Little Saigon’s depth and breadth continues to astound me. Dozens of trips have already yielded plenty of terrific meals. However, driving down streets like Brookhurst, Bolsa and Westminster makes it increasingly clear that there are still countless restaurants to explore. Sometimes, it can be hard to know where to turn next. Thankfully, there are local resources like OC Weekly food writer Dave Lieberman, who turned me on to one of the area’s best new options: Dat Thanh.
Owners Toan Nguyen and wife Mary have been in the restaurant business for about 15 years. They’re natives of Vung Tau, Vietnam, which is located on the coast, about an hour outside of Ho Chi Minh City. The family farmed before moving to the States, and once they arrived, they ran a clothing factory and Vietnamese bakery that became known for banh mi and iced coffee. Now the Nguyens and son Hoi (a longtime employee of Fleming’s and former trainer for Wolfgang Puck) own a restaurant in Vegas called Bosa 1. Their latest venture is Dat Thanh, a nearly three-month-old revival with only six tables in the same strip mall as goat meat specialist Binh Dan. Decorations are lean, amounting to a fan touting a river village and a galloping horse painting.
Considering the popularity of Brodard, a Little Saigon institution, it makes sense that other restaurants would attempt to master the pork meatball spring roll. As Lieberman pointed out, Dat Thanh certainly warrants inclusion in any Nem Nuong conversation. Based on my Brodard memories, it’s hard to tell much difference.
The Nguyens roll their smoky sausages in rice paper with cilantro, mint, cucumber, crisp iceberg lettuce, crispy wonton strips, pickled carrot and daikon. The rolls are well balanced and really come alive in the proprietary dipping sauce. The family makes their rich orange sauce with 14 ingredients, including peanut butter, garlic, fish sauce and ground chicken (as opposed to Brodard’s ground pork). That’s one big difference.
Dat Thanh also specializes in com tam, broken rice grains that are the byproduct of processing. The busted grains were long considered the provenance of the poor, until people realized they’re a worthy vessel for meat, rolls and more.
On the side, Hoi Nguyen delivered small bowls of cleansing chicken broth flavored with mushrooms and shrimp that, sprinkled with cilantro, scallion and onion.