896 Spectrum Center Dr
Irvine, CA 92618
Average cost: $$
Parking: plentiful parking at Irvine Spectrum
Notes: near the Apple Store, with outdoor dining, bar seating, and indoor seating
Recommended: whenever you have a craving for Southeast Asian flavors and don't mind splurging a little
Always happy to see a successful Los Angeles restaurant expand into Orange County! After hearing great things about the bold Southeast Asian flavors at Little Sister (especially from our talented friend Viv at Honeycrisp Designs), we were so excited for our visit. We started with the absolutely mouth puckering ‘goi du du’ green papaya salad which consisted of Vietnamese beef jerky, candied shrimp, peanuts, and chili lime vin. This was an explosion of flavor but still balanced enough to feel refreshing - the ideal salad for summer (or any warm day in SoCal, really).
We were curious about the imperial rolls, which promised an intriguing combination of: shrimp, crab, pork, taro root, glass noodle, roasted peanut, and chili lime sauce. What a masterful symphony of taste and texture:
The imperial rolls came with plenty of different toppings. Loved being able to mix and match our own preferred flavor profiles (and switch it up) and have the option of wrapping the rolls in large leaves of lettuce before dipping them into the tasty chili lime sauce.
We rounded out our first visit with the shaky shaky beef, which is served with watercress (bitter but tempered by the dressing), baby tomatoes, burnt butter soy, and the most amazing tomato garlic fried rice. The beef had great flavor, was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and came with a well-prepared lemon sauce, but let me tell you, our minds were blown by how delicious the tomato garlic fried rice was. So unexpected, but we felt like we could order and eat several bowls of it by itself!
A surprisingly delicious protein is the ‘suon nuong’ grilled pork chop - perfectly cooked, tender, and flavorful, and served with some yummy chicken fat rice.
For our second visit, we wanted to try the pork, shrimp, and crab dumplings, which comes with spicy black vin dressing, chives, spinach, and peanuts. These were a delicious and unique take on dumplings and distinct from dumplings in other cuisines (e.g., Taiwanese, Chinese, Japanese) - they had a very hearty texture due to the dumpling wrapper being on the thicker side.
We also enjoyed the 'xoi' sticky rice, which comes with lap cheong (the Cantonese name for Chinese sausage), pork floss, and crispy shallots, all topped with a sunny-side egg and drizzled with roasted chili vinegar. This dish is made with sticky rice but we were pleasantly surprised by the texture; I was expecting it to be completely chewy, but the dish is actually made of small cubes of rice that are crispy/crunch on the outside with a chewy glutinous rice texture on the inside. So flavorful and fun to eat!
Over the next few visits, we tried additional dishes, and have yet to be disappointed (left to right): red & black rice (mussels, shrimp, octopus, scallop, sausage, pork, lime leaf aioli & okra), salted cod fried rice (egg omelet, sweet & sour pork and crab chili sauce), and lemongrass chicken wings.
Also can't go wrong with banh mi:
Little Sister also has a beautifully designed bar - can't wait to come back and try more of their cocktails! The "Black Mamba" was a smokey delight:
These desserts were not only beautiful, but absolutely scrumptious.