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Little Sister

PHOTOS: Benji Dell

Some restaurants feel made for their neighborhoods. Celebrity-filled, flashy spots that should probably just be called nightclubs with menus (which you would never actually order from): obviously you're in West Hollywood. Vegan, organic cafes where you get the sense they whisper “sorry” to the vegetables before the cook them: yeah, you’re on the Eastside of LA. But every now and then, you’ll meet a restaurant that seems completely out of place in its neighborhood, and it blows all those stereotypes right out the window.

As soon as you walk into Little Sister you wonder, where the hell am I? With bare brick walls, dim lighting, and Biggie blasting over the speakers, this Vietnamese spot feels like a hangout on Fairfax in Hollywood. But then you remember that you just spent a good portion of your life (and your patience) driving south on the 405. You’re in Manhattan Beach, and Little Sister is a total outlier amongst all the restaurants with extensive kids menus. And this is a very, very good thing.

Benji Dell

Also very good: the food. If the sum total of the Vietnamese stuff you’ve tried is a summer roll or banh mi here and there and endless bowls of pho, Little Sister is an excellent way to branch out (and is much closer than Garden Grove). Some dishes feel more Western (the excellent beef tartare), and others more authentic (the shaky shaky beef), but all of them have the same freshness you find in truly great Vietnamese food. Everything on the menu also feels modern but clear about where it comes from - like if your Vietnamese grandmother was also a professionally-trained chef.

Little Sister is the kind of casual but cool Vietnamese spot we wish we had closer to home. (And if you live Downtown, consider yourself lucky too - they recently opened a second restaurant near Pershing Square, which we hear great things about.) In the meantime, we’re happy to become overly intimate with certain stretches of the 405 for this place. And maybe start a petition for a third location.

Food Rundown

Beef Tartare

Total must-order. The tartare is a bit spicy, but still really fresh, and it comes with a cute little quail egg on top and cassava chips to scoop it all up with. Basically, a very fancy chips and dip situation.

Pork, Shrimp, and Crab Dumplings

Not amazing dumplings, but definitely not terrible dumplings. You’re probably going to order them and that won’t be a bad move.

Gai Cuon

If a summer roll and a spring roll had a baby, this would be it - there’s warm pork and shrimp inside, but soft rice paper on the outside.

Imperial Rolls

Like spring rolls, but made with rice paper instead of egg wrappers, so they feel a lot lighter. They come with a bunch of lettuce to wrap them in, so you could convince yourself that these are a healthy version of spring rolls. They might not really be that, but they are delicious.

Lemongrass Chicken Banh Mi

A lunch-only thing, and well worth ordering. It comes with a mini bowl of pho on the side so you can pretend like you’re having a French Dip.

Shaky Shaky Beef

Our favorite dish here and one that shouldn’t be skipped. The beef itself is really high quality, and the peppery sauce it’s cooked in is addictive. Also, anything that comes with coconut rice is a thing we’re going to order.

Pan Fried E-Fu Noodles

A fancy way to say stir-fried egg noodles with pork, but these are also fancier than what you get from your local take-out spot. Instead of a random assortment of vegetables and minced pork, there are crunchy green beans and shredded confit pork, all topped with a perfectly runny egg.

Ga Roti

This is fried chicken with one of the crunchiest crusts we’ve ever encountered, in the very best of ways. That crust is slightly spicy, and surrounds perfectly moist chicken. Get this.

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