Alexandria is known for its ethnic cuisine, and now that flavor has been enhanced with the area’s newest restaurant, Nam-Viet.
Nguyen Van Thoi came to the United States 25 years ago and opened his first restaurant in Arlington in 1983. The newest Nam-Viet restaurant, at 3819 Mt. Vernon Ave. is the third by that name in the area.
“When you come to Nam-Viet it’s just like eating in Saigon,” Thoi said. “My wife is third-generation restaurateur in Vietnam. She designed all of our dishes and has trained all of the chefs.”
The flavors are a blend of the French and the Chinese influences in Vietnam. “The French were in our country for 100 years and the Chinese for 1,000, but we still kept our own language and our own way of doing things,” Thoi said. “That is true of our cooking. Our food is much lighter than either French or Chinese. We don’t cook with much butter and with no cheese.”
Nam-Viet’s menu features 12 different kinds of soup. “In Vietnam, we eat soup for breakfast, soup for lunch and soup for dinner,” Thoi said. “We have all kinds of soup — something for everyone.”
There are pork, chicken and beef dishes, although those meats are not so easy to get in Vietnam. “They are very expensive in Vietnam so only rich people eat them a lot,” Thoi said. “We eat a lot of seafood and fish because it is very cheap and plentiful.”
MANY OF THE dishes are grilled, not fried. “We have a grilled pork that our President’s brother really likes,” Thoi said. “When Mr. Marvin Bush was here, he asked me about the pork and I told him to think of it just like Texas barbecue. He really liked it a lot.”
Marvin Bush is just one of the celebrities who frequent Thoi’s restaurants.
“I have been eating at Nam-Viet in Arlington for over 15 years and am so glad we have one in Alexandria,” said U.S. Representative James P. Moran (D-8). “The food is always delicious and the service is even better.”
Thoi is very proud of his customers. “Many of my customers have been coming to my restaurant for 20 years,” he said. “A lot of them are veterans who spent time in Vietnam during the war. Some of them were prisoners of war.”
Thoi himself worked for U. S. AID from 1966 until he began working for the U. S. military. He was able to come to the U. S. because of his connection to the government.
“At first, my customers were mostly Asian, but now they come from everywhere because people who come in to try Vietnamese food keep coming back,” Thoi said.
That is certainly true of Steve Shaw. He invited 200 people to a party at Alexandria’s Nam-Viet last Thursday.
“I bring my family here all the time,” Shaw said. “The food is terrific and the prices are very reasonable. This is a great addition to Alexandria and I want to see Mr. Thoi do well.”
DINNER PRICES range from $8 to $13 per entrée. There is a selection of Vietnamese beer, plum and other domestic wines, sake and, of course tea and coffee.
“In my country, when you invite someone to your house, you always brew the strongest tea or coffee,” Thoi said. “That’s a sign of respect. When I opened my first restaurant, I made very strong tea and coffee. My American customers told me it was too strong.”
Strong or not, the tea’s terrific and compliments the food. All in all, it was ngon lam….delicious.