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'Little Sister' Brings Bold And Inventive Southeast Asian Flavors To DTLA

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Red & Black Rice with seafood, sausage and confit pork at Little Sister (Photo by Danny Jensen/LAist)
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From breakfast congee with confit duck to beef tartare with cassava chips, the new location of the South Bay's Little Sister is bringing clever twists to bold Southeast Asian flavors to downtown L.A.

Expanding on the success of the original Manhattan Beach location, Chef Tin Vuong opened his second Little Sister restaurant on 7th Street near Grand Avenue. Vuong once again brings his flavor-packed, yet elegant renditions of Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian flavors that he grew up eating in the San Gabriel Valley. Think red-braised pork belly with crispy shiitakes, leek fondue or gai xao xa ot, A.K.A. spicy lemongrass chicken with fried garlic and dried chilies. But at the new location he adds some new twists, including a full breakfast menu. "With Little Sister Downtown, we are digging a little deeper into regional Asian cuisine—Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong and Bali—to introduce a melting pot of techniques and flavor profiles," Vuong tells LAist. "From robota-style proteins to lesser-known cured meats, we’re playing with fermentation, bolder spice blends, and umami to give diners a taste of something they've not yet experienced before."

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Ma la beef tar tare with bone marrow, quail egg and cassava chips (Photo by Danny Jensen/LAist)
And there's definitely no shortage of deeply satisfying dishes, that deliver a balanced blend of bold and unexpected flavors. When LAist was recently invited to try out the new Little Sister location, we were particularly swept up by the earthy and briny contrasts of the red and black rice that comes packed with mussels, shrimp, octopus, scallop, sausage, confit pork and okra, and is served with a tangy lime leaf aioli. We also couldn't get enough of the red braised lamb curry served in a pot with yams, herbs, pickled vegetables and covered with a flaky and buttery onion pancake. Many of the flavors may be familiar to those who are well-traveled around the SGV, but Vuong brings his own flair to each dish. You'll also want to tap into the section of the menu named "Eastside 626 Provisions," which includes some amazing pickled condiments and sauces to personalize your meal.

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Lamb curry with onion pancake (Photo by Danny Jensen/LAist)
"Little Sister Downtown is the restaurant I've always dreamt of opening. In many ways, it embodies my journey as a chef. My grandparents fled Vietnam during the fall of Saigon and passed along a wealth of knowledge about Southeast Asian cuisine," Vuong says. "Additionally, growing up and living in the San Gabriel Valley, I'm fortunate to enjoy some of the best Asian cuisine on the continent, which has unequivocally inspired my approach to cooking."

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Beer and wine cocktails at Little Sister (Photo by Danny Jensen/LAist)
And while Little Sister's new location doesn't have a full bar, their extensive selection of wines and curated craft beers are plenty enough to stand up to the menu's flavors. Plus, they have some fun rotating beer and wine cocktails like the "exPAT" made with an IPA, the red wine-based brryh apéritif and pineapple.

The downtown restaurant is dark and candlelit (at least at night), but still feels vibrant and bubbly with the din of excited diners and the bump of hip-hop—another one of Vuong's passions besides cooking. It's not a huge space, seating probably about 50 people between cozy tables and a long bar, but the flavors, bustle and energy make the place feel huge.

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The cozy interior of Little Sister DTLA (Photo by Danny Jensen/LAist)
Little Sister is a great place to start an evening downtown with a hearty and spicy feast, before heading out to nearby bars like Seven Grand. And it also offers a great place to start your day, especially after a night at one of those bars. We have yet to have the chance to try the breakfast congee or the accompanying Chinese donuts, but you can bet we'll be back to try those.

Little Sister is located at 523 W. 7th Street, Downtown, (213) 628-3146 and 1131 Manhattan Ave, Manhattan Beach, (310) 545-2096.