160 Havemeyer Street
(between 2nd & 3rd Streets)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Nha Toi, the Vietnamese shop and hipster hangout on the South Side of Williamsburg, serves up all types of inventive Bánh Mì sandwiches, along with delicious steaming bowls of pho, and made to order summer rolls.
The owner of Nha Toi, a warm and affable Vietnamese American who goes by the simple moniker Fred, is one of the nicest shop keepers you’ll ever encounter. He has an uncanny ability to make you feel right at home, which is fitting, since the name of the restaurant literally translates to “my house.” Impressively, Fred seems to know each and every patron who crosses his restaurant’s threshold, and greets all with a big smile and a proudly assembled list of house specials, most of which he’s experimenting with that day.
On our last visit to Nha Toi, Fred treated us to a complimentary order of crisp and bright summer rolls, described as “fresh rolls” on the menu. Nha Toi offers a wide variety of these starters, filled with items like seared basa (Vietnamese catfish), cured sweet pork and shrimp.
The fresh rolls below married pickled vegetables with rice vermicelli, mint and herbs, all of which were wrapped in a soft and chewy rice paper sheet. These rolls are better than most you’ve tasted before, and are a rarity in that they’re made to order, a welcome contrast to the pre-assembled variety. Place an order and watch the restaurant’s sous chef, a speedy Vietnamese woman, masterfully assemble and roll each piece by hand.
Normally I’m not a huge fan of these starters, as the crisp veggies tend to overpower the rest of the dish. But the creations here are quite good, and the dipping sauces that accompany each order are even better. Choose from a hoisin-based blend, a sweet chile vinegar, a spicy miso or a fantastic green onion concoction.
Nha Toi has a constant barrage of heaping bowls of bubbling pho parading out of their kitchen. According to Fred, the soup here is built on a rich vegetable stock, employing a Vietnamese mirepoix of onions, carrots and some other secret aromatics.
Each bowl arrives with a side plate of bean sprouts, lime, Thai basil and cilantro, to be added to the dish as you please.
One of the main draws of Nha Toi is the inventive nature of the restaurant’s mad scientists who conjure up over 14 variations on the classic Bánh Mì sandwich.
Below, the grilled lemongrass pork loin with pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro and cucumber, all coated in spicy mayo on a toasted baguette. The pork by itself was full of flavor, and its texture worked nicely with the bread and the acidic vegetables. The sandwich also had a pleasant and discernable hint of licorice throughout.
The classic Bánh Mì, served here with two types of Vietnamese ham and a house made chicken pate, was satisfying and delicious. The chicken pate was an unusual, but also successful departure from the more conventional pork variety.
The sandwich Nha Toi is probably best known for is their unique and creative spin on the Vietnamese soup, pho. Called “the pho” here, this assembly combines all the ingredients you would find in the namesake dish, just layered over top of each other, and placed on bread. Beef brisket, bean sprouts, Thai basil, spicy mayo and hoisin sauce are all stacked between two slices of toasted baguette. While this mashup ultimately becomes something altogether different than the soup, it does pay homage to its inspirational predecessor.
Other exotic sandwich offerings include the fried duck egg, the shrimp patty with bamboo, and the shredded pork and skin with roasted rice powder.
Overall, Nha Toi is a great place to sample some experimental and pioneering sandwiches, while enjoying the company of a truly special owner. The ambience is upbeat and grand, and makes for a peaceful escape from the grimy stretch of Havemeyer it inhabits.
The restaurant’s decorations and kitschy wall hangings will whisk you away to a small shop in Vietnam, and in tandem with the fresh and authentic food, help to reinforce the illusion that you’re not in Brooklyn anymore.