Crunch is crucial. Is it not the most popular of food textures? Slimy and squishy are appreciated by few; some don’t do smooth and creamy. But crunchy? Universally beloved. It single-handedly redeems celery. It’s an agreed upon addictive sensation.
There’s plenty of addictive crunch at Nem Nuong Bistro. The most obvious format is cha gio ($5.95), Vietnamese egg rolls of fried rice paper filled with gently spiced pork, shrimp and crab and served with crisp leaves of lettuce, aromatic herbs and chile-lime fish sauce. Wrap the green stuff around the rolls and dip in the sauce for a sublime bite—savory, sweet, sour, minty and peppery, with layers of lovable crunch.
Then there are rolls with crunch on the inside. Goi cuon, called spring or summer or salad rolls, use soft rice paper wrappers around vermicelli noodles with lots of fresh stuff (lettuce, herbs, carrots, daikon, cucumber), different meats and a golden brown rod that looks like a cinnamon stick—crunch for crunch’s sake. Get the nem and chao combo ($4.95), two rolls each of these ideal snacks, a mixed order of grilled pork sausage and shrimp paste adding salty and spicy notes to these rolls that already seem to contain everything else.
There are lots of Vietnamese restaurants around the Valley, but they’re mostly all the same; the staple is pho, fragrant beef noodle soup. The four-month-old Nem Nuong Bistro, located next to Chinatown stalwart Joyful House, sets itself apart with a versatile menu, gracious service and a slightly upscaled setting. It’s the same comfort food in a much more comfortable space.
You have to do those rolls, but you can also do pho ($7.95), if you want, a rich bowl of broth with add-your-own herbs and a hefty load of rare steak and well-done flank and brisket. If you’re a seafood lover, banh canh tom cua ($8.50) uses shrimp, fish cake, pork and crab in a bright orange broth topped with bean sprouts and cilantro. For familiar flavors without the soup, bun bo xoa ($8.95) drops tender beef slices infused with lemongrass over those familiar, skinny rice noodles with crushed peanuts, greens and shallots, all doused in that pungent, omnipresent fish sauce-chile-lime dressing.
You get a whole lot of bang for your buck here. There are rice plates that offer a little bit of everything, like a mega-combo of lightly grilled sole, shredded pork skin, peppery egg loaf, shrimp cake in flaky, pastry-like fried tofu skin and pickles, served with fish sauce and a brilliant ginger-lemongrass chicken broth on the side ($11.95). Whether it’s a simple dish like this, or more complex creations like the com tay cam clay pot rice dish, Nem Nuong Bistro’s food is pleasant and consistent, always an impressive accomplishment for any new neighborhood restaurant.
Nem Nuong Bistro 4631 Spring Mountain Road #102, 702-413-6666. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-midnight.