Chef/owner Tin Vuong has opened his fifth restaurant, the highly anticipated Little Sister at Spectrum Center.

Little Sister open at Irvine Spectrum

by LORI BASHEDA

There’s an edge to Little Sister. Its walls are adorned with graffiti art. Its soundtrack is an energizing rhythm of hip-hop, while its steel and wood beams are transportive. The edge is softened perfectly, if only slightly, by the bright blue butterflies etched into tables.

Chef/owner Tin Vuong’s restaurant (his fifth) has been one of the most anticipated openings at Irvine Spectrum. It opened last month.

“I’m super excited to be in Irvine,” he says. “It’s a great audience. They understand what they’re eating. They expect big things.”

Vuong’s menu blends the flavors of Vietnam with European influences.

Little Sister, and its dramatic look, is shaped by Vuong’s incredible family story of risk, courage and, ultimately, success.

His grandparents came from Shanghai but were raising 10 kids (and running dental practices) near Saigon back in the ’70s during the Vietnam War. They fled the fighting on boats, his grandmother concealing diamonds in her mouth to sell once they landed so they had money to start over.

Some of the family wound up in San Francisco. That’s where Vuong grew up. He later earned a business degree at UCLA, but after a stint in the Financial District, he quit to go to culinary school. In 2012, he and his business partner formed the Blackhouse Hospitality Group.

The partners opened their first Little Sister in 2013. Vuong says the Spectrum menu will be different from that spot. Don’t expect anything “super vanilla,” he says.

Expect big things and nothing “super vanilla,” chef Vuong says.

Vuong, who is now a father of two, says his dishes are, at their heart, homestyle Vietnamese, food he grew up on. Flavors are Southeast Asian but with influences from the French, Dutch and British who colonized Vietnam.

Some dishes on the menu: Saigon Lemongrass Beef; Salt and Pepper Lobster with Butter Fried Shallots; Pan-Fried E-Fu Noodle; Red Braised Pork Belly; and Caramelized Prawns, Pork Spareribs and Lardons in Claypot. And the beverages: those are curated specifically by Vuong.

It’s a can’t-miss restaurant for a lot of reasons. Its scene, its history and, perhaps most importantly, its unique and world-class menu.