It’s not easy to justify a high price tag for fancified food from a third world country, in this case Vietnam and Southeast Asia. A lot of times, the food is far too dumbed down so as to appeal to the masses, but then misses the mark for those who understand the true origins of the food. Tin Vuong, chef of multiple restaurants including Steak & Whisky (Manhattan Beach), Abigaile (Redondo Beach), Wildcraft (Culver City), and Dia del Campo (Hermosa Beach), has successfully brought Vietnamese/Southeast Asian cuisine to the hipster foodie masses with Little Sister. The 2 locations in Manhattan Beach and Downtown LA are a trek for me now, so I was ecstatic to learn that Chef Vuong opened up a secret restaurant/speakeasy called LSXO (Little Sister XO) within his newest venture, Bluegold in Huntington Beach. The food leans more Vietnamese. There are a smattering of homestyle favorites, but the menu delivers a plethora of reimagined creations. I wonder why Chef Vuong decided to open up something so Vietnamese so close to so many discerning Vietnamese people in Orange County. We would certainly be the most critical, and quickest to denounce the higher price tag.
I brought The Annoyer, Overlord, and Carnivorous Lush with me to see if LSXO would be as delicious as its sister restaurants in LA. I was pretty surprised to see such a gigantic menu, 3-9 items in each of 10 sections, seemingly double the size of Little Sister’s menu. Being the lone Vietnamese person in the group, I was charged with the great responsibility of making sense of the overwhelming menu.
We started off on this tropical adult punch to share. I loved the presentation in this beautiful copper pineapple.
Phỏ Bánh Cuốn beef, tendon, herbs, lettuce, pickled onions
Banh cuon is a rice paper crepe, think a thinner version of pho noodles but thinner and in large sheets. It can be eaten plain or stuffed with ground pork and wood ear mushrooms. Here, it was filled with the flavors of pho. The anise scented beef and herbs that accompany pho were stuffed into a roll of supple rice crepes. It totally met my expectations knowing the inspiration from which the chef was drawing. YUMS!
Beef Tartare viet herbs, fried aromatics, quail egg, lobster rice crackers
The tartare packed a punch of flavor from the fresh herbs and fried shallots. The fish sauce was bold, but not too aggressive. I loved it!
Bò Lá Lốt betel leaf wrapped & grilled beef, scallion oil, peanuts
This is one of my favorite courses in bò bảy món, but at Vietnamese restaurants this can be greasy, or at times, grainy and crumbly. This was the highest quality bò lá lốt, perfectly balanced in sweet saltiness. YUMS!
Bê Thui roasted veal salad, pickled onions, rau ram, ginger dipping sauce
I was not accustomed to this preparation of bê thui, but it was full of brightness and bold flavors from the herbs, ginger, and fish sauce.
‘Bún Riêu’ Omelette soft shell crab, tomato chili sate, viet herbs, condiments
I probably should have read the description of this a little more closely, because we were all expecting noodles, since it was listed under the noodle section. It took the main components of this Northern Vietnamese noodle soup dish, crab, eggs, and tomatoes, and reimagined it into a fried omelette with a delicious soft shell crab at its heart. I think for non Vietnamese (and Thai) people, it’s weird to eat an omelette as a dinner entree. I’m not sure if my dining companions appreciated this dish as much as I did, but I give it 2 thumbs up for execution, flavor, and creativity.
Pig Ear Terrine mushroom XO, cilantro, pinenuts
Carnivorous Lush probably expected something a bit more decadent, but this was fairly light for a terrine. The mushroom XO added umami flavor.
Foie Gras Torchon & Oxtail Marmalade pickled veggies, hot mustard
This was probably one of my least favorite dishes. Each component was fine, but I didn’t see how both dishes worked together.
The oxtail was deep with flavor and richness.
The torchon had a wonderful porky offal flavor.
Bo Kho marrow, tendons, oxtail, rib meat, baguette, butter
While this was probably the most unadulterated version of the classic Vietnamese beef stew, it was easily one of the best I’ve had. It helps to be using some of the best quality meat. They had me at oxtails and tendons.
Shaky Shaky Beef watercress, baby tomatoes, burnt butter soy, tomato garlic fried rice
Their version of “shaking beef” was the only dish that remained from the Little Sister menu I experienced a few years back. It was also one of my favorite dishes. I was pleased to find that it tasted just as good as I remember it. The beef was tender and full of salty sweetness. The fried rice was not aggressively garlicky but it packed a punch enhanced by sweet acidity of tomato paste. The watercress salad was bright and added wonderful balance. I highly recommend this one. YUMS!!!!!
Tôm Rang Thịt Ba Chỉ caramelized prawns, pork spare ribs, lardons in claypot
I had high hopes for the claypot rice dish, but the shrimp was a tad overcooked. The flavors were muddled. I didn’t feel the pork and shrimp complemented each other.
Pumpkin Tres Leches Cake
It was safe to say were happily stuffed after all of that, but of course no meal is complete unless it ends sweet. None of the desserts seemed to catch my eye, but I’ve been on a bit of a tres leches cake kick. The cake was delightful, with just a enough sweetness and spice. YUMS!
LSXO was a surprising success. I expected quality and execution to be lost in the overreaching vision posed by such an extensive menu. I also expected the authenticity of Vietnamese cuisine to get diluted in an attempt to appeal to a broader audience. It stayed true to the bold flavors and truly delivered a 110%. The final tab was certainly more than anything you would find in Little Saigon, but you won’t find any major complaints from me. Sure the table was a tad small for our party and everything we ordered, the lighting was pretty dark, the music was really loud. The vibe was definitely aiming for hip. My biggest gripe actually has nothing to do with the food, but rather the parking situation. Our validations were not honored, so parking at a rate of $20/20 minutes really added up. Overlord, Carnivorous Lush, and The Annoyer are not super fans of Vietnamese food so I can’t say they were as smitten with the place as I was, but if you want some reimagined delicious Vietnamese food that stays true to its roots, LSXO is your place.
10 – You NEED to eat here
9 – Awesome
8 – Very good
7 – Good
6 – OK
5 – Average
4 – Not bad
3 – Not good
2 – Terrible
1 – Do NOT eat here