For some local restaurateurs, food is a family affair.
Siblings Trinh Phan and Trang Somphomaphakdy opened Two Sisters Vietnamese Kitchen in East Liberty this week. The new spot — located on N. Highland Avenue right next door to the new barbecue joint Porked — specializes in traditional dishes, such as pho — a soup made with rice noodles, onion, scallion, cilantro and either beef, chicken, seafood or veggies.
The sisters learned how to cook from their grandparents and parents, who ran a restaurant in Vietnam. They, in turn, passed on those recipes and cooking techniques to their nieces, Kellie and Tuyen Truong, the owners of Bánh Mì & Tí, a grab-and-go sandwich shop in Lawrenceville.
While their aunts run the kitchen at Two Sisters, the Truongs are lending a helping hand with front-of-the-house operations, which run daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. And they’re putting a modern spin on classic cuisine by making sure the presentation is as memorable as the taste.
“My job is to make it more inviting,” Kellie Truong says. “It’s very fresh, very flavorful. It looks good to the eye and it tastes good, too.”
According to the family, Vietnamese food isn’t as oily as Chinese dishes and involves a grill more often than a frying pan.
Other menu items include bun bo hue, a spicy lemongrass beef noodle soup with brisket, beef shank and pork roll, jasmine rice bowls with cucumber, pickled carrots, cauliflower and a protein, and sides such as kohlrabi salad with shrimp or vegetables. For dessert try the banh flan.
Unlike Bánh Mì & Tí, which is a fast casual eatery, Two Sisters is a BYOB place where families can sit and spend quality time together over a meal. It’s a warm, inviting atmosphere filled with plants and flowers. A wall of wooden pallets faces a mural of a woman in a rice field, the place where Vietnamese cuisine starts.
Strings of Edison bulbs dangle overhead. Family members bustle around the room, waiting on tables and helping each other out. Diners might even see Kellie Truong’s adorable, two-year-old daughter toddling around with a big smile on her face.
Eventually, Bánh Mì & Tí will hold pop-ups at the new restaurant and invite other local chefs into the kitchen to share the flavors of their homelands. The fact that the neighborhood is a big melting pot of cultures played a big part in the family’s decision to open there.
“When I first moved here, I didn’t realize how family-oriented Pittsburgh is,” she says. “We came to East Liberty and fell in love with the whole area.”