Carey and Yuan Tang’s restaurant, Ellie Bird, has garnered a lot of attention since it opened in their hometown of Falls Church in April — including a spot on Northern Virginia Magazine’s 2023 Best Restaurants list. This is the couple’s second restaurant, following the Michelin-starred Rooster & Owl. Here, the restauranteurs talk about their success story.
Has growing up in Northern Virginia influenced your menu?
Yuan: One of the most popular items on our menu was influenced by growing up in the area: It’s the Vietnamese French onion soup. Those two soups actually are the flavors that I grew up with. It’s common to find a restaurant that serves a French onion soup, and also really common to find Vietnamese pho restaurants. For me, combining those two just made so much sense and to represent this area.
You just welcomed a third child. How do you manage two restaurants with such a young family?
Yuan: My joke to the staff is that you know, when I leave the restaurant, I’m going into my second job. Usually, I do the overnight.
Carey: I think this has been absolutely a challenge. But I’m really grateful that I’ve got Yuan’s support pulling that second shift. And he’s so far been a very patient colleague, as I’ve had to go in during the day. It’s a family operation, that’s for sure.
Any controversy with your older daughter (Nori) about naming a restaurant after her little sister?
Carey: So much. Our oldest daughter is 5, Ellie is 2. And their younger brother, he’s just about 2 months now. And you know, 5-year-olds can read, so she does recognize her sister’s name. She’s insisting we’ll have to call [a future restaurant] Nori Bird. When we thought of the concept, we imagined it being a calmer, cooler version of Rooster & Owl, something a little bit more family-friendly, but still chef-driven. And that really reflected the personality of our middle kiddo.
What are some of your favorite dishes on your own menu?
Yuan: I think for me I’m actually the most excited about the brunch menu. I am most particularly excited about the Halo Halo smoothie bowl. We start off with an avocado and spinach smoothie that we top it off with kind of like flavors and inspirations from … Southeast Asia. I start my day off every day at brunch with one of those, and then we also have a tornado omelet. It’s a Korean omelet that’s kind of made into, like, a rose petal.
What’s next? Are you still planning a ghost kitchen?
Carey: We know that takeout is important and it’s going to be of value to the area, especially young families who don’t want to do a sit-down but they just don’t want to cook. We wanted instead of trying to force the Ellie Bird menu to takeout, where they just might not have that great experience as they would dining in, we would create like a ghost kitchen for a takeout-specific menu. We have it. We’re just going to wait until we have fully staffed and stabilized Ellie Bird. And then I’ll be really excited to talk about it once we’re able to pull the trigger. I think the idea is really spectacular.
Feature image of Carey and Yuan Tang by Shannon Ayres