4050 Penn Ave., Bloomfield
When you enter Tram's Kitchen, you are quite literally entering a home. Tram Le, 40, lives with her family in an apartment above their Penn Avenue restaurant, known for its familial air and its authentic Vietnamese cuisine.
The modest storefront leads to an unpretentious interior, with blue floral tablecloths and mirrored sconces that line the walls next to photographs of gardens and trees. A sizable number of plaques from previous "best of" polls, as well as other honors, hang proudly by the doorway to the kitchen.
Most of the Le family moved from Vietnam to California in 1992, relocating to Pennsylvania a year later. Tram's brother needed a kidney transplant, and the family was attracted to Pittsburgh's medical facilities. The transplant took place in 1997, the same year Tram's father, Thao Le, opened the restaurant.
"It was a very busy time," Mr. Le says. "But we were successful with everything." Tram herself arrived later: "When we came here, Tram was not here yet, and we longed for her to come to reunite the family," he said. But she's been living in Pittsburgh for 11 years now, and spends her days cooking in the kitchen that bears her name.
The Le family runs the business under the motto "keep it simple." The menu is short, and has been the same for 13 years. So have the prices. Not surprisingly, Tram's has held onto its customers for just as long.
Mr. Le prides himself on the freshness of his fare, and the famed spring roll -- vermicelli noodles, shrimp, lettuce and pork wrapped in rice paper and served with chilled dipping sauce -- is a good example. Once Mr. Le got a "to go" order for 1,500. The spring roll also comes in a vegetarian version, as do most menu items.
"The spring roll is easy to eat. It's finger food. Everybody likes that. There is no oil, and it's very fresh. That's why everybody likes them," says Tram Le.
Mr. Le says he considers his customers an extended family. The restaurant does a great deal of take-out orders, but Mr. Le would prefer that customers ate inside -- where the food is fresh and the family is always home.