden bean curd that dissolved to add a creamy chowder-like texture and great depth of flavor to this soup. The steaming hot bowl of soup was topped with fried shallots, minced cilantro, and chopped green onions. The warm, fresh medium-width rice noodles were served separately on the side. Due to the stick-to-the-ribs thickness of this soup, the manager had said his children enjoy this one with bread.

                The goat had been thoroughly cooked on the bone, then the bones removed, making for full flavor and easy eating. Tender and succulent goat meat with the connective parts braised to softness mingled with chunks of potato for a hearty and thoroughly delectable meal.

                I had the same gracious server/manager as my earlier visit. I continue to like Long An quite a bit.